Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Romanising the Celtic Christian Church

by Arthur Russell

The two Abbeys of Mellifont and Bective in Ireland were founded by the Cistercians in the early 12th century as a major part of a process to bring the Celtic Church into line with Roman practices. This arose from the fact that the Celtic Church had evolved significantly differently in several respects over the centuries since Ireland, which had never been subjected to Imperial Roman conquest, was Christianised during the 5th century.

The Roman Briton Bishop Patrick, who started his Irish mission in 432AD, is popularly credited with the work that saw Ireland become “The island of Saints and Scholars” over the next two centuries. These centuries coincided with the barbarian invasions that changed Europe and ushered in the so-called Dark Ages, which almost destroyed European learning and culture that had developed under Imperial and early Christian Rome.

Chaos in Europe - an Irish Solution

The chaos in 5th and 6th century Europe contrasted with the peace of Ireland, which quickly became a repository for Christian learning and scholarship. This period is considered a “Golden Age” which positioned Ireland to become the wellspring of renewal and regeneration for Britain and Europe in the aftermath of the barbarian invasions. Located so far west in the Atlantic Ocean, Ireland escaped the attention of Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, Huns, Franks, Jutes, Saxons, Angles and other pagan tribes who swept through what was left of the failing Roman Empire which had dominated Europe for so long and under whose shadow the Christian Church had grown and developed since the reign of the Emperor Constantine.

Johannes Scotus Eriugena
This circumstance allowed Ireland to “give back” to Europe what it had received from Patrick. The process of re-Christianising began in Scotland where Colmcille established a monastic settlement in Iona that went on to set up further daughter houses in Britain among which, Lindisfarne in Northern England. 

In Continental Europe, missionaries such as Columbanus (France and Italy), Killian (Southern Germany), and Gallen (Swtzerland) were prime movers in proselytizing the new peoples who had settled across Europe. As they traversed from one district to the next, the missionaries established monasteries and centres of learning and religion, some of which still survive:  Luxueil (France), Bobbio (Italy), St Gallen (Switzerland). The record of their visitations are recalled in place-names, churches and shrines scattered throughout western Europe. Most institutions of learning of the day, all over Europe, were likely to have one or more Irish scholars on their academic staffs. 

One of these was Johannes Scotus Eriugena [which means “born in Ireland] (817-877AD), who was considered the foremost scholar of the Carolingian era, and whose writings and theories made significant contribution to the development of late Medieval and modern Philosophy and Theology.
Note – Johannes Scotus propounded the seemingly contradictory but thought-provoking theory that: Authority is the source of knowledge; but reason of mankind is the norm by which all authority is justified. (Such ideas might not have gone down too well with an authoritarian Church!)

Rome's "Irish problem"

Problems arose when the Roman Church began to reassert itself as Europe finally emerged from the Dark Ages, finding itself at odds with some peculiarly Celtic practices. While there were no fundamental conflicts in the area of teaching and doctrines, there were differences in the way practices had diverged between the Celtic Church and the re-emerging Roman Church.  The most striking were in monastic discipline, where Celtic rule was seen as being somewhat harsher compared to the Roman system as developed by the likes of the Cistercian Order. Other differences, such as the timing of Easter, took quite a long time to resolve and not without their share of dispute and controversy.

The following quotation from a letter sent by one of the earliest Irish missionaries, Columbanus to the Pope, discussing these differences, is revealing:

St Columbanus
We Irish, though dwelling at the far ends of the earth, are all disciples of St. Peter and St. Paul ... we are bound to the Chair of Peter, and although Rome is great and renowned, through that Chair alone is she looked on as great and illustrious among us ... On account of the two Apostles of Christ, you are almost celestial, and Rome is the head of the whole world, and of the Churches.

The letter describe the Pope as "Lord and Father in Christ", the "Chosen Watchman", and the "First Pastor, set higher than all mortals"     

What this shows in that Columbanus, never the most patient of men when it came to his missionary work, was prepared, to some extent at least, to bow to what he saw as the final authority of Rome. But many of his activities and letters also show that Columbanus was always ready to argue the Celtic point of view in matters Ecclesiastic, with local bishops, and even with the Pope.

