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King Stephen

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King Stephen’s reign was full of turmoil because of the conflict between him and King Henry’s daughter, Maud (Matilda).  Both claimed the throne of England and tore the country apart trying to get it.  Maud was supported by her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester (the employer of Geoffrey of Monmouth, see:  http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=341), who couldn’t claim the throne because he was a bastard.  Otherwise, he was the richest and most powerful man in England behind Stephen.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has a very lengthy entry on the time of King Stephen, and (in fact) ends with his death in 1154.  The Chronicle describes the brutality of events and reads, in part: “When King Stephen came to England, he held his council at Oxford; where he seized the Bishop Roger of Sarum, and Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, and the chancellor Roger, his nephew; and threw all into prison till they gave up their castles. When the traitors understood that he was a mild man, and soft, and good, and no justice executed, then did they all wonder. They had done him homage, and sworn oaths, but they no truth maintained. They were all forsworn, and forgetful of their troth; for every rich man built his castles, which they held against him: and they filled the land full of castles. They cruelly oppressed the wretched men of the land with castle-works; and when the castles were made, they filled them with devils and evil men. . . . I neither can, nor may I tell all the wounds and all the pains which they inflicted on wretched men in this land. This lasted the nineteen winters while Stephen was king; and it grew continually worse and worse. . . . To till the ground was to plough the sea: the earth bare no corn, for the land was all laid waste by such deeds; and they said openly, that Christ slept, and his saints.” (James Ingram translation)

“Stephen was the grandson of William the Conqueror and about half-dozen years older than his cousin and rival for the throne, Matilda (daughter of Henry I). After his father’s death in 1102, Stephen was raised by his uncle, Henry I. Henry was genuinely fond of Stephen, and granted his nephew estates on both sides of the English Channel. By 1130, Stephen was the richest man in England and Normandy.

. . . Stephen had promised to recognize his cousin Matilda as lawful heir, but like many of the English/Norman nobles, was unwilling to yield the crown to a woman. He received recognition as king by the papacy through the machinations of his brother Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester, and gathered support from the barons. Matilda was in Anjou at the time of Henry’s death and Stephen, in a rare exhibition of resolve, crossed the Channel and was crowned king by the citizens of London on December 22, 1135.

Stephen’s first few years as king were relatively calm but his character flaws were quickly revealed. Soon after his coronation, two barons each seized a royal castle in different parts of the country; unlike his hot-tempered and vengeful Norman predecessors, Stephen failed to act against the errant barons. Thus began the slow erosion of Stephen’s authority as increasing numbers of barons did little more than honor their basic feudal obligations to the king. Stephen failed to keep law and order as headstrong barons increasingly seized property illegally. He granted huge tracts of land to the Scottish king to end Scottish and Welsh attacks on the frontiers. He succumbed to an unfavorable treaty with Geoffrey of Anjou to end hostilities in Normandy. Stephen’s relationship with the Church also deteriorated: he allowed the Church much judicial latitude (at the cost of royal authority) but alienated the Church by his persecution of Roger, Bishop of Salisbury in 1139. Stephen’s jealous tirade against Roger and his fellow officials seriously disrupted the administration of the realm.

Matilda, biding her time on the continent, decided the time was right to assert her hereditary rights.” With her half-brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester, Matilda invaded England in the fall of 1139. Betwen them, they dominated western England by 1141. “Robert captured Stephen in battle at Lincoln; Stephen’s government collapsed and Matilda was recognized as Queen. The contentious and arrogant Matilda quickly angered the citizens of London and was expelled from the city. Stephen’s forces rallied, captured Robert, and exchanged the Earl for the King. Matilda had been defeated but the succession remained in dispute: Stephen wanted his son Eustace to be named heir, and Matilda wanted her son Henry fitzEmpress to succeed to the crown. Civil war continued until Matilda departed for France in1148. The succession dispute remained an issue, as the virtually independent barons were reluctant to choose sides from fear of losing personal power. The problem of succession was resolved in 1153 when Eustace died and Henry came to England to battle for both his own rights and those of his mother. The two sides finally reached a compromise with the Treaty of Wallingford – Stephen would rule unopposed until his death but the throne would pass to Henry of Anjou.”  http://www.britannia.com/history/monarchs/mon25.html

For Wales, Stephen’s reign allowed some measure of rewnewed sovereignty, most notably under the rule of Owain Gwynedd

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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.   http://www.newarchaeology.com/articles/history_bow_and_arrows.php

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.   http://www.themiddleages.net/longbow.html

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.   http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/cadwagd.html

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 (http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/cymerau/).  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.”   http://robinhode.webs.com/yeomen.htm

“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.”   http://www.archers.org/default.asp?section=History&page=longbow

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.”   http://www.militaryhistory.teamultimedia.com/History%20of%20Weapons/Welsh%20and%20English%20Longbow.html

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.”    http://www.militaryhistory.teamultimedia.com/History%20of%20Weapons/Welsh%20and%20English%20Longbow.html

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

 

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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.

