Elihu Yale should be one of our better-known historical celebrities, yet he’s now largely forgotten. And perhaps there’s justice in that. Born in Boston, in 1649, to a Welsh family of merchant adventurers, but raised in London, Yale was perhaps the first true nabob, eventually becoming the Honourable English East India Company’s Governor at Fort St. George, Madras.
And there he made a fortune, buying and selling diamonds and also managing the lucrative trade in Indian slaves. This aspect of Britain’s involvement in slavery may be less familiar than the African trade, but Elihu Yale exploited it to the full, returning to England in 1699, a multi-millionaire by today’s standards.
That wealth allowed him to make significant donations to the Church and to the Collegiate College of Connecticut – later to become Yale College, now Yale University.
Author's own 1933 Elihu Yale Toby Jug - More Famous Then Than Now
His biography has been written many times, yet Yale’s biographers have consistently paid scant regard to his wife, Catherine, who was married to him for 41 years. If Catherine gets a mention at all, it’s because of Yale’s last will and testament in which he most notably wrote: To my wicked wife… and then left a very large blank, not even giving the poor woman her name. Yet Catherine’s story turns out to be at least as intriguing as Elihu’s own tale.
So, this is what we know about Catherine from the available archive evidence.
She was born Catherine Elford in 1651, the daughter of Walter and Anne Elford. Her father was a merchant who had traded in Smyrna and later in Alicante. Their whole world revolved around that spider’s web of international commerce – not just the East India Company, but also the Levant, Hudson’s Bay, Muscovy and Royal African Companies, plus all those others that would provide Britain with the roots from which to build her empire. Yet Catherine certainly grew up in London, where Walter Elford later acquired a famous coffee-house.
In 1669, aged 18, Catherine married Joseph Hynmers, ten years her senior. He had already been to India twice, and was now scheduled to return there for the East India Company. Catherine and Joseph sailed together for the Company’s outpost at Fort St. George, Madras – then a tiny village on the Coromandel Coast.
Parish Record of Catherine's Marriage to Joseph Hynmers, 1669
Joseph’s position was important, Second to the Governor, and they enjoyed a comfortable house with several Indian servants. Catherine gave birth to their first child, Joseph Junior, in 1670; then to Richard in 1672; Elford in 1676; and Benjamin in 1678.
The journey to and from Madras was a hazardous one, at least six months at sea and often much longer. Once there, the residents were at risk from the wars raging between the Muslim Mughal Emperor and the armies of the Hindu Marathas. But mortality rates at Fort St. George were high from sickness too, forcing Catherine to send her boys home when she felt them old enough – usually by the time they were ten.
Then, in 1680, after a prolonged fever, Joseph Hynmers died and left her a considerable fortune. He bequeathed sums of money to the oldest three boys but not the youngest – since he had written his will before Benjamin was born. But Joseph was buried in a fine mausoleum, beneath a tall pyramid that still stands in modern Chennai.
Within six months of Joseph’s death, however, Catherine had married again, this time to Elihu Yale. Yale had gone out to Madras as a clerk for the Company in 1672 and in 1680 he still held a relatively junior position. But over the next few years he invested the wealth gained from his marriage to become a very prominent trader in his own right and, eventually, Governor of Fort St. George – by this time the centre of an astonishingly expanded Madras.
Now married to Yale, and her eldest boys sent back to England, Catherine began a second family – David Yale born in 1684; Katherine in 1685; Anne in 1687; and Ursula, probably in 1689. Tragically, little David died at the age of three and is buried in the same mausoleum with Joseph Hynmers, at Chennai.
Mausoleum for Joseph Hynmers and David Yale at Fort St. George, Chennai
In 1689, Catherine returned to England with her girls and one Hindu servant. Her boys were already with her mother. Things were not going well for Catherine at Fort St. George and we know that, by then, Elihu was sharing a second home with a Portuguese woman called Jeronima de Paiva, with whom he had another son, Carlos Almanza. It’s likely he was also having a further relationship with a woman named Katherine Nicks.
We know little of Catherine’s life back in London, but it would have been a city she hardly recognised – rebuilt after the Great Fire and occupied by William the Third’s Dutch troops in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution. She settled in the parish of St. Peter-le-Poor, and soon her eldest son, Joseph Junior had also joined the Company and sailed for Madras. Meanwhile, around 1697, Catherine’s second son Richard died, probably abroad.
By now, Elihu himself had come under suspicion from the Company’s Directors, accused of financial irregularities and even the murder of three witnesses against him. He was replaced as Governor while the investigations took place and though the charges had all been dropped by 1696, his days at Fort St. George were numbered. He sailed back to England, as we’ve already seen, in 1699, along with John Nicks, Katherine Nicks’s husband, plus her youngest children – those that, according to rumour, had actually been sired by Elihu. Personally I think this is unlikely but we know that, when John Nicks returned to Madras, the children remained, in boarding school and pretty much at Elihu’s expense.
