King Edward and King Arthur

Both King Edward and King Arthur have been the topic of other videos. Today I wanted to put them together, specifically to talk about how the Normans, in a triumph of medieval propaganda, claimed King Arthur for themselves and King Edward, in particular, used the King Arthur legend to justify his conquest of Wales. Many historians don’t believe King Arthur ever existed, but medieval people were certain that he did. The first mentions of him are in Welsh sources, namely the Welsh bards Taliesin and Anieren, writing in the 6th and 7th centuries respectively. To them, Arthur was a late 5th century British war-leader, credited with holding back the Saxon advance for a generation.  With the coming of the Normans, the story of this Welsh warlord, who might not even have been a king, was expanded and embellished (and outright Read more…

Holt Castle

Holt Castle is located in the town of Holt, near Wrexham on the Welsh-English border. It is a medieval castle, begun in 1277 as part of King Edward’s initial conquest of Wales. It wasn’t completed until 1311. Although King Edward began the work at Holt, in 1282, after the final conquest of Wales, he presented the castle to John de Warenne, one of his most loyal vassals. Warenne pledged to complete both the castle and the adjacent town, which would be exclusively for English settlers. The castle was known in the middle ages as ‘Lyons Castle’ because of the lion carved into the stonework above the main gate. The only sizable part of Holt Castle that remains are masonry features perched on the top of its sandstone base. These include the lower walls of the inner keep, the postern gate, Read more…

The Menai Strait

The Menai Strait is the narrow body of water, approximately 16 miles long, between mainland Wales and the island of Anglesey, called Ynys Mon in Welsh. At its center point, the Strait is roughly 1600 feet from shore to shore, widening to over 3000 feet at either end of the Strait. The Strait was formed through glacial erosion of the bedrock and was flooded after the end of the ice ages. Before the Strait was dredged in the modern era, it was possible to walk across the Lavan Sands, located to the east of Bangor, at low tide. Llanfaes, the town King Edward destroyed to build Beaumaris Castle, was the largest commercial center in North Wales prior to the conquest, and it was located along this ancient pathway, which went from Holyhead, through Anglesey to Llanfaes, across the Lavan Sands Read more…

Penrhyn Castle

Penrhyn Castle is located just to the east of Bangor, on a promontory overlooking the Menai Strait. It was originally a medieval fortified manor house, founded by Ednyfed Fychan, who was the seneschal to the Kingdom of Gwynedd and served Llywelyn the Great and his son Dafydd ap Llywelyn. That original construction was destroyed in the building of the Neo-Norman folly that can be seen today. The present castle was begun in 1822 by George Day Dawkins-Penrhyn, who’d inherited the estate from his cousin, the first Baron Penrhyn. The Penrhyn fortune was built initially on the backs of nearly 1000 slaves who worked sugar plantations in Jamaica and then, after the abolition of slavery in 1833, through the exploitation of generations of Welsh slate miners. By the late 19th century, over three thousand men worked the Penrhyn mine, the largest Read more…

Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch Cathedral is located in the heart of what was once medieval Dublin, originally the center of Danish controlled Ireland. The cathedral precincts as they exist today were established by the Danes, but they were built over the top of a native Irish monastery that the Danes raided one too many times before taking over the area completely. The cathedral was begun around 1028 at the behest of Sitric Silkbeard, the King of Dublin, and has been rebuilt over the centuries. After the Norman conquest of Ireland, King Henry II celebrated Christmas here in 1171. The leader of that first Norman expedition to Ireland in 1169, Richard de Clare, known otherwise as Strongbow, is buried in the church’s nave. The crypt below the cathedral dates to the 12th century and contains many relics from the medieval period. In my books, Read more…

Castell Buellt (Builth Wells)

Buellt is located in Builth Wells between the Rivers Irfon and Wye. It is a medieval fortress constructed by King Edward I and was the first of his Iron Ring of Castles built to control Wales. Buellt derives from old Welsh, ‘bu’ and ‘gellt’, meaning effectively an ox pasture. It was then anglicized to Builth. The Welsh kingdom of Buellt is mentioned in Welsh annals, and the site of the current castle was a seat of kings long before the Normans came. The first motte and bailey castle was built here by Philip de Braose, in his attempt to control the region. Control of the castle went back and forth between the Welsh and the Normans until Edward conquered the area completely in 1277. Construction of the current stone castle began in May of 1277 and continued until 1282. Upon Read more…

