The Knights Hospitaller

The Hospitallers are one of several monastic orders, along with the Templars, that arose out of the crusades. While the Templars’ mandate was to protect pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem, the Hospitallers, known officially as The Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, charged themselves with caring for sick, ill, or injured pilgrims. The Hospitallers, in fact, were founded first, arising in 1113 as a reform movement within the Benedictine Order, intended to strengthen religious devotion and charity for the poor. Within a few decades, the Hospitallers added a military component that over time took precedence over their charitable arm. Hospitaller knights played a significant role in the Siege of Ascalon of 1153, for example. By 1291, after the fall of Jerusalem, the Hospitallers moved to Rhodes, and became almost entirely a military order. Read more…

Ysbyty Cynfyn

Ysbyty Cynfyn was a hospital of the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. It is located along the pilgrim road to St. David’s and, later in history, to Strata Florida Abbey. It consists today of a church, dedicated to St John, situated within a wall that incorporates ancient standing stones. This is one of three standing stones built into the churchyard wall. Their presence indicates that the medieval church may have been built over a pagan site. The fact that the churchyard is circular is a further indication that worship has taken place here for possibly thousands of years. On the other side of the Rheidol gorge (accessed by a stiff hike, not for the faint of heart!) are the remains of a bronze age burial mound that has eroded away to reveal the stone circle Read more…

Aberystwyth Castle

Aberystwyth Castle is located on the west coast of Wales, and is the only castle of King Edward’s iron Ring of castles that he built in Ceredigion. The castle guards the coastline, as well as entry into the mountains to the east. The first fortification at Aberystwyth was an iron age hill fort, which was occupied for about 300 years, into the first century BC. Other fortifications followed, although the first true castle, known today as Tan-y-castell, wasn’t built until the 12th century. Traces of that castle, which was constructed in earth and wood, are still visible above the River Ystwyth to the south of the current castle. Tan- y -castell was burned by Gruffydd ap Rhys, King of Deheubarth and then rebuilt by Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd of Gwynedd, King Owain Gwynedd’s wayward brother, when he took over Ceredigion after Read more…

The Treason of Dafydd ap Gruffydd

Dafydd ap Gruffydd was a member of the royal house of Gwynedd. His father was the eldest son of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, the ruler of Wales in the early 13th century. Born in 1238, Dafydd himself was the youngest of four sons. His family was rocked by conflict throughout his life. With the death of his grandfather in 1240, his father and uncle fought among themselves for control of the country, resulting in Gruffydd’s imprisonment in Criccieth Castle. Dafydd’s mother pleaded to Henry III to intercede, which he did, only to imprison Gruffydd at the Tower of London, as hostage for his brother’s good behavior. Thus, Dafydd grew up in England, as a close companion to Prince Edward, who later became Edward I of England. Gruffydd died in 1244 when the rope by which he was trying to escape his Read more…

Prince of Wales

Why is the Prince of Wales the son of the English king? And why are there so many people claiming to be the ‘true’ Prince of Wales running about? And why were the rulers called ‘prince’ instead of ‘king’? Like most of Europe, before the Norman conquest of England, all of Britain was divided up into many small kingdoms. At some point after 900 AD, the Saxons in England consolidated all their smaller kingdoms into one with one king, which is why there was a single throne later for William the Conqueror to lay claim to. At that point, Wales was still divided into a dozen small kingdoms, each with a king, not a prince. It was only in 1200 that Llywelyn Fawr conquered most of the country and in order to get recognized by the King of England and 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…

December 11, 1282

Today is the 739th anniversary of the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native Welsh Prince of Wales.  He was ambushed and cut down by Englishmen, somewhere in the vicinity of Builth Wells (Buellt in Welsh), Wales, late on the afternoon on 11 December 1282.  It was a Friday. And then Llywelyn ap Gruffudd left Dafydd, his brother, guarding Gwynedd; and he himself and his host went to gain possession of Powys and Buellt. And he gained possession as far as Llanganten. And thereupon he sent his men and his steward to receive the homage of the men of Brycheiniog, and the prince was left with but a few men with him. And then Edmund Mortimer and Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, and with them the king’s host, came upon them without warning; and then Llywelyn and his foremost men were Read more…

Castell Ewlo

Castell Ewlo is located to the northwest of the town of Hawarden in far eastern Gwynedd. The castle was built during a period when Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was rising in power, but before he was crowned Prince of wales in 1267. Documents dating to 1311 state that Llywelyn ap Gruffydd erected a “castle in the corner of the wood” in 1257. Of all the native castles in North Wales Ewlo is the only with a non spectacular setting. It stands on a promontory overlooking the junction of two streams but is itself overlooked by higher ground to the south. Its position, near the English border, was intended to give Llywelyn control of the road to Chester and the ability to counter the English fortresses of Hawarden and Flint. There is no mention of Ewlo playing a role in either the Read more…

Beeston Castle

Beeston Castle is located in Cheshire, and was part of the Earldom of Chester in the Middle Ages. It is a medieval fortress built in the 1220s on a high plateau by Ranulf, the 6th Earl of Chester, to consolidate his position in the northwest of England. Beeston has a long history of occupation, dating back to the Iron age, and the current castle incorporates these early banks and ditches into its construction. King Henry III took the castle in 1237, after the death of the last earl who died without an heir. The castle then became a jumping off point for the king’s campaigns in Wales. Prisoners captured at Evesham, during the Second Baron’s war, were held here, including Humphrey de Bohun, who died of his wounds while in custody. The castle remained in royal ownership until the 16th 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…

New Abbey Cornmill

The New Abbey Cornmill is located by the Pow Burn in New Abbey in Scotland on land belonging historically to the Stewarts. It is water-powered and dates to the 18th century. Americans shouldn’t be confused by the fact that it’s called ‘corn’ mill. It was always designed to create oatmeal. “Corn” is a generic term for grain in the UK. There may have been a mill at this location as early as the 1200s as part of Sweetheart Abbey. The current mill was built later, but it is still known as “Monk’s Mill”. In the mill are examples of hand-powered grindstones, like those used since prehistoric times. Harnessing water to power mill wheels was a great step forward and dates in Britain at least back to Roman times. Even until the 1800s, country mills like New Abbey ground oats and Read more…

Wigmore Castle

Wigmore Castle is a medieval fortress located in the March in northwest Herefordshire. It was built initially after the Norman conquest of England by the first earl of Hereford, William FitzOsbern, who also built Chepstow Castle. Fitz Osbern rebelled against William the Conqueror in 1075, however, in what has been called the ‘Revolt of the Earls’, prompted by William’s refusal to allow the marriage of Fitz Osbern’s daughter to the Earl of East Anglia. At their subsequent defeat, and FitzOsbern’s death, King William seized Wigmore and gave it to one of his faithful followers, Ranulph de Mortimer, and from then on it was the seat of the Mortimer earldom in the March. The castle has gone through many reconstructions over the centuries, most of which took place in the 12th-14th centuries, before the decline of the Mortimers after the execution Read more…