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Hadrian’s Wall

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Hadrian’s Wall “was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, begun in 122 AD in the reign of the emperor Hadrian. It ran from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea, and was the northern limit of the Roman Empire.

It had a stone base and a stone wall. There were milecastles with two turrets in between. There was a fort about every five Roman miles. From north to south, the wall comprised a ditch, wall, military way and vallum, another ditch with adjoining mounds. It is thought that the milecastles were staffed with static garrisons, whereas the forts had fighting garrisons of infantry and cavalry. In addition to the wall’s defensive military role, its gates may have been used as customs posts.[1]

A significant portion of the wall still stands and can be followed on foot along the adjoining Hadrian’s Wall Path. It is the most popular tourist attraction in Northern England and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrian%27s_Wall

To visit the wall or for more information, maps, etc, see: http://hadrianswallcountry.co.uk/hadrians-wall/hadrian%E2%80%99s-wall-facts

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Harlech Castle

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Harlech Castle is a World Heritage Site and one of Edward I’s Iron Ring of Castles that he built after the Welsh defeat in 1282.

It is also linked to Welsh myth, in the story of the tragic heroine of Branwen, the daughter of Llyr, of the Mabinogion, who marries the King of Ireland but whose marriage is ultimately destroyed by the trickster/psychopath god, Efnysien.

From CADW:
“‘Men of Harlech.’ The nation’s unofficial anthem, loved by rugby fans and regimental bands alike, is said to describe the siege which took place here during the War of the Roses, wherein a handful of men held out against a besieging army of thousands. Edward’s tried and tested ‘walls within walls’ model was put together in super-fast time between 1283 and 1295 by an army of nearly a thousand skilled craftsmen and labourers.

Edward liked to use only the best masons from Savoy and England’s finest carpenters and blacksmiths. At the time this was one of the cheapest of Edward’s castles. A snip at a mere £8,190.

The structure, overseen by Master of the King’s Works, James of St George, boasts two rings of walls and towers, with an immensely strong east gatehouse. It was impregnable from almost every angle. Its secret weapon was a 200-foot (61m) long stairway which still leads from the castle to the cliff base.

Access via the stairway to the sea and crucial supplies kept the castle’s besieged inhabitants fed and watered. When it was first built, a channel would have connected the castle and the sea. You could have sailed a boat up to the moat. Seven hundred years later, the sea has receded ….”  http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/harlechcastle/?lang=en

Harlech plays an important role in the history of the Welsh beyond Edward’s conquest, in that Owain Glyndwr (Owain Glendower) made it his seat during his attempt to become of the Prince of Wales around 1400 AD.  http://www.castlewales.com/harlech.html

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Owain Glyndwr

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At my nativity

The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,

Of burning cressets; and at my birth

The frame and huge foundation of the earth

Shaked like a coward … all the courses of my life do show

I am not in the roll of commen men.

–Shakespeare (Henry IV)

Born in 1349, at the height of the Black Plague, Owain Glyndwr lived in a turbulent time in Wales.  With the defeat of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282, Wales became nothing more than a vassal to the English crown and the vast majority of the native rulers were dead or unseated by English barons.  Glyndwr’s family had supported Llywelyn, but had allied themselves with the Mortimers and Lestranges afterwards such that they got to keep their lands.

As was so often the case in Wales, however, Glyndwr found himself in trouble when he “ran up against his powerful neighbor, Reginald de Grey, Lord of Ruthin, an intimate of the new king, Henry IV. The quarrel was over common land which Grey had stolen. Glyndwr could get no justice from the king or parliament. This proud man, over forty and grey-haired, was visited with insult and malice.  There are indications that Glyndwr made an effort to contact other disaffected Welshmen, and when he raised his standard outside Ruthin on 16 September 1400, his followers from the very beginning proclaimed himPrince of Wales.” http://www.castlewales.com/glyndwr.html

By 1403, Glyndwr controlled most of Wales and “in 1404, Glyndwr assembled a parliament of four men from every commot in Wales at Machynlleth, drawing up mutual recognition treaties with France and Spain. At Machynlleth, he was also crowned king of a free Wales. A second parliament in Harlech took place a year later, with Glyndwr making plans to carve up England and Wales into three, as part of an alliance against the English king: Mortimer would take the south and west of England, Thomas Percy, earl of Northumberland, would have the midlands and the north, and himself Wales and the Marches of England.”   http://www.castlewales.com/glyndwr.html

