Military Review

Conwy Castle - the royal castle of the "iron ring" of Edward I.

Europe can justly be called a country of castles, and all the Middle Ages - the “era of castles”, because over the 500 years they were built there more than 15000, including the Middle East. They guarded the caravan roads in Palestine, were the centers of Reconquista in Spain, protected from pirates the inhabitants of the coastal cities in France and England, but in Scotland and Wales they very often were indicative of the power of royal power, because they were not built by the seignors, but the king, to consolidate their power in the conquered lands of the freedom-loving Welsh and Scots.

Conwy Castle - the royal castle of the "iron ring" of Edward I.

Conwy Castle: view of the Western Barbican, the entrance to the castle, and the gate towers (bottom left).

This is how the royal castle of Conwy, which came to our time, was built on the orders of King Edward I, after he conquered Wales in 1277 and turned it into another possession of the British crown. Moreover, in order to keep the local people in check, Edward built not one but eight castles - a kind of “iron ring” for the conquered Welsh, five of whom defended the cities built along with them. It was built in 1283 - 1289, and in the winter 1294 - 1295. he withstood the siege of Madog Llewellyn, served as a temporary haven for Richard II in 1399, while in the 1401 year the Welsh did not take him, and then, they did not take it by force, but by cunning!

Estuary of the Conwy River. The tower above the railway tracks was attached to the castle later.

Subsequently, the castle gradually collapsed, and all the iron and lead from it were removed and sold. In the era of romanticism, its ruins were chosen by painters, including the famous Turner, and from the end of the 19th century it turned into a tourist attraction. So, in 2010, 186 897 tourists visited it; however, it now requires ongoing maintenance and repair, which costs around 30 000 £ per year.

View of Conwy Castle in 1905 year.

However, foreign tourists visit Conwy Castle much less frequently than local tourists who prefer sights in Bath, London, Leeds and Edinburgh. It is not in the list of tourist attractions of bus tours in England from Russia, so the more reason we have to “visit” and get acquainted with “the best example of military architecture of the end of XIII and the beginning of the XIV century in Europe”, which is classified by UNESCO as a valuable object of historical world heritage.

A view of the castle in 1905: you see the first suspension bridge in England and a railroad pipe bridge over the Conwy River, built, respectively, in 1826 and 1848.

Then, in 1958, next to these two bridges, an automobile stone arch bridge was built (to the right).

And this is how the castle looks like from this bridge.

Acquaintance with the castle and fortifications of Conwy should begin with a study of the plan of the eighteenth century, since this is the earliest of the remaining plans. However, it is known that by that time it had not changed much since its foundation, so that we can thus see a typical medieval city with a castle.

Plan of the city and the castle of Conwy XVIII century.

Both at the time of its foundation and later, the city of Conwy was an irregular pentagon surrounded by a wall in which the U-shaped XBUM half-tower and two round watchtowers were located. There were three gates in the wall: Upper, Lower, Mill "auxiliary", overlooking the beach. At the same time, the Lower and Mill Gates passed between two such semi-towers, and the Upper had in addition also an advanced Barbakan. On two sides the city walls were surrounded by a dry moat, on the one side the Conwy River, while on the east side there was a large pond (on the plan for some reason not shown) formed by a dam, which stood on the river at the Mill Gate, where the water mill was located.

Layout of the castle and the city of Conwy. View of the city and the castle from the northeast. The eastern Barbican is clearly visible (in the Middle Ages there was a vegetable garden there, and trees grew), the so-called “water gates” leading to the castle from the river, as well as the city pier.

In the city at the time of its foundation, and later, there were only four streets: the Upper Gate Street is the longest, running along the western fortress wall, the Main Street that ran from the Lower Gate to the Market Square, Rosemary Street to the Market Square from the Upper Gate , Zamkovaya street and one market square, located in the city center in close proximity to the church of the Virgin Mary.

Church of Our Lady in Conwy.

The city wall had battlements with loopholes and was arranged in such a way that each of its sections from one half-tower to the other was a separate defense zone, to which its own stone staircase (all there were 20) led without railings. It was possible to walk around the whole city along the wall only in peacetime, because the passages between the towers were wooden bridges that were easily removed, and the towers themselves were much higher than the wall itself. Thus, the section from one tower to another could easily be isolated from one another, and just as a separate fortification was each tower, which could only be reached by a special ladder! The total length of the city wall is three quarters of a mile.