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The Beginning of the Dark Ages in Britain

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The ‘Dark Ages’ were ‘dark’ only because we lack extensive (or in some instances, any) historical material about the period between 407 AD, when the Romans marched away from Britain, and 1066, when William of Normandy conquered England.

TLP blog“Initially, this era took on the term “dark” . . . due to the backward ways and practices that seemed to prevail during this time. Future historians used the term “dark” simply to denote the fact that little was known about this period; there was a paucity of written history. Recent discoveries have apparently altered this perception as many new facts about this time have been uncovered.

The Italian Scholar, Francesco Petrarca called Petrarch, was the first to coin the phrase. He used it to denounce Latin literature of that time; others expanded on this idea to express frustration with the lack of Latin literature during this time or other cultural achievements. While the term dark ages is no longer widely used, it may best be described as Early Middle Ages — the period following the decline of Romein the Western World. The Middle Ages is loosely considered to extend from 400 to 1000 AD.”  http://www.allabouthistory.org/the-dark-ages.htm

For Wales, the time was no more or less bright than any other.  The relative peace the Romans brought was predicated on the brutal subjugation of the British people.  When the Romans left, the Britons faced the Irish from the west, the Scots from the northwest, the Picts from the northeast and ‘Saxons’ (who were Angles and Jutes too, not just ‘Saxons’) from the east.  To a certain degree, it was just more of the same.  The Britons had their lands back—the whole expanse of what is nowWales andEngland—for about five minutes.

From Gildas:

As the Romans went back home, there emerged from the coracles that had carried them across the sea-valleys the foul hordes of Scots and Picts. … They were more confident than usual now that they had learnt of the departure ofthe Romans and the denial of any prospect of their return. So they seized the whole north of the island from its inhabitants, right up to (i.e. as far south as) the wall (presumably Hadrian’s). A force was stationed on the high towers to oppose them, but it was too lazy to fight, and too unwieldy to flee. Meanwhile there was no respite from the barbed spears flung by their naked opponents, which tore our wretched countrymen from the walls and dashed them to the ground.

From contemporary accounts in 411:

Zosimus

They (the barbarians) reduced the inhabitants of Britainand some parts of Gaul to such straits that they revolted from the Roman Empire, no longer submitted to Roman law, but reverted to their native customs. The Britons, therefore, armed themselves and ran many risks to ensure their own safety and free their cities from the attacking barbarians. The whole of Armorica, [Emap (7)] and other Gallic provinces, in imitation of the Britons, freed themselves in the same way, by expelling the Roman magistrates and establishing the government they wanted. The revolt of the provinces ofBritain and Gaul occurred during Constantine’s tyranny because the barbarians took advantage of his careless government. …

Fastidius — letter to a widow in Britain

We see before us many instances of wicked men, the sum of their sins complete, who are being judged at the present moment, and denied this present life no less than the life to come. This is not hard to understand, for in changing times we expect the deaths of magistrates who have lived criminally, for the greater their power, the bolder their sins. … Those who have freely shed the blood of others are now forced to shed their own. … Some lie unburied, food for the beasts and birds of the air. Others have been individually torn limb from limb. Their judgements killed many husbands, widowed many women, orphaned many children, leaving them bare and beggared … for they plundered the property of the men they killed. But now it is their wives who are widowed, their sons who are orphaned, begging their daily bread from strangers.

http://www.cit.griffith.edu.au/~s285238/DECB/DECBbestest.html

It does seem that a ruler named Vortigern invited some Germanic ‘Saxon’ tribes to settle in eastern England, in hopes of creating a buffer zone between the Britons and the relentless invasions fromEurope.  This plan backfired, however, and resulted in the pushing westward of successive waves of ‘Saxon’ groups.  Ultimately, the Britons retreated into Wales, the only portion of land the Saxons were unable to conquer.

From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

445:  In the fourth year of Vortigern’s reign, the English came to Britain.

Bede

449:  The British consulted what was to be done and where they should seek assistance to prevent or repel the cruel and frequent incursions of the northern nations. They all agreed with their king Vortigern to call over to their aid, from the parts beyond the sea, the Saxon nation. … The two first commanders are said to have been Hengist and Horsa.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

449:  Martian and Valentinian assumed the Roman empire(actually in 450) and reigned seven winters. In their days Hengest and Horsa, invited by Vortigern, king of the Britons to his assistance, landed inBritainin a place that is called Ipwinesfleet; at first to help the Britons, but later they fought against them.

