Monthly Archives: April 2012


How did medieval people keep warm?

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How did medieval people keep warm?  The short answer might be they didn’t, but that’s only half an answer.  Certainly, in medieval Wales like in modern Wales, people didn’t have to deal with extreme temperatures of say–Minnesota–but they did have to deal with snow and cold in the winter, and occasional heat waves in the summer.

How did they protect themselves against the cold?  Houses, certainly, weren’t kept very warm.  Cloaks, scarves, boots, and gloves were worn indoors.  Especially with the inefficient and smoky heating system (see my post on chimneys), the cold inside could approximate the cold inside.

Medieval people had gloves, for example:

“For the peasant, the garb was basic and simple. The outer clothing was commonly made of wool with undergarments of linen. As one would expect, the wool garments were hot, heavy and itchy, but fortunately, the linen undergarments made the wool a bit more comfortable. The undergarments were laundered, but it was rare to wash the outer garments. While one might think this would serve to create a rather pungent society, such was not necessarily the case. Though the peasants worked very hard, frequently at manual labor, they also spent a great deal of time around open fires and smoke. The smoke permeated their clothes and acted as a natural deodorant reducing the odors.

In the winter and colder months, cloaks, mittens and woolen hats were worn as protection from the elements. Shoes were worn, but were often a luxury. Leather boots could be found among the peasants, but it was not uncommon for peasants to go without shoes. Along with their woolen dresses, women often wore simple caps.”

BBC did a feature on what Robin Hood might have worn in Sherwood Forest to keep warm in winter:  “In the medieval era, clothes would be made of wool with a next-to-body material generally of linen. Both materials – worn in layers – are excellent to keep you warm. Perspiration reduces this effectiveness, so if you couldn’t avoid sweating for some reason and you became hot through physical exertion the correct thing to do would be to take a layer or two off until you cooled down, then put the layers back on again.

Medieval men wore a linen shirt and underclothes, a woollen coat with a hood over a coif – a tight fitting cap – on the head and also covering the shoulders and upper arms. Gloves were known – by comparison to our modern five-fingered gloves medieval winter gloves had two ‘fingers and a thumb’ only or more likely looked like mittens, made from wool or padded / lined leather.

Even soaking wet wool provides a modicum of warmth. Our medieval outlaws couldn’t wear anything else anyway, as fibres such as polyester, lycra and nylon weren’t invented and silk was both rare and too expensive for a common man when seen at market (Silk is a recommended next-to-body material for keeping warm, but rare in England for many years to come. Being an outlaw, if you couldn’t afford any silk you could always steal some).

Wool if clean and maintained is waterproof up to a point, but would not resist a downpour and shelter have to be sought. Wool can be waterproofed, but this affects the warmth it provides.

A far better and a more common waterproof for wintertime would be leather – a fatty skin taken from an animal such as a deer or a pig or a skin treated and tanned into leather and fashioned into a cloak, perhaps including a hood.”


Welsh Heraldry

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Knights in the Middle Ages wore a coat of arms to distinguish themselves from one another in battle.  Within a given family individuals would have their own coats of arms, separate from each other and sometimes blending with another family, depending on the circumstances of marriage.  A family would also have crests and seals, which might or might not be the same as the coats of arms.  All are referred to as heraldic devices.

“Generally the language of heraldry suggests its warlike origin. The term Coat of arms is derived from the surcoat worn over the armor to keep off the rays of the sun. It was a waistcoat-like garment, on which the heraldic design was depicted. The knight wore the arms shown on the surcoat on his shield, the trappings of his horse, and his lance pennon. In addition, he might have painted on his helmet what was called his crest. Not all knights chose a crest. The motto is not an integral part of the coat of arms, and may be changed at the will of the user.”

“The date and manner of the origin of coats of arms, often called family crests, has been a matter of much speculation. There is no evidence of coats of arms being present at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, nor were family crests apparent by the beginning of the twelfth century. However, in the 13th century, coats of arms were used throughout Europe and the whole ‘science’ of heraldry – its rules and terms – had been established. During this time the Crusades undoubtedly helped spread the use of coats of arms.

