Posts for Tag : Writing

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Was King Arthur real?

Whether or not King Arthur was a real person is an either/or query.  He either was or he wasn’t.  Many scholars, researchers, and Arthurophile’s have strong opinions on this topic, both for and against.  Because of the paucity of written records (most notably, Gildas fails to mention him), much of the academic work has come down on the side of ‘wasn’t’–or at least if Arthur was a real person, his name was not ‘Arthur’ and he possible wasn’t even a king.  In another blog (here), I list the original sources that posit the existence of King Arthur.

Obviously, since I’ve written a novel about King Arthur, he’s very real to me!

Wikipedia has a remarkably thorough analysis of the subject:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur

For now, I’d like to point to two aspects of the ‘wasn’t’ camp that I find particularly interesting, as they have to do with the development of Welsh myth and the transformation of Wales from a pagan culture to a Christian one.

One theory about King Arthur was that his stories were originally not about him at all, but about Gwydion, one of the sons of Don and a chief character in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi.  In these tales, Gwydion, while evident through much of the Mabinogi, is completely absent from the stories that include Arthur, implying that the ancient poet did a global ‘find and replace’. This theory was originally posited by Sir John Rhys, writing at the end of the 19th century.

The second curious aspect of the development of Arthur, which parallels the Gwydion relationship, is the way in which the character adopted not only the characteristics of Gwydion, but of Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, the last ‘King’ of Wales (died 682 AD).  Included in the books of Taliesin are not only poems about Arthur, but also about Cadwaladr.  It is Cadwaladr whom the Welsh tales describe as sleeping in a cave on Mount Snowdon, and whose return the Welsh await (see my post on The Great Prophecy of Britain).

I would love for Arthur to have been a ‘real’ person, but I find the discovery of the way in which myth becomes ‘real’, as well as the ‘real’ becomes myth fascinating.  It is almost a parallel process:  many scholars of celtic myth believe that the stories of the Don or Tuatha de Dannan (in Ireland) were once ‘real’ to the people who told them, but with the coming of Christianity, their tales were either adopted and transformed into Christian parable, or faded into the realm of fable.  Similarly, Gwydion (a mythic character) or Cadwaladr (a ‘real’ one) might have had their stories blended into the tale of King Arthur–for Gywdion, the stories were sanitized and made palatable for Christian audiences, and for Cadwaladr, his story was submerged into the tale of an already more famous and reknowned hero and thus made more ‘mythic’.

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Possible King Arthur (s)

I have very definite opinions about who King Arthur was, as evidenced by my book, Cold My Heart, as well as the numerous posts I’ve written on the subject. That said, his identity is up for debate …

The web site, Early British Kingdoms, has an entire section devoted to King Arthur, particularly who he could have been if he wasn’t ‘Arthur’, as no leader of that name in the middle 6th century or earlier seems to fit that profile.

The possibilities are quite endless, especially if you consider Scots as well as Welsh rulers.  For example, Norma Lorre Goodrich places Arthur at Carlisle (as Camelot) and as Arthur ic Uibar, in her book ‘King Arthur’.   In the book “Arturius – A Quest for Camelot,” David Carroll suggests that King Arthur is, in fact, the historical late 6th century Prince Artuir, eldest son of King Aidan of Dalriada. Carroll believes that Artuir ruled Manau Gododdin, the narrow coastal region on the south side of the the Firth of Forth, during his father’s Dalriadan reign. He died at the Battle of the Miathi in 582.  Carroll equates this with Camlann and places it in the same kingdom. “What is more natural than for this Prince to make his capital at the old Roman Fort of Colania (which Carroll refers to as Ad Vallum) in the centre of Manau Gododdin, a place called Camelot in the past and still called Camelon today?” http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/archaeology/camelon.html

In an earlier post, I postulated that Arthur could be a substitute for Gwydion, son of Don, one of the Welsh mythological heroes, as well as his links to Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, especially given that ‘Cadwaladr’ means ‘battle-leader’, the title attributed to Arthur (Dux Bellorum) by Nennius, rather than ‘king’.

