Conwy Castle was begun in March 1283 as part of Edward’s Iron Ring of Castles and mostly completed by 1289 to the tune of 15,000 pounds (over ten million today). The previous castle in the area was at Deganwy, which is visible from Conwy’s walls but was destroyed during the wars with King Henry and not rebuilt.
Edward built the castle on the western side of the Conwy River as a foothold in the heart of Gwynedd in order to control an important river crossing. To build the castle and town Edward destroyed the monastery of Aberconwy, patronized by the Welsh princes. He also destroyed Llywelyn’s llys (palace). Like many castles of the iron ring, Conwy consisted of a castle and planted town of English settlers, all surrounded by massive stone walls with 8 great towers in a relatively compact castle. Like many others, it was designed by James of St. George. One wall of Llywelyn’s great hall was incorporated into the town wall and you can still see the window seats in it today.
As we talked about in the video on the royal llys, many of the palaces were either destroyed outright like at Beaumaris, Harlech, and Caernarfon, or dismantled first, with pieces being incorporated within the castles themselves. I don’t think it’s a stretch to view that as not merely a matter of recycling. The castle became the administrative center of the area, as Llywelyn’s llys had been before that. After the establishment of the town, no Welsh were allowed in the town after dark. One family member was required to attend the weekly market, with the effect of putting a stop to the nomadic herding lifestyle of a significant percentage of the populace. The Welsh were also evicted from land outside the town, and Edward replaced Welsh law with English law, including an English system of sheriffs, courts, coroners where all officials were English or Norman.
In essence, Conwy not only had a practical purpose of standing as a deterrent to rebellion but was a very real symbol of English dominance. That symbol was taken to its logical conclusion with the building of Caernarfon Castle, which we’ll talk about next week.