Tag Archives: women

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Women in Celtic Society

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It is a stereotype that women in the Dark Ages (and the Middle Ages for that matter) had two career options: mother or holy woman, with prostitute or chattel filling in the gaps between those two. Unfortunately, for the most part this stereotype is accurate. The status and role of women in any era prior to the modern one revolves around these categories.

This is one reason that when fiction is set in this time, it is difficult to write a self-actualized female character who has any kind of autonomy or authority over her own life. Thus, it is common practice to make fictional characters either healers of some sort (thus opening up a whole array of narrative possibilities for travel and interaction with interesting people) or to focus on high status women, who may or may not have had more autonomy, but their lives did not consist of drudgery and child care from morning until night.

This is not to say that men in the Dark Ages weren’t equally restricted in their ‘careers’. A serf is a serf after all, of whatever gender. Men as a whole, however, did have control of women, of finances, of government, and of the Church, and thus organized and ruled the world. Literally.

There are obvious exceptions (Eleanor of Aquitaine, anyone?).

Women of the Dark Ages

But that is one woman out of thousands upon thousands who were born, worked, and died within 5 miles of their home.

At the same time, within Celtic cultures, women had the possibility of higher autonomy and place. In Ireland, as one example, the Roman Church had less influence. Women had a viable place both within the Druid religion and within the Celtic/Irish Church.

“Both men and women were included in the pagan Druid priesthood, having equal status, and this equality was kept in the Irish Christian Church. Besides the priesthood, the pagan Druid religion also had an order of wandering poets and prophets, called filid, who taught their religion to the common people. The Celtic Christian Church enthusiastically adopted this ministry. Ordained to the office of “bard,” men and women had the duty of proclaiming the messages of the Catholic gospel in songs and ballads. In pagan Ireland, as Elaine Gill describes, Beltane celebrated the balance of female and male energy in sexual, spiritual, and emotional ways. This idea was embodied in the dual monasteries, where men and women had separate accommodations, but shared a common concern for the well-being of the entire community. The acceptance by the Catholic Church at the time of the idea of equality in Ireland also probably contributed to the swift embrace of Catholic beliefs, in that the two ways of life, pagan and Catholic, were very similar. In that sense, the Catholic way of life was not completely foreign to the pagan Celts, but was adapted by them to their own customs and traditions. (Robert Van de Weyer, Celtic Fire: the Passionate Religious Vision of Ancient Britain and Ireland (New York, Double Day, 1991)

http://www.angelfire.com/ok/eileensmusic/celticchristianity.html

Peter Tremayne, of the Sister Fidelma series, has an extensive essay on his treatment of women in his books–as of equal status to men in many, many ways:

In this way, the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages were not a seemless period of time. Before the Middle Ages, Wales too was less subject to the restrictions of the Roman Church (see Myth and Religion in the Dark Ages: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?page_id=24; the Pelagian Heresy: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=323 and Religious Non-Conformity in Wales: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=464). As in Ireland, women had a higher status in Wales than in Christendom as a whole, including the right to divorce her husband and societal acceptance of illegitimate children.

The Laws of Women (part of the Laws of Hywel Dda) in Wales which framed the status of women in the Dark Ages included:

“Rules governing marriage and the division of property if a married couple should separate. The position of women under Welsh law differed significantly to that of their Norman-English contemporaries. A marriage could be established in two basic ways. The normal way was that the woman would be given to a man by her kindred; the abnormal way was that the woman could elope with a man without the consent of her kindred. In this case her kindred could compel her to return if she was still a virgin, but if she was not she could not be compelled to return. If the relationship lasted for seven years she had the same entitlements as if she had been given by her kin.[7]

A number of payments are connected with marriage. Amobr was a fee payable to the woman’s lord on the loss of her virginity, whether on marriage or otherwise. Cowyll was a payment due to the woman from her husband on the morning after the marriage, marking her transition from virgin to married woman. Agweddi was the amount of the common pool of property owned by the couple which was due to the woman if the couple separated before the end of seven years. The total of the agweddi depended on the woman’s status by birth, regardless of the actual size of the common pool of property. If the marriage broke up after the end of seven years, the woman was entitled to half the common pool.[8]

If a woman found her husband with another woman, she was entitled to a payment of six score pence the first time and a pound the second time; on the third occasion she was entitled to divorce him. If the husband had a concubine, the wife was allowed to strike her without having to pay any compensation, even if it resulted in the concubine’s death.[9] A woman could only be beaten by her husband for three things: for giving away something which she was not entitled to give away, for being found with another man or for wishing a blemish on her husband’s beard. If he beat her for any other cause, she was entitled to the payment of sarhad. If the husband found her with another man and beat her, he was not entitled to any further compensation. According to the law, women were not allowed to inherit land. However there were exceptions, even at an early date. A poem dated to the first half of the 11th century is an elegy for Aeddon, a landowner on Anglesey. The poet says that after his death his estate was inherited by four women who had originally been brought to Aeddon’s court as captives after a raid and had found favour with him.[10] The rule for the division of moveable property when one of a married couple died was the same for both sexes. The property was divided into two equal halves, with the surviving partner keeping one half and the dying partner being free to give bequests from the other half.”

