Britain is known for its castles, and one of the most impressive and massive is on the northern coast of Wales in the town of Caernarfon. Caernarfon Castle is also one of the best preserved 13th century medieval fortresses in Britain. But even before this current castle was built the town has had a long history of being fortified. Each of the many invaders of Wales, from the Romans through William the Conqueror, has built walls and forts at this site. The famous current castle was built by King Edward I of England in 1283. Also with the construction of the castle Edward extended its walls to enclose the entire town. There is a famous legend that developed into a royal tradition associated with Caernarfon Castle, the investiture of the Prince of Wales.
The legend that connects the Prince of Wales to Caernarfon Castle goes back again to Edward I. The King needed something to unite the Welsh people with England. While staying Caernarfon castle on April 25, 1284, his son Edward II was born. Edward promised the Welsh that they would have their own prince that spoke no English. Since Edward II was a baby and didn’t talk at all, he spoke no English.
From a balcony on the castle wall Edward I presented his son as the first Prince of Wales. History tells a different story. There were many Welsh noblemen before Edward II that claimed the title Prince of Wales. And records show that it wasn’t until Edward III that title was attached to the heir apparent to the British Throne. Not until 1911, with the investiture of Prince Edward, the son of King George V did the tradition begin by having the investiture ceremony take place at Caernarfon Castle. The next was Prince Charles, on July 1, 1969, by his mother Queen Elizabeth II, done from that same castle balcony as legend had the first.
The Castle is owned by the Walsh government, but in theory it belongs to the Earl of Caernarvon. The Caernarvon family has quite a famous history in archaeology beyond their castle. It was George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who funded Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. And it was Herbert’s death that led to the story of the “Mummy’s Curse” when he died from a severe mosquito bite infection while in Cairo Egypt soon after the tomb was discovered. The Caernarvon family has also made their mark in popular television culture. The home of the current Earl of Caernarvon is Highclere Castle, which is the setting for Downton Abbey.
The Town of Conwy
While visiting Caernarfon take a short side trip to the small seaside town of Conwy, a medieval walled market town. Conwy is known for two of its builds; its own, massive and picturesque castle and the smallest house in Great Britain. Conwy Castle and the city walls were also built by Edward I between 1283 and 1289. The castle’s builder was James of St. George, who constructed both the castle and the city’s walls. Conwy Castle is considered to be one of the best examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture. It’s massive walls can be seen throughout the old town.
At the foot of the one of the cities walls, by its docks, sits a building that is at the extreme opposite end of the scale in size from the castle, it’s the smallest house in Britain. This house is also called the Quay House, because it sits on quay (Docks) of Conwy. The floor area is only 10 feet by 5.9 feet and 10 feet 2 inches in height to the eaves. The Quay house has been lived in from the 16th century until the 1900, when it was declared unfit for human habitation.
The last person to live in the house was a fisherman named Robert Jones. Mr. Jones was 6-foot-3-inches, and he couldn’t stand up fully in the house. This Quay house is still owned by the Jones family and used it as a tourist attraction. For a small fee you can look inside.