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.