Eleanor (Elinor) de Montfort

Eleanor (Elinor in Welsh) de Montfort (1252-1282) was the wife of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales.  She was the daughter of Simon de Montfort, who was killed in the Battle of Evesham by the forces of Edward I when she was only thirteen.  Her mother, Eleanor of Leicester, was the youngest daughter of King John of England and his wife, Isabella of Angouleme.  Interestingly, that made Elinor’s mother and Joanna, Princess of Wales and the wife of Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s grandfather), half-sisters.  Joanna had been born in 1191.  After Simon de Montfort’s death, Elinor and her mother) found refuge at the Dominican nunnery of Monargis in France.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan,_Lady_of_Wales J. Beverely Smith writes:  “Llywelyn’s decision to marry Simon de Montfort’s daughter was revealed in dramatic circumstances at the end of 1275.  Eleanor was travelling from France Read more…

Was King Arthur real?

Whether or not King Arthur was a real person is an either/or query.  He either was or he wasn’t.  Many scholars, researchers, and Arthurophile’s have strong opinions on this topic, both for and against.  Because of the paucity of written records (most notably, Gildas fails to mention him), much of the academic work has come down on the side of ‘wasn’t’–or at least if Arthur was a real person, his name was not ‘Arthur’ and he possible wasn’t even a king.  In another blog (here), I list the original sources that posit the existence of King Arthur. Obviously, since I’ve written a novel about King Arthur, he’s very real to me! Wikipedia has a remarkably thorough analysis of the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur For now, I’d like to point to two aspects of the ‘wasn’t’ camp that I find particularly interesting, as they have to do Read more…

Possible King Arthur (s)

I have very definite opinions about who King Arthur was, as evidenced by my book, Cold My Heart, as well as the numerous posts I’ve written on the subject. That said, his identity is up for debate … The web site, Early British Kingdoms, has an entire section devoted to King Arthur, particularly who he could have been if he wasn’t ‘Arthur’, as no leader of that name in the middle 6th century or earlier seems to fit that profile. The possibilities are quite endless, especially if you consider Scots as well as Welsh rulers.  For example, Norma Lorre Goodrich places Arthur at Carlisle (as Camelot) and as Arthur ic Uibar, in her book ‘King Arthur’.   In the book “Arturius – A Quest for Camelot,” David Carroll suggests that King Arthur is, in fact, the historical late 6th century Prince Artuir, Read more…

The Conquests of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth

Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, born around 1172, was the grandson of Owain Gwynedd and ruled Wales from the late 12th century (certainly by 1200) to his death in 1240 AD.  He married Joanna (Joan), the eldest (albeit illegitimate) daughter of King John of England. Llywelyn “proved to be the greatest and most constructive Welsh statesman of the Middle Ages. In his long career he succeeded, by constant warfare, by tactful yielding under pressure and by masterly resilience the moment that pressure was relieved, in bringing under his control most of Pura Wallia. When he died in 1240, full of honor and glory, he left a principality which had the possibility of expanding into a truly national state of Wales. There was a moment when an independent Wales seemed about to become a reality.”  http://www.castlewales.com/llewelyn.html The Chronicle of the Princes (Ystrad Fflur edition) details the events of Read more…

Historical Sources for King Arthur

Historians are not in agreement as to whether or not the ‘real’ Arthur—the living, breathing, fighting human being—ever existed. The original sources for the legend of King Arthur come from a few Welsh texts. These are: 1) Y Goddodin—a Welsh poem by the 7th century poet, Aneirin, with it’s passing mention of Arthur. The author refers to the battle of Catraeth, fought around AD 600 and describes a warrior who “fed black ravens on the ramparts of a fortress, though he was no Arthur”.  http://www.missgien.net/celtic/gododdin/poem.html 2) Gildas, a 6th century British cleric who wrote De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain). He never mentions Arthur, although he states that his own birth was in the year of the siege of Mount Badon. The fact that he does not mention Arthur, and yet is our only Read more…

