First pictures from the Wales trip 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Expectancy in the Middle Ages

How long did people live in the Middle Ages?

That, of course, varied according to diet, climate, location, relative wealth, etc., but the answer is surely not as long as we do now. For starters, infants and children died at a horrific rate (some say up to 1/3 of all died before the age of 5) and a significant percentage of women died in association with childbirth: 5% perhaps from the birth itself, often dying with the child, and a further 15% from childbed fever–the infections that followed a poorly managed delivery (by our standards).

Following that, if a person made it out of childhood, they could be expected to live into their middle forties, provided they maintained good health and weren’t killed in war.  Both those, of course, are big ‘ifs’.

Below is the recorded birth and death date for the adult royal family of Wales and associated Marcher relations, beginning with Joanna (the daughter of King John of England) and Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great, the Prince of Wales).  Eliminating individuals who died before adulthood completely, from the dates recorded below, the mean life expectancy for women was 43.6 years, with a median of 42/43; for men, it was a mean of 48.7 and a median of 48/49.

Please be aware that these people are of the highest class of society at the time, granting them (possibly) an easier life and longer life spans.  I have indicated in parentheses the cause of death when it wasn’t old age or disease.

Joanna:  1190-1237 (daughter of King John of England; wife of Llywelyn Fawr) (47)
Llywelyn Fawr:  1173-1240  (Prince of Wales) (67)
Tangwystl:  1168-1206 (mistress of Llywelyn Fawr) (38)
Gwladys:  1206-1251 (princess of Wales) (45)
Ralph Mortimer 1198-1246 (husband of Gladwys) (48)
Gruffydd:  1196-1244 (Prince of Wales) (fell from a rope while escaping the Tower of London) (48)
Roger Mortimer:  1231-1282 (51)
Maud de Braose:  1224-1300 (76)
William de Braose:  1198-1230 (hung by Llywelyn Fawr for sleeping with his wife, Joanna) (32)
Eve Marshall:  1203-1246 (43)
Dafydd ap Llywelyn:  1208-1246 (Prince of Wales) (42)
Isabella de Braose:  1222-1248  (wife of Dafydd) (26)
Eleanor de Braose:  1226-1251 (25)  (childbirth)
Humphrey de Bohun:  1225-1265 (40)  (war)
Edmund Mortimer:  1251-1304 (53)
Margaret de Fiennes:  1269-1333 (64)
Humphrey de Bohun:  1249-1298 (49)
Maud de Fiennes:  1254-1296 (42)
Llywelyn ap Gruffydd:  1228-1282 (54) (war)
Elinor de Montfort:  1252-1282 (30)  (childbirth)

Archaeological evidence indicates that Anglo-Saxons back in the Early Middle Ages (400 to 1000 A.D.) lived short lives and were buried in cemeteries, much like Englishmen today. Field workers unearthed 65 burials (400 to 1000 A.D.) from Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in England and found none who lived past 45. This site and this site has similar statistics.

Kings did better. The mean life expectancy of kings of Scotland and England, reigning from 1000 A.D. to 1600 A.D. were 51 and 48 years, respectively. Their monks did not fare as well. In the Carmelite Abbey, only five percent survived past 45. This site says wealthier people would have a life expectancy of more than forty years.

Several sources on the internet argue that if a person could get through childhood and early adulthood, he could expect to live into the 60’s or even 70’s.  That claim is not substantiated by the data I’ve found.  It also seems like a specious argument to say that a person could live to be 64 IF he didn’t go to war, she didn’t have a baby, and nobody got sick.  Each of those conditions was endemic to life in the Middle Ages.  A calculation of average—whether median or mean—life spans HAS to take this into account.  That’s like saying “all the men in my family would have lived to be 91 if they hadn’t all died of heart attacks at 63”.  It also implies 1) that children aren’t ‘people’; and 2) that ‘people’ aren’t women—since pregnancy and childbirth were unavoidable for women in that era unless they were barren or nuns.

To see the life expectancy of the family of King Edward I:

To see the family tree of the Royal House of Wales see:


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

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: 

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.

What is the significance of ‘After Cilmeri’?

Today is the 731st anniversary of the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in a field at Cilmeri, Wales.

It has been over 700 years since Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s death on 11 December 1282.  J. Beverley Smith writes:

“Intimations of treachery, of breach of faith, are so often conveyed darkly, and no chronicle, nor any other source, provides the unequivocal testimony which might enable us to unravel the threads in the various accounts of the tragic happening in the vicinity of Builth.  It was alleged at the time, or shortly afterwards, in the most explicit statement we have, that the prince’s decision to venture into the area was influenced by one of the sons of his old adversary, Roger Mortimer.  The Hagnaby chroinicler, an important source for the events of the day on which Llywelyn died, was quite definite:  Roger Mortimer, he says, but, more correctly, his brother Edmund Mortimer, drew the prince there by beseeching him to come to the neighbourhood of Builth to take his homage and that of his men. Along with other lords he hatched a plot to corner Llywelyn and kill him”  (Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, 1998:551).

