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Norman, Welsh & Edwardian Castles

Photograph Copyright © by Jeffrey L. Thomas.


Although not entirely correct, it is convenient to think of Medieval Welsh castles as falling into three main categories. The first group - Norman castles - consists of stone castles built by the conquering Normans beginning shortly after their victory over the Saxons at Hastings in 1066. These castles are found mainly in south Wales and along the border with England to the east, the so-called "Welsh Marches." Outstanding examples of this type of castle include Chepstow, Caerphilly and Pembroke, all located in south Wales.

The second group of castles are the native Welsh castles, built by Wales' own princes and ruling royal houses. They are sometimes referred to as the "native prince castles." Prominent among these are Castell-y-Bere, DolwyddelanCriccieth and Carreg Cennen. A visit to a native Welsh castle usually provides a most rewarding castle experience, as they often command the most dramatic and scenic positions Wales has to offer.

The "Edwardian Castles," were built by King Edward I at the end of the 13th century as a means of subduing the rebellious princes of north Wales. They are our third and probably best-known group of Welsh castles. They tend to be larger and more impressive than Norman and native castles but not necessarily more important. Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech, and Beaumaris rank high as familiar examples of this type of Welsh castle.

Below: mighty Kidwelly Castle in south Wales is a wonderful example of a Norman castle



Below: Ewloe Castle in northeast Wales is an excellent example of a native Welsh castle



Some would mention at least two other types of Welsh castle. The Norman motte and bailey castles, (such as Wiston Castle below) made of earth and timber thrived in south Wales and the Welsh Marches for many years before stone castles came to dominate the landscape. These castles can be a bit more difficult to find, but most are well worth the effort. Examples can be seen all along the border of Wales and England. The so-called "Tudor castle" represents yet another type of Welsh castle common towards the end of the Middle Ages. Handsome Carew Castle in south Wales in an excellent example of this type of castle.

After the final conquest of Wales by Edward I the apparent need for castles quickly diminished. Unlike the impressive chain of new castles Henry VIII built in the south of England, there was no new castle construction in Wales during the reign of the Tudors. The transition from military stronghold to comfortable residence was in many cases already underway, a change reflected in the fortified manor house at Weobley, for instance. A tudor castle in Wales was typically a modified Norman castle. Existing castles were modified or refitted with Tudor-style refinements, transforming strongholds which had been primarily built for defensive purposes into elegant showplaces for their lords, ladies and guests. The last castle built in Wales was stately Raglan, begun about 1435 some 74 years before Henry ascended the throne.



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Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas