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Caernarfon Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Caernarvon; Carnarvon

In the community of Caernarfon.
In the historic county of Caernarfonshire.
Modern authority of Gwynedd.
Preserved county of Gwynedd.

OS Map Grid Reference: SH477626
Latitude 53.13937° Longitude -4.27626°

Caernarfon Castle has been described as a probable Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Palace.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Caernarfon castle is an imperious and grand fortress built following the English conquest of Gwynedd in the late thirteenth century. Its banded stone towers famously reference the great walls of Constantinople. This is a play on the visionary 'Dream of Mascen Wledig', a poem celebrating Wales' legendary imperial past. The castle was in decay by the sixteenth century and was abandoned following the Civil War. It was restored and refurbished from the mid nineteenth century. The castle, together with the walled borough (NPRN 93527), was begun in 1283 and was still incomplete by about 1330 when major work ended. It consists of seven great polygonal towers, two turrets and two great twin towered gates, all joined by massive curtain walls tracing a rough figure of eight. Galleries thread their way through the walls and across the towers. The higher upper ward and Queen's Gate are thought to occupy the earthworks of an earlier castle. At the other end of the castle is the mighty Eagle Tower, crowned by three tall turrets topped by sculptured figures. The grand appartments planned for the castle interior, including a great hall, may never have been built. Although the castle presents a great display of military might from outside the medieval borough the approach to the great King's Gate (NPRN 302417) follows an indirect line along narrows streets. From this direction the castle appears only in fragments. From the nineteenth century the castle was extensively restored and the walls and towers renewed. In this way the medieval fortress has become an archetypal castle, a setting for investitures and other grand occasions. (Coflein)

Caernarfon is the greatest and best known of all the North Welsh castles of Edward I, designed to be a stronghold, a royal palace and an administrative centre all in one. The site was already occupied by a motte and bailey castle, probably built by Hugh of Avranches around 1090. The new Caernarfon Castle, begun in 1283, was built around it and this is reflected in the shape and height of the upper ward. Before the castle could be completed, the town walls were breached during the revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294. Work continued immediately afterwards and the castle, although never entirely finished, was completed in 1327. Although Edward II was born at Caernarfon, and it remained the official capital of north Wales, it was never used as a base for a ruling Prince of Wales and its political importance diminished. It remained garrisoned, however, and withstood two sieges during the Glyndwr rebellion. It was again held by the Royalists during the Civil War, this time withstanding three seperate sieges. The castle itself is divided into an upper and a lower ward, defended by a single curtain wall with two main gatehouses, the King's Gate and the Queen's Gate. Octagonal towers protect all angles of the curtain wall. The site is long and narrow with only the Great Hall and kitchens being built against the inner face of the wall. Accomodation was provided within the gatehouses and towers. In addition to the wall-walk, the walls also contain two levels of wall passages with, at the north east end, an arrangement of triple arrowslits. (Gwynedd Archaeological Trust HER)

Monumental masonry castle, an irregular area, c.150m E-W by 40-46m, is defined by curtain walls studded by 13 polygonal towers and turrets, including two twin-towered gatehouses,; walls and towers feature contrasting bands of stonework, turrets top the towers, and those of the Eagle Tower carried sculptured eagles, one remaining; castle heavily restored in the C19 and C20. The upper ward area is thought to rest upon and incorporate an earlier earthwork castle enclosure/mound. King Edward I intended the castle to be a royal residence and seat of government for north Wales. Begun in 1283 under the direction of Master James of St George, the King's mason-architect, and continuously in Crown possession since. World Heritage Site 374
Links to mapping and other online resources

Data >
Coflein   County HER       Listing    
Maps >
OS getamap   Streetmap   Old-Maps   Where's the path      
Data/Maps > 
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Sources of information, references and further reading

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The bibliography owes much to various bibliographies produced by John Kenyon for the Council for British Archaeology, the Castle Studies Group and others.
Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
Minor archaeological investigations, such as watching brief reports, and some other 'grey' literature is most likely to be held by H.E.R.s but is often poorly referenced and is unlikely to be recorded here, or elsewhere, but some suggestions can be found here.
The possible site or monument is represented on maps as a point location. This is a guide only. It should be noted that OS grid references defines an area, not a point location. In practice this means the actual center of the site or monument may often, but not always, be to the North East of the point shown.
Locations derived from OS grid references and from latitude longitiude may differ by a small distance.
Further information on mapping and location can be seen at this link.
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*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of the described site.

This record last updated on Thursday, November 21, 2013