Posts for Tag : dark ages

standard

The British (Welsh/Cymry) High Council 0

What passes for the British government in 2011 (as in, the word ‘British’ is a misnomer since ‘British’ should refer to the original inhabitants of Britain, who are now called ‘Welsh’) has formed a coalition so it can govern.  Within British (and by that I mean Welsh/Cymry/Celtic) legend, a High Council–a Parliament of a sort–existed in the Dark Ages to choose a “high king”.  One of these high kings, according to legend, was King Arthur.  Later, during Arthur’s reign, he instituted his ’round table’, a gathering of equals, to discuss the troubles in his realm.  Or so the story goes.

But did this High Council ever exist?

The answer is ‘yes’–certainly during the reign of the last Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.  In 1282 when Edward I of England wrote his letters to Llywelyn and Dafydd, demanding that they concede defeat, he also wrote a letter to the ‘Council of Wales’, laying out his case.  To this they responded:

“The people of Snowdonia for their part state that even if the prince desired to give the king seisin of them, they themselves would not do homage to any stranger, of whose language, customs and laws they are utterly ignorant. For by doing so they could be brought into perpetual captivity and barbarously treated . . .”  http://garthcelyn.com/letters_14.html

Our evidence for a council of ‘Britain’ (which in the post-Roman occupation period did include all of what is now England and Wales) is first and foremost, Gildas.  He writes:  “Then all the council members, together with that proud tyrant [theoretically, Vortigern], were so blinded, that, as a protection to their country, they sealed its doom by inviting in among them (like wolves into the sheep-fold), the fierce and impious Saxons, a race hateful both to God and men, to repel the invasions of the northern nation.”

From Robert Vermaat:  “What Gildas does not do is describe Vortigern as a sole ruler, or a ‘High King’ if you will. He rules as a king, but together with a Council, the members of which are rulers of their own territory. Gildas sees this as a logical but reprehensible evolution from the usurpation of Magnus Maximus, which has seen the progressive disintegration of the British territory from one single state (diocese) into several smaller kingdoms without overlord in Gildas’ day.

Though in the days of Vortigern this was clearly not the case, and Vortigern’s decisions seem to be obeyed in the whole diocese. Dumville has proposed that there is nothing to suggest that Vortigern’s rule did not encompass the whole diocese. But Vortigern is not ruling alone, as observed above. He has power over magistrates, who later evolve into sub-kings or provincial rulers, but that power may have been wielded by the Council as a whole, for Gildas puts the blame with all of them. Gildas does not mention the Council in this function elsewhere, or so it seems. Gildas does seem to indicate, however, that the members of the council in the days of Vortigern had become the warring princes of his own days.”  http://www.vortigernstudies.org.uk/artsou/gildvort.htm

That a council of Britain existed appears to have been a common understanding throughout the subsequent centuries, as Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing in the twelfth century mentions it often.  He states that Britains ‘flocked together from all parts and in a council held at Silchester,’ and crowned Constantine High King;  furthermore, Aurelius holds a council in chapter 7 and 8 of book 6; and Arthur in chapter 1 and 16 of book 9.

Additional mention of some kind of council is found in the Chronicle of the Princes (Red Book of Hergest).  From 1096:  “And the Britons, having retreated to their strongest places, according to their usual custom, agreed in council to save Mona.”

Chronicle of the Princes (Ystrad Fflur).  From 1220:  “Llywelyn, prince of Gwynedd, gathered to him the princes and leading men of all Wales. . .”

1258:  “In this year all the Welsh made a pact together, and they gave an oath to maintain loyalty and agreement together, under pain of excommunication upon whomsoever of them broke it.”

Certainly the power of the Council was not constant, and in part depended upon the unity of Wales as a whole and the individual authority of the ruling high king, and later Prince.

As to whether King Arthur was ever high king?  At this point, we just don’t know.

standard

The Evolution of Welsh 0

The first thing you learn in linguistics is that languages evolve.  The second is that they are arbitrary.   This does not mean language isn’t important, or that it isn’t integral to culture. (see this article on Quebec’s policing of language).  It does mean that there is nothing inherent in the word ‘spoon’ that denotes the rounded tool with which you cook or eat.

Medieval Welsh, or Middle Welsh, was the language spoken in the 12th to 14th centuries.  Like when a modern English-speaker attempts to read Chaucer in English, it is possible for a modern Welsh speaker to read middle Welsh, which is the language of much of the Welsh literature (Four Tales of the Mabinogi, for example) that we have, although the tales themselves are much older.  You can find out about learning it here:

http://www.celt.dias.ie/publications/cat/cat_h.html#H.2

The root of the changes between medieval and modern Welsh lie in what linguists call ‘mutations’, mostly in initial consonents.  This site (http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~klausner/MUT.html) can help with that.

Old Welsh, on the other hand, is different yet again and not readily intelligible to Welsh readers.  This language dates from around 800 AD to the 12th century.   It is important to point out, however, that it is very hard to know if the pronunciation of words changed as much as the writing changed.  We cannot hear people reading these ancient documents out loud.  They may have pronounced words similarly to modern Welsh, but simply spelled the words differently.

Primitive Welsh dates to 550 AD, and derives from what linguists call British, or Brythonic, one of the Celtic insular languges which also includes Breton and Cornish.

http://www.ethnologue.com/show_family.asp?subid=1166-16

This language borrowed heavily from Latin, not surprising since Rome ruled Britain from 43 to 411 AD.   An easy example of this is the Latin word, ‘draco’, which becomes ‘draig’ in Welsh and ‘dragon’ in English.  Many of these words with Latin roots have to do with religion, again not surprising given the use of Latin in the Christian Church:  “Sacramentum” has become sacrafen; “episcopus”, esgob; “ecclesia”, eglwys; “altar”, allor; “Caresima”, Carawys; and so on.”

