Gerald of Wales

Gerald of Wales also known as Giraldus Cambrensis was born in c. 1145 in Manorbier Castle which you can see in the photos below.

IMG_5277IMG_5316IMG_5292IMG_5294Below you can see the room that the castle has set up to commemorate Gerald.

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Gerald described Maorbier as “in all broad lands of Wales Manorbier is the most pleasant place by far”[1]

Gerald was of both Norman and Welsh stock. His father was William de Barri, a Norman knight, and his mother was Angharad the daughter of Nest, one of the most fascinating Welshwomen of the period who you can find out more about her here. Nest was the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr Prince of South Wales. So Gerald’s lineage was rooted in both sides of the Norman French and Welsh divide. He described himself as strikingly handsome in his mid thirties, as well as very tall. He was confident of his own ability, sharp-tongued and sharp-witted and apparently an excellent horseman.[2] So much of his work has survived, and he wasn’t shy about describing himself and his opinions, that we are left with a surprisingly complete picture for a man who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries. He died in 1223 in his 80s, extraordinarily long lived for the time.

He travelled extensively and succeeded in being involved in several of the most momentous events of his time. His ultimate aim was to become Bishop of St Davids in Wales, an ambition at which he never succeeded. He was elected, but he never managed to have it confirmed by the king. He refused four other bishoprics to try and get St Davids, he even travelled to Rome to try and secure the bishopric and ended up in gaol whilst there. In the end, though, he was never made its bishop. When he died, however he was probably buried there. You can see an effigy in St Davids today which is thought to be either Gerald of his nephew. See the photo below

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You can see some photos of St Davids below

IMG_5561IMG_5565IMG_5598IMG_5604IMG_5605 St Davids has been a site of worship for more than 1500 years since it was founded by St David in the middle of the sixth century.  As St Davids is a cathedral it makes the town of St Davids, arguably, the smallest city in the UK with a population of only 1800 in 2011.

Gerald was a scholar, diplomat, churchman and theologian, but he is best known for his extensive surviving writings. He was the author of a number of works, including a life of St Hugh of Lincoln. The best known and, to me, the most interesting are: The Journey Through Wales, The Description of Wales and The Topography of Ireland. These texts are part travelogue, part nature guide and part diary and are not always flattering to the local inhabitants and geography. They also place Gerald at the heart of several key events. They give an almost unique depiction of the reality of Gerald’s world.

The Journey Through Wales covers the journey that Gerald, as the Archdeacon of Brecon, made with Baldwin Archbishop of Canterbury in 1188 to preach what would become the 3rd Crusade. Phillip Augustus of France and Prince Richard of England, later Richard I, had both taken the cross in 1187 and Archbishop Baldwin was trying to recruit more people. He preached in towns across Wales as well as saying mass at a number of cathedrals. The Journey Through Wales is an almost diary like account of this journey, and is one of the best descriptions of Wales at the time as they preached to both the Welsh and the Norman French. Gerald had connections throughout Wales with both groups and he presumably spoke Welsh, though he avoided preaching in it and didn’t act as a translator.

The Journey Through Wales has chapter headings that cover where Gerald and Baldwin journeyed. I’m not going to cover each in detail, but I have photos of quite a few, so I thought I’d include the list with a number of photos.

Book One

1.Hereford and Radnor

herefordHereford Cathedral

2.Hay-on-Wye and Brecknockshire

hay on wyeHay-on-Wye castle

3.Ewias and Llanthony

4.Coed Grwyne and Abergavenny

5. Usk Castle and Caerleon

caerleonCaerleon Roman amphitheatre

6. Newport and Cardiff

Cardiff Castle

7. Llandaff and Margam Abbey

8. Rivers Avon and Neath. Swansea and Gower

avonRiver Avon

9. River Loughlor, Kidwelly

kidwellsView from Kidwelly castle

10. River Tywi, Carmarthan, Whitland

11. Haverfordwest and Rhos

haverford westHaverford-West castle

12. Pembrokeshire

pembrokshirePembrokeshire Coastline

13. Cambrose, Newgale and St. Davids

IMG_5562St Davids

Book 2

14. Cemais and St Dogmael’s

dogmaelsSt Dogmael’s

15. River Teifi, Cardiganshire and Newcastle Emlyn

teifiRiver Teifi

16. Lampeter, Strata Florida, Llanddewi Brefi

Strata FloridaStrata Florida

17. River Dovey

18. Traeth Mawr, Traeth Bychan, Nefyn, Caernarfon and Bangor

caernarfonCaernarfon

19. The Island of Anglesea

angleseaAnglesea

20. River Conwy, Dinas Emrys

conwyRiver Conwy

21. Mountains of Snowdonia

snowdonView from the top of Mount Snowdon

22. Degannwy, Rhuddlan, Llanelwy

23. River Dee, Chester

24. Whitchurch, Oswestry, Powys and Shrewsbury

shrewsburyShrewsbury Cathedral

25. Wenlock Edge, Bromfield, Ludlow Castle, Leominster, Hereford. 

ludlowLudlow Castle.

Gerald probably finished the first version of The Journey Through Wales in 1191 and started the Description of Wales most likely straight after. The Description of Wales covers much more of the people and landscapes of Wales and is often less than laudatory about the Welsh. Dwelling, for example, on the inconstancy and instability of the Welsh as well as their weakness in battle and their greediness. He also usefully outlines how they could be conquered. Including the need for a long sustained effort, how to blockade their supplies and the importance of sowing dissension amongst the ranks of the Welsh as a “spirit of hatred and jealousy usually prevails” [3] This is a reference to the Welsh practice of acknowledging all sons, illegitimate or otherwise, and dividing land amongst all the sons, which led to quite a lot of infighting and fratricide. [4] These condemnations of the Welsh should not be taken as unvarnished fact.

Gerald wasn’t only condemnatory, he acknowledges the beauty of Wales and he goes into detail about the geography and especially the rivers and some mountains. He also discusses everyday things like how the Welsh wear their hair and their love of music.

The Journey Through Wales and the Description of Wales were not the only works of Gerald’s to present a travelogue. He also wrote The Topography of Ireland and The Conquest of Ireland when he travelled with Prince John’s party when John was sent in 1185 to be the new Lord of Ireland. Gerald was sent along as an advisor and he stayed after John returned back to England. While there he began both texts. Neither are complimentary of the Irish, and are very much from the view of the Norman conquerers. That being said he does cover a lot of the landscape of Ireland from the birds, to the barnacles and especially the weather describing it as a country “exposed more than others to storms of wind and deluges of rain”[5]

Having spent some time in Ireland I can see his point…

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But coming from a Welshman it does seem a bit harsh.

Gerald’s writings remain some of the most detailed and interesting accounts of his time. They continued to be influential for centuries after he died, not always to the benefit of reality especially in the case of the Irish, and in his long life he truly succeeded in making his mark.

References:

Site visits to Manorbier and St David’s in 2015 as well as visits to other sites in Wales and Ireland in both 2012 and 2015.

Gerald of Wales, The Journey Through Wales and The Description of Wales, Thorpe, Lewis, (ed. and trans.) Penguin: London, 1978

Gerald of Wales, The Topography of Ireland,  http://www.yorku.ca/inpar/topography_ireland.pdf

[1] Gerald of Wales, The Journey Through Wales and The Description of Wales, Thorpe, Lewis, (ed. and trans.) Penguin: London, 1978. p.151.

[2] Gerald of Wales p. 23

[2] Gerald of Wales p. 267

[4] Gerald of Wales p. 261

[5] Gerald of Wales, The Topography of Ireland, 

http://www.yorku.ca/inpar/topography_ireland.pdf  p. 13

The photos are all mine.

 

 

Cardiff Castle

 

IMG_4844Cardiff castle is a fascinating amalgam, part Roman foundations, part 12th century shell keep, part 19th century victorian gothic palace and part WWII bunker. It manages to encompass many of the key eras of British history, at the same time as being linked to some of the most interesting stories and people of the medieval period.

For me, naturally, the medieval section of the castle is the most interesting and the most important. I do, however, have a real soft spot for the Victorian gothic section, because it doesn’t pretend to be authentic medieval and it is just so gloriously over the top.

To begin from the beginning though. There is nothing much left of the Roman origins of Cardiff Castle. There were four roman structures on the site between c.54 and 400 CE, the final one was an 8 acre fort with ten foot thick walls. It was a central point for communication for the area. It was abandoned when the Romans left the area at the end of the 5th century CE.

The site was appropriated by the Normans, when they arrived in the late 11th century, to build the original motte and bailey castle. The castle you can see today dates largely to 1140 and was originally built by Robert of Gloucester, the illegitimate oldest son of Henry I of England, though the gatehouse is a 15th century addition. You can see the castle from several angles below.

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This is a classic shell keep, meaning that there would not have been permanent rooms in the interior of the keep. There would have been a collection of timber buildings and the structure would not have been roofed. The holes you can see in the walls are called putlog holes and are where the beams of the timber buildings would have been inserted into the wall.

