Carew Castle

  According to CADW, Wales has more castles per square mile than any other nation. Carew Castle is one of them. Carew Castle, located on the Caeriw River in Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales, is one of the few castles that displays architecture from the Norman period through the Elizabethan, with archaeological evidence showing indications of settlement dating back 2000 years.  The name ‘Carew’, Caeriw in Welsh, is an anglicized combination of, “caer” meaning fortress, and “rhiw” meaning hill–not that the area on which it stands is hilly:  “Its position is low-lying, but still prominent in the flat land around the tidal reaches of the Carew river. The castle stands at the end of a ridge at a strategically excellent site commanding a crossing point of the then-still navigable river.”  http://www.castlewales.com/carew.html The name also might come from ‘Caerau’, simply the plural, ‘forts’. Tradition states that the original Read more…


Medieval Forensics

Many authors have written medieval murder mysteries, including me! In The Irish Bride, my latest medieval mystery, a monk is found dead within moments of Gwen and Gareth’s arrival in Ireland. As medieval detectives, how do they go about finding the killer? What can they possibly determine forensically without laboratories, fingerprints, and all the trappings of modern investigations? Medieval forensics was primitive, but there were some things a medieval detective could determine, including time of death, whether poison was involved, and whether the body was moved (thanks to another author, Jeri Westerson, for some of this information): Time of death:  Rigor mortis—literally, “death stiffness,” happens very predictably. Beginning two hours after death and starting from the face and moving down the body, the body takes eight to twelve hours to become completely stiff, remains rigid for the next eighteen hours, Read more…


The Summer Solstice

June 21, 2019 is the summer solstice this year, celebrated at Stonehenge and across the globe, for the longest day of the year.  “Sol + stice derives from a combination of Latin words meaning “sun” + “to stand still.” As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky.”  http://www.chiff.com/a/summer-solstice.htm Within Welsh mythology, there is very little discussion of the solstices or what holidays were celebrated within the celtic/druid year.  This is not the case of Stonehenge, which archaeologists and historians have studied extensively. “When one stands in the middle of Stonehenge and looks through the entrance of the avenue on the morning of the summer solstice, for example, the Sun will rise above the Heel Stone, which is set on the avenue. If one stands in the entrance and looks into Read more…


Viking Raids

A few years ago, a story came out about 51 headless Vikings unearthed at a site in Weymouth, England.  http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/science/03/12/viking.olympics/index.html “On Friday, officials revealed that analysis of the men’s teeth shows they were Vikings, executed with sharp blows to the head around a thousand years ago. They were killed during the Dark Ages, when Vikings frequently invaded the region.” Researchers have dated the remaines to the period between 890 and 1030 AD, postulating that it was a raiding party that was executed once it was caught too far from its boats. During this period, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were well established in England.  Weymouth would have been in Wessex, one of the primary and most powerful kingdoms at the time.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1257333/Decapitated-Viking-skeletons-Weymouth-ditch.html Kings of the period include Alfred the Great (871-899), Edward (899-924), and Aethelstan, credited with being the first King of England. Read more…


The Celts in Wales

The Irish, Welsh, and Scots all have a Celtic ancestry, but they settled their respective regions before the Roman conquest of Britain.  There is an amazing amount of debate as to the origin of the Celts:  were they Phoenician?  stocky and dark?  tall and blonde?  as culturally cohesive as the label suggests?   The standard theory is that the Celts were an Indo-European group that gradually migrated across Europe and Asia, with an identifiable, distinct culture by 750 BC.  As a group, they were well-known to the Greeks and Romans.  The map to the right shows the migrations of the celtic (or proto-celtic) groups around 1000 BC.   Note the expansion of the Celts in particular between 500 and 200 BC into the British Isles.  The Welsh tribes in particular consisted of the Ordovices, the Deceangli, the Gangani, the Demetae, and the Silures. http://archaeology.suite101.com/article.cfm/archaeology_and_the_celts “History Read more…


Roman Roads (Bwlch y Ddeufaen)

