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Warden of Time available for preorder!

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Warden of Time

warden of-time-frontAs both modern man and medieval king, David is committed to transforming medieval England into his own version of Avalon. Not everyone supports his ideals, however, and having offended the pope by welcoming Jews and heretics into England, David is summoned to Canterbury to explain himself.

But when information comes to light that reveals the accusations against him have less to do with religion than with power and wealth, David finds himself on familiar ground—and at the center of conspiracy that stretches from Ireland to Italy. Facing excommunication, a fickle populace, and a rebellion even by his fellow time travelers, he must decide what his throne is worth, and what he’s willing to sacrifice to keep it.

Warden of Time will be released on October 19, 2014 and is now available for preorder at Amazon US and all Amazon stores, and the Apple iBookstore. Coming soon to Kobo and Barnes and Noble.


The Welsh Longbow

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Bows and arrows have been around since Paleolithic times, with evidence of them as early as 8000-9000 BC in Germany.

Kennewick man, the controversial skeleton found in the banks of the Columbia River inKennewick,Washington dates to roughly 7500 BC. A CT scan revealed a stone, projectile point embedded in his hip.

Oetzi the Iceman was found with a quiver of arrows with flint heads and an unfinished yew longbow–taller than he was–in his pack.  He dates to 3300 BC.

A new find in Norway revealed 4500 year old bows and arrows that are very similar in form and function to those found in the Yukon dating to the same time period.TLP blogThe confirmed first use of the longbow was in 633 AD, in a battle between the Welsh, led by Cadwallon ap Cadfan of Gwynedd, against the Northumbrians.

The shot killed Ofrid (or Osric?), son of Edwin of Northumbria, who just happened to be Cadwallon’s foster-uncle.  Cadwallon had allied himself with Penda of Mercia in an attempt to drive the Northumbrians from Gwynedd, after Edwin had defeated his father and taken over the country.  Cadwallon was successful.

Saxons, as a rule, were not archers.  It is another five centuries before there is any recorded use of a longbow in England.  The men of Wales used longbows against the Normans, from the moment they arrived to conquer England and Wales, up through the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.  One of the greatest victories for Llywelyn was in 1257 before the Battle of Cymerau where the Normans lost 3000 men (  At Llandeilo Fawr, they cowered for two days under a hail of arrows from the Welsh.

Starting 1252 in England, the longbow was finally accepted as a formal military weapon.  “In 1252 the Assize of Arms required that all landowning yeomen with an annual income between 40 to a 100 shillings were to be armed and trained with a longbow (war bow) and the more wealthy yeomen were also required to possess a sword, buckler, dagger and to be trained in their use.”

“C.1280: Longbow adopted by Edward I during the Welsh campaigns after seeing how effectively the Welsh used the bow.

1331-1333: Longbow used by Edward III during the Scottish Campaign.

1337-1453b: The hundred years war with France:During this time, the English and Welsh longbowmen were the most prominent part of the English army, sometimes outnumbering the Men-at-Arms by as much as 10:1. The average was a ratio of about 3:1.”

What is it about the longbow that is both effective and also prevented its earlier adaptation?  This has to do with 1)  it’s size, and 2) the length of time required to learn its use.

The standard yew longbow was over 6 feet long (6 ft. 6 inches), with a yard long arrow.  They are powerful weapons that require enormous strength to draw.   In general, the draw weight is 120-150 pounds, with a range between 200 and 300 yards.  “In battle, longbow formations fired 10-12 volleys per minute. Each archer was provided 60-72 arrows. A force of 4,000 longbowmen could loose 240,000 arrows within the space of five minutes.”

Thus, in order to master its use, a man must practice.   A lot.  Once King Edward of Englandrealized the longbow’s full potential, he adopted it from the Welsh, such that “To ensure a steady stream of bowmen for his army, Edward I banned all sports except archery on Sundays. Shooting ranges were set up on or near church property so parishioners would follow worship services with archery practice.”

