Monday, 28 December 2009

The Pacification of the Welsh 1

Many Welsh people are not aware of their own history, and how Wales became part of England. There are several books about the pacification of the Welsh, which I have condensed into a chapter in my book. So for those who don't know, here is the first part:

As early as 1267 an attempt was made to reconcile England and Wales. Llewelyn ap Gruffudd was lord of Gwynedd (north Wales), but had the allegiance of the barons of Powys (mid Wales) and Dehaubarth (south west Wales), so he was the key figure in the negotiations. Eastern and southern Wales were already under the English rule of the Marcher lordships.

Llewelyn had originally inherited Gwynedd jointly with his brother Owain, but defeated him and kept him permanently imprisoned. By 1258 he declared himself 'Prince of Wales' and ruled from his stronghold in Snowdonia. His other two brothers were no threat. The youngest brother Rhodri seemed to present no challenge, and Dafydd accepted a lesser role.

As part of the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267 he agreed to pay homage to the king of England (Henry III)in return for virtual autonomy in Wales. His self-proclaimed title of 'Prince of Wales' was also formally recognised. The historian David Walker says in his book 'Medieval Wales' that the Treaty offered the most favourable terms ever extracted from the English crown. Llewelyn used the following decade to consolidate the great Welsh dynasties into a united country. Poets addressed him as 'the true king of Wales' (gwir frenin Cymru). He captured parts of the March at various times, particularly in mid Wales, and there were frequent skirmishes with Marcher lords defending or attempting to recover their lands.

By the end of 1276 the new king, Edward I, called a full council which agreed to call out the feudal host against Llewelyn. Edward was also encouraged by dissent in Wales. Following a failed conspiracy to assassinate Llewelyn, the two main conspirators, Llewelyn's brother Dafydd and the lord of Powys, Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, had fled to England. Edward was unable to march directly on Snowdon, but had to fight battles all along the edge of the Marches for several months.

Three armies moved in from Chester, Montgomery and Carmarthen. Alina's grandfather served with the Carmarthen army, and William served as squire to Reginald de Grey, lord of Ruthin. By April 1277 the Carmarthen army had subdued south Wales and much of Ceredigion. There were similar victories in the middle and north march. The northern army countered Llewelyn's guerrilla tactics by using large numbers of men to cut wide paths through the forests to enable the army to move in force. They never came to battle, because when a separate force was sent to Anglesey, threatening Llewelyn's summer crops, he came to terms, and the king withdrew.

The Treaty of Montgomery had restricted Llewelyn to Snowdonia and Anglesey, but although his political power was diminished, he became the focus for all the frustrations and aspirations of the Welsh. These were aggravated ten years later by the behaviour of the officials set in place by Edward over the newly-conquered territories and the resentment of the other Welsh lords at their heavy-handed treatment by the crown. Llewelyn also repeatedly failed to pay homage to the king. Despite granting him autonomy, the king was adamant that royal overlordship be recognised, just as Llewelyn was determined not to do so.

Monday, 23 November 2009

The White Lady and the Introduction

More and more I find people referring to Alina as the White Lady of Oystermouth, so I am renaming this blog, although I can't change the URL.

I am unsure where I would stand for publication if I published every chapter of the biography on the web first, so while I find out, here is the Introduction to whet your appetite.


This story began when I stood one day outside Swansea Castle and wondered what it looked like in its heyday. What I discovered when I started finding out, led me deeper into history than I had ever gone before. History was not a subject I enjoyed in school, but these became real people to me, and I was fascinated. My research also showed me some things about Swansea that I never suspected. I always assumed that, other than being a good port, Swansea was not very important that far back in history. But I discovered that the owner of Swansea Castle was pivotal in the rebellion which toppled the king of England.

I am using the life of Alina de Mowbray to tell this story, as it gives the opportunity to look at the actions of both her father and her husband, as well as the trials of life in the early fourteenth century, a period which popular history seldom covers. To those familiar with Swansea and Gower, this story will be of great interest, but also for others it will give a different perspective on this turbulent time for Wales and for England.

The first four chapters set the scene, before coming to the key events of the story. Chapter one covers Alina's early life, based on records of her father and what life was typically like for the aristocracy in the late thirteenth century. Chapter two gives the background of the family and more on her father. Chapter three looks at the physical setting, especially the two main castles of Swansea and Oystermouth.