At that early stage, with so much to be done to re-establish the Church in Europe, pragmatism prevailed. Both Celtic and Roman systems managed to coexist and accommodate to each other. However, Rome was never going to allow such diversity in Christendom to continue indefinitely. That, coupled with the fact that the influence of the Celtic Church in Britain and on the Continent declined due to the Viking invasions of Britain and Ireland during the early 8th century, meant that the Celtic Church was by then under considerable stress. This resulted in a much reduced flow of scholars and teachers from Ireland and Scotland to man their British and European foundations. 

The disruption caused by Viking attacks in Northwest Europe also meant that the Celtic Church was effectively isolated from the now resurgent Roman Church. Under these circumstances, it demonstrated an increasing degree of independence in adopting existing and new directives from Rome, which was the cause of great concern there. As the end of the first millennium approached, Rome's desire to standardise practice across Christendom increased.

During the 9th and 10th centuries, Britain had become a front line of sorts in the “war” between the two competing Church traditions, with the added element that Canterbury desired to increase its influence over territories (including Ireland), which it saw as its domain.

The normalising of religious practice in Ireland was always going to take much longer to resolve than in Britain. It was not until a Synod held during the iconic year of 1111 AD in RathBreassail in the Irish midlands that the Celtic Church made the significant move of establishing the Roman diocesan system. It was here that the country was divided into the 20 dioceses which have substantially survived until the present. 

Three further Synods during the 12th century removed most of the remaining differences in practice, so that by the time of the issue of Bull Laudabiliter by Pope Adrian IV in 1152, during the reign of King Henry II, the Roman Church’s “Celtic problem” was well on the way to be resolved.

Note: After the Norman invasion of 1169, “Laudabiliter” was used to confer dubious Church and Papal sanction and legitimacy on the claim to Ireland by the Angevin King. (It was always Politics, stupid!).

The Cistercians in Ireland – Agents of change

Bectve Abbey, near Navan, Co Meath, Ireland.
These Synods, along with the influence of the Cistercian Order, who had established themselves in Mellifont, and later in Bective in the Kingdom of Meath can be credited with making a significant contribution in bringing the two church traditions together. In 1139, Bishop Malachy Ó’Morgair from Armagh visited St Bernard in Clairvaux, France, on his way to visit Pope Innocent II, and was so impressed by the life of the Cistercians that he asked the Pope’s permission to join that community. 

The Pope regarded Malachy’s reforming work of the Irish Church to be of much higher importance and would not allow him to do this. On his way back from Rome, Malachy left some of his travelling companion clerics to be trained as Cistercians and sent more to join them after he arrived home. After a period of training, Bernard sent a mixed group of French and Irish Cistercians from Clairvaux to Ireland in 1142 under the leadership of a monk called Gillacríst O’Conarchy, who was duly appointed the first Irish Cistercian abbot.

Years later, Malachy died in Clairvaux, while travelling from Rome and was buried with his friend Bernard in the French mother-house where their bones are still venerated, after both men were canonised as saints by the Pope.  

Many Gaelic chieftains were happy to invite the Order to establish houses in their territories and generously endowed them with lands and houses. So by the time the Normans invaded Ireland in 1169, there were 10 Cistercian houses scattered all over the island. More Cistercian houses would continue to be established in both Gaelic and Norman controlled territory during the second half of the 13th century, with the support of whoever ruled in each area.

Bective Abbey

The first Cistercian foundation in Ireland was built at Mellifont in 1142. The first daughter house was established in 1147 with the support of the King of Meath, Murchad MacLochlainn. This impressive foundation was located on the banks of the River Boyne, close to the ancient Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland. 

Carving in the Cloister at Bective 
After Meath was conquered and occupied by the Norman invaders, both Mellifont and Bective were firmly in the Norman sphere of influence and became recipient of support and funds from the new power in Meath, Sir Hugh deLacy. After deLacy was killed by an Irish workman at Durrow in 1186, there was an unseemly dispute between the Cistercian monasteries of Durrow and Bective, about where his mortal remains should be buried. 

After 9 years disputation, Bective temporarily won the privilege to have Hugh’s body buried in its grounds in 1195, while his head was buried in the Abbey of St Thomas in Dublin, another Cistercian abbey that was also recipient of deLacy patronage. Subsequently and finally, the body was reunited with the head in St Thomas’.