Edward III used the long bow to great effect during the Hundred Years War, filling his ranks with Welsh and English longbowmen that decimated the French ranks, particularly at the Battles of Crecy and Agincourt.



The Celts in Wales


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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.

“History tells us that there were two main Celtic groups, one of which is referred to as the ‘lowland Celts’ who hailed from the region of the Danube. These people left their native pastures around 1200 BC and slowly made their way across Europe, founding the lake dwellings in Switzerland, the Danube valley and Ireland. They were skilled in the use of metals and worked in gold, tin and bronze. Unlike the more familiar Celtic strain these people were an agriculturally oriented race, being herdsmen, tillers and artificers who burned rather than buried their dead. They blended peacefully with the megalithic people among whom they settled, contributing powerfully to the religion, art, and customs they encountered as they slowly spread westwards. Their religious beliefs also differed from the next group, being predominately matriarchal.

The second group, often referred to as the ‘true’ Celts, followed closely behind their lowland cousins, making their first appearance on the left bank of the Rhine at the commencement of the sixth century BC. These people, who came from the mountainous regions of the Balkans and Carpathians, were a military aristocracy. Reputed to love fighting for the sake of it they were frequently to be found among the mercenaries of the great armies of those early times. They had a distinct class system, the observance of which constituted one of their major racial features. These were the warlike Celts of ancient history who sacked Rome and Delphi, eventually marching victoriously across much of Europe and the British Isles.”

The Celts had arrived in Britain and Ireland by 400 BC, super-imposing upon whatever native peoples were already there.  The Celts in these regions, then, were on the fringes of Celtic culture, not their heart, which was centered in Northern Europe, particularly in what is now Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

“Archaeological investigation of settlements shows that many people in the Iron Age lived in hilltop enclosures  or hillforts defended by one or more banks and ditches. The inner bank would have been topped by a wooden palisade or occasionally a stone wall.

Within the enclosure people lived in round houses often with porches over the single doorway. The houses were made usually with wattle and daub walls, wooden roofs thatched with straw or reeds and with clay or earth floors. In some areas where stone was plentiful the house walls were built of stone. This is true of north Wales at such hillforts as Moel-y-Gaer. Often the houses had a central fireplace and sometimes a clay oven for baking bread. The grain for the bread was ground on rotary querns. The smoke would have escaped through the thatch. A wooden loom might be found in some houses where people wove cloth from wool or flax.”

Other Hillforts to visit:

Caer Drewyn (near Corwen)
Moel Fenlli on the Clwydian Hills
Gaer Fawr (near Welshpool), Powys
Ffrydd Faldwyn (Montgomery), Powys
Roundton Hill (near Churchstoke), Powys
Castell Tinboeth, Radnor (also the site of a medieval castle)
Castell Dinas Bran (near Llangollen–also the site of a medieval castle)


The Wool Trade


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Edward I was the first English monarch to tax the wool trade–to help pay, as always, for his wars.

Sheep have been herded in Wales since possibly the Celts, though it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when sheep first came to Wales.  “Excavations show that in about 6000 BC, during the Neolithic period of prehistory, the Castelnovien people, living around Chateauneuf-les-Martigues near present-day Marseille in the south of France, were among the first in Europe to keep domestic sheep. Practically from its inception, ancient Greek civilization relied on sheep as primary livestock, and were even said to name individual animals. Scandinavian sheep of a type seen today — with short tails and multi-colored fleece — were also present early on.

Later, the Roman Empire kept sheep on a wide scale, and the Romans were an important agent in the spread of sheep raising throughout the continent. Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History (Naturalis Historia), speaks at length about sheep and wool.  Declaring “Many thanks, too, do we owe to the sheep, both for appeasing the gods, and for giving us the use of its fleece.”  He goes on to detail the breeds of ancient sheep and the many colors, lengths and qualities of wool. Romans also pioneered the practice of blanketing sheep, in which a fitted coat (today usually of nylon) is placed over the sheep to improve the cleanliness and luster of its wool.

During the Roman occupation of the British Isles, a large wool processing factory was established in Winchester, England in about 50 AD.  By 1000 AD, England and Spain were recognized as the twin centers of sheep production in the Western world.” (See Wikipedia for citations)

“Wool became the backbone and driving force of the medieval English economy between the late thirteenth century and late fifteenth century and at the time the trade was described as “the jewel in the realm”! To this day the seat of the Lord High Chancellor in the House of Lords is a large square bag of wool called the ‘woolsack’, a reminder of the principal source of English wealth in the Middle Ages.

As the wool trade increased the great landowners including lords, abbots and bishops began to count their wealth in terms of sheep. The monasteries, in particular the Cistercian houses played a very active part in the trade, which pleased the king who was able to levy a tax on every sack of wool that was exported.

From the Lake District and Pennines in the north, down through the Cotswolds to the rolling hills of the West Country, across to the southern Downs and manors of East Anglia, huge numbers of sheep were kept for wool. Flemish and Italian merchants were familiar figures in the wool markets of the day ready to buy wool from lord or peasant alike, all for ready cash. The bales of wool were loaded onto pack-animals and taken to the English ports such as Boston, London, Sandwich and Southampton, from where the precious cargo would be shipped to Antwerp and Genoa.”

John Davies writes, in his History of Wales, in regards to the newly formed chain of Cistercian monestaries in Wales:  ” . . . for the monks were granted thousands of hectares of grazing land, where they pioneered the Welsh woollen industry; there is very little evidence that sheep were important to the Welsh economy before the coming of the Cistercians” (2007:126).

It certainly became important as The Welsh National Wool Museum can attest:

“Power notes three breeds as accounting for most wool production in the Middle Ages, Ryeland, Cotswold and Lincoln. Ryeland was the most famous of short-woolled breeds, grown in the country between the Severn and the marches of Wales, and was largely responsible for the ‘Lemster ore’, the golden fleece of England. The bulk of the fine wool exported in the Middle Ages came from two long-woolled breeds, however, Cotswold and Lincoln and in the fifteenth century the largest source of fine wool seems to have been the Cotswolds.”


Historiography of the Welsh Conquest

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Thank you to Brynne Haug for the next installment of her essay on the conquest of Wales. The following video is of our visit in May 2014 to Caernarfon Castle, the centerpiece of King Edward’s conquest of Wales.


While there has been some measure of historical debate on the benefits and detriments of the English conquest of Wales on the country itself, the majority of scholars have agreed that in terms of identity and culture, the conquest had a negative impact. Wales prior to 1282 was fiercely independent, its people pastoral and very much devoted to the land on which they lived. In the years that followed the conquest, however, Edward I, in an attempt to “civilize” the Welsh, built walled towns throughout Wales and brought English settlers to live in them. Thus, by the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Welsh—who were in theory entirely excluded from these English towns of privilege—were, in the words of R.R. Davies, “outsiders in their own country.”[1] Historians have not argued that such attempts at “civilization” had a positive effect on Wales; even economically, England destroyed local systems rather than bolstering them.[2] However, historians have debated whether the actions of certain individuals had an effect on the outcome, good or bad, for Wales.

Historians agree that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, and King Edward I of England were primary players in the conflict between Wales and England. The tension between the two countries, however, was not new. The Brut y Tywysogion, a Welsh chronicle redacted in the 13th century and written in Middle Welsh, spoke of “battle between the Britons [Welsh] and Saxons” in 760 and of repeated skirmish with the English throughout the intervening centuries.[3] The Anglo-Normans were persistent in their efforts, even after they had taken the greater part of Britain.

