Monthly Archives: January 2012


Welsh Pronunciation

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“Names are not always what they seem. The common Welsh name BZJXXLLWCP is pronounced Jackson.”

Puddinhead Wilson (Mark Twain, Following the Equator)

For an English speaker, Welsh is not easy.  The following is a quick guide:

a  ‘ah’ as in ‘rah’ (Caradog)

ae  ‘eye’ as in ‘my’ (Cadfael)

ai  ‘eye’ as in ‘my’ (Owain)

aw  ‘ow’ as in ‘cow’ (Alaw)

au  ‘eye’ as in ‘my’ (Dau)

c  a hard ‘c’ sound (Cadfael)

ch  a non-English sound as in Scottish ‘ch’ in ‘loch’ (Fychan)

dd  a buzzy ‘th’ sound, as in ‘there’ (Ddu; Gwynedd)

e  ‘eh’ as in ‘met’ (Ceri)

eu  ‘ay’ as in ‘day’ (Ddeufaen)

f  ‘v’ as in ‘of’ (Cadfael)

ff  as in ‘off’ (Gruffydd)

g  a hard ‘g’ sound, as in ‘gas’ (Goronwy)

i  ‘ee’ as in ‘see’ (Ceri)

ia  ‘yah’ as in ‘yawn’ (Iago)

ieu  sounds like the cheer, ‘yay’ (Ieuan)

l  as in ‘lamp’ (Llywelyn)

ll  a breathy /sh/ sound that does not occur in English (Llywelyn)

o  ‘aw’ as in ‘dog’ (Cadog)

oe  ‘oy’ as in ‘boy’ (Coel)

rh  a breathy mix between ‘r’ and ‘rh’ that does not occur in English (Rhys)

th  a softer sound than for ‘dd,’ as in ‘thick’ (Arthur)

u  a short ‘ih’ sound (Gruffydd), or a long ‘ee’ sound (Cymru—pronounced ‘kumree’)

w  as a consonant, it’s an English ‘w’ (Llywelyn); as a vowel, an ‘oo’ sound (Bwlch); wy has been known to be ‘oy’ as in ‘boy’, but wyn is ‘win’.

y  the only letter in which Welsh is not phonetic. It can be an ‘ih’ sound, as in ‘Gwyn,’ is often an ‘uh’ sound (Cymru), and at the end of the word is an ‘ee’ sound (thus, both Cymru—the modern word for Wales—and Cymry—the word for Wales in the Dark Ages—are pronounced ‘kumree’).

Some useful web pages for pronunciation:

While reading about what these words sound like is useful, hearing it is even more so.  Below are some places where you can actually hear how this all is supposed to sound:


Place names:


Gwd lwc. Ai hop ddat yw can ryd ddys and ddat yt meiks sens tw yw. Iff yw can ryd ddys, dden yw ar dwing ffaen and wil haf no problems at ol yn lyrnyng awr ffaen Welsh alffabet.


The Good Knight has a new cover!


Categories: Research

I spent twenty years telling myself I didn’t have a creative bone in my body.  I told myself I wasn’t a visual person. I don’t paint and photoshop is beyond me, but I know when something is beautiful and right.  Christine DeMaio-Rice ( is my cover designer.  So far she’s revamped Cold My Heart, The Last Pendragon series, and now The Good Knight.  And here it is:


It’s going to take a while to filter through all the channels, so please be patient if the old cover still pops up for you at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Apple.  She has also designed the full book cover for the paper copy.  Isn’t it gorgeous?  It should go live in a day or two as well.

You may note that the tag on the Kindle book is now “A Gareth and Gwen Medieval Mystery”.  That’s because you can look for the second book, The Uninvited Guest, in March 2012!  Christine will be designing that cover too.

Wow!  This just in … a link to a review I hadn’t seen:


Guest Post at David Gaughran’s Blog

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Categories: Research

I don’t usually link to all my guest posts, but today, David Gaughran (I was one of the authors featured in his book, ‘Let’s Get Digital’) is special and a friend.


A New Strategy for a New Year – Guest Post by Sarah Woodbury

To enroll or not to enroll, that is the question on a lot of writers’ minds. I have had several posts on KDP Select, because it’s a complex issue, without one “right” answer that will fit all self-publishers.