Various suggestions have been put forward regarding the origin of coats of arms, for example: shields, banners, tabards and possibly the use of seals. Probably, once a design had been adapted, it would have been put to many personal items at the same time. To qualify as a coat of arms, a design must be capable of being depicted on a shield, but the name ‘coat of arms’ is derived from the linen tabard which was worn over the armour and upon which the design was shown.”

The coat of arms for Gwynedd was this:


The personal coat of arms for Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was this:


This was clearly derived from the coat of arms of Gruffydd ap Cynan, father of Owain Gwynedd, who was  himself the grandfather of Llywelyn Fawr, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s grandfather:

And this is the coat of arms of  Dafydd ap Gruffydd, whom Edward I hanged, drew, and quartered in 1283 (or had hung, drawn and quartered, I suppose, since he didn’t do it himself :):


Wikipedia has a great list of other heraldic devices for the rest of Wales:

For translations of Welsh Latin mottos, and more information in general about Welsh mottos, see:

“English, Welsh, French, and Latin mottoes were all used in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Wales. The following table shows their relative frequencies:

Language Number of Mottoes Percentage
English 15 7.3%
Welsh 47 22.8%
French 30 14.6%
Latin 114 55.3%

(A few mottoes were bilingual, and are therefore counted twice; one motto, “Odexi du parmer,” has been omitted from the analysis because its language could not be identified.)

Latin mottoes predominate. This reflects a widespread literacy in Latin; it may also indicate that the more overtly intellectual imprese mottoes influenced heraldic motto choices. British war-cries were often in French; sixteenth- and seventeenth-century men and women who displayed French mottoes could have inherited them from French-speaking ancestors, or they might have been displaying their knowledge of a foreign language. The bearers of Welsh and English mottoes, on the other hand, presumably spoke these languages at home.”

Sources for images:


An Indie’s Prayer, by M. Edward McNally


Categories: Research

From my friend Ed, reposted with his permission from:

Dearest Digital Gawd, now available as gif, jpeg, or bit map,

Give me this day a couple uninterrupted hours,
As I swore to myself I would have this chapter done Tuesday,
and now it is Thursday.
No wait, it’s Friday.
How did I lose a whole day and this thing still isn’t done?

Grant me the serenity to just let that idiotic comment on facebook pass by,
Lo, though it is the stupidest thing anyone has ever said, ever, and it vexes me sorely,
And though I have typed a long, witty rejoinder that no one with half a brain could possibly argue,
Just let me hit delete instead of post this one time, and return to my labors.

Cyber Gawd, grant me the courage to write with honesty,
Even though technically I’m making all this stuff up.
If that’s what the story wants, that’s what the story gets,
And let not me pull my punches.

Oh, Editor Above, please for to make with the grammars and such,
Even when I’m typing really fast, and my verbiage may seem most strange,
And the colons begin to lie down with the semicolons,
Let me sort all that out later, as this is a draft.

Great Reviewer on high, grant me the patience to not check sales every four minutes,
Or look for a new review every seven minutes,
Or see if somebody commented on my blog in the last eleven minutes,
Or, in any other way, to Google myself.

And, Sweet Redeemer, if it’s not too much trouble,
If you could put something edible in my fridge today, apart from ketchup and cocktail olives,
As I’ve been meaning, but only meaning, to get to the store,
That would be swell. But no more beer, thanks. I’m set.

Heavenly Plotter, please touch my characters’ hearts with mercy,
So that they will do what I want them to do just this one time,
Instead of complicating the plot so I’m going to need like two more chapters here…
Actually, strike that, that’s the best part of the book.

Most wholly holy of holies, let me not look haughtily askance at any of your creations,
Even if they end in –ly, or are otherwise misshapen.
For to everything there is a season, and a purpose under heaven,
Even adverbs.

Big Space Pooba, grant me the wisdom to distinguish
The bits I just happen to love, from the bits that actually move the story forward,
And give me the strength to ix-nay the loved bits sometimes,
But not every time, as this is not Paint By Numbers.

