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 http://www.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

How long did people live in the Middle Ages? That, of course, varied according to diet, climate, location, relative wealth, etc., but the answer is surely 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…

What is the significance of ‘After Cilmeri’?

Today is the 731st anniversary of the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in a field at Cilmeri, Wales. It has been over 700 years since Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s death on 11 December 1282.  J. Beverley Smith writes: “Intimations of treachery, of breach of faith, are so often conveyed darkly, and no chronicle, nor any other source, provides the unequivocal testimony which might enable us to unravel the threads in the various accounts of the tragic happening in the vicinity of Builth.  It was alleged at the time, or shortly afterwards, in the most explicit statement we have, that the prince’s decision to venture into the area was influenced by one of the sons of his old adversary, Roger Mortimer.  The Hagnaby chroinicler, an important source for the events of the day on which Llywelyn died, was quite definite:  Roger Mortimer, Read more…

The Kingdoms of Wales

Wales as a country evolved over a period of time after the Saxons completed their conquest of the rest of Britain. To recap, the Romans left Britain in 410 AD, leaving the ‘Britons’ to fend for themselves against succeeding waves of raiders from the north and east. These includes the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. Historians are not in agreement as to exactly how this worked, but the Britons as a culture and society were driven further and further west until they reached their last bastions in Wales. Regardless of the actual timeline, by 800 AD, the Saxons were well established right up to the border of what is now Wales.  Offa’s Dyke, an earthen wall built in the 8th century, delineated the border for much of the early Middle Ages. “Offa was King of Mercia from 757 to 796 AD. Read more…

Dryslwyn Castle

Dryslwyn Castle is built on the same ridge as Dinefwr Castle. It is likely that Lord Rhys, the ruler of Deheubarth in the 12th century, maintained a stronghold in both places, although both castles were rebuilt in stone by later rulers. Dryslwyn Castle as it exists today “stands on top of a hill overlooking the Tywi valley. Its date of construction is unknown but the similarity between it and neighbouring Dinefwr Castle suggest that it was built at a similar time and possibly by the same person. The most likely builder was Rhys Gryg who occupied Dinefwr in the early 13th century, or possibly his son Maredudd, who inherited Dryslwyn from his father. By the late 13th century the castle at Dryslwyn had developed into the largest native Welsh castle in South Wales. In 1277 the English king, Edward I sent an Read more…

Buellt Castle

Buellt Castle (Builth Wells for the English) was the seat from which the Mortimers lured Llywelyn ap Gruffydd to his death near Cilmeri on 11 December 1282.  It was a major Edwardian Castle of its time, but all of the stone work as disappeared. “Builth is nothing more than a series of earthworks – nothing visible remains to give testimony to the structure which once stood at the site. By 1183, documents record a clash here between the Welsh and Normans, and much of what we see reflects this original motte and bailey fortification. During the next 90 years, the castle saw repeated conflict and changed hands between the Welsh and English on several occasions. By the 1240’s masonry structures were established at Builth; however, it was as the result of Edward I’s initial campaign against the Welsh in 1277 Read more…

The Brothers Gwynedd

Once there were three brothers:  Owain, Llywelyn, and Dafydd … For more information about Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and his rule of Wales, as well as the difficulties posed by the Norman encroachments, see: 11 December 1282 Arwystli The Battle of the Menai Straits Betrayal in the Belfry of Bangor Biography of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Cymerau Dafydd ap Gruffydd Dafydd ap Llywelyn, Prince of Wales (d. 1246) The Death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Eleanor (Elinor) de Montfort Family Tree of the Royal House of Wales Gwynedd after 1282 Historiography of the Welsh Conquest King Edward I of England Medieval Planned Communities Memo to Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s Staff The Rising of 1256 Senana, Mother of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Simon de Montfort The Statute of Wales (Rhuddlan) Surprise Holy Day Attack! Things Fall Apart Welsh Heraldry Welsh Independence Welsh Independence (again)

Criccieth Castle

Criccieth Castle was built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn Fawr) before 1239.  “Apparently, Criccieth’s castle was built at the beginning of the 13th century, a rather late date for initiating a castle at a particular site in Wales. The earliest mention of a stronghold on the craggy outcrop is to be found in the Welsh chronicles, the Brut y Tywysogyon, in the year 1239, when Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (son of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, or “the Great”) was imprisoned in the castle by his half-brother, Dafydd. Most likely, Llywelyn the Great began the stone fortress just a few years before his sons’ quarrel.”  http://www.castlewales.com/criccth.html Llywelyn kept Gruffydd here and then upon Llywelyn’s death, so did Dafydd, Llywelyn’s son and Gruffydd’s half-brother.  Gruffydd was transferred to the Tower of London as part of a deal with the King of England, as a Read more…