If you are just catching up, I came out against the programbefore Christmas, but featured two authors recently that are doing well out of it: Marilyn Peake and Patrice Fitzgerald.

To wrap up this mini-series, I have a guest post from bestselling author Sarah Woodbury, who hasn’t enrolled in KDP Select. Instead she’s exploiting the increased opportunities on other retailers. Here’s Sarah:


When Amazon first announced its KDP Select program, my heart sank. I knew that going exclusively with Amazon would not be right for me or my books. My sales at the other sites were one-quarter what they were at Amazon, but I wasn’t prepared to abandon my readers or what I’d spent 11 months building up. Or the potential for sales, which I still felt was there. But how to respond?  …

Read the rest at David’s site:


SOPA and Internet Piracy

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Categories: Research

Wikipedia is blacked out today.  Here’s why:

I am opposed to internet piracy.  I make my living off my books and if people pirate my books, they don’t pay me.  At the same time, I see no point in going after readers–who might actually like my book and want to read more, that they’ll then pay for.   This is Neil Gaiman on why we shouldn’t care about piracy of books:

The present internet piracy acts before Congress don’t address the real problem, which is companies (foreign, mostly) that pirate work wholesale and sell it.

Slate has a great article about why online piracy is not a bad thing.

A TED talk that gives the history of this bill:


From the explanation at Wikipedia:

What are SOPA and PIPA?
SOPA and PIPA represent two bills in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate respectively. SOPA is short for the “Stop Online Piracy Act,” and PIPA is an acronym for the “Protect IP Act.” (“IP” stands for “intellectual property.”) In short, these bills are efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites, but, in our opinion, they do so in a way that actually infringes free expression while harming the Internet. Detailed information about these bills can be found in the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act articles on Wikipedia, which are available during the blackout.
GovTrack lets you follow both bills through the legislative process: SOPA on this page, and PIPA on this one. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for the public interest in the digital realm, has summarized why these bills are simply unacceptable in a world that values an open, secure, and free Internet. …  
SOPA and PIPA are badly drafted legislation that won’t be effective at their stated goal (to stop copyright infringement), and will cause serious damage to the free and open Internet. They put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won’t have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn’t being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won’t show up in major search engines. And, SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.


Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn


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Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn was a contemporary of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales who died in 1282.  He was father to Owain, who with Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Llywelyn’s brother, conspired to murder Llywelyn in 1274.

Gruffydd was born sometime before 1216, the date of his father’s death.   Llywelyn Fawr had driven the family from their lands in Powys and Gruffydd subsequently grew up in England.   “Gwenwynwyn seized Arwystli in 1197 when he was aligned with England. Following the marriage of Llywelyn Fawr and Joan of England in 1208, warfare broke out once more between Gwenwynwyn and Llywelyn. In 1212 Gwenwynwyn’s ancient royal seat at Mathrafal was destroyed and he was evicted from his territories. He changed allegiances again and was restored to his realm in 1215 making a new capital at Welshpool. In 1216 he was defeated in battle with the forces of Llywelyn and fled to England, where he died shortly afterwards.”

Gruffydd became the ostensible ruler of Powys, but in fact spent most of his life in England, under the patronage of the English kings.  He returned to Wales for the first time in 1241, after Llywelyn Fawr’s death, and ruled his principality of Powys-Wenwynwyn off and on, depending upon whether or not Edward or Llywelyn was in the ascendancy, until his death in 1286.  His support for the English kings never wavered, and upon Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s death in 1282, his family became Marcher lords, and changed their name to de la Pole.

Of that fateful year of 1274, J. Beverly Smith writes:  “before the year was out the two men [Dafydd ap Llywelyn and Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn] who had conspired to put the prince to death had found refuge in England by the king’s permission.  The decision to allow them sanctuary in the king’s realm made a fundamental difference to relations between king and prince . . . Dafydd, pressing the king for support, asked for guidance as to how he could do most to damage Llywelyn . . . [in a letter] Llywelyn told how the men of Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn had come from the safety of their retreat in Shropshire to attack Powys Wenwynwyn.  They had come six times and audaciously sold the booty at the markets of Shrewsbury and Montgomery.  One of the prince’s men had been decapitated in public . . .” (Llywelyn ap Gruffydd  p. 383).