Let me write one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking the world outside as it is,
While having the world in my head and heart as I would have it,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy in the next.



The Quest for Welsh Independence


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When the Romans conquered Britain, the people they defeated were the Britons, the ancestors of the Welsh, a Celtic people who themselves had come to the island hundreds of years before. After the Romans marched away in 410 AD, the Saxon invaders overwhelmed the British in successive waves, pushing them west and resulting in a Saxon England and British Wales. When the next conquerors—the Normans—came in 1066 AD, they conquered England but they did not conquer Wales. Not yet.

For the next two hundred years, power in Wales ebbed and flowed, split among Welsh kings and princes, Marcher barons (Norman lords who carved out mini-kingdoms for themselves on the border between England and Wales), and the English kings.

Through it all, the Welsh maintained their right to independence—to be governed by their own laws and their own kings.

The ending came on December 11th, 1282, when Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales, was killed on a snowy hillside, the end of a thirty year conflict with Edward I, King of England. Less than a year later, his brother, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, was hung, drawn, and quartered and dragged through he streets of Shrewsbury, the first man of standing to die that particular death—practice for the murder of Scot patriot William Wallace in similar fashion twenty years later (along with hundreds of other Scots, including three brothers of Robert the Bruce).

In further retribution, Edward took all the signs of the Welsh principality—the true cross, the scepter, the crown—for himself. And he made sure that his son, Edward II, was born at Caernarfon Castle (in 1284), so that Edward could name him the Prince of Wales. The heir to throne of England has been called the Prince of Wales ever since.

It has been 729 years since 1282. Is that too long a time to remember? A 2007 BBC poll reported that 20% of the people of Wales backed independence, while 70% did not; this is in comparison to Scotland, where 32% of the population supported independence from England.

This brutal history prompted me to write, my After Cilmeri series which follow the adventures of two teenagers who travel back in time to the thirteenth century and save Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s life. In my books, the Welsh people maintain their independence and never succumb to Edward I, nor fall under the heel of the English boot.

The practical side of Welsh independence, after all this time, would be very different from the idea of it, no matter how appealing.  Could Wales be self-sufficient?  England has exploited its natural resources for over 700 years.  How much is left?  And if Wales isn’t going to rely on exports, than what … tourism?  On March 3, 2011, Wales voted for more powers for their assembly.

The Welsh Assembly, according its web page, has three tasks:  “The Assembly has three key roles: representing Wales and its people; making laws for Wales; and holding the Welsh Government to account.”  To see what aspects of government for which the Assembly is responsible:


Crops in Medieval Wales

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Wales has always been known as a pastoral society, in that farming was a less common occupation than herding.  Crops were grown, however, and new archaeological studies are shedding light on the nature of that form of agriculture.  “In about 4,000 BC farming was introduced into Wales, although the people still used stone tools.”

“The discovery of corn-dryers with early medieval radiocarbon dates has contributed to the growing number of early medieval examples excavated in Wales which can throw valuable light on the crops grown, their ratio to each other and how they were processed. South Hook (Herbranston) is a particularly important site since several corn-dryers were excavated together with rotary quern-stones and a significant assemblage of charred grain samples.

Two types of oats (bristle oats and common oats) as well as hulled six-row barley grains were the main crops grown. These would have been well-suited to the poor acidic soils of the region. It was also argued that bristle oats and barley were grown together in order to provide a failsafe crop on marginal land and that some of the barley was malted for beer. Wheat grains, which would have required better soils, were present but rare. Flax seeds and hazel-nut shells were also recovered (Carruthers forthcoming). In contrast at the slightly later site of Maenclochog the sample from a hearth produced mainly oats and rye (Carruthers forthcoming), but a very similar picture is presented by the evidence from Newton (Llanstadwell), where two corn-dryers were excavated together with the upper stone of a rotary quern.