In subsequent centuries, the Abbot of Bective came to have considerable status at both political and ecclesiastical level and was an ex officio spiritual lord of Parliament.

Bective continued as a Cistercian house until King Henry VIII suppressed all monasteries in the early 16th century. After this it was turned into a fortified mansion by Thomas Agard, the civil servant who took over its lease. The possessions of the abbey at this time included 1600 acres of land, a water mill and a fishing weir on the nearby River Boyne.


Arthur Russell has published ‘Morgallion’; a novel set in the early 14th century during Edward Bruce’s invasion of the Ireland, which targeted the establishment of a Bruce dynasty to take over the ancient High Kingship of Ireland, which had been abandoned in the aftermath of the Norman invasion of 1169.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

For the May Day Is the Great Day...

May Day by Kate Greenaway

by Lauren Gilbert

When I was a child, I read of May baskets In Louisa May Alcott’s writing (Jack and Jill has a whole chapter about the making and hanging of May baskets).  With May Day as a spring celebration, May baskets, dancing around May poles and other activities seemed like so much fun.  In the 1970’s, Songs from the Wood by Jethro Tull reminded me of the pre-Christian ceremonies associated with the day.  May Day has also acquired other connotations with the Workers Movements.   Although not as widely celebrated as it once was, it is still a bank holiday in Great Britain.  May Day has significance on many levels and its traditions endure.  A few of the old traditions are discussed here today.

The first of May has been celebrated as a spring festival in western countries for centuries.  The ancient Gaelic festival of Beltane celebrating the return of the sun at the beginning of summer was held at the time when the sun was half-way between the spring equinox and the summer solstice.   It fell roughly at the equivalent of May 7th, varying from year to year.  Fires were set to help the sun, and it was thought to be good luck to pass through the smoke.   

Supposedly, Beltane was one of the two great celebrations of the Druids.  The ancient Romans also held a spring celebration, a five-day festival called Floralia in honor of the goddess of flowers, named Flora.  This fell roughly at about the same time as Beltane, and, of course, the Romans brought it with them to England.  Over time, the Roman customs blended with the Gaelic traditions.  These traditions celebrated the beginning of the growing season.  Gathering flowers (“bringing home the May”), making garlands, giving flowers to friends and neighbors have their roots in these spring celebrations.
In time, another tradition came to be associated with May Day: the selection of a May Queen, who may also be known as the Maiden.   The earliest references go back to medieval times, but the tradition could go back even further.  The May Queen might have symbolized the goddess of flowers, purity, strength and new growth.  This may be derived at least in part from the Roman goddess of spring (named  Maia).    Once the May Queen was selected, the dancing began, sometimes around the Maiden, sometimes around a May Pole.  

During medieval times, a May Day association with the Virgin Mary began, which included special altar decorations dedicated to her.  Traditionally, Mary is specially venerated in May.   (Being selected May Queen seems rather similar to the honor of being selected to play the Virgin Mary in Nativity pageants.)
The ancient May Pole custom is shared by England, Germany and Sweden, and countries neighboring them.   A tall pole, decorated with flowers and greenery, with long ribbons fastened on the top, was set into the ground.  Dancers, each holding a ribbon, dance around the pole, weaving the ribbons into a braid or net, depending on the pattern in which they dance.  Traditionally made of hawthorn or birch, the pole evokes a pagan past , possibly connected to Germanic myths of fertility, and the Norse myth of the tree that links the heavens to the underworld.   May poles still make an appearance today.   While in England it is linked primarily with May Day, in other areas it is also featured at mid-summer and other festivals as well.  Morris dancing has also been a long tradition at the May Day celebration.
Yet another interesting May Day custom involves washing one’s face in May dew.  There was a belief that dew gathered early on the first day of May would make one’s complexion beautiful, so girls and women would go out and rub their faces with dew, hoping to heal pimples and remove freckles.   
As with so many fun things, May Day celebrations were squashed by Cromwell and the Puritans.  After the Restoration, Charles II restored the festival with an enormous May Pole but it never really revived completely.   It was (and still is) celebrated on a local level in England with the traditions mentioned here and others, but had lost some of its significance by Victorian times.
Then, late in the 19th century, the first of May of 1890, May Day, became the international labor movement’s day, a day of celebration for, and of, the worker.  Demonstrations and strikes were held that year, and in subsequent years.   It also became heavily associated with Communism.  Interestingly in 1955, the Catholic Church dedicated May 1st to St. Joseph the Worker.  This holiday celebrating the international labor movement is still celebrated in many countries.   In the United Kingdom, it is a bank holiday and protests still occur, even while the traditional May Day celebrations are still held in different areas.
Interestingly, however, interest in the ancient May Day traditions has been renewed, possibly due to increased interest in history or a revival of interest in pagan celebrations.   At any rate, more spring celebrations of May Day are appearing. I think May baskets would be lovely.  Here is a site that offers detailed instructions (click  here http://oldfashionedliving.com/holidays/maybaskets.html) and they sound delightful!  Shall we try it?

