Fortress of near-perfect symmetry is an unfinished masterpiece
Beaumaris on the island of Anglesey is famous as the greatest castle neverbuilt. It was the last of the royal strongholds created by Edward I in Wales – and perhaps his masterpiece.
Here Edward and his architect James of St George took full advantage of a blank canvas: the ‘beau mareys’ or ‘beautiful marsh’ beside the Menai Strait. By now they’d already constructed the great castles of Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech. This was to be their crowning glory, the castle to end all castles.
The result was a fortress of immense size and near-perfect symmetry. No fewer than four concentric rings of formidable defences included a water-filled moat with its very own dock. The outer walls alone bristled with 300 arrow loops.
But lack of money and trouble brewing in Scotland meant building work had petered out by the 1320s. The south gatehouse and the six great towers in the inner ward never reached their intended height. The Llanfaes gate was barely started before being abandoned.
So the distinctive squat shape of Beaumaris tells of a dream that never quite came true. Still it takes its rightful place on the global stage as part of the Castles and Town Walls of Edward I World Heritage Site.
Because this castle is special – both for the scale of its ambition and beauty of its proportions. Gloriously incomplete Beaumaris is perhaps the supreme achievement of the greatest military architect of the age.