The name ‘Gwenwynwyn’ is a triple repitition of  “wyn” which means “white, fair, or blessed”.

or, possibly something along the lines of “land of the white lambs” since “wyn” in my modern Welsh dictionary means ‘lamb’.


Better Know a Castle*: Abergavenny

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On Christmas Day in 1175, William de Braose, a Marcher lord (the 4th Lord of Bramber), summoned Seisyll ap Dyfnwal, Seisyll’s eldest son, Geoffrey, and a number of other local leading Welshmen from Gwent to Abergavenny Castle to hear a royal proclamation.   He then murdered them all.  This was justified in William’s mind because of a prior killing of his uncle by Seisyll (or so he suspected, though apparently had no proof).  “De Braose and his men then mounted horses and galloped the few miles to Seisyll’s home where they caught and murdered his younger son, Cadwalladr a boy of seven years of age and captured his wife, whose exact fate is uncertain.”

Other sons, not in attendance that day, got their revenge by burning Abergavenny in 1182.  Gerald of Wales “alludes to the horrible event in the history of Abergavenny Castle described above, during his famous journey through Wales of 1188, but refuses to mention the incident specifically, saying least (the story) serves to encourage other equally infamous men.”

William Camden, the 16th-century antiquary, said that Abergavenny Castle “has been oftner stain’d with the infamy of treachery, than any other castle in Wales.”

And that’s saying a lot.

“From its early beginnings this was an important castle, the headquarters of the Norman lordship of Abergavenny, used for accommodation by kings if they were in the locality. It stands on a spur above the river Usk, in a good position to secure the valley and prevent Welsh incursions into the lowlands.”

“The Motte was probably built by the Norman Lord Hamelin de Ballon in 1087 AD. The tower built at the top of the motte would have been wooden. Beneath the motte was the bailey – a courtyard containing the outbuildings and stables.”;navId=3

Jeff Thomas writes further:  “Practically all the Marcher Lords were forced to deal with a rebellious and resentful Welsh population in violent ways in order to protect their newly-awarded “kingdoms,” but de Braose time and time again seems to have gone out of his way to commit acts of cruelty that went beyond his contemporaries. Although some would say his family eventually got what they deserved, the extinction of the male line and a forfeiture of all lands, de Braose stands out as an example of what the native Welsh population were up against, and why they rebelled so ferociously against the Norman invaders.”

Gerald of Wales “also mentions Abergavenny in a later passage following it’s recapture from the Welsh by English forces. As the Welsh were besieging the castle ‘two (Norman) men-at-arms were rushing across a bridge to take refuge in the tower which had been built on a great mound of earth. The Welsh shot at them from behind, and with the arrows which sped from their bows they actually penetrated the oak doorway of the tower, which was almost as think as a man’s palm. As a permanent reminder of the strength of their impact, the arrows have been left sticking in the door just where their iron heads struck.’ Gerald notes that the men of Gwent ‘are more skilled with the bow and arrow than those who come from other parts of Wales.'”

*Thanks to Stephen Colbert’s Better Know a District


The Welsh Robin Hood

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The idea of ‘Robin Hood’–one who steals from the rich and gives to the poor–or even someone who is on the side of the weak and downtrodden against the unjust ruler, is very old.  One of my favorite books, Sherwood by Parke Godwin, sets the story in the time of the Norman conquest, making Robin a Saxon thane.  Sadly, it’s out of print, but you can get it used from

We have other choices for Robin Hood that are set in Wales:

Bran ap Brychan:  Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven series focuses on this possible hero.  Like Parke Godwin’s, Sherwood, Lawhead places his Robin Hood at the time of the Norman conquest–though of Wales, not England.  Bran, the “heir to the throne Elfael, has abandoned his father’s kingdom and fled to the greenwood. There, in the primeval forest of the Welsh borders, danger surrounds him—for this woodland is a living, breathing entity with mysterious powers and secrets, and Bran must find a way to make it his own if he is to survive.”

I have not been able to find any evidence that Bran ap Brychan was a real person.

