Master James of St.George
No, Gabriele didn't make me up like she did with that Aelius Rufus guy, I'm a real person who lived from 1235-1308. And sometimes I return to my old places like Caernarfon Castle and talk to people.
Here I'm deep in conversation with Gabriele about the payment of masons*. I know a lot about that matter because I've been a master mason and military engineer all my life, following the footsteps of my father.
First I worked for the Counts of Savoy, and I took my name after the palace of St. Georges d'Esperanche which I built for Philip of Savoy. In 1278, Count Philip was visited by King Edward I of England who had a problem. He had conquered a people called the Welsh, but they took ill having a king not of their own blood and made several attempts to oust Edward. Thus he planned to build a ring of castles around the land to strengthen the position of the English. I wasn't sure at first if I really wanted to work in a land full of mountains, wind, rain and savage people who spoke an incomprehensible language with far too many ll and dd, but the payment was excellent and Edward ensured me he wanted the biggest fortresses he could get. It should prove an interesting challenge and so I packed my belongings, picked the best masons and engineers from my staff, received the farewell of Count Philip and set off to Wales.
It was a challenge, even with sixteen years of experience in building castles. Over the years I oversaw the construction of the castles of Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech, Beaumaris, Flint, Rhuddlan, Builth and Aberystwyth, and I was involved in the repair and refortification of Dolwyddelan and Criccieth, Welsh castles which Edward had conquered.
Caernarfon Castle, view towards Eagle Tower
But my favourite place is Caernarfon which I modeled after the walls of Constantinople. For some reason, the Romans still hold a popular place in Welsh myths despite the fact they came as conquerors as well, and so Edward got the idea to connect his reign to the Roman Emperor Maximus, whom the Welsh call Macsen Wledig, and he wanted to demonstrate this by building a Roman-style castle. The Romans had been in Caernarfon which they called Segontium; you can visit the remains of their fortress on yonder hill. They produced some fine stone work, those Romans.
As you can see, Caernarfon has octagonal towers instead of round ones, and we used two different sorts of stone to create the red stripes. I'll tell you more about constructing a castle next time, it's a long and complicated process, and the walls and towers you see today only the final result. There are also some features I would have liked to add but never got the chance. Edward wanted too many castles at once, and in the end there was not enough money left. View towards Queen's Gate
It was not my fault. Yes, I did receive the handsome pay of two shilling a day which was later raised to three shilling a day for the rest of my life, but that doesn't account for the 12,000 pound the building of Caernarfon cost from 1283-1292. You wonder what three shilling were actually worth? Well, I made in one day what a skilled mason who was not a chief engineer and Master would make in a week. A simple labourer digging trenches and such made two pennies a day, and one penny would buy him food and wine and a bed at an inn. If he spent the other penny on a whore, he'd be in for some trouble with his wife, though.
The comparably low payment for digging trenches should explain some of Edward I's annoyance with his son's hobbies, Ed II could never have made a living off those. *grin** The above picture was taken by Adrienne Goodenough from Cadw. She organises educational events in historical sites managed by Cadw and was so kind to send me the pictures she took of me and Master James. I hope the actor who played him - I never learned his real name - won't mind that I use James as narrator for some of my blogposts, but he was fun and an inspiration. The information about payment I got from him, but the rest is based on the info in the guidebook.