The chronicle of Hagnaby Abbey is a historical document that begins in 1173 with the foundation of the Abbey in Lincolnshire.  It is now ruined.  It was a house Premonstratensian canons, “founded in 1175-1176 as a dependency of Welbeck Abbey. It gained independence and abbey status in 1250, and was supressed in 1536.”

Whatever really happened, the entry from the Chronicle of the Princes (Ystrad Flleur) says it all:

And then Llywelyn ap Gruffudd left Dafydd, his brother, guarding Gwynedd; and he himself and his host went to gain possession of Powys and Buellt. And he gained possession as far as Llanganten. And thereupon he sent his men and his steward to receive the homage of the men of Brycheiniog, and the prince was left with but a few men with him. And then Edmund Mortimer and Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, and with them the king’s host, came upon them without warning; and then Llywelyn and his foremost men were slain on the day of Damasus the Pope, a fortnight to the day from Christmas day; and that was a Friday.
—-Brut y Tywysogyon, Peniarth manuscript 20  (The Chronicle of the Princes)

His head was carried to King Edward I, who ordered that it be displayed on a pike, in London.  Apparently, it stayed on display for over 20 years.  The rest of his body is purportedly buried at Abbey Cwmhir, northeast of Rhayader in Powys.

Llywelyn’s brother, Dafydd, was eventually captured and hanged, drawn, and quartered, the first man of significance to experience that particular death.  His death was practice for what Edward did to William Wallace, two dozen years later.  Gwenlllian, Llywelyn’s daughter and only child, was kidnapped from Aber and sent to a convent in England, where she remained a prisoner her entire life.

Cilmeri is a small town to the west of Builth Wells. King Edward built a castle there, which is now a couple of mounds and ditches in the middle of a housing development.

Buellt Castle (Builth Wells for the English) was the seat from which the Mortimers lured Llywelyn ap Gruffydd to his death near Cilmeri on 11 December 1282.  It was a major Edwardian Castle of its time, but all of the stone work as disappeared.

“Builth is nothing more than a series of earthworks – nothing visible remains to give testimony to the structure which once stood at the site. By 1183, documents record a clash here between the Welsh and Normans, and much of what we see reflects this original motte and bailey fortification. During the next 90 years, the castle saw repeated conflict and changed hands between the Welsh and English on several occasions. By the 1240’s masonry structures were established at Builth; however, it was as the result of Edward I’s initial campaign against the Welsh in 1277 that Builth’s modest stronghold was refortified and transformed into a formidable fortress.

Daughter of TimeI titled my time travel books ‘The After Cilmeri Series’ because they tell the story of what happened ‘after Cilmeri’. Yeah. It’s obscure. If knew then what I know now, I would have called it something blander and more accessible like ‘The Children of Time series’. Too late now 😉

The Kingdoms of Wales

Map of Anglo-Saxon EnglandWales as a country evolved over a period of time after the Saxons completed their conquest of the rest of Britain. To recap, the Romans left Britain in 410 AD, leaving the ‘Britons’ to fend for themselves against succeeding waves of raiders from the north and east. These includes the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. Historians are not in agreement as to exactly how this worked, but the Britons as a culture and society were driven further and further west until they reached their last bastions in Wales.

Map of Early Medieval Wales
Credit to David Ford, Early British Kingdoms

Regardless of the actual timeline, by 800 AD, the Saxons were well established right up to the border of what is now Wales.  Offa’s Dyke, an earthen wall built in the 8th century, delineated the border for much of the early Middle Ages.

“Offa was King of Mercia from 757 to 796 AD. His kingdom covered the area between the Trent/Mersey rivers in the North to the Thames Valley i

n the South, and from the Welsh border in the West to the Fens in the East. At the height of his power, however, he also controlled Kent, East Anglia and Lindsay (Lincoln), and had alliances with Northumbria and Wessex, sealed by the marriage of two of his daughters to their Kings, Aethelred and Beorhtic respectively. He was, therefore, effectively an early King of England.”

Llywelyn the Great's Wales 1217
Wales c. 1217. Yellow: areas directly ruled by Llywelyn; Grey: areas ruled by Llywelyn’s client princes; Green: Anglo-Norman lordships.

By the time of the two Llywelyn’s in the 13th century, the kingdoms of Wales were more consolidated. Llywelyn the Great, who ruled in the early half of the century, controlled all but a few regions of Wales, which the Marcher (Norman) lords still controlled.

His grandson, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, gained and lost (and then gained again) much of this territory over the course of his reign from roughly 1246 to his death in 1282.

Dryslwyn Castle

Dryslwyn Castle is built on the same ridge as Dinefwr Castle. It is likely that Lord Rhys, the ruler of Deheubarth in the 12th century, maintained a stronghold in both places, although both castles were rebuilt in stone by later rulers.

Dryslwyn Castle as it exists today “stands on top of a hill overlooking the Tywi valley. Its date of construction is unknown but the similarity between it and neighbouring Dinefwr Castle suggest that it was built at a similar time and possibly by the same person. The most likely builder was Rhys Gryg who occupied Dinefwr in the early 13th century, or possibly his son Maredudd, who inherited Dryslwyn from his father.

