The Battle of the Menai Strait

“And he sent a fleet of ships to Anglesey, and they gained possession of Arfon. And then was made the bridge over the Menai; but the bridge broke and countless numbers of the English were drowned and others slain.”    –Brut y Twysogion, Peniarth Manuscript 20  (Chronicle of the Princes).

On November 6th, 1282, the Welsh achieved an historic victory over the English, who had thought to surprise them by crossing the Menai Strait and driving down the coast to Aber (Garth Ceylyn), Prince Llywelyn’s seat on the Welsh north coast.

The Menai Strait is the narrow body of water that separates Anglesey from Gwynedd proper.  The river-like flow changes course according to the tide.  The rising tide approaches from the south-west, causing the water in the Strait to flow north-eastwards as the level rises. It then flows counter-clockwise around Anglesey until, a few hours later, it shifts, and begins to flow the opposite way.

At that point, the water runs through the Strait in a south-westerly direction from Bangor (on the mainland) and Llanfaes (on Anglesey).   It was Llanfaes where the English commander, Tany, held his troops, waiting to cross to attack.

By the time the tide reverses course, the tidal flow from the Caernarfon end has weakened, even if the tide continues to rise in height throughout the straight.   Thus, slack water between Anglesey and Gwynedd tends to occur approximately one hour before high tide or low tide.

On the day of the attack, the English hoped to cross near high tide, when the water would be it’s calmest.  They began at noon, with high tide at 1 pm.  But the Welsh swept down from the heights above the beach and stopped them. The ferocity of their attack forced the English soldiers back across the bridge, which then broke under the weight of the men, horses, and equipment.  By then, the tide was in full spate, moving west at 2.5 knots.

History records that 16 English knights, another 16 squires, and 300 footmen died that day.

Prince Llywelyn believed he could capitalize on this victory by leaving his brother, Dafydd, in charge of Gwynedd and going southeast to Powys to garner support among the other Welsh lords of Wales.  Unfortunately, he was lured into a trap at Cilmeri and killed only a month later, on 11 December 1282.

Halloween in Wales

fallen princess blogAs I sit here munching candy corn (which my 14 year old declares ‘the best candy’–even better than chocolate–though he can’t have any because he’s allergic to corn), I’m thinking about the Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mystery, The Fallen Princess, which takes place at Halloween.  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

For more customs of Calan Gaeaf: 

The Summer Solstice

June 21, 2018 is the summer solstice this year, celebrated at Stonehenge and across the globe, for the longest day of the year.  “Sol + stice derives from a combination of Latin words meaning “sun” + “to stand still.” As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky.”  http://www.chiff.com/a/summer-solstice.htm

Within Welsh mythology, there is very little discussion of the solstices or what holidays were celebrated within the celtic/druid year.  This is not the case of Stonehenge, which archaeologists and historians have studied extensively.

“When one stands in the middle of Stonehenge and looks through the entrance of the avenue on the morning of the summer solstice, for example, the Sun will rise above the Heel Stone, which is set on the avenue. If one stands in the entrance and looks into the circle at dusk of that day, the Sun will set between a trilithon.”

http://www.unexplainedstuff.com/Places-of-Mystery-and-Power/Stonehenge.html

There are a couple of stone circles in Wales (more than a couple, but many are ruinous and not properly documented).  One, Bryn Cader Faner, is a small cairn 8,5m (28ft) wide and less than 1m (3ft) high, with fifteen thin slabs leaning out of the mass of the monument like a crown of thorns, near Porthmadog.

http://www.stonepages.com/wales/wales.html

A second is Carn Llechart near Swansea.  It “is one of the largest ring cairns in Wales. It is an unusual circle of 25 stones leaning slightly outwards and surrounding a central burial cist. Aubrey Burl in his “The Stone Circles of British Isles” wrote that such rings were thought to be the first stage of development of stone circles, but that these cairns, however, are almost certainly too late to provide such an ancestry. The reverse seems likely, that the existence of stone circles elsewhere impelled people to place tall stones around the bases of their own round cairns, a fusion of traditions resulting in monuments like spiky coronets. Such cairns may be seen on North and South Uist, and in Wales at Carn Llechart and Bryn Cader Faner.  The circle is 12m (40ft) in diameter, and the central cist has its east side stone and capstone missing. It seems that there is no entry to the circle and no trace of covering mound. A possible date for the site is the 2nd millenium BC.  In the area there are also a Neolithic burial chamber and some Bronze Age cairns.”  (http://www.stonepages.com/wales/wales.html),

Archaeologists are of the opinion that these stone circles have more to do with burial sites than worship, giving them less kinship to Stonehenge than one might think at first.  This site (http://www.geodrome.demon.co.uk/megalith/stone.htm), however, argues strongly for a similar rationale for stone circles in Wales, in which the author has documented the alignment of a number of stone circles.