Nennius

453:  But Hengest was an experienced man, shrewd and skilful. Sizing up the king’s incompetence, and the military weakness of his people, he held a council, and said to the British king “We are a few; if you wish, we can send home and invite warriors from the fighting men of our country, that the number that fight for you and your people may be larger.” The king ordered it be done, and envoys were sent across the sea, and came back with sixteen keels, with picked warriors in them. In one of the keels came Hengest’s daughter, a beautiful and very handsome girl. When the keels had arrived, Hengest held a banquet for Vortigern, and his men and his interpreter, whose name was Ceretic, and told the girl to serve their wine and spirits. They all got exceedingly drunk. When they were drinking Satan entered Vortigern’s heart and made him love the girl. Through his interpreter he asked her father for her hand, saying “Ask of me what you will, even to the half of my kingdom”.

http://www.cit.griffith.edu.au/~s285238/DECB/DECBbestest.html

It’s important to point out that Welsh literature, language, and culture flourished during the Dark Ages.  Much of the material in the Red Book of Hergest, the White Book of Rhydderch, and the Black Book of Camarthen date to this time.

 

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Was King Arthur real?

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Whether or not King Arthur was a real person is an either/or query.  He either was or he wasn’t.  Many scholars, researchers, and Arthurophile’s have strong opinions on this topic, both for and against.  Because of the paucity of written records (most notably, Gildas fails to mention him), much of the academic work has come down on the side of ‘wasn’t’–or at least if Arthur was a real person, his name was not ‘Arthur’ and he possible wasn’t even a king.  In another blog (here), I list the original sources that posit the existence of King Arthur.

Obviously, since I’ve written a novel about King Arthur, he’s very real to me!

Wikipedia has a remarkably thorough analysis of the subject:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur

For now, I’d like to point to two aspects of the ‘wasn’t’ camp that I find particularly interesting, as they have to do with the development of Welsh myth and the transformation of Wales from a pagan culture to a Christian one.

One theory about King Arthur was that his stories were originally not about him at all, but about Gwydion, one of the sons of Don and a chief character in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi.  In these tales, Gwydion, while evident through much of the Mabinogi, is completely absent from the stories that include Arthur, implying that the ancient poet did a global ‘find and replace’. This theory was originally posited by Sir John Rhys, writing at the end of the 19th century.

The second curious aspect of the development of Arthur, which parallels the Gwydion relationship, is the way in which the character adopted not only the characteristics of Gwydion, but of Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, the last ‘King’ of Wales (died 682 AD).  Included in the books of Taliesin are not only poems about Arthur, but also about Cadwaladr.  It is Cadwaladr whom the Welsh tales describe as sleeping in a cave on Mount Snowdon, and whose return the Welsh await (see my post on The Great Prophecy of Britain).

I would love for Arthur to have been a ‘real’ person, but I find the discovery of the way in which myth becomes ‘real’, as well as the ‘real’ becomes myth fascinating.  It is almost a parallel process:  many scholars of celtic myth believe that the stories of the Don or Tuatha de Dannan (in Ireland) were once ‘real’ to the people who told them, but with the coming of Christianity, their tales were either adopted and transformed into Christian parable, or faded into the realm of fable.  Similarly, Gwydion (a mythic character) or Cadwaladr (a ‘real’ one) might have had their stories blended into the tale of King Arthur–for Gywdion, the stories were sanitized and made palatable for Christian audiences, and for Cadwaladr, his story was submerged into the tale of an already more famous and reknowned hero and thus made more ‘mythic’.

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Santa Claus and the Wild Hunt

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ThorThe origins of Santa Claus, like most Christmas traditions, are rooted in a blend of Christian and pagan traditions.

‘Santa Claus’, as he is currently represented in the United States, most resembles Sinterklaas, the Dutch St. Nicholas. “In the year 303, the Roman emperor Diocletian commanded all the citizens of the Roman Empire, including the citizens of Asia Minor, to worship him as a god. Christians, who believed in only one god, resisted the emperor’s orders and as a result were imprisoned. Saint Nicholas was among the many imprisoned. He was confined for more than five years, until Constantine came to power in 313 AD and released him. Later in life, Saint Nicholas became the Archbishop of Myra and the guardian of merchants, sailors and children.

He performed many good deeds including miracles. It is said that Saint Nicholas stopped storms at sea to save sailors and brought dead children back to life. The legend of Saint Nicholas, who died 6 December around 340, became very popular in the Medieval Ages, when Italian soldiers transported his remains from his burial site in Myra to Italy. In Bari, a small town in Southern Italy, a church was built in Saint Nicholas’ name, and soon Christian pilgrims from all over the world visited the church and took his legend home with them. As the tale of Saint Nicholas spread throughout the world, his character was adapted, taking on characteristics of different countries.”  http://www.expatica.com/nl/lifestyle_leisure/lifestyle/the-sinterklaas-story–117.html

Santa Claus as we know him today in the United States is much more than a Christian gift giver, however. What about the sleigh and reindeer, for example? That’s where the ‘characteristics of different countries’ comes in. When the Germanic tribes were gradually converted to Christianity, the Church had an overt policy of incorporating pagan traditions into Christian ones, which is how we get Christmas in the first place. In Wales, the first day of winter was celebrated on Nov. 1, but many pagan cultures celebrated the solstice (see my post here: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/the-darkest-day-of-the-year/) and thus Jesus’s birth occurred then too, rather than in the spring when it most likely happened.