Over the next few years, Glyndwr’s power and influence began to wane, especially after King Henry IV of England  was able to turn his attention from the Scots to the Welsh.   In 1409, Mortimer and Glyndwr’s family were captured and taken to the Tower of London.   Although Henry V offered Glyndwr a pardon in 1413, he refused it.  There is no record of what happened to him after that, and no location for his death and burial.  For historical purposes, he vanished.

http://www.historynet.com/owain-glyndwrs-fight-for-wales.htm/2

Owain Glyndwy is immortalized in Shakespeare’s play, King Henry IV:

“The Earl of Northumberland, his son Henry Percy [Harry Hotspur] and the Archbishop of York, began rebellions against Henry. They joined with the Mortimer family and Owain Glyndwr, there plan was to overthrow Henry IV, and divide the kingdom into three parts – the northern part for the Northumberland family, the southern part for the Mortimers, Wales and the western midlands of England for Owain Glyndwr. However the rebellion failed.”  http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~yawn/h4sh.htm

This bears a fascinating resemblance to Clare, Prince Llywelyn, and Simon de Montfort’s plans to divide England and Wales 150 years earlier.

From the play:

In faith, he is a worthy gentleman,

Exceedingly well read, and profited

In strange concealments; valiant as a lion,

And wondrous affable; and as bountiful

As mines of India…

 

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Welsh Foundations of The American Revolution

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Wales never had an Independence Day, although it has been inching towards more autonomy for the last twenty years. Welsh people, however, had a huge impact on the founding of the United States and its revolution. Thomas Jefferson writes in his autobiography:

“The tradition in my father’s family was that their ancestor came to this country from Wales, and from near the mountain of Snowdon, the highest in Gr. Br.”

Other founders with Welsh ancestry (some only rumored) include Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and its religious freedom, William Penn, Sam and John Adams, James Madison, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, and Benedict Arnold and up to a third of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (http://www.flint.umich.edu/~ellisjs/Davies.PDF).

Personally, I find this unsurprising, and it explains a great deal about the willingness of the founders of the United States to stand up to England.

One key to whether or not a name originates in Wales is if the last name is a ‘first’ name (e.g. Adam, Madison, Henry, Arnold, Jefferson, Williams). A very common such name in Wales now is “John”. Another less well-known founder, Richard Morris, was dubbed the “Financier of the American Revolution” by George Washington.

http://www.data-wales.co.uk/namex.htm; http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~chrisandhowellsfam/howellstp_wales_contrib.html

And then, if the Welshness of certain American influenced the American Revolution, according to John Davies, later Welsh-Americans returned the favor. He states:

http://www.flint.umich.edu/~ellisjs/Davies.PDF:

“Welsh Nationalism was a concept born in Cincinnati, where Michael D. Jones was a Congregational minister in the 1840s. To be Welsh in Wales was to be from Carmarthenshire or Anglesey or Glamorgan or Denbighshire. To be Welsh in America was to be from Wales. Periodicals and newspapers in Wales were local- Y Gwladgarwr serving Aberdare and much of the south, Y Fanerserving Denbigh and much of the north and so on. Welsh periodicals in America served the Welsh in their entirety . . .

And not only were the Welsh as a nation invented in America. So also were almost all the causes that have been central to our endeavor over the last two centuries.

As Gwyn Alf Williams has shown in his brilliant books on Madog and Beulah, late eighteenth century Welsh radicalism, religious as well as political, was largely borrowed from the American Enlightenment. In the early nineteenth century, the temperance and teetotal movements were directly inspired by the American example, and the leaders of the movement to disestablish the Anglican Church in Wales looked to the American separation of church and state as their model.

The victory of the North in the Civil War was interpreted in Wales as the triumph of a democratic people over a decadent landed aristocracy, an inspiration to those who launched an attack upon Welsh landlordism in the 1870s and 1880s.

The 1880s also saw the emergence of a republican movement, much to the distress of Queen Victoria. Thomas Gee, the editor of Baner ac Amerserau Cymru, described republican rallies with enthusiasm. American flags were carried, he noted, and the crowd shouted the names of American Presidents.”

