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…

King Edward’s complicated relationship with the Welsh

Sparked by a post yesterday, in which a historian commented that King Edward had a Welsh guard and didn’t ‘hate’ all Welsh as some people seemed to think, I feel compelled to comment. First off, Edward was an English king who had the interests of the English crown and the English people first and foremost. He conquered all these countries from that position, with the idea that English law/church/language/culture (and that means Norman, really) was far superior to the barbaric north and west. That doesn’t mean he hated all Welshmen. A lot of what he did initially, in fact, was because he loved Dafydd, Llywelyn’s brother, in particular, and felt horribly betrayed by him when he started the rebellion in 1282. And really, fine that he had a guard of Welshmen, but really, what were their choices? Nobody can prove Read more…

The Succession of 1290 (Scotland)

When Alexander III of Scotland died in 1286 by falling off a cliff (which is another whole story–what king dies falling off a cliff when riding from one castle to another alone in the fog? Whatever.), he left Scotland without a king. He had one living grandchild, Margaret, otherwise known as the ‘Maid of Norway’. She was the child of Alexander’s daughter, who’d died at her birth, and Erik, the King of Norway. The succession was already in trouble after King Alexander’s only son died, two years earlier:  “When Prince Alexander died on 28 January 1284, leaving only the king’s granddaughter Margaret living out of his descendants, Alexander III summoned all thirteen Earls of Scotland, twenty-four barons and the heads of the three main Gaelic kindreds of the West, Alexander of Argyll, Aonghas Mór of Islay and Alan MacRuari of Garmoran. At Scone on 5 February Read more…

Early Parliament and the Representative Process

It’s impossible to give a truly detailed account of the history of democracy in Great Britain on a blog, but  elections and the idea of representation by people over whom monarchs rule dates back to the Middle Ages. From Anglo-Saxon times, the Saxon Kings of England consulted with their high ranking lords on matters of state. This continued after the Norman Conquest in 1066 AD, and continued throughout the Middle Ages. The Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215, is often held up as a turning point in democracy. It was a document forced upon him by his barons insisting that he listen to their counsel and not act without consulting them: “This feudal document mainly guaranteed certain rights to the barons, who made up most of the landowning elite. But the Magna Carta also established that the king must Read more…