One adaptation I find fascinating is the writing of The Heliand, the first four books of the Bible in Saxon, except Jesus is turned into a thane and the twelve disciples are his warriors. See it here: http://www.wdl.org/en/item/4107/

Anyway, back to Santa … “One of the most famous and enduring Wild Hunt mythology strands comes from Germanic folklore from Germany, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, recounting how at  Yuletide, Woden or Wotan in the Anglo Saxon tradition or Odin in Scandinavian lands led the Wild Hunt through the heavens. In pre Christian oral traditions it would seem, however, Odin chased wood elves or, sometimes, beautiful maidens at the Midwinter Solstice around December 21, one of the main times the Hunt was seen.  Some accounts say he dropped gifts at the foot of his sacred pine for the faithful, possibly one of the origins of Christmas presents. Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir was the source for the legend of the eight reindeer of Santa Claus. Santa himself was the old Holly King/Odin and Saint Nicholas rolled into one.

When Odin was demonised (he can still be seen in his devilish persona as Black Peter or Black Rupert in St Nicholas Day processions in Europe) Odin’s huntsmen and women became the ungodly dead, who unable to gain admission to heaven, were released from hell to hunt for—what else but souls?”  http://www.cassandraeason.com/folklore_legend/the-wild-hunt.htm

“Long before Christianity spread throughout the world, Pagan rituals and customs were prevalent throughout the lands and there was another whose arrival was long awaited by the inhabitants of northern Germany and Scandinavia – Odin the Wanderer or Wodan, the father of all the gods. Also known as the warrior god, the legends that became part of our Santa tradition were mostly of the benevolent kind. It was Odin who traveled the skies by night on his sled with his eight-legged horse Sleipner bringing gifts of bread for those in need.

According to Viking lore, the northern Germans and Scandinavians celebrated Yule, a pagan religious festival heralding the arrival of the winter solstice from mid-December to early January. During this time, many believed that Odin, disguised in a long blue-hooded cloak, would travel to earth on his eight-legged horse, to observe homesteaders gathered around the campfires to see how content the people were and for those in need of food, he left his gifts of bread and disappeared.

As traditions grew over time, the children of these lands would anticipate the arrival of gift-bearing Odin and would fill their boots with straw, carrots or sugar and place them near the fireplace so that Sleipnir could come down to eat during his midnight rides. Odin would then reward these kind children by replacing the food with gifts and candy treats inside the boots.”  http://www.examiner.com/article/christmas-traditions-europe-odin-and-the-celebration-of-yule

And now we have Santa visiting children on Christmas Day.

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The Battle of Cymerau

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Footsteps in TimeThe fortunes of the Welsh ebbed and flowed in the 13th century, but between 1255 (the Battle of Bryn Derwin when Llywelyn defeated his brothers, Dafydd and Owain) and 1277, they were on the rise.

One of the first important battles was that of Cymerau.

In September of 1256, Stephen Bauzan, Prince Edward’s officer in south-west Wales, brought a substantial force of men to Ystrad Tywi, located in the northern portion of Deheubarth at the base of the Cambrian Mountains.

Thus, on the eve of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s advance into Perfeddwlad, a force was arraigned against Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg, the Welsh lord of those lands. Llywelyn and Maredudd, eyeing each other with mutual concern about their own power and authority, struck an alliance, and perhaps this is the true impetus for Llywelyn’s foray east of the Conwy River. After he took all of Gwynedd under his control, he swept south, taking over all of Wales from the Dee River to the Dyfi, and then turning southwest towards Ystrad Tywi and taking all those lands for Maredudd.

Then, Llywelyn turned back east and drove towards Welshpool, through the lands of Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn in Powys. Further south, he took lands from Roger Mortimer, including Builth, initiating a lifelong animosity between the two men.  Llywelyn found himself in possession of almost the whole of Wales and the chroniclers realized he was cut from the same cloth as the great Kings of Wales who preceded him.  They began to speak of him in the same breath as his grandfather, Llywelyn Fawr.

All this activity forced Prince Edward to engage his Marcher barons–Mortimer, Bohun, Lestrange, Valence–none of whom was enthused about the idea of challenging Llywelyn. Edward was also short of funds. But he had no choice but to attempt a counter measure and try to wrest back some of the lands that Llywelyn had taken from him.

