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Jack O lanterns were originally made from turnips and used to guide the dead back to earth, and the Celts also dressed in costumes much as we do today, but they would use animal skins!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: 

Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales

410px-Arms_of_Dafydd_ap_Gruffydd.svgDafydd 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 the rest of his family, and thus was on the spot, so to speak, when his uncle Dafydd died. The family itself, however, was not imprisoned, and Dafydd grew up as a close companion to Prince Edward himself, a fact which could explain much of his later behavior.

At that point, Dafydd ap Gruffydd was only 8 years old, and in no sense prepared to put forth a claim to his patrimony.  When later he did, Llywelyn refused, and the lands that he acquired were given to him by his older brother, Owain, who had split Gwynedd equally with Llywelyn.  In 1255, believing he deserved more, Dafydd conspired with Owain to gain control of all of Gwynedd for themselves and were defeated by Llywelyn in the Battle of Bryn Derwin.  Llywelyn imprisoned them both initially, but then accepted Dafydd back into his favor a year later and gave him lands in eastern Gwynedd centered around Denbigh,which Llywelyn had taken from the English during the Rising of 1256. Over the next five years, he brought Dafydd more and more into his confidence until suddenly, in 1263, Dafydd defected to the English (and Prince Edward). To this day historians have no idea why though various apologists for Dafydd have suggested that he was dissatisfied with what he’d acquired from Llywelyn for his five years of loyalty.

To say that Dafydd had a problematic relationship with Llywelyn is woefully understate the case. Llywelyn kept Owain Goch imprisoned until forced to release him in 1277, but he released Dafydd after Bryn Derwin and gave him lands, ultimately bowing to his younger brother’s rightful claim as a prince of Wales. He was also, throughout his life, Llywelyn’s sole heir, as Llywelyn never had a son in or out of wedlock. At the time, Llywelyn perceived Owain, the elder brother, as the greater threat.

From Brynne Haug:  “Dafydd’s choice to turn to Edward in 1263 and again in 1274 was self-serving in that he believed his chances better with the king than with Llywelyn. Llywelyn had little choice but to accept Dafydd back when he changed his mind: in 1267 Edward I stipulated it in the Treaty of Mongomery, and it was again a condition in 1277.”

What’s more, in late 1274, Owain ap Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn confessed to Anian, the Bishop of Bangor, a man, by the way, who was not an ally of Llywelyn and often opposed him, that he had conspired with Dafydd to assassinate Llywleyn, the attempt being thwarted by a snowstorm. As J. Beverly Smith writes:

“The fullest account comes from a letter which the dean and chapter of Bangor addressed to the archbishop of Canterbury in the spring of 1276. Much of the substance of the letter is, however, corroborated by two documents from the critical year itself and  by an entry in the Brut y Tywysogyon. The dean’s letter relates that Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn and his eldest son, Owain, plotted with Dafydd ap Gruffydd to kill Llywelyn.  The conspirators had agreed that  Dafydd should remain in his brother’s entourage until 2 February 1274 when Owain would bring armed men by night to accomplish the deed, but a snowstorm on the night in question confounded their plans.”

Gruffydd acknowledged his guilt and actually retained much of his lands. Owain was imprisoned, as hostage to his father’s good behavior. Dafydd’s part in the plot appears to have been unknown to Llywelyn until late in 1274, when Dafydd was called to account for his actions (which he denied). It was only after Dafydd fled to England that Owain confessed to the bishop the entire plan, and Llywelyn understood fully what had been intended (Smith 1998 p. 369-373). Given Dafydd’s behavior in the past and future, particularly his pride and unwillingness to take second to anyone, Smith argues that Dafydd was the true instigator of the conspiracy (p. 376).

What must have been  most aggravating to Llywelyn was that Dafydd was one of the impetuses for all of the wars against England:  in 1267 and 1277 when Dafydd fought against Llywelyn on the side of the English, and again in 1282, when he forced Llywelyn to throw his weight behind Dafydd himself after Dafydd launched an attack on Edward’s castles in Wales.

