James of Saint George

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Master James of Saint George (c. 1230 – 1309), also known as Jacques de Saint-Georges d'Espéranche, was an architect from Savoy responsible for designing many of Edward I's castles, including Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon (all begun in 1283) and Beaumaris in Anglesey (begun 1295).[1]

Early records seem to indicate that his father, Master John, was a master mason who worked on castles in Savoy in the 1260s. These castles included his first at Yverdon les Bains.[2] The "St George" is believed to be a reference to the castle of Saint-Georges-d'Espéranche, located southeast of Lyon. Edward I probably met Master James of St George whilst visiting Savoy in 1273, but did not employ him until the late 1270s.

Historian and Author A J Taylor uncovered what had been a mystery for centuries in discovering the Savoyard origins of James, that Jacques de Saint-Georges d'Esperanche and Master James of Saint George were one and the same man. Taylor travelled from Wales to Savoy noting for the first time the origins of the Welsh works in Savoy. Taylor citing the garderobes at La Bâtiaz Castle, the windows at Chillon Castle along with the town walls at Saillon as examples [3]

Comparison of Saillon and Conwy town walls

The earliest references in the English records to James of St George are found in 1278; he is referred to as an "ingeniator" (engineer) and "mazun" (mason). In 1278, he was recorded as travelling to Wales, at which time four new castles were being built: Flint, Rhuddlan, Builth and Aberystwyth. The records indicate that he was master mason at Flint and Rhuddlan between 1278 and 1282.

He was appointed Master of the Royal Works in Wales ("magister operacionum in Wallia") around 1285, drawing a wage of 3s a day.

Harlech Castle, begun in 1283, was effectively completed in 1289. On 3 July 1290, James of St George was appointed Constable of Harlech Castle, succeeding Sir John de Bevillard who had died in August 1287. He held this position until 14 December 1293.

His final Welsh castle was Beaumaris, on which work started in April 1295.

James of St George then joined Edward I in Scotland, probably around September 1298. In February 1302, James of St George was appointed to oversee to the new defences at Linlithgow. He also worked at Stirling (during the 1304 siege).

There is no record of James's wife, Ambrosia, receiving a pension after his death, so it is probable she did not survive him.

Gallery of architectural work[edit]


  1. ^ Roth, Leland M. (1993). Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History and Meaning (1st ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. p. 271. ISBN 0-06-430158-3. 
  2. ^ Taylor, A.J. (1950). "Master James of St. George". English Historical Review. 65: 433–457. doi:10.1093/ehr/LXV.CCLVII.433. 
  3. ^ Taylor, A.J. (1950). "Master James of St. George". English Historical Review. 65: 433–457. doi:10.1093/ehr/LXV.CCLVII.433.

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