When we were in Ireland in 2016, we found that many of the barrows, burials, and circles were oriented to the sun, either the winter and summer solstices or the spring equinox in particular.

The Battle of Cymerau

The 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

Owain Gwynedd’s birthday

When was Owain Gwynedd born?  Here’s the truth:  no idea.

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Like Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, nobody seems to have recorded the date Owain Gwynedd was born, or even the year.  This is fine as far as it goes, because we can make some general estimates.  The problem arises when the birthdays for his many, many children haven’t been recorded either.  Nor his siblings.  Nor the dates of his marriages.

My go-to-guide, John Davies History of Wales doesn’t discuss birthdays or ages, probably because he knows it’s fraught with difficulties, but many web sources try.  For example, here’s one huge root of the problem, the Wikipedia entry, citing a book by John Edward Lloyd  A history of Wales from the earliest times to the Edwardian conquest (Longmans, Green & Co.) written in 1911.  This has Owain born c. 1100, and a long list of his offspring  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owain_Gwynedd):

Although I have edited the entry on Wikipedia to reflect the uncertainty of the birthday, if we’d continued to follow the 1911 source, Iorwerth ab Owain Gwynedd, the eldest son of Owain’s first wife, Gwladys, would have been born in 1145, a year after Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd, the eldest child of Owain’s second wife.  Such a date could be possible for Dafydd, since he is first mention in the annals of wales in 1157. At the latest, that means he was born in 1143/44, since Welsh boys become men at the age of fourteen.  Obviously, we now have a problem.

It gets worse.  The Castles of Wales site, normally very reliable, has Owain Gwynedd born as late as 1109.  While neither Rhun nor Hywel get birthdays, they were full grown men by 1143, when Hywel is tasked with rousting his uncle Cadwaladr out of Ceredigion. If that’s the case, you have to think he’s at least 20 at the time.  If this is true, however, for Hywel to be  20 in 1143, he would have to been fathered by Owain at the precocious age of 14, and his elder brother Rhun even earlier.  Not impossible, but…  http://www.castlewales.com/owain_g.html

Furthermore, Citing The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens (by Mike Ashley, Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. New York, 1998), elsewhere on the site, it makes the claim that Owain was born c. 1100 (so I give them a pass on that), but now Dafydd, the eldest son of his second wife Cristina, was born in c. 1135.

Deeper into a search, the EBK site reports that Owain’s father, Gruffydd, married Angharad in 1195 (when he was 40) and had three sons (Cadwallon, Owain, Cadwaladr) and some daughters, including the youngest, Gwenllian.  http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/gruffcgd.html  Fine. But it is Gwenllian who elopes with the much, much older Gruffydd ap Rhys in 1113.  Whoa.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gruffydd_ap_Rhys  Note that the particular entry on Gwenllian, which actually has citations, not all of which I have access to, has her born c 1197, which by necessity must push all these other dates back into the earlier 1190s to make any of this work.  Unfortunately, to push those dates earlier is problematic, because Gruffydd was imprisoned for between 12 and 16 years, starting in 1081, so the earliest date of his release is 1093. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwenllian_ferch_Gruffydd

 

King Stephen

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, 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 renewed sovereignty, most notably under the rule of Owain Gwynedd.

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Murder and Mayhem in the Early Middle Ages

It is common knowledge among anyone who’s spent time wandering the history of Wales that murder and mayhem among the ruling families for power was common.

David Walker (Medieval Wales, 1990) writes:  “Early entries in the Welsh Annales are brief in the extreme, but there are hints of ugly deeds.  In 814, Griffri ap Cyngen was slain by the treachery of his brother; in 904, Merfyn ap Rhodri of Gwynedd was killed by his own men; in 969 Ieuaf ab Idwal of Gwynedd was seized by his brother Iago and imprisoned; in 974, Meurig ab Idwal was blinded” (p. 6).

He further points to the book Courtier’s Trifles by Walter Map, who satirized the reign of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (1039-63 AD), who ruled all of Wales from 1055 until his death.  He writes:  “I name Hywel, whom you caused to be smothered in secret when he was on a mission for you; Rhydderch, whom you received with a kiss and embrace and killed with a knife in your left hand; Tewdws, whom as he walked and talked with you, you tripped up with your foot and cast down the sheer rocks; and your nephew Meilin, whom you secretly captured by guile and let him die loaded with chains in your dungeon.” (p. 6)

This entry from Wikipedia is classic:  “Hywel ap Ieuaf (died 985) was a King of Gwynedd in north-west Wales from 979 to 985.

Hywel was the son of Ieuaf ap Idwal who had ruled Gwynedd jointly with his brother Iago ab Idwal until 969. In that year the sons of Idwal quarrelled and Iago took Ieuaf prisoner . . . In 974 Hywel raised an army and drove his uncle from Gwynedd temporarily. Iago was able to return, but was forced to share power with his nephew. In 978 Hywel made another attempt to take the kingdom from his uncle, raiding the monastery at Clynnog Fawr. In this raid Hywel was helped by English troops, possibly provided by Aelfhere, Earl of Mercia. Hywel defeated Iago in battle in 979, and the same year Iago was captured by a force of Vikings, possibly in Hywel’s pay, and vanished from the scene. Hywel was left as sole ruler of Gwynedd, but apparently did not set his father free, since according to J.E. Lloyd, Ieuaf remained in captivity until 988.

In 980 Hywel faced a challenge from Iago’s son, Custennin ab Iago, who attacked Anglesey in alliance with Godfrey Haraldsson, a Viking chief from the Isle of Man. Hywel defeated them in battle, killing Custennin and putting Godfrey and his men to flight. Now securely in possession of Gwynedd, Hywel aimed to expand his kingdom to the south. He again made an alliance with Aelfhere of Mercia and attacked Brycheiniog and Morgannwg with some success, although he was not able to annex these kingdoms. However in 985 his English allies turned on him and killed him, possibly alarmed by his growing power. He was succeeded by his brother Cadwallon ap Ieuaf, who had not been on the throne long when Gwynedd was annexed by Maredudd ap Owain of Deheubarth.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hywel_ab_Ieuaf

This is much like the open warfare that erupted among the sons of Owain Gwynedd upon his death in 1170:  his youngest sons, Dafydd and Rhodri (children of Cristina), systematically eliminated all of their rivals, including Hywel, the eldest (d. 1170).  “Dafydd drove out Maelgwn in 1173, sending him fleeing to Ireland.  Another brother, Cynan, died in 1174, removing one more contender for the throne. The same year Dafydd captured and imprisoned his brothers Maelgwn (who had returned from Ireland) and Rhodri.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dafydd_ab_Owain_Gwynedd

However, Llywelyn ap Iowerth (son of another dead brother) overthrew his uncle in 1294 and claimed the throne for himself.  Thus began the remarkable rule of Llywelyn Fawr.

Other examples:

Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (d 1244) did everything in his power to undermine the rule of his brother, Dafydd.  Dafydd retaliated by imprisoning him at Criccieth Castle.  Gruffydd ultimately fell to his death trying to escape the Tower of London in which he’d been imprisoned by Henry III.

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd imprisoned his brother, Owain from 1256 to 1277 to prevent him from vying for the throne of Gwynedd.  Their younger brother, Dafydd, defected twice to the English crown and tried to assassinate Llywelyn in 1274.

Aber Castle (Garth Celyn)

Aber Garth Celyn was the seat of the Princes of Wales since Aberffraw and Deganwy were destroyed sometime in the early middle ages.  With the fall of the Royal House of Wales and the subsequent conquering of Wales by Edward I, the location of Garth Celyn was lost to history.  It is only in the last 20 years that we have a better idea of where it might be.

One possibility put forth by CADW, the Welsh Archaeological society, is at ‘y Myd’–a man-made mound to the west of the Aber River in North Wales.  “Excavations at Abergwyngregyn, near Bangor, unearthed the remains of a medieval hall dating back to the 14th century, the period when Llywelyn the Great and Llywelyn the Last were fighting for Welsh independence.” [a note from Sarah–that the archaeologist would say this is somewhat surprising since Llywelyn was killed in 1282, otherwise known as the 13th century. If the best they can do is the 14th century, then there’s no evidence this hall dates from the time of the princes.]

“A test dig on the same site in 1993, revealed medieval pottery, a bronze brooch and a coin dating back to the post-conquest era.

“You can see a large area with some substantial walls and the floor plan of a medieval hall with large wings either side,” said John Roberts, archaeologist for the Snowdonia National Park Authority.

“There’s also an enclosure which has features that might relate to industrial activity – metalwork or large ovens.””  http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/northwestwales/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_9140000/9140324.stm

These excavations were covered over in 2010 to protect them.

Another possibility for the location of Garth Celyn, and the one I chose for my books, is just on the other side of the river and includes a still-standing tower, situated on a hill overlooking the Lavan Sands and with a view of Anglesey.

From the Garth Celyn web page (the page is gone, so I just have to quote it here):  “During the centuries between 1283 and 1553, the English crown owned the home and allowed it to become derelict, while at the same time expunging any mention of ‘Garth Celyn’ from the written record.   It is not until the time of Henry Vlll, that his surveyor, John Leland notes, ‘the palace on the hille still in part stondeth.’

Then, on June 14, 1551, Rhys Thomas of Aberglasney, appointed by Roger Williams, the surveyor of crown lands in north Wales, to be the deputy surveyor, obtained a lease for himself for the house.  Subsequently, on 27 April 1553 King Edward VI, seriously ill with tuberculosis, granted the royal manors of Aber and Cemais to William Herbert, earl of Pembroke and William Clerke.  Rhys Thomas and his wife, Jane, then built a house among the ruins of the palace.

Culturally speaking, one of the most important records of Garth Celyn is found in the letters written in the last months of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s life to Edward I and the Peckham, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The royal llys of the Welsh princes excavated on Anglesey does not include a motte, and bears no relationship to the kind of Norman construction CADW is proposing the Llywelyns either built or repurposed at Aber. In addition, Welsh rulers were moving from one royal llys to another as administrative centers from before the Normans arrived in Britain.  http://www.angleseyheritage.com/key-places/llys-rhosyr/

As the house itself, the following is a written account from 1874:

Aber Village August 1874                                        

The castle of Llywelyn is but a few minutes walk from the centre of the village.

To reach it by the quickest and most picturesque road you have to traverse the nook at the back of the mill and to scramble over the loose stones that rise about the surface of the widespread stream. Once over the somewhat perilous brook, you have to pass a gate, then a field, still following the side of the watercourse. Mounting a steep rustic ascent you find yourself a few minutes more before a huge barbaric Round Tower, the principal and almost only vestige of Llywelyn’s Castle at the present day. Attached to this Tower is an interesting looking structure built entirely we are told of the ruins of the ancient palace. It is at present used as a farmhouse. This most picturesque house is well worth a visit, though from its private isolated character it is known to few out of its immediate neighbourhood. 

The farmer’s wife, though little prepared for the intrusion, nevertheless kindly allowed us to traverse the house, contenting herself with showing us alone one particular room in the tower, a clothes press and four chairs, evidently as old as the building itself and quite as primitive.

She also favoured me with a bit of lighted candle and led me to the steps of a vast cellar or dungeon under the tower, telling me to inspect it if I wished, which I hastened to do – I beg pardon, I did not hasten, for the steps down to it were so slimy, damp, and shaky, that any over haste would have been accompanied with serious bodily harm, so needs was to be slow and cautious.

On descending into this cavern, as well as the faint light of the candle would permit of, I noticed several contiguous cells with prison – like apertures. Could these possibly have been dungeons? At least there were good reasons for the conjecture. At the further end of the cavern, or cellar, or prison, or whatever it was and had been, I could perceive the commencement of a subterranean passage, which led, I was afterwards informed, to some solitary spot in the glen – for what purpose, must be left to the imagination, for there are no printed memorials to the spot, nor any written ones, unless Lord Penrhyn, the owner of the property, happens to have any such in the archives of his Castle.

http://www.llywelyn.co.uk/

Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon

Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon was a real person.  His father, Cadwallon, was killed in the battle of Catscaul or “Cad-ys-gual”, the Battle of the Wall (Heavenfield, near Hexham) in 634 AD.  An unknown usurper, Cadfael ap Cynfeddw, placed himself on the throne of Gwynedd, and was himself overthrown in 655 AD by the twenty-two year old Cadwaladr, Cadwallon’s son, who’d been raised in exile until he could return to claim his birthright.

Cadwaladr is mentioned in the following sources:

The Harlaein Genealogies:  a collection of old Welsh genealogies preserved in British Library, Harleian MS 3859.  They’ve been dated to the reign of Hwyel Dda (10th century).  Cadwaladr is mentioned as the son of Cadwallon and the father of Idwal, all Kings of Gwynedd.

Annales Cambriae (the Annals of Wales):  A single line:  682 – A great plague in Britain, in which Cadwaladr son of Cadwallon dies.

Historia Brittonum:  This text was composed sometime between 828 and 830, attributed to Nennius.  Of Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, he states:  “Catgualart (Cadwallader) was king among the Britons, succeeding his father, and he himself died amongst the rest.  He slew Penda in the field of Gai, and now took place the slaughter of Gai Campi, and the kings of the Britons, who went out with Penda on the expedition as far as the city of Judeu, were slain.”

The Book of Taliesin:  Taliesin was a Welsh poet born in the mid to late 6th century.  Two poems are attributed to him that mention Cadwaladr.  One is The Great Prophecy of Britain in which he rails against the Saxon incursions and praises the rule of Cadwaladr:  “Cadwaladr is a spear at the side of his men; In the forest, in the field, in the vale, on the hill; Cadwaladr is a candle in the darkness walking with us; Gloriously he will come and the Welsh will rise . . .”  (my interpretation)

The second is the Prediction of Cadwaladr, which is incomplete.  It speaks of Cadwaladr, not Arthur, as the one who sleeps in the mountains to return at the nation’s greatest need.

History of the Kings of Britain:  This is Geoffrey of Monmouth’s romantic and fanciful tale, telling the supposed story of the history of Britain from its founding by Brutus to the death of Cadwaladr.

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

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 now Wales and England—for about five minutes.

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 from Europe.  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.

The rule of Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon sits at the resting point between the Welsh retreat and the Saxon advance.  As romanticized by Geoffrey of Monmouth, he was the last Pendragon, the last King of Wales before the Cymry fell irretrievably under a wave of Saxon invaders.

Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth was born sometime around 1100, probably in Monmouth in southeast Wales. “His father was named Arthur. Geoffrey was appointed archdeacon of Llandsaff in 1140 and was consecrated bishop of St. Asaph in 1152. He died c. 1155.

Geoffrey is one of the most significant authors in the development of the Arthurian legends. It was Geoffrey who, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (completed in 1138) located Arthur in the line of British kings. Such an action not only asserted the historicity of Arthur but also gave him an authoritative history which included many events familiar from later romance. Geoffrey also introduced the character of Merlin as we know him into the legends. Geoffrey’s Merlin, a combination of the young and prophetic Ambrosius in Nennius’s history and the prophet Myrddin who figures in several Welsh poems, first appears in a book known as the Prophetiae Merlini (The Prophecies of Merlin), which was written about 1135 but then incorporated as Book VII of the Historia. This book contains the prophecies made by Merlin to Vortigern, which foreshadow not only the downfall of Vortigern but also the rise and fall of Arthur, events subsequent to the end of the Historia, and events of the obscure future.”  http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/geoffrey.htm

“Modifying the name of the northern bard Myrddin, Geoffrey uses Welsh predictions of a Celtic revival and many of his own probable invention and ascribes them to the prophet. This work was followed toward 1136-1138 by the Historia Regum Britanniae that incorporated the prophecies in it. Near the end of 1150 he composed a long narrative poem expanding on Welsh traditions about the prophet entitled, Vita Merlini (“Life of Merlin”).”  http://www.pantheon.org/articles/g/geoffrey_of_monmouth.html

By his late twenties, Geoffrey certainly seems to have travelled eastwards to work at the Collegiate Church of St. George at the castle in Oxford.   He remained there, as a tutor of some kind, for at least the next twenty years  and began writing not long after he arrived.  The Prophecies of Merlin appear to have been a series of ancient Celtic prophecies which, at the request of Alexander of Salisbury, Bishop of Lincoln, Geoffrey translated into Latin, perhaps with some additions of his own. “Whether they had previously been attributed to the Northern British bard, Myrddin, is unknown. As with all his works, Geoffrey hoped the prophecies might bring him a lucrative preferment in the Church, and he used its dedication to ingratiate himself with Alexander who was Bishop of his local diocese. Geoffrey made a more appreciative acquaintance while at St. George’s, in the person of Walter the Provost, who was also Archdeacon of the city. In his writings, Geoffrey tells us that Walter gave him “a certain very ancient book written in the British language” and, probably because he was unable to read Welsh (or Breton) himself, the Archdeacon encouraged Geoffrey to translate it into Latin.”

Geoffrey began writing History of the Kings of Britain’ dedicated to Robert, Earl of Gloucester, and Waleran, Count of Mellent in 1136. “At the time, the work was taken at face value and accepted by most as a true history of the Welsh nation from around 1100 bc to around AD 689. Merlin appeared again, as an advisor to Kings Ambrosius and Uther, but the work was most notable for its extensive chapters covering the reign of the great King Arthur. Since the 17th century, however, its author has been largely vilified as an inexorable forger who made up his stories “from an inordinate love of lying”. Modern historians tend to be slightly more sympathetic.

At the end of 1150, Geoffrey appears to have come into the possession of further source documents concerning the life-story of his original subject, the bard, Myrddin (alias Merlin). Unfortunately, these did not line up terribly well the information he had given about this man in his History of the Kings of Britain – perhaps indicating that this part was either invented or, more probably, that Merlin’s name had been rather over-eagerly attributed to an otherwise unknown Royal adviser. Keen to put across the true story, without losing face, Geoffrey wrote the Life of Merlin, correctly placing its events after the reign of Arthur, but thus giving his title role an impossibly long lifespan. It was dedicated to his former colleague at St. George’s, Robert De Chesney, the new Bishop of Lincoln.

“The following year, Geoffrey’s sycophancy at last paid off. He was elected Bishop of St. Asaphs, for good service to his Norman masters; and was consecrated by Archbishop Theobald at Lambeth Palace in February 1152. As a Welsh-speaker, he was probably chosen in an attempt to make the diocesanal administration more acceptable in an age when Normans were not at all popular in the areas of Wales which they controlled. However, the strategy seems to have been unsuccessful. Owain Gwynedd’s open rebellion was in full swing and Geoffrey appears to have never even visited his bishopric. He died four years later, probably in London.”   http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/geofmon.html

“Whenever his dates are checked, as in the Roman period, Geoffrey emerges clearly as a writer of fiction and cannot be relied upon for facts. Following medieval tradition, he fully modernizes Arthur’s court to the 12th century. Later, however, from Caesar on he is using what passed for real history at the time and some of his source materials can be identified – the Historia Brittonum, Bede and Gildas in addition to Roman historians.

For the most part he is creating and aggrandizing very little data but in his preface he claims to be translating from a much fuller source, one “ancient book in the British language” (maybe Welsh but probably Breton) bestowed upon him by Walter, archdeacon at Oxford. This claim remains dubious as no copy of this source is extant. But the tale of Arthur scribed by Geoffrey cannot be fully accounted for from the aforementioned sources hinting at some unknown text of some kind. There is a possible tie to the Continent from the resonance with 5th century events in Gaul. Traces of a similar source are found in the preface to the Breton Legend of St. Goeznovius.”  http://www.pantheon.org/articles/g/geoffrey_of_monmouth.html

The Beginning of the Dark Ages in Britain

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.

A Good Meal–Food in the Middle Ages

Diana Wynne Jones’ book Tough Guide to Fantasy Land (recommended for any fantasy/historical fantasy writer) is a hilarious riff on the fantasy genre.  At one point, she mocks fantasy authors’ tendency for their adventurers to eat ‘stew’ in great quantity, which travelers would for the most part never do.

The classic example of this is when Sam, in Lord of the Rings, hauls those pots all the way to Mordor.  A much more likely scenario would for him to have stashed a couple of sticks in his backpack to poke through those poor rabbits he takes from Gollum in order to roast them over the fire.  Stew is far too much work.

So if not stew, then what?

Roasted meat over a spit, when possible.  Stale bread.  Berries or root vegetables gathered from the surrounding area.  Salted, smoked, and dried meat that keeps for weeks (and tastes like it).  Pioneers taking the Oregon trail across the country, where admittedly they had wagons, made corn pancakes on a griddle–but once again, that’s a heavy piece of equipment to carry.

People in the middle ages did eat a lot of stew, however.  “The Vikings ate two main meals a day, one of which usually consisted of some kind of meal or porridge. The mainstay of everyday eating was the big kettle of stew (or skause– a Norse word!) containing whatever vegetables and meat were available, and added to day by day.”  http://www.ydalir.co.uk/crafts/cook.htm

In Europe, “most medieval commoners cooked with only a large cauldron, known as the pot au feu, in the fireplace. Whatever they could find, they mixed it together in the pot and called it “stew.” Sometimes, it would be served with a slab of meat or even frumety. Frumety was a type of wheat pudding that surpassed bread in popularity during the Middle Ages, probably because it went so well with stew.”  http://library.thinkquest.org/C005446/Food/English/middle_ages.html

For a long list of possible foods and dishes:  http://shenanchie.tripod.com/medieval/med_3.htm

Medieval people also ate a lot of bread, but there is some question as to when the use of yeast became widespread.  Peoples all over the world have eaten bread for thousands of years, since the cultivation of wheat.

This site states:  “The custom of leavening the dough by the addition of a ferment was not universally adopted. For this reason, as the dough without leaven could only produce a heavy and indigestible bread, they made the bread very thin. These loaves served as plates for cutting up the other food upon, and when they became saturated with the sauce and gravy they were eaten as cakes. These were called trenchers. The use of trenchers remained long in fashion even at the most splendid banquets. It would be difficult to point out the exact period at which leavening bread was adopted in Europe, but we can assert that in the Middle Ages it was anything but general. Yeast was reserved for pastry, and it was only at the end of the sixteenth century that bakers used it for bread.”

At the same time, another site argues (http://www.breadinfo.com/history.shtml) that wheat was grown in Mesopotamia and Egypt, where it was first chewed, but then later pulverized it to make a paste.  “Set over a fire, the paste hardened into a flat bread that kept for several days. It did not take much of a leap to discover leavened (raised) bread when yeast was accidentally introduced to the paste.

Instead of waiting for fortuitous circumstances to leaven their bread, people found that they could save a piece of dough from a batch of bread to put into the next day’s dough. This was the origin of sour-dough, a process still used today.

In Egypt, around 1000 BC, inquiring minds isolated yeast and were able to introduce the culture directly to their breads. Also a new strain of wheat was developed that allowed for refined white bread. This was the first truly modern bread. Up to thirty varieties of bread may have been popular in ancient Egypt.

It was also during this time that bread beer was developed. The bread was soaked in water and sweetened and the foamy liquor run off. Beer was as popular in ancient Egypt as it is in America today.”   Bread was hugely important to the Roman Empire, and if nothing else, the mechanism for making it was brought to Britain and northern Europe with their conquest.

This opinion appears to be confirmed by this site:  http://www.guglhupf.com/breaduca/history.html

For the Vikings:  “Bread was made in great quantity and variety, both flat and risen. It’s uncertain if the Vikings had cultivated yeast as we know it, but they certainly made use of wild yeasts, raising agents such as buttermilk and sour milk, and the leftover yeast from brewing. They also used the ‘sourdough’ method, where a flour and water starter is left for several days to ferment. The most commonly grown cereal crops were oats, rye, and barley, but wheat was also widely used. Flour was also made from nuts (including acorns) or pulses (peas and beans), and even from tree bark. The inner layer of Birch bark, dried and ground, produces a flour with a sweet flavour and is highly nutritious. Bread could be flavoured with nuts, seeds, herbs, or cheese (yes, pizza is authentic!); or used to enclose fish or meat for baking it to succulent tenderness.”  http://www.ydalir.co.uk/crafts/cook.htm