Medieval master masons were highly skilled and valued craftsmen, and some could reach the dizzy heights of grand castle builders, fulfilling the roles of architect, engineer and project manager all in one prestigious job. However, a satisfied customer could be a mixed blessing: for some, it could bring great rewards, but for others it spelled danger.
During my big Welsh Castle Wander this summer, I’ll be looking at the eminent craftsman who built King Edward 1st ’s major fortresses, Master James of St George. When Edward came to set in stone his victory over the Welsh, he imported this great Master Mason from Savoy to manage the whole project. It was a mammoth task, and Master James more than rose to the challenge. Edward was evidently happy with the results as he made him constable of Harlech Castle, and then gave him a pension for life, together with the manor of Mostyn in north-east Wales, where he lived in comfort for the rest of his life. But not all Master Masons were as fortunate as him.
At the start of 11th Century, a prominent French Norman noble, Count Rudolph of Ivry, employed the greatest Master Mason in the country, a man named Lanfred, to build his castle in the town of Ivry-la-Bataille in the Upper Normandy region. Again, Lanfred did a brilliant job, but he wasn’t so lucky with his perks. The Count’s wife, Aubrée, was delighted with his work, but unfortunately for Lanfred, she was so determined he would never build anything to rival her new castle for anyone else, she had him beheaded. Now there’s gratitude for you…
The grand gatehouse of Harlech Castle, where Master James lived as Constable before taking the manor of Mostyn.