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Building Beaumaris Castle

...a rare surviving letter from 1296

Photographs copyright 2006 by Jeffrey L. Thomas

The following is a letter of 27 February, 1296 from James of St George to the Treasurer and Barons of the Exchequer at Westminster, concerning building progress at Beaumaris Castle. This account is found in the Cadw guidebook for the castle.

To their very dear lordships the Treasurer and Barons of the Exchequer of our lord the King, James of St George and Walter of Winchester send greeting and due reverence.

Sirs,

As our lord the king has commanded us, by letters of the Exchequer, to let you have a clear picture of all aspects of the state of works at Beaumaris, so that you may be able to lay down the level of work for this coming season as may seem best to you, we write to inform you that the work we are doing is very costly and we need a great deal of money.

You should know:

(i) That we have kept on masons, stone cutters, quarrymen and minor workmen all through the winter, and are still employing them, for making mortar and breaking up stone for lime; we have had carts bringing this stone to the site and bringing timber for erecting the buildings in which we are now living inside the castle; we also have 1,000 carpenters, smiths, plasterers and navvies, quite apart from a mounted garrison of 10 men accounting for 70s. a week, 20 cross-bowmen who add another 47s. 10d. and 100 infantry who take a further L6 2s. 6d.

(ii) That when this letter was written we were short L500 for both workmen and garrison. The men's pay has been and still is very much in arrear, and we are having the greatest difficulty in keeping them because they simply have nothing to live on.

(iii) That if our lord the king wants the work to be finished as quickly as it should be on the scale on which it has been commenced, we could not make due with less than L250 a week throughout the season; with it, the season could see the work well advanced. If, however, you feel we cannot have so much money, let us know, and we will put the workmen at your disposal according to whatever you think will be the best profit of our lord the king.

As for the progress of the work, we have sent a previous report to the king. We can tell you that some of it already stands about 28 feet high and even where it is lowest it is 20 feet. We have begun 10 of the outer and four of the inner towers, i.e. the two for each of the two gatehouse passages. Four gates have been hung and are shut and locked every night, and each gateway is to have three portcullises. You should also know that at high tide a 40-ton vessel will be able to come fully laden right up to the castle gateway; so much have we been able to do in spite of all the Welshmen.

In case you should wonder where so much money could go in a week, we would have you know that we have needed - and shall continue to need - 400 masons, both cutters and layers, together with 2,000 minor workmen, 100 carts, 60 waggons and 30 boats bringing stone and sea-coal; 200 quarrymen; 30 smiths; and carpenters for putting in the joists and floor-boards and other necessary jobs. All this takes no account of the garrison mentioned above, nor of purchases of materials, of which there will have to be a great quantity.

As to how things are in the land of Wales, we still cannot be any too sure. But, as you well know, Welshmen are Welshmen, and you need to understand them properly; if, which God forbid, there is a war with France and Scotland, we shall need to watch them all the more closely.

You may be assured, dear sirs, that we shall make it our business to give satisfaction in everything. May God protect your dearest lordships.

P.S. And, Sirs, for God's sake be quick with the money for the works, as much as ever our lord king wills; otherwise everything done up till now will have been of no avail.

Public Record Office, E 101/5/18, no.11; original in Norman French

 

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Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas