Tag Archives: King Henry


Empress Maud (Matilda)


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Maud was the eldest, legitimate daughter of Henry I of England.  Her major claim to fame is that she warred for 19 years with Stephen of Blois, her cousin (both were grandchildren of William the Conqueror), for the throne of England.  This period of English history is known as ‘The Anarchy’.

Maud resolved to take this path after the death of her brother, Henry, who went down with the White Ship in 1120 AD.  His death left King Henry with no legitimate sons (and up to twenty illegitimate ones).  In English law, illegitimate sons could not inherit, which left only Maud to take the throne.  While Henry was still alive, he tried very hard to get the barons to swear they would follow Maud.  Afterwards … Stephen felt that as a legitimate male, even if descended through his mother, Adela, a daughter of William.

Stephen and his wife, Matilda, were crowned King and Queen of England in 1135, shortly after King Henry’s death.  They had crossed the English Channel from Normandy more quickly than Maud and claimed the throne.

Both Stephen and Maud, of course, were Normans.  The spoke French, they held lands in Normandy and France, and hadn’t actually spent very much time in England before they began fighting over it.

“Matilda is the Latin form of Maud, and the name of the only surviving legitimate child of King Henry I. She was born in 1101, generally it is said at Winchester, but recent research indicates that she was actually born at the Royal Palace in Sutton Courtenay (Berkshire).

In something of a political coup for her father, Matilda was betrothed to the German Emperor, Henry V, when she was only eight. They were married on 7th January 1114. She was twelve and he was thirty-two. Unfortunately there were no children and on the Emperor’s death in 1125, Matilda was recalled to her father’s court.

Matilda’s only legitimate brother had been killed in the disastrous Wreck of the White Ship in late 1120 and she was now her father’s only hope for the continuation of his dynasty. The barons swore allegiance to the young Princess and promised to make her queen after her father’s death. She herself needed heirs though and in April 1127, Matilda found herself obliged to marry Prince Geoffrey of Anjou and Maine (the future Geoffrey V, Count of those Regions). He was thirteen, she twenty-three. It is thought that the two never got on. However, despite this unhappy situation they had had three sons in four years.”  http://www.britannia.com/history/monarchs/mon25a.html

Unfortunately, when Maud did have a chance to claim the crown, the people of London refused to crown her and drove her from the city.  The chronicles report that she was haughty and disagreeable (Norman, remember, overseeing Saxon subjects).  King Stephen’s Queen, Matilda, though also Norman, had behaved more to their liking.  Maud never came close to gaining the throne again.  http://www.guide-to-castles-of-europe.com/empress-matilda.html

The final outcome of The Anarchy was Maud’s retirement from the field in 1148 at the death of her greatest supporter, her half-brother Robert (who was illegitimate).  Once King Stephen’s son, Eustace died in 1153, it allowed for “the possibility of a peaceful settlement between Stephen and his rival, the young Henry of Anjou. According to William of Newburgh, King Stephen was “grieved beyond measure by the death of the son who he hoped would succeed him; he pursued warlike preparations less vigorously, and listened more patiently than usual to the voices of those urging peace.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eustace_IV,_Count_of_Boulogne

Here is a timeline for Maud’s life:  http://womenshistory.about.com/od/empressmatilda/a/matilda_timelin.htm

King Owain Gwynedd (King of North Wales) took advantage of The Anarchy to consolidate his lands and power.  This period in the twelfth century is the setting for my Gareth and Gwen Medieval Mysteries.


The Norman Conquest of Ireland (part 1)

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The Normans were conquerors. Even more, they conquered. It was what they did. It was only natural, then, that eventually one of them would set his sights on Ireland.  That someone, in this case, was Richard de Clare, otherwise known as Strongbow.

Now, Strongbow wasn’t entirely at fault for what came next. In fact, in 1169 he was invited into Ireland by the ousted king of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada. Murchada had been removed from power by the High King of Ireland, Rory O’Connor, and, naturally, he wanted his lands back. He knew about Norman military prowess and looked to south Wales, where Clare was the Earl of Pembroke, for assistance.

And what did Clare get out of it? Murchada had no male heir, so he promised Clare his daughter and the kingship of Leinster if they succeeded.

For Clare, that was quite a deal, especially since his position in Wales/England was somewhat tenuous, given the fact that he was often on the outs with King Henry. As it was, Clare had rebelled against the throne before during the nineteen year anarchy, and a foothold in Ireland would give him more power and land and make him a king in his own right.

What could be better?

Unfortunately for Clare, though he got the girl and the land, his rule lasted only two years before King Henry brought a massive invasion force–not to subdue the Irish per se, but to subdue Clare, whom King Henry thought was growing too powerful. Clare, being the good Norman that he was, did another deal, this time giving up the towns of Waterford, Wexford, and Dublin in exchange for keeping the throne of Leinster–and his head.

Thus, by 1171, the Anglo-Normans had carved out much of the east coast of Ireland for themselves, ousted the native Irish and the Danes from what had been their lands, and set themselves on a course of English rule of Ireland that continues today in Northern Ireland.



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Deganwy is one of those castle-forts that has become part of the legend of Wales, although very little of it remains.

This plan http://www.castlewales.com/deganwy1.html shows a reconstruction of the early medieval fort.  It was the seat of “Maelgwyn Gwynedd, the foremost historical figure of the 6th century in north Wales, patron of St Cybi and St Seiriol, but reviled as a drunken tyrant by the chronicler Gildas. Excavations on the western summit in 1961-66 confirmed occupation in the 5th and 6th centuries.”  http://www.castlewales.com/deganwy.html

“The area below the castle is called Maesdu (Black Meadow) and was, doubtless, the site of many bloody battles. The lower ground of the later bailey may have been the site of a settlement of serfs and bondmen; while Maelgwn’s stronghold stood atop the higher of the later castle’s twin peaks. It would have been largely of wood, although the defences included some dry stone walls. These were excavated by Leslie Alcock in the 1960s. A dozen sherds of Dark Age pottery, imported from the Mediterranean, were also discovered, showing the exceptional taste and far-reaching contacts of Gwynedd’s Royal dynasty.  Deganwy appears to have been first occupied during the Roman period, but was popular in the Dark Ages because it was safe from Irish raids. The place was burnt down when struck by lightning in AD 860.” http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/archaeology/deganwy.html

Robert of Rhuddlan built a castle at the site in 1080, which the Welsh captured, to the point that Gerald of Wales called it a ‘noble structure’ in 1191.  King John burned it to the ground early in the 13th century, Llywelyn Fawr rebuilt it in 1213, and then Dafydd destroyed in advance of the English attack in 1245, to the point the English “were forced to shiver in tents”.

“The campaign of Henry III saw the construction of walls and towers, the ruins of which survive today. The castle, with towers on each hilltop and a bailey on the saddle between, had an associated borough which received a charter in 1252. It was under construction from 1245-54 but was never completely finished.  As Henry became more embroiled with his own troubles, the power of the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was growing. In 1263, after a long siege, he captured this outpost of English power and systematically demolished it. When Henry’s son, Edward, advanced across this territory in 1283 he camped at the ruins of Degannwy, but recognizing the greater strategic value of a riverside site and also the political impact of a castle across the river Conwy, which up until then had been the frontier of the essential Gwynedd, he founded his new castle at Conwy. Degannwy was abandoned.

The ruins visible today belong mainly to Henry III’s castle. The defences of the bailey – earth banks and ditches on the north side, the base of two D-shaped gatehouse towers, and the curtain wall hastily built by Edward I on the south – can still be recognized. The mass of fallen masonry near the base of the gatehouse is a relic of the demolition of 1263.”  http://www.castlewales.com/deganwy.html

A pic from our recent visit in 2016:
Deganwy small


Senana, Mother of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

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Senana, by all appearances, had to have been quite a woman.  She was the daughter of Caradog ap Thomas ap Rhodri ap Owain Gwynedd, the great king of Gwynedd during the twelfth century.  Her husband was the illegitimate son of Llywelyn Fawr, the great Prince of Wales.

Llywelyn Fawr ruled Wales with a strong hand, and as his death approached, he made a fateful choice:  that Dafydd, his legitimate son through his wife, Joanna, herself an illegitimate daughter of the King John of England,  would rule after him.  In so choosing, he put Wales on a course for inevitable conflict.

Llywelyn Fawr died in 1240 and Gruffydd immediately began agitating for his own power.  By 1241, Dafydd had imprisoned him in Criccieth Castle, along with his eldest son, Owain.  Senana pleaded first with Dafydd to free her husband and son, and when Dafydd refused to bend, went herself to Shrewsbury where King Henry of England was holding court, to ask him to intercede with Dafydd.  King Henry agreed.  What’s more, she got him to write up a charter dividing Gwynedd into two equal portions, one for Dafydd and one for Gruffydd, and thus indicating his proper patrimony.

Senana then gathered her family together (all except Llywelyn who was free and at sixteen, an adult) and went with them to England.

Unfortunately for her, King Henry immediately threw Gruffydd and Owain into the Tower of London.  On March 1, 1244, Gruffydd made a rope out of sheets and attempted to lower himself down from a high window. The sheets broke and Gruffydd fell to his death.

Senana, then, was left alone in England with Owain and her two younger sons, Dafydd and Rhodri.  At that point, she did not return to Wales, but stayed under the protection of the King of England, who still held Owain captive, although less confined then his father.  In so doing, she left Llywelyn alone in Wales beside Prince Dafydd, such that when he died unexpectedly and without an heir in 1246, Llywelyn alone was there to take the reins.  That is not to say she wasn’t proud of him for doing so.   He had carved some lands for himself out of what could have been his father’s.  The history books do not record her thoughts–it is only later, when Llywelyn refused to share power and lands with his brothers, that Senana fought for their rights against him.

Purportedly, Owain, was allowed to hotfoot it to Wales as soon as the news hit that his uncle was dead.  It served the English crown’s purposes to foster dissension among the Welsh royal brothers, but he’d lost six years–years in which Llywelyn had wooed supporters and proven himself a war leader.

And then, in 1252, when Dafydd was fourteen and now a man by the standards of Wales, Senana returned to Wales to try to help him establish his own lands.  At first Dafydd was under the tutelage of Llywelyn, but then Owain gifted him a small portion of land, which Llywelyn had not, thus uniting the two brothers against him.  This is the last mention of their mother in the historical records.

(Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.  J. Beverly Smith.  Cardiff:  University of Wales Press)


The First Welsh Parliament

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The first Welsh parliament was established by Owain Glyndwr (Owain Glendower) in 1404 in Machynlleth, a small town on the northwest coast of Wales, not far from Harlech Castle, which was his seat.

“In 1404, Glyndwr assembled a parliament of four men from every commot in Wales at Machynlleth, drawing up mutual recognition treaties with France and Spain.”  http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~bowen/owainglyndwr.html

The Owain Glyndwr Centre exists now on the site of the building where this was established and Owain was crowned Prince of Wales.  http://www.canolfanglyndwr.org/


“Glyndwr was a member of the dynasty of northern Powys and, on his mother’s side, descended from that of Deheubarth in the south. The family had fought for Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in the last war and regained their lands in north-east Wales only through a calculated association with the powerful Marcher lords of Chirk, Bromfield and Yale and the lesser family of Lestrange. They thus rooted themselves in the Welsh official class in the March and figured among its lesser nobility …

In 1399-1400 Glyndwr ran up against his powerful neighbor, Reginald de Grey, Lord of Ruthin, an intimate of the new king, Henry IV. The quarrel was over common land which Grey had stolen. Glyndwr could get no justice from the king or parliament. This proud man, over forty and grey-haired, was visited with insult and malice. There are indications that Glyndwr made an effort to contact other disaffected Welshmen, and when he raised his standard outside Ruthin on 16 September 1400, his followers from the very beginning proclaimed him Prince of Wales.

The response was startling and may have even startled Glyndwr himself. Supported by the Hanmers, other Norman-Welsh Marchers and the Dean of St Asaph, he attacked Ruthin with several hundred men and went on to savage every town on north-east Wales. There was an immediate response from Oxford, where Welsh scholars at once dropped their books and flocked home. Even more dramatic was the news that Welsh laborers in England were downing their tools and heading for home. The English Parliament at once rushed ferociously anti-Welsh legislation on to the books. Henry IV marched a big army right across north Wales, burning and looting without mercy. Whole populations scrambled to make their peace. Over the Winter, Glyndwr, with only seven men, took to the hills …

For the Welsh, it was a Marcher rebellion and a peasant’s revolt which grew into a national guerrilla war. The sheer tenacity of the rebellion is startling. Few revolts in contemporary Europe lasted more than some months; no previous Welsh war had lasted much longer. This one raged in undiminished fury for ten years and did not really end for fifteen.”  http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~bowen/owainglyndwr.html

“In the early 15th Century the Welsh were fired by anti-English feeling after much of the country had been subjected to centuries of their rule and Glyndwr mobilised this national sentiment  … Backed by French military aid, Glyndwr took Carmarthen and Cardiff in 1403 from the English and Harlech and Aberystwyth in 1404.”  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/north_west/3698635.stm