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The Holy Grail and Dinas Bran

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That King Arthur got mixed up with Jesus Christ can’t be too surprising, given the myth-making that went into the King Arthur story.  Rumor has it that Bran, for whom the castle, Dinas Bran, was named, was Joseph of Arimithea’s son-in-law.  Legend has it that after Jesus’ death, Joseph brought the Cup of Christ from Israel to Britain.  It does seem unlikely, doesn’t it?

But that is what the ‘Holy Grail’ is, that King Arthur’s knights go in search of:  “The Holy Grail of Christian legend is the vessel given by Christ to his disciples to sup from at the Last Supper. Later, it is said to have been given to his grand-uncle, St. Joseph of Arimathea, who used to collect Christ’s blood and sweat whilst he hung upon the Cross.”  http://www.arthurianadventure.com/holy_grail.htm

Dinas Bran, in turn, is the “site of an ancient Iron-Age hill-fort, believed to have been the home of the Kings of Powys, well into the 8th century. It is particularly associated with King Elisedd of Eliseg’s Pillar fame. The castle is, however, named for King Bran Fendigaid (the Blessed), a Celtic God known from both Welsh and Irish mythology who was later mortalized into a monarch of North Wales.” http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/corbenic.html

 

“Much of the information available about Bran the Blessed strongly suggests that at least part of his legend entered into later Arthurian romance. His Magic Cauldron is probably that sought by King Arthur in the Welsh poem, the “Spoils of the Annwfn”.  As in Bran’s Irish tale, Arthur travels to the Celtic Otherworld and, like the Welsh tale, only seven men survive. The vessel was later reborn as the Holy Grail, the cup of plenty or cornucopia found in mythology from across the Globe. The wound to Bran’s foot, inflicted by a poisoned spear, which caused his lands to fail is echoed in that of the Arthurian Grail guardian, known as the Grail or Fisher King.

His latter title may be related to Bran’s association with rivers and river-crossings (such as those he encountered in Ireland). His castle was Corbenic or Castell Dinas Bran, both names deriving from the word Raven or Crow. The Fisher King, like Bran’s head, could feast with his followers indefinitely and his forename was said to be Bron (or Brons) in the so-called Didot Perceval: clearly a transformation of Bran. Here, he is given a wife, Anna, the daughter of St. St. Joseph of Arimathea, probably through confusion with his grandmother, Beli Mawr’s wife, Anu. Bran may also be the original of other Arthurian characters like Brandegorre, Bran de Lis, Brandelidelin or Ban of Benoic.”  http://www.whiterosesgarden.com/Nature_of_Evil/Underworld/UNDR_Deities/UNDR-D_western_europe/UNDR_bran2.htm

It was Joseph of Arimathea who gave his tomb to Christ upon his death and (again, legend has it) first brought Christianity to Britain aroun 63 AD, along with the cup.

“During the late 12th century, Joseph became connected with the Arthurian cycle, appearing in them as the first keeper of the Holy Grail This idea first appears in Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathie, in which Joseph receives the Grail from an apparition of Jesus and sends it with his followers to Britain. This theme is elaborated upon in Boron’s sequels and in subsequent Arthurian works penned by others. Later retellings of the story contend that Joseph of Arimathea himself travelled to Britain and became the first Christian bishop in the Isles.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_of_Arimathea

Glastonbury Tor claims this too, but we know that can’t be true 🙂

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Iron Age Hill Forts in Wales

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The Iron Age in Wales occurred during the 500 years leading up to the Roman conquest of Britain.  “The earliest iron artefact in Wales is a sword dating to about 600 BCE, but by 400 BCE iron was being smelted and crafted into tools all over the British Isles.

The tribes of Wales developed regional styles of working iron, gold, and other metals, following the exquisite western European style known as La Tene (after the village of La Tene in Switzerland). At the same time as iron was introduced to Britain a new crop of settlers arrived from northern Europe.”  http://www.britainexpress.com/wales/history/iron-age.htm   This new group were the Celts.  They overran the whole of Britain, whether by conquering the then-native peoples, or gradually settling the country over a period of time.

According to the National Museum of Wales, there are over 1000 iron age hillforts in Wales (though some could be more aptly viewed as ‘defended farms’).

