My new popular history book Medieval Gower Stories is almost ready for publication. To whet your appetite, here is the Introduction.
I live in the city of Swansea in South Wales UK, right on the edge of the Gower peninsular, Britain's first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We have everything, all in one place: chain stores, little independent shops, leisure centres, museums, theatres, art galleries, the beach, the countryside, and train and motorway links directly to London and lots of other places.
In the past, Swansea was known as Copperopolis, the industrial centre of the world for smelting copper and other metals, due to the close proximity of coal and easy access by sea and river. But before that, especially long before that, I thought Swansea and Gower were not important at all.
When I started researching Swansea Castle, I discovered that the Lords of Gower had very important roles in British medieval history. That led to my two popular history books, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth and Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John, which led in turn to The Magna Carta Story: The Layman's Guide to the Great Charter.
The area of Gower was known by the Welsh as Gŵyr, and was taken soon after 1106 by the Norman Henry de Newburgh (also called Beaumont), Earl of Warwick, with the permission of King Henry I. He anglicized the name and created the Lordship of Gower, which extended inland some way above the Gower peninsular of today, bounded by the River Tawe and the River Llwchwr (Loughor). Henry gave the more fertile areas of land in the lowlands of the peninsular to the English, while the Welsh were relegated to the uplands and the inland part, where the ground was only suitable for grazing sheep.
There was a great wood which stretched across the centre of the land, from Swansea in the east to Loughor in the west. This divided the lordship into Supraboscus (above the wood) and Subboscus (below the wood). Swansea, then known as Sweynesse or Sweynesey, was built at the lowest crossing-point of the River Tawe, on a high bluff above the river, which provided a natural harbour. The Welsh called it Abertawe, the mouth of the River Tawe. Fabian's Bay to the east was the perfect place for fishing boats to work from, and Oystermouth, at the ‘heel’ of the peninsular, was where they harvested oysters.
What is now Swansea Bay, a huge sweep of beach which has been likened to the Bay of Naples in Italy, was then farmland, with a bridleway across it, allowing easy access from Swansea to Gower. Indeed, when the tide goes out today, the sea bed is not sand, but mud. There were very few roads, most of Gower was only accessible by boat right up until the 18th century.
So come with me back to medieval times to discover some stories I found when I was researching my books. Some of them have only a tenuous link to Gower, but Gower or the Lord of Gower comes into each of them somewhere.
The same names come up in many of the stories, because the Lords of Gower for much of this time were the de Braose family, whose family tree appears before this introduction. The noble families liked to use the same names for each generation, which makes them difficult to distinguish, so the easiest thing is to number them, as you can see in the family tree. Originally from the village of Briouze-Saint-Gervais in Normandy, the name was anglicised to Braose and later went through other changes, until it ended up as Breos. There are reminders of the family in street names in Swansea today.
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz