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Jews in Medieval England

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Jews in Medieval England

I’m updating this post, in large part because of a comment a reader left about my use of the word ‘pogrom’ in Footsteps in Time, having not heard the word before. A ‘pogrom’ is defined as: “An organized, often officially encouraged massacre or persecution of a minority group, especially one conducted against Jews.”  http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Pogrom

Jews lived in England during the Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods, but not as an organized community. This page states:  “When William the Conqueror arrived in England in 1066, he encouraged Jewish merchants and artisans from northern France to move to England. The Jews came mostly from France with some from Germany, Italy and Spain, seeking prosperity and a haven from anti-Semitism. Serving as special representatives of the king, these Jews worked as moneylenders and coin dealers. Over the course of a generation, Jews established communities in London, York, Bristol, Canterbury and other major cities. They generally lived in segregated areas by themselves.”

From the charter by King John (1201), for which he received 4000 marks:  “John, by the grace of God, &c. Know that we have granted to all the Jews of England and Normandy to have freely and honourably residence in our land, and to hold all that from us, which they held from King Henry, our father’s grandfather, and all that now they reasonably hold in land and fees and mortgages and goods, and that they have all their liberties and customs just as they had them in the time of the aforesaid King Henry, our father’s grandfather, better and more quietly and more honourably.”  http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/kingjohn-jews.html

This goodwill, if it ever existed, had disintegrated by the time of Edward I of England (1239-1307).  As a king, he casts a long shadow over the thirteenth century and historians have generally viewed him favorably, in large part because they view his reign as good for England as a country (meaning he was stubborn, vibrant, and never backed down from a fight), if not anyone else.  But one of his most heinous acts, in addition to conquering Wales, was the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290.

Edward, and his father before him, began with a series of pogroms designed to reduce their ability to secure a livelihood. He and his predecessors encouraged the Jews to become physicians, merchants, bankers, and traders but they were not allowed to own land. Through apprenticeship and education, which was of supreme importance to the Jewish community, many Jews accumulated a great deal of wealth, in disproportion to their routinely uneducated gentile counterparts. Of course, this engendered animosity among gentiles, who saw only the wealth, and not the effort to attain it.

Map of Jewish expulsions and resettlement areas in Europe. 1100-1500: http://fcit.usf.edu/HOLOCAUST/gallery/expuls.htm.

This did not stop the gentiles from borrowing money from the Jews, however, and Edward allowed the Jews in England to charge interest on loans. In turn, Edward would exact huge taxes from them.  As the taxes became more burdensome, it forced them to both raise the interest rates which they charged their debtors, and to call in those loans when taxed to excess. If the Jews refused to pay Edward, they were punished. In 1278, Edward arrested 600 Jewish men upon charges of coin clipping and hanged 270 of them. Edward then claimed their wealth for himself, to the tune of over 16,000 pounds. http://www.jewishhistory.org.il/history.php?startyear=1270&endyear=1279

That equaled 10% of the annual income of the entire realm. The money Edward took from the Jews compensated for the huge expenses involved in defeating Prince Llywelyn of Wales (see how this is all interconnected?).

Once Edward had taken all their money, he had no more use for them, and began to pass more laws restricting their activities. They had to wear specific clothing and badges, could not own land, practice money lending, join any guild or business, or pass on their assets to their children. In 1290, Edward completed his pogrom against the Jews and expelled them from England (although a few paid bribes in order to be allowed to stay). England is the first country in Europe to do this, though France and Germany follow suit in short order.

Which is why Spain had so many to persecute 200 years later during the Spanish Inquisition. And why, by 1935, millions of Jews lived in Poland, which welcomed them after the Black Death.

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Welsh Rebels

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In looking through historical documents, there is a striking resemblance between one of the last letters that Llywelyn ap Gruffydd wrote to Edward I, a month before his death, and the famous speech by Patrick Henry.  From Llywelyn:

We fight because we are forced to fight, for we, and all Wales, are oppressed, subjugated, despoiled, reduced to servitude by the royal officers and bailiffs so that we feel, and have often so protested to the King, that we are left without any remedy . . ..

