An Iron Ring of Castles

During the late 1270’s and early 1280’s, particularly after the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Edward I began construction of a string of castles in Wales that circled the country.  The north, in Gwynedd, had always been a hotbed of Welsh resistance and resentment of English authority and it was there he built some of the most impressive of his monuments.  http://www.castlewales.com/edward1.html He began in the northeast with three castles: Hawarden, Flint, and Rhuddlan, all built before the 1282 war. Hawarden was the first castle attacked by Dafydd ap Gruffydd on Palm Sunday, 1282, when he started what became the final war with England.  Edward began Flint in 1277, bringing in up to 2300 English workers to build it.  Llywelyn ap Gruffydd submitted to Edward I at Twthill, the old timber castle at Rhuddlan, after which Edward immediately pulled down Read more…

King Edward I of England

King Edward is often viewed by historians as a strong king–one of the strongest, in fact. The people he conquered might not argue with that–only in equating ‘strong’ with ‘good’. He had many accomplishments during his reign that are viewed as beneficial to England–which from a certain perspective is true. One could argue (and I do) that conquering other peoples, while bringing in wealth in the short term, does long-term damage not only to the oppressed but the oppressor. 1239:  born 17 June 1254:  married Eleanor of Castille (he was 15, she 9) 1265:  Defeated Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham 1270:  Joined the 9th crusade to the Holy Land 1274:  Returned to England to take up the throne (Henry III, his father, had died in 1272) 1275-1290:  Codified existing statues into a more cohesive system of law, Read more…

Viking Raids

A few years ago, a story came out about 51 headless Vikings unearthed at a site in Weymouth, England.  http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/science/03/12/viking.olympics/index.html “On Friday, officials revealed that analysis of the men’s teeth shows they were Vikings, executed with sharp blows to the head around a thousand years ago. They were killed during the Dark Ages, when Vikings frequently invaded the region.” Researchers have dated the remaines to the period between 890 and 1030 AD, postulating that it was a raiding party that was executed once it was caught too far from its boats. During this period, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were well established in England.  Weymouth would have been in Wessex, one of the primary and most powerful kingdoms at the time.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1257333/Decapitated-Viking-skeletons-Weymouth-ditch.html Kings of the period include Alfred the Great (871-899), Edward (899-924), and Aethelstan, credited with being the first King of England. Read more…

Medieval Swords and Armor were NOT heavy!

That medieval swords and armor were ‘heavy’ is one of the strangest misconceptions of medieval life.  These people’s LIVES depended on their agility and ability to survive a fight.  Why would they be wielding 20 pound swords and wearing armor so heavy if they fell of their horse, they’d find themselves as helpless as upturned turtles? One reason for the confusion comes from the fact that ornamental swords and armor that remain to us often ARE heavier than ones used in battle, secondly, the sport of ‘fencing’ has greatly confused people as to what sword fighting really entailed (the purpose of fencing is to poke your opponent with the tip; the purpose of sword fighting is to get your opponent on the ground and shove your 2 lb. sword through his midsection to kill him), and thirdly, that in the Read more…

King Stephen

King Stephen’s reign was full of turmoil because of the conflict between him and King Henry’s daughter, Maud (Matilda).  Both claimed the throne of England and tore the country apart trying to get it.  Maud was supported by her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, who couldn’t claim the throne because he was a bastard.  Otherwise, he was the richest and most powerful man in England behind Stephen. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has a very lengthy entry on the time of King Stephen, and (in fact) ends with his death in 1154.  The Chronicle describes the brutality of events and reads, in part: “When King Stephen came to England, he held his council at Oxford; where he seized the Bishop Roger of Sarum, and Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, and the chancellor Roger, his nephew; and threw all into prison till they gave up their castles. When the Read more…

Empress Maud (Matilda)

Maud was the eldest, legitimate daughter of Henry I of England.  Her major claim to fame is that she warred for 19 years with Stephen of Blois, her cousin (both were grandchildren of William the Conqueror), for the throne of England.  This period of English history is known as ‘The Anarchy’. Maud resolved to take this path after the death of her brother, Henry, who went down with the White Ship in 1120 AD.  His death left King Henry with no legitimate sons (and up to twenty illegitimate ones).  In English law, illegitimate sons could not inherit, which left only Maud to take the throne.  While Henry was still alive, he tried very hard to get the barons to swear they would follow Maud.  Afterwards … Stephen felt that as a legitimate male, even if descended through his mother, Adela, Read more…