Alina's father, William de Breos, fought for Edward I in his defeat of the Prince of Wales. Chapter four covers this important point in history. From then, Wales was never again independent. The Welsh marches were conquered soon after England, and had been part of England since then. These Norman lords supplied men and weapons to assist the king in his many wars, at home and abroad. Even when Wales was created as a Principality, the marches were not included.

Edward I was a champion, his son Edward II was the complete opposite. From chapter five onwards the story unfolds of William de Breos's troubles and schemes which eventually led to the rebellion of his son in law, attempting to protect Alina's inheritance. That local rebellion, like a rolling snowball, gathered other barons in a country-wide uprising against a weak and distrusted king. When the queen herself led an army against him, it was to Wales that he fled.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Local History Book Fair

Yesterday there was a Local History Book Fair at Swansea Museum. I popped in with my friend, not expecting anything, but it proved really helpful. I bought two books, one of which I had found really useful from the library, so now I have my own copy. The other was about Edward I, and I am researching his pacification of the Welsh, for a chapter in the book.

The thing that was most useful, was a chat with one of the authors. To my shame, I can't remember his name, but he has written three books on executions and prisons. He gave me some good advice about finding a publisher, getting permission for quotes and illustrations, and the importance of a bibliography.

I now have an introduction and three chapters written. The next chapter is on the pacification of the Welsh. I'm trying to give the setting and some history, but still keep Alina in the picture. I want to share what I'm writing, but not compromise the chance of having it published, so I have to think about that. I will share at least some extracts - watch this space.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

In Print!

I had had my first publication, and it's about Swansea Castle! I wrote to the editors of the Swansea Central Community Magazine and asked them if they would like an article on Swansea Castle, since it's in the centre of the area which the magazine covers. They said yes, and the article is in the October edition.

It is encouraging, and it's submission has spurred me on to start the book. I have already written the first draft of the first three chapters. Once they are in better shape I will blog them, so you know you have something concrete to look forward to.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Pen Portrait of Alina

Alina de Mowbray lived through one of the most significant times in the history of the Lordship of Gower. The daughter of William de Breos (one of a long line of Williams), she was born in 1291, the same year that her father inherited the estates of Gower in South Wales and Bramber in West Sussex, on the death of his father.

The de Breoses (originally de Briouze and then de Braose) had fallen a long way by the time of Alina's birth, and would fall even further in her lifetime. At their height they owned estates in France, England, Wales and Ireland. Some were lost when daughters married and took their inheritance to a new family, some were confiscated because of the king's displeasure, some were sold to raise money.

When Alina's father inherited what was left, he also inherited large debts, several law suits, and a profligate lifestyle. W H Jones, the historian of Swansea, summed up the de Breoses: "The de Breoses were a licentious clan of freebooters, who appear to have been so habituated to duplicity and chicanery as to render it impossible to be straightforward and honest in their dealings with their neighbours."

William was often away fighting for the king, so it is possible that Alina saw little of him. She would have spent her time with her mother Agnes, her older brother William and sister Joan. Her father was given the valuable wardship of John de Mowbray in return for service in Flanders, which he immediately took advantage of by marrying John to Alina when she was only seven and he was twelve. He never paid the marriage fee.

The marriage took place in Swansea castle, but the family preferred to live at Oystermouth castle, which they improved. Indeed, so much of Swansea castle was damaged or sold off that, around 1300, William built the 'New Castle' by enclosing the south-east corner of the original castle. Once Edward 1 pacified the Welsh, Swansea was no longer important militarily, and became the administrative centre of the lordship of Gower. Alina had her first child, John, when she was nineteen, but in the next thirteen years she would lose her mother, brother, husband and then her sister. Although her father married Elizabeth de Sully, an heiress, they had no children, so there were no other heirs.

William had arranged for Alina and John to inherit his estates, but in a desperate search for money he also arranged to sell Gower to several people at once. One of these was Hugh le Despenser, King Edward II's favourite, who, among other titles, was Lord of Glamorgan. Trying to protect their inheritance, in October 1320, John seized Gower by force. Despenser accused John of treason. The king declared Gower forfeit to Despenser and sent men to take Swansea castle. They were met by an armed mob in St Thomas who refused to allow them to cross the river.

Although Swansea castle was later surrendered without a fight, John's resistance encouraged other barons to rise in revolt. They were already greatly dissatisfied with the king, particularly his behaviour with Despenser, not only sexually but in granting him so many favours against their interests as he grabbed for land. The revolt was initially successful and the king had to banish Despenser and his father.

