Harlech, Merioneth, Wales
Featured Location Guide
"A part of the World
Heritage Site Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd"
|This impressive fortress sits on a 200ft rock looking over the town of Harlech.
Built between 1283 and 1289 by Master James of
St George for King Edward I. The castle is designed on a concentric plan with a
small but powerful inner ward dominated by an impressive twin-towered gatehouse
and four round corner towers. James was its constable between 1290 and 1293,
using this as his base while overseeing the construction of a number of other
castles. It withstood many sieges, but was later seized by Owain Glyn Dŵr in
1404 and held successfully by him for four years.
The history of
the developments in Wales that brought about the need for this and the other
castles is covered in the article
Wales - a potted history
The English monarch Edward I had Harlech
Castle built in the late 13th
century. It is largely the work of the greatest military engineer of the time,
James of St George. Along with
is located in north west Wales. These extremely well-preserved
monuments are examples of the colonization and defence works carried out
throughout the reign of Edward I (1272–1307) and the military architecture of
the time. It was one of the most formidable of his 'iron ring' of fortresses
designed to contain the Welsh in their mountain fastness. However, in 1404 it
was taken by Welsh leader Owain Glyn Dwr, after a long siege and starvation had
reduced the garrison to 21 men. He proceeded to hold a parliament
In the Battle of Bryn Glas, Owain Glyn Dwr,
captured and held at Harlech Edmund Mortimer (November 9, 1376-1409?), he
was the second son of the 3rd Earl of March by his wife Philippa
Plantagenet. A grandson of Lionel of Antwerp and descended from King
Edward III of England, he was born at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. Edmund
was a supporter of his first cousin once removed, Henry Bolingbroke, despite
having a better claim to the throne of England (Edmund's grandfather was
Edward III's second son, while Bolingbroke's father (John of Gaunt) was
Edward's third son). Edmund fought for Bolingbroke until captured. When
Henry proved 'slow' to ransom Mortimer, Glyndwr won Edmund Mortimer's
allegiance. Mortimer married Glyndwr's daughter Catrin in 1402, and they are
believed to have had at least four children in their six years together.
Glyndwr and Mortimer plotted with Henry Percy, "Hotspur," to depose Henry IV
and divide the kingdom of England and Wales in three. However, at some time
during the siege of Owain's stronghold of Harlech by Henry, Prince of Wales,
Mortimer died of starvation.
Harlech Castle with windows on cliff side
See here for Picture Details
Harlech Castle with Snowdon behind
See here for Picture Details
See here for Picture Details
Harlech Castle was retaken after an 8 month
siege in 1409 by Prince Henry (later Henry V) and a force of 1000 men under
John Talbot, during which Edmund Mortimer starved to death and Glyndŵr's
wife, Margaret Hanmer, two of his daughters and four grandchildren (children
of Mortimer) were captured, later to be imprisoned and die.
The song 'Men of Harlech' came about during a
seven year siege, during the Wars of the Roses, it was developed to keep up the
moral of those inside.
from the battlement walk
When visiting two things stand out, the way it is a solid part of a major
rock and the gatehouse. The cliffs below are now sand dunes, but at the time the
sea came up to the foot of the cliffs.
Construction started in 1283 and took 7 years to build, the design is one of
defence layer within layer. The outer ditches at Harlech were "hacked through
solid rock". In the height of construction, in 1286, the workforce was "546
general labourers, 115 quarryers, 30 blacksmiths, 22 carpenters and 227 stonemasons.
The outer walls are much shorter and thinner than the mighty inner walls, and
have no towers defending them besides the gatehouse. The inner ward is
roughly square, with a large round tower at each corner. The domestic buildings,
including the great hall, are built against the inside of the inner walls. Since
the surrounding cliffs made it practically impossible to attack the castle,
except from the east, this side is faced by the imposing gatehouse. The gate is
flanked by two massive "D-shaped" towers, the standard plan of the era, and
defended by a series of doors, portcullises and murder-holes. There are large
windows on the inner face of the gatehouse, showing its second role as the
premier domestic accommodation. The west wall of the inner ward also has large
windows (as it forms one wall of the great hall), which would make it vulnerable
were it not for the cliffs. Although grey today, it was painted bright white
Edward's forces were often in danger from land-based attack, but he enjoyed
total supremacy on water. Many of his castles included "sally ports" which
allowed re-supply from the sea, but Harlech is far more elaborate. Here, a
fortified stairway hugs the rock and runs almost 200 feet down to the foot of
the cliffs, where at the time of construction the sea reached. Today, the sea
has retreated several miles. James of St. George's plan was a triumph,
when the castle was besieged during Madoc ap Llywelyn's campaign, this stairway
was used to supply the castle.
from the road below, with a telephoto lens that closes up distance,
so it is far higher than it looks in this image. The sea would have been
where the road
is now when the castle was built.
It continued to be used and has an extended history. During the English
Civil War the castle was the last Royalist fortress to hold out against the
Parliamentary forces. The surrender, on 16 March 1647, over a year after King
Charles had himself been captured, marked the end of the first phase of the war.
The Parliamentarians slighted (damaged) the castle after its fall, like many
others, so it could not be held against them again.
It offers a wide range of photographic opportunities, from along the coast,
from below and from inland. The castle structure itself both offers views within
and of the surrounding area and seascape.
As well as the ground plan you can climb to the
top of the walls and walk around the curtain wall, plus you can walk around the
outside of the main curtain wall at ground level. The entrance gate is very
strong and the marks from each level of defence can still be seen.
the curtain wall
a gallery is available for this castle, which links back to this page.
Harlech Castle, Merioneth, Wales
From pay-and-display car park at top of hill,
up over 200 steps from the car parks in Harlech at the bottom of the hill.
Pay-and-display parking nearby.
Things To Do,
See and Photograph:
castle, statue next to it, views, coast nearby
What to take:
variety of lenses
01.10.08-31.03.09: Mon-Sat 9.30am-4pm, Sun 11am-4pm
01.04.09-31.10.09: Daily 9am-5pm
01.11.09-31.03.10: Mon-Sat 9.30am-4pm,
24th, 25th, 26th December, 1st
Last admission 30 minutes before closing
CADW and English Heritage members (1YR plus)
free, English Heritage members fist year 50%.
Entry is FREE for Welsh residents aged 60 and
over or 16 and under who have a
Adult £3.60, Concession £3.20, Family £10.40
Special Needs Access:
like most castles access to the ground floor
is not difficult, but access to higher areas requires climbing a circular
staircase. It would be difficult for wheelchair users as there are long
flights of stairs to the shop/paying desk and from there to the entrance.
Special Needs Facilities:
None at the castle or the nearby public
2009, dogs on leads will be also welcome at Cadw monuments.
information for dog owners
Please let us know any other information that we
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