Clun Castle

Clun Castle is an 11th century Norman Castle built in Shropshire in the borderlands between England and Wales, known as the March. It was begun by Robert de Say shortly after the Norman conquest of England. The Norman castle replaced a Saxon fortress that had been built by Eadric the Wild, and became an important defensive point in the initial conquest of this region’s Saxons by the Normans. The remains today consist primarily of the shell of what was once an 80 foot keep, dating to the 13th century and located on the north side of the motte. Unusually, this keep is somewhat off center, possibly to allow the foundations greater reach and avoid placing excessive pressure on the motte itself. Each floor had its own large fireplace and five windows. Other remains include a single wall of what may Read more…

Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne is an island off the northeastern coast of Britain, and accessibly only when the tidal flats are exposed. The island started out, as all of England once did, as a British settlement. But by the 6th century, the Angles had taken it over, and the Historia Brittonum recounts the last attempt of the British, led by Urien of Rheged, to retake the island. The British were defeated, and the Saxons maintained control of the island ever since. As we talked about in the introduction to Saxon religion, the initial conversion to Christianity of the Saxons of northern England and Scotland was led by Christian missionaries from Ireland, having been converted earlier by the British Saint Patrick. The monastery at Lindisfarne was actually founded by the Irish saint, Aiden, and became the seat of Christian evangelism stretching all the way Read more…

St. Mary’s in Castro (Saxon Church at Dover)

We talked about Dover Castle last season, but it’s worth revisiting, in large part for the same reason we devoted a video to it before: the long history of occupation. Specifically, in regards to the Saxons, Dover was one of the first places William the Conqueror conquered—and thankfully, he left the original Saxon church intact for us to visit to this day and, according to English Heritage, is the ‘largest and finest Saxon building in Kent’. The first record of the church at Dover is around 630 AD, when the records talk about a church built within the castle, which is where it gets its name Saint Mary in Castro. This is in the time of Eadbald, son of Æthelberht, the first Saxon king to convert to Christianity. Credence is given to the idea that the structure we see today Read more…

Saxon Religion

Are you saying the Saxon religion wasn’t Christianity? Not initially. We’ve spent the last ten videos or so talking about Christianity, but as I discussed way back in the beginning of last season, Britain was conquered by waves of ethnic groups. I mentioned five at the time: Celts, Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans. The Romans brought Christianity to Britain, after which a significant number of Britons converted to it. By the time the Romans left, there were enough Christians in Britain to create a contrast to the Saxon invaders who were polytheistic. This contrast between pagan and Christian was highlighted by the Britons themselves at the time and after the fact. The worst crime, according to the annals, was that, in the middle of the 5th century, the British Christian king Vortigern invited these pagan Saxons into Britain, as a Read more…

Making Sense of Medieval Britain

Medieval Wales and Britain in general is my thing (obviously!), and since I can’t get enough, I kind of assume everyone around me can’t either 🙂 Thus, I’ve started a series of videos about the history of Britain. The videos will be put up weekly. This week we have Making Sense of Medieval Britain, where I explain about the various peoples who lived in/conquered/migrated to Britain during the medieval period in six minutes. With graphics! Click on the link to see the video!

Introduction to a new video series

All about medieval Britain in bite-sized pieces! With the help of my husband, I’m starting a new series of videos about the history of Britain as background to my books. Medieval Wales and Britain in general is my thing (obviously!), and since I can’t get enough, I kind of assume everyone around me can’t either 🙂 The videos will be put up weekly, starting with this first one, which is an introduction to the series. Next week … Making Sense of Medieval Britain. If you want to see the videos as soon as they go up, you can subscribe to my channel! Click on the link to get started!

Was King Arthur real?

Historians are still asking themselves 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’ Read more…

Laws of Hywel Dda

Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good) ruled Wales in the early 900s, one of the few Welsh kings to control the entire country. He maintained peace with Wessex, to the point of minting coins in the English city of Chester. His laws were codifications and a consolidation of the common law in Wales at the time (meaning he didn’t create them out of whole cloth), and provided the foundation for Welsh law until the Norman conquest, when many were abrogated by Edward I. A surviving manuscript (from the thirteenth century) is in the National Library of Wales. It was a ‘pocket’ book, designed for lawyers to carry around in their scrip, rather than left on a library shelf. You can view it here: http://www.llgc.org.uk/?id=lawsofhyweldda The laws are divisible into several categories: Laws of the Court These laws set down the rights of Read more…

King Offa of Mercia

Offa of Mercia ruled much of England from 757 AD to 29 July 796.  He was known primarily to history as the man who built–or organized the building of–‘Offa’s Dyke’ the earthenwork wall that stretches the length of the border between England and Wales. Unfortunately, though we know the dates of his rule, some of what happened before and after, and the wars we fought, we know little of Offa as a man. The date that he ruled is very exact for that time period because of the wall and the history surrounding it. He was buried in Bedford and succeeded by his son, Ecgfrith, whom Offa had consecrated as his heir before his death. “According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Ecgfrith died after a reign of only 141 days. A letter written by Alcuin in 797 to a Mercian ealdorman Read more…

European Invasions

The European invasions into Britain took place over many hundreds of years. Different groups moved from one location to another.  Sometimes, the purpose was conquest, sometimes raiding, and sometimes it involved a quest for a better life and the intent was to settle, rather than conquer, new lands. But usually somebody was already there.  The map at right show the paths of various groups from Roman times to through the Middle Ages. After the sack of Rome in 410 (see my post here: https://sarahwoodbury.com/the-fall-of-rome/) tribes were on the move all through Europe: Angles/Saxons/Jutes:  These three groups derived from Denmark and Germany.  “Following the departure of the Romans in A.D.410 and after the sacking of Rome, Britain was left unprotected. The distant dominions frantic call to Rome went unheard. Mutiny spread through the ranks of the British defenders remaining who were 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…

The History of Chester

The City of Chester is the first stop of our Wales Odyssey!  We began with a tour of the walls, which were begun when the city was called ‘Deva’, and fortified by the Romans.   “The Roman military presence at Chester probably began with a fort or marching camp at the mouth of the Deva Fluvius (River Dee) very likely established during the early campaigns of governor Publius Ostorius Scapula against the Deceangi in north-east Wales sometime around AD47/48. There is some evidence of pre-Flavian occupation, possibly even a timber-built fort, but proof positive of a Scapulan foundation has yet to emerge. After the first tentative forays of Scapula, the next military activity in the area was conducted during the early administration of governor Sextus Julius Frontinus sometime around AD74 when an auxiliary fort was constructed at Chester. The placement of this fort was a strategic move by Frontinus Read more…