Carbonised grain from the base of one dryer provided a radiocarbon date of cal AD 720–960 (2 sigma). Analysis of the charred grain has indicated that barley (six-row and two-row) was being grown probably alongside oats (bristle oat?) and in all likelihood wheat was also being cultivated. The weeds discovered were also consistent with those found in corn fields and charcoal samples suggest that oak, hazel and cherry/blackthorn were growing in the vicinity (Crane 2004, 11–18).

Note that a ‘corn-dryer’ does not mean that the Welsh were growing ‘corn’, a new world crop.  All grains in the UK are often called ‘corn’.  A corn dryer, then is a ‘grain dryer’ in American parlance:  “Corn-drying kilns were used in the medieval and post-medieval periods. They were built either to dry corn before threshing in areas where it was not able to ripen before harvesting. It was also used to dry damp corn before it was ground into flour. They are usually either simple stone-lined bowl-shaped ovens built into a bank side or larger, freestanding buildings. Hot air, usually from a peat fire, would rise through a wooden grill covered with mats or straw with the grain laid on top.”

This is not to imply that Wales wasn’t predominantly pastoral, but that there is evidence of farming among the native Welsh.


Medieval Coinage

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When Edward I hanged Jewish merchants for coin clipping in 1277, confiscating their goods and disinheriting their children, he was making a comment not only on the state of his own treasury, but on the economics of medieval life. Over the previous centuries, coinage–having been scarce once the Romans left Britain–had become more and more important in trade throughout England.

Edward the Elder (c. 902-925 AD) ordered: “there be one money over all the king’s dominion, and that no man mint except within port. And if the moneyer be guilty, let the hand be struck off with which he wrought that odense, and be set up on the money-smithy; but if it be an accusation, and he is willing to clear himself, then let him go to the hotiron, and clear the hand therewith with which he is charged to have wrought that fraud. And if at the ordeal he should be guilty, let the like be done as is here before ordained.”

William of Malmsbury wrote in 1140 AD: “Dearth of provisions, too, increased by degrees, and the scarcity of good money was so great, from its being counterfeited, that, sometimes out of ten or more shillings, hardly a dozen pence would be received. The king himself was reported to have ordered the weight of the penny, as established in King Henry’s time, to be reduced, because, having exhausted the vast treasures of his predecessor, he was unable to provide for the expense of so many soldiers. All things, then, became venal in England; and churches and abbeys were no longer secretly, but even publicly exposed to sale.”

The small silver penny (pfennig) or denarius was the most common coin throughout the Middle Ages. The pound, which was 20 shillings, and a shilling, which was 12 pence, also was in circulation. The English kings began to mint a larger silver penny, known as a groat (big), beginning in the 13th century. It was worth four of the smaller pennies. All coins were made of silver until 1252, when gold coins (florins) began to be produced in Florence. The use of silver was soon cut down (debased) to very small amounts in coins and replaced with copper.

In the Chroncles of the Princes (Ystrad Fflur) is states for 12 79: ”

In this year king Edward had his money changed, and the halfpenny and the farthing were made round. And then was verified the soothsaying of Myrddin when he said, ‘The form of exchange shall be split, and its half shall be round.'”

Throughout the Middle Ages, money was rarely used in Wales in any quantity, even through the time of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. Instead, cattle was one of the primary sources of exchange: “Glyn Davies in his History of Money quotes linguistic evidence to show just how ancient and widespread the association between cattle and money was. The English words “capital”, “chattels” and “cattle” have a common root. Similarly “pecuniary” comes from the Latin word for cattle “pecus” while in Welsh (the author’s mother tongue) the word “da” used as an adjective means “good” but used as a noun means both “cattle” and “goods”.”

“the evidence amounts to one virtually certain coin, one very doubtful coin of a doubtful prince, one well-attested lost piece of Llywelyn the Great and some lost triangular curiosities. With Norman and Angevin mintings in Wales, the evidence, though still uncomfortably scanty, is much more circumstantial.” (page 201). English coins may have circulated in Wales to some extent before the conquest, but even as late as the 14th century payment in cattle was still very common.” (See Davies, R.R. The age of conquest: Wales 1063-1415. Oxford: O.U.P.,1987).

