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Ring-fencing the gardinum?: European romance to British reality of the thirteenth-century Caernarfon Castle garden and park


European romance to British reality of the thirteenth-century Caernarfon Castle garden and park1

Rachel E. Swallow

Abstract: The complex designs of Iberian-bom Queen Eleanor de Castile’s gardens were not a new creation to her at the time the English Edwardian castle of Caernarfon was being built on Welsh soil in the late thirteenth century. This chapter considers the Medieval Latin word gardinum in documents relating to King Edward I’s and Queen Eleanor’s royal settlement at Caernarfon - a word now commonly translated as ‘garden’. Three Medieval Latin terms were in fact employed by contemporaries at Caernarfon, all generally translated homogeneously as ‘garden’. It is argued that Edward and Eleanor deliberately manifested the castle settings described in European and British Romance literature for their castle at Caernarfon, and its park and garden landscape setting. Following a fresh examination of the architecture, archaeology, and landscape at Caernarfon Castle, it is suggested that the chivalric features of parks and gardens in Arthurian-type literature can inform us of a more specific concept and purpose of the thirteenthcentury use of the term gardinum. This chapter concludes with the proposal that the late-thirteenth-century references to a gardinum at Caernarfon Castle likely referred to a park-like, plaisance-type of garden, which realistically emulated the features of the Romance literature that Edward and Eleanor were known to have admired.


A recent examination of King Edward I’s (r. 1272-1307) late-thirteenth-century castle at Caernarfon in Gwynedd, North Wales, points to a more complete understanding of the intended message for Edward’s and Queen Eleanor de Castile’s (b. c.1241, m. 1254, d. 1290) new-build castle situated within its inherited, elite, and culturally significant land and seascape.2 Eleanor - born in Burgos, Spain, and daughter of Ferdinand III of Castile and Joan, Countess of Ponthieu - likely had a contributory role in the creation of architecture and accommodation at Caernarfon Castle, as well as its surrounding chivalric context. In particular, the location and

Queen’s Gate, Caernarfon, with eleventh-century castle bailey and garden area to the fore (now a car park) (Photo

FIGURE 7.1 Queen’s Gate, Caernarfon, with eleventh-century castle bailey and garden area to the fore (now a car park) (Photo: Rachel E. Swallow).

architecture of the Queen’s Gate at the south-eastern end of the castle build, suggest that it was carefully manipulated to be an exclusively private entrance into the castle overlooking a garden (Fig. 7.1). The gate also marked and overlooked an ancient route-way to the first- to fourth-century Roman fort of Segontium and the mother church of St Peblig, both situated in the wider landscape of Caernarfon, with the dramatic backdrop of the Snowdonia Mountains beyond. The fact that King Edward intended to display his inherited imperial power of the first- to fourth-century Roman fort of Segontium at Caernarfon, through the elaborate and symbolic medieval castle architecture of polygonal towers with broad horizontal bands of contrasting masonry, is widely accepted.

This discussion will suggest that Edward and Eleanor not only ensured that Caernarfon’s imperial past was materialised in Roman ruins and an elite designed landscape, but also that the late-twelfth-century Middle Welsh Romance tale of Breudwyt Maxen Wledic or ‘The Dream of Macsen Wledig’3 was brought to life in the form of a medieval garden.4 This garden landscape was linked physically by a processional route to and from the Queen’s Gate, and symbolically, between Eleanor and her namesake in ‘The Dream of Macsen Wledig’ legend. The Breudwyt Maxen Wledic is a late-twelfth-century Middle Welsh Romance,5 which centres on the equally legendary imperial Roman emperor, Macsen, and a ‘castle’

(in Caernarfon) housing a beautiful maiden, Elen, who is said to have been the daughter of the Romano-British ruler, Eudaf Hen (Octavius).6

The Arch of Constantine in Rome was intended to function as a dramatic and symbolic reference to triumphant Christianity and imperial appropriation overlooking a route way, and the Queen’s gate in Caernarfon likely appropriated this function from Christianised Rome.' It reflects, therefore, the fictitious Elen and the real Eleanor’s piety, particularly as the gateway overlooked the then extant early medieval church of St Helen’s, and St Peblig Church, one kilometre away; both religious buildings were associated with Elen, and were situated adjacent to Segontium Roman fort. The medieval garden was therefore integral to the processional route landscape, where its significant focal end points were represented by both women. A recent re-examination of European and British Arthurian-based legends, with a particular focus on Breudwyt Maxen Wledic, suggests that both Edward and Eleanor likely intended to actively play out and replicate the lives, architecture, and landscapes of the subjects of ‘The Dream of Macsen Wledig’ (hereafter, The Dream)? The Dream was partly based on fact: Macsen Wledig was a real person, better known as Magnus Maximus, a Spanish-born general who was proclaimed emperor in AD 383 by the Roman troops in Britain. ’ Medieval gardens could be portrayed as places of love and ancient tradition (‘ils sont le locus amoerus, heritage de la tradition antique’).10 The medieval garden and route-way below the Queen’s Gate, suggests a physical and symbolic link between the legend, power, and piety of the late-fourth-century British Elen of The Dream and her namesake, the Castilian-born Queen Eleanor of the late thirteenth century.11

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