Harlech castle

Harlech Castle

Last updated: 23 November 2010

Harlech Castle was begun in 1283, and was finished by 1290 - and was the cheapest of Edward I's castles built at that time.

Nevertheless, it was still an astonishing engineering and architectural feat. To the west, the walls dropped straight down onto a cliff face down to the waves of the Irish Sea. The concentric structure had two rings of walls and towers, with an immensely strong east gatehouse and wall.

When originally built, the sea came right to the foot of the cliffs and a fortified stairway ran from the sea 200 feet up to the castle, enabling supplies to reach the defenders inside, utilising Edward I's marine supremacy.

This stairway came into use when Madog ap Llywelyn attacked the castle during his rebellion of 1294-5 and Harlech held out. It fell to Owain Glyndwr's forces in 1404, however.

The monarchy retook the castle in 1408 and it next saw military action during the Wars of the Roses. It was the last castle to hold out for the Lancastrian side, surviving a seven year siege because of its sea supply line. It finally fell in 1468 - but the strength of the defenders' resolve may have inspired the song Men Of Harlech.

Harlech was then used not as a defensive structure, but instead was utilised as a debtors' prison, but like Conwy, Harlech was used as a Royalist castle in the Civil War.

Once more it was the last garrison to hold out, this time against the Parliamentary forces. A demolition order was issued after the war, but was never carried out. Instead, the castle gradually decayed - the outer wall of the concentric structure has suffered the worst damage.

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