This particular keep has 12 sides, a moat that is roughly 23 m and 2 m thick walls. The castle has two key claims to fame. Firstly that it was the final prison of Robert Duke of Normandy, also known as Robert Curthoes. He was the oldest son of William the Conqueror and was left Normandy as his inheritance. After various conflicts that are too convoluted to go into here, however, his younger brother Henry I of England captured Robert and took Normandy for himself. Robert spent the last 8 years of his life held in Cardiff castle until he died in 1134.

The other key claim to fame for this castle in the medieval period was the kidnap of its lord. In 1158 Welsh lord Ifor Bach stormed the castle and carried off William Earl of Glamorgan and his family. He was forced to ransom his freedom back.

The castle was also threatened by the Welsh in the 1200s and Gilbert de Clare, who held the castle at that point, had the black tower built in what is now part of the outer wall. It was linked to the keep by a massive wall, the remains of which you can see in the photo below. The wall was demolished by Capability Brown in the early beautification of the castle.

 

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The castle played a role in Owain Glyndwr’s revolt in the 1400s as well. It was severely besieged and almost lost before a relief garrison arrived.

Capability Brown  may have redesigned most the grounds in the 1700s, including filling in the moat, but it wasn’t him who made the castle what it is today. It was a collaboration between William Burges and the 3rd Marquess of Bute in the mid 1800s.

They re-excavated the moat, re-landscaped much of the grounds, uncovered the Roman foundations and built the ridiculously intricate Victorian gothic mansion that you can still see today. The mansion is very much based on medieval design, and a romanticism of the medieval period.

Burges mainly re-modeled exisiting buildings rather than building from scratch, but he did build the 150 foot high clock tower between 1867 and 1875. You can see some of the exterior below.

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It is, however, the interiors which are truly remarkable. The interiors are an amalgam of styles from the beautifully ornate Arab room:

IMG_4913To the library

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IMG_5033To the utterly magnificent banqueting hall which depicts key scenes the life and career of Robert Earl of Gloucester on the walls. Incidentally Robert of Gloucester was the father of William of Glamorgan who was captured from Cardiff in the 1150s.

IMG_4903IMG_4902IMG_4904IMG_4905IMG_4906IMG_4909There are beautiful hidden corners all over the 19th century palace, especially in the windows and the ceilings. Below are just a few examples.

IMG_4895IMG_4896IMG_5031After the 19th century the castle stayed in the hands of the Butes until 1947 when it was given to the city of Cardiff by the 5th Marquess of Bute.

The castle wasn’t severely damaged in World War II, through Cardiff was badly bombed. The outer walls however did serve as air raids shelters, which could hold up to 2000 people. You can see one of the areas used in the photo below.

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The castle stands at the centre of Cardiff, both literally and figuratively. The streets of the city radiate out from it, and it has been key to most parts of Cardiff’s long history. It is a truly fascinating place to visit.

References:

Site visits 2012 and 2015.

Welsh Castles and Historic Places ISBN: 9781850130307

Castles in Wales: A handbook by Gerald Morgan ISBN: 9781847710314.

http://www.cardiffcastle.com/

All the photos are mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles: 19th of December: Caerphilly Castle

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Caerphilly is another Marcher castle, but it is much later in date than the other two on this list. It was begun in 1268 by Gilbert de Clare Lord of Glamorgan in response to Llywelyn the Last’s threats to the area. Gilbert de Clare took the area in which the castle stands in 1266 to try to stop Llywelyn the Last from moving further south. Construction of the castle was halted in 1270 when Llywelyn the Last attacked it. However it began again in 1271 and continued apace. What makes Caerphilly remarkable is that apart from some basic domestic remodelling in the mid 14th century there were no additions or changes to the castle as the years went past. This makes it an extraordinarily complete example of a late 13th century military castle. It is also an excellent example of the cutting edge of military defence at the time.

Caerphilly not only has walls with in walls making it the first, as well as arguably the best, concentric castle in Britain (between the outer entrance and the heart of the castle were 3 drawbridges, 6 portcullises and 5 sets of double doors) it also has the best use of water as a defence in a castle of this period. The immense water works are manmade lakes and moats and the waters are held back from the castle by earth dams. Caerphilly boats both an inner moat and an outer moat. Because Caerphilly was built on unused ground Gilbert de Clare was able to use all the modern techniques to create a truly massive castle, it occupies a spectacular 30 acres.

The first thing most people notice about Caerphilly is its precariously leaning tower. This is the south east tower and it currently stands at 15m high and leans an alarming 10 degrees out of line. Locals say it was caused during the Civil War bombardment, but it could also just have been subsidence no one is entirely sure.