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Height in the Middle Ages

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According to the report, “Mean Body Weight, Height, and Body Mass Index (BMI) 1960-2002: United States,” from the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the average height of a man aged 20-74 years increased from just over 5’ 8” in 1960 to 5’ 9 ½” in 2002.  At the same time, the average height for women increased from slightly over 5’ 3” in 1960 to 5’ 4” in 2002.

If you visit houses built in the 18th century, however, door frames were much lower than they are now.  The obvious assumption, then, is that people were much shorter then, than they are now.  And they were.   But according to Richard Steckel, a professor at the Ohio State, it hasn’t been a steady change over time.  From his research, the average height of people who lived in the 9-11th centuries was comparable to ours today.  It then declined slightly during the 12th through 16th centuries, and hit an all-time low during the 17th and 18th centuries–when those doorframes were made.

By the 1700s, Northern European men had lost an average of 2.5 inches of height compared to the Dark Ages, a loss that was not fully recovered until the first half of the 20th century.

He came to this conclusion by analyzing height data from skeletons excavated from burial sites in northern Europe dating from the ninth to the 19th centuries.

The real question is . . . Why?

It has to do with health, primarily.  According to  Steckel, height is an indicator of overall health and economic well-being.  From the study of human growth, “average height reflects the overall health of a population-its diet, wealth, quality of housing, levels of pollution, disease, and stress-particularly for infants and adolescents.”

Over the last 50 years, according to statistics kept by the Japanese Ministry of Education, the average height of Japanese 11-year-olds has increased by more than 5 1/2 inches. The height of girls, who grow faster at that age, meanwhile, has increased even more.  This is attributed to general better health, less disease, and the doubling of protein intake by the average Japanese person since 1960.  http://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/01/world/tokyo-journal-the-japanese-it-seems-are-outgrowing-japan.html

Further, “The Dutch are currently tallest, measuring about two inches taller than Americans,” Steckel states. “Why? They have very high income levels, they have perhaps the best pre-natal and post-natal care in the world, and they have a relatively equal distribution of income.”

Height research conducted with European populations appears similar to American studies. A study of nearly 10,000 5-to-11-year-old English and Scottish children found a clear connection between a child’s height and whether the father had a job. In each social class group, children with unemployed fathers were shorter.

http://www.oberlin.edu/alummag/oamcurrent/oam_may99/tall.html

People reached heights comparable to ours during the Dark Ages because, despite our  lack of information about those years (thus, the term, ‘dark’), people were healthier in terms of food quantity and quality of life then they were later.  The 17th and 18th centuries were the beginning of the industrial revolution.  If you think about the squalor and poverty of London, for example, in the 1800s, that conclusion is not at all surprising.

Thus, a man born in the Middle Ages would have been equally likely to reach the height of 6 feet as a child born in Wales today.

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Daily Living in the Middle Ages

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The tapestry to the right is The Triumph of Death, or The 3 Fates, a Flemish tapestry (probably Brussels, ca. 1510-1520), located now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Depicted are the three fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who spin, draw out and cut the thread of Life, represent Death in this tapestry, as they triumph over the fallen body of Chastity. This is the third subject in Petrarch’s poem The Triumphs. First, Love triumphs; then Love is overcome by Chastity, Chastity by Death, Death by Fame, Fame by Time and Time by Eternity.

Pretty gloomy, eh?

From a modern perspective, life in the Middle Ages appears not to have a lot to recommend it.  For example, for the majority of women, their lives consisted of unceasing labor, hand-to-mouth existence, a total lack of political representation (although that was not much different than for the majority of men, if they were landless), restrictions of the Catholic Church, societal acceptance of physical abuse, and the very real possibility in dying in childbirth at a young age.

For men, it wasn’t much different, substituting dying in battle for childbirth and you aren’t far off.  Both men and women died of illness and infection, such that the median lifespan during this time was in the middle forties.

But people did live then.  They raised their children, they cared for one another, and it does seem from what has been passed down to us, that they found beauty and pleasure in their lives.

Digging deeper into history, there is far more going on there than simply than the Hobbesian  “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.  (This quote, by the way, has been taken out of context for most of its life.  Hobbes wasn’t describing life in the Middle Ages; he was explaining what life would be life without a strong monarchy.  In his opinion, absolute monarchy was a way to avoid the war of ‘man against man’.)

While a strong central government in England, led by Edward I in the 13th century, did have some affect on averting war within the nation, it led to more wars against other nations, and in Wales in particular, a far less free and materially wealthy existence.

In fact, if you look at the consequences of the Industrial Revolution in the 17th and 18th centuries, the lives of average people, in terms of nutrition, longevity, cleanliness, etc. were on the whole far, far worse, than their lives would have been as peasants in the Middle Ages.

http://www.medieval-life.net/ has a good series of descriptions about different aspects of life in the Middle Ages. For example:

“Medieval villages consisted of a population comprised of mostly of farmers. Houses, barns sheds, and animal pens clustered around the center of the village, which was surrounded by plowed fields and pastures. Medieval society depended on the village for protection and a majority of people during these centuries called a village home. Most were born, toiled, married, had children and later died within the village, rarely venturing beyond its boundaries.

Common enterprise was the key to a village’s survival. Some villages were temporary, and the society would move on if the land proved infertile or weather made life too difficult. Other villages continued to exist for centuries. Every village had a lord, even if he didn’t make it his permanent residence, and after the 1100’s castles often dominated the village landscape. Medieval Europeans may have been unclear of their country’s boundaries, but they knew every stone, tree, road and stream of their village. Neighboring villages would parley to set boundaries that would be set out in village charters.

Medieval peasants were either classified as free men or as “villeins,” those who owed heavy labor service to a lord, were bound to the land, and subject to feudal dues. Village life was busy for both classes, and for women as well as men. Much of this harsh life was lived outdoors, wearing simple dress and subsisting on a meager diet.

Village life would change from outside influences with market pressures and new landlords. As the centuries passed, more and more found themselves drawn to larger cities. Yet modern Europe owes much to these early medieval villages.”

http://www.learner.org/interactives/middleages/feudal.html is another good site. Much of this is oversimplified and specifically related to the Feudal system, which was not uniform across Europe. The differences between what went on in France verses Wales, for example, are very great.

Welsh people were not farmers but herders, had fewer villages, and land ownership was more egalitarian:

“Wales in the Age of the Princes was not a primitive society.

There were three main social groups: the uchelwyr – the upper class, thebonheddwyr – the freemen and the taeogion – the unfree peasants. Each group had its role in society.

The taeogion (villeins) lived in compact villages in the fertile lowlands. Organised by the maer y biswail (the mayor of the dunghill), they supplied the needs of the princely court. They also had to do farm work for the prince each year. Tied to the land, they could not leave their own village. Their arable crops were vital for Wales. Edward I realised this and, in his 1277 invasion, his forces quickly took Anglesey and seized the grain harvest.

The lowlands were linked to the hills economically. Farming communities moved from the hendref, their main settlement in the lowlands, to the hafodwith its upland pastures each summer. The upland farmers were generally bonheddwyr (freemen) who lived in kinship groups, each looking after its owngwely (clan land). They performed military service for the prince, but did not do menial tasks like the taeogion. The upland farms were also vital to Wales. They enabled the Welsh to keep their economic and political independence when the Marcher lords occupied the fertile lowlands.

While the traditional view is that the Welsh were not an urban people, over 80 towns were established in the period 1100-1300. Towns did develop more in the Marcher lordships because these areas were richer, but the Welsh princes also encouraged the development of towns, often near their castles. Trade increased in tandem with these new towns and Wales exported primary goods like cattle, skins, fleeces and cheese. Imports included necessities like salt, wheat and iron, but reliance on these imports would be a weakness against an aggressive King of England.”  http://www.wrexham.gov.uk/english/heritage/medieval_exhibition/life_in_wales.htm

 

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Owain Gwynedd’s birthday

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The Good Knight 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):

Now, if you make the mistake of clicking on some of those links, for example, Iorwerth ab Owain Gwynedd, the eldest son of Owain’s first wife, Gwladys, you find that this same 1911 source has him born in 1145 while neither Rhun nor Hywel get birthdays.  As they were full grown men by 1143, when Hywel is tasked with rousting his uncle Cadwaladr out of Ceredigion, you have to think he’s at least 20 at the time.  While Owain might have had mistresses and wives concurrently, among the Welsh princes, that was actually uncommon.  In addition, there is no mention in the annals of any sons of Owain Gwynedd but Rhun (who died in 1146) and Hywel until the 1150s.

Click on Dafydd ab Owain GwyneddOnce again, no birthday, but he is first mentioned in the annals in 1157, which means at the latest, he was born in 1143/44, since Welsh boys became men at the age of fourteen.  Obviously, we now have a problem, since this 1911 source has the eldest son of Owain’s first wife being born in 1145, and the eldest son of his second wife born a year earlier.

It gets worse.  The Castles of Wales site, normally very reliable, has Owain Gwynedd born as late as 1109.  If this is true, however, then for Hywel to be  20 in 1143, than 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.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwenllian_ferch_Gruffydd

Here’s a hilarious family tree, showing the problem of not analyzing what you’re reading.  It actually shows this first son of the first wife being born after the second son of the second wife (Rhodri this time).  I’d love to find those sources.  http://www.princesofgwynedd.com/pdf/LlywelynFamilyTree.pdf

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Marriage in the Medieval Era

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“Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild.”  –Welsh proverb

Marriage as we know it now is a new institution.  While ‘love’ (at least among the upper classes) transformed the internal workings of marriage in the modern age, in Wales prior to the Midde Ages, marriage was a contract between two families, with no relationship to the Church or State at all.  Even once the Roman Church got involved, it still had nothing to do with the State.

Probably the change had something to do with taxes.

