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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