Beaumaris Castle

Twelfth Stop: Beaumaris

Beaumaris Castle

Catching the ferry from Dublin, Ireland we arrived in Holyhead, Wales and were promptly greeted by an extra-friendly Welshmen who informed us (in an amusing accent) of all the amazing castles there were to see in the area. We met up with Ashleigh’s brother, Braeden, (who had been on his own Euro-trip) and embarked on one last whirlwind tour of British castles before leaving the land of tea and crumpets behind. The first stop was Beaumaris Castle, pronounced exactly like a butchered French name (bow-mare-is), only a short bus ride across a bridge to the Isle of Anglesey. When one thinks of a typical castle, Beaumaris is exactly as it should be: a draw bridge, a moat (crocodiles would have been nice), and plenty of towers; I was thrilled to have finally found a proper, medieval stronghold.

Ashleigh and her brother, Braeden, in front of the gates of Beaumaris

Numerous megalithic monuments and menhirs are present on the Isle of Anglesey–evidence of human occupation since long before history was written. It is known that the island was once a religious centre for theCeltic Druids, but in 60 AD a Roman general named Gaius Suetonius Paulinus attacked the island in an attempt to break the power of the Druids. The shrines and sacred groves were destroyed, the Druidic priests were slaughtered, and eventually the Isle of Angelsey was brought into the Roman Empire. Hundreds of years later, Beaumaris Castle was built on the site as part of King Edward I’s campaign to conquer Northern Wales, the first of five castles we visited built by Edward– that busy bee. The kings of England and the Welsh princes had vied for control over North Wales since the 1070’s and the conflict had been renewed, leading to Edward’s intervention in 1282. Edward’s vast army and resources made him unstoppable, and he soon colonized northern Wales, establishing three new English shires: Caernarfon, Merioneth, and Anglesey. In 1294 the Welsh rebelled against English rule under the command of Madog ap Llywelyn (oh what a funny name), and a bloody rebellion commenced within the new English shires. The iron boots of Edward Longshanks crushed all resistance over the winter and by the time spring came around peace was re-established under English rule. Noticing a weak spot in Anglesey, Edward sought to fortify the area and chose a site called “Beaumaris” to build his castle. Work on the fortress commenced in 1295, but due to financial difficulties, and then even MORE financial difficulties when Edward’s attention turned to invading Scotland (wars can be sooo costly), the work plodded along for 35 years. At last the money dried up and in 1330 the construction halted, leaving the castle unfinished. After that, Beaumaris Castle became the stage for a few more rebellions. The castle was captured in 1403 during a second Welsh revolution, but lost back to the English. Then again it was used as a base for the Royalists during theEnglish Civil War in 1642, but surrendered to the Parliament in 1646. After the war many castles were ‘slighted’, damaged to put them beyond military use, but the Parliament was concerned about a Royalist invasion from Scotland and Beaumaris was spared (lucky for us). Nowadays the castle is in good condition and can be enjoyed by wave after wave of countless tourists and school field trips.

Beaumaris castle is a fine example of perfect symmetry, unlike most fortresses, with each tower and parapet having a twin. This basic castle design consists of an inner wall and an outer wall. The inner wall is considerably more massive, square in shape with six towers and two huge gatehouses, one left unfinished. The inner ward was intended to hold accommodation and other domestic buildings, though they were never built. The outer defence consists of an eight-sided curtain wall with twelve towers and two gateways, one leading out to the north side of the castle and the other into the surrounding moat with accessibility to the sea. The sea gate and dock were protected by another outer wall and a firing platform that may have housed a trebuchet siege engine during the medieval period.

An aerial view of Beaumaris Castle, Wales

Before the Romans conquered much of southern Britain (including Anglesey), the Druids held much of the power in the country as religious leaders. Not much is known about the Druidic religion, but through accounts of various Roman historians they often conducted human and animal sacrifice, claiming to read the future in the entrails or by the way the bodies convulsed as they died. When the Romans set about to conquer Britannia they saw the Druids as a threat to their authority and sought to wipe them out. General Gaius Suetonius Paulinus’ invasion of Anglesey, on the site of Beaumaris, was a huge hit to the Druidic community. Tacitus, a military writer, scribed an account of the Roman/Druid battle as follows:

“[Paulinus] prepared to attack the island of Mona (Anglesey) which had a powerful population and was a refuge for fugitives. He built flat-bottomed vessels to cope with the shallows, and uncertain depths of the sea. Thus the infantry crossed, while the cavalry followed by fording, or, where the water was deep, swam by the side of their horses. On the shore stood the opposing army with its dense array of armed warriors, while between the ranks dashed women, in black attire like the Furies, with hair dishevelled, waving brands. All around, the Druids, lifting up their hands to heaven, and pouring forth dreadful imprecations, scared our soldiers by the unfamiliar sight, so that, as if their limbs were paralysed, they stood motionless, and exposed to wounds. Then urged by their general’s appeals and mutual encouragements not to quail before a troop of frenzied women, they bore the standards onwards, smote down all resistance, and wrapped the foe in the flames of his own brands. A force was next set over the conquered, and their groves, devoted to inhuman superstitions, were destroyed. They deemed it indeed a duty to cover their altars with the blood of captives and to consult their deities through human entrails.”

Roman and Druid battle at the Island of Anglesey

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