Compare it to Patrick Henry’s speech to the Virginia Assembly:

Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope . . .

Welsh rulers fought the English/Norman rule from 1066 to 1282, but even after the Welsh conquest by Edward I, other men stepped up to foment rebellion, some with more success than others.

One was Madog ap Llywelyn (1294-95):   Frustrated by high taxes, forced levies for Edward’s wars, misuse of power by his officers (sound familiar?), Madog rose to lead an organized rebellion at Michelmas in 1294, just as Edward was preparing to cross the English Channel for a continental campaign.  He immediately abandoned that plan and turned his attention to Wales.  http://www.medievalists.net/files/08100401.pdf

Madog himself wasn’t particularly noble in his ideals–he was a distant relative of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd but who had not been an ally.  Back in 1256 the Prince of Wales dispossessed his family of their lands, they fled to England and to Edward.  Upon Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s death, Madog expected a return to his fortunes, expectations which failed to materialize.  Madog’s forces overran Caernarfon and occupied the castle.  Other castles across Wales were besieged and many towns put to the flame, including Caerfphilly, Harlech, and Conwy.  http://www.worldlingo.com/ma/enwiki/en/Madog_ap_Llywelyn  Ultimately, of course, Edward’s armies defeated Madog’s and captured him.

A second was Llywelyn Bren in 1316 who rebelled against Edward II, somewhat despite himself.  His real argument was with Sir Payn Turberville whom Edward had appointed to rule Glamorgan after the death of its Earl.  As always seemed to be the case with these royal, English appointments, he was tyrannical and vicious.  Llywelyn made some statement to that effect, which Turberville reported to Edward II, who then called Llywelyn to account.  Instead of allowing Edward to hang him, he fled and fomented rebellion, although he ultimately surrendered rather than have the full weight of the Marche brought down on his countrymen’s head.  This page has a detailed description of what went on:  http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.com/2010/01/uprising-in-south-wales-1316.html

Ultimately, Hugh Despenser had Llywelyn removed from the Tower of London and murdered.

Then, of course, there’s Owain Glyndwr (Glendower) who gets his own post 🙂 http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/owain-glyndwr/

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Mortality Rates

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One of the hard things about imagining oneself in the middle ages, or writing a character who lives then, is figuring out the odds of them living at all.  The median lifespan of an individual living in the US was 78.7 years in 2010, unchanged since 2004. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm

I’ve posted before about life expectancy in the Middle ages (http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/life-expectancy-in-the-middle-ages/ and http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/child-mortality/), indicating that among the elite, both men and women–if they survived childhood–couldn’t reasonably expect to live out of their forties.  Some people did, but what were the mechanisms that kept mortality high?

Mortality rate is a measure of the number of deaths (in general, or due to a specific cause) in some population, scaled to the size of that population, per unit time. Mortality rate is typically expressed in units of deaths per 1000 individuals per year; thus, a mortality rate of 9.5 in a population of 100,000 would mean 950 deaths per year in that entire population, or 0.95% out of the total.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortality_rate

Some of the more immediate causes of early death are war, maternal mortality, and disease.

War:  War wasn’t necessarily more common in the middle ages, if the 20th and 21st centuries are anything to go by.  At the same time, it’s been over 100 years since a war took place within the borders of the United States.   One of the cruelties of war is that if it occurs on farmland and in villages, crops can’t be sown and people starve.  They might not die from battle itself, but they die from its repercussions.  From my reading of the Chronicle of the Princes, war in some measure was nearly constant, up through the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282 and beyond (because then Welshmen were recruited to fight in Edward’s war against Scotland).

