The Celts in Wales

The Irish, Welsh, and Scots all have a Celtic ancestry, but they settled their respective regions before the Roman conquest of Britain.  There is an amazing amount of debate as to the origin of the Celts:  were they Phoenician?  stocky and dark?  tall and blonde?  as culturally cohesive as the label suggests?   The standard theory is that the Celts were an Indo-European group that gradually migrated across Europe and Asia, with an identifiable, distinct culture by 750 BC.  As a group, they were well-known to the Greeks and Romans.  The map to the right shows the migrations of the celtic (or proto-celtic) groups around 1000 BC.   Note the expansion of the Celts in particular between 500 and 200 BC into the British Isles.  The Welsh tribes in particular consisted of the Ordovices, the Deceangli, the Gangani, the Demetae, and the Silures. http://archaeology.suite101.com/article.cfm/archaeology_and_the_celts “History Read more…

Iron Age Hill Forts in Wales

The Iron Age in Wales occurred during the 500 years leading up to the Roman conquest of Britain.  “The earliest iron artefact in Wales is a sword dating to about 600 BCE, but by 400 BCE iron was being smelted and crafted into tools all over the British Isles. The tribes of Wales developed regional styles of working iron, gold, and other metals, following the exquisite western European style known as La Tene (after the village of La Tene in Switzerland). At the same time as iron was introduced to Britain a new crop of settlers arrived from northern Europe.”  http://www.britainexpress.com/wales/history/iron-age.htm   This new group were the Celts.  They overran the whole of Britain, whether by conquering the then-native peoples, or gradually settling the country over a period of time. According to the National Museum of Wales, there are over 1000 Read more…

Dinas Bran (Castle)

Dinas Bran is a medieval castle begun in 1260 and destroyed in 1277 during the Welsh wars with King Edward I of England. The first settlement that we know of was an iron age hill fort, from which it gets its name.  “”Dinas Bran” is variously translated as “Crow Castle,” “Crow City,” “Hill of the Crow,” or “Bran’s Stronghold.” The castle first appears in 12th century historical documents as part of a medieval piece entitled “Fouke le Fitz Waryn,”or “The Romance of Fulk Fitzwarine.” While this work claimed that the castle, known as “Chastiel Bran,” was in ruin as early as 1073, the remains we see today date to the occupation of the princes of Powys Fadog in the mid 13th century. Possibly, the Chastiel Bran mentioned in the romance was a Norman timber castle, but nothing of substance supports Read more…

Caer Fawr (Iron Age Hill Fort)

Caer Fawr, or ‘The Great Fort’, is the scene of the final battle in The Pendragon’s Quest.  It is an iron age hill fort with extensive fortifications, most of which are hidden now by vegetation.  The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales did a study of Caer Fawr and if you’re interested in the topic, it’s worth downloading:  http://www.rcahmw.gov.uk/LO/ENG/Publications/Electronic+Publications/Gaer+Fawr/ It “occupies a prominent hill 1.4 kilometres to the north of Guilsfield (Cegidfa) and 5.4 kilometres north of Welshpool in the old county of Montgomeryshire, now Powys. The topography of this area is dominated by the River Severn, 4.7 kilometres to the east (Fig. 2). The hills flanking its wide river plain rise gently to the west and more steeply to the east and are cut by the tributary rivers which feed the Severn. A series of Read more…

Aberystwyth Castle

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 Read more…

A Medieval Siege

Besieging a castle was a far more common form of warfare than a fight on an open battlefield.  Sieges had the element of surprise and required fewer men than battle too, such that a ruler could beseige a castle with his enemy inside, while freeing other forces to wage war elsewhere. The goal in beseiging a castle was not to destroy it, but to take it, since castles were pawns in the great game of controlling land.  They were usually heavily fortified and defended, so a beseiger had several options when he was on the outside looking in: 1)  to starve/wait them out 2)  harassment and trickery 3)  a straight assault Often, attackers employed all three tactics at various times.  The defenders, on the other hand, hoped and prayed for relief.  As Saladin says in Kingdom of Heaven “One cannot Read more…

Dinas Ffareon (Dinas Emrys)

Dinas Ffareon is an Iron Age hill fort near Beddgelert which overlooks Lyn Dinas in Snowdonia. It is one of the more remote castles in Wales and “it was here that King Lludd ab Beli buried the two dragons which fought each other, as told in the Welsh epic the Mabinogion.” Later tales (Nennius’ and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s among them) tell of King Vortigern retreating back into Snowdonia and choosing Dinas Ffareon as the place to build his fort. Unfortunately for him, each night the ground was shaken such that the fort fell down. The King’s advisors stated that a fartherless child had to be sacrificed in order to stop the fort tumbling. Myrddyn Emrys (Merlin) and Emrys Wledig (Ambrosius Aurelianus) come into the story as well. “Merlin prophecised that the Red Dragon represented the Britons and the White Dragon the Saxons and that the event Read more…

The origins of the name ‘Woodbury’

The name ‘Woodbury’ has its origins in the old English word wudu, meaning ‘wood’ and byrig, dative of burh ‘fortified place’.   While not native to Britain (as in, not Welsh), it’s roots are Saxon, and thus the place-name ‘Woodbury’ in Devonshire predates the Norman conquest of 1066.   The name was recorded “as ‘Wodeberie’ in the Domesday Book of 1086, and the latter ‘Ve(s)burg’. The derivation of both placenames is from the Olde English pre 7th Century . . . The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of David de Wodebir, which was dated 1273, Hundred Rolls Devon, during the reign of King Edward I.”  http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Woodberry In 1848, there were three locations in England with the name ‘Woodbury’ (and lots in the US, but that’s another story): “WOODBURY, a hamlet, in the parish of Gamlingay, poor-law union Read more…