Archaeologists are generally working on the assumption that native rulers did not mint their own coins, having knowledge of only one instance (Llywelyn the Great).  “The changing nature of commerce in early medieval Wales has been highlighted by a re-assessment of Viking-age hack-silver and coins in the light of recent finds (Redknap 2009b). This has shown how the Viking-age silver economy in coastal Wales mirrors the progression in Ireland and elsewhere – a transformation from a late ninth/early tenth-century bullion economy to a more sophisticated one in which coin began to be retained. Besly (2006) has also summarized all single Anglo-Saxon coins from Wales, as part of a wider survey down to the thirteenth century.”


Traveling on Medieval Roads

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What roads medieval people used to cross England and Wales is a fascinating question and one that has occupied me for some time.   The Ordnance Survey maps at can show you the Roman roads.  I also bought the Ordnance Survey’s Roman Britain map, precisely for this reason.

The Lancashire Antiquarian argues quite strongly for the notion that the Roman roads were used well into later periods.  He writes: “It has been estimated that when the Domesday survey was taking place a minimum of 10,000 miles of usable Roman roads were still in existence in one form or another.” He states that what fell into disrepair were the bridges and river crossings, resulting in a deviation from the Roman road to a usable ford.  New roads were built from medieval towns, resulting in roads that were more ‘natural’–meaning not straight or metalled.

Roman roads, together with Roman aqueducts and the vast standing Roman army (in the 2nd century, ca. 30legions plus around 400 auxiliary units, totalling ca. 400,000 troops, of which ca. 50,000 deployed in Britain), constituted the three most impressive features of the Roman Empire. In Britain, as in other provinces, the Romans constructed a comprehensive network of paved trunk roads (i.e. surfaced highways) during their nearly four centuries of occupation (43 – 410 AD). This article focuses on the ca. 2,000 mi (3,200 km) ofRoman roads in Britain shown on the Ordnance Survey‘s Map of Roman Britain.[1] This contains the most accurate and up-to-date layout of certain and probable routes that is readily available to the general public.

The pre-Roman Britons used mostly unpaved trackways for their communications, including very ancient ones running along elevated ridges of hills, such as the South Downs Way, now a public long-distance footpath. By the first century BC, they had begun engineering roads.[2] After the Roman invasion, the road network was expanded. Roman roads were surveyed and built from scratch, with the aim of connecting key points by the most direct possible route. The roads were all paved, to permit even heavy freight-wagons to be used in all seasons and weather.

Most of the known network was complete by 180 AD. Its primary function was to allow the rapid movement of troops and military supplies, but it also provided vital infrastructure for trade and the transport of goods.

Roman roads remained in use as core trunk roads for centuries after the Romans withdrew from Britain in 410 AD. Systematic construction of paved highways did not resume in England until the 18th century.”

The earliest map of England that we have is the ‘Gough map’, dating to 1360.  You can see it online, here.   “This map of Britain was produced in C1360 and is thought to have been an official map for government use, possibly by a Royal courier, royal officer or judiciary. The distances shown are thought to be the distances following former Roman roads between the towns that where still in use during the mediaeval period. The total of the distances shown approximate to 3,000 miles, and 40% of which lie along the routes of known Roman roads” (Lancashire Antiquarian).

At the same time, David Harrison in his book, ‘The Bridges of Medieval England’ argues that this reversion to fords, beginning in the Dark Ages means that, “A road map of the eighteenth or even the early twentieth century may provide a more accurate picture of the routes of late Anglo-Saxon England than the Roman roads which are usually depicted.”   (For more discussion of this book and medieval bridges, see here)

Other possibilities for discovering medieval roads in Britain are:




Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

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Llywelyn was the last Prince of Wales, which any reader of my blog should know by now since I obsess about him.  But has anyone ever rendered him in crochet form before as has my daughter?  Behold!

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was born somewhere around 1225 (amazingly, historians are sure of neither the date nor his true mother–although there are enough hints to conclude that it was Senana, his father’s wife).  He was the second son of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.   Other sons were Owain, the eldest, Rhodri, who never made a claim for any power in Wales, and Dafydd, who was thirteen years younger.