Regardless, what we know of marriage in medieval Wales comes primarily from the Laws of Hywel Dda (see the footnotes in Wikipedia for the English sources):  “The second part of the laws begins with ‘the laws of women’, for example the rules governing marriage and the division of property if a married couple should separate. The position of women under Welsh law differed significantly to that of their Norman-English contemporaries. A marriage could be established in two basic ways. The normal way was that the woman would be given to a man by her kindred; the abnormal way was that the woman could elope with a man without the consent of her kindred. In this case her kindred could compel her to return if she was still a virgin, but if she was not she could not be compelled to return. If the relationship lasted for seven years she had the same entitlements as if she had been given by her kin.[7]

A number of payments are connected with marriage. Amobr was a fee payable to the woman’s lord on the loss of her virginity, whether on marriage or otherwise. Cowyll was a payment due to the woman from her husband on the morning after the marriage, marking her transition from virgin to married woman. Agweddi was the amount of the common pool of property owned by the couple which was due to the woman if the couple separated before the end of seven years. The total of the agweddi depended on the woman’s status by birth, regardless of the actual size of the common pool of property. If the marriage broke up after the end of seven years, the woman was entitled to half the common pool.[8]

If a woman found her husband with another woman, she was entitled to a payment of six score pence the first time and a pound the second time; on the third occasion she was entitled to divorce him. If the husband had a concubine, the wife was allowed to strike her without having to pay any compensation, even if it resulted in the concubine’s death.[9] A woman could only be beaten by her husband for three things: for giving away something which she was not entitled to give away, for being found with another man or for wishing a blemish on her husband’s beard. If he beat her for any other cause, she was entitled to the payment of sarhad. If the husband found her with another man and beat her, he was not entitled to any further compensation. According to the law, women were not allowed to inherit land. However there were exceptions, even at an early date. A poem dated to the first half of the 11th century is an elegy for Aeddon, a landowner on Anglesey. The poet says that after his death his estate was inherited by four women who had originally been brought to Aeddon’s court as captives after a raid and had found favour with him.[10] The rule for the division of moveable property when one of a married couple died was the same for both sexes. The property was divided into two equal halves, with the surviving partner keeping one half and the dying partner being free to give bequests from the other half.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_law

Furthermore, in the book, Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others (the subtitle based on the fact that the medieval concept of sex was that it was something one person did to another rather than something two people did together), passage pp. 70-71.:

Consent between the parties could create a valid marriage even in the absence of intercourse. However, consent could be given in two different ways, a distinction clarified in the later Middle Ages. Words of present consent–“I take you as my wife”–created a valid marriage immediately. Words of future or conditional consent–“I will take you as my wife,” or “I take you as my husband if my father agrees”–did not. If, however, words of future or conditional consent were followed by sexual intercourse, the marriage immediately became valid; the parties were assumed to have dropped the condition. This meant that a promise of marriage given to seduce a woman into sex–“If you get pregnant, I will marry you”–was not merely enforceable but actually self-fulfilling. (It might or might not be enforceable, depending on whether or not there were witnesses, but according to canon law even if performed without witnesses and an officiant, the marriage was valid; they were married in the eyes of God, even if there was no evidence to convince a church court.)”

Thus, as my daughter pointed out, Meg and Llywelyn in Daughter of Time, were married by medieval canon law, even if they didn’t tell anyone about it.

Stephanie Coontz, in her book “A History of Marriage” writes:  “For most of history it was inconceivable that people would choose their mates on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love and then focus all their sexual, intimate, and altruistic desires on the resulting marriage. In fact, many historians, sociologists, and anthropologists used to think romantic love was a recent Western invention. This is not true. People have always fallen in love, and throughout the ages many couples have loved each other deeply [as evidenced by the acknowledgement of elopement in Welsh law–SW].

But only rarely in history has love been seen as the main reason for getting married. When someone did advocate such a strange belief, it was no laughing matter. Instead, it was considered a serious threat to social order.”  http://www.stephaniecoontz.com/books/marriage/chapter1.htm

John Davies writes:  “The readiness to marry close relations reflected the central role of the bonds of kinship in early Wales.  In the age of Hywel Dda, it was a man’s standing in a network of kindred rather than his standing as the citizen of the state which determined his social status, his economic rights and his legal obligations” (History of Wales, p. 91).

As the Middle Ages progressed, gradually the Church began playing a greater role in marriage throughout Europe, whether in blessing the act or interfering with who could marry whom, although once again, it took longer to gain traction in Wales.  Llywelyn ap Gruffydd married Elinor de Montfort at Worcester Cathedral–and Edward I gave the bride away–but a church marriage was still not common in Wales in 1278.  Even in Europe, “If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married” up until the 16th century.  http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/26/opinion/26coontz.html?_r=2&oref=slogin

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Aberystwyth Castle

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Aberystwyth Castle, located on the west coast of Wales, is one of the few large castles in Ceredigion proper.  To the east is mountainous terrain and it guards the entire north/south coast of Wales.  A fort has existed in the area since prehistoric times, and over the centuries, different peoples have added to, knocked down, and rebuilt multiple fortifications.

The first ‘castle’ at Aberystwyth was on Pen Dinas.  It is an iron age hill fort, overlooking both the sea and the city of Aberystwyth.  It was occupied for about 300 years, into the first century BC.