At Edward’s behest, Bauzan again set out (hard to see why Edward entrusted this mission with him, given the disaster of the previous year, but he did).  On 31 May 1257, he reached Llandeilo Fawr and camped. During the night, Maredudd ap Owain and Maredudd ap Rhys drew their forces close.  At dawn, they attacked in a shower of lances and arrows. For two days, the English cowered under the onslaught. Rhys Fychan, an ally of Edward and Prince Llywelyn’s nephew, who’d encouraged the whole endeavor, slipped away and made for Dinefwr.  This was the Welsh court of Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg, to which he thereby transferred his allegiance.

The next day, the English attempted to retreat to Cardigan, but at Coed Llathen the force lost many of its supplies.  Then, at Cymerau, the Welsh and English forces met openly on a battlefield. The Welsh so routed the English that 3000 men were recorded as having fallen.  It was an embarrassing and epic defeat for Edward.  Unfortunately for Llywelyn, his alliance with Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg was irrepairably damaged by his acceptance of Rhys Fychan back into the fold, and Maredudd defected again to the king before the year was out.

These details come from:

Marc Morris, A Great and Terrible King, Edward I and the Forging of Britain.

J. Beverley Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.

And Wikipedia has a great description here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cadfan#The_Battle_of_Cymerau

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Welsh Surnames

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It is a standing joke among people who know Wales that there are only a handful of Welsh surnames (last names), consisting primarily of Jones, Evans, Roberts, Thomas, Williams, and Davies. Among English speakers, these last names are clearly derived from first names. Why is that? Why don’t the Welsh have the huge variety of surnames like the English do?

The answer lies in the moment that the Welsh switched from the patronymic system of names (Sarah ferch Ronald; Carew ap Daniel) where a child’s name contained a first name, then ‘son of’ or ‘daughter of’, and then their father’s name, to a system where everyone in the family had the same surname.

In England, this transition occurred soon after the Norman conquest of 1066.

“Before the Norman Conquest of Britain, people did not have hereditary surnames: they were known just by a personal name or nickname.

When communities were small each person was identifiable by a single name, but as the population increased, it gradually became necessary to identify people further – leading to names such as John the butcher, William the short, Henry from Sutton, Mary of the wood, Roger son of Richard. Over time many names became corrupted and their original meaning is now not easily seen.

After 1066, the Norman barons introduced surnames into England, and the practice gradually spread. Initially, the identifying names were changed or dropped at will, but eventually they began to stick and to get passed on. So trades, nicknames, places of origin, and fathers’ names became fixed surnames -names such as Fletcher and SmithRedhead and SwiftGreen and PickeringWilkins and Johnson. By 1400 most English families, and those from Lowland Scotland, had adopted the use of hereditary surnames.”  http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/familyhistory/get_started/surnames_01.shtml

In Wales, this process didn’t begin until after the Norman conquest of 1282. Sometimes a long time after: “In 1292, 48 per cent of Welsh names were patronymics, and in some parishes over 70 per cent …” The key is to understanding Welsh names is that “the stock of Welsh surnames is very small … attributable to the reduction in the variety of baptismal names after the Protestant Reformation.”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_surnames

Martin Luther posted his ‘Ninety-five Theses’ in 1517. This page details how the reformation took hold in Wales on a larger scale than in Ireland and other regions of the UK. http://www.tudors.org/as-a2-level/wales-and-the-reformation/

It’s a strange progression to go from religious reformation to everyone in Wales having the last name ‘Evans’!

By contrast, there was a much greater variety of names in Wales in the thirteenth century and earlier.  http://heraldry.sca.org/names/welsh13.html

In comparison, among the English, the tradition of surnames was well established by the 13th century. From the subsidy rolls of 1292, everyone has a surname. “The largest group is formed by local surnames, those derived from place-names. Out of some 800 taxpayers no less than about 350 have names of this type …

Surnames of relationship derived from font-names number about 65, but some are more or less uncertain. Nearly all consist simply of a font-name, as (Reinaud) Abel, (Robert) Baudri, (William) Reyner. The only exceptions are (John) le fiz Michel, (William) fil. Marie. The last is the only indubitable case of a surname having been derived from a woman’s name, but a possible case is (Katherine) Swote. Most of these surnames, were probably patronymic or inherited. But it was common in early London for apprentices to take their master’s surname, or sometimes his font-name, for a surname. A certain case of the latter kind is (Ralph) Miles (Bridge), but probable ones are (Walter)Milis, (Richard) Pentecoste (Bridge), (Geoffrey) Fouq‘ (Walbr), (Richard) Wolmer (Bill).

The remaining surnames are mostly by-names or nicknames. About 130 persons have such names. There are a number of personal appellations, as the English Barn, Brother, Langman, Molling, Shailard, the French Bacheler, Cosin, le Fount, Galopin, Palmere, the German Winterman, perhaps Junkur; names of animals, English such asBulloc, Hog; Bunding, Pecoc; Burbat, Hering; Fros; the French Louet, Motun; Hairon, Partrys; various concrete words such as the English Fot (possibly a font-name), Gut, Heued; Cope, Hod, Punge; Box; Cros, Horn, Knotte; the French Oingnon, Pointel; abstract words, as possibly Leyk, May.

A good many surnames are derived from adjectives, mostly English, as Brun, Dreye, Dun, Flinthard, Gode, Grete, (le) Long (Lung), le Rede, Saly, Scharp, Skelfol, pwrgode, le Wyte, but some French, as (leBlund, Curteys, le Gay, Hauteyn, la Jouene, le Megre, le Rous, le Simple, Sotel. Bahuvrihi formations are the English Godchep, Hauekeseye, Langpurce, Lythfot, perhaps Capriht, Trigold, the French Deusmars, Trenmars. Skipop is a formation of the type Shakespeare.”  http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=31906#s2

 

 

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King Owain Gwynedd

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The Good KnightOwain was born Owain ap Gruffydd around 1100 AD, the second son of Gruffydd ap Cynan.  Owain ruled from 1137 to 1170 AD.   His rule was marked by peace initially, at least with England, as Owain took advantage of the strife in England between Stephen and Maud for the English throne to consolidate his power in Wales.  That conflict lasted for 19 years (http://www.britainexpress.com/wales/history/owain-gwynedd.htm), finally resolving in the rule by Stephen but with the inheritance of the throne upon his death by Maud’s son, Henry.

Owain “married, firstly, Gwladys, the daughter of Llywarch ap Trahaearn; and secondly, Christina, his cousin, the daughter of Goronwy ap Owain ‘the Traitor,’ Lord of Tegeingle, to whom he remained constant despite the active disapproval of the Church.” He had many sons and daughters, not all of whom are documented.  http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/owaingd.html

His first  relationship was with a woman named Pyfog, of Ireland, by whom he had two sons:  Rhun and Hywel.  Rhun, a most favored son, died in 1147.

“As a young man in the 1120s, Owain was largely associated with his elder brother, Cadwallon, in restoring Gwynedd’s prosperity on behalf of their ageing father. Together, they directed the military campaigns which added Meirionydd, Rhos, Rhufoniog and Dyffryn Clwyd to Gwynedd proper. Thus, at his accession to the throne, upon Gruffudd’s death in 1137 – Cadwallon having died five years earlier – the groundwork for an impressive career had already been firmly set.”  http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/owaingd.html

Owain did have to deal with his younger brother, Cadwaladr.  As with Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in the 13th century, Owain, as the second son, was a charismatic and strong ruler (and, apparently, fair).  His younger brother, Cadwaladr, had somewhat less honor and although the two split Gwynedd between them upon their father’s death, in 1143 Cadwaladr was implicated in the murder of Anarawd ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth.  Owain responded by sending his son, Hywel, to strip him of his lands in the north of Ceredigion and banished Cadwaladr to Ireland.

In response, Cadwaladr returned to Wales at the head of an army of mercenaries (this is the subject of Ellis Peter’s 20th Cadfael chronicle, The Summer of the Danes and my work in progress The Good Knight), to the extreme displeasure of his brother.  Cadwaladr was driven into permanent exile in 1155 AD.

Back to King Henry.  He gained power in 1154, ruling as Henry II.  In 1157, he attacked Wales.  His goal, as was generally the case for the English kings, was to force Owain to give up some of the lands he had gained at English expense, particularly in Powys, and to force Wales into the status of ‘dependent’ state, instead of ‘client’ state—an important difference in the eyes of both the Welsh and the English.

Henry II was, for the most part, not successful.  Other than an initial stalemate, Owain continued to rule Wales as he saw fit, and left a consolidated country for his heirs when he died in 1170.  Gwynedd was split among Owain’s many sons.  For problems with the succession, see http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=770

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The Revolt of 1136

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Warfare was nearly constant in Wales both before and after the Norman conquest.  Of course, the Normans didn’t actually conquer Wales–only parts of it–until the final defeat of Llywelyn in 1282.

In the years since 1066, however, the native Welsh princes and kings had lost out to the conquering Normans.  Deheubarth, the southwestern region of Wales, was flatter and more accessible than the northern areas, and had been of particular interest to the conquerers.  They had successfully overrun much of it by 1136, but in that year, the time was ripe for rebellion:

“By 1136 an opportunity arose for the Welsh to recover lands lost to the Marcher lords when Stephen de Blois displaced his cousin Empress Matilda from succeeding her father to the English throne the prior year, sparking the Anarchy in England.

The usurption and conflict it caused eroded central authority in England. The revolt began in south Wales, as Hywel ap Maredudd, lord of Brycheiniog (Brecknockshire), gathered his men and marched to the Gower, defeating the Norman and English colonists there at the Battle of Llwchwr.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwenllian_ferch_Gruffydd

One of the lords of Deheubarth, Gruffydd ap Rhys, saw an opportunity to regain what he’d lost in the last few years and journeyed to meet with Gruffydd ap Cynan of Gwynedd, his father-in-law, to enlist his aid in the revolt.

Gruffydd ap Rhys left his wife, Gwenllian (Gruffydd ap Cynan’s daughter), at home to hold the fort (so to speak).

But Maurice of London and other Normans took Gruffydd’s absence as an opportunity to lead raids against the Welsh. Needing to defend her lands, Gwenllian raised an army, which was then routed near Kidwelly Castle.  The Normans captured Gwenllian and beheaded her.  Two of her sons, Morgan and Maelgwyn, also died (one slain in battle, one captured and executed).

When the two Gruffydds heard about Gwenllian’s death and the revolt it inspired in Gwent, Gwenllian’s brothers, Owain and Cadwaladr, invaded Deheubarth, taking Llanfihangel, Aberystwyth, and Llanbadarn.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwenllian_ferch_Gruffydd

Following these events, the Battle of Crug Mawr occurred in October, 1136.  “At Crug Mawr, two miles outside Cardigan, the Welsh forces were confronted by Norman troops drawn from all the lordships of South Wales. The Normans were led by Robert fitz Martin, lord of Cemais; Robert fitz Stephen, constable of Cardigan Castle; and William and Maurice fitz Gerald, uncles of Gerald of Windsor.

After some hard fighting, the Norman forces were put to flight and pursued as far as the River Teifi. Many of the fugitives tried to cross the bridge, which broke under the weight, with hundreds said to have drowned, clogging the river with the bodies of men and horses. Others fled to the town of Cardigan, which however was taken and burned by the Welsh though Robert fitz Martin successfully managed to defend and hold the castle; it was the only one to remain in Norman hands at the end of the rebellion.”  http://en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/1530079

Unfortunately, both Gruffydd ap Rhys (of Deheubarth) and Gruffydd ap Cynan (of Gwynedd) died in 1137, the former in battle or otherwise irregular circumstances, and the latter of old age.  Anarawd succeeded to his father in Deheubarth and Owain to Gwynedd.

The Chronicle of the Princes (the Red Book of Hergest) has this to say:

“And after joining battle, with cruel fighting on every side, the Flemings and the Normans took to flight, according to their usual custom. And after some of them had been killed, and others burned, aand the limbs of the horses of others broken/ and others taken captive, and the greater part, like fools, drowned in the river, and after losing about three thousand of their men, they returned exceedingly sorrowful to their country. After that, Owain and Cadwalader returned, happy and rejoicing, to their country, having obtained the victory honourably/ with an immense number of prisoners, and spoils, and costly garments and arms.”

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Simon de Montfort

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Simon de Montfort led a rebellion, successful for a time, against King Henry III of England, and paid the ultimate price at the battle of Evesham, falling in defeat to the forces of Edward (at the time, Prince of England).

“Simon de Montfort was born in France in about 1208. His father was a large landowner, but when he died he left his land to Simon’s older brother Amaury. The de Montfort family had owned land in England in the past and Amaury suggested that Montfort should visit Henry III in to see if the land could be reclaimed.

Montfort arrived in England in 1230. Henry liked Simon, was sympathetic to his claim and gave him back his family lands. The king also agreed that Montfort should become the new earl of Leicester. In return, Montfort promised to pay a fee of £100 and to supply sixty knights in time of war.

The new earl of Leicester also agreed to become the king’s steward, which involved him in organizing ceremonial functions. This pleased Montfort as it enabled him to meet most of the rich and influential people in England. As he was short of money Montfort hoped that this would help him to meet a rich widow.”  http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/NORmontfort.htm

Simon married King Henry’s sister–a scandal at the time since the King opposed the marriage and she was the richest widow in England.

“What instigated the rebellion of 1258? Henry had been king for forty-two years, and had proven himself to be a very poor ruler. He was wholly incompetent, a poor governor, resisted Magna Carta, and repeatedly denied the barons their rightful position as his counselors. The rebellion of the barons against Henry was not instigated by Simon alone. At the beginning of the baronial movement, Simon was merely one of many dissatisfied barons, and could hardly have been regarded as their “leader.” As a result, no strictly contemporary account casts Simon as the sole leader, or even as one of the more prominent leaders in 1258. 

While Simon was one of the sworn signers of the 12 April Confederacy, which began the revolutionary movement, he was also one of the twenty-four authors of the Provisions of Oxford, a member of the fifteen-man privy council, and sat on other committees, as too did the earls of Gloucester, Hereford, and Norfolk, Roger Mortimer, John fitz Geoffrey, Peter de Montfort, and the Bishop of Worcester. . . .

