Harlech Castle (the castle featured in The Castle Builder’s Handbook) was the last of
the great Edwardian castles to be completed during the king’s lifetime, and exhibits the
ultimate concepts in castle construction. It as been said that Harlech was the favorite castle of
James of St George.
click image for larger view
The castle was located on an immense crag at the edge of Cardigan Bay in
northwest Wales. It consists of a rectangular inner bailey with four powerful round towers at
the corners and a massive gatehouse in the front center. The towering walls of the inner bailey
were surrounded by much lower walls surrounding the middle bailey (the middle bailey was
also referred to as the park or list). The walls of the middle bailey were made low enough that
archers from the tall inner walls could shoot over them to the ground beyond. The front approach to the castle was protected by a ditch, crossed by a bridge with a
drawbridge at each end. The first drawbridge was protected by two small towers, making a
partial barbican (a small forward castle). The second drawbridge was protected by a larger front
gate in the outer wall surrounding the middle bailey.
The right and back of the castle were defended by a long outermost wall surrounding an
outer bailey. The land sloped rapidly in the outer bailey, and the approach to the
back of the castle is by a long flight of stairs. This part of the castle is not shown in the plans but
can be constructed as a temporary wall.
As long as the harbor was open to the castle, Harlech Castle was unassailable. During
the Welsh rebellion of 1294, thirty-seven men defended Harlech against the entire Welsh army.
The castle fell to Owen Glendower in the early 1400s, helped by a French fleet that cut off
supplies from the sea to the castle. Forty men, the famous “Men of Harlech,” defended the castle
against Glendower. In 1409, it required a ferocious attack of 1000 professional soldiers, led by
John Talbot, to retake the castle for the king of England. As late as the 1640s, Harlech was the
last of the royalist castles in Wales to fall to parliamentary forces. Even during this Civil War,
the Harlech garrison was only fifty strong. This is the ultimate definition of a castle: a
stronghold that can be held by a minimal number of soldiers for an extended period of time
against a much larger and stronger force.