Other possibilities abound,  however.  This site, makes an argument in favor of a Prince Arthur in Scotland, who had a daughter named Gwenwynwyn.  Another argues that Arthur was really Cuneglas (or Cynglas in Welsh) one of the five tyrants named in Gildas’ writings (one of the stumbling blocks to belief that Arthur existed is that Gildas does not mention him).  Gildas writes:

“Why have you been rolling in the filth of your past wickedness,you bear, rider of many and driver of the chariot of the Bear’s Stronghold, despiser of God and oppressor of his lot, Cuneglasus, in Latin ‘red butcher’? Why do you wage such a war against men and God? – against men, that is our countrymen, with arms special to yourself, against God with infinite sins. Why, aside from countless other lapses, have you rejected your own wife and now, against the ban of the apostle, who says that adulterers cannot be citizens of the kingdom of heaven, do you cast your eyes, with all the reverence (or rather dullness) of your mind, on her villainous sister, although she has promised to God perpetually chaste widowhood, like, as the poet says, the supreme tenderness of the dwellers in heaven? Why do you provoke with continual injuries the groans and sighs of the holy men who are present in the flesh by your side; they are the teeth of an appalling lioness that will one day break your bones.”  http://www.angelfire.com/md/devere/gildas.html

Lovely stuff.  Mark Devere Davies writes further, in reference to the name Arthur as ‘bear’:  “It has long been recognized that Arthur best translates as “Bear” in Celtic. A marginal note on a 13th century copy of the “Historia Brittonum”, by Nennius(9th century) says that Arthur means “Ursus Horribilis”. No matter what the actual origin of the name, this earliest etymology is important as it shows beyond doubt that the ancients understood “Arthur” to mean “Bear”. A rival theory has been current for years which claims Arthur derives from the Roman Artorius. This is more of a speculation than a theory as no text supports such a reading. The name is always rendered as some variant of the Welsh Arthur, or is Latinized in various ways like Artus, Arturus, or Arturius. And it should be remembered that “Arthur” was most likely not a personal name at this time. The word is unrecorded as a personal name before the end of the sixth and early seventh century, when several “Arthurs” are known.”  http://www.angelfire.com/md/devere/urse.html

Din Arth, the Fort of the Bear, was Cuneglas’ home, located in the Kingdom of Rhos, one of the sub-kingdoms of Gwynedd.  It was situated above Colwyn Bay on Bryn Euryn.  “An oval enclosure was built in the 5th century at the highest point of the fort to form a sturdy inner sanctum. Along with the surrounding Iron Age enclosure, a layout similar to the motte and bailey castles of the Normans was achieved and the same arrangement can be seen just a few miles up the Conwy Valley at Pen-Y-Castell, on a rocky ridge high above the village of Maenan.”  http://www.castlewales.com/euryn.html

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The Triumph of Medieval Propaganda 2


Cold My Heart at AmazonThis earlier post details some of what Geoffrey of Monmouth was doing when he wrote his History of the Kings of Britain back in the 12th century. It was at the behest of Robert of Gloucester, his patron, that he claims to have transcribed/copied/invented his history, placing King Arthur at the center of a national–and by that I mean English–origin myth. The idea was to justify the conquest of Britain by the Normans as a mirror to what King Arthur had done in the 5th century, including crossing the English Channel from Normandy to  Britain.

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

This is a nice quote, and not at all inaccurate, but none-the-less astonishing because this is EXACTLY WHAT GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH INTENDED!  He wrote his book in 1139 AD. It was meant to be a mythology for the nation of England.

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

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

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

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Historical Sources for King Arthur

Cold My Heart at AmazonHistorians are not in agreement as to whether or not the ‘real’ Arthur—the living, breathing, fighting human being—ever existed. The original sources for the legend of King Arthur come from a few Welsh texts. These are:

1) Y Goddodin—a Welsh poem by the 7th century poet, Aneirin, with it’s passing mention of Arthur. The author refers to the battle of Catraeth, fought around AD 600 and describes a warrior who “fed black ravens on the ramparts of a fortress, though he was no Arthur”.  http://www.missgien.net/celtic/gododdin/poem.html

2) Gildas, a 6th century British cleric who wrote De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain). He never mentions Arthur, although he states that his own birth was in the year of the siege of Mount Badon. The fact that he does not mention Arthur, and yet is our only historian of the 6th century, is an example of why many historians suspect that King Arthur never existed.   http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/gildas.html

3) Taliesin, a 6th century poet, to whom The Spoils of Annwn, is ascribed.  This poem is only one of several in which he mentions Arthur.  http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/t30.html

4)  Nennius – “History of the Britons” (Historia Brittonum, c. 829-30)
“Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror.”  http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/nennius-full.html

5) Native Welsh Tales: These connected works of Welsh mythology were named the Mabinogion in the 19th century by their first translator, Lady Charlotte Guest.  These include the story of Culhwch and Olwen, in which Arthur and his men track down the thirteen treasures of Britain, and The Dream of Rhonabwy.  These stories are found in the Red Book of Hergest and/or the White Book of Rhydderch, both copied in the mid-14th century.   http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/index_welsh.html