Whatever his motives, Dafydd did stay true to Wales after Llywelyn’s death. In June 1283, English soldiers captured Dafydd, took him to Shrewsbury, and, in October, executed him.  He was hung, drawn, and quartered, and his head displayed in the tower of London alongside Llywelyn’s.

Sources:

J. Beverly Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd:  The Prince of Wales.

Brynne Haug, Captive Cymru: Llywelyn and Gwynedd in the Wars of King Edward.

Peniarth MS 20, The Chronicle of the Princes

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 landed on Anglesey with an Irish and Danish, not Welsh, force.  After he defeated Trahaearn, the man who’d usurped his throne, Gruffydd led his army eastwards to reclaim territories the Normans had taken over during the unrest.  Despite the prior assistance given to him by the Norman, Robert of Rhuddlan, Gruffydd attacked and destroyed Rhuddlan castle.

Unfortunately for Gruffydd’s tenure on the throne, tensions between Gruffydd’s Danish-Irish bodyguard and the local Welsh led to a rebellion not long afterwards in Ll?n.  Trahaearn, the previously ousted King of Gwynedd, took the opportunity to counter attack—with a helpful Norman force—defeating Gruffydd at the battle of Bron yr Erw.

Not giving up, six years later in 1081, Gruffydd allied himself with Rhys ap Tudur, Anarawd’s grandfather, and tried again.  This time with a combined Dane, Irish, and Welsh force, he and Rhys marched north from Deheubarth to seek Trahaearn and his allies from Powys. The armies of the two confederacies met, Gruffydd and Rhys emerged victorious, and Trahaearn and his allied kings were killed. Gruffydd was thus able to seize power in Gwynedd for the second time.

But then the Normans counter-attacked, lured Gruffydd into a meeting near Corwen, and captured him.  They imprisoned him for sixteen years.  He finally escaped in 1197 and led a third invasion from Ireland.  After some ups and downs, and with the timely intervention of King Magnus of Norway, Gruffydd stumbled to victory, came to terms with the Norman Earl of Chester, and began to consolidate his power.   By the time his three sons were of age, he’d been King of Gwynedd for twenty years and had negotiated a peace with King Henry of England, who’d tried twice to conquer Gwynedd and failed.

This was the kingdom Owain Gwynedd inherited and the one he strived to defend and expand.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gruffydd_ap_Cynan  http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/gruffcgd.html

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.

Welsh Lesson Two

Taken from Basic Welsh: A Grammar and Workbook by Gareth King

Welsh Lesson Two: Nouns and noun plurals

 

Nouns are sorted by whether the word denotes man or woman

Tad – father              mam – mother

 

When the two vowels in a word are a/e: feminine

When the two vowels in a word are o/y: masculine

 

Masculine endings:                          Feminine endings:

-ad      -iad                                         -aeth            -as

-der     -did     -dod                            -en            -es

-dra                                                     -fa

-eb      -edd

-had

-I         -iant

-ni

-rwydd

-wch   -wr

-ydd    -yn

 

Plural endings:
-au      -iau

-on      -ion

-i

-od      -ed      -edd    -oedd  -ydd

-ys (English loanwords)

 

Exceptions:

Words that change internal vowels:

Corff/cyrff     pabell/pebyll

 

Words that change internal vowels and endings:

Braich/breichiau

 

Total exceptions:

Dail – leaves/foliage            deilen – leaf

Moch – pigs                          mochyn – pig

 

Exercise 1: Plural or Singular (circle the plural words)