Given this drawn-out conflict between Wales and England, it is not surprising that what historians have debated most widely is what caused the subjugation to occur when it did—not the content of what occurred. In particular, historians focus the size of the role that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, whatever his intentions, played in bringing about the conquest of his lands. The debate focuses on whether the conquest would inevitably have occurred in that period, or if Llywelyn’s flagrant disrespect of King Edward I precipitated Wales’ subjugation. The most simplistic interpretation of the conflict, summed up by Ifor Rowlands, is that the attack Edward launched on Wales resulted from behavior by Llywelyn that “challenged royal overlordship in the most blatant fashion,” and that the ensuing wars were a direct “punitive expedition . . . launched to purge the contumacy” of a “disobedient vassal.”[4] Without passing judgment on either party, Rowlands’s interpretation sees Llywelyn’s behavior as a violation of the terms of the society in which he lived: as an underling of King Edward, he had to have known his refusal to pay homage to him would bring the wrath of the king down on him.

Early historiography tended to take such an approach. John E. Morris, writing in 1901, studied the wars in an English context, focusing on the influence of Welsh conflict on the development of English warfare; he viewed the real power in the wars as lying in the Welsh March, balanced between the impetuous Llywelyn and the “destined conqueror of Wales,” Edward I.[5] He emphasized the agency of Edward and questioned the Welsh account of the events leading up to Llywelyn’s death.[6] This attitude is consistent with the tone taken by historians writing in that era. According to later historiographical discussion, some scholars went further, arguing that Llywelyn’s “high-handed” political and military behavior cost him many allies, and not only initiated a war with England, but also divided an already fractious Wales.[7] The kingdom he built, according to J.G. Edwards, was far beyond his military capacity to maintain, and his arrogance and need for personal power influenced his desire for status as a Prince of Wales and ultimately led to the downfall of his kingdom to such an extent that Edwards convicted him of “fumbl[ing] his way to disaster.”[8] J.E Lloyd, who wrote in the early 20th century, did not go so far, but rather argued that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s qualities “hardly matched those which had raised his grandfather above all the other princes of the nation.”[9] Such negative interpretations of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s character and agency are relatively common in historiography of the early half of the 20th century, but more recent studies of the period have come to a different conclusion.

Early historians, some modern scholars argue, might not have misjudged Llywelyn’s arrogance—he was stubborn and prideful, and lost allies as a result of his overbearing treatment of his fellow Welsh leaders—but have overlooked the necessity of his actions. Edward I’s increasing demands on Wales, and his imperialist attitude, were incompatible with Wales’ continued existence as a semi-independent polity.[10] The princes of Gwynedd used royal language to describe themselves; J. Beverley Smith argues that they could not give Edward the total submission he required without sacrificing the image they had created for themselves and that Llywelyn’s course of action was therefore the only one that had a hope of preserving independent royalty in Wales.[11] The idea that Llywelyn’s arrogance and neglect for the welfare of Gwynedd and Wales caused Wales’s fall has not entirely been discredited: Michael Prestwich writes that Llywelyn “unwisely overestimated his own strength,” through hubris bringing about his own ruin to the good fortune of the English.[12] R.R. Davies in particular, however, is adamant that Llywelyn’s actions were deliberate and necessary. Llywelyn not only did what he believed was in the best interests of his people, but he chose the only path he could in good conscience take. Edward I’s “concept of the nature of overlordship,” Davies argues, “could not be squared with Llywelyn’s concept of a native principality of Wales.”[13] Davies sees Llywelyn’s choice as the only one that offered any chance for his country; he goes so far as to suggest that Llywelyn’s action was “the only hope of retaining a semblance of true political independence.”[14] The two views do not seem mutually exclusive; Llywelyn may have overestimated himself, but the actions he took were necessary for an independent Wales.

[1] R.R. Davies, “Edward I and Wales,” in Edward I and Wales, ed. Trevor Herbert and Gareth Elwyn Jones (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1988), 3.

[2] James Given, “The Economic Consequences of the English Conquest of Gwynedd,” Speculum 64 (1989), 12.

[3] Brut y Tywysogion; Or, The Chronicle of the Princes, ed. John Williams ab Ithel (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860), 7.

[4] Ifor Rowlands, “The Edwardian Conquest and Its Military Consolidation,” in Edward I and Wales, ed. Trevor Herbert and Gareth Elwyn Jones (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1988), 41.