6) The Annales Cambriae. This book is a Welsh chronicle compiled no later than the 10th century AD. It consists of a series of dates, two of which mention Arthur: “Year 72, The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and three nights and the Britons were victors. Year 93, The Strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut fell.”    The early dates of the above works indicate little or no relation to the later English/French embellishments of Arthur, which Geoffrey of Monmouth popularized.   http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/annalescambriae.html

Later texts that are built on the above works, in chronological order, are:

1) William, Chaplain to Bishop Eudo of Leon – “Legend of St. Goeznovius, preface” (c. 1019)
“In the course of time, the usurping king Vortigern, to buttress the defence of the kingdom of Great Britain which he unrighteously held, summoned warlike men from the land of Saxony and made them his allies in the kingdom. Since they were pagans and of devilish character, lusting by their nature to shed human blood, they drew many evils upon the Britons. Presently their pride was checked for a while through the great Arthur, king of the Britons. They were largely cleared from the island and reduced to subjection. But when this same Arthur, after many victories which he won gloriously in Britain and in Gaul, was summoned at last from human activity, the way was open for the Saxons to go again into the islane, and there was great oppression of the Britons, destruction of churches and persecution of saints. This persecution went on through the times of many kings, Saxons and Britons striving back and forth. In those days, many holy men gave themselves up to martyrdom; others, in conformity to the Gsopel, left the greater Britain which is now the Saxon’s homeland, and sailed across to the lesser Britain [ed. note: Brittany].”.] [ed. note from Brittanica.com: There are enough similarities with Geoffrey's "History" that some have questioned whether Goeznovious might be of later date, i.e. post-Geoffrey. But, unless William's original source, "Ystoria Britannica," is found and proves otherwise, we have to consider the possibility that Geoffrey may have used Goeznovious as a source.

2) William of Malmesbury - "The Deeds of the Kings of England (De Gestis Regum Anglorum)" (c. 1125)
"When he [ed. note: Vortigern's son, Vortimer] died the strength of the Britons diminished and all hope left them. They would soon have been altogether destroyed if Ambrosius, the sole survivor of the Romans who became king after Vortigern, had not defeated the presumptuous barbarians with the powerful aid of the warlike Arthur. This is that Arthur of whom the trifling of the Britons talks such nonsense even today; a man clearly worthy not to be dreamed of in fallacious fables, but to be proclaimed in veracious histories, as one who long sustained his tottering country, and gave the shattered minds of his fellow citizens an edge for war.

3) Henry of Huntingdon – “History of the English” (Historia Anglorum, c. 1130)
“The valiant Arthur, who was at that time the commander of the soldiers and kings of Britain, fought against [the invaders] invincibly. Twelve times he led in battle. Twelve times was he victorious in battle. The twelfth and hardest battle that Arthur fought against the Saxons was on Mount Badon, where 440 of his men died in the attack that day, and no Briton stayed to support him, the Lord alone strengthening him.”
http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/historians.html

4) The History of the Kings of Britain, by Geoffrey of Monmouth, dating to the middle 12th century. This is the beginning of the King Arthur legend as we know it. Geoffrey was born in Wales, but worked for his patron, Robert of Gloucester, who was particularly interested in legitimizing the claim of his sister (Matilda) to the English crown. Thus, the confusion of landmarks which moved Arthur from Wales to England proper, and the romanticizing of the tale, including the notion that Britain was originally conquered by Brutus, the son of the Trojan hero Aeneas, and thus Britain was ‘classical’ in origin.

5) Roman y Brut (The Romance of Brutus) is the translation of Geoffrey’s work into Anglo-Norman verse. It takes much of Geoffrey’s story and adds the round table, courtly love, and chivalry, thus transforming Arthur from a Welsh warrior to a medieval, Anglo-French knight.  From this point, the Welsh Arthur is all but lost, and the Anglo/Norman/French ‘King Arthur’ is paramount.

By 1191, the monks of Glastonbury were claiming knowledge of his grave, and soon after, the link between Arthur and the Holy Grail, which Joseph of Arimathea supposedly brought there. By 1225, monks in France had written The Vulgate Cycle, telling of the holy grail from the death of Jesus Christ to the death of Arthur, and included the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere. This story became the standard version used throughout Europe.

One critic stands out, however:  William of Newburgh – “History of English Affairs” (Historia rerum Anglicarum, c. 1198)
“For the purpose of washing out those stains from the character of the Britons, a writer in our times has started up and invented the most ridiculous fictions concerning them, and with unblushing effrontery, extols them far above the Macedonians and Romans. He is called Geoffrey, surnamed Arthur, from having given, in a Latin version, the fabulous exploits of Arthur, drawn from the traditional fictions of the Britons, with additions of his own, and endeavored to dignify them with the name of authentic history.”