  • Hillforts are fortified enclosures built of earth, timber or stone and frequently sited on defensible hilltops. They were built from the Late Bronze Age, throughout the Iron Age (1100BC-AD50) and some were also occupied during Romano-British times. They enclose areas of between 0.1 and 80 hectares, although in Wales most are under 2 hectares in area.
  • Hillfort defences usually consist of a bank (rampart) made of material dug from an outer ditch. Some hillforts were provided with additional defences. Many hillforts have elaborate and strengthened entrances incorporating impressive gate structures.
  • More recently, a number of archaeologists have emphasised the great diversity in hillfort characteristics. They argue for a number of different roles, not merely defensive ones. Many hillforts are sited in poorly defensive locations, others do not seem to have been lived in continuously or intensively. Instead, they may have acted as stock enclosures, agricultural fair grounds and religious centres at certain times of the year. As monuments, they may have been as much about displaying the status and power of different community groups, as they were about defence. A large number of small hillforts in Wales should essentially be seen as single farms occupied by small family groups.  http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/2370/

 

Three hill forts of particular interest that cover the whole range of styles and periods are Dinas Bran, Dinas Emrys, and Tre’r Ceiri.

The ruins that sit atop Dinas Bran (meaning literally, “Hill of the Crow”, or “Bran’s Stronghold”) were built in the medieval period, but the site was continuously occupied from the Iron Age and the ditch and earthen embankments visible today date from that initial settlement.  http://www.castlewales.com/dinas.html

“The hillfort has a single bank and ditch enclosing an area of about 1.5 hectares. To the south and west the defences are most considerable being up to 8 metres high in places. The entrance lies in the south-west corner of the fort and is defended by an inward curving bank. To the north the fort is defended by the natural steepness of the land and no earthwork defences were required.”  http://www.cpat.org.uk/educate/guides/dinasb/dinasb.htm

Dinas Emrys sits atop a rock that is one of the strongest, natural fortifications in Wales.  Modern archaeology reveals: “Dinas Emrys was occupied to some extent in the late Roman period, but that rough stone banks around its Western end are later. They were poorly built of stone two or three times and took strategic advantage of natural crags. Still less substantial walls were also discovered to the north and south. Broken sherds of Eastern Mediterranean amphorae, Phoenician red slip dishes and a pottery lamp roundel featuring a Chi-Rho symbol indicate that these features do indeed date to the 5th and 6th century.”
http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/archaeology/emrys.html
http://www.castlewales.com/dinas_em.html

The last site, Tre’r Ceiri is a spectacular iron age site, located on the Llyn Penninsula in Wales. A climb to the top of the 457 meter hill reveals 150 hut circles still clearly discernable, capable of housing upwards of 500 people. The stone walls surrounding the fort were 4 meters (12+ feeet) high in places and the huts range in size from 3 meters to 8 meters across.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/northwest/sites/celts/pages/trer_ceiri.shtml

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Dinas Bran (Castle)

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Dinas Bran is a medieval castle begun in 1260 and destroyed in 1277 during the Welsh wars with King Edward I of England.

The first settlement that we know of was an iron age hill fort, from which it gets its name.  “”Dinas Bran” is variously translated as “Crow Castle,” “Crow City,” “Hill of the Crow,” or “Bran’s Stronghold.”

The castle first appears in 12th century historical documents as part of a medieval piece entitled “Fouke le Fitz Waryn,”or “The Romance of Fulk Fitzwarine.” While this work claimed that the castle, known as “Chastiel Bran,” was in ruin as early as 1073, the remains we see today date to the occupation of the princes of Powys Fadog in the mid 13th century. Possibly, the Chastiel Bran mentioned in the romance was a Norman timber castle, but nothing of substance supports this conjecture. However, the encompassing ditch and earthen embankments, which enclose the southern and eastern portions of the stone fortress, do date to the Iron Age. They remind us that this hilltop had strategic value long before the princes of Powys, or the Normans, ventured into the region. Interestingly, the word, “Dinas,” has its origins in the Iron Age as well, and is found in the names of Iron Age hillforts throughout Wales.”  http://www.castlewales.com/dinas.html

“The hillfort has a single bank and ditch enclosing an area of about 1.5 hectares. To the south and west the defences are most considerable being up to 8 metres high in places. The entrance lies in the south-west corner of the fort and is defended by an inward curving bank. To the north the fort is defended by the natural steepness of the land and no earthwork defences were required.” http://www.cpat.org.uk/educate/guides/dinasb/dinasb.htm

“Reid (1973) speculated that the hill at Dinas Bran was occupied in the 8th century by a man named Eliseg. The same Eliseg also gave his name to an ancient pillar that stands just north of Valle Crucis Abbey, near Llangollen. The mystery man may have been an ancestor of the princes of Powys who later dominated the area, but there is no real proof to support this assertion.

