Dolforwyn Castle

Dolforwyn is a medieval castle built by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last prince of Wales, between 1273 and 1277 for a recorded cost of £174. It is located in Powys above the village of Abermule with commanding views of the Severn Valley. It was constructed in order to counter the power of the Mortimer family, whose castle of Montgomery is two miles to the northeast near the current Wales/England border. Dolforwyn castle was designed more as an outpost of Llywelyn’s domains rather than as a luxurious seat, as was the case with some other of Llywelyn’s castles, like Criccieth or Castell y Bere. It covered an area 240 feet by 90 feet, and consisted of two wards divided by a rock cut ditch. A rectangular keep sat at the southwest end with a circular tower on the northeast. These were 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…

Aber Falls

Aber Falls is a waterfall located about two miles south of the village of Abergwyngregyn in Gwynedd. Abergwyngregyn is a village adjacent to where the princes of Wales had a llys, known as Garth Celyn. The waterfall is formed as the Afon Goch (or the red river) plunges 120 feet (37 m) over a sill of igneous rock in the foothills of the Carneddau range. Two tributaries merge here and the enlarged stream is known as Afon Rhaeadr Fawr. Once past the road bridge, heading towards the village and the mouth of the river, it becomes known as Afon Aber. A smaller bridge at the foot of the falls is part of the North Wales Path, a long-distance coastal path between Prestatyn and Bangor. Ancient peoples lived in the area, some remains of which are visible to visitors walking along Read more…

Domen Ddreiniog

Domen Ddreiniog, known in the medieval period as  Tal-y-bont, lies northeast of the village of Tywyn and southwest of Castell-y-bere on the bank of the Afon Dysynni, near what historically was its lowest crossing point.    This site has been documented as one of the 22 Welsh llysoedd of Gwynedd, though the mound that is visible today has been linked with other motte and Bailey Castles built by the Norman, Robert of Rhuddlan, in his attempt to conquer all of Gwynedd in the late 11th century. After his death, the Welsh retook the area and held it continually until the final conquest of Gwynedd in 1282 It is known that Llywelyn ap Gruffydd himself addressed a letter from the site in 1275, and King Edward I of England visited in 1295. The motte that is visible today is steep sided and 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…

Carndochan Castle

Carndochan Castle was built between 1215 and 1230 by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, otherwise known as Llywelyn Fawr. It is located in Gwynedd, two miles west of Llanuwchllyn. We know very little about Carndochan, other than it was one of the many castles constructed by Llywelyn Fawr to oversee roads in Gwynedd and to protect his herds of cattle. Like Castell y Bere, which was built around the same time, it occupies a strong defensive position with steep crags on three sides. The area was strategically important dating back to Roman times. One fort, Caer Gai, lies beside the main road a mile north of Llanuwchllyn, and roads are thought to have converged on the fort from Bala, Brithdir, and Tomen-y-mur.  The castle is described as ‘ruined’, and is basically a pile of rubble. At one time, it had a D-shaped 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…

St. Mary’s Church, Trefriw

Today we are talking about St Mary’s Church in Trefriw. Llanrhychwyn was also patronized and supported by Llywelyn Fawr. Why did he build another one? That’s the story we’re telling today, and it’s pretty simple, really. This area already had Llanrhychwyn, one of the oldest churches in all Wales, founded by St. Rhychwyn in the 6th century. We talked about it earlier in this season of videos. Llywelyn Fawr, who was the Prince of Wales, had many homes but came sometimes to his hunting lodge near Trefriw and in the early days always worshipped at the church at Llanrhychwyn. But, as anyone who has visited can’t help but notice, it’s quite a hike. Joan found the uphill walk to the church, followed by a steep descent, tiring. To please her, Llywelyn had St. Mary’s built at the bottom of the Read more…

Medieval Welsh Armor

Whether or not Welsh wore armor into battle has come up today because a reader of my books reported an ‘error’ in Daughter of Time saying that her ‘reading of history says that the Welsh didn’t wear armor in the Middle Ages’. That simply isn’t true. They did. After I cooled down about the inherent prejudice that comment reflects, I decided a blog post was in order to address the matter. Basically, history is written by the victors, and the English were particularly good at propaganda at a very early point. King Edward I knew very well what he was doing when he plundered Welsh records, took Welsh iconography as his own, and put himself in the lineage of King Arthur (who was, without a doubt, Welsh). Depictions of Welsh people in the Middle Ages are few and far between, Read more…

First pictures from the Wales trip 2014

So far, we’ve seen Cilmeri, Tintern Abbey, Chepstow Castle, and Caerphilly Castle. This is the main shot of Cilmeri, the place where Llywelyn ap Gruffydd is said to have been ambushed and murdered by the English. That event–and averting that event–is also the basis for my After Cilmeri series. I’m pleased to report that the site has been spruced up since I was last here, including the placement of a new stone marker at Llywelyn’s well. For tons of information about the life and death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, see https://sarahwoodbury.com/llywelyn-ap-gruffydd/. Tintern Abbey was founded by Normans and is an early Cistercian house in Wales. See my post on Medieval Monks for more. Chepstow Castle was built by the same Norman lords who endowed Tintern Abbey, including William Marshal and Roger Bigod. When we were here two years ago, it was during the Queen’s jubilee, so Read more…

Life Expectancy in the Middle Ages

What was the typical life expectancy in the Middle Ages? Life expectancy varied according to diet, climate, location, relative wealth, etc., but the answer is definitive: not as long as we do now. For starters, infants and children died at a horrific rate (some say up to 1/3 of all died before the age of 5) and a significant percentage of women died in association with childbirth: 5% perhaps from the birth itself, often dying with the child, and a further 15% from childbed fever–the infections that followed a poorly managed delivery (by our standards). Following that, if a person made it out of childhood, they could be expected to live into their middle forties, provided they maintained good health and weren’t killed in war.  Both those, of course, are big ‘ifs’. Below is the recorded birth and death date for the adult royal Read more…

Dafydd ap Llywelyn, Prince of Wales (d. 1246)

Dafydd, the only legitimate son of Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn ap Iowerth) was stuck between a rock and a hard place.  His father was determined that he become the Prince of Wales and hold the country together upon Llywelyn’s death, but at the same time, his illegitimate older brother, Gruffydd, by Welsh law had an equal claim to the throne.  The possibility that Gruffydd was erratic and temperamental and perhaps not as suited to ruling a princedom as Dafydd was irrelevant. Even had Gruffydd been all that Llywelyn wanted in a son, he was not legitimate.  Among the Welsh, any child was reckoned legitimate if his father acknowledged him, which Llywelyn had.  But the Church did not and the powers-that-were in England believed that the Welsh were barbaric for allowing a illegitimate child to inherit anything.  Much less the crown of Wales.  So Gruffydd Read more…