[ed. note: Amid the near universal chorus of hosannas heard throughout Europe for Geoffrey of Monmouth and his "History of the Kings of Britain," William of Newburgh stands out as, perhaps, the first and certainly his most ardent critic. In fact, the full preface to his 'History' is taken up with ever-crescendoing criticsm, of which the above quote is only the opening salvo. CLICK HERE to read William of Newburgh's full preface.]   http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/historians.html

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Annwn, the Welsh Underworld 1

Annwn, or Annuvin in the Chronicles of Prydein by Lloyd Alexander, is an ‘other’ world, from the one that mortals live in.  It is the realm of the gods, or of the dead, depending upon the source.

This site states:  “The Welsh word annwn, annwfyn is traditionally translated “otherworld,” and is akin to some of the Irish worlds of the gods (Tír na mBéo, “Land of the Living,” etc.) One will recall that in the First Branch of The Mabinogi, Pwyll exchanges place and shape with Arawn, king of Annwn, whose realm is there depicted as co-existent with Pwyll’s Dyfed. In another poem from The Book of Taliesin ( Angar Kyfyndawt, 18.26-23.8) the speaker declares annwfyn to be underground:

yn annwfyn ydiwyth, in Annwfyn the peacefulness,
yn annwfyn ygorwyth in Annwfyn the wrath,
yn annwfyn is eluyd in Annwfyn below the earth…

It can be subaqueous, as it seems to be here in this poem. Annwn is popularly associated with the land of the old gods who can bestow gifts, including the gift of poetry (awen): awen aganaf / odwfyn ys dygaf, “It is Awen I sing, / from the deep I bring it”; AK). Semantically and conceptually the term is ambiguous. The MW prefix an- can negate as well as intensify (as in Latin in-) so that the word yields either or both an + dwfyn, “un-world,” “very-deep,” possibly “extreme world.” It is not a Celtic “underworld,” per se, although mention of “hell,” (vffern, suggests that associations between Annwn (“very deep”?) and the land of the dead were vivid to whoever committed this text to writing.”

As Wales became more Christian, ‘Annwn’ became associated with the Christian ‘hell’, but it appears to be more akin to the Greek sense of the ‘Underworld’–yes, it is a place of the dead, but it is for all people, not just bad ones and it is possible to move back and forth from our world to Annwn under the right circumstances, such as Arthur does in the Spoils of Annwn.

Both Arawn at times, and Gwyn ap Nudd at others, rule Annwn.  Arawn fought in the Battle of the Trees (Cad Goddeu) with Bran against Amathaon and Gwyddion. Arawn, like Gwyn ap Nudd, was a master hunter who rode a pale horse and rode with a pack of white hounds with red ears. The archetypal purpose of the hunt was to gather souls for the Otherworld if the quarry was not smart enough to evade the chase.  Arawn possessed a black cauldron (perhaps also associated with Cerridwen), which Arthur tried to steal.  http://www.joellessacredgrove.com/Celtic/deities.html

Gwyn ap Nudd appears to be a very similar deity, leading one to think it is a different, later, name for the same god/ruler.  Like Arawn, he is the leader of the Wild Hunt and associated with Arthur, but didn’t seem to take his full shape until the late Middle Ages.   http://www.answers.com/topic/gwyn-ap-nudd

All of these gods/characters play a role in my book, The Last Pendragon, with it’s emphasis on Welsh myth and mythology.

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Literacy in the Middle Ages

What it means to be literate is not an absolute standard even now.  This was even more true in the Middle Ages when the majority of the population couldn’t read at all, a certain percentage could read and not write, and the only way to be ‘literate’ at the time was if a person could read Latin.  Literacy in other languages didn’t count.

Wales, as always, went its own way.  Taliesin, writing in the 6th century, wrote in Welsh.  His is the first of a long tradition of Welsh literature–in the Welsh language–outside the control of the Roman Church.  “The professionalism of the poetic tradition was sustained by a Guild of Poets, or Order of Bards, with its own “rule book” emphasizing the making of poetry as a craft. Under its rules poets undertook an apprenticeship of nine years to become fully qualified. The rules also set out the payment a poet could expect for his work. These payments varied according to how long a poet had been in training and also the demand for poetry at particular times during the year.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_Welsh_literature

Still, this poetry was not, for the most part, written down.  It was sung, and only at times or under certain conditions, put to paper (which has come to us, fortunately, through the ages).