Sources include:
“Traditions and Customs of May Day.”  http://www.netglimse.com/holidays/may_day/traditions_and_customs_of_may_day.shtml
The Holiday Spot website.  “HISTORY OF MAY DAY History and Origin.”  http://www.theholidayspot.com/mayday/history.htm
Historic UK.com.  “May Day Celebrations.”  http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/May-Day-Celebrations
History Today.  "May Days and After" by Chris Wrigley.  Vol. 40 Issue 6 1990.  On line at http://www.historytoday.com/chris-wrigley/may-days-and-after 
Hillman’s Hyperlinked and Searchable CHAMBERS’ BOOK OF DAYS.  “May 1st.”  http://www.thebookofdays.com/months/may/1.htm
Title is a quote from “Cup of Wonder” on SONGS FROM THE WOOD by Jethro Tull.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.   http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/11/Kate_Greenaway_-_May_day.jpg


Lauren Gilbert is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel,lives in Florida.  Her website is http://www.lauren-gilbert.com

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Giveaway: Blood Between Queens by Barbara Kyle

Barbara Kyle is giving away one signed copy of her new release, Blood Between Queens. This giveaway ends at midnight Sunday May 5th. Please comment here to enter the drawing, and be sure to leave your contact information. Thanks! For information about Blood Between Queens, click HERE.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Volcanoes, Vampires, and Mad Science: The Birth of Seductive Vampires and Scientists Playing God

by J.A. Beard

In 1815, a series of lesser volcanic eruptions was followed by the eruption of Mount Tambora (one of the largest eruptions in over 1000 years). This occurred in combination with cyclical lows in solar activity. While modern scientists aren't completely sure, they believe this particular convergence is responsible for the phenomena that occurred in 1816 that we now know as the Year Without A Summer.

Overall temperatures around the globe, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, were temporarily reduced. This, in turn, caused summer frosts, increased rain, and various other climate effects that resulted in the summer season resembling more an extended autumn. These climate impacts had numerous negative effects, including reduced crop yields from early frosts and excessive rainfall (leading to flooding) in many areas. This led to subsequent downstream economic effects. All in all, the experience wasn't pleasant for much of the world.

During the normal "summer" months of that year, a small group of intellectuals were staying near Lake Geneva for a summer holiday. The unrelenting rain forced them inside for most of the summer. Absent the modern conveniences of the internet, television, radio, or even not-so-modern conveniences such as a large, expansive library, these sad vacationers, being of the literary bent, decided to see have a contests of sort to see who could create the most frightening tale. The dark, grim summer along with various other ghost stories served as inspiration (for a few of them, perhaps with the aid of a little alcohol or laudanum for some of them as well, according to a few sources).

Now, these weren't just any random collection of people. The primary host of this vacation gone awry was none other than Lord Bryon, the often morally questionable bad boy Romantic poet.

In addition to Lord Bryon, the poet and radical Percy Shelley was also in attendance, along with his new young wife, Mary. They only added to the scandal factor of the gathering. The main reason the Shelleys were abroad had to do with the fact that Percy left his first wife, who was pregnant at the time, and child to run off with the then 16-year old Mary in 1814.

Percy and Mary didn't marry until Percy's first wife committed suicide in 1816. Many people in their social circles were suitably scandalized, so they fled England to tour Europe. Rounding out the party was Mary's stepsister, Claire Clairmont and John William Polidori, a writer and physician.

Of the stories produced during the contest, two were later expanded and have had a lasting impact on literature.