The historical record also conflicts over whom really built the remains at Dinas Bran. The most reliable sources state that Gruffydd Maelor II, son of Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor I, began the castle in the late 1260’s. The elder Madog founded nearby.

During those final two decades, the castle on the hilltop became a prized possession of the princes of Powys Fadog. Dinas Bran’s power did not go unnoticed by English forces. In 1277, during Edward I’s initial foray into Wales, the Earl of Lincoln, Henry de Lacy, besieged the castle. The Welsh lord of Dinas Bran was forced to submit to the invading army, which promptly set the site afire, completely destroying it.”

For more about the medieval castle see: http://www.castlewales.com/dinas.html

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William de Valence

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In my After Cilmeri series, William de Valence is an long time supporter of Edward I, who resents David’s rule and ends up rebelling against him. I wrote him that way, because I believe it to be in keeping with who the man really was.

William de Valence was the fourth son of Isabella of Angouleme, the widow of King John of England, by her second marriage to Hugh X of Lusignan. Thus, he was half-brother to John’s son by Isabella, Henry, who became King of England on his father’s death, and uncle to Edward I.

When Henry invited William to England, as things had grown difficult for him in Poitou, thanks to the French conquest of the region, William landed on his feet, marrying an heiress to the William Marshal estates. Thus, through her, William became the Earl of Pembroke and the earldom of Wexford in Ireland.

William’s high station in Henry’s court created resentment among the English barons and was one of the reasons for the Baron’s war (ending in 1265). William accompanied Edward on Crusade, and then upon Edward’s ascension to the throne after his father’s death, William continued to find royal favor. He was one of the generals in Edward’s war against the Welsh that ended in 1283 with the capture of Castell y Bere (which he orchestrated).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_de_Valence,_1st_Earl_of_Pembroke

He was buried at Westminster Abbey in 1296.

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The Knights Templar

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In the beginning:

“Immediately after the deliverance of Jerusalem, the Crusaders, considering their vow fulfilled, returned in a body to their homes. The defense of this precarious conquest, surrounded as it was by Mohammedan neighbours, remained. In 1118, during the reign of Baldwin II, Hugues de Payens, a knight of Champagne, and eight companions bound themselves by a perpetual vow, taken in the presence of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to defend the Christian kingdom. Baldwin accepted their services and assigned them a portion of his palace, adjoining the temple of the city; hence their title “pauvres chevaliers du temple” (Poor Knights of the Temple). Poor indeed they were, being reduced to living on alms, and, so long as they were only nine, they were hardly prepared to render important services, unless it were as escorts to the pilgrims on their way from Jerusalem to the banks of the Jordan, then frequented as a place of devotion.

Sorry … this map is not in English! But I think we can figure it out anyway.

The Templars had as yet neither distinctive habit nor rule. Hugues de Payens journeyed to the West to seek the approbation of the Church and to obtain recruits. At the Council of Troyes (1128), at which he assisted and at which St. Bernard was the leading spirit, the Knights Templars adopted the Rule of St. Benedict, as recently reformed by the Cistercians. They accepted not only the three perpetual vows, besides the crusader’s vow, but also the austere rules concerning the chapel, the refectory, and the dormitory. They also adopted the white habit of the Cistercians, adding to it a red cross.

Notwithstanding the austerity of the monastic rule, recruits flocked to the new order, which thenceforth comprised four ranks of brethren:

  • the knights, equipped like the heavy cavalry of the Middle Ages;
  • the serjeants, who formed the light cavalry;

and two ranks of non-fighting men:

The order grew after that, gaining power and reach within the next century:

“By spring of 1129 Templars had established a strong foothold in France, England and Scotland. In Scotland, around Aberdeen alone, a substantial quantity of Templar property was held including houses and churches in Turiff, Tullich, Maryculter, Aboyne, and Kingcausie. South of Aberdeen at Culter, they possessed a huge estate of no less than 8,000 acres.