Modern view of the wall and wall tower from the Mill Gate.

View of the Mill Gate (in the distance) and a section of the city wall.

Layout of Conwy Castle. View of the castle from the east, the dam, the water mill, the Mill Gate, and the Castle Street that runs along the city wall that faces the sea. By the way, pay attention to the whiteness of the walls - they were then whitewashed with chalk and lime “for beauty”, so in the Middle Ages a white-stone castle with royal standards flying over it on towers really looked very elegant.

The mill gate is a modern look.

Another view of the Mill Gate from the city wall.

For the construction of the city and the castle, King Edward hired the greatest architect in Europe, the master Jacob of Saint Georges in Savoy. He planned the castle so that its massive walls would become part of the city fortifications. Well, the choice of the construction site was obvious: a high rock ridge on a cape protruding into the river, which only needed to be leveled in order to turn it into an ideal foundation for a castle. Here once stood the ruined castle of Deganvi, so the comforts of this choice were obvious.

That's how they built castles in the XII century. Manuscript miniature. Martin Bodmer Foundation, Pendant.

The builders were recruited from all over England in the number of 1500 people, and for four years, working from March to October, they erected a fortress and a castle. Edward's accountants, who did not share the costs of city walls for the costs of building the castle, determined their total cost at about 15 000 £ - a huge amount at that time, and today is also a component of 193 million euros! Interestingly, after the castellan castle was completed, the royal charter of 1284 was also appointed mayor of the new Conwy, thus combining military and civilian power, and under his command a garrison of 30 soldiers, including 15 crossbowmen, and also carpenter, chaplain, blacksmith, engineer and bricklayer for the current repair of the castle.

Plan Conwy Castle.

Already in 1321, he complained to the king that there was not enough money to maintain the castle: the roofs were leaking and the wooden structures were rotten. The famous Black Prince in 1343, ordered repair work in the castle, and Sir John Weston, his chamberlain, conducted them: he installed new arches in the Great Hall and in other parts of the castle. But after the death of the Black Prince, Conwy was again neglected, and Charles I sold him to Edward Conwy in 1627 for only £ 100, but he did not end up repairing it. Most of the gray stone for construction was mined on site, since the castle was erected on a rocky foundation with a height of 15 meters, but some of the higher quality stone was brought from other places.

The entrance to the castle was carried out on a special stepped ramp, not preserved to this day. But the double gate tower has remained, in which a side entrance is arranged for visitors.

Conwy Castle is a rectangular stone wall with eight round towers with loopholes. The towers of the castle are multi-storey, their height is about 20. Four towers have additional watchtowers. The courtyard is divided into two parts by a high and massive transverse wall. All towers of the castle have several floors. Their height is about 70 feet (20 m), and the diameter - 30 feet (about 10 m), wall thickness - 15 feet (that is, about 4 m). The technology of building walls and towers is typical for that time: they were formed by two walls, between which covered broken stone mixed with lime, and all the floors - the floors and ceilings rested on thick wooden beams, for which holes were made in the walls.

The remains of a ramp at the entrance to the Western Barbican. Once there was a drawbridge between them.

Passing through this bridge and further through the gate with machiculi (by the way, the oldest in England), visitors to the castle find themselves in the courtyard of the western Barbican, from where they enter the first courtyard through the gate in the wall between the two towers.

Gate from the western Barbican to the outer courtyard.

In this courtyard was the main hall and a huge kitchen adjoining the Kitchen Tower. Between the kitchen and the main hall there used to be a covered walkway so as not to carry foods in the rain and snow, but still they brought them to the feast already cooled down.

View of the west side of the castle from the sea.

One of the watchtowers.

View of the watchtower below. Today, the castle towers have no roofs, but stone spiral staircases still lead to the watchtowers in the thick walls.

In the prison tower located here, there was a special chamber “dettors Chambre” (“Chamber of Debtors”). Well, besides the kitchen there was a bakery and numerous storerooms. There was also a covered well in the courtyard, which was pierced in a rock with a depth of 91 feet (28 m).


