Roman Roads (Bwlch y Ddeufaen)

In an earlier post, I discussed the routes across the Welsh and English countryside during the Middle Ages.  Many of these roads were based in the Roman roads, built between the 1st and 4th centuries AD.  In Wales, the Romans built roads but also improved old ones, which wasn’t their normal operating procedure. It was forced upon them, however, because they found the land so inhospitable that it made it difficult for them to lay down their straight roads. The Roman roads lasted such a long time because the Roman Read More…

Medieval Forensics

People murdered each other in the Middle Ages.  How did a medieval detective go about finding the murderer?  Many authors have written medieval murder mysteries and if the Brother Cadfael mysteries are anything to go by, medieval forensics were a primitive, but burgeoning science. Some things that a medieval detective could determine: Time of death:  “Rigor mortis—literally, “death stiffness,” happens very methodically—from the face downward about 2 hours after death. It takes another 8-12 hours for the body to become completely stiff and fixed into position. Fixed for another 18 Read More…

Betrayal in the Belfry at Bangor

“And there was effected the betrayal of Llywelyn in the belfry of Bangor by his own men.”—Brut y Tywysogyon, Peniarth manuscript 20. (Chronicle of the Princes) This comment is sandwiched between the description of the defeat of the English at the Menai Strait on November 6th, and the death of Llywelyn on December 11th. It is only found in the manuscript kept at the National Library of Wales, not the incomplete version at Oxford, which ends with the firing of Aberystwyth Castle on Palm Sunday (April, 1282). Here is the Read More…

Halloween in Wales

As 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, Read More…

Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales

Dafydd ap Gruffydd was the younger brother of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Wales who ruled portions of Wales, to a greater or lesser degree, since the death of his uncle (also named Dafydd) in 1246.  The younger Dafydd was born in 1238, at least a decade after Llywelyn.  This Dafydd spent the majority of his life in England, to which his family was forced to come when his father was imprisoned at the Tower of London by King Henry.  At the time, Llywelyn had refused to leave Wales with Read More…

Gruffydd ap Cynan, King of Gwynedd

One of the greatest kings of Gwynedd was Owain Gwynedd, but his father Gruffydd ap Cynan can equally lay stake to such a claim.  His rule was certainly eventful. Gruffydd ruled in Wales on and off since he was a young man, in between his flights to Ireland when the English—or other Welsh barons—ousted him from Gwynedd.  Gruffydd’s grandfather had been the King of Gwynedd once upon a time, and Gruffydd had claimed the throne as its lawful heir. But staking his claim hadn’t been easy.  That first time, Gruffydd Read More…

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 Read More…

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 Read More…

Medieval Swords and Armor were NOT heavy!

That medieval swords and armor were ‘heavy’ is one of the strangest misconceptions of medieval life.  These people’s LIVES depended on their agility and ability to survive a fight.  Why would they be wielding 20 pound swords and wearing armor so heavy if they fell of their horse, they’d find themselves as helpless as upturned turtles? One reason for the confusion comes from the fact that ornamental swords and armor that remain to us often ARE heavier than ones used in battle, secondly, the sport of ‘fencing’ has greatly confused Read More…

The Triumph of Medieval Propaganda

Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his History of the Kings of Britain back in the 12th century. It was at the behest of Robert of Gloucester, his patron, that he claims to have transcribed/copied/invented his history, placing King Arthur at the center of a national–and by that I mean English–origin myth. The idea was to justify the conquest of Britain by the Normans as a mirror to what King Arthur had done in the 5th century, including crossing the English Channel from Normandy to  Britain. Children’s author Phillip Womack (author of Read More…

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; Read More…

December 11, 1282

Today is the 735th anniversary the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native Welsh Prince of Wales.  He was ambushed and cut down by Englishmen, somewhere in the vicinity of Builth Wells (Buellt in Welsh), Wales, late on the afternoon on 11 December 1282.  It was a Friday. 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 Read More…