HARLECH CASTLE

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NORTH WALES

“The tower that long had stood
‘The crash of thunder and the warring wince
Shook by the slow but sure destroyer — Time,
Now hangs in doubtful ruins o’er its base.”

HARLECH CASTLE, according to the Welsh historians, derives its origin from
Maelgwyn Gwynedd, prince of North Wales, who flourished at the commencement of
the sixth century. The present castle appears to have been rebuilt by Edward L, on the
foundations of the original fortress, portions of which are still observable in the masonry
of the latter epoch, so well known as the “castle-building reign” in England. In the reign
of Henry IV the castle was seized by Owen Glendower, but was retaken four years later;
and, after the battle of Northampton, in 1460, afforded temporary shelter to Margaret of
Anjou.

In 1468, the castle of Harlech was captured, after a short siege, by the Earl
of Pembroke; of whom Sir John Wynne, in his history of the Gwydir family, quotes
some Cambrian lines expressive of the ravages committed by him in the counties of
Merioneth and Denbigh at that unhappy period. The last of the many tempestuous
scenes with which this fortress has been visited occurred in 1647, when William Owen,
with a garrison of only twenty men, surrendered it to Cromwell’s forces under General
Mytton; but this was not accomplished till every other castle in Wales had deserted the
royal cause.

This castle is a strong square building, with a round-tower at each angle, and
one of the same forms at each side of the gateway. Besides these there are four other
turrets, smaller and higher, which rise above the towers at the angles, and are in a more
dilapidated state. The entrance is under a pointed arch, which formerly contained six
gates of massive strength and construction. Although the roofs, doors, and casements
of this interesting stronghold have long disappeared, it still presents in the distance an

air of even habitable preservation. There are the remains of stone staircases in every
tower, and in the area one of these, leading to the top of the battlements, is still entire.
In all the rooms fireplaces, with pointed arches, are visible, as well as window recesses,
which in the state apartments arc three in a row, and of spacious dimensions; while
those in the smaller rooms gradually contract outwards till they terminate in a “slit” or
loophole, as in most of this castles of this style and period.

The view of Harlech Castle is among the finest in this picturesque and interesting
country; the situation is commanding, and the effect of these venerable towers and
battlements, as they first burst upon the traveler’s eye, is strikingly hold and impressive.
His fancy is hurried back to the days of other times: the shades of native harpers and
native heroes flit before his eye; history and romance divide the empire of his mind;
and for a time he rests with mute but intense interest on these castellated landmarks of
Cambrian history.

The rock upon which the fortress is built rises from the Gamlas, — a level marsh,
resembling water in the distance, nearly a mile in breadth, and which it is probable was
once covered by the sea. On the side overlooking this marsh, the rock is precipitous,
and steep at either end. In front it is on a level with the town of Harlech, from which it
is separated only by a deep trench or moat, and overlooked by a group of magnificent
mountains in the rear, from which the view is sublime. The whole platform of the rock is
occupied by the castle, except a narrow belt of about four or five feet in width, forming
a beautiful green path, which winds round the outer walls, skirting the very brink of the
precipice.

The town of Harlech is an ancient free burgh, and originally one of the chief
places in the county of Merioneth. It is now reduced to the condition of a secondary
village, has a corporation governed by a mayor, is one of the polling- places for the
county members, and is enlivened during the year by several periodical fairs and weekly
markets.

Various objects of antiquity have been discovered from time to time in the
neighbourhood of Harlech. In 1692 an ancient gold torque was dug up in a garden near
the castle. It is in the form of a wreathed bar, or several rods twisted together, about
four feet long, flexible, bent in the form of a hat-band, neither sharp nor twisted, but
plain, evenly cut, an inch in circumference, and in weight about eight ounces. This
interesting relic is an heir-loom in the Mostyn family. Several coins of the Roman Empire
have also been found in and near this town, which afford indisputable evidence of its
great antiquity. The distance of Harlech from London is two hundred and twenty-nine
miles.

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