Then there was a courtyard, separated from the outside not only by a wall, but also by a moat, which was also cut in the rock, with a drawbridge. However, the ditch is now filled. There were also premises for the king and his family, and a tower with a chapel.

View of the royal chambers and the tower from the pantry.

Stained glass windows in the tower chapel restored.

On the eastern side of the courtyard a barbican was also arranged with a garden and a garden. A small jetty was built here, allowing visitors to enter the castle directly from the ship moored to it.

Pay attention to the doors in the walls near the very base of the towers. Why were they needed? But why: these are the entrances to the toilets, which in this castle were arranged at the base of the walls, and not on the walls themselves, as was often done at that time. Firstly, the brown trickles were not very in harmony with the snow-white color of the walls, and secondly, they were built there not only because of this, but also because the castle stood on a steep rocky foundation (this is now overgrown with grass but before that there was a bare stone there!), and one could not be afraid of enemy rams. That is why the “booths” were at the bottom, the aisles in them were in the thick of the walls, and the holes for the drain were at their base, and were very small.

This photo clearly shows the exits from the toilet cubicles, which have not survived to us.

View of the prison tower, the Royal Tower and the large hall.

On the right is the entrance to the large hall.

Gate to the courtyard.

On the embankment of the town of Conwy, it is now always crowded, even when the weather does not spoil the sun!

View of the city and the castle from the air.

Well, the last thing to remember when going to Conwy Castle. Admission ticket for adults - £ 6.75, family ticket - two adults and many children up to 16 years - £ 20.25. Well, 24 - December 26 and January 1 lock does not work.
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  1. Andrey Yuryevich
    Andrey Yuryevich April 27 2016 06: 10
    I’ve never envied anything in Europe except castles ... the feeling of History itself, at the same time the eternity and mortality of the world, the beauty is exciting and does not want to let go. what a pity that we have so few such epic structures ...
    1. cth; fyn
      cth; fyn April 27 2016 08: 38
      Heh, we have only a bunch of Kremlin.
  2. Uncle Murzik
    Uncle Murzik April 27 2016 06: 12
    article plus! monumental structures, how could they be stormed?
    1. kalibr
      April 27 2016 06: 44
      At night they threw the "cat" on the wall when the sentry passed. Then they rose quickly ... They killed the sentry. Then they lowered the stairs or put them on. The others climbed up and killed the gate guards. Raising the grate and lowering the bridge ... and that's it! Or they hired (bribed) a person from among their own who did it. Or they dressed up as monks and said, "Let me go." They were allowed in! They took out daggers from under their robes and ... This is exactly how, by the way, the Welsh took Conwy Castle! Or ... through the toilet. First into the cesspool. Then along the pipe upward, from the toilet to the security room. There, kill everyone and open the gate. So the castle of Chateau Gaillard was taken! Or throwing pots of shit with catapults. Many pots ... Then the castle gave up!
      1. Chiropractor
        Chiropractor April 27 2016 09: 54
        Before the introduction of artillery into widespread use, castles were taken by saboteurs and "biological" weapons.
        15 crossbowmen neutralized the climbing few armored men, because armor is expensive. And the Welsh militia, where every man is a good archer, coped with the attacking armless.
        You can’t knock out the gate with a ram - a ramp and a drawbridge.

        In general, a regular garrison of castles rarely had more than 50 fighters. Other castles in Scotland were defended by 5-7 soldiers. Of course, in the event of the arrival of the enemy, the surrounding population packed up in the castle and rendered all possible assistance in defense.
      2. garpastum75
        garpastum75 April 27 2016 22: 45
        Yeah, and the geese wouldn’t save laughing
  3. parusnik
    parusnik April 27 2016 07: 46
    During the rebellion of Owain Glendur, the castle was destined to demonstrate its defenses. The siege lasted two years, the defenders of the castle withstood several attacks, and supplies were brought to them by sea. The castle fell in 1401 to the supporters of Owen Glendour. He was captured by Rhys and Gwilym Tudors in the most dramatic way. On Good Friday, April 1, 1401, while the English soldiers defending the castle were in the church, these two brothers from England captured the castle with the help of 40 soldiers. The castle remained in the hands of the Welsh for more than two months. During the civil war, Parliament issued an order to destroy Carnarvon, but this task was not up to the "round-headed". Too much gunpowder would have been required for an explosion. After the end of the Civil War, Lord Conway bought this castle for a pittance, and sold all the treasures preserved within its walls. Thanks for the interesting excursion ...
  4. igordok
    igordok April 27 2016 08: 17
    Thanks. Handsomely.
    It doesn’t look like a typical castle. No dungeon. The towers are geometrically correct. It is rather a city fortress with a citadel. Although for the king it may have been a castle.
  5. tlauicol
    tlauicol April 27 2016 08: 34
    Handsome man!