From the time of his arrival in London, Elihu kept up a steady flow of correspondence with Katherine Nicks in Madras (over fifty letters during the following eight years) and from these we know that he bought a house in Austin Friars to accommodate his family – so, back with Catherine, though it seems this did not last long. He was soon dividing his time between a new property in London (Queen Square) and Plas Grono in Wrexham.
Sample of the letters from Yale to Katherine Nicks, Courtesy of Yale University Archives.
Catherine’s remaining sons began a law suit against him, claiming they should have been entitled to a larger share of their father’s inheritance, and the youngest son, Benjamin, testifying that he had never received any of the inheritance due to him through his mother’s marriage settlement with Elihu. The cases would rumble on for many years.
The biographies refer to tragedy striking again in 1704 when news arrived that Joseph Junior had died in Madras. But it’s likely that Catherine would actually have received news of Joseph’s death in 1706. The biographies are usually equally careless about Yale’s money-lending practices and, most notably, in the case of Josiah Edisbury, Yale’s neighbour in Wrexham, and the man who originally built the fine mansion known as Erddig Hall. Edisbury needed a loan to complete furnishing of the house but Yale called in the loan at such an extortionate rate of interest that Edisbury was bankrupted and ruined.
In 1706, Catherine and Elihu’s daughter Katherine married Sir Dudley North and, in 1707, the first of Catherine’s grandchildren was born. In that same year, yet another of Catherine’s sons – Elford – also died, again, probably abroad as a merchant adventurer. Catherine herself was now just 56 and four of her sons – David, Richard, Joseph and Elford – were already dead.
On 6th July 1708, their second daughter, Anne Yale, married Lord James Cavendish, younger brother of the 2nd Duke of Devonshire. Lord James leased his property, Latimer House in Buckinghamshire, to Catherine, where she lived for the rest of her life, along with her only surviving son, Benjamin, and her youngest daughter, Ursula.
In 1711, the courts finally decided that Benjamin was entitled to £8765 as the portion from the estate of Joseph Hynmers, his father, owed to him by Elihu Yale. The current equivalent value of that settlement is about £1 million.
In the following year, news arrived that the illegitimate son of Elihu Yale and Jeronima de Paiva, Carlos Almanza, had died in Cape Town. Jeronima died soon after and, by that time, the other alleged mistress, Katherine Nicks, was also dead in Madras.
Elihu himself died in 1721, having earlier made many philanthropic donations – one of which went to the college in New Haven, Connecticut. He was not the biggest benefactor, however, and that honour fell to a gentleman called Charles Dummer. But the governing body of the establishment felt that “Yale College” had a better ring to it than the alternative.
Elihu was buried at St. Giles in Wrexham, where his impressive tomb still stands. It’s a famous landmark inscribed with an equally famous poem. The poem was probably penned by Yale himself, and this is how it reads now:
Born in America, in Europe bred In Africa travell’d and in Asia wed Where long he liv’d and thriv’d; In London dead Much good, some ill, he did; so hope all’s even And that his soul thro’ mercy’s gone to Heaven You that survive and read this tale, take care For this most certain exit to prepare Where blest in peace, the actions of the just Smell sweet and blossom in the silent dust.
Elihu Yale's tomb in Wrexham
He left behind too, of course, that last will and testament: To my wicked wife… Why? Had she supported her sons’ Chancery Court claim against him? Or is there a clue in one of those letters to Katherine Nicks? The only reference, it seems by the context, to his wife: “I have got my old affliction by me, a hair-brain’d crazed ill-natur’d toad that loves nothing so well as her bottle. God rid me of her, for she makes me very uneasy.” Is this Catherine? It seems likely. And, addicted to her bottle? If so, more probable that she might have suffered from that curse afflicting women of her class far more than alcohol, the curse of laudanum.
The will, however, was never signed and the probate battle therefore raged for some while.
Catherine’s youngest daughter, Ursula, also died in 1721, at Latimer, where Catherine remained with her son Benjamin until her own death on 8th February 1728. Catherine and Ursula were both buried at the Latimer House chapel.
Despite the number of grandchildren to Catherine and Elihu Yale, their line now seems to have vanished, with no direct descendants still surviving. So what is their legacy?
Yale University is synonymous with liberal education, regardless of any flaws there may have been in the character of the man whose name it bears. And it is therefore nonsense that the name should be changed, as some have suggested, because of Elihu Yale’s involvement in the Indian slave trade. Our inconvenient truths need to be explained, rather than airbrushed away, and Elihu, I think, still deserves his place in history.
