Our hotel in Llangollen was a bit of a local hot spot, so that night saw a huge birthday party in one of the hotel bars. The party was pretty legendary, lasting until around 4 am. This came back to haunt our group, as the birthday boy had parked his car right in front of our motor coach! The hotel clerk had to call a relative in to move the car, and then we were on our way to Beaumaris.
Located on the island of Anglesey, Beaumaris is one of four fortresses, along with the castles of Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech, that were built by Edward 1st of England to ring around the high mountain strongholds of Welsh Snowdonia.
Beaumaris was the final of the four, and is considered one of the most perfectly designed castles in all of Britain. While the design is perfect, Beaumaris was never finished.
Construction began in 1294, and as we all know from Braveheart, Edward's priorities soon began to shift away from the freshly pacified Welsh to the increasingly restive Scottish. The massive expense of building such a large fortification was no longer necessary, so the primary construction ceased in 1298, though some further work was undertaken later.
The massive gatehouses and inner keeps were never raised to their full height, but even so the fortification is pretty impressive. The castles of Master James of Saint George were known for their multiple defensive layers, making them very difficult to assault. Each of the four also contained a water based sally port, enabling resupply in the event of a siege. Harlech once withstood a seven year siege because of the ocean access.
Back in college I actually wrote an paper on Edward's castles for my English History course. Back in 2002 I wrote that:
Beaumaris was begun in 1294, after a second Welsh Rebellion. It had an outer wall with a moat and gatehouse, with a much higher inner wall. This allowed two sets of defenders, while still providing a point of retreat if the outer wall was breached. The inner wall also had a heavily fortified gatehouse, which set to the side of the outer gatehouse. Any army that made it that far would have to turn directly right and parallel a tower, all the while getting hit from the defenders above. The effort put into the construction of these castles was immense. During the construction of Beaumaris in 1296 James of St George oversaw “400 masons, 2000 labourers, 200 quarrymen, 30 smiths and carpenters, 100 carts, 60 wagons, and 30 cargo boats.”
The tour director found out that I had written about the castle, so I got to do the bus commentary as we drove towards it. I only faintly remembered what I had read back in school, but with a little bit of wikipedia to refresh my memory, I did all right. Perhaps being a tour guide really is my true calling...