Monday, 15 November 2010

Pembroke Castle

Hi again! I went to visit Pembroke castle in September for my birthday, and thought I would share a few pictures of it here.

I stayed by the coast in Tenby, which is a gorgeous little town with fantastic surviving medieval walls that I think date to the 13C. The picture to the left shows a section of them.

Pembroke is a lovely little place, it is easy to imagine the castle being an overwhelming sight and dominant feature of the medieval town. As you walk up the main street the castle begins to come into view (as seen in the picture to the right). Arguably one of the greatest Earls of Pembroke was William Marshal (named Earl in 1199 by King John). His banner of a red lion against a yellow and green background was proudly displayed near the front entrance. I thought this was a particularly nice touch.

The original timber castle would have been built after the Norman conquest in the late 11th - early 12thC. However the site itself has a long history. Below  the castle is a cavern called The Wogan, which would have been a shelter for cave dwellers during the Stone Age. It can be accessed in the Great Hall. The original castle was constructed by Roger de Montgomery, a cousin of William the Conqueror. Later in 1138 the earldom of Pembroke was created for Gilbert Fitz Gilbert de Clare, a loyal supporter of King Stephen of England. Gilbert was given the nickname 'Strongbow'. He died in 1148 and the earldom passed on to his son Richard, also nicknamed Strongbow. Richard is probably most well known for conquering Ireland.

William Marshal gained the earldom through marriage to Richard Strongbow's daughter Isabel de Clare. It was from this time that major reconstruction work began on the castle in stone. Work began with this beautiful round keep. This is the largest and one of the earliest towers of this design in the country. The stone steps are a later Tudor addition. Originally the keep would have been entered on the first floor by a set of timber steps.

William's sons continued work on the castle after his death in 1219. The Inner Ward was rebuilt in stone. It is also likely the large outer ward was laid out at this time too, and would have replaced an area of the town. This was rebuilt in stone later on by the new lord of the castle William de Valence, a rather unpopular figure at the time. Gradually, bit by bit, Pembroke became the mighty castle that survives today. 

Here are some more pictures:

View of Pembroke River

Northgate Tower

Stairway and door leading to Barbican Tower

Where the chapel once was

Western Hall, added between 1219 and 1245. This could have been a retiring room for the ladies of the castle.

Arches in the Norman Hall or Old Hall. This section of the castle most likely dates to the time of Richard Strongbow (1150-70). However at a later date the old timber hall was remodelled in stone, which itself has been reworked a lot over time.

The Great Hall. This was added during the 13C and had two levels. The area on the ground floor would have been used as kitchens, and the first floor would have been the main hall. This can be seen in the architecture too - the arches on the first floor are far more grand than those on the ground floor.

Detail of one of the Early English Gothic style arches in the Great Hall.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Tourneying Noblewomen!

Whilst reading David Crouch's fabulous book Tournament I came across this superb source which I thought I would share. It is a poem written by Huon d'Oisy III, Castellan of Cambrai. 
It is a fictional piece in which the author envisions a tournament at Lagny-sur Marne, that the noblewomen of his day organised and took part in whilst all the knights were away! Crouch dated the poem as having been composed between 1187-1189.

In that year that the knights were away
and the valiant did no feats of arms
the ladies went to tourney instead at Lagny.
The tournament was organised by
the countess of Vermandois and the lady of Coucy;
they said that they wanted to experience 
the sort of strokes
that their lovers gave out for their sake.
Ladies from all over the place
organised it that each would
retain a household with her.
When they came to the meadows they got armed
then they mustered in front of Torcy.
Yolanda de Cailly went first on to the field;
Margaret d'Oisy was eager to joust with her;
Amice the hardy rides forward, seizing her reins.
When Margaret saw Yolanda back off,
She shouted 'Cambrai!' and grabbed the reins to drag her away;
Let anyone who saw it launch at her and prevent it!
Then Katherine with the eager face
began to marshal the lines
and to cry 'Move forward'.
So let those who are watching for her sign go forward,
pull at the reins, give and evade swordstrokes
and brandish their tall lances
. . . 
cause iron to ring out
and pull mail hoods out from under helmets
and cause to break
. . . 
with great panache!
Bringing up the rear come a great reinforcement,
Isabel, who comes to maintain the fight;
The lady seneschal also arrives
and she will have no mercy on them at all.