“The ridged top site is enclosed by a series of banks and ditches.There have been numerous finds on the site and most are now in the hands of the National Museum of Wales. They include a clay pot made in the Malvern Hills and a pale yellow glass bead, possibly made in Somerset, as well as decorated Iron Age pottery, a 4th century Roman coin, spindle whorls and loom weights.”  http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/mid/sites/celts/pages/pendinas.shtml

Although other fortifications followed, the first true castle wasn’t built until the 12th century, with the coming of the Normans.  Traces of that castle, an earthen and wood construction, Tan-y-castell, are still visible alongside the River Ystwyth.  It was burned by Gruffydd ap Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth, in 1135, and then rebuilt by Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd, Owain Gwynedd’s wayward brother, when he took over Ceredigion.  http://www.castles.me.uk/aberystwyth-castle.htm

http://explore.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/search?routeEditor_search_location=Aberystwyth+&x=34&y=10

Llywelyn ap Iowerth (Llywelyn the Great) began the first stone castle in a different location by the sea, rather than on the heights.  http://www.castlewales.com/aberystw.html

This castle was then rebuilt beginning in 1277 by Edward I in his castle building program (See my blog, An Iron Ring of Castles).  Dafydd ap Gruffydd’s Palm Sunday insurrection in 1282 burned it, but at the Welsh defeat, Edward continued the building and it was completed in 1289.

“In 1404, the castle fell to Owain Glyndwr and it was occupied until being recaptured by cannon in 1408. During this occupation it became an important seat of Welsh government.  In 1637 the castle was chosen by Charles I to house a royal mint. Coins of eight different denominations were produced from local silver. All carried the emblem of the Prince of Wales feathers.

Charles Bushell, who operated the mint in 1637, became very wealthy. At the start of the Civil War he lent Charles I £40,000 and raised a regiment of soldiers made up from local miners. Bushell’s mint was closed down during the Civil War, but was used to store silver and lead.  Garrisoned by Royalists, the castle was besieged by the Parliamentarians and surrendered in 1646. Cromwell’s troops made a good job of demolishing the building, thus preventing it ever being used again.”  http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/themes/society/castles_aberystwyth.shtml

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Anglo-Saxon Law (to 1066)

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Anglo-Saxon law didn’t come to an end with the coming of William of Normandy in 1066, but it was definitely changed.

Norman law was based in feudalism and heavily influenced by the Church.  Anglo-Saxon law had been developed over a long period of time and while influenced by Christianity in later centuries, was more egalitarian.  It was based on a system of courts, the main one being the ‘hundred court’.  “The hundred court met every four weeks, in the open if possible and usually at a prominent local landmark that gave its name to the hundred. The king’s reeve usually presided over the court. It had many functions, and was a mixture of parish council business meeting, planning enquiry, and magistrates’ court.  . .

Edward the Elder decreed that the hundred courts were to judge the worthiness of every law-suit and to appoint a day for it to be heard and settled. They did not have to hear the case there and then. Above the hundred court was the shire court which met twice a year, usually about Easter and Michaelmas (29th September), and was presided over by the ealdorman, the bishop and the king’s senior reeve in the area, the shire-reeve (or sheriff), with all the major landowners in the shire, or their reeves, present. Law-suits made up only a small part of the shire court’s time, which was filled up with all the other business essential to the smooth running of the shire. Law-suits could be passed up to the shire court from the hundred court, though we are not sure why this would be necessary. Presumably, it would occur in cases where the hundred court was unable to reach a judgement, or where disputes crossed the boundary between two hundreds.”  http://www.regia.org/law.htm

As to the specifics of the laws, compared to the laws in Wales, this following pages have extensive lists of what they actually entailed:  http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/560-975dooms.html

In general, like in Wales, crimes were punishable by fines, more than death or dismemberment (hallmarks of Norman law).  Similarly to Wales, women in Anglo-Saxon England had rights:  “The Law of Cnut stated: “neither a widow nor a maiden is to be forced to marry a man whom she herself dislikes, nor to be given for money, unless he chooses to give anything of his own free will.”  Cnut’s law also specified that if a woman’s husband died before they had any children, she was entitled to one-third of his land (called “dower,” under common English law,) plus her morgegifu (gifts at the time of marriage).  Despite religious expectations, divorce laws were considered lax: Anglo-Saxon King Ecelbert passed specific laws that gave women the right to abandon a marriage if she found it “displeasing.””  http://research.uvu.edu/mcdonald/Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-Saxon%20Women/mindyMain.html

From my reading, I am unsure as to the actual status of illegitimate children and their inheritance (unlike in Wales, where illegitimate children inherited equally with legitimate ones).  William of Normandy himself was a bastard, but yet inherited in Normandy (and then conquered England), so laws on the subject are not always set in stone.

“The Anglo-Saxon legal system rested on the fundamental opposition between folkright and privilege. Folkright is the aggregate of rules, whether formulated or not, that can be appealed to as an expression of the juridical consciousness of the people at large or of the communities of which it is composed. It is tribal in origin and is differentiated on highly localized bases. Thus, there was a folkright of East and West Saxons, Mercians, Northumbrians, Danes, and Welshmen, and these main folkright divisions persisted even after the tribal kingdoms disappeared in the 8th and 9th centuries. The responsibility for the formulation and application of the folkright rested, in the 10th and 11th centuries, with the local shire moots (assemblies); the national council of the realm, or witan, only occasionally used folkright ideas. . . .