The need for Caerphilly was negated by the crushing defeat of the Welsh at the start of the 13th century and after this the castle didn’t see that much use. The last real action it saw was when it was besieged by Isabella queen of Edward II in retaliation towards Hugh Despenser, but Hugh had already been taken and was in fact hanged in 1326. By the 16th century the castle was no longer in use and was falling towards ruin. The castle was saved from complete ruin by the Butes in the late 19th century.

References:

Site visit 2012

http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/caerphilly-castle/?lang=en

http://www.castlewales.com/caerphil.html

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/forget-pisa—its-leaning-2239600

 

The photos are all mine.

 

Advent Calendar of Castles: December 18th: Chepstow Castle.

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Chepstow is the second of the Marcher castles on this list, it is also the second with real involvement from William Marshal. It sits on a sheer escarpment of carboniferous limestone on the banks of the River Wye. Chepstow is probably my favourite castle and I will write about it in substantially more detail at a later date. I have written about the extraordinary surviving medieval doors before and that post can be found here.

Chepstow, known then as Striguil, was begun originally as a Norman castle. It was constructed by William Fitz Osbern shortly after the Norman conquest of 1066. He was responsible for the beginning of the construction of the castle, but it is unlikely that he had the time to oversee the construction of the Norman great tower before his death in 1071. The great tower is the only substantial surviving part of the Norman castle, though it was extended by the Marshals in the 13th century.

While it will never, of course, be certain it has been argued that the great tower was built under the auspices of William the Conqueror when Chepstow was in royal hands from the 1075 until 1115. The great tower is definitely a Norman building regardless of whether it was built by Fitz Osbern or William the Conqueror, and this makes it one of the oldest dateable surviving stone secular buildings in Britain. It was also impressively built in stone when most other castles were still wood and earth motte and bailey constructions.

Chepstow came into the hands of the Clare family at the start of the 12th century and by 1148 it was in the hands of Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow. Strongbow was the founder of the Norman occupation of Ireland and more can be read about him here. When de Clare died in 1176 all his estates passed to his son Gilbert, who was underage, and when Gilbert died, without ever coming of age, to his daughter Isabel de Clare. Isabel married William Marshal in 1189 and all of her extensive estates came to him. Isabel de Clare was a fascinating woman in her own right and you can read more about her here.

Marshal rebuilt the curtain wall with two round towers and the main gate house. Under the Marshals over the years other parts of the castle were extended and modernized. Chepstow came into the hands of Roger Bigod Earl of Norfolk, by right of his mother who was Marshal’s daughter, in c.1245. The Bigods were responsible for the building of the new hall block inside the castle walls as well as a large new tower in the south east corner of the castle and significant parts of the high walls.

After the death of Roger Bigod in 1306 Chepstow was in royal hands again and after this it passed in and out of various families over the centuries. It was modified by the Tudors and during the Civil War the it fell twice to parliamentary canon before it was refortified. Its final outing on the main stage of history was when Bigod’s tower was used as a prison, albeit a relative comfortable one, for Henry Marten one of the signatories of the death warrant of King Charles I. He was held in the tower at the order of Charles II, who spared his life, for roughly 20 years until his death at Chepstow in 1680.

After the Civil War and the Restoration Chepstow slowly crumbled into a picturesque ruin. It came into Cadw hands in 1984.

There is much more to write about Chepstow, not the least the absolutely fascinating well, but that is for another time.

References:

Site visit 2012

Chepstow Castle: Its history and buildings 9781904396529

Wales Castles and Historic places: 9781850130307

http://www.berkshirehistory.com/bios/hmarten.html

http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/chepstow-castle/?lang=en

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles: December 17th: Pembroke Castle

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Pembroke is the first Marcher castle on my list. While it is arguable whether Pembroke actually stands in the Marches it was certainly owned and built by the men who were or became Marcher lords, including one of my favourites William Marshal. As this is a castle I have written extensively about before, I thought I’d provide a link to my previous post rather than a new potted history.

https://historicalragbag.com/2015/11/15/pembroke-castle/

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles: December 16th: Dolwyddelan Castle

 

dolwyddelan1dolwyddelan2dolwyddelan3My second purely Welsh castle. Dolwyddelan now stands on a farm guarding the Lledr Valley.

Like Dolbadarn, Dolwyddelan has very little documentary evidence. There is a tradition that Llywelyn the Great was born here, but more recent research has shown that there are other more likely locations.

Dolwyddelan was in fact probably built by Llywelyn the Great in c. 1200. It is part of his circle of mountain castles protecting the passes, Dolbadarn is another.