Dafydd ap Siencyn:  During the War of the Roses (1468), Dafydd declared himself for the Lancastrian cause and brought his men into the fight dressed all in green (thus leading to the Robin Hood association).  “A native of the Conwy Valley and kinsmen of the Wynn family, Siencyn used a rocky outcrop in the Gwydir forest as his base, the cave where he lived known locally as Carreg Y Gwalch.  Dafydd ap Siencyn led a band of men to Denbigh, the main Yorkist stronghold in North Wales, and burned the entire garrison. The king was said to be furious and gave the order to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke to “lay waste to the whole Conwy Valley”.”

“He received a pardon in 1468, and later he was appointed Constable of Conwy Castle, after killing his predecessor. Dafydd is said to have died of wounds received in a brawl, and he composed two poems on his deathbed.”

Twm Sion Cati:  “Although commonly referred to as ‘The Welsh Robin Hood, Twm Siôn Cati (c1530-1609) deserves better respect. He was of noble blood, a poet and a heraldic bard of renown. Many of the escapades attributed to him probably flowed from the imagination of various novelists.
According to recent research, it is possible that he hid in the famous cave at Rhandir-mwyn to escape religious persecution rather than to avoid the wrath of people who had been tricked by him.”

For once, I don’t have a bias towards the Welsh version, as one of these characters are particularly heroic and there’s nothing inherent in the legend that implies he was Welsh.  But it’s fun to speculate.



History of Paper


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Medieval lords had castle accounts, right?  On what were these written?  Did they call them paper, or parchment?  Were they made of dried skins, linen, paper?

Account books could have been made of paper, which was viewed as less sturdy than parchment and thus for less important matters.  “There are indeed very many medieval manuscripts written on paper. Cheap little books made for clerics and students were probably more often on paper than on parchment by the fifteenth century. Even major aristocratic libraries had manuscripts on paper. Some paper manuscripts survive with the inner and outer pairs of leaves in each gatherings made of parchment, presumably because parchment is stronger and these were the most vulnerable pages. Paper was a Chinese invention probably of the second century and the technique of paper-making spent a thousand years slowly working its way through the Arab world to the West. By the thirteenth century there were established paper mills in Spain and Italy, and in France by about 1340, Germany by 1390, but probably not in England until the later fifteenth century. Paper was exported from its place of manufacture into all parts of Europe . . .

Medieval paper was made from linen rags. It is much stronger and more durable than modern wood-pulp paper, and fifteenth-century scribes were wrong if they believed that it would not survive. Rag paper is manufactured as follows. White rags are sorted and washed thoroughly in a tub pierced with drainage holes and they are then allowed to ferment for four or five days. Then the wet disintegrating pieces are cut into scraps and beaten for some hours in clean running water, left to fester for a week, beaten again, and so on, several times over, until the mixture disintegrates into a runny water-logged pulp. It is then tipped into a huge vat. A wire frame is scooped into the vat, picking up a film of wet fibres, and it is shaken free of drips and emptied onto a sheet of felt. Another layer of felt is laid over it. As the soggy sheets emerge and are tipped out, they are stacked in a pile of multiple sandwiches of interleaved felt and paper. Then the stack is squeezed in a press to remove excess water and the damp paper can be taken out and hung up to dry. When ready, the sheet is ‘sized’ by lowering it into an animal glue made from boiling scraps of vellum or other offcuts. The size makes the paper less absorbent and allows it to take ink without running. The sheets may have to be pressed again to make them completely flat. Sometimes, especially in north-east Italy (doubtless under the influence of Islamic paper manufacture) the paper was polished with a smooth stone to give it a luxurious sheen.”

Paper was used in Wales, certainly.  A surviving manuscript (from the thirteenth century) is in the National Library of Wales. It was a ‘pocket’ book of the laws of Hywel Dda (from the 10th century), designed for lawyers to carry around in their scrip, rather than left on a library shelf.
You can view it here:

On the other hand, parchment was something different, and also used, though it was a more precious substance than paper.  It was:  “a writing support material that derives its name from Pergamon (Bergama in modern Turkey), an early production centre. The term is often used generically to denote animal skin prepared to receive writing, although it is more correctly applied only to sheep and goat skin, with the term vellum reserved for calf skin. Uterine vellum, the skin of stillborn or very young calves, is characterised by its small size and particularly fine, white appearance; however, it was rarely used. To produce parchment or vellum, the animal skins were defleshed in a bath of lime, stretched on a frame, and scraped with a lunellum while damp. They could then be treated with pumice, whitened with a substance such as chalk, and cut to size. Differences in preparation technique seem to have occasioned greater diversity in appearance than did the type of skin used. Parchment supplanted papyrus as the most popular writing support material in the fourth century, although it was known earlier. Parchment was itself largely replaced by paper in the sixteenth century (with the rise of printing), but remained in use for certain high-grade books. See also flesh side and hair side.”

