Caernarfon Castle, Gwynedd: ‘One of the great buildings of the Middle Ages’

Wales is spoilt for beautiful, evocative and dramatic castles in magnificent locations — yet still Caernarfon Castle stands above the rest.

On April 25, 1284, Edward I’s queen gave birth to a son, also named Edward, within the precincts of brand-new Caernarfon Castle. When little Edward’s elder brother, Alfonso, died four months later, the King showed his baby son and heir to the Welsh nobility, giving the newly vanquished country a prince ‘that was borne in Wales and could speake never a word of English’. Edward of Caernarfon, the future Edward II, thus became the first Prince of Wales.

Caernarfon already possessed mythic associations for the Welsh, having been the site of what must have been, on that remote frontier, an impressive Roman fort. Edward I built on this prestige: not only were the works on a scale never seen before in Wales, but the silhouette created by his architect, Master James of St George, may have been intended to evoke the walls of Constantinople, one of the twin foci of the Roman Empire.

Looking inside the walls of Carnarvon Castle shows off its great scale.

The castle was burnt during an uprising of 1294, but Edward put down the rebellion with devastating efficiency and rebuilt the castle. He intended that Caernarfon should be both the capital of his new dominion and a royal palace — hence the size — although his successors rarely used it as he intended. Yet its grandeur is undimmed: Cadw’s website proudly proclaims that it is ‘recognised around the world as one of the greatest buildings of the Middle Ages,’ and they’re entirely right to do so.

Caernarfon Castle and the investiture of the Prince of Wales

Though generations of heirs to the throne took the title ‘Prince of Wales’, the investiture ceremony at Caernarfon Castle — memorably experience by the present King Charles III back in 1969 — is a relatively modern invention. In 1911, Prince Edward — later King Edward VIII — was the first in centuries to have an official ceremony instead of being granted the title by letters patent. The revived tradition carried on until 1969 Charles was invested, but there was opposition to the ceremony back then, and Kensington Palace recently confirmed that Prince William has ‘no plans’ to have an official investiture ceremony at the castle.

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The Investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarfon Castle, Caernarfon, Wales, Pictured, Prince Charles, newly installed as Prince of Wales, is presented on a balcony at Queen Eleanor’s Gate of Caernarfon Castle, with Queen Elizatheth II, 1st July 1969. (Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

How to visit Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle stands on the corner of the ancient town in North Wales, where the Afon Seiont river runs out into the Menai Straits, looking across to Anglesey. It’s is run by Cadw; adult tickets cost £11.10. See the official website for more details and opening times.