Murder and Mayhem in the Early Middle Ages

It is common knowledge among anyone who’s spent time wandering the history of Wales that murder and mayhem among the ruling families for power was common. David Walker (Medieval Wales, 1990) writes:  “Early entries in the Welsh Annales are brief in the extreme, but there are hints of ugly deeds.  In 814, Griffri ap Cyngen was slain by the treachery of his brother; in 904, Merfyn ap Rhodri of Gwynedd was killed by his own men; in 969 Ieuaf ab Idwal of Gwynedd was seized by his brother Iago and imprisoned; in 974, Meurig ab Idwal was blinded” (p. 6). He further points to the book Courtier’s Trifles by Walter Map, who satirized the reign of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (1039-63 AD), who ruled all of Wales from 1055 until his death.  He writes:  “I name Hywel, whom you caused to be Read more…

Eleanor (Elinor) de Montfort

Eleanor (Elinor in Welsh) de Montfort (1252-1282) was the wife of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales.  She was the daughter of Simon de Montfort, who was killed in the Battle of Evesham by the forces of Edward I when she was only thirteen.  Her mother, Eleanor of Leicester, was the youngest daughter of King John of England and his wife, Isabella of Angouleme.  Interestingly, that made Elinor’s mother and Joanna, Princess of Wales and the wife of Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s grandfather), half-sisters.  Joanna had been born in 1191.  After Simon de Montfort’s death, Elinor and her mother) found refuge at the Dominican nunnery of Monargis in France.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan,_Lady_of_Wales J. Beverely Smith writes:  “Llywelyn’s decision to marry Simon de Montfort’s daughter was revealed in dramatic circumstances at the end of 1275.  Eleanor was travelling from France Read more…

Geoffrey of Monmouth

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 Read more…

The Beginning of the Dark Ages in Britain

The ‘Dark Ages’ were ‘dark’ only because we lack extensive (or in some instances, any) historical material about the period between 407 AD, when the Romans marched away from Britain, and 1066, when William of Normandy conquered England. “Initially, this era took on the term “dark” . . . due to the backward ways and practices that seemed to prevail during this time. Future historians used the term “dark” simply to denote the fact that little was known about this period; there was a paucity of written history. Recent discoveries have apparently altered this perception as many new facts about this time have been uncovered. The Italian Scholar, Francesco Petrarca called Petrarch, was the first to coin the phrase. He used it to denounce Latin literature of that time; others expanded on this idea to express frustration with the lack of Read more…

Bloodletting

Bloodletting is one of the more horrific aspects of doctoring in history to the modern mind, the exact opposite of the prescription, ‘first do no harm’. In Starz production of Pillars of the Earth, set in the 1100s AD in England, an early scene shows a doctor bloodletting a patient.  This surprised me because I thought it too early for that particular method of harming a patient. I was wrong. Bloodletting has been practiced for thousands of years and was common among the ancients.  “‘Bleeding’ a patient to health was modeled on the process of menstruation. Hippocrates believed that menstruation functioned to “purge women of bad humors”.  Galen of Rome, a student of Hippocrates, began physician-initiated bloodletting.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloodletting “Prior to the time of Hippocrates (460 to 377 B.C.), all illness was attributed to one disease with variable symptoms. Careful clinical Read more…

Leprosy

Leprosy was one of the scourges of the Middle Ages–not so much because of scale, but because when a person caught it, their community cast them out.  The lazar house in the Brother Cadfael books, St. Giles, plays a significant role in the series.  In the movie, Kingdom of Heaven, Baldwin IV of Jerusalem is portrayed as a leper, which is historically accurate.  He ruled from 1174 to 1185.  The man who recognized he had the disease (instead of the Baron played by Liam Neeson) was William of Tyre, later Archbishop and Chancellor.  As you can see from the following article, the rest of the movie is entirely fictive as well:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baldwin_IV_of_Jerusalem Leprosy, also known as ‘Hansen’s Disease’, is a contagious disease caused by a bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae, which is why it is curable post-antibiotics.  Left untreated, leprosy is often Read more…