Before the 10th century an individual’s actions were considered not as exertions of his own will but as acts of his kinship group. Personal protection and revenge, oaths, marriage, wardship, and succession were all regulated by the law of kinship. What began as a natural alliance later became a means of enforcing responsibility and keeping lawless individuals in order. As the associations proved insufficient, other collective bodies, such as guilds and townships, assumed these functions. In the period before the Norman Conquest, much regulation was formalized by the king’s legislation in order to protect the individual. In the area of property, for example, witnesses were required at cattle sales, not to validate the sale but as protection against later claims on the cattle. Some ordinances required the presence of witnesses for all sales outside the town gate, and others simply prohibited sales except in town, again for the buyer’s protection.”   http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/25121/Anglo-Saxon-law#

(updating and posting again 9/11/11)

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Women In Ancient Rome–Guest Post by Suzanne Tyrpak

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Today I have a guest post by author, Suzanne Tyrpak.  Welcome, Suzanne!

________________

     About seven years ago (before my divorce, when I had some expendable income) I traveled to Rome with a group of writers. I fell in love with Italy, Rome in particular. A travel book I read contained a short blurb about vestal virgins; it mentioned they were sworn to thirty years of chastity and, if that vow were broken, they would be entombed alive. That got me going! Plus, on a tour of the Coliseum, a guide pointed out the seats designated to the vestal virgins—the six priestess of Vesta were educated, and therefore powerful, at a time when most women weren’t even taught to read.

Vestals were in charge of legal documents. They not only wrote these documents, in triplicate, but kept them secure within the House of the Vestals. The vestals were closely connected with the Collegiate of Pontiffs, the priests of Rome. Consequently, the vestals were often included in gatherings of state.

     But there realm extended well beyond the political arena. As priestesses of Vesta, they performed religious rituals, and their prayers were believed to hold great power. Their purity of spirit and body had mystical significance, and vestals were charged with tending the sacred fire representing the heart of Rome. If the fire died, Rome risked destruction and the wrath of the gods. Once a year, the flame was ritually extinguished, then reignited using a crystal and the rays of the sun.

Vestals were wealthy, paid a stipend, and, unlike other Roman women, they could own property.

While the upper classes of Rome lived a life of decadence, Roman matrons of good family were supposed to be reclusive. Their lives centered around their households. Of course, there were exceptions—but generally, wealthy men enjoyed much more freedom than wealthy women. These households were dependent upon slaves, many of them foreigners. Sometimes, but not often, a slave might be freed, otherwise a slave’s circumstance was completely dependent on the good (or bad) will of her masters.

     The plebs, commoners, lived hard lives. Fire ran rampant through overcrowded apartments. While wealthy Romans enjoyed steam heat and running water (granted, it ran through poisonous lead pipes, which led to infertility and madness), the poor had to haul their water, often up five flights of stairs. Many women worked outside of their homes, so, to some degree, they might have more freedom than a wealthier woman, who might be cloistered within her home.

    Writing Vestal Virgin required a lot of research. I traveled to Rome twice, and on my second trip I hired a scholar who specialized in the year I’m writing about, A.D. 63-64, to give me a tour of the Forum. One of the most useful books I found was History of the Vestal Virgins of Rome, published in 1934 by T. Cato Worsfold. I also wrote to Colleen McCullough, and she was kind enough to write back. She gave me the name of an out-of-print book that I’ve used a lot, Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic, by H.H. Scullard. I have shelves of books about Roman history and Paul of Tarsus—hardly anything is written about vestal virgins—but that gives me quite a bit of leeway. After all, I’m writing fiction.

Vestel Virgin, is available at Amazon.com

Vestal Virgin–suspense in ancient Rome

Elissa Rubria Honoria is a Vestal Virgin–priestess of the sacred flame, a visionary, and one of the most powerful women in Rome. Vestals are sacrosanct, sworn to chastity on penalty of death, but the emperor, Nero, holds himself above the law. He pursues Elissa, engaging her in a deadly game of wits and sexuality. Or is Elissa really the pursuer? She stumbles on dark secrets. No longer trusting Roman gods, she follows a new god, Jesus of Nazareth, jeopardizing her life and the future of The Roman Empire.

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Women in Celtic Myth

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Women in Celtic societies had more freedom and autonomy than women in feudal Europe.  It is not surprising, then, that women play an important role in Celtic myth, beyond the wives, lovers, and mothers of male gods.

Within Celtic myth, warrior goddesses such as Babd, Aoifa, and Scathach have a significant role; Don (Danu in Ireland) was the mother goddess, giving birth to male and female goddesses such as Gwydion and Arianrhod.   The Irish word, Tuatha de Dannan means “Children of Danu”, the equivalent of the Welsh “Sons of Don” as popularized in Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three series.  Note that their children are not referred to as “Sons of Beli” or “Bile”, who was her husband and the god of death.

Also among the Welsh is Cerridwen, keeper of the cauldron of knowledge.  Within Irish mythology, the Morrigan, herself a triple goddess with Nemain (Venomous), Badb (Fury), and Macha (Battle), encouraged fighters to battle madness.