In August 1321 John de Mowbray was pardoned for his part in the revolt, but in October the king launched a counter-attack. Due to a breakdown in communication, the barons were defeated and the leaders were executed. John was hanged at York, and the king was so incensed that he refused to allow his body to be taken down for three years. Alina fled with her son to Ilfracombe, but they were captured and sent to the Tower of London.

Alina spent three years in the Tower, during which time she was forced to sell her estates to Despenser's father in order to provide living expenses. Her son John was only twelve when he went to the Tower. Gower had been confiscated by the king and given to Despenser, who had been reinstated. So Alina was left destitute.

At this point, Alina's father William comes back into the picture. Despenser had cunningly exchanged Gower for Gwent, ordering Gower to be plundered before handing it over. William, desperate to gain his daughter's freedom, submitted to Despenser's schemes to regain Gower. William went to court and claimed that Gower had been illegally acquired, and regained it for himself. He immediately gave it to Despenser, who thus gained Gwent and Gower. William gave up almost everything he owned, and apparently went senile. He never saw Alina free, and died in 1326.

While Alina was in the Tower, Queen Isabella went to France to negotiate between Edward II and the French king, and managed to get her son Edward sent to France as well. There she joined forces with the exiled Roger Mortimer and they landed in England and began to raise an army against the king. The king called the barons to arms, but they deserted him and joined the queen. Edward was forced to flee and eventually abdicated. Despenser and his father were brutally executed and their lands confiscated. When Edward III came to the throne, the barons were pardoned and their estates returned to them. Unfortunately, Alina did not qualify however because her right to inherit Gower had not, originally, been completed correctly by her father.

But Alina's story had a happy outcome in two ways. Firstly, the king showed mercy to her and gave her Gower. Secondly, she married a man she met in the Tower, Richard de Peschale, and went on to have four more children. Sadly, she didn't live long to enjoy it, and died in 1331, only four years after her release from the Tower. Her eldest son John, however, had an illustrious career and became a close companion in arms of the king.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust

In my search for information, on Thursday I took the day off work and made an appointment to visit the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust, whose offices are just a couple of streets away. I was told that it would be best to submit your requests in advance, so that they would have all the materials ready for you when you arrived. Well!

I arrived, and the person who answered the door had no idea who I was. I was invited in and told that no one was available to see me, and asked to wait. I was shown into an office where they looked at me expectantly and asked what I wanted. Not a good start! I explained and they rushed around and eventually found my questions, but were obviously not prepared. So they kept me talking while they rushed off to look for stuff.

Then it turned out that their meeting room has dry rot, which is being treated, so they squeezed me onto someone's desk (I don't know where they worked while I was there), and gave me a pile of books and files to look at. I don't know what I was expecting, but that wasn't it.

Anyway, I was there for three hours, and took loads of notes. Some things I just noted references as I thought I had the information already. They told me I can go back any time and ask for specific things, now I have seen the files, and I was allowed to photocopy some stuff.

The most interesting thing was that Dr Edith Evans, who wrote the booklet which I started my research with - Swansea Castle and the Medieval Town - works for GGAT and talked to me for quite a while. I suspect it may have been her desk I borrowed.

I also found a source which referred to Alina as Alianora, but I think I'll stick with Alina. The family name has also gone through several permutations. In France they were de Briouze. In England they were de Braose, and there is a lot of resource material still using that name. Then, locally, they were de Breos. I also found out that the local pronounciation for many generations for Parc le Breos, named after the family, is more like Brouze. Interesting.

Oh, one more thing. Gerald Gabb (see previous post) emailed me and asked for a copy of my outline, because he was so impressed with it. I am delighted.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Real People

After doing a lot of research in the library and online, I have finally plucked up the courage to talk to some real people, face to face. I met with Gerald Gabb last night. He is recently retired from Swansea Museum, and the lady who gave me his email address told me that no one else was a patch on him for local history, so I was quite nervous. I am really grateful that he was so nice to me, and seemed impressed with the extent of my research - I didn't want to look like an amateur. I am also grateful for all the trouble he went to, providing me with books to check out and notes of other sources. I just wanted to pick his brains but he had done some research for me as well.