Childbirth:  In fifteenth century in Florence, the best estimate for maternal mortality is 14.4 deaths per 1000 births, which 1.44%–so actually pretty rare.  http://tinyurl.com/43f27bk

This is compared to the U.S. maternal mortality rate of 13 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2004, or .013%http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20427256/ns/health-pregnancy/t/more-us-women-dying-childbirth/

Other sources state:  “Studies by Roger Schofield, B. M. Wilmott Dobbie, and Irvine Loudon estimate that maternal mortality rates between 1400 and 1800 were between 1 and 3 percent. Most often, women died in childbirth due to protracted labor caused by a narrow or deformed pelvis, fetal malpresentation, postpartum hemorrhage, or puerperal fevers. The health risk was renewed at each pregnancy. Since a woman averaged five pregnancies, 10 percent of these women died during or soon after childbirth.”  http://www.faqs.org/childhood/Me-Pa/Obstetrics-and-Midwifery.html

Diseases such as the Black Death:

“Credible death rates  between one quarter and three quarters complicate reaching a Europe—wide  figure. Neither a casual and unscientific averaging of available estimates to  arrive at a probably misleading composite death rate nor a timid placing of  mortality somewhere between one and two thirds is especially illuminating.  Scholars confronting the problem’s complexity before venturing estimates once  favored one third as a reasonable aggregate death rate. Since the early 1970s  demographers have found higher levels of mortality plausible and European  mortality of one half is considered defensible, a figure not too distant from less  fanciful contemporary observations.”  http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/Routt.Black.Death

For an extensive summary of mortality in the United States 1935-2010 see:  http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db88.htm

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Child Mortality in the Middle Ages

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One of the hardest things to read about is the infant/child mortality rates that were prevalent up until the invention of antibiotics–and certainly in the Dark and Middle Ages. It may be that it was much worse in Victorian England, when cities grew large, but looking at King Edward I’s progeny, your heart just bleeds for him and his wife (even if he was a tyrant to the Welsh!).

Edward and his first wife, Isabella, produced 16 children. Of those, five were sons. Of those, John lived five years; Henry, six. Alphonso lived until he was eleven, and only Edward, their last child, born in 1284, lived to adulthood and inherited the kingdom.

Of their 11 daughters, five lived to adulthood and six died before the age of three. As a mother of four, to think about losing a child is awful and the mind shies away at the very thought. It is the one thing I cannot even begin to contemplate. As a human being, how do you survive losing half your children to disease? Or more than half?

On top of which, out of his 19 total children (3 by his second wife, Marguerite), 8 lived to grow up. However, only two lived what we would consider longish lives.   The mean for the adult women is 41.8 with a median of 35; the mean for adult men is 36.6 with a median of 38.  Combined, the mean is 39.8 and the median is 35/38.  That is much worse than the Welsh/Marcher nobility documented here:  http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/life-expectancy-in-the-middle-ages/

Children of Edward I:

Daughter:  1255 (stillborn)

Katherine:  1261-1264 (age 3)

Joan:  1265-1265 (infant)

John:  1266-1271 (age 5)

Henry:  1268-1274 (age 6)

Eleanor:  1269-1298 (age 29)

Daughter: 1271 (infant)

Joan:  1272-1307  (age 35)

It does not seem that either Eleanor or Joan died in childbirth, or if they did, the child died with them and there is no record of their births.

Alphonso:  1273-1284 (age 11)

Margaret:  1275-1333 (age 58)

Berengaria:  1276-1278 (2)

Daughter: 1278 (infant)

Mary:  1279-1332  (53)

Son:  1281 (infant)

Elizabeth:  1282-1316 (aged 34)  She was married to Humphrey de Bohun (4th Earl of Hereford) and died in childbirth, having attempted to give birth to her 11th child in 13 years.

Edward:  1284-1327 (age 43)

Thomas:  1300-1338 (age 38)

Edmund:  1301-1330 (age 29)

Eleanor:  1306-1310 (4)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_I_of_England

To include all children in the mortality rate brings the mean down to 18.4 and the median to a hideous 6.

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European (Medieval) Martial Arts

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There is a fascinating documentary on the rediscovery of the European ‘martial art’ of sword fighting called Reclaiming the Blade, available on Netflix, if you subscribe:  http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Reclaiming_the_Blade/70111112?trkid=2361637

It begins by talking about sword fighting movies (Lord of the Rings was highlighted in particular), but once they stripped away the honor and righteous talk, it had a really good argument that sword fighting prior to the invention of gunpowder was just as legitimately a martial art as karate. In Europe, there are now European sword fighting academies which teach medieval sword fighting like my children learn karate. How cool is that?