Below is a listing of the some important Celtic female goddesses:

Adsullata:  (British) A goddess of hot springs who came to Brittany from Celtic Gaul. She is the origin of the Anglo-Celtic sun Goddess Sul, and was most likely a minor sun goddess in her own right before the time when the Celts relegated the majority of their sun images to male deities, and moon images to female ones.

Arianrhod:  Her name means ‘silver circle’. This major Welsh goddess is the goddess of reincarnation, the Wheel of the Year, the full moon, fertility, and a primal figure of female power. Some Celtic scholars believe her story represents the shift from woman-centered clans to patriarchal power.

Blodeuwedd:  Blodeuwedd was created from the flowers of oak, broom, and meadowsweet by Gwyddion and Math as a wife for Gwyddion’s nephew Llew. This arose because Llew had been cursed by his mother, Arianrhod, that he would never win a bride of his own people.While Llew was away one day Blodeuwedd saw Gronw hunting in the woods and the two fell madly in love at first sight. She and Gronw made plans to kill Llew, but because he was no mere mortal, Gronw asked his lover to discover for him the secret of his death. Blodeuwedd coaxed the information out of Llew, and not only passed the information along to Gronw, but tricked Llew into being at the right place at the right time. At the moment of his death, Llew turned into an eagle and flew away. Gwyddion sought out Blodeuwedd to seek revenge, and for her punishment decided he would turn her into a bird, on which only lived by night, a carnivore whom other birds shunned and feared. Thus she became an owl.

Brigit:  (Irish) A fire deity and midwife and protector of woman and children. She also ruled over agriculture, healing, divination, occult knowledge, poetry, prophecy and metal work. Other spellings of her name include : Brid, Brig, Brigid, Brighid and Brigindo.

Cailleach Bheur:  (Scottish, Irish, Manx) She is a great goddess in her Destroyer aspect; called “Veiled One”. Another name is Scota, from which the name ‘Scotland’ comes. In parts of Britain she is the goddess of winter. She was an ancient goddess of the pre-Celtic peoples of Ireland. She controlled the seasons and the weather; and was the goddess of earth and sky, moon and sun.

Cerridwen:  In Welsh legend, Cerridwen represents the crone, a darker aspect of the triple goddess. She has powers of prophecy, and is the keeper of the cauldron of knowledge and inspiration in the Underworld. She has two children: daughter Crearwy is fair and light, but son Afagddu (also called Morfran) is dark, ugly and malevolent.

Rhiannon:  Goddess of birds and horses. Enchantments, fertility, and the Underworld. She rides a swift white horse. Rhiannon is believed to be the Welsh counterpart of Gaulish horse goddess Epona. Her son, Pryderi, succeeded his father Pwyll as the ruler of Dyfed and of the otherworld.

She is the wife of Pwyll, and mother of Pryderi. Unjustly accused of destroying her newborn son (who had been kidnapped by a nameless Fiend; see above), She is compelled to take on the role of a horse, until her son is unexpectedly returned to her. She is also considered as an aspect of the Irish Morrigan.

Scathach: (Scottish) A warrior goddess and prophetess who taught martial arts healing and protection. She was also known as Scota, Scatha, Scath, Scathach Scathach Buanand, Skatha. Her name means she who strikes fear.

http://www.paleothea.com/Celtic/

http://www.joellessacredgrove.com/Celtic/deities.html

http://www.maryjones.us/jce/triplegoddess.html

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Women in Celtic Society

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It is a stereotype that women in the Dark Ages (and the Middle Ages for that matter) had two career options:  mother or holy woman, with prostitute or chattel filling in the gaps between those two.  Unfortunately, for the most part this stereotype is accurate.  The status and role of women in any era prior to the modern one revolves around these categories.

This is one reason that when fiction is set in this time, it is difficult to write a self-actualized female character who has any kind of autonomy or authority over her own life.  Thus, it is common practice to make fictional characters either healers of some sort (thus opening up a whole array of narrative possibilities for travel and interaction with interesting people) or to focus on high status women, who may or may  not have had more autonomy, but their lives did not consist of drudgery and child care from morning until night.

This is not to say that men in the Dark Ages weren’t equally restricted in their ‘careers’.  A serf is a serf after all, of whatever gender.  Men as a whole, however, did have control of women, of finances, of government, and of the Church, and thus organized and ruled the world.  Literally.

There are obvious exceptions (Eleanor of Aquitaine, anyone?).

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/419001/women_of_the_dark_age_when_women_were.html?cat=37

But that is one woman out of thousands upon thousands who were born, worked, and died within 5 miles of their home.

At the same time, within Celtic cultures, women had the possibility of higher autonomy and place.  In Ireland, as one example, the Roman Church had less influence.  Women had a viable place both within the Druid religion and within the Celtic/Irish Church.