When Llywelyn Fawr, the great Prince of Wales, died in 1240, he left two sons:  Gruffydd, who was the eldest but illegitimate and Dafydd, who was younger but born to Llywelyn Fawr’s lawful wife, Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of King John of England.  Although it was customary in Wales to divide an inheritance equally between all sons no matter on which side of the blanket they’d been born, Llywelyn Fawr instructed that only Dafydd would follow him as the Prince of Wales.  This decree was supported by King Henry of England, who was the ruler at the time, and the Church, whose aim was discourage the production of by-blows.  This law was not the only conflict between Welsh tradition and the Catholic Church, although one of the most contentious.

Gruffydd, quite naturally, objected to his disinheritance, and set about undermining Dafydd’s rule, in the great tradition of warring, Welsh nobility and brotherhood.  Dafydd retaliated by imprisoning Gruffydd and his eldest son, Owain, in one of his castles.  In a further attempt to undermine her brother-in-law, Gruffydd’s wife, Senana, went to King Henry, begging for her husband’s deliverance.

King Henry responded to her plea by offering Gruffydd’s entire family asylum in England.  When the family arrived, however, King Henry threw them into the Tower of London.  Consequently, Gruffydd’s young son, Dafydd, only three years old at the time, grew up in England.  He spent his days playing with Henry’s son, Edward (and the future king of England), was more fluent in French than Welsh, and hardly knew the lands he claimed to love, or the people in them.

Llywelyn was sixteen at this time.  Rather than follow his father and elder brother into captivity, he ran away to Aber Garth Celyn and his uncle’s court.  That single action set him apart from his brothers and ensured that he was at Garth Celyn, ready to take over, when his Uncle Dafydd died unexpectedly and without an heir in 1246.

Gruffydd, however, had already died first.  In 1244, while trying to escape the Tower of London, the rope he was using to scale down from his window broke.  By this time, Dafydd was six years old and Llywelyn nineteen.  Instead of returning to Wales, Senana made the fateful decision to stay in England, under the continued patronage of the kings of England, and keep her younger sons with her, leaving the field open for Llywelyn and his older brother Owain, with whom he established an uneasy truce.

For Llywelyn’s relationship with his youngest brother, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, see this post:

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd died on 11 December 1282 in the region of Buellt, having left Gwynedd to pursue the war in the Marche.  See for the full story.


Crossroads in Time released! No foolin’ :)


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I am so excited to share with everyone my new book, Crossroads in Time, the third book in the After Cilmeri series.  Four and a half years in the making, I began it soon after I finished Prince of Time.  Life intervened in the writing process, however, and I only returned to it in 2011.  And had to delete everything I’d written up until then and start over 🙂

As a side note, I have only realized as I type this that I began this book again just a few weeks after the death of my father at the far too young age of 68.  And maybe that’s why Crossroads in Time is a story so close to my heart.  It’s meant to be FUN.  A fun, romantic read, following the adventures of David and Anna and their family and companions.  At the same time, it is also a story about parents, and children, and expectations, and honor and love, and all those things I’ve written into all of my books, but came to me so clearly in this one.  I love this book.  I hope you do to.  It is available in paperback and ebook in all formats.

Crossroads in Time

Three years have passed since the events chronicled in Prince of Time …

Anna has made a place for herself in thirteenth century Wales as a wife, mother, and healer.  David has taken more of the kingdom’s rule on his shoulders, even as his relationship with Lili has caused friction with his father, King Llywelyn.  The King wants his son to seek a political marriage that will benefit his country—and possibly place the crown of England on David’s head.

England and Wales have shared a border and an uneasy peace for three long years.

And that peace is about to be broken …

Crossroads in Time is available now!  Buy at  Amazon  Amazon UK  Smashwords  Paperback

It should arrive by May 1 at all other venues.  Meanwhile for Nook/Apple/Sony users, Crossroads in Time can be downloaded in epub format at Smashwords.