Abbey Cwm Hir

Abbey Cwm Hir is located in Powys, north of Cilmeri near Llandrindod Wells. Known in Welsh as Abaty Cwm Hir, it was a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1176 by a Welsh lord, Cadwallon ap Madog.  Unfortunately, Cadwallon, who was the lord of Maelienydd, was killed three years later by Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, leading to a blood feud between two families. In the process, the abbey, which was remote to begin with, was neglected. The abbey’s prospects improved in the 13th century under the patronage of the princes of Wales, Llywelyn Fawr and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. Twice the Normans burned abbey granges, which were rebuilt with money from the prince. In 1231, the abbey was fined 200 pounds by the Normans for aiding Llywelyn Fawr. After the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282 at Cilmeri, his headless body was Read more…

Castell Caergwrle

Castell Caergwrle is located on the English/Welsh border in Flintshire. The castle was built by Dafydd ap Gruffydd on land given to him by King Edward after the war of 1277 as a reward for serving him and betraying his brother, Llywelyn. Caergwrle was built on an ancient site that had been occupied since before Roman times. The first reference to the medieval castle states that Edward had sent 100 marks to Daffyd on 12 November 1278 to either start building or repair a castle that is already there. Then, in 1282, after Dafydd rebelled against Edward and started the war anew, the king sent Reginald de Grey to take the castle. But when forces arrived on 16 June, they discovered Dafydd had already retreated and abandoned the location, to the point of filling in the well. Grey immediately set Read more…

Denbigh Castle

Denbigh Castle is located in Gwynedd, south of Rhuddlan and St. Asaph. The castle was built by Henry de Lacy after King Edward’s conquest of Wales in 1282. Like many castles built by the Normans, Denbigh is sited over the top of an ancient settlement and palace of the Kings of Gwynedd. The most recent castle before the Conquest by Edward was held by Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the usually treacherous brother of Llywelyn, who made Denbigh his seat. He built a substantial castle, though all of it was destroyed after 1282. The Welsh referred to it as Dinbych, an abbreviation of Dinas Fechan, meaning “little fortress”. Lacy’s castle was finished by 1294. It was besieged in rebellions by the Welsh led by Madog ap Llywelyn and Owain Glyndwr, and finally ruined by forces of Oliver Cromwell. Still visible today are Read more…

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle overlooks the Menai Strait on Anglesey in north Wales and was built by King Edward I in 1295 as part of his Iron Ring of Castles, a series of castles built around Gwynedd to control the Welsh. Beaumaris itself was begun in response to a rebellion led by Madog ap Llywelyn. In order to build Beaumaris, Edward destroyed a Welsh llys (palace), along with the entire Welsh town of Llanfaes, which was the most important trading port in Gwynedd at the time. The people were moved inland to Newburgh, and English settlers were brought in to populate Beaumaris. The English crown spent a total of 15,000 pounds on the castle, but it was never finished, the work finally being abandoned in 1330. Key features to visit within the castle are the many passages within the walls, the numerous Read more…

Temple Church London

  Temple Church is the only commanderie in England we have ever visited. Unlike in France, they aren’t so thick on the ground. Only guessing, but the lack of surviving commanderies may be a product of the way their lands were parceled out after the fall of the order, combined with the Reformation, which destroyed many, if not most, religious sites throughout Britain. The Templars in England were disbanded but were allowed to continue living, which is one of the significant differences between what happened to the Templars in England as compared to in France. Initially, the London Templars met at a location that had once been a Roman temple. But because of the rapid growth of the order since its founding in England in 1128, by the 1160s the site was too small, and the Templars established a larger Read more…

Lanercost Priory

Lanercost was founded roughly in 1169 by a 12th century nobleman, Robert de Vaux, who later became the Sheriff of Cumberland. Robert’s family had been granted a barony on the border with Scotland, as reward for their part in the Norman Conquest, but the area had only come under English rule in 1157. According to English Heritage, the founding of a priory was a symbol of Robert’s permanence in the area and of his wealth, as well as an act of piety. He gave the priory considerable lands and the living from churches nearby, and allowed the canons the freedom to elect their own prior. Much of the work on the priory is from the late 13th century, using stones taken from Hadrian’s Wall—as evidenced by the fact that you can still see Roman inscriptions on some of the stones. Read more…