Mary Shelley penned a story she later expanded into none other than Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, which she published in 1818. Though Hollywood has often rendered Frankenstein's Monster into a pathetic easily spoofed parody, the original story relates the creation of an intelligent and philosophical artificial being.

Whatever one thinks of the literary merits of the book (it was not well received upon release), it is rather notable that the creation of the monster was specifically inspired by what was then cutting-edge science rather than some type of supernatural cause. This, arguably, makes it an early example of science fiction, in addition to horror. Various stories about a scientist going "too far" with experiments and receiving a suitable, if predictable, karmic reward for trying to "play God" arguably have some descent from Frankenstein.

Notably, there had been some discussion shortly before Mary wrote the initial version of the story of the experiments of the Italian scientist, Giovanni Aldini. Giovanni was intensely interested in experimenting with stimulating muscles with electricity. He performed a particularly high profile experiment in 1803 where he applied electrical current to a condemned criminal. Some witnesses, upon the seeing limb movements and facial expression changes due to the artificial stimulation, thought Giovanni was actually bringing the man back to life.

These experiments, along with some similar experiments performed by other scientists on animals, were well-known among the intellectual set, including Mary Shelley. It's easy to see how such experiments at a time where even the educated had only a mild handle on biochemistry and physics could lead an intelligent young author to pen a story where forbidden science is used to animate an artificial human.

The other major story to come out of that summer in 1816 was The Vampyre by John William Polidori. Like Shelley, Polidori would rework and expand his story over a few years. He published the final novella 1819.

In the story, an Englishman, Aubrey, meets and travels with a mysterious aristocrat, Ruthven. After an incident in which Ruthven is apparently killed and an earlier incident where a vampire kills a mutual acquaintance  Aubrey is surprised to see the man quite alive. Ruthven then begins to seduce Aubrey's sister. Aubrey is powerless, because of an earlier oath, to tell his sister that he saw the man already die. Eventually, on her wedding night she is found dead, drained of blood.

This tale was wildly successful both because of the existing interest in Gothic horror at the time and the fact that for many years people attributed the story to Lord Byron rather than Mr. Polidori. It would go onto to inspire countless vampire tales during the Regency and Victorian era. Eventually, it would even inspire the now more famous Dracula by Bram Stoker. The transformation of the vampire from some pseudo-ghoul corpse walker symbol of plague that was far more prevalent in folklore to a manipulative, aristocratic creature of canny planning and frightening patience was Mr. Polidori's innovation. The influence of Mr. Polidori's story still reverberates to this day.

That's something to keep in mind. Whenever one complains about vampires being seductive creatures rather than just ghoulish monsters, they should remember the seductive-vampire motif goes all the way back to 1819 and Mr. Polidori.


J.A. Beard is a scientific editor and the author of A Woman of Proper Accomplishments, which features a Regency England where seductive, though admittedly non-vampiric, men exist with the ability to bring all sorts of objects to life  through questionable quasi-scientific means.

Dorothy Osborne

Dorothy Osborne, Lady Temple

by Anita Davison

Whilst working on my latest 17th century novel, I am researching trivia about my heroine's friends. One of these was a lady called Dorothy Osborne, who lived at Shene, and who warrants a mention for her observation of Elizabeth Murray’s character in the latter’s biography.

Born in 1627, Dorothy’s father was Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle of Guernsey under Charles I, and held out for the royalist cause. Sir Peter Osborne took his family to France in 1648 and on the journey, stopped off on the Isle of Wight where William Temple met Dorothy Osborne, and these two nineteen-year-olds fell in love.

At the time, Charles I was a prisoner at Carisbrooke castle, and these three were arrested for scratching royalist graffiti on a window-pane. Dorothy apparently took the blame, relying on the Roundheads' gallantry, and secured their release.

Their families did not approve of the alliance on financial grounds, so the couple wrote to each other in secret, the letters carried back and forth by servants while William travelled in Europe. William’s letters are lost but some of Dorothy’s are still in print.

The defeat of the Royalists forced Sir Peter to surrender the fortress, and he and his family returned to their estate at Chicksands Priory in Bedforshire, where they lived in near penury until the Restoration. The building was once a Gilbertine priory which the Osborn family had owned since 1576, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It was only one of nine religious houses in England that housed both nuns and canons. They lived in different buildings and were separated in church by a screen. Ghostly nuns, monks and horsemen have been seen at Chicksands; amongst whom a nun who was rumoured to have been pregnant kept locked up in her room until her death.

