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Harlech castle

Harlech castle was built for Edward I as one of a series of fortifications intended to secure his conquest of north Wales. Begun in May 1283, it was largely completed in seven years and is one of the greatest achievements of its architect, Master James of St George. It combines powerful defences, which enhance the natural strength of the site, with elaborate and well-planned accommodation for the king and his court. In the Welsh rising of 1400–13, Harlech fell to Owain Glyndŵr, became the residence of his court and his family, and may have been the place where he was formally crowned as prince of Wales. In the Wars of the Roses the castle was held for the Lancastrians, as a chronicler remarked: ‘Kyng Edward was possessed of alle Englonde, excepte a castelle in Northe Wales called Harlake.’ It was eventually surrendered in 1468; traditionally it is this defence which gave rise to the song ‘Men of Harlech’. Harlech was the last castle to fall to Parliament in March 1647 and its loss marked the end of the war. Parliament ordered its destruction but this was not carried out, so, despite the passage of time, the walls still stand to virtually their full height, making it one of the most impressive ruins in Britain.

Lynda Rollason

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