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15532a.htm

The language spoken by the earliest Britains can only be guessed at as some proto-Brythonic, pre-Celtic language.  The people of Britain, prior to the coming of the Romans, were not literate, so there is no record of them or their history, beyond the material remains uncovered by archaeologists.

standard

Laws of Hywel Dda

Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good) ruled Wales in the early 900s, one of the few Welsh kings to control the entire country. He maintained peace with Wessex, to the point of minting coins in the English city of Chester. His laws were codifications and a consolidation of the common law in Wales at the time (meaning he didn’t create them out of whole cloth), and provided the foundation for Welsh law until the Norman conquest, when many were abrogated by Edward I. A surviving manuscript (from the thirteenth century) is in the National Library of Wales. It was a ‘pocket’ book, designed for lawyers to carry around in their scrip, rather than left on a library shelf.

You can view it here: http://www.llgc.org.uk/?id=lawsofhyweldda

The laws are divisible into several categories:

Laws of the Court
These laws set down the rights of the king and rulers of Wales, their order of precedence, ranks, titles, and obligations. It introduces the concepts of insults and fines, according to whom an offence was given. The law used payment as a form of punishment, rather than death, dismemberment, etc., which the Normans instituted in England in 1066. In that respect, Welsh law was similar to Anglo-Saxon law and it is the system of Saxon and Welsh lawyers, infighting, and suing one another that provided the precedence for the modern English/American system, rather than the feudal Norman one.

Laws of the Country

This category was further divided into laws of women, land law, and surety and contracts. Women had more rights and were of higher status than in many European groups (e.g. Norman). For example, a woman was entitled to compensation if her husband beat her for anything other than: “giving away something which she was not entitled to give away, for being found with another man, or for wishing a blemish on her husband’s beard.” (the final article indicates cultural differences between then and now) She also had the right to divorce him under certain circumstances, including if he was unfaithful to her.  http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/laws_hywel_dda.html

Hywel Dda laws

  • Marriage was considered an agreement, not a holy sacrament.
  • Divorce was permitted by common consent.
  • There was no punishment for theft – if the sole purpose was to stay alive.
  • Illegitimate children received the same rights as legitimate sons and daughters.
  • You were allowed to pick up three things if you found them in the road – a horseshoe, a nail and a penny.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-18784782

Further laws include the consequences for homicide, theft, and fire (usually involving payments to the victim) and setting the ‘value’ of animals, both wild and tame, and for trees, equipment and parts of the human body. “The value of a part of the body was fixed, thus a person causing the king to lose an eye would pay the same as if he had caused a villein to lose an eye.” He would also have to pay sarhad, however, meaning “the payment that was due to a person in the event of an insult or injury, and this varied according to the status of the person concerned, for example the queen or the edling’s sarhad was one third that of the king.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyfraith_Hywel

Welsh law was far more humane than Norman law, which was undoubtedly the reason the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Pecham, told Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales, that the laws were inspired by the devil. He was referring, in particular, to the Welsh law that allowed illegimitate sons to inherit land from their father, provided he acknowledged them.

standard

King Offa of Mercia

Offa of Mercia ruled much of England from 757 AD to 29 July 796.  He was known primarily to history as the man who built–or organized the building of–’Offa’s Dyke’ the earthenwork wall that stretches the length of the border between England and Wales. Unfortunately, though we know the dates of his rule, some of what happened before and after, and the wars we fought, we know little of Offa as a man.

The date that he ruled is very exact for that time period because of the wall and the history surrounding it. He was buried in Bedford and succeeded by his son, Ecgfrith, whom Offa had consecrated as his heir before his death. “According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Ecgfrith died after a reign of only 141 days. A letter written by Alcuin in 797 to a Mercian ealdorman named Osbert makes it apparent that Offa had gone to great lengths to ensure that his son Ecgfrith would succeed him. Alcuin’s opinion is that Ecgfrith “has not died for his own sins; but the vengeance for the blood his father shed to secure the kingdom has reached the son. For you know very well how much blood his father shed to secure the kingdom on his son.”

It is apparent that in addition to Ecgfrith’s consecration in 787, Offa had systematically gone about eliminating his dynastic rivals. This seems to have backfired, in that with Ecgfrith’s death, no close male relatives of Offa or Ecgfrith are recorded, and Coenwulf, Ecgfrith’s successor, was only distantly related to Offa’s line. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offa_of_Mercia

Offa’s rule began as a result of violence:  “Æthelbald, who had ruled Mercia since 716, was assassinated in 757. According to a later continuation of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica (written anonymously after Bede’s death) the king was “treacherously murdered at night by his own bodyguards”, though the reason why is unrecorded. Æthelbald was initially succeeded by Beornred, about whom little is known. The continuation of Bede comments that Beornred “ruled for a little while, and unhappily”, and adds that “the same year, Offa, having put Beornred to flight, sought to gain the kingdom of the Mercians by bloodshed.” It is possible that Offa did not gain the throne until 758, however, since a charter of 789 describes Offa as being in the thirty-first year of his reign.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offa_of_Mercia

“After he gained power, he consolidated bordering the kingdoms Hwicce and Magonsæte into Mercia. Offa was opportunistic, as when the neighboring kingdom of Kent began to experience some political instability, he enforced himself as overlord of Kent and soon ruled the kingdom of Sussex as well. Offa’s kingdom began to threaten the Welsh kingdoms nearby and Offa soon went to war.