Apart from more information, the great thing about talking to someone is the chance to toss ideas around and discuss approaches to the subject. For instance, I have details of the daily life of a baronial household in the thirteenth century, but I wasn't sure how much I could ascribe it to the de Breoses. We talked about how poor they might have been (or not) and where the money came from and where it went. I all helps me to get a picture of the context of Alina's life. He also approved of my outline, which has helped me begin to shape the story I want to tell.

Another thing we discussed was their colouring. In an earlier post I surmised that the Normans would be blond and blue eyed, as they were descended from the Vikings who settled in northern France. Mr Gabb pointed out that there were knights from a wide area who came over with William the Conqueror, so they wouldn't all be 'north men', and the Vikings would have intermarried with the local people. Once in England, and then Wales, they also intermarried with the English and the Welsh. Indeed, some of the earlier de Breoses married Welsh princesses. So, basically, anything goes for their colouring. I like the idea of blond and blue eyed for my heroine, it's appropriately romantic!

Alina is interesting, not just because of the times she lived through because of her father and her husband, but because information about women is rare from those days. Still, Mr Gabb's first comment about a biography of Alina was that it would only be half a page! It will be longer than that, but I will be including background, which will make it much longer and add colour and context. Still, I doubt it will be long enough to publish, and he also agreed that a historical novel is the way to go. But I want to write the biography first to get my facts straight.

I have other people to see too. I have an appointment on Thursday morning at the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust, which I found, to my surprise, is almost around the corner from where I live. I have submitted questions to them about Swansea and Oystermouth Castles and some other bits and pieces. I also contacted Roger Parmiter, the chairman of the Friends of Oystermouth Castle, who is going to get me a copy of his drawing of how Oystermouth Castle might have looked, and has agreed to meet me when he returns from holiday. So it's all starting to come together!

Monday, 14 September 2009


My research is progressing in a new direction, and I have begun to write, but cannot post it yet. Let me explain.

Firstly, the research. I feel I have gleaned all I can for now from the internet and the library. All I am finding is more copies of the same information. What I need now is someone to discuss it with and ask some specific questions. To that end, I have plucked up courage and telephoned the contacts I was given. One has agreed to meet me in a week or two, and I have been given the other's email address. I also feel I am ready to contact the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust, as I have specific questions about the castles. I have taken time to survey my research and list my questions, so I have some clarity.

Secondly, I found the Swansea Writers Circle and attended a meeting. Not only were they just what I was hoping for, but the speaker of the evening talked about writing a historical biography, so it was obviously meant to be! I mentioned my work on Alina and my questioning whether to write a biography or a historical novel, and it was unanimous around the table that, being so far in the past, a novel would be the best approach. We had 'homework' to write a pen portrait in less than 1000 words, which I completed this evening - on Alina, of course. But I can't post it until it's been handed in and 'marked'.

Thirdly, I contacted the Swansea Central Magazine and offered them an article on Swansea Castle, which they accepted. They didn't give a word count or deadline, but I have written it, and after a review, will be sending it off. So I can't post that either, until it's published.

Sorry to disappoint anyone out there who is actually following this, but be glad for my progress. I promise to write some more of the story for you next. There's lots of good stuff.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Weak or Strong?

Having estabished that our heroine Alina was probably blond haired and blue eyed, what sort of person was she? She may have looked like a typical storybook heroine, but for the women of the aristocracy, life did not consist of embroidery and reading poetry, or being a decorative ornament on the dais next to her husband.

Since their men were so often away fighting, or training to fight, and since there were often several estates, which the lord would visit, most of the management of the estates was done by their wives. The household was a pyramidal structure, with a mass of ordinary servants who were controlled by a group of higher officials, and ultimately by the steward. But they were supervised by the lord and lady.

Most estates were largely self-sufficient in many ways. They grew their own food, and there would have been fish in the sea and the river. They had blacksmiths and farriers, tailors and armourers. For those familiar with Swansea, Orchard Street is where there was an orchard jsut outside the town gate, and Brynmill was indeed the site of a mill. But many items would need to be purchased, for example, the large quantity of spices used in medieval cooking, which were expensive and guarded like jewels.

The lady would have to authorise purchases, supervise the farms and livestock, keep accounts and manage the senior servants.

The medieval aristocratic household moved frequently, over considerable distances, visiting their estates and those of others. It operated like a well-oiled machine, packing all that was needed, including collapsible furniture, onto great sumpter horses and carts. There was also the need to transport goods bought from markets and fairs across the country.