By the second half of the 12th century the Order was flourishing and had become one of the leading landowners in Syria and Palestine. Funds and recruits continued to arrive from Europe and in order to manage this great wealth the Templars became experts in banking. By as early as 1148 they were moneylenders, despite the Church ban on usury and they soon had one of the most efficient banking networks in the western world. Pilgrims could now not only rely upon the protection of the Templars but could deposit money at their local preceptory and withdraw it as required by producing a letter of credit at any other preceptory.

With a common Rule, the Order’s legal and economic status was similar in almost every country, however it was only in the great capitols – London, Rome and Paris – that financial dealings took precedence. Outside the capitols, each commander or preceptor used his allotted lands in the appropriate way – farming, spinning, brewing and baking.

The Order’s military reputation and strength was also growing swiftly. Throughout the 12th century the Templars, together with the Hospitaller knights, were the finest fighting force in the Holy Lands. In time however, partly because fewer recruits could be found who were willing to die for the faith and partly due to growing rivalry between the various military orders which had now been created, the Templars’ military strength in the Holy Land began to decline.

When Acre fell to the Moslems in 1291, after a siege of the castle which lasted weeks and included fire bombs, catapults and mines, the Holy Land was lost forever. Over 20,000 Templar knights and sergeants had met their deaths since the Order’s inception. The Templars had lands in Cyprus and it was here that they created a new headquarters in the Middle East.

Other than a few unsuccessful raids on the Syrian and Egyptian coasts, the Order deteriorated into one of bankers and moneylenders. A series of verbal attacks was launched against all military orders, the Templars in particular, suggesting they no longer had a purpose for existence since they failed to take steps to regain the Holy Land. Nothing came of these attacks until a renegade Templar, Esquiu de Floyrian, made specific charges of blasphemy, idolatry and sodomy against the Order to Phillip the Fair (Phillip IV) of France.”  http://www.mostly-medieval.com/explore/temphist.htm

This was the beginning of the end for the Templars.  On Friday the 13th (and this is the reason the day is unlucky, or so I understand), Philippe of France arrested all of the Knight Templars in Paris and confiscated all of their money.  “King Phillip’s audacious plan was to arrest every Templar in France, charge them with heresy, and exact immediate confessions from them by torture before Pope Clement V or anyone else could protest on their behalf. By making the charges religious in nature, Phillip would be seen not as an avaricious thief, but as a noble servant of God.

Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, had been called to Poitiers, France, for the purpose of discussing with the new pope a new crusade to retake the Holy Land. For almost two years, he shuttled back and forth between the pope and King Phillip, essentially stamping out various diplomatic fires, such as the proposal to merge all the military orders.

In June 1307, de Molay rode into Paris at the head of a column of his knights, with a dozen horses laden with gold and silver, to begin the financing of the new Crusade. For the next several months, Phillip treated the aging Grand Master with interest and diplomacy, and de Molay believed he and the Order were at a new turning point. He didn’t know how right he was.

The end began at dawn on Friday, October 13, 1307. The sealed order to Phillip’s bailiffs had gone out a full month before. It was accompanied by a personal letter from the king, filled with lofty prose about how heart-rending it was to be compelled to do his duty, while detailing frightening accusations against the Templars. The letter would have had an eye-popping effect on the king’s men, and their secrecy was undoubtedly assured. The sealed arrest order was not to be opened until the appointed day.

At this time, France was the most populous nation of Europe, even including Russia. And it was no tiny country either; France took up more than 40,000 square miles, an enormous area to cover from the back of a horse. Yet Phillip IV managed to carry off a stunning piece of work. Hundreds of the king’s men simultaneously opened letters all over the country ordering them to converge on every Templar castle, commandery, preceptory, farm, vineyard, or mill.