Dorothy’s family presented her with a line of suitors, among whom were her cousin Thomas Osborne, afterwards Earl of Danby, Henry Cromwell, son of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, and Sir Justinian Isham, whom she refers to as an ‘elderly man’ when he was forty-two.  Dorothy refused them all until after the deaths of both hers and William’s fathers, after which the families finally agreed to them marrying.

With their mutual dreams fulfilled, Dorothy contracted smallpox, which not only disfigured her, but delayed the wedding, which took place on Christmas Day, 1654, seven years after they met. Between 1655 and the Restoration, they lived quietly in Ireland, at the house of Sir John Temple, who had made his peace with Oliver Cromwell, and resumed his official position.
The accession of King Charles II rescued Temple from obscurity and he sat in parliament at Dublin as member for Carlow. After a visit to England in 1661, as commissioner from the Irish parliament, he finally removed to there in 1663 and took Dorothy to live at Sheen.

Reputed to be a ‘distant and egotistical man’, William Temple was created a baronet and negotiated the 1666 Triple Alliance of England, Sweden, and Holland, to establish a balance of power against France, as well as negotiating, in 1673, the peace which concluded the Second Dutch War.

Temple was charged with cultivating good relations with Spain, threatened by the claims of Louis XIV on the Spanish Netherlands when he marched on Flanders in Spring 1667.

Sir William Temple was made Ambassador to The Hague twice and lived for two years on good terms with the young Prince of Orange, afterwards William III. The Prince was fond of speaking English and of English habits, constantly dined and supped once or twice a week at Temple’s house. Dorothy had no desire to accompany her husband on diplomatic missions: she left this to her sister-in-law Martha Giffard who went everywhere with William and managed his household at The Hague.

Sir William helped arrange the marriage negotiations of Prince William to Mary Stuart, daughter of the Duke of York. Dorothy was an important figure in the negotiations because of her friendship with the royal couple, one that lasted until Queen Mary’s death in 1694.

Among Temple's chief achievements was the peace of Breda and the January 1668 Triple Alliance between England, the United Netherlands, and Sweden.
Sir William Temple
Samuel Pepys records public opinion on the treaty saying: "the only good public thing that hath been done since the king came into England."

In August 1671, Lord Arlington let the royal yacht Merlin, with Dorothy Osborne aboard, sail through the Dutch fleet at anchor off Den Briel for maintenance. The Dutch ships duly struck their flag in salute, as was mandatory under treaty, but their commander refused to salute firing white smoke, because they were doubtful the Merlin counted as a real warship.

Charles ordered the intriguer George Downing demand that the admirals responsible would be severely punished, which the States-General of the Netherlands refused.  Thus Dorothy was jokingly reputed to have helped provoke another Anglo-Dutch war.

Dorothy had nine children, all but two of whom died in infancy. A daughter, Diana, succumbed to smallpox at age fourteen, and a son, John, took his own life in his twenties, but not before he had married and fathered two children, providing Sir William and Lady Temple with two granddaughters: Elizabeth and Dorothy.

With King William and Queen Mary on the throne, Sir William was pressed to be Secretary of State three times, but he refused, preferring to retire to his property in Moor Park, Surrey. Jonathan Swift lived with the Temples as secretary during the last ten years of his life.

Sir William had been encouraging his son, John, to accept the office of Secretary at War, but within a week of accepting this post, John took a boat saying he wished to go to Greenwich; when he had gone a short distance, he ordered the waterman to set him ashore, dropped a shilling in the boat for the waterman, before throwing himself into the Thames at London Bridge.

He left a note in the boat too saying:
"My folly in undertaking what I was not able to perform has done the King and kingdom a great deal of prejudice. I wish him all happiness and abler servants than John Temple."

Dorothy died in early 1695 and is buried with her husband and children, on the north side of the nave of Westminster Abbey, close to the door leading to the organ gallery. Sir William died four years later.

Sir William Temple  1st Baronet 1628 –1699“When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.”