“As 1263 began, the barons grew increasingly dissatisfied with Henry and his “leadership.” As in 1261, a large number of barons organized and approached Simon, asking for his support in a rebellion. He was reluctant to join, but did so at the request of Gilbert de Clare, son of the deceased Richard of Gloucester. The barons’ disgust soon turned to rage, with Louis IX of France’s issuance of the Mise of Amiens. Louis had been cast in the role of arbitrator of the dispute between Henry and Simon over the Provisions of Oxford. As was to be expected, Louis sided with Henry, and “freed him from obedience to the Provisions, which, (he) stated, ran directly against the holy and royal rights of kingship.” The Mise of Amiens proved to be the spark needed to begin the Battle of Lewes. With this battle, Henry’s forces were defeated, he was imprisoned, and his son and heir to the throne, Edward, was taken hostage to ensure Henry’s good behavior. After the battle, Simon became the de facto head of the English government.  Simon ruled England in Henry’s name for the next fifteen months.” http://www.triviumpublishing.com/articles/simondemontfort.html

Montfort recognized Llywelyn ap Gruffydd as the Prince of Wales in 1265 and held him enough of a friend to offer Llywelyn his daughter in marriage, but he’d been unlucky in battle, and in the end, the rising star of Prince Edward couldn’t be stopped.   Edward, who’d actually joined the barons against his father back in 1259 had switched back before the armed conflict began, and now took advantage of the barons’ weakness and pugnacity.  By the end, he convinced all but a very few to come over to his side, whether with cajolery, righteous anger, or outright bribes.

The last battle at Evesham is described in detail here:  http://www.simondemontfort.org/battle_of_evesham.htm

and with the map here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/herefordandworcester/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8364000/8364476.stm

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Wales and Scotland: War, Rebellion, and Edward I

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Footsteps in TimeEdward had his eyes on Wales for thirty years, ever since Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s forces had swept through his lands (held custodially by Edward’s parents and guardians) in 1256.   (see my post:  http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/the-rising-of-1256/)  Llywelyn’s army marched all the way to Deheubarth that summer and fall, and set the stage of Llywelyn’s twenty year supremacy in Wales.  However, it wasn’t until 1267 that Edward’s father, Henry III, acknowledged Llywelyn as the Prince of Wales, a title he inherited from his grandfather–and another ten years after that before things fell apart for the Welsh prince.  http://www.castlewales.com/llywel2.html

Edward participated in the Ninth Crusade (see my post: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/the-ninth-crusade/) and despite the fact that his father died in 1272, he didn’t return to England until 1274, at which point he immediately turned a covetous eye on Wales.  Why Wales instead of Scotland?  It seems likely that Wales looked the easier target.  Scotland had always been a separate kingdom, whereas Wales had fallen under the jurisdiction of England as a principality since the turn of the 13th century.  Thus, invading Scotland meant attacking the rule of a reigning monarch; attacking Wales meant reining in a rebellious prince–a different matter entirely.  In addition, in the winter of 1274, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Llywelyn’s brother, conspired to assassinate Llywelyn and only a sudden snowstorm averted the attack.  Dafydd, a long time friend of Edward from childhood, fled to England, and to Edward.  Perhaps Edward believed if he unseated Llywelyn, he’d have a malleable prince in Dafydd.

For Scotland’s part, when King Alexander III of Scotland married Margaret of England in 1251 (Henry III’s daughter), Henry had tried to insist that Alexander give homage to him.  Alexander refused.  By 1261, at the age of 21, Alexander was well on his way to having as grand a plans for Scotland as Llywelyn had for Wales. He maintained a firm grip on power until his death in 1286.  http://www.rampantscotland.com/famous/blfamalexander3.htm

By then, Llywelyn had been murdered (in 1282) and Wales had fallen finally, and permanently, to Edward.   Subsequently, in 1283, Edward hanged, drew, and quartered Dafydd, the first man of standing to die such a heinous death.  Edward inflicted the same death on William Wallace in 1305.

Exiles in TimeWith King Alexander’s death, Edward saw Scotland as ripe for picking.  With no obvious heir (all of Alexander’s children had died by 1284), only a granddaughter, Margaret, remained.   When she died in 1290, upwards of fourteen different magnates claimed the throne, and they turned to Edward to arbitrate the dispute.  He, of course, wanted whoever was crowned to swear allegiance to him.  They all refused and eventually John Balloil was appointed king.  Still, Edward maintained that he was the rightful overlord–and when he demanded the Scots join him in a war against France, the Scots instead allied with France.  Unfortunately, this gave Edward the excuse he needed to invade Scotland, which he did in 1296.    (see my post: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/the-succession-of-1290-scotland/)

http://www.castlewales.com/edward.html  This led to William Wallace’s rebellion in 1297.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wallace

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