Life began in the town that was to become Conwy long before Conwy Castle stood here. Welsh settlers recognised the region as naturally strong because of the large estuary and the abundance of food and the remains of an early fortification can still be found above the town of Deganwy on the opposite bank of the River Conwy.
The Maenan Monks
Some of the earliest permanent settlers in what was to become Conwy were the Maenan Monks who built an abbey within what is now the town. Parts of this abbey still remain today in St Mary’s Church located within the centre of the town.
The English Invasion
During the late 13th century Edward I of England sought control over the whole of what today is the United Kingdom. In north Wales the local population resisted his forces in battle along the coast and throughout the Snowdonia mountains. Heavily outnumbered and under equipped the Welsh forces were pushed backwards in the very heart of Snowdonia and into terrain that was difficult for the English to safely pursue.
With the Welsh resistance in the mountains still strong Edward I decided that an ‘iron ring’ of castles would be built to quell the Welsh uprisings. One of these is Conwy Castle with the others being Ruthin Castle, Caernarfon Castle, Beaumaris Castle, and Harlech Castle.
Each castle was designed by Edward’s master builder, James of St. George, a master architect of the time and renowned builder of castles. Standing at what is today the town of Deganwy the English decided that the natural outcropping of rock on the opposite bank was the ideal location for the castle.
In 1283 the monks who inhabited the area were relocated by Edward I eight miles down the Conwy valley to a site near the town of Llanwrst. Although little remains of the relocated abbey a hotel and camp site now sits on the location. Soon after the construction of Conwy Castle and walled town began.
The castle and town walls took a number of years to complete, from 1283 to 1287, and required more than 15,000 men to build, however once finished an undeniable symbol of the English dominance stood at the mouth of the river.
Edward I moved English settlers into the town and for a long time the Welsh natives where banned from entering the walled town and the English lived as an effective garrison town along with the other walled towns constructed as part of the ‘iron ring’.
In the following years the Welsh made many attempts to retake the areas around Snowdonia with the earliest attempts in 1295. Early in the 15th century the Welsh hero Owain Glyndwr led a rebellion against the English occupiers and captured Conwy Castle by trickery. However the occupation was short lived and Owain Glyndwr and his men were forced to flee back into the mountains of Snowdon before they were finally pursued to Harlech Castle in southern Gwynedd.
As more years went by the garrisoning of the castle was stopped and it was allowed to become derelict.
The Civil War
The English Civil War came to Conwy Castle in 1642 and the castle was regarissoned and repaired. During 1646 the parliamentary army laid seige to the castle for over 3 months before they finally captured it. Afterwards they destroyed areas of the castle to prevent reoccupation or reuse by the Royalists.
After the civil war Conwy Castle was once more allowed to fall derelict and was effectively abandoned for long periods.
Conwy Castle Today
In more recent times Cadw, the organisation responsible for the maintenance and use of historic monuments in Wales, has been charged with opening Conwy Castle as a visitor attraction and looking after its upkeep.
As part of their stewardship Cadw ensures that Conwy Castle remains open to the public for a small entry fee throughout the year. They also safeguard this historic building, one of the most visited in the whole of North Wales, and occasionally allow it to be used for special events.