Siopao

Cath

Teipiadur

Ysgolion

Parseli

Ffenest

Llyfr

Llyfrgelloedd

Stafell

Babanod

Papurau

Gwasanaeth

Cwpan

Geiriaduron

Desgiau

Posteri

Gardd

Coeden

Mochyn

Carped

Crysau

Rhagolygon

Cyfieithwyr

Golygydd

Mynyddoedd

Tywysoges

Bysiau

Goleuadau

Eglwysi

Dannedd

Pysgotwyr

Geiriau

Teigrod

Rhufeiniaid

Bwrdd

Llewod

Brechdanau

Undeb

Rhieni

Plenty

Dynion

Merch

Ffenestri

Olwynion

Llun

Dwr

Fforestydd

Potel

Papur

Llewod

Dramau

Cadeiriau

Pontydd

Tan

Cyfrifon

Nodiadur

Gorsafoedd

Planhigion

Tren

Tapiau

Rhaglenni

Bwydlen

Llaeth

Sanau

stori

 

Exercise 2: Assigning Gender (circle the feminine words)

Bwydlen

cyfieithydd

mynedfa

mochyn

Swyddogaeth

toriad

tywysoges

terfyniad

Plentyn

teyrnas

coeden

rhaglen

Methiant

gyrrwr

tawelwch

awel

Undeb

drygioni

swyddfa

llofruddiaeth

Heddwch

dwyieithrwydd

cyfreithiwr

meithrinfa

Gwaeledd

saesnes

priodas

stafell

 

Welsh Lesson One

Taken from Basic Welsh: A Grammar and Workbook by Gareth King

Welsh Lesson One: Identification Sentences

hwn               this                       hwnna                    that

y rhain          these                    y rheina              those

e/o                 he                             hi                       she

 

hwn               this person (m)                       hon                              this person (f)

hwnna          that person (m)                       honna                          that person (f)

hwnnw         that person who                        honno                         that person who is out of sight (m)                             is out of sight  (f)

 

dw i               I am

 

Pwy               who                              Beth                       what

ydy                is/are                       athrawon                teachers

enw               name                       enwau                       names

prifddinas     capitol                          llyfr                       book

plant             children

 

Query sentences are constructed such that the reply is created by replacing the pronoun in the initial question with the answer to that question.

Pwy dach chi?                                  Who are you?

Taran dw i                                         I am Taran

 

Pwy ydy hwnna?                               Who is that?

Dafydd ydy hwnna                           That is David

 

Pwy ydy’r rheina?                             Who are those people?

Athrawon ydy’r rheina.                   Those people are teachers.

 

Beth ydy prifddinas Ffrainc?          What is the capitol of France?

Paris ydy prifddinas Ffrainc.          Paris is the capitol of France.

 

Beth ydy enwau’r plant?                     What are the children’s names?

Mair a Sioned ydy enwau’r plant    The children’s names are Mair and Sioned.

 

Exercise 1:

Who is that (m)?

Who is this (f)?

What is that?

What are these?

Who are those?

What is this?

Who is this (m)?

Who is that (f)?

 

Exercise 2: Fill in the blanks (rheina, ‘r, pwy, ydy, beth, llyfr, ydy)

 

  1. __________ ydy honna?
  2. Beth ydy ______ rhain?
  3. Pwy __________ hwnna?
  4. _________ ydy hwn?
  5. ________ ___________ hwnna
  6. Pwy ydy’r ____________

 

Exercise 3: Match the sentences

Beth ydy’r rhain?                              Who are these?

Pwy ydy hon ?                                    Who is that?

Beth ydy hwn?                                  What is this?

Pwy ydy’r rhain?                               What are these?

Beth ydy hwnna?                              Who is this?

Pwy ydy honna?                               What is that?

 

King Edward’s complicated relationship with the Welsh

Sparked by a post yesterday, in which a historian commented that King Edward had a Welsh guard and didn’t ‘hate’ all Welsh as some people seemed to think, I feel compelled to comment.

First off, Edward was an English king who had the interests of the English crown and the English people first and foremost. He conquered all these countries from that position, with the idea that English law/church/language/culture (and that means Norman, really) was far superior to the barbaric north and west. That doesn’t mean he hated all Welshmen. A lot of what he did initially, in fact, was because he loved Dafydd, Llywelyn’s brother, in particular, and felt horribly betrayed by him when he started the rebellion in 1282.

