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The History of Caernarfon

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Caernarfon is now more the commonly used spelling of the slightly Anglicised form Carnarvon. It is the traditional Welsh spelling, although it is in itself a corruption of the original Caer-yn-Arfon; which means the stronghold opposite the island of Mona (now known as Anglesey ). Historically, Caernarfon is the county town of Caernarfonshire, but is now in the county of Gwynedd.

The origin of the town is generally linked to the Roman fortification of Segontium, the ruins of which formed the foundations for the modern town. Much of the original fortification was reused as building materials by the local Britons, following the departure of the Romans. Recently, however, it has been suggested that there was considerable activity on the site prior to the Roman invasion and that it was the Britons who are believed to have used it as an important centre of commerce. There is a Bronze-Age hill fort sited at Twt Hill, a rocky outcrop which lies about half a mile to the north east.

The Roman fort was situated on the outskirts of what is now modern Caernarfon. The fort was originally built by Agricola in about 77-78AD. It was established following the defeat of the Ordovices tribe who had occupied the central and much of northern Wales prior to the Roman invasion. The resistance put up by the Ordovices and the neighbouring Deceangi tribe was coordinated for some time by Caratacus; who had fled to Wales after the defeat of his own tribe, the Catuvellauni at the Battle of the Medway. A Roman Road led from the fort at Seguntium to the fort at Deva Victrix; which was to become the town of Chester . The Roman Fort of Seguntium was vast, covering an area that would contain the latter Caernarfon Castle . The Roman fort was garrisoned up until about 394 AD, just prior to the final flight of the Roman forces from Britain in the fifth century. The castle that dominates the local skyline today was built many centuries later by Edward I , following his conquest of Wales. There was a smaller Norman castle on the site prior to the commencement of the construction of Edward’s castle in 1283. The construction could be considered as Edward’s crowning glory on his conquest of the Welsh and work on the castle continued for about forty years. He spent an enormous £22,000 on the building of the castle. This was a phenomenal amount of money in those days and more than the treasury’s annual income at the time. Despite the amount of effort and money spent the castle was never fully completed, with many internal walls not having been built. The castle was designed to be both imposing and magnificent; attempting to echo the walls of Constantinople and combine the imperial power of Rome with ideals of a ‘dream castle’. The result is breathtaking and Caernarfon is probably the most famous castle in Wales and one of the most famous in the British Isles. The main towers are an unusual ‘polygon’ shape (technically square towers are also polygons, but the term is used to refer to more than four sides with castle towers). At this time tower design was shifting from square towers to round towers; the reason being that the corners in a tower are a natural weakness. Edward was keen to elevate the symbolic status of Caernarfon at every opportunity; so much so that he ensured that his son, the first English Prince of Wales, was born there.

Whilst the castle was still under construction, Caernarfon was captured by Madog ap Llewellyn in 1294. It was recaptured in 1295, however, and the defences were completed further in order to try and avoid a repeat of this. They proved successful as the castle was able to withstand sieges in 1403 and 1404 by the fearsome Welsh leader Owain Glyndŵr .

In the 17th century Civil War broke out in England and Wales. The castles in the north of Wales saw plenty of action and Caernarfon was initially a Royalist Garrison. The troops there surrendered to Cromwell ’s men in 1646 and the castle remained a loyal Parliamentarian stronghold for the rest of the Civil War.

In 1911 the castle was the site of Prince Edward’s investiture as Prince of Wales, he was later to be crowned King Edward VII . This precedent was repeated in 1969 with Prince Charles ’ investiture. Modern day Caernarfon has a population of just under 10,000 and is considered something of a centre for Welsh Nationalism. Welsh language is spoken by the vast majority of the population of the town, with almost 98% of 10-14 year olds able to speak it fluently. The Black Boy Inn survives as the town’s oldest pub and has seen much of the castle’s history It has stood inside the walls of the castle since the early part of the 16th century.

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