The Medieval Review 11.11.06

Williams, Diane M. and John R. Kenyon. The Impact of the Edwardian Castles in Wales: The Proceedings of a Conference Held at Bangor University, 7-9 September 2007. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2010. Pp. 227. $70. ISBN 978-1-84217-380-0. . .

Reviewed by:

Paul Courtney
Leicester (UK)

The study of the great stone castles built by Edward 1 in the newly conquered principality of Wales in the 1270s and 1280s has long been dominated by the work of the late Arnold Taylor, whom the reviewer was fortunate as an undergraduate to hear lecture in the 1970s. Taylor, formerly a chief inspector of Ancient Monuments, did pioneering work on their architecture and especially on the fine series of surviving royal building accounts. This was published in the collaborative volumes of the History of the King's Works, in ministry guidebooks and in many academic papers. Edwardian castles have perhaps not been the most fashionable area of research in recent decades but scholarship inevitably moves forward. This volume is the result of a 2007 conference in Bangor marking the 400th anniversary of Edward's death. It shows that major advances have been made in the understanding of Edward's architecture of colonization since Taylor's pioneering efforts.

Michael Prestwich reviews Edward's relations with Wales throughout his long reign. David Stephenson and David Longley, respectively a historian and archaeologist, present the current knowledge of thirteenth-century Gwynedd, its polity, society and administration. Lawrence Butler discusses the Welsh princely castles of Gwynedd, a chapter overshadowed by the tragic death in a 2006 diving accident of a leading modern expert, Richard Avent, chief inspector of Welsh monuments. One of Arnold Taylor's most famous contributions was to suggest that Master James of St. George from Savoy (a historic territory straddling the modern borders of France and Italy) was the architect responsible for many of the Edwardian castles in north Wales. This was based on linking documentary references to Master James being in royal service to a series of stylistic parallels with Savoyard castles, for example, spiral putlog holes. Nicola Coldstream reviews her arguments (already published elsewhere) that downplay the centrality of the perceived Savoyard links and the individual importance of Master James. She notes other Savoyard masons in royal service and emphasizes the more collective and eclectic nature of Edwardian castle design. Rick Turner follows this by rescuing another individual documented in royal building accounts, Richard the Engineer, from relative obscurity.

David Browne discusses how recent archaeological survey and documentary research have shed new light on two lesser known castles, Aberystwyth and Builth; while Jeremy Ashbee undertakes a comparative study of royal accommodation in Edward's castles. Peter Brears presents a study of food supply and preparation which combines use of access diagrams (flow charts showing the interconnections of rooms) with his superb reconstruction drawings. Edward's construction of the castles was also accompanied by the building of planned and fortified towns alongside them. Keith Lilley summarizes his recent research into their layouts using metrical plot analysis and GIS (geographical information systems) but notes their complexity and individual quirkiness. Further eclectic aspects of castles covered include: building stone (Graham Lott), the Welsh poetic response (Dylan Foster Evans), the mythology of Caernarfon castle (Abigail Wheatley), the conservation and display of Caernarfon castle (the late Richard Avent) and a study of Arnold Taylor's contributions to research (John Kenyon).

John Goodall examines the contemporary baronial castles of the Welsh marches and their impact on the design of royal castles. His main argument parallels Coldstream in stressing the wider milieu of masons, especially those in royal service, who copied each other and exchanged ideas. Marc Morris's review of the Gascon castles of Edward I notes that only one, Sauveterre-la-LĂ©mance, was built de novo and has no obvious Welsh or Savoyard characteristics. His speculative suggestion that Master James of St George played a role in its design is thus markedly out of step with the general trend to downplay individual masons. Adam Chapman's discussion of the role of native Welsh infantry in Edward's army is no surprise to Welsh historians but sits uncomfortably with modern nationalist narratives. Chris Tabraham's study of Edward's campaigns in Scotland is valuable in highlighting earthworks constructed as additions to existing castles and he also suggests several possible temporary camp sites. The volume is completed by Robert Liddiard's proposals for future research and by a post-script on their care, symbolism and future by Alun Ffred Jones, minister for heritage in the Welsh assembly.

This volume is well edited and handsomely produced at an affordable price (especially in the UK) for a volume that has twenty-two essays and many illustrations. It is further enhanced by having twelve colour plates at the end. The decision to publish in a large format (275 x 210mm) means that plans, maps and photographs can be produced at a reasonable size even for those of those forced to depend on varifocal lenses. The volume also shows the wide breadth of scholarship on these castles from historians, archaeologists and architectural historians whether working as university academics, commercial archaeologists or independent scholars. It exemplifies the quiet research that has gone on in Wales in recent decades often away from the limelight and mostly on low level funding. Heritage protection means that future excavation is likely to be very limited in scale and oriented to recording, for instance, as visitor facilities are improved. Nevertheless, the above essays point the way to future work studying not only their architectural histories but the way they were used and lived in and their place in wider Welsh, British and European landscapes. A Welsh historian colleague recently complained that it was the kiss of death trying to publish a book with a Welsh-orientated title. Hopefully, this volume covering a truly iconic collection of buildings will be widely purchased and read. It is a mine of diverse and solid scholarship.