Ancient Monuments

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Caernarfon Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Caernarfon, Gwynedd

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Latitude: 53.1393 / 53°8'21"N

Longitude: -4.277 / 4°16'37"W

OS Eastings: 247787

OS Northings: 362663

OS Grid: SH477626

Mapcode National: GBR 5H.6CHL

Mapcode Global: WH43F.8CL5

Entry Name: Caernarfon Castle

Scheduled Date:

Source: Cadw

Source ID: 3417

Cadw Legacy ID: CN079

Schedule Class: Defence

Category: Castle

Period: Medieval

County: Gwynedd

Community: Caernarfon

Built-Up Area: Caernarfon

Traditional County: Caernarfonshire


This monument comprises the remains of a medieval castle built by King Edward I. The castle and town were established in 1283 to confirm his defeat of Llywelyn, Prince of Wales, and conquest of Gwynedd. As a result, Caernarfon became the centre of government for north Wales. The castle and walled town are situated on a rocky outcrop between the mouths of two rivers, the Seiont and the Cadnant, on the Menai Strait.

Edward I chose a previously fortified site for his most imposing castle in Wales and its associated walled town. The castle is believed to have been sited on an earlier Norman motte and bailey fortification. The site was subsequently controlled by the Welsh from about 1115 until Edward I’s victory in 1283. Although nothing of this or the buildings erected by the princes of Gwynedd between about 1115 and 1283 survive.

The ground plan and most of the upstanding remains visible today are those of the castle begun in 1283 by Edward I. Building was carried out in two phases (1283-1292) and (1294-1330). The first phase saw the construction of a significant castle ditch, castle walls and towers alongside town walls. The whole external southern façade and east end of the castle from the Eagle Tower round to the North-East Tower had been built to a good height. Bands of different coloured stone were incorporated into the curtain walls echoing the Emperor Constantine’s Roman city of Constantinople. Together, the town walls and south section of the castle formed a complete and defensible enclosure.

The second building phase (1294-1330) commenced after a widespread revolt by the Welsh. The castle and town of Caernarfon was overrun and much damage was caused to the new town wall. As a consequence Edward I ordered the rebuilding of the damaged sections of town wall and castle. When this had been completed in 1295, work re-started on those areas of the castle that had been left unfinished after the first phase of building.

The plan of the castle is shaped like a ‘figure of eight’, originally divided into two at the centre with a lower ward to the right (west) of the main entrance and an upper ward to the left (east). Entrance into the castle was gained through the King’s Gate, a sophisticated twin-towered gatehouse. To the west of the King’s Gate lies the lower ward. Within this ward, the Eagle Tower, Queen’s Tower, Chamberlain Tower, Well Tower and kitchens are located. The Eagle Tower is the greatest of all the castle’s towers and was probably at first intended to accommodate the King’s lieutenant. Everything about it was designed on a magnificent scale. Like the other northern towers it comprises a basement and three storeys, but there is more generous provision of wall-chambers and its group of three turrets gives it special distinction. The copings on the turret battlements preserve the remains of numerous stone figures – the west turret contains an eagle which is still recognizable.

Within the upper ward the Black Tower, Cistern Tower, Queen’s Gate, Watch Tower, North-East Tower and Granary Tower are located. The Queen’s Gate was the second great twin-towered gateway into the castle and was built up against the earthen motte of the earlier Norman castle.

The castle continued to the maintained and garrisoned, and successfully withstood sieges by Owain Glyn Dŵr in 1403 and 1404. By 1538 the castle is reported to have been in disrepair. However, during the Civil War (1642-48) the castle was once more garrisoned for the king and besieged three times. In 1660 the government gave order for the castle and town walls to be dismantled and demolished, although it appears that this did not occur to any large degree.

The monument is of national and international importance for its potential to enhance our knowledge of medieval social, domestic and political life and warfare. This is reflected by its designation as a World Heritage Site. Significantly, the sheer scale, nobility and architectural finish of Caernarfon castle set it apart from all the others.

The scheduled area comprises the remains described and an area around them within which related evidence may be expected to survive.

Source: Cadw

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