Taliesin was working in the ‘Dark Ages’–when monasteries were the last bastion of an educated populace.  Even there, however, literacy was limited:  “A number of factors suggests that certain scribes who were engaged in copyist work in the first seven centuries or so of the Christian era were trained in a very mechanistic form of writing. The use of continuous script, without word breaks, suggests a very mechanical, letter by letter, approach to copying. Petrucci (Petrucci 1995) goes so far as to suggest that such works were copies for the sake of copying, rather than works for proper reading, and that some of the scribes selected for this work were actually the less intellectually able, who were trained in it as a mechanical skill.

The term writing was used by medieval authors, whether they were actually carrying out the process of putting the words to parchment themselves, or whether they were dictating. One imagines that scribes of this type must have been rather like 20th century typists who could not only render the words of the master in the appropriate medium of the day, but may have exerted a little influence over such matters as spelling, style and grammar; educated, undervalued and ultimately anonymous.”

http://medievalwriting.50megs.com/literacy/writing.htm

A Companion to Britain in the Later Middle Ages” makes the argument that literacy in England began increasing starting in 1100, after which all the kings were literate in Latin and French, although there was again a difference between reading and writing.  By 1500, he estimates the literacy among males still did not exceed 10-25%.

In Europe, which had always been much more under the influence of Latin, the first person to break through the Latin barrier was “Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), arguably the greatest medieval poet. Dante wrote in Latin but, more frequently, he used the Tuscan vernacular. His writings encompass a broad range of subjects but he is best known for the lyric poems to his beloved Beatrice and la Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy). Packed with symbolism and allegory, The Divine Comedy conveys Dante’s judgments on the characters of history as he places them into the many levels of heaven, hell and purgatory. Dante’s ability to create literary masterpieces in Tuscan proved his own arguments against the scholars and writers who, scorning the use of vernacular as vulgar, insisted on Latin as the language of literature.”

http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/endmiddle/langlit.html

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Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

Llywelyn was the last Prince of Wales, which any reader of my blog should know by now since I obsess about him.  But has anyone ever rendered him in crochet form before as has my daughter?  Behold!

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was born somewhere around 1225 (amazingly, historians are sure of neither the date nor his true mother–although there are enough hints to conclude that it was Senana, his father’s wife).  He was the second son of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.   Other sons were Owain, the eldest, Rhodri, who never made a claim for any power in Wales, and Dafydd, who was thirteen years younger.

When Llywelyn Fawr, the great Prince of Wales, died in 1240, he left two sons:  Gruffydd, who was the eldest but illegitimate and Dafydd, who was younger but born to Llywelyn Fawr’s lawful wife, Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of King John of England.  Although it was customary in Wales to divide an inheritance equally between all sons no matter on which side of the blanket they’d been born, Llywelyn Fawr instructed that only Dafydd would follow him as the Prince of Wales.  This decree was supported by King Henry of England, who was the ruler at the time, and the Church, whose aim was discourage the production of by-blows.  This law was not the only conflict between Welsh tradition and the Catholic Church, although one of the most contentious.

Gruffydd, quite naturally, objected to his disinheritance, and set about undermining Dafydd’s rule, in the great tradition of warring, Welsh nobility and brotherhood.  Dafydd retaliated by imprisoning Gruffydd and his eldest son, Owain, in one of his castles.  In a further attempt to undermine her brother-in-law, Gruffydd’s wife, Senana, went to King Henry, begging for her husband’s deliverance.

King Henry responded to her plea by offering Gruffydd’s entire family asylum in England.  When the family arrived, however, King Henry threw them into the Tower of London.  Consequently, Gruffydd’s young son, Dafydd, only three years old at the time, grew up in England.  He spent his days playing with Henry’s son, Edward (and the future king of England), was more fluent in French than Welsh, and hardly knew the lands he claimed to love, or the people in them.

Llywelyn was sixteen at this time.  Rather than follow his father and elder brother into captivity, he ran away to Aber Garth Celyn and his uncle’s court.  That single action set him apart from his brothers and ensured that he was at Garth Celyn, ready to take over, when his Uncle Dafydd died unexpectedly and without an heir in 1246.

Gruffydd, however, had already died first.  In 1244, while trying to escape the Tower of London, the rope he was using to scale down from his window broke.  By this time, Dafydd was six years old and Llywelyn nineteen.  Instead of returning to Wales, Senana made the fateful decision to stay in England, under the continued patronage of the kings of England, and keep her younger sons with her, leaving the field open for Llywelyn and his older brother Owain, with whom he established an uneasy truce.

For Llywelyn’s relationship with his youngest brother, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, see this post:  http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=1007

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd died on 11 December 1282 in the region of Buellt, having left Gwynedd to pursue the war in the Marche.  See http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=117 for the full story.

