The Triumph of Medieval Propaganda

Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his History of the Kings of Britain back in the 12th century. It was at the behest of Robert of Gloucester, his patron, that he claims to have transcribed/copied/invented his history, placing King Arthur at the center of a national–and by that I mean English–origin myth. The idea was to justify the conquest of Britain by the Normans as a mirror to what King Arthur had done in the 5th century, including crossing the English Channel from Normandy to  Britain. Children’s author Phillip Womack (author of The Other Book and The Liberators) said in the Times Online:  “As inhabitants of these islands, we don’t have many myths that bring us together, but King Arthur is one.  I think that we will always seek him as a saviour, whatever situation we’re in, because that’s human nature. The Read more…

Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth was born sometime around 1100, probably in Monmouth in southeast Wales. “His father was named Arthur. Geoffrey was appointed archdeacon of Llandsaff in 1140 and was consecrated bishop of St. Asaph in 1152. He died c. 1155. Geoffrey is one of the most significant authors in the development of the Arthurian legends. It was Geoffrey who, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (completed in 1138) located Arthur in the line of British kings. Such an action not only asserted the historicity of Arthur but also gave him an authoritative history which included many events familiar from later romance. Geoffrey also introduced the character of Merlin as we know him into the legends. Geoffrey’s Merlin, a combination of the young and prophetic Ambrosius in Nennius’s history and the prophet Myrddin who figures in several Welsh poems, first appears in 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…

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…

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

Llywelyn was the last Prince of Wales, which any reader of my blog should know by now since I obsess about him.  But has anyone ever rendered him in crochet form before as has my daughter?  Behold! Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was born somewhere around 1225 (amazingly, historians are sure of neither the date nor his true mother–although there are enough hints to conclude that it was Senana, his father’s wife).  He was the second son of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.   Other sons were Owain, the eldest, Rhodri, who never made a claim for any power in Wales, and Dafydd, who was thirteen years younger. When Llywelyn Fawr, the great Prince of Wales, died in 1240, he left two sons:  Gruffydd, who was the eldest but illegitimate and Dafydd, who was younger but born to Llywelyn Fawr’s lawful wife, Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of 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…

Welsh Pronunciation

“Names are not always what they seem. The common Welsh name BZJXXLLWCP is pronounced Jackson.” Puddinhead Wilson (Mark Twain, Following the Equator) For an English speaker, Welsh is not easy.  The following is a quick guide: a  ‘ah’ as in ‘rah’ (Caradog) ae  ‘eye’ as in ‘my’ (Cadfael) ai  ‘eye’ as in ‘my’ (Owain) aw  ‘ow’ as in ‘cow’ (Alaw) au  ‘eye’ as in ‘my’ (Dau) c  a hard ‘c’ sound (Cadfael) ch  a non-English sound as in Scottish ‘ch’ in ‘loch’ (Fychan) dd  a buzzy ‘th’ sound, as in ‘there’ (Ddu; Gwynedd) e  ‘eh’ as in ‘met’ (Ceri) eu  ‘ay’ as in ‘day’ (Ddeufaen) f  ‘v’ as in ‘of’ (Cadfael) ff  as in ‘off’ (Gruffydd) g  a hard ‘g’ sound, as in ‘gas’ (Goronwy) i  ‘ee’ as in ‘see’ (Ceri) ia  ‘yah’ as in ‘yawn’ (Iago) ieu  sounds like the Read more…

History of Paper

Medieval lords had castle accounts, right?  On what were these written?  Did they call them paper, or parchment?  Were they made of dried skins, linen, paper? Account books could have been made of paper, which was viewed as less sturdy than parchment and thus for less important matters.  “There are indeed very many medieval manuscripts written on paper. Cheap little books made for clerics and students were probably more often on paper than on parchment by the fifteenth century. Even major aristocratic libraries had manuscripts on paper. Some paper manuscripts survive with the inner and outer pairs of leaves in each gatherings made of parchment, presumably because parchment is stronger and these were the most vulnerable pages. Paper was a Chinese invention probably of the second century and the technique of paper-making spent a thousand years slowly working its way Read more…

Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales was born in in Manorbier Castle, Pembrokeshire (Dyfed), South Wales in 1145 or 1146. His father was a Norman Knight, William de Barri. His mother was Angharad, granddaughter of Princess Nest, a princess of Deheubarth.  She was the half Welsh – granddaughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of South Wales (on her mother’s side) her father being a Norman Knight Gerald of Windsor.  Consequently Gerald was three quarters Norman, one quarter Welsh.  http://www.caerleon.net/history/Gerald/index.htm One of the primary reasons we remember Gerald of Wales is for his journey through Wales with Archbishop Baldwin in 1188 AD, during the reign of King Henry II of England. On one hand, in his numerous writings, he spoke of the Welsh as evil, sinful, incestuous, and dishonest (and definitely didn’t have good things to say about the continuance of a Welsh law, separate Read more…

Writing Historical Fiction

Back in high school, I remember overhearing two girls lamenting how awful their classes were and how they ‘hated’ history. Since I was hiding in a bathroom stall at the time, I didn’t give voice to my horror at their sentiment, but it has stuck with me in the thirty years since. How could they ‘hate’ history? Unfortunately, all too easily if by ‘history’ they meant the memorization of facts and dates that had little or no bearing on their lives. Why did they care what year the Civil War began? Or who was the tenth president of the United States? Or what happened in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia (though knowing might clarify our wars in the Middle East today, but that’s a different topic). That’s not what history is about. History is about people. It’s the anthropology of Read more…