Portrait: James of Saint George, master of works and architect

Wednesday, 22 February 2023 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Portrait
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Master James statue at Beaumaris Castle © AJ Marshall/cc-by-sa-4.0

Master James statue at Beaumaris Castle © AJ Marshall/cc-by-sa-4.0

Master James of Saint George (French: Maître Jacques de Saint-Georges) was a master of works/architect from Savoy, described by historian Marc Morris as “one of the greatest architects of the European Middle Ages”. He was largely responsible for designing King Edward I‘s castles in North Wales, including Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon (all begun in 1283) and Beaumaris on Anglesey (begun 1295).

There is little firm documentary evidence of James’ early life and origin. However, we have very strong circumstantial evidence that his place of birth was Saint-Prex in or around the year 1230. We know for certain that his father was also an architect mason named John. This strong evidence related to his father, including year of death and architectural style lead to the conclusion that John was Jean Cotereel the builder of Saint-Prex and Lausanne Cathedral. Of particular interest are the similarities of the rose windows at Canterbury Cathedral and Lausanne Cathedral and the similarity of the west window of Lausanne Cathedral to that of the eastern hall window later built at Conwy Castle.

Following the short war of 1277 between Edward I of England and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, following the latter’s refusal to pay due homage, James was called from Savoy to England to the service of the king. The earliest references in the English records of James of St George are found in April 1278 describing him as “eunti in partibus Wallie ad ordinandum opera castrorum” translates as “going to Wales to put in order the works of the castles” there, that is the Mason charged with the design, technical direction and management of the works underway in Wales He is recorded as travelling to Wales, “visitandum castra de Flint et Rothelan” at which time four new castles were being built: Flint, Rhuddlan, Builth and Aberystwyth. Historian A. J. Taylor records that from 1277 until 1280 his main work was to supervise the building of Rhuddlan Castle and the canalisation of the River Clwyd before turning to Flint. Flint Castle is similar in concept to that built by Master James earlier at Yverdon-les-Bains.

Caernarfon Castle © AJ Marshall/cc-by-sa-4.0 Conwy Castle © David Benbennick/cc-by-sa-3.0 Master James statue at Beaumaris Castle © AJ Marshall/cc-by-sa-4.0 Rhuddlan Castle © Julie Anne Workman/cc-by-sa-3.0 Yverdon Castle © Addvisor/cc-by-sa-4.0 Beaumaris Castle © flickr.com - Stuart/cc-by-2.0
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Master James statue at Beaumaris Castle © AJ Marshall/cc-by-sa-4.0
He was appointed Master of the Royal Works in Wales (Magistro Jacobo de sancto Georgio, Magistro operacionum Regis in Wallia) around 1285, drawing a wage of 3s. a day. This appointment gave him control of construction in all its aspects of castles at Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech. An example of the way in which he brought the finer points of architecture from Savoy to north Wales would be three pinnacled merlons to be found at the Castello di San Giorio di Susa and at Conwy Castle. We now have primary sources that establish a direct link placing Master James at both Susa and Conwy Castle. 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 John de Bonvillars 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. Described by historian Marc Morris as Master James’ “most perfectly conceived castle”, it remained unfinished on his death in 1309.

James of St George had 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 had also worked at Stirling during the siege of 1304.

There is no record of James’s wife, Ambrosia, receiving a pension after his death, so it is probable she did not survive him. He would be survived by his two sons, Giles and Tassin of Saint George.

Read more on Wikipedia James of St. George (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.


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