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Geoffrey of Monmouth 0

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

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Taliesin the Bard 1

Whence come night and flood?
How they disappear?
Whither flies night from day;
And how is it not seen?

These lines are taken from a poem by Taliesin, a Welsh poet who lived roughly between 534 and 599 AD.  His poetry has survived in the medieval Red Book of the Hergest, and The Book of Taliesin, found here: http://www.llgc.org.uk/index.php?id=bookoftaliesinpeniarthms2.

“It is this manuscript which preserves the texts of famous poems such as ‘Armes Prydein Fawr’, ‘Preiddeu Annwfn’ (which refers to Arthur and his warriors sailing across the sea to win a spear and a cauldron), and elegies to Cunedda and Dylan eil Ton, as well as the earliest mention in any western vernacular of the feats of Hercules and Alexander. The manuscript is incomplete, having lost a number of its original leaves, including the first.”

He is associated with Arthur, in part because he wrote so much about him, but that he was a court poet dates to the 11th century Welsh work, Culhwch and Olwen.

Scholars are divided as to how many poems are attributable to Taliesin. Of the 57 poems in the Red Book, those that are addressed to rulers of Wales at the time are confirmed as his. The rest are on mythological and religious topics. Some scholars imply that these are thus of a later date, and that wouldn’t be unusual, in that it was not uncommon when transcribing a book to attribute later works to the original source.

The open-source translations of Taliesin’s poetry are not necessarly the best, most poetic, or most accurate, but here is the source: http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/llyfrtaliesin.html

Taliesin as myth is another person entirely. Within the Welsh mythology, and then later the Arthurian legend, Taliesin becomes a prophet-bard. A good summary of the mythology is found here: http://www.timelessmyths.com/celtic/mabinogion.html#Taliesin

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Welsh Pronunciation

“Names are not always what they seem. The common Welsh name BZJXXLLWCP is pronounced Jackson.”

Puddinhead Wilson (Mark Twain, Following the Equator)

For an English speaker, Welsh is not easy.  The following is a quick guide:

a  ‘ah’ as in ‘rah’ (Caradog)

ae  ‘eye’ as in ‘my’ (Cadfael)

ai  ‘eye’ as in ‘my’ (Owain)

aw  ‘ow’ as in ‘cow’ (Alaw)

c  a hard ‘c’ sound (Cadfael)

ch  a non-English sound as in Scottish ‘ch’ in ‘loch’ (Fychan)

dd  a buzzy ‘th’ sound, as in ‘there’ (Ddu; Gwynedd)

e  ‘eh’ as in ‘met’ (Ceri)

eu  ‘ay’ as in ‘day’ (Ddeufaen)

f  ‘v’ as in ‘of’ (Cadfael)

ff  as in ‘off’ (Gruffydd)

g  a hard ‘g’ sound, as in ‘gas’ (Goronwy)

i  ‘ee’ as in ‘see’ (Ceri)

ia  ‘yah’ as in ‘yawn’ (Iago)

ieu  sounds like the cheer, ‘yay’ (Ieuan)

l  as in ‘lamp’ (Llywelyn)

ll  a breathy ‘shl’ sound that does not occur in English (Llywelyn)

o  ‘aw’ as in ‘dog’ (Cadog)

oe  ‘oy’ as in ‘boy’ (Coel)

rh  a breathy mix between ‘r’ and ‘rh’ that does not occur in English (Rhys)

th  a softer sound than for ‘dd,’ as in ‘thick’ (Arthur)

u  a short ‘ih’ sound (Gruffydd), or a long ‘ee’ sound (Cymru—pronounced ‘kumree’)

w  as a consonant, it’s an English ‘w’ (Llywelyn); as a vowel, an ‘oo’ sound (Bwlch); wy has been known to be ‘oy’ as in ‘boy’, but wyn is ‘win’.

y  the only letter in which Welsh is not phonetic. It can be an ‘ih’ sound, as in ‘Gwyn,’ is often an ‘uh’ sound (Cymru), and at the end of the word is an ‘ee’ sound (thus, both Cymru—the modern word for Wales—and Cymry—the word for Wales in the Dark Ages—are pronounced ‘kumree’).