In an earlier post, I discussed the routes across the Welsh and English countryside during the Middle Ages.  Many of these roads were based in the Roman roads, built between the 1st and 4th centuries AD.  In Wales, the Romans built roads but also improved old ones, which wasn’t their normal operating procedure. It was forced upon them, however, because they found the land so inhospitable that it made it difficult for them to lay down their straight roads. The Roman roads lasted such a long time because the Roman legions who built them designed them to do exactly that.  The Romans built over 53,000 miles of roads, intended to connect every corner of their empire ultimately with Rome.  Britain, of course, was one of the places Rome conquered that couldn’t connect directly, as it is separated from Europe by Read more…


The Welsh Dragon

For most of history, the Welsh dragon was not a very common symbol. In fact, it was flown by only one king, Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, who reigned from 655-682 AD. It was so distinct that his flag came to be known as “the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr”.  Today, it is known as the ‘Welsh dragon’ and the the Welsh flag looks like this: (my The Last Pendragon Saga is about a mythic version of Cadwaladr) Within Welsh mythology, the story of the two dragons, one red (for the Welsh) and one white (for the Saxons) fighting beneath Dinas Emrys dates back to Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing in the 12th century. The coat of arms of the Welsh princes in the 13th century was actually this: With the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and the complete suppression of everything that had belonged to or symbolized Read more…


Making Sense of Medieval Britain

This is the second installment in my new video series about medieval Britain. Medieval Wales and Britain in general is my thing (obviously!), and since I can’t get enough, I kind of assume everyone around me can’t either 🙂 As I wrote last week, with the help and encouragement of my husband, I’ve started a series of videos about the history of Britain. The videos will be put up weekly. The first one was a short introduction to the series. This week we have Making Sense of Medieval Britain, where I explain about the various peoples who lived in/conquered/migrated to Britain during the medieval period in six minutes. With graphics! Click on the link to see the video!


Introduction to a new video series

All about medieval Britain in bite-sized pieces! With the help of my husband, I’m starting a new series of videos about the history of Britain as background to my books. Medieval Wales and Britain in general is my thing (obviously!), and since I can’t get enough, I kind of assume everyone around me can’t either 🙂 The videos will be put up weekly, starting with this first one, which is an introduction to the series. Next week … Making Sense of Medieval Britain. If you want to see the videos as soon as they go up, you can subscribe to my channel! Click on the link to get started!


St. David’s Day

St. David is the patron saint of Wales and his feast day (and possibly the date of his death) is March 1.  The Welsh spelling of his name is ‘Dafydd’ (Dah-vith). St. David “died in the year 589. His father was the son of Ceredig, King of Ceredigion. After being educated in Cardiganshire, he went on pilgrimage through south Wales and the west of England, where it is said that he founded religious centres such as Glastonbury and Croyland. He even went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was made archbishop. He eventually settled at Glyn Rhosyn (St David’s), in south-west Wales, where he established a very strict ascetic religious community. Many miracles have been attributed to him, the most incredible of which was performed when he was preaching at the Synod of Llanddewibrefi – he caused the ground Read more…


Great Historical Fiction/Fantasy Novels

History is anthroplogy for the past.  Great historical fiction brings you into that past world and makes it accessible.  Would life in thirteenth century Wales chew me up and spit me out?  No doubt.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t spend many happy hours living there.  I am also partial to the fantasy element of historical fiction in part because I acknowledge that past lives are truly inaccessible to me and if I wanted to read about something that was absolutely true, I would get the non-fiction version.  That said the following are some of my most favorite books: Sherwood by Parke Godwin.  He’s written a lot of books, but this one has always pulled me in.  I’ve read it innumerable times.  From Publisher’s Weekly:  “Godwin sets his highly satisfying retelling of the Robin Hood legend in the time of Read more…


Happy St. Dwynwen Day (Welsh Valentine’s Day)

Thanks to Americymru for the information! January 25th is Saint Dwynwen’s Day … the Welsh St Valentine. Typically, however, she ends up a nun. Brychan, a legendary 5th-century king of Brycheiniog had 24 daughters, of whom Dwynwen was reputedly the prettiest. She fell in love with a local prince called Maelon Dafodrill. Unfortunately her father, mindful of political advantage, had already arranged a marriage for her. Dwynwen was distraught. She hid in the forest and asked God to help her forget Maelon. She fell asleep and was visited by an angel in her dreams. The angel brought an elixir with the power to expunge her memories of her former lover and turn him into a block of ice. God granted Dwynwen three wishes. Firstly she asked that Maelon be thawed. Secondly she wished that God would vouchsafe the dreams and Read more…