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 afterDafydd 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
As I sit here munching candy corn (which my 13 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.
“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
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 authoritative history which included many events familiar from later romance. Geoffrey also introduced the character of Merlin as we know him into the legends. Geoffrey’s Merlin, a combination of the young and prophetic Ambrosius in Nennius’s history and the prophet Myrddin who figures in several Welsh poems, first appears in a book known as the Prophetiae Merlini (The Prophecies of Merlin), which was written about 1135 but then incorporated as Book VII of the Historia. This book contains the prophecies made by Merlin to Vortigern, which foreshadow not only the downfall of Vortigern but also the rise and fall of Arthur, events subsequent to the end of the Historia, and events of the obscure future.” http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/geoffrey.htm
“Modifying the name of the northern bard Myrddin, Geoffrey uses Welsh predictions of a Celtic revival and many of his own probable invention and ascribes them to the prophet. This work was followed toward 1136-1138 by the Historia Regum Britanniae that incorporated the prophecies in it. Near the end of 1150 he composed a long narrative poem expanding on Welsh traditions about the prophet entitled, Vita Merlini (“Life of Merlin”).” http://www.pantheon.org/articles/g/geoffrey_of_monmouth.html
By his late twenties, Geoffrey certainly seems to have travelled eastwards to work at the Collegiate Church of St. George at the castle in Oxford. He remained there, as a tutor of some kind, for at least the next twenty years and began writing not long after he arrived. The Prophecies of Merlin appear to have been a series of ancient Celtic prophecies which, at the request of Alexander of Salisbury, Bishop of Lincoln, Geoffrey translated into Latin, perhaps with some additions of his own. “Whether they had previously been attributed to the Northern British bard, Myrddin, is unknown. As with all his works, Geoffrey hoped the prophecies might bring him a lucrative preferment in the Church, and he used its dedication to ingratiate himself with Alexander who was Bishop of his local diocese. Geoffrey made a more appreciative acquaintance while at St. George’s, in the person of Walter the Provost, who was also Archdeacon of the city. In his writings, Geoffrey tells us that Walter gave him “a certain very ancient book written in the British language” and, probably because he was unable to read Welsh (or Breton) himself, the Archdeacon encouraged Geoffrey to translate it into Latin.”
Geoffrey began writing History of the Kings of Britain’ dedicated to Robert, Earl of Gloucester, and Waleran, Count of Mellent in 1136. “At the time, the work was taken at face value and accepted by most as a true history of the Welsh nation from around 1100 bc to around AD 689. Merlin appeared again, as an advisor to Kings Ambrosius and Uther, but the work was most notable for its extensive chapters covering the reign of the great King Arthur. Since the 17th century, however, its author has been largely vilified as an inexorable forger who made up his stories “from an inordinate love of lying”. Modern historians tend to be slightly more sympathetic.
At the end of 1150, Geoffrey appears to have come into the possession of further source documents concerning the life-story of his original subject, the bard, Myrddin (alias Merlin). Unfortunately, these did not line up terribly well the information he had given about this man in his History of the Kings of Britain – perhaps indicating that this part was either invented or, more probably, that Merlin’s name had been rather over-eagerly attributed to an otherwise unknown Royal adviser. Keen to put across the true story, without losing face, Geoffrey wrote the Life of Merlin, correctly placing its events after the reign of Arthur, but thus giving his title role an impossibly long lifespan. It was dedicated to his former colleague at St. George’s, Robert De Chesney, the new Bishop of Lincoln.
“The following year, Geoffrey’s sycophancy at last paid off. He was elected Bishop of St. Asaphs, for good service to his Norman masters; and was consecrated by Archbishop Theobald at Lambeth Palace in February 1152. As a Welsh-speaker, he was probably chosen in an attempt to make the diocesanal administration more acceptable in an age when Normans were not at all popular in the areas of Wales which they controlled. However, the strategy seems to have been unsuccessful. Owain Gwynedd’s open rebellion was in full swing and Geoffrey appears to have never even visited his bishopric. He died four years later, probably in London.” http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/geofmon.html
“Whenever his dates are checked, as in the Roman period, Geoffrey emerges clearly as a writer of fiction and cannot be relied upon for facts. Following medieval tradition, he fully modernizes Arthur’s court to the 12th century. Later, however, from Caesar on he is using what passed for real history at the time and some of his source materials can be identified – the Historia Brittonum, Bede and Gildas in addition to Roman historians.
