And one of the finest of Edward’s castles is in the pretty coastal town of Harlech, along the northern edge of Cardigan Bay. It took seven years and 1,000 men to finish the build; it was completed in 1290 at a staggering cost of £8,000 (a figure of well over £6 million in today’s money), and it is recognised as one of the designing architect’s, James of Saint George, finest creations.
But, it wasn’t long before the castle came under attack and its defences were put to the test in 1294, when Welsh rebels attempted an assault. The castle military soon saw off the attackers, but it was a different story a hundred years later when it was captured by Owain Glyndŵr, the Welsh freedom fighter.
Distant view of Harlech Castle, Gwynedd
Owain Glyndŵr is one of the best known Welsh princes, and indeed, was the last native Welshman to hold the title of Prince of Wales. He instigated a Welsh revolt against the rule of King Henry IV in 1400, and at first, the uprising was hugely successful – Glyndŵr’s army made huge progress in gaining control of much of Northern and Mid Wales. By 1403, news of Glyndŵr’s battle had spread and native Welshmen returned from across Britain to join his army. By 1404, and after a bloody battle, Glyndŵr had captured Harlech castle from the English King and it became his home and headquarters for four years, before being reclaimed when Glyndŵr’s campaign fell apart.
Siege and surrender
In the years that followed, Harlech castle was involved in the English Civil Wars of the 15th and 17th centuries. In 1647 it was the last royal fortress to surrender and the battle marked the beginning of the end of the Civil War. Soon afterwards parliament ordered the castle’s destruction so that it could not be used by the Royalists and by the turn of the 18th century Harlech’s mighty castle was more of a crumbling wreck.
As peace spread across Britain, the castle was neglected and left to ruin until it was taken under the wing of Cadw, the historic and preservation department of the Welsh Government. The castle (along with Beaumaris, Caernarfon and Conwy) was designated a World Heritage Site in 1986 as UNESCO labelled the sites as some of the most important examples of 13th and 14th century military architecture in Europe.
Today, Harlech Castle stands fiercely proud on its high, rocky look-out, having gallantly survived the merciless coastal winds, as well as fending off assaults by angry Welsh rebels. It is a great testament to Edward’s determination, but also an ever present reminder of Wales’ long standing struggle against English domination.