Some useful web pages for pronunciation:  http://www.kc3.co.uk/~bicycle/sideways/welsh.html

http://welshleigh.org/genealogy/welshnames.html

http://www.mythome.org/celticnames.html

While reading about what these words sound like is useful, hearing it is even more so.  Below are some places where you can actually hear how this all is supposed to sound:

Basics:  http://www.heart-of-wales.co.uk/welsh.htm

Place names:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/whatsinaname/sites/howdoisay/

http://www.forvo.com/languages/cy/

Video:  http://mylanguages.org/welsh_alphabet.php

Gwd lwc. Ai hop ddat yw can ryd ddys and ddat yt meiks sens tw yw. Iff yw can ryd ddys, dden yw ar dwing ffaen and wil haf no problems at ol yn lyrnyng awr ffaen Welsh alffabet.

http://www.summitpost.org/article/316895/A-Guide-to-Pronouncing-the-Names-of-Welsh-Mountains.html

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History of Paper 1

Medieval lords had castle accounts, right?  On what were these written?  Did they call them paper, or parchment?  Were they made of dried skins, linen, paper?

Account books could have been made of paper, which was viewed as less sturdy than parchment and thus for less important matters.  “There are indeed very many medieval manuscripts written on paper. Cheap little books made for clerics and students were probably more often on paper than on parchment by the fifteenth century. Even major aristocratic libraries had manuscripts on paper. Some paper manuscripts survive with the inner and outer pairs of leaves in each gatherings made of parchment, presumably because parchment is stronger and these were the most vulnerable pages. Paper was a Chinese invention probably of the second century and the technique of paper-making spent a thousand years slowly working its way through the Arab world to the West. By the thirteenth century there were established paper mills in Spain and Italy, and in France by about 1340, Germany by 1390, but probably not in England until the later fifteenth century. Paper was exported from its place of manufacture into all parts of Europe . . .

Medieval paper was made from linen rags. It is much stronger and more durable than modern wood-pulp paper, and fifteenth-century scribes were wrong if they believed that it would not survive. Rag paper is manufactured as follows. White rags are sorted and washed thoroughly in a tub pierced with drainage holes and they are then allowed to ferment for four or five days. Then the wet disintegrating pieces are cut into scraps and beaten for some hours in clean running water, left to fester for a week, beaten again, and so on, several times over, until the mixture disintegrates into a runny water-logged pulp. It is then tipped into a huge vat. A wire frame is scooped into the vat, picking up a film of wet fibres, and it is shaken free of drips and emptied onto a sheet of felt. Another layer of felt is laid over it. As the soggy sheets emerge and are tipped out, they are stacked in a pile of multiple sandwiches of interleaved felt and paper. Then the stack is squeezed in a press to remove excess water and the damp paper can be taken out and hung up to dry. When ready, the sheet is ‘sized’ by lowering it into an animal glue made from boiling scraps of vellum or other offcuts. The size makes the paper less absorbent and allows it to take ink without running. The sheets may have to be pressed again to make them completely flat. Sometimes, especially in north-east Italy (doubtless under the influence of Islamic paper manufacture) the paper was polished with a smooth stone to give it a luxurious sheen.”   http://linux2.hit.uib.no/non/echt/budapest/ManMan/paper.html

Paper was used in Wales, certainly.  A surviving manuscript (from the thirteenth century) is in the National Library of Wales. It was a ‘pocket’ book of the laws of Hywel Dda (from the 10th century), designed for lawyers to carry around in their scrip, rather than left on a library shelf.
You can view it here: http://digidol.llgc.org.uk/METS/lhw00003/physical

On the other hand, parchment was something different, and also used, though it was a more precious substance than paper.  It was:  “a writing support material that derives its name from Pergamon (Bergama in modern Turkey), an early production centre. The term is often used generically to denote animal skin prepared to receive writing, although it is more correctly applied only to sheep and goat skin, with the term vellum reserved for calf skin. Uterine vellum, the skin of stillborn or very young calves, is characterised by its small size and particularly fine, white appearance; however, it was rarely used. To produce parchment or vellum, the animal skins were defleshed in a bath of lime, stretched on a frame, and scraped with a lunellum while damp. They could then be treated with pumice, whitened with a substance such as chalk, and cut to size. Differences in preparation technique seem to have occasioned greater diversity in appearance than did the type of skin used. Parchment supplanted papyrus as the most popular writing support material in the fourth century, although it was known earlier. Parchment was itself largely replaced by paper in the sixteenth century (with the rise of printing), but remained in use for certain high-grade books. See also flesh side and hair side.”  http://linux2.hit.uib.no/non/echt/budapest/ManMan/glossary.html#parchment

Illuminated manuscripts of whatever nature were exclusively on parchment until the late Middle Ages:  “The majority of surviving manuscripts are from the Middle Ages, although many illuminated manuscripts survive from the Renaissance, along with a very limited number from Late Antiquity. The majority of these manuscripts are of a religious nature. However, especially from the 13th century onward, an increasing number of secular texts were illuminated. Most illuminated manuscripts were created as codices, which had superseded scrolls. A very few illuminated manuscript fragments survive on papyrus, which does not last nearly as long as vellum or parchment. Most medieval manuscripts, illuminated or not, were written on parchment (most commonly of calf, sheep, or goat skin), but most manuscripts important enough to illuminate were written on the best quality of parchment, called vellum.