Offa built a series of earthen barriers, or dykes, as fortifications for his units in their war against Wales. It was built in such a way that the Welsh kingdoms would have to charge through a ditch, and then up a hill to gain access to the Mercian soldiers. This put the Welsh soldiers at a severe disadvantage and the Mercians at a tactical advantage. Today, Offa’s Wall makes up some of the border between Wales and England.”  http://yourdailyhistorylesson.tumblr.com/post/685845808/offa-of-mercia

We have no contemporary Mercian source that chronicles his reign.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has been accused of being biased towards the West Saxons, who wrote it, and in light of the future reign of Alfred the Great.   Nennius, although he died during the reign of Offa’s son, only mentions him in the geneologies.  This could be because of Offa’s conflicts with the Church, either over the split in Archbishoprics between Canterbury and Lichfield (at Offa’s request) or the new date of Easter.  http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Nennius_(DNB00)

standard

Daily Living in the Middle Ages 0

The tapestry to the right is The Triumph of Death, or The 3 Fates, a Flemish tapestry (probably Brussels, ca. 1510-1520), located now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Depected are the three fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who spin, draw out and cut the thread of Life, represent Death in this tapestry, as they triumph over the fallen body of Chastity. This is the third subject in Petrarch’s poem The Triumphs. First, Love triumphs; then Love is overcome by Chastity, Chastity by Death, Death by Fame, Fame by Time and Time by Eternity.

Pretty gloomy, eh?

From a modern perspective, life in the Middle Ages appears not to have a lot to recommend it.  For example, for the majority of women, their lives consisted of unceasing labor, hand-to-mouth existence, a total lack of political representation (although that was not much different than for the majority of men, if they were landless), restrictions of the Catholic Church, societal acceptance of physical abuse, and the very real possibility in dying in childbirth at a young age.

For men, it wasn’t much different, substituting dying in battle for childbirth and you aren’t far off.  Both men and women died of illness and infection, such that the median lifespan during this time was in the middle forties.

But people did live then.  They raised their children, they cared for one another, and it does seem from what has been passed down to us, that they found beauty and pleasure in their lives.

Digging deeper into history, there is far more going on there than simply than the Hobbesian  “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.  (This quote, by the way, has been taken out of context for most of its life.  Hobbes wasn’t describing life in the Middle Ages; he was explaining what life would be life without a strong monarchy.  In his opinion, absolute monarchy was a way to avoid the war of ‘man against man’.)

While a strong central government in England, led by Edward I in the 13th century, did have some affect on averting war within the nation, it led to more wars against other nations, and in Wales in particular, a far less free and materially wealthy existence.

In fact, if you look at the consequences of the Industrial Revolution in the 17th and 18th centuries, the lives of average people, in terms of nutrition, longevity, cleanliness, etc. were on the whole far, far worse, than their lives would have been as peasants in the Middle Ages.

http://www.medieval-life.net/ has a good series of descriptions about different aspects of life in the Middle Ages. For example:

“Medieval villages consisted of a population comprised of mostly of farmers. Houses, barns sheds, and animal pens clustered around the center of the village, which was surrounded by plowed fields and pastures. Medieval society depended on the village for protection and a majority of people during these centuries called a village home. Most were born, toiled, married, had children and later died within the village, rarely venturing beyond its boundaries.

Common enterprise was the key to a village’s survival. Some villages were temporary, and the society would move on if the land proved infertile or weather made life too difficult. Other villages continued to exist for centuries. Every village had a lord, even if he didn’t make it his permanent residence, and after the 1100′s castles often dominated the village landscape. Medieval Europeans may have been unclear of their country’s boundaries, but they knew every stone, tree, road and stream of their village. Neighboring villages would parley to set boundaries that would be set out in village charters.

Medieval peasants were either classified as free men or as “villeins,” those who owed heavy labor service to a lord, were bound to the land, and subject to feudal dues. Village life was busy for both classes, and for women as well as men. Much of this harsh life was lived outdoors, wearing simple dress and subsisting on a meager diet.

Village life would change from outside influences with market pressures and new landlords. As the centuries passed, more and more found themselves drawn to larger cities. Yet modern Europe owes much to these early medieval villages.”

http://www.learner.org/interactives/middleages/feudal.html is another good site. Much of this is oversimplified and specifically related to the Feudal system, which was not uniform across Europe. The differences between what went on in France verses Wales, for example, are very great.

Welsh people were not farmers but herders, had fewer villages, and land ownership was more egalitarian:

“Wales in the Age of the Princes was not a primitive society.

There were three main social groups: the uchelwyr - the upper class, thebonheddwyr - the freemen and the taeogion - the unfree peasants. Each group had its role in society.

The taeogion (villeins) lived in compact villages in the fertile lowlands. Organised by the maer y biswail (the mayor of the dunghill), they supplied the needs of the princely court. They also had to do farm work for the prince each year. Tied to the land, they could not leave their own village. Their arable crops were vital for Wales. Edward I realised this and, in his 1277 invasion, his forces quickly took Anglesey and seized the grain harvest.

The lowlands were linked to the hills economically. Farming communities moved from the hendref, their main settlement in the lowlands, to the hafodwith its upland pastures each summer. The upland farmers were generally bonheddwyr (freemen) who lived in kinship groups, each looking after its owngwely (clan land). They performed military service for the prince, but did not do menial tasks like the taeogion. The upland farms were also vital to Wales. They enabled the Welsh to keep their economic and political independence when the Marcher lords occupied the fertile lowlands.

While the traditional view is that the Welsh were not an urban people, over 80 towns were established in the period 1100-1300. Towns did develop more in the Marcher lordships because these areas were richer, but the Welsh princes also encouraged the development of towns, often near their castles. Trade increased in tandem with these new towns and Wales exported primary goods like cattle, skins, fleeces and cheese. Imports included necessities like salt, wheat and iron, but reliance on these imports would be a weakness against an aggressive King of England.”  http://www.wrexham.gov.uk/english/heritage/medieval_exhibition/life_in_wales.htm

 

standard

The Irish 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.

http://archaeology.suite101.com/article.cfm/archaeology_and_the_celts

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.

http://www.knowth.com/the-celts.htm

The links between Wales and Ireland continued to hold through the Roman conquest and the years after.  There is strong evidence of a continued Irish presence in Wales, particularly on the west coast of Wales.  The rulers of Dyfed were of Irish descent into the 7th century–and there is also evidence of repeated raids from Ireland to Wales.

