The Rising of 1256

I bet you didn’t know there was a Welsh Rising of 1256 did you? This date, even more than the Battle of Bryn Derwin in 1255, is the point at which Llywelyn ap Gruffydd began to assert his authority in Wales beyond Gwynedd and to place himself squarely in the forefront as the inheritor of his grandfather’s vision of a Wales united under one, supreme Prince. In 1256, Prince Edward of England was only seventeen years old.  He had been ceded lands in Perfeddwlad, or Gwynedd Is Conwy (Gwynedd east of the River Read More…

On the use of the word ‘gotten’

Many UK readers have wondered about–and objected strongly to–the use of the word ‘gotten’ in my books. Since the word is not in common usage in England right now, it seems odd to them to read it at all, and a glaring ‘Americanism’ in a book set in the medieval period. At first glance, this might appear to be yet another instance of ‘two countries separated by a common language,’ but as it turns out, the history of the word ‘gotten’ is a lot more interesting than that. Gotten’ is, Read More…

Carew Castle

According to CADW, Wales has more castles per square mile than any other nation. Carew Castle is one of them. Carew Castle, located on the Caeriw River in Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales, is one of the few castles that displays architecture from the Norman period through the Elizabethan, with archaeological evidence showing indications of settlement dating back 2000 years.   The name ‘Carew’, Caeriw in Welsh, is an anglicized combination of, “caer” meaning fortress, and “rhiw” meaning hill–not that the area on which it stands is hilly:  “Its position is low-lying, but still prominent in the Read More…

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 Read More…

The Norman Conquest of Ireland (part 1)

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. Read More…

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 Read More…

Leprosy

Leprosy was one of the scourges of the Middle Ages–not so much because of scale, but because when a person caught it, their community cast them out.  The lazar house in the Brother Cadfael books, St. Giles, plays a significant role in the series.  In the movie, Kingdom of Heaven, Baldwin IV of Jerusalem is portrayed as a leper, which is historically accurate.  He ruled from 1174 to 1185.  The man who recognized he had the disease (instead of the Baron played by Liam Neeson) was William of Tyre, later Read More…

Welsh Rebels

In looking through historical documents, there is a striking resemblance between one of the last letters that Llywelyn ap Gruffydd wrote to Edward I, a month before his death, and the famous speech by Patrick Henry.  From Llywelyn: We fight because we are forced to fight, for we, and all Wales, are oppressed, subjugated, despoiled, reduced to servitude by the royal officers and bailiffs so that we feel, and have often so protested to the King, that we are left without any remedy . . .. Compare it to Patrick Read More…

Mortality Rates

One of the hard things about imagining oneself in the middle ages, or writing a character who lives then, is figuring out the odds of them living at all.  The median lifespan of an individual living in the US was 78.7 years in 2010, unchanged since 2004. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm I’ve posted before about life expectancy in the Middle ages (http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/life-expectancy-in-the-middle-ages/ and http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/child-mortality/), indicating that among the elite, both men and women–if they survived childhood–couldn’t reasonably expect to live out of their forties.  Some people did, but what were the mechanisms that kept mortality Read More…

Child Mortality in the Middle Ages

One of the hardest things to read about is the infant/child mortality rates that were prevalent up until the invention of antibiotics–and certainly in the Dark and Middle Ages. It may be that it was much worse in Victorian England, when cities grew large, but looking at King Edward I’s progeny, your heart just bleeds for him and his wife (even if he was a tyrant to the Welsh!). Edward and his first wife, Isabella, produced 16 children. Of those, five were sons. Of those, John lived five years; Henry, Read More…

European (Medieval) Martial Arts

There is a fascinating documentary on the rediscovery of the European ‘martial art’ of sword fighting called Reclaiming the Blade, available on Netflix, if you subscribe:  http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Reclaiming_the_Blade/70111112?trkid=2361637 It begins by talking about sword fighting movies (Lord of the Rings was highlighted in particular), but once they stripped away the honor and righteous talk, it had a really good argument that sword fighting prior to the invention of gunpowder was just as legitimately a martial art as karate. In Europe, there are now European sword fighting academies which teach medieval sword fighting like my Read More…

Harlech Castle

Harlech Castle is a World Heritage Site and one of Edward I’s Iron Ring of Castles that he built after the Welsh defeat in 1282. It is also linked to Welsh myth, in the story of the tragic heroine of Branwen, the daughter of Llyr, of the Mabinogion, who marries the King of Ireland but whose marriage is ultimately destroyed by the trickster/psychopath god, Efnysien. From CADW: “‘Men of Harlech.’ The nation’s unofficial anthem, loved by rugby fans and regimental bands alike, is said to describe the siege which took place here Read More…