Three Castles and a Road


Last Wednesday we heard about Emperor Macsen’s journey across the Roman empire to find his bride in North Wales.  Here’s the next part of the story.

The next morning, Helen went to her new husband, “Lord,” she said, her eyes modestly downcast, yet flicking saucily up at the man before her now and again, “I have come to ask my maiden portion.”

“Ah yes, of course,” said Macsen, smiling at his beautiful wife. “Name what you will.”

“Lord,” Helen replied, “I would ask for the Island of Britain for my father (for the Romans had already conquered it).”

“That shall be granted you,” said Macsen.  “Anything further?”

“Yes lord, since you are so kind as to let me ask.  I would request that you build three castles, in the places I choose in the Island of Britain.”

Caernarfon Castle

So the castles were built, in the places Helen chose for them, which were Caerlleon, Carmarthen, and Caernarfon.  And the lords of Macsen’s train sent forth for earth from Rome, that it might be more healthy for Macsen to live in a country that was not his own.

Then Helen thought of a project that might benefit the kingdom, as well as her lord the Emperor of Rome.  She called the surveyors and craftsmen to her.

“Men of Britain,” she addressed them, from her high seat in the castle at Caernarfon, “I desire to build roads, linking each castle in Wales.  It will be a hard task and a long one, but will bring great reward in time.  Will you do this for me?”

Their eyes sought each other’s, uncertainty filling the air, until finally one bowed the knee before her, “Lady, we will do this for you,” he said, “because you are a great and noble lady.  But we would not do this for any other.”  The other craftsmen followed his example and knelt.  So the roads were built.

Of course, we all know that Edward I, followed by his son, Edward II,  built Caernarfon Castle between 1283 and 1330, but there is a Roman road called Sarn Helen, named after Helen, Princess of Britain and Empress of Rome.  You may walk along parts of it today.  Here it is crossing a Roman fort, Tomen-y-Mur, near Ffestiniog.

Nowadays people say that it runs from Caerhun, a fort in the Conwy valley, to Caermarthen in South West Wales.   Sandra and I took a walk which lay roughly along part of its path in the Dyfi valley.

Macsen and Helen lived happily ever after, yet their life was not untroubled. As the action leaves Britain at this point, the final episode will go out by email in a few days time.