A squadron comes riding after her
with Adeline riding and shouting . . . 
for the lady seneschal.
. . . 
Alice de Trie rides in front of Yolanda
crying 'Aguillon!'.
Very fine she looks, riding along the ranks.
The queen rides before all on an iron gray steed
. . .
armed with a mace and wearing a silver hauberk;
with no contradiction she carries it across the field;
Jehane comes riding up behind her
who has retained many a serjeant with her;
Isabel rides out and encounters
the brave Alice de Monceaux,
and forces her to offer pledge for ransom;
she is carried off with her
riding on a roncin.

The countess of Champagne soon appears
riding on a Spanish dappled horse,
and she and her people ride gently into the fight;
everyone rides against her and mills around
and the fight there is very fierce.
More than a hundred attack her,
and Alice reaches out to grab her,
she and her company seize the countess's reins,
Alice - she of the noble body -
crying 'Montfort',
and the countess dismounts now she is taken,
and Yolanda is made a captive fairly,
she who is not proud and scornful,
as a German would be.
Isabel - whom we all know - gallops on to the field,
and attacks like a mad thing,
crying over and over again her war cry,
'Let's get them, Chatillon!'

A company rides up in ambush
and hems in Amice on every side,
and her lance breaks on a shield;
She cries 'Lille! Let's get their reins,
they're in our power!'
The countess of Clermont has been 
struck by a mace across her abdomen,
right where her kidney is.
Clemence attacks heedlessly with her club
. . .
and cries 'Beausart!'.
The whole company is routed and disperses in flight;
and no one stays to fight
when [Clemence] see Ida of Boulogne, the distinguished;
she rallies first on crossing a ditch,
she takes the countess by the reins,
and cries out 'God our help'.

The fighting there is very intense
Isabel of Marly rides up crying
'God our help!', and she gives and takes many cuts.
A company rides by the other side of the river;
Gertrude, who cries 'Mello'
pursues it across the fords.
Agnes de Triecoc rides up, who has sustained
many cuts to her arms that day,
she has broken many lances, and seized many reins,
she has hit out at many, and many times attacked.
Beatrice cries out 'Poissy!'
There is no one
. . . 
better than she,
and Joie d'Arsi approaches
. . .
Marion de Juilly and makes her turn and dismount,
then she jousts at her
and cries 'Saint Denis!'.

All passed across the river, Alice de Rolleiz,
jaunty of body, rides up with her company;
Clemence de Bruai goes in front,
Ceciloa de Compiegne rides directly behind
pushing forward
and attacks Isabel d'Ausnai
who has wondered into the middle of them;
The fair Alice falls on her with enthusiasm
who cries 'Garlandon!'
. . .
Agnes rides up crying 'Paris!';
Ada de Parcain sees them:
she cries 'Beaumont!',
and pursues them right into the middle of the town,
and sees coming there Agnes of Cressonessart;
Isabel de Villegaignart also rides up.
Th tournament breaks up
because it was now growing late.

I have said and recounted a little,
and now I shall return to it;
they announced a tournament the next day.
You shall be told of the prowess of Yolanda.
When she had closed her helm
and urged forward her horse Morel,
she took her checkered shield,
hurling herself among the maidens in the meadows.
There were a hundred of them bearing lances;
she asked for no truce.
With no hesitation she rode to joust
right in amongst the other side.
far and wide and for a long time they have trumpeted
and serenaded what they witnessed.
She defeated and broke
all opposition on every side.
She set up her tent on the meadows outside Torcy;
she slept there, and gave away
whatever she had won.1

1. David Crouch, Tournament (Hambledon and London: London, 2005), pp.167-171

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Raoul of Cambrai

The old French epic known as Raoul of Cambrai, belongs to a genre of poems known as the chansons de geste (meaning 'songs of deeds' or 'songs of war'). Of the numerous chansons that survive today the majority of their manuscripts date from around the twelfth century. However it is highly likely that the poems themselves are much older and were preserved through oral history.

Entertainers called jongleurs would have sung or chanted the poems to a number of people. As they were written in the vernacular, this suggests that they would have been performed or read for the entertainment of a lay audience. Jongleurs also performed other forms of poetry, juggled, mimed, played instruments, and even did acrobatic tricks! They were often thought to be untrustworthy, and belonged to the lowest level of medieval society. As they relied upon the generosity of their audience for their pay, this would show that what they performed would have been the popular form of entertainment at that time. The chansons de geste in particular were highly popular.

Traditionally these epic poems have been arranged by their content into three main cycles. These are: the Cycle of the King, the Cycle of William of Orange, and the Cycle of Barons in Revolt (or revolting barons!). Raoul of Cambrai is a superb example from the last of these cycles.