According to Thomas:

“… both Irish and Welsh sources portrayed it as a tribal migration of the Irish Dessi or Deisi headed by their own king and, from the Irish viewpoint, a suitable ‘expulsion’ saga was adduced. The direct line of Irish rulers of Welsh Dyfed went on into the 7th and 8th centuries. An interesting mix arose; by 400 Irish and British were fully differing languages, and additionally Christians from both nations used different scripts (Latin and Ogham) for their memorials. Irish never replaced British in Wales the way it did in Scotland, but relative numerical strengths do not necessarily explain why; less obvious factors could be involved.”

http://www.islandguide.co.uk/history/ogham.htm

Within Welsh mythology, the Irish play a significant role as well.  Taliesin sings of himself:  I have been with Bran in Ireland.  This is in reference to the tale of Bran the Blessed who obtains a magical cauldron from Cerridwen (in disguise as a giantess).  She had been expelled from a lake in Ireland. The cauldron can resurrect the corpse of dead warriors placed inside it (this scene is believed to be depicted on the  Gundestrup cauldron):

http://www.unc.edu/celtic/catalogue/Gundestrup/kauldron.html.

Bran gives his sister Branwen and her new husband Matholwch — the King of Ireland, and not to be confused with Math ap Mathonwy, the King of Gwynedd – the cauldron as a wedding gift, but when war breaks out Bran sets out to take the valuable gift back. He is accompanied by a band of a loyal knights with him, but only seven return home.   A similar tale is told in Taliesin’s poem, the Spoils of Annwn about King Arthur’s descent to the Underworld.

In the Middle Ages, there was much back and forth between the rulers of Wales and the rulers of Ireland.   Not only did they share ancestry and blood, but retreated one to the other at various times when they were driven out of their own kingdom (in the case of Gwynedd, due to usurpers or the Normans). In one specific case, Owain Gwynedd’s father, Gruffydd ap Cynan, claimed ancestry to both the Norse kingdom of Dublin and to the Celtic High Kings of Ireland:

“According to the Life of Gruffudd ap Cynan, Gruffudd was born in Dublin and reared near Swords, County Dublin in Ireland. He was the son of a Welsh Prince, Cynan ap Iago, who was a claimant to the Kingship of Gwynedd but was probably never king of Gwynedd, though his father, Gruffudd’s grandfather, Iago ab Idwal ap Meurig had ruled Gwynedd from 1023 to 1039. When Gruffudd first appeared on the scene in Wales the Welsh annals several times refer to him as “grandson of Iago” rather than the more usual “son of Cynan”, indicating that his father was little known in Wales. Cynan ap Iago seems to have died while Gruffudd was still young, since the History describes his mother telling him who his father was.

Gruffudd’s mother Ragnhild was the daughter of Olaf of Dublin, son of King Sigtrygg Silkbeard and a member of the Hiberno-Norse Uí Ímhair dynasty.[1] Through his mother, who appears in the list of the fair women of Ireland in the Book of Leinster, Gruffudd claimed relationships with many of the leading septs in Ireland. His great-great grandparents on his mother’s side include the High King of Ireland, Brian Bóruma, and the King of Dublin and King of Northumbria, Olaf Cuarán, and Gormflaith.[1]

During his many struggles to gain the kingship of Gwynedd, Gruffudd received considerable aid from Ireland, both from the Hiberno-Norse at Dublin, but also those at Wexford, and also from Muircheartach Ua Briain.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gruffudd_ap_Cynan

standard

Mt. Snowdon 0

Mt. Snowdon at 4 pm 1/14

Mt. Snowdon, or Yr Wyddfa in Welsh, is the largest mountain in Wales, at 3560 feet and one of the wettest, receiving upwards of 180 inches of precipitation (from the picture, not just rain). It is a focal point of much of the culture of Gwynedd in the Dark Ages. In the Welsh version of the Arthurian tales, Arthur sleeps in a cave in the mountain, to one day rise again and lead his people to victory against their enemies. ‘Snowdon’ comes from the Saxon words ‘snow dun’, meaning ‘snowy hill’, but the Welsh word ‘Yr Wyddfa’ means ‘the tomb’.

Cadair Idris, a southern mountain in the Snowdonia range, translates to “Arthur’s Chair”, while Dinas Emrys, where Myrddin prophecied about the red and white dragons, rests on Snowdon’s south-western flank.

Some modern pagans have a theory about ‘ley’ lines: hypothetical alignments of points of geographical interest, said to resonate psychical or mystical energy. Wales, unsurprising given its druid past, is chock full of possible relationships between standing stones and stone circles, other significant points on the landscape, and Mt. Snowdon.

Llywelyn ap Iowerth (Llywelyn Fawr), who ruled wales until 1240 AD, styled himself “Prince of Aberffraw and Lord of Snowdon”, calling upon his ancestry and line of the house of Aberffraw from which he was descended. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd referred to himself as: “the Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdon” in his dealings with the English, which King Henry confirmed in 1267.