For the most part he is creating and aggrandizing very little data but in his preface he claims to be translating from a much fuller source, one “ancient book in the British language” (maybe Welsh but probably Breton) bestowed upon him by Walter, archdeacon at Oxford. This claim remains dubious as no copy of this source is extant. But the tale of Arthur scribed by Geoffrey cannot be fully accounted for from the aforementioned sources hinting at some unknown text of some kind. There is a possible tie to the Continent from the resonance with 5th century events in Gaul. Traces of a similar source are found in the preface to the Breton Legend of St. Goeznovius.” http://www.pantheon.org/articles/g/geoffrey_of_monmouth.html
The ‘Dark Ages’ were ‘dark’ only because we lack extensive (or in some instances, any) historical material about the period between 407 AD, when the Romans marched away from Britain, and 1066, when William of Normandy conquered England.
“Initially, this era took on the term “dark” . . . due to the backward ways and practices that seemed to prevail during this time. Future historians used the term “dark” simply to denote the fact that little was known about this period; there was a paucity of written history. Recent discoveries have apparently altered this perception as many new facts about this time have been uncovered.
The Italian Scholar, Francesco Petrarca called Petrarch, was the first to coin the phrase. He used it to denounce Latin literature of that time; others expanded on this idea to express frustration with the lack of Latin literature during this time or other cultural achievements. While the term dark ages is no longer widely used, it may best be described as Early Middle Ages — the period following the decline of Romein the Western World. The Middle Ages is loosely considered to extend from 400 to 1000 AD.” http://www.allabouthistory.org/the-dark-ages.htm
For Wales, the time was no more or less bright than any other. The relative peace the Romans brought was predicated on the brutal subjugation of the British people. When the Romans left, the Britons faced the Irish from the west, the Scots from the northwest, the Picts from the northeast and ‘Saxons’ (who were Angles and Jutes too, not just ‘Saxons’) from the east. To a certain degree, it was just more of the same. The Britons had their lands back—the whole expanse of what is nowWales andEngland—for about five minutes.
As the Romans went back home, there emerged from the coracles that had carried them across the sea-valleys the foul hordes of Scots and Picts. … They were more confident than usual now that they had learnt of the departure ofthe Romans and the denial of any prospect of their return. So they seized the whole north of the island from its inhabitants, right up to (i.e. as far south as) the wall (presumably Hadrian’s). A force was stationed on the high towers to oppose them, but it was too lazy to fight, and too unwieldy to flee. Meanwhile there was no respite from the barbed spears flung by their naked opponents, which tore our wretched countrymen from the walls and dashed them to the ground.
From contemporary accounts in 411:
They (the barbarians) reduced the inhabitants of Britainand some parts of Gaul to such straits that they revolted from the Roman Empire, no longer submitted to Roman law, but reverted to their native customs. The Britons, therefore, armed themselves and ran many risks to ensure their own safety and free their cities from the attacking barbarians. The whole of Armorica, [Emap (7)] and other Gallic provinces, in imitation of the Britons, freed themselves in the same way, by expelling the Roman magistrates and establishing the government they wanted. The revolt of the provinces ofBritain and Gaul occurred during Constantine’s tyranny because the barbarians took advantage of his careless government. …
Fastidius — letter to a widow in Britain
We see before us many instances of wicked men, the sum of their sins complete, who are being judged at the present moment, and denied this present life no less than the life to come. This is not hard to understand, for in changing times we expect the deaths of magistrates who have lived criminally, for the greater their power, the bolder their sins. … Those who have freely shed the blood of others are now forced to shed their own. … Some lie unburied, food for the beasts and birds of the air. Others have been individually torn limb from limb. Their judgements killed many husbands, widowed many women, orphaned many children, leaving them bare and beggared … for they plundered the property of the men they killed. But now it is their wives who are widowed, their sons who are orphaned, begging their daily bread from strangers.