The poem (along with many other chansons) is set during the reign of Louis IV of France, the son of Charlemagne. It weaves a tale of feudal ties and vengeance, which culminates in Raoul being killed by his vassal Bernier at the end of the first section. It would seem that the poem is most likely fictional, however it is possible that there are some historical links to it.

Despite the fact that Raoul of Cambrai is an epic poem and therefore some aspects would have been exaggerated, it is still a superb source for gaining an insight into the late twelfth century (the period in which the surviving version was written). One area in which it would be of use is to the study of knighthood. For example:

'On the next day the praiseworthy Count Raoul knighted Bernier and invested him with the best arms on which he could lay his hands. He put a strong well burnished hauberk on his back and laced a golden helmet on his head. Then he girded the sword with which he was knighted to his side and Bernier straight away mounted his good warhorse.
As soon as Bernier was mounted on his horse every one could see what a good knight he had become. He seized his gold banded shield and held the sharp lance with its pennon fastened by five golden nails in his hand. Then he charged forward on his horse and returned to his place again. There were many knights in the square and they said one to another: "How well he looks in his arms. Even if he is the son of an unwed mother, he must still be of rich and noble birth".' 1

This passage from Raoul of Cambrai tells us a great deal about the ceremony of knighting, and also ideals of being a good knight. For example, that care was taken to describe Bernier's extravagant equipment shows that this was a very important ceremony - and an occasion to be proud of. Due to the expense of this equipment it is also indicative of the growing association between knighthood and the nobility in this period, despite the fact that Bernier was a bastard. Weapons, armour and warhorses did not come cheap, and especially not the lavish examples described above!

This is just one example of the use of this fantastic source. The tale it tells can also help historians gain an insight into many other themes, such as: contemporary ideas about noble society, ideals of the family, the relationship between lords and vassals - the list could go on! And not only is this useful, but it also makes an excellent read! 

1 'Raoul de Cambrai, An Old French Epic', trans. Jessie Crosland, revised by Richard Abels, USNA 1993 at 

Sources Used:
  • Duggan, Joseph J., '1095 - The Epic', in Denis Hollier (ed.), A New History of French Literature (Harvard University Press: 1994), pp.18-23
  • Kaeuper, Richard W.,Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2006)
  • Newth, Michael, Heroes of the French Epic: Translations from the Chansons de Geste (The Boydell Press: Woodbridge, 2005)

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Ideals of Marriage from The Goodman of Paris

This post contains a number of extracts from a text called The Goodman of Paris. It was written between 1392-4 by an elderly merchant from Paris to his new much younger wife. The author has very kindly included his ideals of marriage and has even thrown in a few recipes for her - lucky girl!

'You being the age of fifteen years and in the week that you and I were wed, did pray me to be indulgent to your youth and to your small and ignorant service, until you had seen and learned more; to this end you promised me to give all heed and to set all care and diligence to keep my peace and my love, as you spoke full wisely, and as I well believe, with other wisdom than your own, beseeching me humbly in our bed, as I remember, for the love of God not to correct you harshly before strangers nor before our own folk, but rather each night, or from day to day, in our chamber, to remind you of the unseemly or foolish things done in the day or days past, and chastise you, if it pleased me, and then you would strive to amend yourself according to my teaching and correction, and to serve my will in all things, as you said.'

'I have often wondered how I might find a simple general introduction to teach you the which, without the aforesaid difficulties, you might of yourself introduce into your work and care. And lastly, me-seems that if your love is as it has appeared in your good words, it can be accomplished in this way, namely in a general instruction that I will write for you and preto you, in three sections containing nineteen principal articles....'

'The first section of the three is necessary to gain the love of God and the salvation of your soul, and also to win the love of your husband and to give you in . this world that peace which should be in marriage. And because these two things, namely the salvation of your soul and the comfort of your husband, be the two things most chiefly necessary, therefore are they here placed first. And this first section contains nine articles.'

'The fifth article of the first section telleth that you ought to be very loving and privy towards your husband above all other living creatures . . .  I set here a rustic ensample, that even the birds and the shy wild beasts, nay the savage beasts, have the sense and practice of this, for the female birds do ever follow and keep close to their mates and to none other and follow them and fly after them, and not after others. If the male birds stop, so also do the females and settle near to their mates; when the males fly away they fly after them, side by side . . . Of domestic animals you shall see how that a greyhound or rnastiff or little dog, whether it be on the road, or at table, or in bed, ever keepeth him close to the person from whom he taketh his food and leaveth all the others and is distant and shy with them; and if the dog is afar off, he always has his heart and his eye upon his master; even if his master whip him and throw stones at him, the dog followeth, wagging his tail and lying down before his master to appease him, and through rivers, through woods, through thieves and through battles followeth him.'

