When we visit a castle and walk through its ruins, how often do we ask,
"Why was it built?"
"Who built it and when?"
The castles of North Wales - in particular Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech and Beaumaris - were all created in the aftermath of war, a war in which the English crown emerged triumphant.
But who were the protagonists?
And why did they go to war?
The answers to these questions may help us to grasp the significance of the palatial castles of North Wales.
1. Who was Edward the First?
Edward was the eldest son of King Henry III of England and his wife Eleanor of Provence. He was born at Westminster on 17th June 1239.
His baptism was attended by the Papal legate, who officiated, his uncle, Richard Earl of Cornwall and the Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort, his uncle by marriage. Edward took his name from Edward the Confessor, the penultimate Saxon monarch, who had been canonised in 1161 and was venerated by the baby's father, King Henry.
Although a babe in arms, Edward was a royal infant, and as such had his own household complete with staff. From August 1239 he had his own chamber at Windsor, under the care of Hugh Giffard and his wife Sybil. She had been midwife at Edward's birth. Two witnesses and a clerk completed the menage at this stage.
In 1246 Giffard died and his successor Bartholomew Peche was granted £20 per year, to be young Edward's guardian.
Edward survived a spate of childhood illnesses. In 1246 aged 7 he was taken ill at Beaulieu. So severe was his affliction that his devoted mother remained with him for 3 weeks in the abbey. Next year his father asked all the religious houses in London to pray for Edward's recovery. Then in 1251 we hear of him convalescing on broth made from young goats taken in Windsor forest.
Edward grew up speaking Anglo-Norman French and English. From a young age he learned to ride and from the age of 8 hunted in Windsor Forest. This provided not only sport but also basic training for combat. Many a painful hour he must have spent at the quintain until he became proficient with the lance. This was put to the test in 1256 at a tournament in Blyth.
As the royal household moved round the country, so did young Edward, beginning to make the acquaintance of the land he would one day rule.