It does seem that a ruler named Vortigern invited some Germanic ‘Saxon’ tribes to settle in eastern England, in hopes of creating a buffer zone between the Britons and the relentless invasions fromEurope. This plan backfired, however, and resulted in the pushing westward of successive waves of ‘Saxon’ groups. Ultimately, the Britons retreated into Wales, the only portion of land the Saxons were unable to conquer.
From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
445: In the fourth year of Vortigern’s reign, the English came to Britain.
449: The British consulted what was to be done and where they should seek assistance to prevent or repel the cruel and frequent incursions of the northern nations. They all agreed with their king Vortigern to call over to their aid, from the parts beyond the sea, the Saxon nation. … The two first commanders are said to have been Hengist and Horsa.
449: Martian and Valentinian assumed the Roman empire(actually in 450) and reigned seven winters. In their days Hengest and Horsa, invited by Vortigern, king of the Britons to his assistance, landed inBritainin a place that is called Ipwinesfleet; at first to help the Britons, but later they fought against them.
453: But Hengest was an experienced man, shrewd and skilful. Sizing up the king’s incompetence, and the military weakness of his people, he held a council, and said to the British king “We are a few; if you wish, we can send home and invite warriors from the fighting men of our country, that the number that fight for you and your people may be larger.” The king ordered it be done, and envoys were sent across the sea, and came back with sixteen keels, with picked warriors in them. In one of the keels came Hengest’s daughter, a beautiful and very handsome girl. When the keels had arrived, Hengest held a banquet for Vortigern, and his men and his interpreter, whose name was Ceretic, and told the girl to serve their wine and spirits. They all got exceedingly drunk. When they were drinking Satan entered Vortigern’s heart and made him love the girl. Through his interpreter he asked her father for her hand, saying “Ask of me what you will, even to the half of my kingdom”.
Shaked like a coward … all the courses of my life do show
I am not in the roll of commen men.
–Shakespeare (Henry IV)
Born in 1349, at the height of the Black Plague, Owain Glyndwr lived in a turbulent time in Wales. With the defeat of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282, Wales became nothing more than a vassal to the English crown and the vast majority of the native rulers were dead or unseated by English barons. Glyndwr’s family had supported Llywelyn, but had allied themselves with the Mortimers and Lestranges afterwards such that they got to keep their lands.
As was so often the case in Wales, however, Glyndwr found himself in trouble when he “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 himPrince of Wales.” http://www.castlewales.com/glyndwr.html
By 1403, Glyndwr controlled most of Wales and “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. At Machynlleth, he was also crowned king of a free Wales. A second parliament in Harlech took place a year later, with Glyndwr making plans to carve up England and Wales into three, as part of an alliance against the English king: Mortimer would take the south and west of England, Thomas Percy, earl of Northumberland, would have the midlands and the north, and himself Wales and the Marches of England.” http://www.castlewales.com/glyndwr.html
Over the next few years, Glyndwr’s power and influence began to wane, especially after King Henry IV of England was able to turn his attention from the Scots to the Welsh. In 1409, Mortimer and Glyndwr’s family were captured and taken to the Tower of London. Although Henry V offered Glyndwr a pardon in 1413, he refused it. There is no record of what happened to him after that, and no location for his death and burial. For historical purposes, he vanished.
Owain Glyndwy is immortalized in Shakespeare’s play, King Henry IV:
“The Earl of Northumberland, his son Henry Percy [Harry Hotspur] and the Archbishop of York, began rebellions against Henry. They joined with the Mortimer family and Owain Glyndwr, there plan was to overthrow Henry IV, and divide the kingdom into three parts – the northern part for the Northumberland family, the southern part for the Mortimers, Wales and the western midlands of England for Owain Glyndwr. However the rebellion failed.” http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~yawn/h4sh.htm
This bears a fascinating resemblance to Clare, Prince Llywelyn, and Simon de Montfort’s plans to divide England and Wales 150 years earlier.