'The sixth article of the first section saith that you shall be humble and obedient towards him that shall be your husband, the which article containeth in itself four particulars.
The first particular saith that you shall be obedient: to wit to him and to his commandments whatsoever they be, whether they be made in earnest or in jest, or whether they be orders to do strange things, or whether they be made concerning matters of small import or of great; for all things should be of great import to you, since he that shall be your husband hath bidden you to do them . . . The third particular is to understand that if he that shall be your husband shall forbid you to do anything, whether he forbid you in jest or in earnest or whether it be concerning small matters or great, you must watch that you do not in any manner that which he has forbidden.
The fourth particular is that you be not arrogant and that you answer not back your husband that shall be, nor his words, nor contradict what he saith, above all before other people.'

'Certes, fair sister, such services make a man love and desire to return to his home and to see his goodwife, and to be distant with others. Wherefore I counsel you to make such cheer to your husband at all his comings and stayings, and to persevere therein; and also be peaceable with him, and remember the rustic proverb, which saith that there be three things which drive the goodman from home, to wit a leaking roof, a smoky chimney and a scolding woman. And therefore, fair sister, I beseech you that, to keep yourself in the love and good favour of your husband, you be unto him gentle, and amiable, and debonnair.' 

'Have a care that in winter he have a good fire and smokeless and let him rest well . . . And in summer take heed that there be no fleas in your chamber, nor in your bed'

The author then wrote a number of ways of dealing with fleas, and other such insects which might displease a husband. He finished off his guide with a few recipes

'Cinnamon Brewet 
Break up your poultry or other meat and stew it in water, putting wine therewith, and [then] fry it; then take raw dried almonds in their shells unpeeled and great plenty of cinnamon and bray them very well and moisten them with your broth or with beef broth and boil them with your meat; then bray ginger, cloves and grain [of Paradise] etc., and let it be thick and red....'

'Soringue of Eels
Skin and then cut up your eels; then have onions cooked in slices and parsley leaves and set it all to fry in oil; then bray ginger, cinnamon, clove, grain [of Paradise] and saffron, and moisten with veruice and take them out of the mortar. Then have toasted bread brayed and moistened with pur6e and run it through the strainer, then put in the purse and set all to boil together and flavour with wine, verjuice and vinegar; and it must be clear....'

'Stuffed Pigling 
Let the pig be killed by cutting his throat and scalded in boiling water and then skinned; then take the lean meat and throw away the feet and entrails of the pig and set him to boil in water; and take twenty eggs and boil them hard and chestnuts cooked in water and peeled. Then take the yolks of the eggs, the chestnuts, some fine old cheese and the meat of a cooked leg of pork and chop them up, then bray them with plenty of saffron and ginger powder mixed with the meat; and if your meat becometh too hard, soften it with yolks of eggs. And open not your pig by the belly but across the shoulders and with the smallest opening you may; then put him on the spit and afterwards put your stuffing into him and sew him up with a big needle; and let him be eaten either with yellow pepper sauce or with cameline in summer....'

Source Used:
The source that has been quoted in this post is from 
"The Goodman of Paris" translated by Eileen Power in The Goodman of Paris, (London: Routledge, 1928), and reprinted in Richard M. Golden and Thomas Kuehn, eds., Western Societies: Primary Sources in Social History, Vol I, (New York: St Martins, 1993)
It can be found on-line at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Goose Who Led a Crusade . . . well, sort of!

The effect that the preaching of the First Crusade had on people cannot be overly emphasised. Pope Urban II's speech had been electrifying, and news of this incredible new venture spread far and wide. The enthusiasm created for this new idea of a crusade was phenomenal. People had been whipped up into a mad frenzy of mass hysteria. A small glimpse of this can be seen when reading accounts of events at this time, some of which even describe a divinely blessed goose who almost led a crusading venture.