The picture above was taken from the Snowdon webcam, which from my time zone is almost always dark (though not currently at 6:03 am PST!). Check it out yourself!:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/northwest/sites/webcams/pages/snowdon.shtml

standard

Historical Sources for King Arthur

Cold My Heart at AmazonHistorians are not in agreement as to whether or not the ‘real’ Arthur—the living, breathing, fighting human being—ever existed. The original sources for the legend of King Arthur come from a few Welsh texts. These are:

1) Y Goddodin—a Welsh poem by the 7th century poet, Aneirin, with it’s passing mention of Arthur. The author refers to the battle of Catraeth, fought around AD 600 and describes a warrior who “fed black ravens on the ramparts of a fortress, though he was no Arthur”.  http://www.missgien.net/celtic/gododdin/poem.html

2) Gildas, a 6th century British cleric who wrote De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain). He never mentions Arthur, although he states that his own birth was in the year of the siege of Mount Badon. The fact that he does not mention Arthur, and yet is our only historian of the 6th century, is an example of why many historians suspect that King Arthur never existed.   http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/gildas.html

3) Taliesin, a 6th century poet, to whom The Spoils of Annwn, is ascribed.  This poem is only one of several in which he mentions Arthur.  http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/t30.html

4)  Nennius – “History of the Britons” (Historia Brittonum, c. 829-30)
“Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror.”  http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/nennius-full.html

5) Native Welsh Tales: These connected works of Welsh mythology were named the Mabinogion in the 19th century by their first translator, Lady Charlotte Guest.  These include the story of Culhwch and Olwen, in which Arthur and his men track down the thirteen treasures of Britain, and The Dream of Rhonabwy.  These stories are found in the Red Book of Hergest and/or the White Book of Rhydderch, both copied in the mid-14th century.   http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/index_welsh.html

6) The Annales Cambriae. This book is a Welsh chronicle compiled no later than the 10th century AD. It consists of a series of dates, two of which mention Arthur: “Year 72, The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and three nights and the Britons were victors. Year 93, The Strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut fell.”    The early dates of the above works indicate little or no relation to the later English/French embellishments of Arthur, which Geoffrey of Monmouth popularized.   http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/annalescambriae.html

Later texts that are built on the above works, in chronological order, are:

1) William, Chaplain to Bishop Eudo of Leon – “Legend of St. Goeznovius, preface” (c. 1019)
“In the course of time, the usurping king Vortigern, to buttress the defence of the kingdom of Great Britain which he unrighteously held, summoned warlike men from the land of Saxony and made them his allies in the kingdom. Since they were pagans and of devilish character, lusting by their nature to shed human blood, they drew many evils upon the Britons. Presently their pride was checked for a while through the great Arthur, king of the Britons. They were largely cleared from the island and reduced to subjection. But when this same Arthur, after many victories which he won gloriously in Britain and in Gaul, was summoned at last from human activity, the way was open for the Saxons to go again into the islane, and there was great oppression of the Britons, destruction of churches and persecution of saints. This persecution went on through the times of many kings, Saxons and Britons striving back and forth. In those days, many holy men gave themselves up to martyrdom; others, in conformity to the Gsopel, left the greater Britain which is now the Saxon’s homeland, and sailed across to the lesser Britain [ed. note: Brittany].”.] [ed. note from Brittanica.com: There are enough similarities with Geoffrey's "History" that some have questioned whether Goeznovious might be of later date, i.e. post-Geoffrey. But, unless William's original source, "Ystoria Britannica," is found and proves otherwise, we have to consider the possibility that Geoffrey may have used Goeznovious as a source.

2) William of Malmesbury - "The Deeds of the Kings of England (De Gestis Regum Anglorum)" (c. 1125)
"When he [ed. note: Vortigern's son, Vortimer] died the strength of the Britons diminished and all hope left them. They would soon have been altogether destroyed if Ambrosius, the sole survivor of the Romans who became king after Vortigern, had not defeated the presumptuous barbarians with the powerful aid of the warlike Arthur. This is that Arthur of whom the trifling of the Britons talks such nonsense even today; a man clearly worthy not to be dreamed of in fallacious fables, but to be proclaimed in veracious histories, as one who long sustained his tottering country, and gave the shattered minds of his fellow citizens an edge for war.

3) Henry of Huntingdon – “History of the English” (Historia Anglorum, c. 1130)
“The valiant Arthur, who was at that time the commander of the soldiers and kings of Britain, fought against [the invaders] invincibly. Twelve times he led in battle. Twelve times was he victorious in battle. The twelfth and hardest battle that Arthur fought against the Saxons was on Mount Badon, where 440 of his men died in the attack that day, and no Briton stayed to support him, the Lord alone strengthening him.”
http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/historians.html

4) The History of the Kings of Britain, by Geoffrey of Monmouth, dating to the middle 12th century. This is the beginning of the King Arthur legend as we know it. Geoffrey was born in Wales, but worked for his patron, Robert of Gloucester, who was particularly interested in legitimizing the claim of his sister (Matilda) to the English crown. Thus, the confusion of landmarks which moved Arthur from Wales to England proper, and the romanticizing of the tale, including the notion that Britain was originally conquered by Brutus, the son of the Trojan hero Aeneas, and thus Britain was ‘classical’ in origin.

5) Roman y Brut (The Romance of Brutus) is the translation of Geoffrey’s work into Anglo-Norman verse. It takes much of Geoffrey’s story and adds the round table, courtly love, and chivalry, thus transforming Arthur from a Welsh warrior to a medieval, Anglo-French knight.  From this point, the Welsh Arthur is all but lost, and the Anglo/Norman/French ‘King Arthur’ is paramount.

By 1191, the monks of Glastonbury were claiming knowledge of his grave, and soon after, the link between Arthur and the Holy Grail, which Joseph of Arimathea supposedly brought there. By 1225, monks in France had written The Vulgate Cycle, telling of the holy grail from the death of Jesus Christ to the death of Arthur, and included the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere. This story became the standard version used throughout Europe.