The Irish, Welsh, and Scots all have a Celtic ancestry, but they settled their respective regions before the Roman conquest of Britain. There is an amazing amount of debate as to the origin of the Celts: were they Phoenician? stocky and dark? tall and blonde? as culturally cohesive as the label suggests? The standard theory is that the Celts were an Indo-European group that gradually migrated across Europe and Asia, with an identifiable, distinct culture by 750 BC. As a group, they were well-known to the Greeks and Romans. The map to the right shows the migrations of the celtic (or proto-celtic) groups around 1000 BC. Note the expansion of the Celts in particular between 500 and 200 BC into the British Isles. The Welsh tribes in particular consisted of the Ordovices, the Deceangli, the Gangani, the Demetae, and the Silures. http://archaeology.suite101.com/article.cfm/archaeology_and_the_celts
“History tells us that there were two main Celtic groups, one of which is referred to as the ‘lowland Celts’ who hailed from the region of the Danube. These people left their native pastures around 1200 BC and slowly made their way across Europe, founding the lake dwellings in Switzerland, the Danube valley and Ireland. They were skilled in the use of metals and worked in gold, tin and bronze. Unlike the more familiar Celtic strain these people were an agriculturally oriented race, being herdsmen, tillers and artificers who burned rather than buried their dead. They blended peacefully with the megalithic people among whom they settled, contributing powerfully to the religion, art, and customs they encountered as they slowly spread westwards. Their religious beliefs also differed from the next group, being predominately matriarchal.
The second group, often referred to as the ‘true’ Celts, followed closely behind their lowland cousins, making their first appearance on the left bank of the Rhine at the commencement of the sixth century BC. These people, who came from the mountainous regions of the Balkans and Carpathians, were a military aristocracy. Reputed to love fighting for the sake of it they were frequently to be found among the mercenaries of the great armies of those early times. They had a distinct class system, the observance of which constituted one of their major racial features. These were the warlike Celts of ancient history who sacked Rome and Delphi, eventually marching victoriously across much of Europe and the British Isles.” http://www.joellessacredgrove.com/Celtic/history.html
The Celts had arrived in Britain and Ireland by 400 BC, super-imposing upon whatever native peoples were already there. The Celts in these regions, then, were on the fringes of Celtic culture, not their heart, which was centered in Northern Europe, particularly in what is now Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
“Archaeological investigation of settlements shows that many people in the Iron Age lived in hilltop enclosures or hillforts defended by one or more banks and ditches. The inner bank would have been topped by a wooden palisade or occasionally a stone wall.
Within the enclosure people lived in round houses often with porches over the single doorway. The houses were made usually with wattle and daub walls, wooden roofs thatched with straw or reeds and with clay or earth floors. In some areas where stone was plentiful the house walls were built of stone. This is true of north Wales at such hillforts as Moel-y-Gaer. Often the houses had a central fireplace and sometimes a clay oven for baking bread. The grain for the bread was ground on rotary querns. The smoke would have escaped through the thatch. A wooden loom might be found in some houses where people wove cloth from wool or flax.” http://www.cpat.org.uk/educate/leaflets/celts/celts.htm
A ‘new’ theory, which isn’t necessarily knew and might make equal or more sense, is that the Celts actually originated on the fringes of Europe–in Ireland–migrated east around 2000 BC, and then swept back again 1500 years later. A recent find supports this idea:
“The DNA evidence based on those bones completely upends the traditional view,” said Barry Cunliffe, an emeritus professor of archaeology at Oxford who has written books on the origins of the people of Ireland.
DNA research indicates that the three skeletons found behind McCuaig’s are the ancestors of the modern Irish and they predate the Celts and their purported arrival by 1,000 years or more. The genetic roots of today’s Irish, in other words, existed in Ireland before the Celts arrived.