Like Robert Clive, Elihu Yale is also a controversial figure in helping, through the East India Company, to lay the foundations for the British Raj. Historians and social commentators, both in India and Britain, are still at odds about the various pros and cons of British colonisation in the Sub-Continent. Yet, warts and all, this was a hugely significant period in the history of both nations and, as such, Yale deserves his place there too.
[all above images in the public domain unless otherwise stated]
David Ebsworth is the pen name of Liverpool-born author Dave McCall. Currently living in Wrexham, North Wales, with his wife Ann. He was asked in 2018 to consider writing a novel about Elihu Yale but initially declined, due to Yale’s involvement with the Indian slave trade – though he later decided the story could perhaps be told through the eyes of Yale’s much maligned and largely forgotten wife, Catherine. The result is The Doubtful Diaries of Wicked Mistress Yale – the first part of David Ebsworth’s Yale Trilogy. More details of the novel and its buying links can be found on the author’s website: http://www.davidebsworth.com/doubtful-diaries-wicked-mistress-yale. This is Dave’s seventh novel, his previous titles including the Jack Telford series, set during the Spanish Civil War, as well as historical fiction set variously in 6th Century Britain, the Anglo-Zulu War, the Waterloo Campaign of 1815, and the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.
Contributors to English Historical Fiction Authors bring us posts that delve into various aspects of British history. This week, Chris Thorndycroft takes a look at King Arthur, and Judith Taylor introduces us to the founder of the National Rose Show. Read these fascinating stories, and never miss a post on EFHA.
It is widely believed that the King Arthur of legend has some kernel of truth in a real, albeit shadowy, 5th century warrior called simply Arthur. No King of Camelot. No Merlin. No Round Table. Just Arthur. The History of the Britons credited to the 9th century monk Nennius calls this Arthur a ‘Dux Bellorum’ (leader of battles) who rallied a British resistance against the invading Anglo Saxons after Rome severed its ties with Britain in the 5th century. Aside from a couple of mentions in the Welsh Annals that claim Arthur won a great victory at the Battle of Badon and fell at the ‘strife of Camlann’ along with somebody called Medraut, everything else we know about him comes from poetry, folklore and fiction.
But there are several figures in the late to post-Roman period whose exploits have some parallels with what little we know of him and his more fanciful exploits in later legend. Much theorising has been done in trying to establish various figures as the ‘real King Arthur’. Let’s take a look at three popular candidates.
Funerary memorial from late 2nd/early 3rd century dedicated to 'Lucius Atorius Castus'. Found in Podstrana (Croatia) in 1850 and published in Francesco Carrara “De’ Scavi di Salona nel 1850: Con cinque tavole” (1852)
Lucius Artorius Castus
This Roman military commander probably lived between 175 and 250 A.D. which is a good two centuries before the end of Roman rule in Britain. All we know of him comes from a couple of stone inscriptions found in Croatia which give an outline of his military career, listing the legions he served in. One of these legions - the VI Victrix - (of which Artorius was a prefect) was stationed in Britain from around 122 A.D. It seems that Artorius was later promoted to Dux Legionum (General of the Legions) and commanded ‘Brittannician’ units (possibly referring to auxiliary units that had served in Britain) against either the Amoricans or Armenians.
His name alone makes him an interesting candidate. 'Arthur' comes to us via the Latin family name ‘Artorius’ which was borrowed into Welsh and there seem to have been no Artoriuses/Arthurs in Britain before the time of Lucius Artorius Castus. It was the historian Kemp Malone who first put forward the idea of Artorius as the original King Arthur. C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor expanded on this theory, linking him to 5,500 Sarmatian auxiliary troops sent to Britain in 175 A.D. after their defeat by Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Parallels have been drawn between Sarmatian customs and elements of Arthurian legend such as carrying a dragon standard and worshiping a sword thrust into the ground reminiscent of the sword in the stone. However, most of these Sarmatian customs cannot be reliably traced back to Roman times and their counterparts in Arthurian legend are relatively late additions. Also, there is no evidence that Lucius Artorius Castus had anything to do with the Sarmatian auxiliaries other than that they were both in Britain at the same time.
The stone fragments in Croatia are in poor shape and there has been much debate as to their interpretation, specifically of Artorius’s rank. Malcor suggests that ‘prefect of the legion’ meant that he was a fort commander who became an unofficial ‘commander of the region’ leading Sarmatian cavalry units. Others interpret the rank as ‘camp prefect’; a different rank and mainly an administrative role given to soldiers at the end of their career meaning he wouldn’t have seen much action while in Britain. That does however, make his subsequent promotion to Dux Legionum a little unusual. Incidentally, while this title may echo the ‘Dux Bellorum’ bestowed on Arthur by Nennius, the former was an official Roman title while the latter seems to have been an informal way of saying ‘military leader’ in the Latin tongue.
