Castle Trivia: the pros and cons of being a great castle builder

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

14 thoughts on “Castle Trivia: the pros and cons of being a great castle builder

  1. Wowsers! It’s funny to think of that response in today’s terms. People like Gaudi or Wright would be long dead by now! I find it interesting that the architects are known and have histories handed down. I always presumed the builders were anonymous, although when I think about it, there certainly would have to be somebody behind the plans for places as grand as these. This reminds me of Follet’s ‘Pillars of the Earth’. I’m curious to know if you’ve read that or even have an interest in reading novel from medieval history. I always wonder how people with insight like you take to books like that. Thanks again for the post. Very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading, Lindsay, and for the great comments. Yes, architects could be well known back then, so it was down to luck of the draw as to who you worked for! I keep meaning to watch a drama that was made a while ago of ‘Pillars of the Earth’. Generally, though, I tend to favour factual books on medieval people and events over fiction for one simple reason: the true stories from the medieval era are so brilliant, entertaining and sometimes fantastical, there’s no need for fiction. Honestly, some of the stuff I’ve read you just couldn’t make up… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • 😃 I thought you might say that and I completely agree! Life is, in fact, so much stranger than fiction! And the real stuff every writer draws in in the first place. Well again, I’m enjoying the real stuff as told through your eyes. Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

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