While the Edwardian castles of Conwy, Beaumaris, Harlech and Caernarfon are rightly hailed as outstanding examples of castle architecture, the castles of the native Welsh princes are far more enigmatic. Where some dominate their surroundings as completely as any castle of Edward I, others are concealed in the depths of forests, or tucked away in the corners of valleys, their relationship with the landscape of which they are a part far more difficult to discern than their English counterparts.
This ground-breaking book seeks to analyse the castle-building activities of the native princes of Wales in the thirteenth century. Whereas early castles were built to delimit territory and as an expression of Llywelyn I ab Iorwerth's will to power following his violent assumption of the throne of Gwynedd in the 1190s, by the time of his grandson Llywelyn II ap Gruffudd's later reign in the 1260s and 1270s, the castles' prestige value had been superseded in importance by an understanding of the need to make the polity he created — the Principality of Wales — defensible.
Employing a probing analysis of the topographical settings and defensive dispositions of almost a dozen native Welsh masonry castles, Craig Owen Jones interrogates the long-held theory that the native princes' approach to castle-building in medieval Wales was characterised by ignorance of basic architectural principles, disregard for the castle's relationship to the landscape, and whimsy, in order to arrive at a new understanding of the castles' significance in Welsh society. Previous interpretations argue that the native Welsh castles were created as part of a single defensive policy, but close inspection of the documentary and architectural evidence reveals that this policy varied considerably from prince to prince, and even within a prince's reign. Taking advantage of recent ground-breaking archaeological investigations at several important castle sites, Jones offers a timely corrective to perceptions of these castles as poorly sited and weakly defended: theories of construction and siting appropriate to Anglo-Norman castles are not applicable to the native Welsh example without some major revisions.
Princely Ambition also advances a timeline that synthesises various strands of evidence to arrive at a chronology of native Welsh castle-building. This exciting new account fills a crucial gap in scholarship on Wales' built heritage prior to the Edwardian conquest and establishes a nuanced understanding of important military sites in the context of native Welsh politics.
Craig Owen Jones is an Honorary Research Associate at Bangor University, Wales, and currently works as a lecturer at San Jose State University, California.
ISBN 978-1-912260-27-0 Feb 2022 184pp Paperback
“Dr Craig Owen Jones’s book is… a major advance, and extremely welcome. Anyone interested in native Welsh castles would benefit from reading it. The book has many strengths. It goes a long way towards integrating historical, architectural, and archaeological knowledge and also employs a relatively new line of analysis, with diagrams illustrating the field of view around a castle.” Hugh Brodie, Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies
“This is a book that needs to be read and then read again to mine all the information that the author presents. Princely Ambition should be on the shelf of everyone with an interest in medieval Wales, as well as castellologists. The author is to be congratulated on his book, and the publisher has produced a fine volume, up to the high standard of the other volumes in this series.” John R. Kenyon, The Castle Studies Group Journal
“The volume is written in a lively style and illustrated with numerous photographs and plans that are well integrated with the text. His valuable study provides a stimulating reappraisal of the castles of the princes of Gwynedd that in turn should engender further interest in, and research on, a major, if also in many respects an elusive, aspect of political power in thirteenth-century Wales.” Huw Pryce, Journal of the Merioneth Historical Society
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