One critic stands out, however:  William of Newburgh – “History of English Affairs” (Historia rerum Anglicarum, c. 1198)
“For the purpose of washing out those stains from the character of the Britons, a writer in our times has started up and invented the most ridiculous fictions concerning them, and with unblushing effrontery, extols them far above the Macedonians and Romans. He is called Geoffrey, surnamed Arthur, from having given, in a Latin version, the fabulous exploits of Arthur, drawn from the traditional fictions of the Britons, with additions of his own, and endeavored to dignify them with the name of authentic history.”

[ed. note: Amid the near universal chorus of hosannas heard throughout Europe for Geoffrey of Monmouth and his "History of the Kings of Britain," William of Newburgh stands out as, perhaps, the first and certainly his most ardent critic. In fact, the full preface to his 'History' is taken up with ever-crescendoing criticsm, of which the above quote is only the opening salvo. CLICK HERE to read William of Newburgh's full preface.]   http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/historians.html

standard

What is Mead?

Although the nobility of Wales imported wine from the Roman period, and perhaps before, mead was the primary drink served throughout the country for thousands of years.  Because of the climate, grapes, many fruits, and even grains do not grow well in Wales, though wine production did exist: “Wine has been made in England and Wales since Roman times. By the time of the Norman Conquest vines were grown in a number of vineyards, many of which were attached to monasteries. In fact the Domesday Book (1085-1086) records vineyards in 42 places. The main areas of production at this time were the coastal areas of the southeast, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. From the Middle Ages to the 20th century there was a decline in vineyards and the reasons cited for this have varied. They range from the Black Death that caused the depletion of labour and lead to many landowners renting out land rather than working it themselves, the breaking up of the monasteries in 1536, change in climate and increased volume and quality of wine imports from France.”  http://www.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/food/industry/sectors/alcohol/wine/industry.htm

Mead,  however, was a local product, made in Wales as well as in native cultures throughout the world.  “The first meads were most likely made simply by taking honey and water and letting them ferment with the naturally occurring yeasts found in the honey. Evidence of early meads has been found in Egypt and on the island of Crete, and it was drunk in Greece throughout the Golden Age. In many early cultures, bee goddesses held central roles in the pantheon, and many have postulated that this was because of the intoxicating effects of mead harvested from local bee hives.”  http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-mead.htm

“Despite what most people think, mead is not a kind of beer, as the definition of a beer is an alcoholic beverage made from grains. In Europe beers were made from barley and wheat. In Japan beer is made from rice (this beer is called Sake) and for the ancients of Mesoamerica beer was made from Maize (Corn). Mead is made from water, honey and yeast; as such it is not a beer. Neither is it a ‘wine’ as the sugars involved in fermentation are not derived from fruit.

Mead is mead, an ancient drink much beloved of the Celts and the peoples of Europe during the Middle Ages. For mead brewing, the initial mixture of water, honey and yeast is termed a must and the yeast converts the sugars in honey into alcohol at which point the must becomes mead. It is possible to create different flavors by adding ingredients such as fruit or spices into the Must, or by putting them into the Mead when Fermentation has stopped.”  http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/brewing/mead-recipes.php

Indications that mead was drunk in Wales, along with wine, is found in the Y Goddodin, a 6th century poem by the Welsh poet, Aneiron.   The poem tells of the ill-fated soldiers who were selected by Mynyddog Mwynfawr, the ruler of the Gododdin, for the battle.  While they prepare, Mynyddog housed and feasted the men with food and mead.  In addition, there are also other references in early historic poetry to ‘talu medd’ – payment of mead, in which soldiers became obliged to fight for the leader of the battle in order to repay his hospitality.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/arts/sites/early-welsh-literature/pages/aneirin.shtml

Although I don’t drink myself and don’t want to encourage it, for educational purposes, a recipe for mead can be found here:  http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/brewing/fetch-recipe.php?rid=basic-mead-brewing

standard

Conquest of Ynys Mon (Anglesey) in the Dark and Middle Ages

Of all the places in north Wales/Gwynedd, the name for Ynys Mon was deliberately changed by the English/Norman invaders, but it belies the fact that Ynys Mon remains resolutely Welsh, with 7 out of 10 residents speaking Welsh.  Because of its location, the populace suffered greatly over the millenia from foreign invaders, culminating with the wars of 1277 and 1282, when it was conquered as a stepping stone to Eryri, the stronghold of the Welsh princes.  After this last war, Edward deliberately razed much that was Welsh to the ground, including Llanfaes Abbey, the gravesite of Princesses Joanna and Elinor and built Beaumaris over the top of it.  In the process, hundreds of Welsh were ‘resettled’ elsewhere and English people brought in.

“Ethnic cleansing is not a new concept. When Edward I reached Llanfaes, he forced all the Welsh people to move to a new village called Newborough. However, the worst effects were felt in the towns of Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris. No Welsh people were permitted in the towns and they were mostly inhabited by the English with a few people from Ireland, Gascony and Savoy. 1,500 hectares around those towns was also cleared of Welsh people in order that the colonists had fields for crops and livestock. The villages of Aberystwyth and Lleweni were similarly cleared of Welsh people.”  http://www.princesofgwynedd.com/drivingtour.asp?pid=3

The name ‘Anglesey’ is in fact a Viking word from the 10th century, indicating that the Vikings were successful enough in their sacking of the island for a place-name to stick, and be adopted later by the English/Normans.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/whatsinaname/sites/videoexplorer/pages/?jumpTo=anglesey

Anglesey has some of the best farmland in Wales, is one of the flatter areas, and is also the driest region of Wales.  Thus, settlement has existed on Anglesey as long as people have lived in Wales.  Prehistoric megaliths scatter the island:  http://www.megalithia.com/overview/anglesey.html

Knowing a good thing when they saw it, the Romans conquered Anglesey in 61 AD but only after defeating Boudica elsewhere:  “The Romans vehemently opposed the Celtic druids, whom they did not see as pious priests, but as ferocious freedom fighters – terrorists. The druids continuously tried to rally the local population to take up the arms against the Romans. The Roman invasion of Britain had set these men on the run, with the centre of the druid cult becoming, or possibly always being Anglesey, which thus, in the first century AD, was the centre of the Celtic religion in Britain.

