Summary Description and Reason for Designation
The following provides a description of the Scheduled Monument.
This monument comprises the remains of a medieval castle built by King Edward I. Begun in 1283, the castle and town were established as part of a ring of new English fortresses encircling the Welsh heartland of Snowdonia in Gwynedd. The castle was built on a new site on the west bank of the river Conwy.
The castle was constructed quickly in one main building phase. Two adjoining wards (inner ward and outer ward) were built with a substantial curtain wall forming the perimeter of the castle. The curtain wall is 3m thick and 27m high with eight round towers rising to 41m above the river. A continuous wall walk runs around the top of the curtain wall.
The outer ward contains the main entrance, entered from the west barbican, which is reached by climbing a stepped ramp from the town. The approach to the entrance is defended by a drawbridge and portcullis. The north-west and south-west towers and the short length of curtain wall between together form an extended version of the twin-towered gateways seen in other Edwardian castles. The outer ward was intended for the more public functions of the castle and for the domestic services.
On the south side of the outer ward is the great hall range. The great hall is thought to have been at the centre of the range, with a lesser hall, served through an ante-room at one end and a chapel at the other. The north and east sides of the court are lined with buildings to house the kitchen, guardrooms and domestic offices (only the foundations remain). On the east side is the castle well. Each of the four towers accessed from the outer ward contained two floors, each with one habitable room, and a basement for storage. Exceptionally, the Prison Tower also has a well-concealed sub-basement, clearly designed as a prison cell.
The inner ward provided a secure residence for the king and a seat for the royal court. It was defensible even if the outer ward were lost. The separating wall sits behind a deep ditch cut in the rock. This was crossed by a drawbridge operated from, and leading to, a small gatehouse covering a narrow passage to the inner ward. The inner ward is also accessible directly from the River Conwy. The elaborate watergate has disappeared but the remains of steps lead up to the east barbican. The inner ward has four towers similar to those in the outer ward, except that each is crowned by a turret and two contain rooms that signify their greater importance. The inner ward also contains an L-shaped two-storey building housing the royal apartments. The King’s Tower and the Chapel Tower contain more royal apartments; the Chapel Tower also housing a vaulted chapel. The Stockhouse and Bakehouse Towers are entered from the court of the inner ward and the upper rooms may have been intended for guests.
With an outer ward containing a great hall, chambers and kitchen, and a more secluded inner ward with private chambers and a royal chapel, the excellent preservation of these royal chambers which remain relatively unaltered from their thirteenth-century form, provide a unique insight into how the royal household lived.
By 1332, however, the castle was unfit to accommodate the king. Major repair works were put in place around 1347 when the great hall range and royal apartments were remodelled to support a newly leaded roof. In 1399 Richard II took refuge here before his capture at nearby Flint Castle. And two years later the supporters of Owain Glyn Dŵr succeeded in capturing the castle.
Minor renovation continued throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but it was during the Civil War that Conwy saw military action again, when Archbishop John Williams fortified and held the castle for King Charles I. In 1646 it was among the last strongholds to capitulate to parliament at the end of the Civil War. Despite some attempt at deliberate destruction, the castle remained virtually intact.
The monument is of national and international importance for its potential to enhance our knowledge of medieval social, domestic and political life and warfare. This is reflected by its designation as a World Heritage Site. Significantly, Conwy Castle is exceptional not only for the grandeur of its high towers and curtain walls, but also for its excellent state of preservation. Inside the imposing outer shell, the castle contains the most intact set of residential buildings left by the medieval English monarchy in Wales or England. The scheduled area comprises the remains described and an area around them within which related evidence may be expected to survive.