Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Story of the Book

Notes from The Story of the Book, by Agnes Allen:
By this time, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, books were not used only in monasteries and churches. Wealthy people liked to possess beautiful illuminated books, or to give them as presents to other people – but they had to order the book they wanted, and then wait a very long time while the scribe wrote it out, and the illuminator painted the pictures and the binders bound it, and such books were very expensive.

During the thirteenth and early part of the fourteenth centuries one of the most popular books was the Apocalypse. That is the name which is sometimes given to the Book of Revelation… It gave the artists a fine chance to use their imaginations, and they produced some wonderful books full of lovely pictures.

Another kind of book that was very popular about this time was called a Bestiary, and it was a very odd sort of book indeed. It was a kind of natural history and book of morals combined. But the natural history was not like anything we learn today. In the Middle Ages very few people had been far from their homes, so they were ready to believe that absolutely anything was possible in far-away lands. They had no difficulty in accepting dragons that breathed out flame and smoke, centaurs that were half men and half horses, salamanders that could live in fire, ant-lions that had the forepart of a lion and the hind-part of an ant – and other surprising creatures.

In the Bestiaries the strange ways (sometimes true but often quite imaginary) of real animals, and of these other fantastic creatures, were described, and a moral lesson of some kind was drawn from them. For instance, the reader is told that an elephant which has a load on its back cannot rise without help; and that in the same way man, who carries a load of sin, cannot rise without Christ. And he is told that the salamander can live in fire, just as the Christian can resist the fire of temptation.

The artists who illuminated the Bestiaries had plenty of opportunity to use their imaginations, and they created some really extraordinary and fearsome creatures, with the strangest habits.

By the end of the thirteenth century another kind of book had become very popular. It was the Psalter, or book of Psalms. Psalters had been written from the earliest days of Christianity… for in the church services of the Middle Ages the whole of the psalms were said, or sung, every week. But the Psalters of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries contained more than just the psalms, and they were the most generously and elaborately decorated of all the books made during the Middle Ages. The first part of the book was a calendar of the Church’s year, showing the saints’ days and the festivals of the Church…

Next, very often, came several pages of pictures, sometimes of scenes from the life of Christ. Then came the beginning of the psalms, and the page on which the most care and labour was lavished. It is called the Beatus page, because the first words are ‘Beatus sit’ (Blessed be the man). The psalms are divided into sections for each day’s worship, and there is usually a richly ornamented page at the beginning of each section. Next come the canticles, or sacred songs of the Church, which also formed part of the daily services, and sometimes a number of litanies and prayers.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Hanged Man

There is a strange incident which happened to William de Breos' father (William) and step-mother Mary. The following was taken from a display in Swansea Museum:

William Cragh and Trahearn ap Hywel were hanged on Gibbet Hill in 1289. (Cragh meant ‘scabby’ , he was really William ap Rees).
Williams was accused of rebellion. The gallows broke and they were strung up again (Trahearn was a big man). People in the castle, at Swansea’s West Gate (near our Dragon Hotel), and on the town wall saw it all. William’s body was eventually carried to the house of a burgess in High Street.

“His whole face was black... his eyes had come out of their sockets (which)... were filled with blood. His mouth, neck and throat, and also his nostrils, were filled with blood... his tongue hung out of his mouth the length of a man’s finger, and it was completely black and swollen and as thick with the blood sticking to it... (as)... the size of a man’s two fists together.”

And yet that night Williams started to breath and stir! Lady Mary de Breos, wife of the Norman Lord, had prayed to St Thomas de Canteloup to bring William back to life. Some days later, with William de Breos, father and son, and the revived William Cragh, she travelled to Hereford where the resurrection was proclaimed a miracle.

This authentic account is based on Professor Robert Bartlett’s very well researched book “The Hanged Man” (Princeton University, 2004)
I have read the book "The Hanged Man" and it is fascinating, not only in telling the story, but in giving lots of details about life at the time. I strongly recommend it. This was before Alina's time, but would likely have left a deep impression on her father.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Castle Building

When Edward I finally pacified Wales, he could not simply go home and expect the Welsh to meekly behave themselves. Even the imposition of new laws and enforcing officers would not be enough. He needed strong bases from which he could operate in case of any further uprisings, so he embarked on a huge programme of castle building.

In South Wales where the Marcher Lords ruled there were already strong, stone-built castles at Caerphilly, Cardiff, Pembroke, Cardigan and Carmarthen. He also took over the castles of the former Welsh princes at Dinefwr and Dryslwyn. But in the north, where Llewellyn had reigned, he had to start from scratch. He built huge stone castles at Rhuthun, Denbigh, Holt and Hope, all started by 1282, followed by Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon. In 1295, after another uprising in the north, he began Beaumaris castle on Anglesey.

The cost was immense. Most of the castles were finished by 1301, by which time the cost was over £80,000. Today that translates to about £60 million. Materials like stone, lead and iron, and craftsmen, were brought to North Wales from all over Britain.

Not only were the castles themselves a deterrent to uprising, but the Welsh were not allowed to live or work anywhere near them. They were run by Englishmen, who brought their own laws and their own men to run them and govern the area. This created a marked feeling of inferiority in the Welsh and superiority in the English that changed the face of the country, and persisted for centuries.

For photos of Welsh castles, see here.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Great Progress

I am in a quandary - I want to share my work on the White Lady of Oystermouth, but I understand that putting it here my count as publishing, and affect my attempts to get it published on paper later. So all I can share right now is my progress report.

I have really got stuck in recently and have written a lot. I now have the introduction and five and a half chapters out of eight, and the end is in sight. This is only the first draft, and is about seven thousand words so far. I am trying to keep it short and sweet.

I do have a lot of research material which could be used to make it longer, but my initial hope is that it might be picked up to publish as a tourist pamphlet. Oystermouth Castle has received over one million pounds for improvements, which include a new visitors centre built inside the chapel which Alina de Mowbray traditionally built. A pamphlet about her would be great. Once the first draft is finished I will be contacting the Friends of Oystermouth Castle.