Of course, when Alina was young, all this would have been the concern of her mother, Agnes, but she would have been raised to learn these skills. She married at the age of seven, but I don't know when she would have taken on her own household. Since her husband was only twelve, I would imagine they would not have set up on their own straight away, but her husband John de Mowbray, would inherit estates of his own, as well as those she would inherit from her father.

There was also a continual worry over money. Estates brought in revenue to their lords, but the De Breoses were very bad with money. I wonder how it affected Agnes and Alina?

So I think Alina would have been a strong character. She would have needed it for the future.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

William's 'Great Unthrift'

As I have mentioned before, the heart of the problem, which led to the toppling of Edward II, was the de Breoses' inabiility to handle their money.

W H Jones, the historian of Swansea, summed them up like this: “The de Breoses were a licentious clan of freebooters, who appear to have been so habituated to duplicity and chicanery as to render it impossible to be straightforward and honest in their dealings with their neighbours.” What a condemnation!

The lawsuits and debts from William's father were added to by William himself. As early as 1292, the king warned William that if he did not pay his debts, the king's agents would enter Gower and take away his goods. Things came to a head in 1305 when his stepmother Mary de Roos took him to court over a debt of 800 marks, and won, much to William's annoyance. He climbed over the bar and was so insulting to the judge that he was put in the Tower of London for contempt of court. He was virtually bankrupt and had to sell some of his lands to pay his debts. He also never paid the price for John de Mowbray marrying Alina.

Between 1272 & 1290 William disposed of 'the former north gate of the outer bailey of the Castle of Swansea with two towers adjacent' and the south gate of the same bailey. [Today this is by Argos and by Yates, for those who know Swansea]. Between 1307 & 1319 William disposed of two towers, one called 'Donelstour' (Donald's tower) and one which belonged to Thomas de Singleton. Over the years he sold pieces of land, mills, coal mines, and the Swansea ferry. He also sold Loughor Castle to his steward, John Iweyn, who turned out to be an even bigger scoundrel than he was.

William's tenants were never happy with him. In 1284 his tenants in the north-western corner of Gower asked that their lands be changed to the neighbouring Is-Cennan, which came under the king. In 1299 there was a suit from the Bishop of Llandaff, complaining that he had trespassed on the bishop's manors, carried off some of his goods, and imprisoned some of his men. There was another suit almost the same in 1315. There were constant suits from his tenants that William had 'oppressed' them – fines, forced loans, imprisonment. The suit from his tenants in Gower in 1305 accused him of failing to protect them and their rights, and that he was a disgrace to the marcher lordships. He had also appointed a Sheriff, which was contrary to law. As a result, in 1306 he was forced to issue charters of rights for the burgesses of Swansea and his tenants in Gower, Welsh and English.

William's wife Agnes died, and in 1317 he married the heiress Elizabeth de Sully, who brought him several manors, although they had no children. Having made arrangements to make Alina his heir, he nevertheless set about trying to sell the lordship of Gower, in order to raise money. At one point there were at least three lords who all claimed to have bought it. Eventually he sold it to the king's favourite, Hugh Despenser (the younger), for the huge sum of £10,000. Alina's husband, John de Mowbray, tried to hold on to their inheritance, and so gave rise to the barons' rebellion - more of this to come.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Research Progress

I have started to pursue some of my research outside of the library and the internet. About 9 days ago I went to Oystermouth Castle, and stood the places Alina walked so many centuries ago. I was a weird feeling. I bought the booklet from the visitor's centre and there was some good stuff in it, including drawings of what it would have looked like. I also got the phone number of someone from the Friends of Oystermouth Castle, who may be able to help me.

Today I went to Ty Hanes, the Mumbles Local History Centre. I found them just in time, as they have lost their funding and are closing on 29th August. Their displays were all much later than the period in which I am interested, but again I got a phone number of their historian. They were also selling their books, and I bought two which had some useful stuff in, and a great help to be able to keep them and not have to keep going back to the library.

[Notice how academic I am, with all this 'stuff', sorry guys.] Anyway, I have just bought a new computer with Microsoft Office 2007, which includes One Note, which I have just spent the evening reviewing. It is a facility for organising notes, files, extracts, lists etc., etc., and looks like just what I need to sort out my research. So watch this space!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Pretty as a Picture?

