The game of thrones

One castle in Conwy would hardly subdue all of Wales, so Edward I undertook a major castle-building program. Today we visited the town of Caernarfon, where Edward intended to have his palace and the administrative center for Wales. While the castle is more unfinished rather than ruined, it plays an important part in the Wales/England relationship.

While the castle was under construction in 1283, town walls were built around Caernarfon to protect the English settlers and workers. The work cost between £20,000 and £25,000 from the start until the end of work in 1330. The town and castle were sacked in 1294 in a rebellion against the English, but recaptured and more strongly fortified the following year. When the Tudor Dynasty ascended to the English throne in 1485, tensions between the Welsh and English began to diminish and castles were considered less important. As a result, the castle was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair.

But Edward made this place live on in the history books, by promising that he would have a son born in Wales, “who would not speak any other language.” And then his wife, Eleanor of Castile, indeed had a son in the castle at Carnarfon, who became Edward II. The story of Edward’s promise is fun but probably apocryphal, if you can imagine Edward presenting his day-old son to the Welsh leaders and saying, “See, he speaks not a word of English!” It surely didn’t help when he named Edward II the Prince of Wales, a tradition that continued to be observed sporadically with the eldest son of the monarch.

We saw the Water Gate, through which the Prince of Wales enters when he comes to the castle, and the room through which he ascends to the courtyard. In 1911, Caernarfon was used for the investiture of the Prince of Wales for the first time when Prince Edward (later Edward VIII), eldest son of the newly crowned King George V; the ceremony was held there at the insistence of then-Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George, a Welshman raised in Caernarfonshire. In 1969, the precedent was repeated with the investiture of Charles as Prince of Wales. It took place on a large slate dais in the center of the castle grounds. Is another soon to come? The people of Caernarfon are speculating.

The entire history of the battle for supremacy over Wales is playfully told as a chess game inside the castle. And the throne? It was the one used by Elizabeth at the investiture of Prince Charles. Rubbing it in, or trying to make it better? Ask a Welshman.

We are pleased to announce that we have now had our best meal in Wales, and can pronounce ourselves delighted by today’s lunch. While it might seem very English, (Sunday beef and lamb dinner!)  it was served in a lovely Welsh restaurant, and we were surrounded by Welsh speakers. In this area, it seems that about 80% of the inhabitants use Welsh as their first language. But they were very nice to us here, perhaps because we are American and it’s not our fault!

2 thoughts on “The game of thrones

  1. They (we) will be nicer to you than we are to the English. (And we can also gloat a little after yesterday’s game. )
    Not so long ago, English folks’ second homes in Wales sometimes spontaneously combusted… or so it seemed.
    Sounds like you’re hearing more Welsh spoken up North than down in the South. That’s how it was when I was a kid, though the balance has been shifted a bit since more Welsh schools were established. I like the dual language signage. It’s a crash course in a difficult tongue. If only Don had taken a Welsh language course…….

    • Congrats on the game, by the way! We kept our eye on it and cheered along with the folks here in Conwy. And re the language – well, if one were to finally master one besides English, perhaps Welsh would not be the first choice of most people. Mandarin might be a bit more accessible…

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