Illuminated manuscripts of whatever nature were exclusively on parchment until the late Middle Ages:  “The majority of surviving manuscripts are from the Middle Ages, although many illuminated manuscripts survive from the Renaissance, along with a very limited number from Late Antiquity. The majority of these manuscripts are of a religious nature. However, especially from the 13th century onward, an increasing number of secular texts were illuminated. Most illuminated manuscripts were created as codices, which had superseded scrolls. A very few illuminated manuscript fragments survive on papyrus, which does not last nearly as long as vellum or parchment. Most medieval manuscripts, illuminated or not, were written on parchment (most commonly of calf, sheep, or goat skin), but most manuscripts important enough to illuminate were written on the best quality of parchment, called vellum.

Beginning in the late Middle Ages manuscripts began to be produced on paper. Very early printed books were sometimes produced with spaces left for rubrics and miniatures, or were given illuminated initials, or decorations in the margin, but the introduction of printing rapidly led to the decline of illumination. Illuminated manuscripts continued to be produced in the early 16th century, but in much smaller numbers, mostly for the very wealthy.

Manuscripts are among the most common items to survive from the Middle Ages; many thousands survive. They are also the best surviving specimens of medieval painting, and the best preserved. Indeed, for many areas and time periods, they are the only surviving examples of painting.”



Welsh Surnames

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This is Sir Taran ap Deiniol (my son) wearing a full coif and tunic of crocheted mail.  The ‘ap’ in his name means ‘son of’ for the Welsh.  If he were a girl, the ‘ap’ would become ‘ferch’, meaning ‘daughter of”.

Among the Welsh today, the number of surnames are few.  In general, if you encounter someone with a first name as a last name, their ancestry may very well be Welsh.  In Wales today, Jones, Davies, Evans, Williams, and Thomas are the most common surnames.

The reason for this was that the Welsh adopted the use of true surnames very late–beginning in the 15th century and the process didn’t finish until the 18th.  This meant that 1) the use of English names and the Englishization of Wales had fully taken hold and 2) the Church’s use of English baptismal names was well-established.

Thus, among the Welsh, instead of having names based in a person’s place, occupation, personal nickname, or place of origin, names exclusively were rooted in the father’s name.

As Eustace ap Evan writes:

“None of this holds any comfort for the genealogical searcher in Wales. Seekers after the more-common surnames are doomed to failure unless they have a great deal more information than “William Thomas from Wales.” And, even with their quarry traced and identified in the 19th Century, sooner or later the parish register entry will appear, which says “Evan son of William Thomas baptized,” and no more. If it is late in the 18th Century, he is likely to be Evan Thomas; if it is early in the century and in a fairly Welsh area, he is probably Evan William. If it is a town or other Anglicized area, he might be Evan Thomas as early as the 17th Century, or, indeed, very much earlier than that.

Towns were English plantations, mainly, and had surnames from their foundation dates — but were prone from the 16th Century onwards to be infiltrated by Welshmen who may not always have adopted town ways at once. Added to this uncertainty is the depressing probability that he is probably far from being the sole possessor of his name in the parish, whichever it may be.

Once the comforting signpost of a surname is left behind, there is very little hope of making further progress except in the case of a relatively wealthy family, who may have left written records of their affairs — wills, at the very least, are needed. The sort of family, that is, who would have adopted a surname and is, in fact, on the point of doing so. Thus, it is often possible to go back a further generation before the surnames. But, to make substantial further progress will be impossible unless, at the same time, a secure connection can be made with one of the many medieval Welsh pedigrees, which have been brought down to the 16th-18th Centuries.”