Beaumaris was originally a Viking settlement known as Porth y Wygyr ("Port of the Vikings"), but the town itself began its development in 1295 when Edward I of England commissioned the building of Beaumaris Castle as part of a chain of fortifications around the North Wales coast (others include Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech).
The ancient village of Llanfaes, a mile to the north of Beaumaris, had been conquered by the Anglo Saxons in 818 but had been freed by the King of Gwynedd and remained a vital strategic settlement. To counter further Welsh uprisings, and to ensure control of the Menai Strait which separates Anglesey from Wales, Edward I chose the flat coastal plain as the place to build Beaumaris Castle. The castle is considered the most perfect example of a concentric castle and is a designated World Heritage Site.
Beaumaris was awarded a Royal Charter by Edward I which was drawn up on similar terms the charters of his other castle towns in North Wales and intended to invest only the English and Norman-French residents with civic rights. Native Welsh residents of Beaumaris were largely disqualified from holding any civic office, carrying any weapon, holding assemblies and were not allowed to purchase houses or land within the Borough.
20 Feb 2009 - Beaumaris, WalesBeaumaris Castle was the last of Edward I's fortresses in North Wales. Work started in 1295 and continued for 35 years, with over 3,500 workmen employed at the peak of construction. Finances and material ran out when King Edward turned his attentions towards Scotland.
Beaumaris Castle is concentric - a castle with two or more concentric rings of curtain walls where the outermost walls are lowest and the height of the walls increases towards the middle to increase the defensive capabilities of the castle: defenders on the higher walls towards the centre could fire arrows at the enemy over the lower outer defences. Should the enemy capture the outer walls, they would face another line of defence.
Caerphilly Castle also in Wales is another excellent examples of this type of fortification and is one of the largest concentric castles in Europe.
Beaumaris Castle - Moat and tidal dock
The castle has a tidal dock allowing it to be supplied directly by sea and is surrounded by a water-filled moat. The defences include numerous ingeniously sited arrow slits, and the entrances are protected by murder holes from which substances such as hot oil could be poured over the enemy. Attackers of would have met 14 separate obstacles and four lines of fortification resulting from the 'walls within walls' design.
Beaumaris Castle - Outer wall
Some parts of the moat have now been filled in so this part of the wall does not seem as formidible as they once were. This was a formidible castle though and Beaumaris Castle was positioned to face Garth Celyn on the opposite shore of the Menai Strait and was intended, along with Conwy Castle and Caernarfon castle at either end of the Menai Strait, to overshadow the Welsh Royal home and centre of Welsh resistance.
Beaumaris Castle - Main gate and tidal dock
The dock extends from the south wall and has a further wall (off photo) near the gatehouse so also serves as a defensive firing platform. Unlike the simple outer walls at Caerphilly and Harlech, the walls here are very thick and have internal passages to allow defenders access to protected arrow slits. The foundation that can be seen here is all that remains of the town wall.
Beaumaris Castle - South gate
All of Edward I's new castles in North Wales were sited where they could be supplied by sea.Ships of up 40 tons could sail into the dock on the left and unload through the now barred up doorway in the castle wall.
Beaumaris Castle - Murder holes in the South gate
Defenders would be able to rain rocks, arrows, heated sand, boiling oil, water and incendiary devices, and other substances down on the heads of attackers.
Beaumaris Castle - Inside the South gate
This gate through the outer wall is defended by towers and its own two gatehouses. These are not aligned with the inner gatehouses and would have denied attackers the advantage of momentum and a straight path through the gates. The arch on the left is the entrance to the inner bailey.
Beaumaris Castle - The inner wall from the outer wall
The outer wall with its 15 towers and arrowloops provided over 300 shooting positions for the archers inside. The massive inner walls create still further levels of firepower. Both walls are well supplied with latrines.
Beaumaris Castle - The inner ward
Although never completed it can be seen that the intended accomodation within this inner ward was planned on a lavish scale. Stables, kitchens and private blocks were all planned for as well as an extra story to increase the height of the gatehouse block.
Beaumaris Castle -Across the Menai Strait
From the highest point within the inner ward there is afforded a good view south across the straight towards the mainland of North Wales.
Beaumaris Castle - From the outer wall to the inner wall
Unlike many other castles, Beaumaris did not suffer slighting during the Civil War and the castle is very well-preserved. 'Slighting' is the deliberate destruction of a castle without opposition from it's last user. Sometimes this was done by the owners to prevent potential enemies from using the intact fortifications of an abandoned castle. The fortifications of many European cities were slighted in the 19th century because they no longer were effective defense structures and were obstacles to urban expansion.