[5] John E. Morris, The Welsh Wars of Edward I (New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1901), 23.

[6] Ibid., 183.

[7] Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change, 328.

[8] J.G. Edwards, Littere Wallie (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1935), lxi.

[9] J. Beverley Smith, 3.

[10] Davies, “Edward I and Wales,” 9.

[11] Beverley Smith, 5.

[12] Michael Prestwich, The Three Edwards: War and State in England, 1272-1377 (London; New York: Routledge, 2003), 10.

[13] Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change, 330.

[14] Ibid., 329.


Bwlch y Ddeufaen (sheep pass)

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Bwlch y Ddeufaen is the a pass along the ancient road from Caerhun to Aber. The topography of North Wales is such that no significant road could run along the coastline due to the limestone cliffs that come right down to the Irish Sea.

Thus, from ancient times, the people of Wales used a road that crossed the Conwy River at Caerhun and headed into the hills, reaching a pass marked by two standing stones on either side of the road. The road then descended out of the hills, arriving at Aber and was then able to follow the road west towards Bangor and Caernarvon.

Even the Romans found the topography impossible and chose to improve the ancient British/Celtic road rather than build an entirely new one closer to the coast. 1000 years later, the Normans faced the same difficulties. It was what allowed the Welsh Princes to rule from Aber almost uncontested. Protected by the mountains behind, their llys or court was accessible only by the pass of Bwlch y Ddeufaen or from the sea.

This road plays a role in many of my books.


Gwynedd after 1282


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After the Treaty of Aberconwy in 1277 AD, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was reduced to lordship over a small area of land in Gwynedd, mostly west of the Conwy River.  Over the course of the 1282 war, he took back much of what he’d lost.  He was killed, however, on 11 December 1282, and all of Wales ultimately fell the forces of Edward I.  The map at right shows:

   Green:  Gwynedd, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s principality
   Blue:  Territories of Dafydd ap Gruffydd
   Pink:  Territories ceded forever to the English Crown


This defeat of the native Welsh forces led by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and then briefly after Llywelyn’s death by his brother, Dafydd, resulted in a much divided Wales.  On the top of the hierarchy, instead of native rulers, were English (mostly) absentee landowners.  Within the Marche and portions of southern Wales, the native rulers had sided with the English anyway, and thus retained their land.  Among the peasants, their lot in life didn’t change much.

In Gwynedd, however, which had been the seat of Welsh resistance for centuries, the English overlords directly intervened in the life of the local populace and attempted to root out and confiscate the lands of those who’d rebelled.  For example, of the 104 shares of land in the Denbigh area formerly under Welsh control, the English confiscated, through a variety of means, 96 of them, or 92.3% of the total (Given, James.  The Economic Consequences of the English Conquest of Gwynedd. Speculum. Vol. 64. No. 1 1989).

Given goes on to say: “The acquisition of sizable tracts of land allowed the English to work some changes in Denbigh’s ethnic and social composition.  The new rulers made a determined effort to establish an English colony . . . all the original inhabitants of the vill adjoining the head of the honor at Denbigh were removed, and a borough was created in the castle’s shadow.  Other Englishmen were settled nearby.  In the town of Lleweni, for example, only one Welshman, Iorwerth ap Llywarch, was allowed to retain land.  The rest of the village was divided among about 120 English colonists”  (p. 18).

Interestingly, except for confiscating Llywelyn’s own lands, and Edward’s extensive castle building program, Edward’s treatment of western Gwynedd appeared at first to be more lenient in that he deliberately kept the native system of land ownership intact.  Instead, he extracted money from those who owned land in a complete overhaul of the rent and taxation system.   In the past, rent consisted of a combination of food renders, labor services, and compulsory hospitality.  Under the new regime, it was all cash payment and the increases ranged from 78.5% for cash rent from free tenants to a 7-fold increase for bondmen (p. 25).

In order to establish his authority in the region, he built a series of castles across Gwynedd, among them Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Conwy, and Harlech.