    30 people of the garrison are certainly not enough for such a colossus
    1. igordok
      igordok April 27 2016 08: 42
      Quote: Tlauicol
      30 people of the garrison are certainly not enough for such a colossus

      For the castle itself, i.e. eight-tower citadel, that's enough. Do not forget about the militia.
      But for the whole fortress it will already be not enough.
  6. cth; fyn
    cth; fyn April 27 2016 08: 36
    Edward 1? Could it be that the Scots led by Wales led you to conceive us?
    1. kalibr
      April 27 2016 14: 05
      There is such an idea, especially since the British have written a lot of interesting things about it, but ... it so happened that materials on the mysteries of the Bayesian painting came and all the forces were thrown into it. Then I finally got an independent translation of the material about the Remington rifle. I remember that someone demanded scans and a photo of the cover from me. Photos are not a problem, and scans are useless. Translation is needed, and not mine. Now it is. Well, the continuation of the old themes - "blitzkrieg tanks", "Andzin Miura" and ... "massacre" - as without him, darling. The topic turned out to be very broad and beyond the scope of the story itself.
    2. SlavaP
      SlavaP April 27 2016 22: 13
      It was Edward II, who was nicknamed the "Hammer of the Scots"
  7. demiurg
    demiurg April 27 2016 09: 06
    Are there ghosts in the castle? lol
    1. Andrey Yuryevich
      Andrey Yuryevich April 27 2016 09: 10
      Quote: demiurg
      Are there ghosts in the castle? lol

      it's not Mauriceville! smile
      1. SlavaP
        SlavaP 4 May 2016 22: 13
        There is no Conwy, but there is definitely Edinburgh (although I haven’t seen it myself). However, opposite the main entrance to the castle there is the Whiskey Museum with a tasting room, so if you start from there, ghosts will certainly appear!
    2. kalibr
      April 27 2016 13: 57
      I haven’t read about it anywhere. Even the site of the castle itself and the city of Conwy is not about that.
  8. Pygmy
    Pygmy April 27 2016 09: 24
    Thank you for the detailed story with photos. Unfortunately, few people devote time to writing such articles. I look forward to continuing, I really want to know about other major castles in Europe!
    1. kalibr
      April 27 2016 13: 58
      Will be! More about a couple of castles and a few forts! It will even be a bit funny story, as I walked to two Spanish castles and what came of it.
  9. AK64
    AK64 April 27 2016 09: 26
    Just in case: Wells are called Welsh
  10. sub307
    sub307 April 27 2016 10: 30
    Great excursion.
  11. Alex777
    Alex777 April 27 2016 12: 17
    Quote: kalibr
    Yes, a beautiful place and I would like to visit there, but ... it is far from the bus tourist route in England. There, of course, its charms. But Conwy is far away from him.

    Cromwell destroyed many castles. Lots of. How did this beauty survive?
    1. kalibr
      April 27 2016 13: 59
      It took a lot of gunpowder. Gunpowder was in price!
  12. Mikhail Matyugin
    Mikhail Matyugin April 27 2016 14: 07
    Many thanks to the distinguished Vyacheslav for a great article! Some exclusive photos of what are worth.