Annwn, the Welsh Underworld

Annwn, or Annuvin in the Chronicles of Prydein by Lloyd Alexander, is an ‘other’ world, from the one that mortals live in.  It is the realm of the gods, or of the dead, depending upon the source. This site states:  “The Welsh word annwn, annwfyn is traditionally translated “otherworld,” and is akin to some of the Irish worlds of the gods (Tír na mBéo, “Land of the Living,” etc.) One will recall that in the First Branch of The Mabinogi, Pwyll exchanges place and shape with Arawn, king of Annwn, whose realm is there depicted as co-existent with Pwyll’s Dyfed. In another poem from The Book of Taliesin ( Angar Kyfyndawt, 18.26-23.8) the speaker declares annwfyn to be underground: yn annwfyn ydiwyth, in Annwfyn the peacefulness, yn annwfyn ygorwyth in Annwfyn the wrath, yn annwfyn is eluyd in Annwfyn below Read more…

Brecon Castle

Brecon Castle was begun in 1093 by Bernard de Newmarch, when (as my book ‘Welsh Castles’ puts it) ‘he established his lordship of Brecon.’  The Normans had only come to Britain in 1066 and it was a wild time on the borders between England and Wales as they tried to gain control over the Welsh lands.  The Chronicle of the Princes (Red Book of Hergest version) says (for 1093)  “the French devastated Gower, Cydweli, and the Vale of Tywi; and the countries remained a desert.” The lands had been occupied since before the Romans came, as Pen-y-crug hillfort, or Caer Coch, sits to the northwest of the castle.  http://www.wisdomofrhiannon.co.uk/Brecon.html Brecon Castle was much fought over.  From Newmarch, the castle passed to the Braose dynasty.  King John seized it from William de Braose, who was in rebellion, in 1207 and William’s son Read more…

Taliesin the Bard

Whence come night and flood? How they disappear? Whither flies night from day; And how is it not seen? These lines are taken from a poem by Taliesin, a Welsh poet who lived roughly between 534 and 599 AD.  His poetry has survived in the medieval Red Book of the Hergest, and The Book of Taliesin, found here: http://www.llgc.org.uk/index.php?id=bookoftaliesinpeniarthms2. “It is this manuscript which preserves the texts of famous poems such as ‘Armes Prydein Fawr’, ‘Preiddeu Annwfn’ (which refers to Arthur and his warriors sailing across the sea to win a spear and a cauldron), and elegies to Cunedda and Dylan eil Ton, as well as the earliest mention in any western vernacular of the feats of Hercules and Alexander. The manuscript is incomplete, having lost a number of its original leaves, including the first.” He is associated with Arthur, Read more…

Red, Black, and White Books

In Lord of the Rings, Frodo leaves Sam the Red Book of Westmarch, in which to record the goings on of Middle Earth after he is gone. Tolkein himself says that his inspiration for the fictional book was the Red Book of Hergest in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, which he knew well. In Wales, there were three such books of which we know: The Red Book of Hergest The Black Book of Camarthan The White Book of Rhydderch The Red Book of Hergest was written between 1375 and 1425 by Hywel Fychan fab Hywel Goch of Fuellt, for his employer, Hopcyn ap Tomas ap Einion of Ynys Tawe. In it are some of the most famous Welsh texts, including the Chronicles of the Princes, The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, The Ruin and Conquest Read more…

The Four Branches of the Mabinogi

The Four Branches of the Mabinogi is a compliation of Welsh mythological tales found in the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest, both dating to the middle of the fourteenth century.   The stories however, are older, the specific versions dating to around 1100 AD, and thus before the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth.  Parker writes:  “The Four Branches also relay aspects of a deeply pagan thought-world, which ultimately draws on traditions and beliefs from the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of prehistoric Britain, as well as those of the Celtic Iron Age and Romano-British eras.”  http://www.mabinogion.info/ The first branch tells the story of Pwyll, Lord of Dyfed.  Pwyll spends a year as Lord of  Annwn, the Underworld and then encounters Rhiannon, whom he marries.  I loved the following exchange between the two, in the initial stages Read more…