Beginning in the late Middle Ages manuscripts began to be produced on paper. Very early printed books were sometimes produced with spaces left for rubrics and miniatures, or were given illuminated initials, or decorations in the margin, but the introduction of printing rapidly led to the decline of illumination. Illuminated manuscripts continued to be produced in the early 16th century, but in much smaller numbers, mostly for the very wealthy.

Manuscripts are among the most common items to survive from the Middle Ages; many thousands survive. They are also the best surviving specimens of medieval painting, and the best preserved. Indeed, for many areas and time periods, they are the only surviving examples of painting.”

 

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Gerald of Wales 2

Gerald of Wales was born in in Manorbier Castle, Pembrokeshire (Dyfed), South Wales in 1145 or 1146. His father was a Norman Knight, William de Barri. His mother was Angharad, granddaughter of Princess Nest, a princess of Deheubarth.  She was the half Welsh – granddaughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of South Wales (on her mother’s side) her father being a Norman Knight Gerald of Windsor.  Consequently Gerald was three quarters Norman, one quarter Welsh.  http://www.caerleon.net/history/Gerald/index.htm

From: http://www.caerleon.net/history/Gerald/index.htm

One of the primary reasons we remember Gerald of Wales is for his journey through Wales with Archbishop Baldwin in 1188 AD, during the reign of King Henry II of England. On one hand, in his numerous writings, he spoke of the Welsh as evil, sinful, incestuous, and dishonest (and definitely didn’t have good things to say about the continuance of a Welsh law, separate from English law), but at the same time, he supported their continued quest for freedom from England.  Over the centuries, the Welsh  have had very few supporters in that regard.

Gerald of Wales, Giraldus Cambrensis, Gerald the Welshman, Gerallt Cymro, he is called: Master Gerald de Barry, Gerald the Marcher, Gerald the Archdeacon, Gerald Bishop-elect of St. Davids, he more often called himself. His many names reflect the long and multi-faceted career of one of the most fascinating figures of the Middle Ages. Descended from Norman Marcher barons, and Welsh princes, Gerald was by turns scholar, churchman and reformer, courtier, diplomat and would-be crusader; Marcher propagandist, agent of English kings, champion of the Welsh church, hunted outlaw and cathedral theologian. He was also a naturalist, gossip and indefatigable traveller, but above all a most prolific writer and a tireless self-publicist. From his seventeen surviving books, therefore, we know a great deal about this determined, irascible, self-righteous and utter fearless man; more, in fact, than about any other inhabitant of early medieval Wales.”  http://www.castlewales.com/gerald.html

During the period in which Gerald wrote, Wales was recovering from the death of Prince Owain Gwynedd, one of the most powerful princes in Welsh history.  The Prince had been at odds with King Henry II of England since 1157, when Henry had invaded Wales.  The disputes continued until Owain’s death in 1170, at which point his lands were fought over by his children, of which he had at least 13.  By 1188, his lands were split between his sons, Dafydd and Rhodri, and it wasn’t until his grandson, Llywelyn ap Iowerth (child of Owain’s eldest, legitimate son) took the throne of Wales that the country was united under a single ruler again.

From the “Description of Wales“, Gerald has this to say about their perennial quest to throw off the English yoke:

“The English are striving for power, the Welsh for freedom; the English are fighting for material gain, the Welsh to avoid a disaster; the English soldiers are hired mercenaries, the Welsh are defending their homeland. The English, I say, want to drive the Welsh out of the island and to capture it all for themselves. The Welsh, who for so long ruled over the whole kingdom, want only to find refuge together in the least attractive corner of it, the woods, the mountains and the marshes. . . .

An old man living in Pencader . . . who had joined the King’s forces against his own people, because of their evil way of life, was asked what he thought of the royal army, whether it could withstand the rebel troops and what the outcome of the war would be. ‘My Lord King,’ he replied, ‘this nation may now be harassed, weakened and decimated by your soldiery, as it has so often been by others in former times; but it will never be totally destroyed by the wrath of man, unless at the same time it is punished by the wrath of God. Whatever else may come to pass, I do not think that on the Day of Direst judgment any race other than the Welsh, or any other language, will give answer to the Supreme Judge of all for this small corner of the earth.’” (p 274)