And really, fine that he had a guard of Welshmen, but really, what were their choices? Nobody can prove or disprove that the Welsh did or did not like Edward, but back home, they were taxed to high heaven–deliberately to cripple them–their right to govern themselves was completely absent, and gradually their laws and way of life was disappearing. When Edward built all those castles, he ‘planted’ English towns next to them into which Welsh people were forbidden to live. He razed whole Welsh towns to the ground, including Aberconwy, where Llywelyn had a palace and one of the largest monasteries in Wales (Edward did the same 10 years later at Beaumaris). He proportioned out land to English lords, preventing the Welsh from herding their sheep and cattle (remember, herders were viewed as barbaric compared to farmers) and making a living.

This isn’t because Edward hated Welsh people, and any student of history knows that conquered people are exactly that–conquered. You didn’t see the Saxons murdering English kings either! The Saxons, in fact, were extraordinarily fortunate (after the initial conquest in 1066) in that they were the people at the forefront when the Normans came (like the Welsh/Britons had been when the Romans came) in that they were wholly coopted into the mythology of English superiority. Truly, the Romans had done the same thing to the Welsh back in 43 AD when they came, once resistance had been stamped out. It’s called being complicit in your own subjugation.

Here’s a Scottish example from my own family: My ancestor, Donald McKay fought FOR the English in the American revolution in one of the highland regiments. He was a McKay, from the nosebleed north, and returned home to discover that his lands had been ‘cleared’ by a rival clan that had allied with the English. The McKays were even protestant. Didn’t matter. Anyway, he came home to no land, no status, and no ability to earn a living. The English realized almost immediately that having all these displaced and resentful highlanders roaming Scotland was going to cause trouble, so they gave them land in Nova Scotia (New Scotland, heh), to get them out of their hair. It worked. Eventually Donald’s grandson made his way to Boston, and voila!

So did Edward ‘hate’ the Welsh. No. Did the Welsh ‘hate’ him? Many did, clearly, and perhaps some did not. And really, all through Welsh history, Welsh lords and men colluded with the English against their compatriots. But the fact that he had a Welsh guard and the Welsh fought for him against the Scots doesn’t indicate any kind of love either. Edward’s goal was to extract resources from the Welsh and subjugate their country. Of that there can be no question. I don’t see the point of arguing whether or not they loved him for it.

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

 

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 The Other Book and The Liberators) said in the Times Online:  “As inhabitants of these islands, we don’t have many myths that bring us together, but King Arthur is one.  I think that we will always seek him as a saviour, whatever situation we’re in, because that’s human nature. The reason the Arthur myths are currently so popular is that they reflect our age brilliantly.”

This is a nice quote, and not at all inaccurate, but none-the-less astonishing because this is EXACTLY WHAT GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH INTENDED!  He wrote his book in 1139 AD. It was meant to be a mythology for the nation of England, justifying the Norman conquest of England (and particularly Empress Maud’s claim to the throne) and placing her in the line of rulers dating back to King Arthur and earlier.

Geoffrey’s book was an immediate hit, and for the most part taken by the populace to be ‘true’, even if the scholars at the time dismissed it.  One site states:  “There is nothing in the matter or the style of the Historia to preclude us from supposing that Geoffrey drew partly upon confused traditions, partly on his own powers of invention, and to a very slight degree upon the accepted authorities for early British history.  His chronology is fantastic and incredible; William of Newburgh justly remarks that, if we accepted the events which Geoffrey relates, we should have to suppose that they had happened in another world.”

Furthermore: “William of Newburgh  . . . belongs to the northern school of historians, who carried on the admirable traditions of the Venerable Bede. This was a spirit very unlike that which inspired Geoffrey of Monmouth’s mythical “History of the British Kings” with its tales of King Arthur, and William attacks Geoffrey and his legends with great indignation, calling the latter “impudent and shameless lies“. This striking illustration of his historic integrity won for him from Freeman the title of ‘the father of historical criticism’, and the compliment is not altogether undeserved.”  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15634c.htm

But it doesn’t matter.  Geoffrey had launched the legend of King Arthur upon the world and there was no turning back.