This situation is confirmed by the Roman historian Tacitus and Emperor Nero, who specifically identified Anglesey as an island that needed to be conquered. Many troops were relocated from other British locations towards Wales in an effort to do so. However, this power vacuum elsewhere resulted in certain insurrections, such as that of Queen Boudica.

Realising the Roman troops could not maintain order and attack Anglesey at the same time, the Empire forsook a final attack on Anglesey – the conquest of Anglesey was insignificant against the loss of London and the rest of Britain. Hence, it is claimed that the Roman general Paulinus tore up Nero’s orders, returned to London via the newly constructed Watling Street, to meet the army that had been scrambled by Queen Boudica, which had left London, in search of a Roman army they could fight. In the end, the battle occurred in Atherstone, Warwickshire, where the Romans attained an easy victory. Enthusiasm lost against well-oiled organisation.

The fact that “druid terrorists” lived in Anglesey meant that in 61 AD, Suetonius Paulinus managed to get his army across the Menai Strait and massacred the druids and burnt their sacred groves. The Romans remained aware, however, that the druids might continue to pose a problem and hence they constructed the fortress of Segontium, present Caernarfon, on the edge of the Menai Strait, to make sure that what little remained of an intact Celtic culture remained on Anglesey – and did not try to seed dissent in “Roman Britain”.

Tacitus wrote how the battle occurred on the coastline of the Menai Strait: “On the coastline, a line of warriors of the opposition was stationed, mainly made up of armed men, amongst them women, with their hair blowing in the wind, while they were carrying torches. Druids were amongst them, shouting terrifying spells, their hands raised towards the heavens, which scared our soldiers so much that their limbs became paralysed. As a result, they remained stationary and were injured. At the end of the battle, the Romans were victorious, and the holy oaks of the druids were destroyed.””

http://www.philipcoppens.com/anglesey.html

After the Romans, came the Irish, the Vikings, the Scots, and the Danes (briefly), but it was strong enough defensibly for the Kings of Gwynedd to seat their court on the west coast at Aberffraw from c.860 AD until c.1170 AD.  No trace remains of that court as the llys was dismantled for the building and maintenance of Edward I’s castle at Beaumaris.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberffraw

 

standard

Marriage in the Medieval Era

“Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild.”  –Welsh proverb

Marriage as we know it now is a new institution.  While ‘love’ (at least among the upper classes) transformed the internal workings of marriage in the modern age, in Wales prior to the Midde Ages, marriage was a contract between two families, with no relationship to the Church or State at all.  Even once the Roman Church got involved, it still had nothing to do with the State.

Probably the change had something to do with taxes.

Regardless, what we know of marriage in medieval Wales comes primarily from the Laws of Hywel Dda (see the footnotes in Wikipedia for the English sources):  “The second part of the laws begins with ‘the laws of women’, for example the rules governing marriage and the division of property if a married couple should separate. The position of women under Welsh law differed significantly to that of their Norman-English contemporaries. A marriage could be established in two basic ways. The normal way was that the woman would be given to a man by her kindred; the abnormal way was that the woman could elope with a man without the consent of her kindred. In this case her kindred could compel her to return if she was still a virgin, but if she was not she could not be compelled to return. If the relationship lasted for seven years she had the same entitlements as if she had been given by her kin.[7]

A number of payments are connected with marriage. Amobr was a fee payable to the woman’s lord on the loss of her virginity, whether on marriage or otherwise. Cowyll was a payment due to the woman from her husband on the morning after the marriage, marking her transition from virgin to married woman. Agweddi was the amount of the common pool of property owned by the couple which was due to the woman if the couple separated before the end of seven years. The total of the agweddi depended on the woman’s status by birth, regardless of the actual size of the common pool of property. If the marriage broke up after the end of seven years, the woman was entitled to half the common pool.[8]

If a woman found her husband with another woman, she was entitled to a payment of six score pence the first time and a pound the second time; on the third occasion she was entitled to divorce him. If the husband had a concubine, the wife was allowed to strike her without having to pay any compensation, even if it resulted in the concubine’s death.[9] A woman could only be beaten by her husband for three things: for giving away something which she was not entitled to give away, for being found with another man or for wishing a blemish on her husband’s beard. If he beat her for any other cause, she was entitled to the payment of sarhad. If the husband found her with another man and beat her, he was not entitled to any further compensation. According to the law, women were not allowed to inherit land. However there were exceptions, even at an early date. A poem dated to the first half of the 11th century is an elegy for Aeddon, a landowner on Anglesey. The poet says that after his death his estate was inherited by four women who had originally been brought to Aeddon’s court as captives after a raid and had found favour with him.[10] The rule for the division of moveable property when one of a married couple died was the same for both sexes. The property was divided into two equal halves, with the surviving partner keeping one half and the dying partner being free to give bequests from the other half.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_law

Furthermore, in the book, Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others (the subtitle based on the fact that the medieval concept of sex was that it was something one person did to another rather than something two people did together), passage pp. 70-71.:

Consent between the parties could create a valid marriage even in the absence of intercourse. However, consent could be given in two different ways, a distinction clarified in the later Middle Ages. Words of present consent–”I take you as my wife”–created a valid marriage immediately. Words of future or conditional consent–”I will take you as my wife,” or “I take you as my husband if my father agrees”–did not. If, however, words of future or conditional consent were followed by sexual intercourse, the marriage immediately became valid; the parties were assumed to have dropped the condition. This meant that a promise of marriage given to seduce a woman into sex–”If you get pregnant, I will marry you”–was not merely enforceable but actually self-fulfilling. (It might or might not be enforceable, depending on whether or not there were witnesses, but according to canon law even if performed without witnesses and an officiant, the marriage was valid; they were married in the eyes of God, even if there was no evidence to convince a church court.)”