“The most striking feature” of the bones, according to the research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science journal, is how much their DNA resembles that of contemporary Irish, Welsh and Scots. (By contrast, older bones found in Ireland were more like Mediterranean people, not the modern Irish.)
Radiocarbon dating shows that the bones discovered at McCuaig’s go back to about 2000 B.C. That makes them hundreds of years older than the oldest artifacts generally considered to be Celtic — relics unearthed from Celt homelands of continental Europe, most notably around Switzerland, Austria and Germany.
For a group of scholars who in recent years have alleged that the Celts, beginning from the middle of Europe, may never have reached Ireland, the arrival of the DNA evidence provides the biological certitude that the science has sometimes brought to criminal trials.
“With the genetic evidence, the old model is completely shot,” John Koch, a linguist at the Center for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies at the University of Wales.
The senior author of the DNA research paper, Dan Bradley of Trinity College Dublin, was reluctant to weigh in on the cultural implications, but he offered that the findings do challenge popular beliefs about Irish origins.
“The genomes of the contemporary people in Ireland are older — much older — than we previously thought,” he said.
over the last decade, a growing number of scholars have argued that the first Celtic languages were spoken not by the Celts in the middle of Europe but by ancient people on Europe’s westernmost extremities, possibly in Portugal, Spain, Ireland or the other locales on the western edges of the British Isles.
Koch, the linguist at the University of Wales, for example, proposed in 2008 that “Celtic” languages were not imports to the region but instead were developed somewhere in the British Isles or the Iberian Peninsula — and then spread eastward into continental Europe.
His doubts about the traditional view arose as he was studying inscriptions on artifacts from southern Portugal. The inscriptions on those artifacts strongly resembled the languages known as Celtic, yet they dated as far back as 700 B.C. This placed Celtic languages far from the Celt homelands in the middle of Europe at a very, very early date.
“What it shows is that the language that became Irish was already out there — before 700 B.C. and before the Iron Age,” Koch said. “It just didn’t fit with the traditional theory of Celtic spreading west to Britain and Iberia.”
The second line of argument arises from archaeology and related sources.
Numerous digs, most notably in Austria and Switzerland, have traced the outlines of the Celts. The artifacts offer evidence going back as far as about 800 B.C. The ancient Greeks and Romans also left written accounts of the Celts, and probably knew them well — the Celts sacked Rome around 390 B.C. and attacked Delphi in Greece in 279 B.C.
It seemed plausible that this group that had invaded Rome had invaded Ireland as well, and in the standard view, it was this people that eventually made it to Ireland.
For decades, however, archaeologists and other scholars have noted just how flimsy the evidence is for that standard account and how broad, nonetheless, is the application of the word.
In 1955, an Oxford professor, J.R.R. Tolkien, better known as the author of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” novels, described the popular understanding of “Celtic” in a celebrated lecture: “‘Celtic’ of any sort is … a magic bag into which anything may be put, and out of which almost anything may come…. Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight, which is not so much a twilight of the gods as of the reason.”
Moreover, in recent years, some archaeologists have proposed that the traditional story of the Celts’ invasion was, in a sense, exactly wrong — the culture was not imported but exported — originating on the western edge of Europe much earlier than previously thought and spreading into the continent.
In a 2001 book, Cunliffe, the Oxford scholar, argued on the basis of archaeological evidence that the flow of Celtic culture was opposite that of the traditional view — it flowed from the western edge of Europe, what he calls “the Atlantic zone” — into the rest of the continent. In many places of the Atlantic zone, he notes, people were buried in passages aligned with the solstices, a sign that they shared a unified belief system.
“From about 5,000 B.C. onwards, complicated ideas of status, art, cosmology were being disseminated along the Atlantic seaways,” Cunliffe said, and that culture then spread eastward.
“If we’re right, the roots of what is known as ‘Celtic’ culture go way way back in time,” Cunliffe said. “And the genetic evidence is going to be an absolute game-changer.”