It was shockingly effective, instantly chopping off the head of the Order. Phillip obviously had a hit list of the most important knights to nab. Accounts differ wildly, but the most respected ones agree that 625 members of the Order were arrested in the first wave. These included the Grand Master; the Visitor-General; the Preceptors of Normandy, Cyprus, and Aquitaine; and the Templars’ Royal Treasurer.”   http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/king-phillip-iv-pope-clement-v-and-the-fall-of-th0.html

For an extensive history see:  http://blog.templarhistory.com/category/history/

http://www.history.com/news/2011/07/26/who-were-the-knights-templar/

http://templarsnow.blogspot.com/p/templar-maps.html

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Tintagel Castle

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Was Arthur conceived at Tintagel Castle?  That Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed he was is reason enough to doubt the veracity of the legend, but that’s not to say that the castle doesn’t have a fascinating history.

Geoffrey writes:  “They then went their way toward Tintagel, and at dusk hour arrived, swiftly unmade the doors, and the three were admitted. For what other than Gorlois if Gorlois himself were there? So the king lay that night with Igrene, for as he had beguiled her by the false likeness he had taken upon him, so he beguiled her also by the feigned discourse wherewith he had issued forth of the besieged city for naught save to see the safety of her dear self and the castle wherein she lay, in such a sort that she believed him every word, and had no thought to deny him in aught he might desire. And upon that same night was the most renowned Arthur conceived, that was well worthy of all the fame he did achieve by his surpassing prowess (Monmouth, 148-9).”

Tintagel Castle, as it exists today, was begun in the 12th century by Earl Reginald, brother to Robert of Gloucester.  Geoffrey wrote the History of the Kings of Britain in 1139, which is the approximate time that Earl Reginald began his castle, but it is not clear which was the impetus for the other.  The remains of the castle that exists today was built in the 1230s by Prince Richard, the Earl of Cornwall. http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/tintcast.html

That there are far, far older remains underneath these later castles is indisputable.  In the 1930s, twenty plus stone buildings were uncovered, dating to the medieval period, but along with these finds were amphora dating to the 5th and 6th centuries.  “There was more pottery than the total haul from all other Dark Age sites in Britain: huge Tunisian oil jars, Carthaginian dishes, Aegean amphorae and distinctive Byzantine jars.”  In the 1980s, a series of bush fires swept across the island, revealing the remains of a total of 50 structures.  http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/tintcast.html

On top of this, the fires revealed pottery dating to the Roman period, indicating that the island was a trading post.  “No other Roman site is present anywhere in this area with similar architecture or Roman pottery.”  http://www.legendofkingarthur.co.uk/cornwall/tintagel.htm

The most exciting find for Arthurophiles, is the ‘Artognov’ inscription–carving (or graffiti perhaps) on a slate slab.  There are two inscriptions.  The deeper one, in Roman lettering, reads “AXE”.   The fainter one reads:  PATER COLIAVIFICIT: presumably FICIT is the Latin FECIT – ‘made this’. And then, ARTOgNOV which may (or may not) be a form of Arthur.  At the bottom right the words COLI and FICIT are repeated.  http://www.archaeology.co.uk/the-timeline-of-britain/tintagel.htm  In Cornish/Welsh, “Artognou,” is pronounced “Arthnou.”

Another perspective:  “The stone apparently bears two inscriptions. The upper strongly incized letters have been broken off and are sadly indecipherable. The lower inscription, though fainter, clearly reads “Pater Coliavificit Artognov”, which Professor Charles Thomas of Exeter University has carefully translated as “Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had this built”. Possibly written by a Gaulish hand, the style of writing is certainly 6th century, a date confirmed by surrounding fragments of 6th century Mediterranean pottery already well known from the Tintagel site. Also found nearby was the remains of the only Spanish glass flagon known from this period of Britain’s history. Chris Morris, who has been leading the Scottish based excavation team for the past eight years, believes that the dedicatory “Arthur Stone,” as it has already been christened, was placed in the wall of a 6th century stone building which later collapsed soon after it was built. The slate was then reused as drain cover a century later.”

Even without the Arthur link, Morris states that we shouldn’t make too much of the obvious link with King Arthur’s traditional birthplace. He believes the stone’s importance lies in the fact that it is “the first evidence we have that the skills of reading and writing were handed down in a non-religious context”.

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The Fictional King Arthur (rant!)

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Categories: Research, Tags: , , , , ,

Yes, I have some issues with King Arthur as a fictional character.