Dorothy Osborne -  1627 – 1695 - "But ‘tis a sad thing that all one’s happiness is only that the world does not know you are miserable.” 

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, Royalist Rebel, is published under the name Anita Seymour by Claymore Press.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Rebellion in Wales ~ Owain Glyn Dŵr and Cydweli Castle - Carmarthenshire

by Judith Arnopp

Standing proud above a small village, over-looking the River Gwendraeth near Carmarthen in West Wales, is Cydweli Castle. Of Norman origin, the fortress is testament to the years of Anglo/Welsh conflict, its dominant position in the landscape making it quite clear who was in control of whom.

The earliest castle was a Norman earth and timber construction built shortly after the conquest, the village growing up around it. During the 12th century the castle fell several times into Welsh hands and by the 13th century it had been rebuilt in stone with the latest in defensive design.

Today, we see most phases of building; a square inner bailey defended by four round towers, a semi-circular outer curtain wall to protect the landward side and the massive gatehouse and jutting tower defending the riverside walls.

Cydweli (or the anglicised Kidwelly) is of concentric design with defensive walls set one within the other providing the best defence possible at the time of building. The gate house was still under construction when Owain Glyn Dŵr held it under siege during his campaign against the English.

Owain Glyn Dŵr was born around 1359 and through his parents, Gruffydd Fychan II and Elen ferch Tomas ap Llywelyn,  descended from the Welsh princes of Powys and Deheubarth.  His early life is quite unremarkable and law abiding. He was educated in London and served as a squire and a soldier, fighting for the English king in campaigns in Scotland. By the year 1400 he had become a well-respected Welsh gentlemen but events over the next few years pushed Glyn Dŵr further into rebellion.

Baron Grey de Ruthyn, a neighbour of Glyn Dŵr’s, had seized control of some land, forcing him to appeal to the English Parliament.  In 1400, Lord Grey failed to inform Glyn Dŵr in time of a royal command to levy feudal troops for service on the Scottish border. This apparent dereliction of duty enabled the Welshman to be named a traitor in London court circles

Possibly due to Lord Grey’s  personal friendship with King Henry IV, Glyn Dŵr lost the case and when, in January 1400, civil disorder broke out in Chester in support of the deposed king, Richard II, Glyn Dŵr’s relationship with Henry IV broke down completely.

In September 1400 Owain Glyn Dŵr was created Prince of Wales by the dissenting Welsh.

By 1401, after a series of confrontations between Owain’s followers and Henry IV the revolt began to spread. Welshmen studying at Oxford abandoned their studies, labourers lay down their tools, returned to Wales and flocked to Owain’s  banner. Welsh troops who had fought for the king in France and Scotland also joined the cause, Welsh archers and men-at-arms abandoned the English king to join the Welsh rebellion.

Early in the campaign the Welsh skill at guerrilla warfare gained them some notable success. They were victorious at the battle of Bryn Glas in Powys in 1402; inflicted much damage on many towns (including Cardiff) and took control of several of the strongest castles in Wales, notably Aberystwyth and Harlech.

During the fourth year of the revolt Owain Glyn Dŵr and his armies turned up in the Tywi Valley and captured a number of castles, including Dyslwyn and Carmarthen and persuaded Henry Don, a former steward of the Duchy of Lancaster and a fellow of considerable standing and power, to throw in his lot with the rebels. It was Henry Don who led the attack on Cydweli Town and castle.

However, around 1405 the rebels began to lose ground, they were defeated at Usk and sometime between 1408-9 the castles at Aberystwyth, Harlech were retaken by the crown. Owain himself was never captured but faded from history, believed to be dead by 1416. Many tales are told about the circumstances of his death.

A supporter of Glyn Dŵr,  Adam of Usk, wrote  in his Chronicle in the year 1415 that, ‘After four years in hiding, from the king and the realm, Owain Glyndŵr died, and was buried by his followers in the darkness of night. His grave was discovered by his enemies, however, so he had to be re-buried, though it is impossible to discover where he was laid.’

Adrien Jones, the president of the Owain Glyn Dŵr Society, as late as 2006 visited Sir John Scudamore who is a direct descendant of Glyndŵr and lives  near Abergavenny. He told him that Glyn Dŵr spent his last years with  his daughter Alys at Monnington Straddel in Herefordshire and eventually died there. The family kept the secret for six hundred years but Sir John claimed that Glyn Dŵr is buried beneath a mound nearby at Monnington Straddel.

