The Great Prophecy of Britain

Armes Prydein Fawr, the Great Prophecy of Britain, is a poem attributed to Taliesin (although could not be his work as it was composed in the 10th century) in which he sings of the return of Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon (the hero in my book, The Last Pendragon) and Cynan, another dark age leader of the Welsh people.  Among the Welsh, it was these two, not Arthur, who would return in the future to save Britain.  The motivation was the same, however, in that the poet desires to drive the invading Saxons out of the land that had belonged to the Cymry. In the poem, Taliesin predicts the allliance of the Irish and Scots with the Welsh towards that purpose.  John Davies, in his book, The History of Wales, writes that the poem expresses frustration with the peaceful, compromising policies of Hywel 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…

Laws of Hywel Dda

Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good) ruled Wales in the early 900s, one of the few Welsh kings to control the entire country. He maintained peace with Wessex, to the point of minting coins in the English city of Chester. His laws were codifications and a consolidation of the common law in Wales at the time (meaning he didn’t create them out of whole cloth), and provided the foundation for Welsh law until the Norman conquest, when many were abrogated by Edward I. A surviving manuscript (from the thirteenth century) is in the National Library of Wales. It was a ‘pocket’ book, designed for lawyers to carry around in their scrip, rather than left on a library shelf. You can view it here: http://www.llgc.org.uk/?id=lawsofhyweldda The laws are divisible into several categories: Laws of the Court These laws set down the rights of Read more…

Medicinal Herbs in Wales

Most plants and herbs used as medicines can cause harm when taken in excess or used inappropriately (see Medieval Poisons), but a whole host of plants were employed for medicinal purposes during the Dark and Middle Ages in Wales. “Medical activity in Wales has a long history:  although no primary sources now exist it seems likely that at the time of Hippocrates, around 430 BC, the laws of Dynwal Moelmud acknowledged and protected the art of medicine in Wales.  It is possible to ascertain with greater certainty the contribution to medicine made in the tenth century by the Welsh King, Hywel Dda (c. 890 – 950AD) when he drew up the code of laws which were to be used in Wales until the time of Edward I.  The physician was an important member of the household: his remuneration was clearly Read more…

The Kingdom of Deheubarth

Deheubarth was a southern Welsh kingdom, arising from the former kingdoms of Dyfed and Seisyllwg in 920 AD, under the rule of Hywel Dda.   At various times, it fell under the auspices of Gwynedd, namely, during the rule of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn in 1055 AD.  The Norman conquest, as for the Saxons to the east, was not a happy event, however, and Deheubarth fell to them before 1100 AD.  These Normans conquered the southern regions of Wales more fully than they ever did the north, including Deheubarth (until 1282, at which point Edward I conquered all of Wales). The Normans accepted a client rule in certain instances and granted Cantref Mawr to Gruffydd ap Rhys in 1116. In time, he passed its rule onto his son, Anarawd.  With the help of Owain Gwynedd, Anarawd and Gruffydd successfully revolted against their Norman masters Read more…