Conwy Castle is an awe-inspiring 12th century medieval fortification surrounded by a walled market town and set on the beautiful River Conwy in the coastal area of North Wales. Building began in 1283, after Edward I of England (Longshanks) chose the site as a means of quelling the Welsh after his successful campaign against Wales. Edward I stopped a Welsh rebellion in 1276 only to have another round of rebellions in 1282. The second time he forced English rule on the Welsh and built a series of castles and towns throughout Wales, placing English settlers in the market towns to help subdue strife. The Welsh were not allowed inside the walls of the towns.
About ten years after its completion it was besieged by the Welsh, but did not fall into their hands. However, in 1401 Owain Glyndwr, the last native Prince of Wales (currently the Prince of Wales is Prince Charles), led a successful siege. Some Shakespeare lovers might recognize him as Owen Glendower in Henry IV, Part I. He was heir to the Princes of Powis, and assumed that title in 1400 when he started a fifteen year rebellion (1400 – 1415) against the English. For years the fighting went on, but when Henry V took the throne in 1413 he subdued the land by granting pardons and easing restrictions on the Welsh. No one knows what happened to Owain. He seems to have disappeared in 1412, but he was neither killed nor betrayed. There is speculation, but nothing concrete. He is a Welsh national hero.
After the rebellions died down, Conwy’s economy flourished, but castle repairs were neglected. When the English Civil War broke out, the royalists (Charles I) held Conwy and repaired the castle. But in 1646 the parliamentary army (Cromwell) successfully besieged the castle and market town. Parliamentary forces then damaged the castle, so that it could not be used by the royalists. Further damage occurred shortly after, in 1665, when much of the castle’s lead and iron were sold.
In the late 1700s Conwy’s beautiful castle ruins and wall became an artist destination point and soon after tourism began to increase. By the mid-1800s Conwy’s importance was recognized and reconstruction work to the castle began, though it is still in a ruined state.
Conwy Castle is owned and operated by the Welsh government. It is open year round. There is an Explorer pass available, which is very reasonable and allows access to more than a dozen castles, as well as abbeys and museums. Plas Mawr, the Elizabethan townhouse in Conwy is also part of the pass. They come in 3-day and 7-day options, and can be purchased at many of the Welsh government owned sites.