Whatever the truth of the matter may be Owain Glyn Dŵr is gone but never forgotten and remains a hero in Wales, a household name and icon of Welsh nationalism.

 By AlexD (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Castle photos property of Judith Arnopp.
You can find out more about Judith and her historical novels on her website: www.juditharnopp.com
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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Matsumoto (Crow) Castle

by Carol McGrath

After the conquest of England in 1066, King William built a series of wooden motte and bailey castles throughout England, but so many centuries later it is impossible to see a genuine wooden castle let alone catch hold of its genuine atmosphere. Most of our impressions come from early medieval drawings, depiction on tapestry and reconstructions.
a wooden castle in Brittany depicted on The Bayeux Tapestry

Imagine my excitement when recently in Japan I visited a genuine wooden fortress positioned just within the gateway to the Japanese Alps, one that seemed not so very different from those castles depicted almost fancifully on the Bayeux Tapestry. 

Matsumoto Castle, locally known as Crow Castle, does, of course, have distinctive Japanese architectural features. For example it is painted in contrasting black and white which led to its local nickname. Also, it actually dates from 1595 not the eleventh century as does, for instance, Castle Dol in Brittany. Yet, wooden fortresses were common in the middle ages too in Japan usually built in clusters on hilltops to protect the lord's lands and particularly his main residence in the valley below.

Approaching Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto was a fortress, a magnificent three turreted dungeon and I suggest that exploring its interior allows us to sense what the interior of a castle such as Dol might have been like.

The first gateway into Matsumoto Castle

It was built on top of a stone wall, not an earth motte and it was built elaborately in wood. From the outside the main donjon appears to consist of five levels but once inside you see that it is actually six storeys high. From the stone wall it measures 25.4 metres high at the ridge.

To erect a structure of such a height a large number of pillars was installed at the same spots on the their repetitive floors. Since the ground under Matsumoto is soft raft like frames of slender logs were laid inside the stone wall. The castle has a hip roof covered with black tiles.

The wood used for the most important parts of the castle include spruce, Japanese hemlock, pine and Japanese Cypress. Interestingly when repair work was completed in 1955, seventy per cent of this wood used over four hundred years ago was still intact.

The pillars and stairways and the wood are original and very beautiful
Exploring Matsumoto is drifting on an adventure into the past. The wooden grain of the great door is soft and glowing to this day. Here one is provided with slippers to shuffle up wooden stairs that become increasingly steep and narrow as they approach the top storeys. Wide corridors circle the square shape inside. It is around this circuit that samurai warriors would have clattered and clanked to defend their castle if there was an attack.

The light shining through the castle's latticed windows is perfect, gentle and mellow as it reaches pillars and pools onto the floor (above). The lord of Matsumoto had his sitting room on the second floor where fabulous hinoki pillars stand, where walls would have been delicately painted and also hung with fragile tapestries. On the fourth storey a wooden railing is of note for its decorative corners and exquisite wood grain.

Japanese Decoration from the castle

one view through the slatted windows

The castle was functional as well as beautiful. Devices for defence include niches for archers, guns and dropping stones. A sixth floor was the castle headquarters during an assault.

The very top contains a shrine to the goddess of the twenty sixth night who was thought to protect against fire and invasion. and via a covered walkway leading from the castle there is another magical moon viewing turret. The walls of the castle complex were hardened with three coats of plaster to hinder the passage of bullets.

And they were used for defence as well of course
Finally just like European castles this castle had a castle town but it appears to have been systematically planned. The castle town radiated outwards in three circles, the second and third of which were reserved for important officials whilst low ranking samurai and footmen lived outside the main enclosures. This castle town was composed of samurai, townspeople and religious institutions- not so very different from any medieval European Castle town but very, very organised.

across the moat

I was sad to leave this castle since it does provide a feel I imagine is both similar and different to that of wooden castles constructed in England and in France during the early medieval period. Well, this is until you encounter the samurai at the gate.

Carol McGrath is the author of Daughters of Hastings, the first novel of which, The Handfasted Wife about Edith Swanneck, is to be published by Accent Press later in 2013.