The English also:  required individuals to “grind their grain at the lord’s mill, press their grapes at his wine press, bake their bread in his oven, etc.”  and pay for the privilege.  They also were compelled (according to a 1305 record) to attend the local market and to trade only within the (English) borough town walls, resulting in more taxes.  “In a period of twenty years, thanks to steady and determined application, the English administration had managed to increase its take from its Welsh territories almost three fold” (Given p. 25-31).

Other impacts included an overhaul (and rejection) of the long-standing Welsh system of laws set down by Hywel Dda and the impressment of Welshmen into the English miltary.  “Just as the Welsh may have had to bear a disproportionately heavier share of taxation than the English, so it appears that they made a relatively large contribution to royal armies . . . For example, of the 12,500 infantry raised for the 1298 Falkirk campaign, 10,500 (84%) were Welsh” (Given p. 35).

Given concludes that the result of the English occupation forced the Welsh to sell themselves, their property, and their possessions to placate an ever more avaricious English government.  “Sometime early in the fourteenth century, in a petition delivered to Edward II, [petitioners] informed the king that because of their poverty and impotence they had left their lands, unable to pay their rents reliefs, and other dues.  In 1324, the villeins of the commote of Eifionydd . . . were so vexed and impoverished by the demands of the men who were farming the king’s mill and fish weirs that they experienced great difficulty in holding their land . . . [others claimed] that the royal purveyors had so impoverished them that they could barely live”  (p. 43).

Given concludes that, contrary to previous scholarship and received wisdom, “the growth of political authority, generally saluted as one of the positive features of late-medieval  society, may in reality have been one of the primary causes of the crises that afflicted Europe in the late Middle Ages” (p. 44).

That’s possible, but given Edward’s intent to wipe out all memory of Llywelyn, his seat and family, along with Welsh nationalism, this attempt to conquer the Welsh financially makes perfect sense.  Coupled with his castle building program, it shows how successful Edward was not only at defeating the Welsh militarily, but ensuring their material defeat and continued (and continual) subjugation.


Carew Castle, Pembrokeshire


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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.”

The name also might come from ‘Caerau’, simply the plural, ‘forts’.

Tradition states that the original castle was built by Gerald de Windsor, a Norman who came with Arnulph de Montgomery, the first Norman Earl of Pembroke.  Gerald married Princess Nest, daughter of Prince Rhys ap Tudur of Deheubarth.  Her daughter, Angharad, was the mother of the travel writer, Gerald of Wales.  (source:  Carew Local History Group/Dyfed Archaeological Trust).   Sir Nicholas’ ancestor William, eldest son of Gerald de Windsor, was the first to adopt the title ‘de Carew’ (‘from Carew’), according to the Norman (rather than Welsh) tradition.

In the 13th century, Sir Nicholas de Carew was a high ranking officer and distinguished soldier in the time of Edward I.  He fought on behalf of the king in Ireland and in Europe (he does not appear to have played much of a role in the Welsh wars up until 1282).  He was responsible for much of the medieval construction of Carew Castle between 1280 and 1310. He died in 1311 and was buried the parish church of Carew Cheriton, where an effigy of a knight believed to be that of Sir Nicholas remains today. He was succeeded by his son John.

The castle passed to Rhys ap Thomas in 1480, who was the leading Welsh supporter of Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII of England, who knighted him after the Battle of Bosworth Field.   After that family fell into disfavor, it came to Sir John Perrot in 1558.  He was convicted of treason in 1592, at which point the castle was let to tenants.  According to the Carew Local History Group, it returned to the descendants of the Carew family in the 17th century (Thomas Carew, 3rd Baron Kesteven died in 1915 of wounds recieved in WWI), and the family retains ownership today.

My eldest son is named ‘Carew’, so we have a particular affinity for this place :)





Tintern Abbey

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According the the Tintern Abbey guidebook, Tintern Abbey was founded by Walter fitz Richard of Clare (d. 1137) the Anglo-Norman lord of Chepstow, in 1131.  It was the first Cistercian Abbey in Wales.