There is no documentary history before the conquest of Edward I except for a letter that Llywelyn the Last signed from here in 1275. Edward I besieged the castle in in 1282 until it was captured on January 1st 1283. His men wore white to be camouflaged in all the snow. The castle was sold in 1488 and by 1848 it was in ruins and in the hands of Lord Willoughby de Eresby. It was under his ownership that the keep was restored to its present condition.

The original keep would have only been two stories and the third story and the wall walk were possibly added under Edward I, the battlements and the wall walk were reconstructed by de Eresby. The west tower was also added later, possibly under Edward I.

References:

Site visit 2012

Wales Castles and Historic places: 9781850130307

Castles in wales: 9781847710314

http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/dolwyddelan-castle/?lang=en

 

The photos are mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles:December 15th: Dolbadarn Castle

 

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Dolbadarn is the first purely Welsh castle on this list and it still sits on the hill guarding Llyn Padarn. This impressive little keep would have had total command over the Llanberis pass.

While there is no documentary evidence of Dolbadarn before Edward I’s conquest it was most likely built by Llywelyn the Great in the mid 12th century. Llywelyn mostly likely built the castle to guard the path between Caernarfon and the upper Conwy Valley. The striking circular tower is the central figure of this castle, but it would not have stood alone. There are several building surrounding it, though not much remains. There was probably a great hall, a curtain wall and mostly likely two towers guarding the western and southern approaches to the castle.

The keep itself is very well constructed and still stands at an impressive 50 feet tall. It was probably modelled on castles built by the Marcher lords, but intriguingly the door is believed to have had a portcullis at some point, which is unusual for a castle of this size and age. Additionally it had three stories, unusual in a Welsh castle, and even more oddly the stair reverses its spiral to reach the battlements, which don’t exist anymore. The reason for this reversal is not known.

Dolbadarn is best known as the castle where Llywelyn the Last most likely held his brother Owain captive for more than 20 years from c. 1255 until Llywelyn’s first defeat at the hands of Edward I when Owain was released and given lands in Llyn.

Once Llywelyn was killed in 1282 his younger brother Dafydd tried to keep fighting but he failed. He issued his last documents as Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdon from Dolbadarn in 1283. He was captured at the castle and taken to Shrewsbury where he was hanged drawn and quartered on the 2nd of October 1283.

Dolbadarn came into Edward I’s hands, but apart from some minor repairs he largely left it alone and it sank out of history.

References:

Site visit 2012

Wales Castles and Historic places: 9781850130307

Castles in wales: 9781847710314

http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/dolbadarncastle/?lang=en

 

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles: December 14th:Criccieth

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Criccieth Castle perches on top of a headland pushing out to sea.

It is an amalgam between a Welsh Castle and castle of Edward I. The original castle at Criccieth was built by Llywelyn the Great sometime between 1230 and his death in 1240. The remains of this original castle are now the inner ward and inner gate house, and it was probably modelled on the castle built by Hugh de Burgh at Montgomery. They certainly have a very similar design in gatehouses.

Under Llywelyn the Great’s grandson Llywelyn the Last, Criccieth was enlarged with the curtain wall significantly extended and the south west tower and north west tower, which would have had a trebuchet mounted on it, constructed.

When Llywelyn the Last was killed in 1282 the remaining welsh castles rapidly fell to Edward I. Criccieth was in English hands by the 14th of March 1283. Under Edward I there was a significant quantity of work undertaken on the castle. He constructed the south east tower and heavily remodelled the remainder of the castle.

Criccieth was also used as a prison. Llywelyn the Great’s illegitimate son Gruffudd was imprisoned there, for rebellion, by Llywelyn’s legitimate son and heir Dafydd when Dafydd inherited Llywelyn’s lands. Gruffudd was held there with his son Owain from 1239 until 1241 when Dafydd suffered a defeat at the hands of Henry III and had to hand the prisoners over to his cousin the English king. Gruffudd died three years later in an attempt to escape the Tower of London. Criccieth again served as a prison when Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg rebelled against Llywelyn the Last and was imprisoned in Criccieth from 1258-1259.

Edward II also added to the castle, but it was at the hands of Owain Glyndwr’s forces that Criccieth met its final fate. Criccieth at the time was held by the English and it was one of several castles that capitulated to Glyndwr’s forces in c. 1404. The castle and the town were burnt. The castle was never rebuilt although the town did recover slowly. However, without the castle the town ceased to be a garrison town and eventually became wholly Welsh.

References:

Site visit 2012:

Cadw: Criccieth Castle: 9781857602913

http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/criccieth-castle/?lang=en