“In 1404, to demonstrate his seriousness as a ruler, Owain held court at Harlech and appointed the brilliant Gruffydd Young as his Chancellor. Soon afterwards, he called his first Parliament (or more properly Cynulliad or “gathering”) of all Wales at Machynlleth where he was crowned Prince of Wales and announced his national programme. He declared his vision of an independent Welsh state with a parliament and separate Welsh church. There would be two national universities (one in the south and one in the north) and return to the traditional law of Hywel Dda. Senior churchmen and important members of society flocked to his banner. English resistance was reduced to a few isolated castles, walled towns and fortified manor houses … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owain_Glynd%C5%B5r

Shades of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, who had planned to divide up England and Wales between himself, Simon de Montfort, and Gilbert de Clare in the 13th century, “Owain demonstrated his new status by negotiating the “Tripartite Indenture” with Edmund Mortimer and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. The Indenture agreed to divide England and Wales among the three of them. Wales would extend as far as the rivers Severn and Mersey including most of Cheshire,Shropshire and Herefordshire. The Mortimer Lords of March would take all of southern and western England and the Percys would take the north of England.[7] Although most historians have dismissed the terms of the Indenture as being highly ambitious and fanciful, R. R. Davies noted that certain internal features underscore the rootedness of Glynd?r’s political philosophy in Welsh mythology: in it, the three men invoke prophecy, and the boundaries of Wales are defined according to Merlinic literature.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owain_Glynd%C5%B5r

A timeline for the revolt is here:  http://www.timeref.com/thr00005.htm



Dafydd ap Llywelyn, Prince of Wales (d. 1246)

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Dafydd, the only legitimate son of Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn ap Iowerth) was stuck between a rock and a hard place.  His father was determined that he become the Prince of Wales and hold the country together upon Llywelyn’s death, but at the same time, his illegitimate older brother, Gruffydd, by Welsh law had an equal claim to the throne.  The possibility that Gruffydd was erratic and temperamental and perhaps not as suited to ruling a princedom as Dafydd was irrelevant.

Even had Gruffydd been all that Llywelyn wanted in a son, he was not legitimate.  Among the Welsh, any child was reckoned legitimate if his father acknowledged him, which Llywelyn had.  But the Church did not and the powers-that-were in England believed that the Welsh were barbaric for allowing a illegitimate child to inherit anything.  Much less the crown of Wales.  So Gruffydd was out.

This conflict meant that when Llywelyn Fawr died in 1240, Dafydd was at an immediate disadvantage in his relationship with England.  On one hand, he hadn’t the personality of his father and was living proof that Wales had bowed to the English crown and church, and on the other, his own brother seethed with resentment and worked with allies to unseat him.

Dafydd proceeded to lock up his brother and his brother’s eldest son, Owain, in Criccieth Castle. Gruffydd had already spent four years imprisoned by the King of England (as a way to contain Llywelyn Fawr), and six more years in his own father’s prison for wreaking havoc on the lands his father had given him.   When Senana, Gruffydd’s wife, appealed to King Henry of England, he agreed to intervene.  Unfortunately for Gruffydd, it just meant trading Criccieth Castle for the Tower of London.  Ultimately, Gruffydd died in 1244, trying to escape from the tower on a rope that broke.  He fell to his death.  See my post on Senana: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/senana-wife-of-gruffydd-ap-llywelyn/ 

With Gruffydd’s death, Dafydd was free to restart his father’s campaign to control all of Wales, which he did.  Unfortunately, just after a victory over King Henry and the potential start of a new era in Wales, he died on 25 February 1246 of an unknown illness.

(much of this comes from J. Beverly Smith’s definite work on Dafydd’s nephew Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, 1998).


–Born around 1215 to Llywelyn Fawr and his wife, Joanna, illegitimate daughter of King John of England.

–May have died from an illness that caused him to lose the nails on his hands and feet.

–Married Isabella de Braose, whose father David’s father had hung at Garth Celyn for having an affair with David’s mother.

–Had no children.

–Was excommunicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury for not bowing to the English crown.

–Under the terms of the Treaty of Gwerneigron (1241), he had to give up all his lands outside Gwynedd, and also to hand over to the King his half brother Gruffydd whom he had been keeping a prisoner.

–Reconciled with Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Gruffydd second son, before he died.  Thus, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was on hand when Dafydd died unexpectedly in 1246 and assumed the throne of Gwynedd.