Over the previous half-century the Normans had introduced Benedictine priories, founded as dependencies of large Abbey’s in England or France, as a way to use religion to control the populace of Wales. It is not an uncommon move for unpopular conquerors. The Welsh Church had a strong independent streak (not unlike its people), and that was certainly part of the motivation too.

Over the centuries, the Lords of Chepstow (including William Marshal and Roger Bigod) continued to support Tintern. Although Cistercians eschewed inhabited or manoral lands as gifts, they were given them anyway, and thus the lands controlled by Tintern expanded over the years.

By a 1291 tax survey, the monks at Tintern were farming over 3000 acres on the Welsh side of the Wye and had 3264 sheep. They were assessed taxes of 145 pounds.


First pictures from the Wales trip 2014

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So far, we’ve seen Cilmeri, Tintern Abbey, Chepstow Castle, and Caerphilly Castle.

IMAG0756This is the main shot of Cilmeri, the place where Llywelyn ap Gruffydd is said to have been ambushed and murdered by the English. That event–and averting that event–is also the basis for my After Cilmeri series. I’m pleased to report that the site has been spruced up since I was last here, including the placement of a new stone marker at Llywelyn’s well. For tons of information about the life and death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, see

IMAG0764Tintern Abbey was founded by Normans and is an early Cistercian house in Wales. See my post on Medieval Monks for more.

Chepstow Castle was built by the same Norman lords who endowed Tintern Abbey, including William Marshal and Roger Bigod.

Chepstow balconyWhen we were here two years ago, it was during the Queen’s jubilee, so they had reenactments going on. We got rain today instead, but the upside was that it was quite empty. This castle was built on the Welsh side of the Wye River as a bastion of Norman power on the edge of Wales. It is also the place where Meg, Llywelyn, and Goronwy jumped off the balcony into the Wye River. For more information, see my post on the Normans in Wales.

Caerphilly gatehouseCaerphilly Castle is another Norman castle–a huge one–built by Gilbert de Clare. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd burned it during the early stages of building in 1268, but Clare managed to get it built eventually anyway it was a violation of the treaty with England. It is huge, surrounded by a moat, and was blown up by Cromwell during the English Civil War to prevent the royal faction from defending it.


Did Europeans smoke in the Middle Ages?

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The short answer to that question is ‘no’. Tobacco is a New World good, and thus, not available to Europe until after 1492. The native peoples of the Americas used tobacco primarily for ritual purposes.

The longer answer is that ‘smoking’, though not as we understand it today (with tobacco), was a factor in cultures other than Europe, though even those never caught on much in Europe, even after the Crusades.

From Wikipedia:

The history of smoking dates back to as early as 5000 BC in shamanistic rituals.[2] Many ancient civilizations, such as the Babylonians, Indians and Chinese, burnt incense as a part of religious rituals, as did the Israelites and the later Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches. Smoking in the Americas probably had its origins in the incense-burning ceremonies of shamans but was later adopted for pleasure, or as a social tool.[3] The smoking of tobacco, as well as various hallucinogenic drugs was used to achieve trances and to come into contact with the spirit world.

Substances such as Cannabis, clarified butter (ghee), fish offal, dried snake skins and various pastes molded around incense sticks dates back at least 2000 years. Fumigation (dhupa) and fire offerings (homa) are prescribed in the Ayurveda for medical purposes, and have been practiced for at least 3,000 years while smoking, dhumrapana (literally “drinking smoke”), has been practiced for at least 2,000 years. Before modern times these substances have been consumed through pipes, with stems of various lengths or chillums.[4]

Cannabis smoking was common in the Middle East before the arrival of tobacco, and was early on a common social activity that centered around the type of water pipe called a hookah. Smoking, especially after the introduction of tobacco, was an essential component of Muslim society and culture and became integrated with important traditions such as weddings, funerals and was expressed in architecture, clothing, literature and poetry.[5]

Cannabis smoking was introduced to Sub-Saharan Africa through Ethiopia and the east African coast by either Indian or Arab traders in the 13th century or earlier and spread on the same trade routes as those that carried coffee, which originated in the highlands of Ethiopia.[6] It was smoked in calabash water pipes with terra cotta smoking bowls, apparently an Ethiopian invention which was later conveyed to eastern, southern and central Africa.”

