James of Saint George

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Master James of Saint George (c. 1230 – 1309), also known as Master James of Savoy and in French Maitre Jacques de Saint-Georges d'Espéranche, was an architect from Savoy, described by historian Marc Morris as "one of the greatest architects of the European Middle Ages". [1]

He was responsible for designing many of Edward I's castles, including Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon (all begun in 1283) and Beaumaris in Anglesey (begun 1295).[2]

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.[3] 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 returning from Crusade and visiting Savoy in 1273. It was 25th June 1273 that King Edward I of England visited Saint-Georges-d'Esperanche so that his great nephew Philip I, Count of Savoy might pay homage to him in fulfilment of an earlier agreement on Alpine tolls [4]

Comparison of Saillon and Conwy town walls

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 [5][6]

Castle toilets at La Bâtiaz
Chillon Castle windows dimensionally match those at Harlech Castle

The earliest references in the English records of James of St George are found in April 1278 describing him as "ad ordiandum opera castorum ibidem" that is the Mason charged with the design, technical direction and management of the works underway in Wales[7] he is 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. ^ Morris, Marc. 2012. Castle. London: Windmill Books. 120.
  2. ^ Roth, Leland M. (1993). Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History and Meaning (1st ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. p. 271. ISBN 0-06-430158-3. 
  3. ^ Taylor, A.J. (1950). "Master James of St. George". English Historical Review. 65: 433–457. doi:10.1093/ehr/LXV.CCLVII.433. 
  4. ^ Taylor, A.J. (1953). "The Castle of Saint Georges D'Esperanche". The Antiquaries Journal. 33: 33-47.
  5. ^ Taylor, A.J. (1950). "Master James of St. George". English Historical Review. 65: 433–457. doi:10.1093/ehr/LXV.CCLVII.433.
  6. ^ Morris, Marc. 2012. Castle. London: Windmill Books. 105-112.
  7. ^ Taylor, A.J. (1950). "Master James of St. George". English Historical Review. 65: 433–457

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