By the late 13th century the castle at Dryslwyn had developed into the largest native Welsh castle in South Wales. In 1277 the English king, Edward I sent an army into Wales to defeat Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. Maredudd’s son, Rhys, who had inherited Dryslwyn after his fathers death in 1271, surrendered without a fight and was allowed to keep his castle. Dinefwr Castle was not as quick to surrender and as a result was forfeited by the king. Dryslwyn now had an English neighbour, a situation that was not well received by Rhys who felt he had a claim to the lands. In 1287 Rhys, enraged by years of border disputes with his English neighbours, captured the castles of Dinefwr,Carreg Cennen and Llandovery. The English response was swift and an army of 11,000 men recaptured the castles and defeated Rhys after a three week siege at Dryslwyn. Rhys escaped but was eventually captured and executed for treason.”

Can anyone say irony.  During the 1282 war, Rhys found allegiance to Edward better suited his needs and did not support Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in his quest to maintain and independent Wales.  Whoops.

Buellt Castle

Buellt Castle (Builth Wells for the English) was the seat from which the Mortimers lured Llywelyn ap Gruffydd to his death near Cilmeri on 11 December 1282.  It was a major Edwardian Castle of its time, but all of the stone work as disappeared.

“Builth is nothing more than a series of earthworks – nothing visible remains to give testimony to the structure which once stood at the site. By 1183, documents record a clash here between the Welsh and Normans, and much of what we see reflects this original motte and bailey fortification. During the next 90 years, the castle saw repeated conflict and changed hands between the Welsh and English on several occasions. By the 1240’s masonry structures were established at Builth; however, it was as the result of Edward I’s initial campaign against the Welsh in 1277 that Builth’s modest stronghold was refortified and transformed into a formidable fortress.

…The final product of Edward’s remodelling effort at Builth was a castle centered atop a motte which supported a great round keep (the traces of which are barely visible today) and was enclosed by a small “chemise”, a masonry wall defended by 6 towers. The two Norman baileys remained, encompassed by a curtain wall and accessed through a twin-towered gatehouse which may have been similar to the gatehouse that still guards Rhuddlan Castle. Other structures included a kitchen block and the great hall, a chapel, and residential quarters. Apparently, construction was stopped at Builth in 1282 although the work on the gatehouse may not have been complete.”

The Brothers Gwynedd

Once there were three brothers:  Owain, Llywelyn, and Dafydd …

For more information about Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and his rule of Wales, as well as the difficulties posed by the Norman encroachments, see:

11 December 1282


The Battle of the Menai Straits

Betrayal in the Belfry of Bangor

Biography of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd


Dafydd ap Gruffydd

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

The Death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

Eleanor (Elinor) de Montfort

Family Tree of the Royal House of Wales

Gwynedd after 1282

Historiography of the Welsh Conquest

King Edward I of England

Medieval Planned Communities

Memo to Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s Staff

The Rising of 1256

Senana, Mother of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

Simon de Montfort

The Statute of Wales (Rhuddlan)

Surprise Holy Day Attack!

Things Fall Apart

Welsh Heraldry

Welsh Independence

Welsh Independence (again)

Criccieth Castle

Criccieth Castle was built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn Fawr) before 1239.  “Apparently, Criccieth’s castle was built at the beginning of the 13th century, a rather late date for initiating a castle at a particular site in Wales. The earliest mention of a stronghold on the craggy outcrop is to be found in the Welsh chronicles, the Brut y Tywysogyon, in the year 1239, when Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (son of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, or “the Great”) was imprisoned in the castle by his half-brother, Dafydd. Most likely, Llywelyn the Great began the stone fortress just a few years before his sons’ quarrel.”

Llywelyn kept Gruffydd here and then upon Llywelyn’s death, so did Dafydd, Llywelyn’s son and Gruffydd’s half-brother.  Gruffydd was transferred to the Tower of London as part of a deal with the King of England, as a way to control Dafydd and prevent him from waging war against the Normans.  When the rope by which Gruffydd was attempting to escape the tower broke, Dafydd began his war again.

The castle was augmented first by Llywelyn’s grandson, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, and then by Edward I after the Norman conquest of Wales.

“The inner bailey contains some of the earliest building, including the inner gatehouse with its two, semi-circular towers, the south east tower and the inner curtain wall. As was usual, substantial alterations and necessary repairs were carried out during the 14th century and it is, therefore, quite difficult to distinguish much of the original work, especially as the site is now largely ruinous.

However, the majority of the inner curtain wall stands almost to its full height and, along parts of it, the original wall walk remains. The south gate, a former entrance to Criccrieth Castle ‘on foot’, served as access between the inner and outer baileys, when the outer bailey was constructed towards the end of the 13th century. The outer gatehouse was once a passage through the curtain wall with an internal gate, but an outer gate was later added and a simple barbican built to provide extra defence.

Prior to the Edwardian conquests, it is likely that the living quarters at Criccieth Castle were in the south west tower overlooking the sea, and the large, square north tower (Engine Tower) possibly supported an engine – such as a catapult – on the roof. Although there is little actual ‘castle’ left to explore, having hiked to the top of this grassy headland, the visitor will not fail to be impressed by the spectacular views across Tremadog Bay.”