Beaumaris castle was the last and largest of the great Edwardian castles.  Unlike the rest of Edward's Welsh fortresses this one actually did have a major input to the design by Master James of St George.  It is also apparent that Edward I was little interested in it from the begging letters James had to send to the king for money to complete it.  Indeed, although it was started in 1295, it was not completed until 35 years later and was actually never finished to the original plan.  The intended residential ranges were not begun and the towers and gates of the inner ward lack their upper storeys, giving the castle a low and unassuming aspect.  Leading an unexciting existence (which meant that the castle was either too strong to be attacked, or was a complete white elephant), the fortress was finally put in order and garrisoned during the English Civil War.  Even then it saw little use and, rather than being slighted, simply does not seem to have been maintained after its surrender in 1646.

Beaumaris castle has a truly concentric layout, with the square courtyard surrounded by an enclosing ward, with round towers at the corners and D shaped towers along the east and west sides.  The walls of this are penetrated by ground floor crossbow loops, a relatively unusual design.  
Such loops also appear at possibly Adare and certainly Dunamase in Ireland as well as Flint, Grosmont and Rhuddlan in Wales and in the early work at Goodrich and the 1220s work at Rochester in England as well as in the inner ward at Aguilar in France.

Serving the inner ward were great twin towered gatehouses to the north and south.  James St George's work can clearly be seen in these towers which are enlarged (and unfinished) versions of Harlech gatehouse.  Far from Harlech being the work of James, himself - the gatehouse was standing when Edward's army got there in 1283 - it must have been the work of an earlier thirteenth century Welsh mason, or even a foreigner employed by one of the Welsh princes.  At Beaumaris, around the inner ward lay a low outer defence punctuated by many towers, but only one gate to the south which was attached to the port and the projecting 'Gunners Walk'.  Beyond this was the impressive and photogenic moat fed by tidal waters.

For more detailed descriptions of the castle see RCAHM and Medieval Military Architecture:

Why not join me at Beaumaris and other British castles this October?  Please see the information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2016 Paul Martin Remfry