A society now exists to promote it.  http://www.aemma.org/  with lots of resources to promote this lost art  (http://jwma.ejmas.com/php-bin/jwma_content.php?LLM=0&Tab=articles&MD=) is one example–the Journal of Western Martial Arts.

Three of my children are black belts in Shodukan Karate (the fourth is a green belt). My eldest son, in particular, helps me choreograph many of the fights that I write into my books. He has always suggested (perhaps instinctively due to his training) that my characters employ the whole of the sword (hilt, crossguard, and blade), wrestling techniques, and moves which are more akin to karate than you might find in movie depictions of sword fighting. Interestingly, this documentary suggests that he is correct—that these techniques were actually common practice in the Middle Ages.

Our view of sword fighting has been colored by fencing, which has rules, or by movies whose sole purpose is to put on a good show, but not to kill an opponent. In battle, there were no rules. A man in battle was likely to use his sword as a bludgeon, swing his sword like a baseball bat with two hands on the blade and smash his opponent in the face with the hilt, or hold it with two hands, one on the hilt and one on the blade of his sword (with his gauntleted left hand) and thrust it into his opponent’s midsection like a pike. A fight was likely to last less than a minute, and as Viggo Mortensen pointed out, a man wouldn’t pull his sword from its sheath unless he intended to use it, and kill with it as quickly as possible.

Fiore dei Liberi (born c. 1350) was a master of Western martial arts.  His book, Flos Duellatorum (http://thearma.org/Manuals/Liberi.htm) or The Flower of Fencing is the oldest and most complete document of its type. The fighting system he recorded, apparently for the benefit of Niccolo III d’Este, is complex and beautiful in its efficiency and symmetry. The artwork is clear, the instructions direct, and the lessons valuable. While the fighting system itself is the subject of many dynamic projects, little has been uncovered about the author of this fascinating work.”  http://jwma.ejmas.com/php-bin/jwma_content.php?LLM=0&Tab=articles&MD=

Here’s another video of a woman champion: http://www.thegeekocracy.com/modern-day-knight-female-wins-longsword-competition-world-invitational-tournament/

As a side note for those writing about swords, when a man did draw his sword from its sheath, the sword did not make that distinctive scraping noise that you hear movies. Metal on leather is silent.

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Castell y Bere

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My daughter says that Castell y Bere is in ‘the freaking middle of nowhere’ which is why King Edward couldn’t convince any English settlers to live there after he conquered Wales.  Plus ‘it’s really, really windy.’

Potentially, that is all you need to know about Castell y Bere, but if that turned you away from visiting, that would be unfortunate.  Historically, Castell y Bere was also one of the most important castles of the Welsh Princes–certainly it is one of the largest and most elaborate.  It sits on elongated plateau of rock in the Upper Dysynni Valley.  Because of its central location (at the time), it helped Llywelyn Fawr, who built it, control the territory along the old mountain road from Cadair Idris to Dolgellau.  It also guards the territory between the Dyfi and Mawddach estuaries (see above mentioned ‘freaking middle of nowhere’).  Llywelyn built it with luxuries in mind, and included stained glass windows, inlaid tile, and stone carvings (Paul Davis, Castles of the Welsh Princes).

Llywelyn Fawr began the castle after a dispute with his son, Gruffydd in 1221 AD.  Llywelyn took these territories for himself, and began work on Castell y Bere.  His grandson, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, added onto the structures, eventually creating a sprawling complex of buildings, surrounded by a system of walls and ditches that made the castle virtually impossible to assault.  It was the last castle to be taken in 1283, after the fall of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, surrendering to King Edward’s forces without a fight.

King Edward maintained the castle (to the tune of 265 pounds) from 1286 to 1290, but Adrian Pettifer states in his book Welsh Castles, ‘the castle proved too remote to be supplied in times of siege.’  It was burned during Madog ap Llywelyn’s uprising in 1294 and never restored.

Links:  http://www.castlewales.com/cybere.html

http://www.castlexplorer.co.uk/wales/bere/bere.php

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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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