    Quote: AK64
    Just in case: Wells are called Welsh

    And why can not the inhabitants of Wales be called Welsh? request
  13. King, just king
    King, just king April 27 2016 14: 48
    Regarding the methods described here for taking locks. I, personally, in this castle was struck by the excessive, in my opinion, wall height. It hurts too high. The only thing that can be for the visual suppression of local rebels, but it is too expensive.
    The wall of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, in my opinion, is half lower.
  14. Razvedka_Boem
    Razvedka_Boem April 27 2016 15: 15
    Great review! Honored "+".
    If possible, I would like to see an overview of the eastern castles. I remember once I was struck by the Mehrangarh fortress.
    1. kalibr
      April 27 2016 15: 46
      Here was my material on Indian fortresses - look through the profile. I think she is there. The material on the castle of Crac de Chevalier is now ready. Next week he will not be, but in a week - most likely yes.
      1. Razvedka_Boem
        Razvedka_Boem April 27 2016 19: 23
        Thanks, be sure to watch.
      2. saygon66
        saygon66 April 27 2016 21: 16
        “Crac de Chevalier ... And what will happen about Saint-Simon?” And the Aleppo Citadel ... though ... it was built by the Arabs! And the castle of Aruat island.
        1. kalibr
          April 28 2016 06: 57
          It means this: I was not there, and it is somehow not very good to write only according to Vivipedia. I haven't been to Conwy either, but I had excellent information from the British. For Krak, which is already in the VO archive and is now being verified, there was information again in some English edition and in the same place an excerpt on the cave monastery from my book "The Crusaders". So I can hardly write about what you are interested in.
          1. saygon66
            saygon66 April 28 2016 13: 46
            -Photos taken years ago 20 ago ...
            1. saygon66
              saygon66 April 28 2016 13: 49
              -Craque de Chevalier ... And there was the fortress of Marcab - from black stone, on a white solution ...
            2. Warrior2015
              Warrior2015 April 28 2016 21: 52
              Quote: saygon66
              otography made years ago commercials 20 ago ...

              Krak de Chevalier suffered very much during the last war in Syria. It’s a pity, I didn’t reach him, everything didn’t happen ...

              In it, Russian filmmakers managed to shoot the series "Bayazet" like.
  15. Free wind
    Free wind April 27 2016 16: 01
    Interesting, thanks. I thought that castles are a defense of ... well, sir, but it turns out that they also had the Kremlin to protect the city.
    1. igordok
      igordok April 27 2016 18: 15
      Quote: Free Wind
      Interesting, thanks. I thought that castles are a defense of ... well, sir, but it turns out that they also had the Kremlin to protect the city.

      Formally, the Kremlin (Krom, Detinets) were only in Russia. This is our name. In the west, the last defensive point was called the citadel, a reduit.
      Quote: Free Wind
      but it turns out they had the Kremlin, to protect the city.

      Here, perhaps the opposite, a city to protect the king.
  16. saygon66
    saygon66 April 27 2016 21: 12
    - It's somehow cold ... damp ... gray ... moss all around ... Harsh, in a word! How did they heat it all up, I wonder ... Fireplaces and portable braziers?
    - A peculiar beauty ...
  17. SlavaP
    SlavaP April 27 2016 22: 10
    Thanks to the author for the article. I repent - it took me about three hours to get to Conway and Cornarvon castles, but I didn’t get there .... However, there are other pearls - Royal Windsor, Warwick, Anik (as Harry Potter was filmed), Edinburgh Castle - you will be with us - visit us surely! Well, at least google!
    1. saygon66
      saygon66 April 27 2016 22: 28
      - Warwick ... Is that the one who is "The Kingmaker"?
      1. SlavaP
        SlavaP 4 May 2016 22: 11
        Yes, he is.

        The castle (beautifully preserved) has a separate exposition on this subject.
    2. kalibr
      April 28 2016 06: 53
      My colleague and co-author David Nicole has moved to London now, but he has excellent materials on castles. It will be necessary to ask and give them here.
  18. saygon66
    saygon66 April 27 2016 22: 39
    - That's what the castle of our city looked like ...
    1. saygon66
      saygon66 April 27 2016 22: 40
      - Patio. Reconstruction.
      1. saygon66
        saygon66 April 27 2016 22: 42
        - Now it looks something like this ...
  19. masiya
    masiya 1 May 2016 17: 40
    Beauty is of course, but ENGLAND.NATO.