Caer Drewyn (near Corwen)
Moel Fenlli on the Clwydian Hills
Gaer Fawr (near Welshpool), Powys
Ffrydd Faldwyn (Montgomery), Powys
Roundton Hill (near Churchstoke), Powys
Castell Tinboeth, Radnor (also the site of a medieval castle)
Castell Dinas Bran (near Llangollen–also the site of a medieval castle)
After the Treaty of Aberconwy in 1277 AD, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was reduced to lordship over a small area of land in Gwynedd, mostly west of the Conwy River. Over the course of the 1282 war, he took back much of what he’d lost. He was killed, however, on 11 December 1282, and all of Wales ultimately fell the forces of Edward I. The map at right shows:
Green: Gwynedd, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s principality
Blue: Territories of Dafydd ap Gruffydd
Pink: Territories ceded forever to the English Crown
This defeat of the native Welsh forces led by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and then briefly after Llywelyn’s death by his brother, Dafydd, resulted in a much divided Wales. On the top of the hierarchy, instead of native rulers, were English (mostly) absentee landowners. Within the Marche and portions of southern Wales, the native rulers had sided with the English anyway, and thus retained their land. Among the peasants, their lot in life didn’t change much.
In Gwynedd, however, which had been the seat of Welsh resistance for centuries, the English overlords directly intervened in the life of the local populace and attempted to root out and confiscate the lands of those who’d rebelled. For example, of the 104 shares of land in the Denbigh area formerly under Welsh control, the English confiscated, through a variety of means, 96 of them, or 92.3% of the total (Given, James. The Economic Consequences of the English Conquest of Gwynedd. Speculum. Vol. 64. No. 1 1989).
Given goes on to say: “The acquisition of sizable tracts of land allowed the English to work some changes in Denbigh’s ethnic and social composition. The new rulers made a determined effort to establish an English colony . . . all the original inhabitants of the vill adjoining the head of the honor at Denbigh were removed, and a borough was created in the castle’s shadow. Other Englishmen were settled nearby. In the town of Lleweni, for example, only one Welshman, Iorwerth ap Llywarch, was allowed to retain land. The rest of the village was divided among about 120 English colonists” (p. 18).
Interestingly, except for confiscating Llywelyn’s own lands, and Edward’s extensive castle building program, Edward’s treatment of western Gwynedd appeared at first to be more lenient in that he deliberately kept the native system of land ownership intact. Instead, he extracted money from those who owned land in a complete overhaul of the rent and taxation system. In the past, rent consisted of a combination of food renders, labor services, and compulsory hospitality. Under the new regime, it was all cash payment and the increases ranged from 78.5% for cash rent from free tenants to a 7-fold increase for bondmen (p. 25).
In order to establish his authority in the region, he built a series of castles across Gwynedd, among them Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Conwy, and Harlech.
The English also: required individuals to “grind their grain at the lord’s mill, press their grapes at his wine press, bake their bread in his oven, etc.” and pay for the privilege. They also were compelled (according to a 1305 record) to attend the local market and to trade only within the (English) borough town walls, resulting in more taxes. “In a period of twenty years, thanks to steady and determined application, the English administration had managed to increase its take from its Welsh territories almost three fold” (Given p. 25-31).
Other impacts included an overhaul (and rejection) of the long-standing Welsh system of laws set down by Hywel Dda and the impressment of Welshmen into the English miltary. “Just as the Welsh may have had to bear a disproportionately heavier share of taxation than the English, so it appears that they made a relatively large contribution to royal armies . . . For example, of the 12,500 infantry raised for the 1298 Falkirk campaign, 10,500 (84%) were Welsh” (Given p. 35).
Given concludes that the result of the English occupation forced the Welsh to sell themselves, their property, and their possessions to placate an ever more avaricious English government. “Sometime early in the fourteenth century, in a petition delivered to Edward II, [petitioners] informed the king that because of their poverty and impotence they had left their lands, unable to pay their rents reliefs, and other dues. In 1324, the villeins of the commote of Eifionydd . . . were so vexed and impoverished by the demands of the men who were farming the king’s mill and fish weirs that they experienced great difficulty in holding their land . . . [others claimed] that the royal purveyors had so impoverished them that they could barely live” (p. 43).