Thus, as my daughter pointed out, Meg and Llywelyn in Daughter of Time, were married by medieval canon law, even if they didn’t tell anyone about it.

Stephanie Coontz, in her book “A History of Marriage” writes:  “For most of history it was inconceivable that people would choose their mates on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love and then focus all their sexual, intimate, and altruistic desires on the resulting marriage. In fact, many historians, sociologists, and anthropologists used to think romantic love was a recent Western invention. This is not true. People have always fallen in love, and throughout the ages many couples have loved each other deeply [as evidenced by the acknowledgement of elopement in Welsh law--SW].

But only rarely in history has love been seen as the main reason for getting married. When someone did advocate such a strange belief, it was no laughing matter. Instead, it was considered a serious threat to social order.”  http://www.stephaniecoontz.com/books/marriage/chapter1.htm

John Davies writes:  “The readiness to marry close relations reflected the central role of the bonds of kinship in early Wales.  In the age of Hywel Dda, it was a man’s standing in a network of kindred rather than his standing as the citizen of the state which determined his social status, his economic rights and his legal obligations” (History of Wales, p. 91).

As the Middle Ages progressed, gradually the Church began playing a greater role in marriage throughout Europe, whether in blessing the act or interfering with who could marry whom, although once again, it took longer to gain traction in Wales.  Llywelyn ap Gruffydd married Elinor de Montfort at Worcester Cathedral–and Edward I gave the bride away–but a church marriage was still not common in Wales in 1278.  Even in Europe, “If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married” up until the 16th century.  http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/26/opinion/26coontz.html?_r=2&oref=slogin

standard

Halloween in Wales 0

As I sit here munching candy corn (which my 8 year old declares ‘the best candy’–even better than chocolate), I’m thinking about one of the chapters in Daughter of Time. Near the end of the book, Meg experiences Halloween in Wales.  Except that during the Middle Ages, it was called ‘All Hallow’s Eve’, the day before All Saint’s Day, and it was less about candy and more about a belief in actual spirits.

All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, has its roots in an older, pagan tradition, called Nos Calan Gaeaf , Welsh for Samhain, a Gaelic word meaning ‘Summer’s End’.  This is the most well-known Halloween tradition in Wales.   http://www.controverscial.com/Samhain.htm  The Welsh translation, interestingly, is ‘the first of winter’.

From the National Museum of Wales:  “A pagan holiday dating back to the Iron Age Celts, Samhain was considered to be the Celtic New Year. It was adopted by the Romans as their own festival when they invaded Britain. Many parts of this festival are echoed in our modern Halloween parties.

Jack O lanterns were originally made from turnips and used to guide the dead back to earth, and the Celts also dressed in costumes much as we do today, but they would use animal skins!  The Romans believed that monsters, gods and magic spells were all around them.”  http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/whatson/?event_id=3734

“November 1 was considered the end of the summer period, the date on which the herds were returned from pasture and land tenures were renewed. It was also a time when the souls of those who had died were believed to return to visit their homes. People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their hearth fires for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present. It was in these ways that beings such as witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day. The period was also thought to be favourable for divination on matters such as marriage, health, and death. When the Romans conquered the Celts in the 1st century ad, they added their own festivals of Feralia, commemorating the passing of the dead, and of Pomona, the goddess of the harvest.”  http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/252875/Halloween

“November was also the month of death in the Celtic calendar, where animals were slaughtered to provide meat for winter. Indeed, the Modern Welsh for November Tachwedd literally means ‘The Month of Slaughter’. This often began with a feast on November 1st where pigs were slaughtered (part of this folklore is preserved in the Cymric (Welsh) legend of Arawn and Hafgan, as told in the Mabinogi of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed.”  http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/halloween-recipes.php

With the coming of Christianity, these traditions were converted to blend in more with the Christian calendar and Christian sensibilities. “In 601AD, Pope Gregory made an important directive. He announced that Christian missionaries were to take a new tack when attempting to convert pagans to the Christian religion. Christian missionaries he said, where possible, should incorporate the beliefs, festivals and sacred sites of pagan beliefs into the Christian religion. This directive meant that the important Celtic festival of Samhain had to be marked in a Christian manner.

In the year 609 AD, All Saints Day was officially designated a Church feast, which was celebrated in May and was later moved to November by Pope Gregory in 835 AD. The Christian Church may have intended that people would spend their time praying for the souls of the dead on an important holy day. However, the fact that this was a day off from work gave many people even more of an excuse to celebrate Halloween with more excitement and excess than ever.

In the eleventh century, a further festival was added to the church calendar; All Souls Day on 2 November. The three festivals of All-Hallows Eve, All Saints and All Souls were together known as Hallowmas.” http://suite101.com/article/halloween-in-medieval-times-a71922

“Despite the Church’s success in establishing a Christian foundation for the autumn celebrations, many of the ancient customs and traditions associated with them were still practiced by the population. The carving of gourds and the wearing of costumes and masks to scare away malevolent spirits are typical of the superstitions carried over from these celebrations into the All Hallows Eve observance.

The custom of “trick-or-treating” has its origins in a ritual wherein the elders of a village or town would go from house to house and receive offerings of food and gifts for the souls of dead friends and relatives thought to visit on this night. This practice evolved during the Middle Ages, when beggars would travel from village to village and beg for “soul cakes”. Villagers would offer prayers along with the cakes to those who had died in the past year for their transition to heaven.”  http://www.sharefaith.com/guide/Christian-Holidays/all_hallows_eve.html