Master James of St George d’Esperance, Savoy –
civil engineer and architect,
a Lutyens, a Vauban, a Speer –
was ‘master of the Kinges werkes in Wales’.
He built the castles at Rhuddlan, Conwy,
Harlech, Caernavon and Beaumaris –
all accessible from river or sea,
the last four with bastides (walled, fortified towns) –
for Edward I, England’s ninth Norman king,
in the latter’s campaign to rob the Welsh.
Beaumaris – the final touches unfinished
through lack of funds, and the subjugation
of the Welsh – has two concentric walls,
twenty four towers, and the remains
of a sea water moat and a dock,
all stone work patterned and meticulous.
The inner courtyard is the size of a grand
public square, somewhere for the King to survey,
from a window of the Great Hall – a goblet
of wine from Gascony at his lips,
an English harpist playing at his back –
Maître Jacques command masons and carpenters.
We do not know precisely where he was born
or died or when, or much else about him
apart from mentions by various
clerks of work in lists of expenditures –
and that his wife’s name was Ambrosia.
Where they both Savoyards? Did they ever
return? When they saw snow on the mauve mountains
over the Straits from Beaumaris did they think
of the many days’ journey south across
the Celtic Seas to the Bay of Biscay,
along the Garonne to Bordeaux, then by horse
skirting the lakes and crossing the rivers
of Occitania, the Alps of Savoy
in the friendly distance?