Given concludes that, contrary to previous scholarship and received wisdom, “the growth of political authority, generally saluted as one of the positive features of late-medieval society, may in reality have been one of the primary causes of the crises that afflicted Europe in the late Middle Ages” (p. 44).
That’s possible, but given Edward’s intent to wipe out all memory of Llywelyn, his seat and family, along with Welsh nationalism, this attempt to conquer the Welsh financially makes perfect sense. Coupled with his castle building program, it shows how successful Edward was not only at defeating the Welsh militarily, but ensuring their material defeat and continued (and continual) subjugation.
To understand a language’s idioms, is to be fluent in the language. Maybe this isn’t entirely true, but it’s close.
When I lived in England, I remember being stumped by the phrase, “it’s like money for old rope.” I didn’t know if that meant: 1) someone had given memoney for old rope–in which case, that was a good thing; or 2) I was paying money for old rope–meaning I was getting ripped off. As it turns out, the saying “originates from the days of public hangings. It was a perquisite of the hangman to keep the rope used to hang his ‘customer’. The rope, however, was popular with the macabre crowds, so the hangman used to cut the rope up and sell it.” That still doesn’t tell me whether paying for it a good or bad thing 🙂 This site tells me “if a job is money for old rope, it is an easy way of earning money.”
Welsh, then, has idioms too, many of which are undoubtedly impenetrable to an American as the English ones. Many are the same or similar, which isn’t terribly surprising given that Wales was conquered by England 700 years ago. Here are some that are similar to English and yet different:
Take care lest you buy a cat in a sack / = pig in a pokein English.(Cymerwch ofal rhag ofn i chi brynu cath mewn cwd.)
It’s raining old ladies and sticks/ knives and forks / = cats and dogs in English.(Mae hi’n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn / cyllyll a ffyrc.)
They were tight like herrings in the salt/ = sardines in a tin. (Roedden nhw’n dynn fel penwaig yn yr halen.)
My son was the candle of my eye / = apple of my eye.(Cannwyll fy llygad oedd fy mab.
I opened the door with my heart in my throat / = heart in my mouth. (Agorais y drws a’m calon yn fy ngwddf.)
The old woman always talked fifteen in the dozen / = nineteen to the dozen. (Siaradai’r hen wraig pymtheg yn y dwsin bob amser.)
The dog was as dead as a coffin nail / = as dead as a doornail.(Roedd y ci cyn farwed â hoelen arch.)
Bwlch y Ddeufaen – Boolk ah THEY-vine (the ‘th’ is soft as in ‘forth’)
Cadfael – CAD-vile
Cadwallon – Cad-WA/SH/-on
Caernarfon – (‘ae’ makes a long i sound like in ‘kite’) Kire-NAR-von
Dafydd – DAH-vith
Dolgellau – Doll-GE/SH/-ay
Deheubarth – deh-HAY-barth
Dolwyddelan – dole-with-EH-lan (the ‘th’ is soft as in ‘forth’)
Gruffydd – GRIFF-ith
Gwalchmai – GWALK-my (‘ai’ makes a long i sound like in ‘kite)
Gwenllian – Gwen-/SH/EE-an
Gwladys – Goo-LAD-iss
Gwynedd – GWIN-eth
Hywel – H’wel
Ieuan – ieu sounds like the cheer, ‘yay’ so YAY-an
Llywelyn – /sh/ew-ELL-in
Maentwrog – MIGHNT-wrog
Meilyr – MY-lir
Owain – OH-wine
Rhuddlan – RITH-lan
Rhun – Rin
Rhys – Reese
Sion – Shawn
Tudur – TIH-deer
Usk – Isk
It is a standing joke among people who know Wales that there are only a handful of Welsh surnames (last names), consisting primarily of Jones, Evans, Roberts, Thomas, Williams, and Davies. Among English speakers, these last names are clearly derived from first names. Why is that? Why don’t the Welsh have the huge variety of surnames like the English do?
The answer lies in the moment that the Welsh switched from the patronymic system of names (Sarah ferch Ronald; Carew ap Daniel) where a child’s name contained a first name, then ‘son of’ or ‘daughter of’, and then their father’s name, to a system where everyone in the family had the same surname.
In England, this transition occurred soon after the Norman conquest of 1066.
“Before the Norman Conquest of Britain, people did not have hereditary surnames: they were known just by a personal name or nickname.
When communities were small each person was identifiable by a single name, but as the population increased, it gradually became necessary to identify people further – leading to names such as John the butcher, William the short, Henry from Sutton, Mary of the wood, Roger son of Richard. Over time many names became corrupted and their original meaning is now not easily seen.
After 1066, the Norman barons introduced surnames into England, and the practice gradually spread. Initially, the identifying names were changed or dropped at will, but eventually they began to stick and to get passed on. So trades, nicknames, places of origin, and fathers’ names became fixed surnames -names such as Fletcher and Smith, Redhead and Swift, Green and Pickering, Wilkins and Johnson. By 1400 most English families, and those from Lowland Scotland, had adopted the use of hereditary surnames.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/familyhistory/get_started/surnames_01.shtml
In Wales, this process didn’t begin until after the Norman conquest of 1282. Sometimes a long time after: “In 1292, 48 per cent of Welsh names were patronymics, and in some parishes over 70 per cent …” The key is to understanding Welsh names is that “the stock of Welsh surnames is very small … attributable to the reduction in the variety of baptismal names after the Protestant Reformation.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_surnames
In comparison, among the English, the tradition of surnames was well established by the 13th century. From the subsidy rolls of 1292, everyone has a surname. “The largest group is formed by local surnames, those derived from place-names. Out of some 800 taxpayers no less than about 350 have names of this type …
Surnames of relationship derived from font-names number about 65, but some are more or less uncertain. Nearly all consist simply of a font-name, as (Reinaud) Abel, (Robert) Baudri, (William) Reyner. The only exceptions are (John) le fiz Michel, (William) fil. Marie. The last is the only indubitable case of a surname having been derived from a woman’s name, but a possible case is (Katherine) Swote. Most of these surnames, were probably patronymic or inherited. But it was common in early London for apprentices to take their master’s surname, or sometimes his font-name, for a surname. A certain case of the latter kind is (Ralph) Miles (Bridge), but probable ones are (Walter)Milis, (Richard) Pentecoste (Bridge), (Geoffrey) Fouq‘ (Walbr), (Richard) Wolmer (Bill).
The remaining surnames are mostly by-names or nicknames. About 130 persons have such names. There are a number of personal appellations, as the English Barn, Brother, Langman, Molling, Shailard, the French Bacheler, Cosin, le Fount, Galopin, Palmere, the German Winterman, perhaps Junkur; names of animals, English such asBulloc, Hog; Bunding, Pecoc; Burbat, Hering; Fros; the French Louet, Motun; Hairon, Partrys; various concrete words such as the English Fot (possibly a font-name), Gut, Heued; Cope, Hod, Punge; Box; Cros, Horn, Knotte; the French Oingnon, Pointel; abstract words, as possibly Leyk, May.
A good many surnames are derived from adjectives, mostly English, as Brun, Dreye, Dun, Flinthard, Gode, Grete, (le) Long (Lung), le Rede, Saly, Scharp, Skelfol, pwrgode, le Wyte, but some French, as (le) Blund, Curteys, le Gay, Hauteyn, la Jouene, le Megre, le Rous, le Simple, Sotel. Bahuvrihi formations are the English Godchep, Hauekeseye, Langpurce, Lythfot, perhaps Capriht, Trigold, the French Deusmars, Trenmars. Skipop is a formation of the type Shakespeare.” http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=31906#s2