Cannabis was grown in great quantity throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, but not to smoke. It was to make hemp:  “Cannabis hemp was widely grown across Britain in the Middle Ages, from at least 800 to 1800 AD, though the amount grown varied widely through the centuries. It was mainly grown for fibre which was used to make sails, ropes, fishing nets and clothes. Old clothes were recycled into paper. Oil was produced from the seeds and was burned in lamps. It may also have been used as a folk medicine and for food, but it’s a mystery whether or not it was taken as a drug.”



The Sidhe

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The Sidhe (pronounced shee), are the god-like beings of Celtic society.  Sometimes conflated with the Tuatha de Danaan, this site ( posits that they were a real people that were descended from the Tuatha de Danann.  “The people known as “The Sidhe” or people of the mounds, or “The Lordly Ones” or “The Good People” were descended from the “Tuatha de Danann” who settled in Ireland millennia ago .” 

TLP blogClearly the belief in the sidhe is part of the pre-Christian religion which survived for thousands of years and which has never been completely wiped out from the minds of the people. . . .The sons of Mil fought them in battle and defeated them, driving them ‘underground’ where it is said they remain to this day in the hollow hills or sidhe mounds . . .

The sidhe of the subterranean mounds are also seen by the Irish as the descendants of the old agricultural gods of the Earth . . . These gods controlled the ripening of the crops and the milk yields of the cattle, therefore offerings had to be given to them regularly. In the Book of Leinster we discover that after their conquest the Tuatha De Danaan took revenge on the sons of Mil by destroying their wheat and the goodness of the milk (the sidhe are notorious for this even today). The sons of Mil were thus forced to make a treaty with them, and ever since that time the people of Ireland have honoured this treaty by leaving offerings of milk and butter to the Good People.”

“A notable feature of the Sidhe is that they have distinct tribes, ruled over by fairy kings and queens in each territory. It would seem that the social order of the Sidhe corresponds to the old aristocracy of ancient Irish families, which is in itself a reflection of the ancient Celtic system of rank. It is interesting to note that many of the Irish refer to the Sidhe as simply “the gentry”, on account of their tall, noble appearance and silvery sweet speech. In their faerie realms they have their own palaces where they feast and play music, but also have regular battles with neighboring tribes . . .”

In Wales, the mythology derives from this Celtic understanding of the gods, but was shaped over time by a particularly Welsh take on it.  The Welsh Otherworld was also ruled by two separate ‘tribes’:  the children of Llyr and the children of Don.  They are not in rivalry with one another, though conflict is described in the Mabinogi (a book of Welsh mythology), but more part of an extended family.  A geneology is here:

Finally, the Welsh sidhe are also known as the Tylwyth Teg, though these are also more akin to faeries: “The sidhe also exists in Welsh tradition. It is refered to as a gorsedd, meaning “seat”, tor meaning “hill” or “tower”, and “Caer Siddi” in the poems of Taliesin. For instance, there is the Gorsedd Arbeth, where Pwyll pen Annwfn first sees Rhiannon, and where later Pryderi causes an enchantment to fall on Dyfed. Then there is Glastonbury Tor, where according to one saints’ life–that of Saint Collen–Gwynn ap Nudd rules over the Tylwyth Teg. Giraldus Cambriensis records the story of Elidur, a priest who lived with the “Good People” as a child, after finding their home in the side of a hill. Interestingly, Girladus claims that they spoke Greek, which would back up certain claims of descendence from the Greeks and Trojans, a common theme in some of the early histories and bruts . . .”

For more information about Welsh faeries, see:



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