“Both men and women were included in the pagan Druid priesthood, having equal status, and this equality was kept in the Irish Christian Church.  Besides the priesthood, the pagan Druid religion also had an order of wandering poets and prophets, called filid, who taught their religion to the common people. The Celtic Christian Church enthusiastically adopted this ministry. Ordained to the office of “bard,” men and women had the duty of proclaiming the messages of the Catholic gospel in songs and ballads.  In pagan Ireland, as Elaine Gill describes, Beltane celebrated the balance of female and male energy in sexual, spiritual, and emotional ways. This idea was embodied in the dual monasteries, where men and women had separate accommodations, but shared a common concern for the well-being of the entire community. The acceptance by the Catholic Church at the time of the idea of equality in Ireland also probably contributed to the swift embrace of Catholic beliefs, in that the two ways of life, pagan and Catholic, were very similar. In that sense, the Catholic way of life was not completely foreign to the pagan Celts, but was adapted by them to their own customs and traditions.  (Robert Van de Weyer, Celtic Fire: the Passionate Religious Vision of Ancient Britain and Ireland (New York, Double Day, 1991)

 http://www.angelfire.com/ok/eileensmusic/celticchristianity.html

Peter Tremayne, of the Sister Fidelma series, has an extensive essay on his treatment of women in his books–as of equal status to men in many, many ways:

http://www.sisterfidelma.com/fidelma.html

In this way, the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages were not a seemless period of time.  Before the Middle Ages, Wales too was less subject to the restrictions of the Roman Church (see Myth and Religion in the Dark Ages: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?page_id=24; the Pelagian Heresyhttp://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=323 and Religious Non-Conformity in Waleshttp://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=464).  As in Ireland, women had a higher status in Wales than in Christendom as a whole, including the right to divorce her husband and societal acceptance of illegitimate children.

The Laws of Women (part of the Laws of Hywel Dda) in Wales which framed the status of women in the Dark Ages included:

“Rules governing marriage and the division of property if a married couple should separate. The position of women under Welsh law differed significantly to that of their Norman-English contemporaries. A marriage could be established in two basic ways. The normal way was that the woman would be given to a man by her kindred; the abnormal way was that the woman could elope with a man without the consent of her kindred. In this case her kindred could compel her to return if she was still a virgin, but if she was not she could not be compelled to return. If the relationship lasted for seven years she had the same entitlements as if she had been given by her kin.[7]

A number of payments are connected with marriage. Amobr was a fee payable to the woman’s lord on the loss of her virginity, whether on marriage or otherwise. Cowyll was a payment due to the woman from her husband on the morning after the marriage, marking her transition from virgin to married woman. Agweddi was the amount of the common pool of property owned by the couple which was due to the woman if the couple separated before the end of seven years. The total of the agweddi depended on the woman’s status by birth, regardless of the actual size of the common pool of property. If the marriage broke up after the end of seven years, the woman was entitled to half the common pool.[8]

If a woman found her husband with another woman, she was entitled to a payment of six score pence the first time and a pound the second time; on the third occasion she was entitled to divorce him. If the husband had a concubine, the wife was allowed to strike her without having to pay any compensation, even if it resulted in the concubine’s death.[9] A woman could only be beaten by her husband for three things: for giving away something which she was not entitled to give away, for being found with another man or for wishing a blemish on her husband’s beard. If he beat her for any other cause, she was entitled to the payment of sarhad. If the husband found her with another man and beat her, he was not entitled to any further compensation. According to the law, women were not allowed to inherit land. However there were exceptions, even at an early date. A poem dated to the first half of the 11th century is an elegy for Aeddon, a landowner on Anglesey. The poet says that after his death his estate was inherited by four women who had originally been brought to Aeddon’s court as captives after a raid and had found favour with him.[10] The rule for the division of moveable property when one of a married couple died was the same for both sexes. The property was divided into two equal halves, with the surviving partner keeping one half and the dying partner being free to give bequests from the other half.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_law#Laws_of_women

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Medieval Women, Riding, and the Side Saddle

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Did women ride side saddle or astride in the Middle Ages? 

To the right is a side saddle from the 17th century.  It is clearly designed to limit a woman’s ability to ride athletically–more of a way to carry her from one place to another at a walk, then as a sensible mode of transport.

This saddle is, however, a later invention.  In England (and Wales) it appears that women in the Middle Ages rode astride much of the time, either on their own or pillion behind a man. Here are two pictures of women riding: The Prioress from The Canterbury Tales (dated to 1532) rides aside and The Wife of Bath (1410) rides astride (the Ellesmere Manuscript, c. the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA).  For more discussion  http://ilaria.veltri.tripod.com/sidesaddle.html 

Riding astride is certainly far more practical, provided the dress or gown a woman wore could be arranged modestly.  Given the voluminous skirts that women often wore, that was perhaps not as difficult as it might appear.  Victorian women, in contrast, wore much narrower skirts and rode aside–it would have been impossible to ride astride in them (probably part of the point) without hiking it to the waist or ‘kilting’ it, as Brother Cadfael does with his monk’s robe.

At the same time, riding aside is a very old custom, all over the world. There are images on Greek Vases of women riding aside: http://www.theoi.com/image/P12.4BThetis.jpg
As well as on Celtic stones, namely the goddess Epona: http://www.epona.net/depictions/strasbourg.jpg

It is odd, then, that “history credits Anne of Bohemia (1366-1394) with introducing the earliest version of a functional sidesaddle, a crude chair-like affair with a planchette (small foot rest) her design no doubt inspired by having to ride swaddled in elaborate gowns.”  http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/hgarrett/medst300/forum/messages/78.html

Perhaps it is, rather, that she (re) introduced the side saddle to Europe.