Thinking of the characters in my story, especially Alina, how do I describe them? I can get a small idea of their character from their history, but what did they look like? I talked to my husband Michael about it, and surprisingly Alina may have been the typical heroine - blond hair and blue eyes. They were Norman, and Normans were descended from the Vikings - they were 'North men'.

I wonder if that is right? I can't help thinking that it's going to look trite, to make her blond and blue eyed, but it may be true.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Alina Timeline

I spent some time last night creating a timeline for Alina's life, and noticed some things I hadn't noticed before. Here's the first part of the timeline, and my comments afterwards. See if you spot them too.

1291 Born to William & Agnes de Breos, same year he inherited. Named after William's mother. Older brother William, older sister Joan.
Father served the king in many wars – so away a lot.
1295 Joan married James de Bohun of Midhurst.
1297 Betrothed to William's ward, John de Mowbray.
1298 Married John de Mowbray in Swansea Castle – he was 12, she was 7. Marriage never paid for by her father.
Father unpaid debts and law suits etc. 1305 he was sent briefly to the Tower.
1310 Son John born (Alina 19), William fighting in Scotland.
1315 William had installed his son William in Landimore in north Gower.
1316 William obtained royal licence to settle all but one of his English manors on Alina & John – did not include Gower.
1317 Mother dead by now, father marries heiress Elizabeth de Sully. (Alina 26).
1318/19 William selling off Gower to several people to raise money.
1320 Husband John seizes Gower to protect Alina's inheritance. King sends men to take it back, John leads rebellion against the king, many barons join. Rebellion defeated.
1320 Brother William dies.
1321 King pardons de Mowbray.

Already you can begin to see what a life she led - it certainly wasn't boring. Lots more happened later, but I won't give it away yet.

Anyway, the first thing that surprised me was that, although her brother William would have been the heir, her father arranged to settle most of his English manors on Alina and her husband. Presumably, her brother would inherit Gower, but why not everything?

And what about her older sister Joan? She doesn't seem to have been promised anything. Even when her brother dies, Joan still isn't mentioned. Maybe her marriage gave her a great land-holding, and she didn't need anything from her father. I haven't looked into her husband, but it's probably not worth it, as she probably moved away to her husband's estates, and died in 1323.

I intend to look into the English estates, but they were worth something, as Alina later sold them when she was in desperate straits. Would the lordship of Gower outweigh them, or was Alina being given a greater inheritance than her brother? Alina's husband, John de Mowbray, was William's ward, so maybe her felt he was keeping it in the family by leaving the estates to them.

When her brother William died, Alina and John became heirs to Gower as well, which was highly prized and fought over in the following years. More on that later.

There was another curiosity. Alina later married Richard de Peschale, and assuming she didn't have his children before they married, she appears to have had four children in three years - quite and achievement! I'll keep you posted on my research.

Sunday, 2 August 2009


In July's Writing Magazine there is an article called 'Thickening the plot', about the good use of digressions in your writing. It is well known that there is always a huge amount more research and background than ever goes into the book. I have already amassed quite a lot of information on the town of Swansea, the daily life of a manor, and the fall of the king, for example, and it would be nice to pass some of that on.

The idea in the article is that, at appropriate points in the narrative, you can digress to give some background or wider information, to make the narrative more interesting. The Kate Summerscale book 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' is used as an example. My husband bought it and loved it, and I think I'll read it. It is a classic crime story, but true, and tells of the investigation of a murder by the first real detective, John Whicher. In the process she digresses in enough places to give a comprehensive history of the earliest days of detection, along with fashion, transport, and the Victorian style of living.

I really fancy that idea, so I'll be giving you some digressions as I piece this together, along with the information, as I have started to do so far, and pieces of actual writing as they come. I'm getting excited.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

William de Breos - early history

The name De Breos (De Braose, or various other spellings) is one of the significant ones in the history of Swansea, and in the family line were several Williams. Some of these inherited the estates and some died young, making the counting of them somewhat controversial. The one we are interested in was born in 1261, referred to as either William III or William VII. Let us just call him William.

William took over many of the duties of running the estates before his father (another William) died, but he didn't inherit until 1291. Along with the estate, he inherited large debts, several law suits, and a profligate lifestyle. Consequently he was always looking for money, and not always particular about how he got it. The inheritance was large, and over the centuries the number of lands varied widely, depending on honours given and received, and sales made in an attempt to balance the books. In some cases land was forfeit due to the displeasure of the king, and in others land was given in recognition of service, particularly in war.

At the time of his inheritance, the main estates were Bramber (West Sussex) and Gower (South Wales), but William seems to have spent a lot of time in Gower, and rebuilt Oystermouth Castle in stone, which he preferred to live in, although Swansea Castle was the main seat of Gower. However, it is possible that Swansea Castle was in some disrepair, as the whole town was sacked and burned just over 50 years before, by Rhys ap Maredudd in a Welsh uprising.

By the time William inherited, his father had already sold off the north and south gates of the castle, and William himself sold some of the towers. He was able to do this because the castle became less important for military purposes by 1300, with the end of the Welsh wars. It was however, still the administrative centre and principal seat of the lordship. When he eventually worked on it, he built the 'new castle' in the south west corner of the original, and left the rest as part of the town.

William was married to Agnes and had one son (another William), and two daughters, Joan and Alina (named after his mother). Sadly, William (the son) and Joan died before him, and Alina was left as his heir. He did, in fact, make arrangements for her to inherit, but his “great unthrift”, as one writer put it, meant that her inheritance was far from certain.

To be fair, all barons had to raise men to fight for the king, at their own expense, and both William and his father had done so several times, and to great success. He served in Scotland many times, including the defeat of William Wallace, and at Bannockburn. He served in Flanders and elsewhere on the Continent. And also in West Wales against the Welsh, for the Marcher lands like Gower were part of England. William even had a huge siege engine, with all the men necessary to maintain, move and operate it, which was a key factor in winning the siege of Emlyn Castle, in the campaign against Rhys ap Maredudd in West Wales in 1288.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Swansea Castle

Let us begin where I began - with Swansea Castle. There only remains one corner in the centre of town, of what was known as the 'New Castle'. The very earliest castle was a motte and bailey, timber construction, of which nothing remains. It overlooked the lowest crossing of the Tawe, a good harbour, and the main east-west route in South Wales. It was also needed to guard against the Welsh, for South Wales was not part of the principality, but English, or rather Norman.

Not only was there a distinction between the lords and the serfs, but between the Englishry and the Welshry. The lordship of Gower was loyal to the king, and covered a large amount of land inland, as well as the peninsular of Gower we know today.

The stone castle which replaced the wooden one covered most of what is now the town centre. In it's heyday in the late 13th century it stretched from Welcome Lane (at the side of Argos) in the north to Caer Street (south of Castle Square) in the south, and from the clifftop in the east almost to Princess Way in the west. It adjoined St Mary's Church.

In the late 13th century it had fallen into disrepair, possibly following several attacks by the Welsh, and parts of it had been sold to raise money. It was no longer important militarily, following the pacification of the Welsh by Edward I. The New Castle was built into the south-west corner, with a new wall erected along Castle Bailey Street, which used to run across the castle bailey, and from there to the rear wall overlooking the cliff. The river used to run below the cliff, but was diverted much later to straighten the river and create land on the town side.

Although the de Breoses preferred to live at Oystermouth Castle, which they greatly improved, it would be nice to think of Alina living, at least some of the time, in Swansea Castle. I envision her wanting her own place when she married, at least when she grew up, and maybe she moved there, leaving Oystermouth to her father.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

The Grey Lady of Oystermouth

Alina de Breos (also spelled de Braose) was born about 1291 and her father William de Breos was Lord of Gower. The administrative centre for Gower was at Swansea Castle, but they preferred to live at Oystermouth Castle. Alina was married to John de Mowbray when she was only seven, and led an eventful life. She is regarded as being responsible for the building of the chapel at Oystermouth Castle, and is said to haunt it, being known as the Grey Lady of Oystermouth.

I first discovered Alina when researching Swansea Castle for a fantasy story idea about travelling back in time to the castle in it's heyday. It's heyday turned out to be the late 13th and early 14th century. All that remains of the castle is one corner at the top of a steep bank above The Strand, which used to run along the River Tawe. Apart from being a major port, I always assumed that Swansea was an insignificant town, but as I researched I found that it was part of a rebellion which toppled a king.

The fantasy story receded further into the background as I got more and more interested in this period in history. In this blog I aim to share my research and my thoughts as I plan to write a historical novel about Alina. In a novel, certain things have to be made up - the details of daily life, conversations etc. - but the historical facts must be accurate. I need to find out as much as I can, and make decisions about how to portray the rest. I hope you'll join me for the journey, and maybe learn a few things along the way.