We hear of this goose in Albert of Aachen's (or Albert of Aix's) chronicle which also described the events of the Peoples Crusade, led by Peter the Hermit.
'There was also another abominable wickedness in this gathering of people on foot, who were stupid and insanely irresponsible, which, it cannot be doubted, is hateful to God and unbelievable to all the faithful. They claimed that a certain goose was inspired by the holy ghost, and a she-goat filled with no less than the same, and they had made these their leaders for this holy journey to Jerusalem; they even worshipped them excessively, and as the beasts directed their courses for them in their animal way many of the troops believed they were confirming it to be true according to the entire purpose of the spirit.' [1]

Guibert of Nogent recorded a similar event in his chronicle 'The Deeds of God Through the Franks'
'What I am about to say is ridiculous, but has been testified to by authors who are not ridiculous. A poor woman set out on the journey, when a goose, filled with I do not know what instructions, clearly exceeding the laws of her own dull nature, followed her. Lo, the rumour flying on Pegasean wings, filled the castles and cities with the news that even geese had been sent by God to liberate Jerusalem. Not only did they deny that this wretched woman was leading the goose, but said that the goose led her. At Cambrai they assert that, with people standing on all sides, the woman walked through the middle of the church to the alter, and the goose followed behind, in her footsteps, with no one urging it on. Soon after, we have learned, the goose died in Lorraine; she would certainly have gone more directly to Jerusalem if, the day before she set out, she had made herself a holiday meal for her mistress. We have attached this incident to the true history so that men may know that they have been warned against permitting Christian seriousness to be trivialized by vulgar fables.'[2]

There have been other similar accounts of this kind (see the chronicle by Fulcher of Chartres [3]). Whether these accounts are based on real events or not, that they were even recorded gives us an insight into the mindset of these people who were caught up in the whirlwind of the First Crusade. That people believed a goose had been blessed by the Holy Spirit and would lead them to Jerusalem, shows the mass hysteria conjured up by the preaching of the First Crusade.

Sources used
[1] Albert of Aachen, available in a slightly different translation online from the Medieval Sourcebook (see Emico, section 7: Version of Ablert of Aix)

[2] Guibert of Nogent, The Deeds of God Through the Franks, trans. by Robert Levine (Boydell and Brewer: 1997), p.156.
Available online at

[3] The chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres. Version available online at Google Books: Edward Peters (ed.), The First Crusade: The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials, second edition (University of Pennsylvania Press: 1998), p.130.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Chepstow Castle

I went to visit Chepstow Castle over Easter, it really is a gorgeous place. It is in South Wales, Monmouthshire, which is near to the English border. The castle has Norman origins, and it’s believed it was constructed not long after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The castle is mentioned in Domesday, which says it was built by William fitz Osbern. As Domesday was compiled in 1086, we know it was built some time between these dates. The Norman castle was much smaller than what remains today. Only the great tower survives from the castle’s Norman phase.

The outside of the great tower

The interior. Note the blend of architectural styles in here, this reflects the many different phases of the castle throughout its long history.

Chepstow Castle passed to the great medieval knight William Marshal (I’ll be doing a post about him soon!), through his marriage to Isabel of Clare in 1189. The pair of doors shown here (which were originally at the main gate) have recently been dated to the period of William Marshal. Through dendrochronology, it has been shown that these doors date form no later than the 1190s. This makes these beautiful and well crafted doors, possibly the oldest surviving castle doors in Europe.

William Marshal constructed a revolutionary new gatehouse, the lower and middle bailey defences, along with other fortifications. After he died in 1219 Chepstow Castle passed to each of his five sons. Over this time much more work was done on the castle. Such as the addition of the upper barbican, and the remodelling of the great tower into a gorgeous hall and chamber. The castle is situated on the top of a cliff which is next to the river Wye. The Marshal brothers also greatly added to and extended the defences of this western side, making excellent use of its natural defensive position.

Roger Bigod, the fifth earl of Norfolk, gained the castle in 1270. He added a number of accommodation rooms and chambers, extended the upper level of the great tower, and also built Marten’s Tower (shown here).

By this time the castle had been significantly transformed from its early Norman phase, and continued to be passed to different lords throughout the years. If anyone gets a chance to go, this castle is well worth a visit! Here are a few more pictures of the gorgeous Chepstow Castle - I took far too many to post them all! :D

The main entrance

The great tower

An arch in Roger Bigod's great hall

You can see the lower bailey through these arches

One of the towers added by William Marshal

Remains of the 11C wall painting inside the great tower

The gallery. A passage that runs alongside the great tower, connecting the upper and middle baileys (built late 13C)

View from the gallery

The upper bailey

South-west tower

Walkway which looks down on the upper barbican

View from the walkway