King Arthur, as usually written, comes off as either as a flat character, someone whom the author employs as a backdrop to explore the personalities of other characters (Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot), or as unheroic and human, tripped up in the end by the overwhelming burden of his imperfections. Arthur is either a pawn, buffeted by the winds of fate, or so flawed, one has to ask how he was remembered as a hero in the first place.  Only the most recent example of this is Starz’s aborted Camelot series, at least the bit I watched, where it is inexplicable that Merlin would come to him as the hero (in a totally deserted castle) and expect anything good to happen.

There is a simple reason for this: it is very hard to synchronize the different aspects of Arthur’s story into a complete whole because the essential, heroic element of Arthur’s story—his defeat of the Saxons for a generation—has been grafted, at both the beginning and the end, to a romantic tale told for reasons having more to do with the medieval authors who were telling the story, and the time in which they were living, than with Arthur. In so doing, his character is incomplete and inexplicable, one who reacts instead of acts, and who never has a say in his own destiny.

Instead, it is Merlin who is the active character. It is he who sets the whole plot in motion, whose behavior acts at times like a ‘get out of jail free card’ for Arthur, who manipulates everybody else, but who is powerless to stop Arthur’s downfall in the end.  In the classic Norman/French tale, it is through Merlin’s actions at the beginning of the story that Arthur becomes high king, and because of Merlin’s abandonment at the end of the story that (in rapid succession), Arthur loses his wife, his best friend, his son, and his life.

In the Welsh tales, on the other hand, Arthur is nearly super-human.  He may have a few flaws, yes, but he is a ‘hero’ in the classic sense.  He takes his men to the Underworld and back again, he finds the 13 treasures of Britain, and he rescues his friends and relations from danger and death.   It is these tales, however, that are rarely told in modern fiction.  Why is that?  Why do authors have an easier time grafting sorcery (of the Merlin and Morgane kind) onto a tale of the gritty, Dark Age Arthur than the mythology that is far older and ‘authentic’ for the period in which Arthur actually lived?

Tell me that story, and I’ll be enthralled …

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King Arthur (2004) movie review

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King Arthur has been fodder for a hundred movies and will undoubtedly continue to be so. I truly wish that someone would come up with one where the history isn’t appalling. Ridley Scott is famous for acting as if there are no actual historical facts (see my review of Robin Hood), but the absurdity of the history Jerry Bruckheimer puts in this movie made me glad that my workout was only 30 minutes so I didn’t have to watch the whole thing at once.

The Good:

Is there anything good about this movie? Actually, the visuals are spectacular, and they obviously put a lot of money into making it. The acting is good, in fact, and if I didn’t know anything about British history, warfare, Christianity, or the Roman empire, maybe the plot even makes sense. I will grant that the Romans conscripted the people it conquered into the army, requiring it of subsequent generations too, but …

The Bad:

Did I mention that the history was bad? Just a head’s up: Gawain and Tristan are not names from Sarmatia. Even if I grant you the Celtic past of those areas, which Wikipedia doesn’t, to put all of Arthur’s knights (and did Rome have knights? I think not!) as originating in Asia ignores the background of Arthur himself. In the movie, Arthur is supposed to have a Roman hereditary position ‘Artorius’, but just so you know, ‘Arth’ in Welsh means ‘bear’, and ‘Arthur’ was the name of several early post-Roman kings. You don’t have to go Roman to find it.

The movie also places the Battle of Badon Hill way too early in history. In the Welsh/Saxon chronicles, it takes place in 500. This movie sets it before the Romans left Britain, so before 401.

Gah.

The Ugly:
History aside, the plot makes no sense. Arthur and his ‘knights’, instead of being freed of their 15 year obligation to the Roman army, are sent on one last mission to rescue the pope’s favorite godchild and his family north of Hadrian’s Wall.

Everybody knows Rome is leaving, folks! The movie claims that the Saxons are already invading in the north, which they weren’t, FYI (sorry, getting back to bad history again).  So what on earth was a famous and rich Roman family doing north of the wall? EVER! The whole point of the wall was that Romans didn’t settle north of it!

The whole plot is then driven by utter stupidity and a Saxon invasion that didn’t exist.

End.of.Roman.rule.in.Britain.383.410

 

 

 

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