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Caernarfon castle

Caernarfon castle (Gwynedd) was begun in June 1283 during the second Welsh War. In its form Caernarfon is different from any of the other Edwardian castles and, it can be argued, its distinctive features are deliberately symbolic of Edward I's political attitudes and his ambitions in Wales. First, Edward always maintained that his conquest was merely the reassertion of established right. Caernarfon castle incorporates the ancient motte of the castle of Hugh, earl of Chester, built at the end of the 11th cent. during the first Norman penetration into Wales, and thus resumes a lordship symbolized by the earlier fortification. Secondly, national monarchies of the time viewed their own power in imperial terms. Thus lawyers of Philip IV in France insisted that ‘the king of France is emperor in his kingdom’ and it is certain that Edward shared this interest. Caernarfon's Christian Roman associations were consciously fostered. The site of Caernarfon is Roman Segontium. In 1283, during building work, a body, thought to be that of Magnus Maximus (383–8), alleged father of the Emperor Constantine, was discovered and, on Edward's orders, reburied in the new church in the town. The castle, alone among the Welsh castles, was built with polygonal towers and banded masonry, imitating the land walls at Constantinople, believed at that time to be the work of Constantine himself. The king's tower in the castle, seat of government in the principality, was decorated with imperial eagles. Finally, Edward chose the castle to be the birthplace of his son, the future Edward II, but also Edward of Caernarfon and the first English prince of Wales.

Lynda Rollason

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