Castles of Edward I
Get under the skin of Britain's most formidable warrior king. 'Castles of Edward I' is a tour developed exclusively by British History Breaks, staying at our recommended hotels Plas Dinas Country House or Bodysgallen Hall & Spa, both attractions in their own right.
Begin the tour early traveling to Rhuddlan castle on the North Wales coast to see the remarkable and littleknown gem which once played a key role in Edward's military success. Travel to Conwy Castle and explore the famous Castle.
The first day rounds off with a visit to the World famous Caernarfon Castle. With its renowned hexagonal towers modelled on those at Constantinople, the Castle has overseen the investiture of the heir to the British throne for over 800 years.
Visit the nearby Llyn peninsula where the town of Criccieth is overlooked by its namesake castle on the promontory hill.
From here go to Harlech Castle, the site of many famous battles between the native Welsh and the powerful English armies. Take lunch enroute north through the beautiful scenery of Snowdonia to cross into the mysterious Island of Anglesey, spiritual home of the Druids in ancient times but more recently the setting for the nearperfect fortress of Beaumaris; a castle so intricate that its costly construction nearly bankrupted England.
Reflect and recharge with dinner, bed and breakfast at your hotel.
Introduction to Edward I's campaign against the native Welsh Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd
Within the ancient Welsh Kingdom of Gwynedd sits an ‘Iron Ring’ of seemingly unassailable castles; a remarkable and unique architectural legacy born from a military contest between a defiant Welsh Prince and an all-conquering English King. Perhaps England’s most formidable of warrior Kings, Edward I brought all of his military experience to bear against the native Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.
Although he had campaigned against the French, the Scottish and his own rebellious Barons, it was on the Ninth Crusade where Edward’s reputation was sealed. During an assassination attempt by the Shia order of Assassins in Acre, Edward not only defended himself but also fatally wounded his attacker. The incident gave Edward a mythical quality that he readily played upon. This was not all that the King learned on Crusade however; the practicalities of crusading taught him valuable lessons on logistics and exposed him to the latest military techniques in the East. Edward knew he could win a battle and with this new knowledge, he knew he could win the peace too.
Upon returning to England following the death of his Father and having sued for peace with the Muslim Mamluks, Edward expected homage from the ruling classes of his kingdom, whom he viewed as his vassals. Llywelyn, who was not popular amongst his fellow Welsh, refused to pay homage. Citing ongoing hostilities with the Marcher Lords as his grievance and gambling that his disregard towards the King’s requests would increase his own standing. In both cases he was wrong. In 1277, Edward invaded Wales with an overwhelming force comprised largely of Welshmen. Llywelyn quickly sued for peace.
This would be no return to the status quo for the Welsh however. Within a short period, the ancient Welsh codes started to be replaced with English laws. When this resentment inevitably led to war in 1282, it would be an entirely different affair to 1277. This would become a war of national honour.
In Gwynedd, the Welsh had a long history of defeating English incursions. Their knowledge of the mountains and series of connected promontory forts meant that they were quick, mobile and almost impossible to engage in fixed battle. Edward would need to draw on all of his Crusading knowledge if he were to again conquer and consolidate his authority over the nation who has defied the Saxons and the Normans for nearly 800 years.
Like many an invading army before him, Edward’s overwhelming military might initially only served to be his undoing; ungainly and slow, it was the Welsh who scored the early victories. Yet just when the King was at his most exasperated, he was dealt a momentous piece of good fortune. During a skirmish with English knights at a river crossing, Llywelyn was killed. Word spread quickly amongst the Welsh armies and the initiative passed to the King. Quickly securing the major routes through Wales, Edward consolidated his advances with the construction of his ‘Iron Ring’ of castles of which four, Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1984.