At last, Edward had achieved what he’d always wanted. By 1305 he’d also added Scotland to his domains, albeit temporarily, and he’d finally moulded himself into a new King Arthur, ruling over a united kingdom of Britain. But now he was ageing fast and his grip on such great power was fragile. Although Wales remained under English rule, Scotland slipped his grasp when Robert Bruce staged a takeover bid and triumphed over Edward’s troops. In 1307, Edward headed north to fight this new threat to his supremacy, but there was no more money to build any new castles in Scotland like those mighty fortresses that had subdued Wales. Still, despite his failing health, the king led his army north, making it as far as the lonely settlement of Burgh by Sands near the Cumbrian coast, where illness forced him to rest. It was here, on the night of 6th July, that he died before he could fight again, and his imperial dream of ruling over a united Albion followed him to the grave.
Master James of St George outlived Edward by only two years, and with him died the exceptional continental-inspired style of architecture that had created all these magnificent edifices.
Edward’s quest for power had led to one of the greatest military showdowns of the Middle Ages, ultimately joining England and Wales together in a bond that has lasted to this day. His string of great castles reshaped the lands of Llywelyn ‘the Last’ in a grand new style as the first English prince of Wales received the homage of the Welsh lords. And Edward’s legacy of fortresses still holds strong today. They cast their commanding presence over the lands of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, as thousands of visitors discover their enduring beauty and their hidden secrets. This story of such intriguing medieval characters and their tussles for power is set in stone for all time, for all to see.
And what of my own Quest? Well, I truly feel as though I’ve been on one. A real adventure, travelling through time and far distant lands. We’ve walked through the landscape of this epic chapter in our history to find the castles this warrior king built, and the stories of the people who created them, and lived and died in them. As we progressed, we saw the geography change around us, from flat urban ground to wild mountains, from flowing rivers to open sea, sandy beaches to untamed craggy shoreline, and all the landmarks in between. I’ve found different perspectives on the castles, gazing upon them from air, sea and land. Like all real Quests, I’ve had moments of pure joy and times to endure, obstacles to overcome and awe-inspiring discoveries to enhance my knowledge and enjoyment of the castles themselves. My journey has brought me closer to Edward and his imperial ambition, to Llywelyn and his defiant resistance and to Master James and his outstanding skill in castle design. I’ve reached right into the very heart of their worlds, heard their voices and touched the fabric of their lives, their hopes and dreams. All in all, it’s been the nearest thing I can get to a true medieval Quest; an experience that will stay with me forever. And I think I can safely say – I found what I came for.
Now I have to consider where my blog goes from here. I started it for this very Quest, and as this adventure has always seemed so far away I hadn’t really thought beyond this point. But for now, after such an epic journey I need to take time to relax and absorb all I’ve done. So in the meantime, thank you for joining me, and I’ll leave you with a brief recap in pictures of this unique Quest. And now I’ll turn off my computer for a while and enjoy the rest of the holiday exploring more of North Wales – the mountains, the culture and the glorious scenery. Who knows, maybe we’ll even find a castle or two to visit…