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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Christmas and the Winter Solstice

Stonehenge_Winter_Solstice_2007December 21st is the winter solstice in 2017. This is Stonehenge at the Winter Solstice in 2007. I’m pretty sure a whole bunch of those people have no idea why they’re there …

Cultures throughout the world and throughout history have celebrated the winter solstice, carefully calculating it’s date and time for sunrise and sunset, and aligning standing stones, worship sites, and burials in coordination with the sky.  Wikipedia has an excellent catalog of these events:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice

“The December solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, it is when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. Depending on the Gregorian calendar, the December solstice occurs annually on a day between December 20 and December 23. On this date, all places above a latitude of 66.5 degrees north are now in darkness, while locations below a latitude of 66.5 degrees south receive 24 hours of daylight.”  http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/december-solstice.html

The Romans first linked Christmas with the solstice.  They pegged the event to December 25th because, since 43 BC, this date was the winter solstice in the Julian calendar.  It was only in 1582 that Pope Gregory XIII reconciled the calendar with the actual astronomical solstice, moving the solstice to December 21 (and keeping Christmas on the 25th).

From http://www.essortment.com/christmas-pagan-origins-42543.html:  “In ancient Babylon, the feast of the Son of Isis (Goddess of Nature) was celebrated on December 25. Raucous partying, gluttonous eating and drinking, and gift-giving were traditions of this feast.

In Rome, the Winter Solstice was celebrated many years before the birth of Christ. The Romans called their winter holiday Saturnalia, honoring Saturn, the God of Agriculture. In January, they observed the Kalends of January, which represented the triumph of life over death. This whole season was called Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. The festival season was marked by much merrymaking. It is in ancient Rome that the tradition of the Mummers was born. The Mummers were groups of costumed singers and dancers who traveled from house to house entertaining their neighbors. From this, the Christmas tradition of caroling was born.

In northern Europe, many other traditions that we now consider part of Christian worship were begun long before the participants had ever heard of Christ. The pagans of northern Europe celebrated the their own winter solstice, known as Yule. Yule was symbolic of the pagan Sun God, Mithras, being born, and was observed on the shortest day of the year. As the Sun God grew and matured, the days became longer and warmer. It was customary to light a candle to encourage Mithras, and the sun, to reappear next year.

According to my go-to online etymological dictionary, Yule: yule (n.) Old English geol, geola “Christmas Day, Christmastide,” from Old Norse jol (plural), a heathen feast, later taken over by Christianity, of unknown origin.

The Old English (Anglian) cognate giuli was the Anglo-Saxons’ name for a two-month midwinter season corresponding to Roman December and January, a time of important feasts but not itself a festival. After conversion to Christianity it narrowed to mean “the 12-day feast of the Nativity” (which began Dec. 25), but was replaced by Christmas by 11c., except in the northeast (areas of Danish settlement), where it remained the usual word.

Revived 19c. by writers to mean “the Christmas of ‘Merrie England.’ ” First direct reference to the Yule log is 17c. Old Norse jol seems to have been borrowed in Old French as jolif, hence Modern French joli “pretty, nice,” originally “festive” (see jolly).

The tree is the one symbol that unites almost all the northern European winter solstices. Live evergreen trees were often brought into homes during the harsh winters as a reminder to inhabitants that soon their crops would grow again. Evergreen boughs were sometimes carried as totems of good luck and were often present at weddings, representing fertility. The Druids used the tree as a religious symbol, holding their sacred ceremonies while surrounding and worshipping huge trees.

In 350, Pope Julius I declared that Christ’s birth would be celebrated on December 25. There is little doubt that he was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans (who remained a majority at that time) to convert to Christianity. The new religion went down a bit easier, knowing that their feasts would not be taken away from them.” http://www.essortment.com/christmas-pagan-origins-42543.html