The 2004 movie King Arthur starring Clive Owen and Keira Knightley is based on the Sarmatian theory (Linda A. Malcor was a consultant on the film). Set in 467 AD, Artorius is a descendant of the original Lucius Artorius Castus and his Sarmatian ‘knights’ include the unlikely names of Lancelot, Galahad and Gawain.
The Arthurian prototype? 'Emrys Wledig' (Ambrosius the Ruler) from a 15th century Welsh language version of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain.
The most damning argument against the existence of a real Arthur is that the 6th century monk Gildas – the closest thing we have to a contemporary commentator – makes no mention of him. In his religious rant On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, Gildas makes it clear that it was Ambrosius Aurelianus who was the champion of the Britons and then goes on to mention the siege of Badon Hill as the last great defeat over the Saxons (a battle later credited to Arthur in the History of the Britons).
An explanation for Arthur’s absence is suggested in the 12th century Life of Gildas by the cleric Caradoc of Llancarfan. Arthur, Caradoc explains, slew Gildas’s older brother Hueil and one might assume that Gildas would be less than enthusiastic to sing his praises and may even strike his name from the record entirely.
Gildas presents Ambrosius Aurelianus as a man of noble Roman stock whose parents were killed in the wars with the Saxons. The History of the Britons later expands on this making him ‘king among the kings of Britain’. It also includes a strange tale about a boy called ‘Ambrose’ who is something of a child prophet. The tyrant Vortigern struggles to build a tower and is told by his councilors to sacrifice a fatherless boy and sprinkle the earth with his blood. When young Ambrose appears to fit the bill, the lad tells Vortigern that he is unable to build his tower because within the hill are two dragons; a red one signifying the Britons and a white one the Saxons. Upon learning that Ambrose is the son of a Roman consul, Vortigern gives him all the western provinces of Britain. It is unclear if Ambrose and the ‘king of kings’ Ambrosius Aurelianus are one and the same in the History of the Britons although it does seem likely.
The 12th century cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth clearly thought they were two different characters as he reproduces the two dragons story in his fantastical History of the Kings of Britain. He conflates the boy with the legendary Myrddin the Wild (a bard who was driven mad with grief and retreated into the Caledonian Forest to become a prophet) and calls him ‘Ambrosius Merlinus’ (Merlin). This is an entirely separate character to the military commander ‘Aurelius Ambrosius’ whom Monmouth makes the high king of Britain, brother of Uther Pendragon and King Arthur’s uncle.
Whoever Ambrosius Aurelianus was, he seems to have made enough of an impact on British history and folklore that he became entwined with the Arthurian legend or was perhaps even something of a template for the fictional Arthur.
Kingdom of the Visigoths (in orange, light and dark) circa 500 AD. The Visigothic king Euric consolidated the nation resulting in the Roman Emperor Anthemius's request to Riothamus and his 12,000 warriors to lend their aid.
One of the more fanciful bits of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain (and that’s saying something) is when Arthur leaves Britain to conquer most of northern Europe before taking on the might of the Roman Empire. He is forced to return to Britain to deal with Mordred, his nephew, who has seduced Guinevere and seized his throne in his absence.
There is a historical figure who may have done something vaguely similar that inspired Monmouth. Most of what we know about the military commander Riothamus comes from The Origin and Deeds of the Goths by the 6th century historian Jordanes. In it, Riothamus, king of the Britons, comes to the aid of the Roman Emperor by bringing 12,000 troops to fight the Visigoths around 470 A.D.
It is unclear if Riothamus was king of the Britons in Britain or of the various British kingdoms in Armorica which was well on the way to being settled at that time (hence its modern-day name of Brittany). The name Riothamus seems to be a Latinisation of the British name Rigotamos meaning ‘great king’. This could mean that it was a title held by somebody (Arthur? Ambrosius Aurelianus?) but a letter from the Gaulish bishop Sidonius Apollinaris asking him to intervene in a dispute is addressed to ‘his friend Riothamus’. Surely a friend would use a personal name rather than a title?
The historian Geoffrey Ashe is the strongest proponent of the Riothamus theory. He even went so far as to say that Riothamus might have been betrayed by Arvandus, the Praetorian prefect of Gaul, mirroring Arthur’s betrayal by Mordred in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work. Ashe’s further claim that Riothamus died near the French town of Avallon (thus inspiring the tale of Arthur’s death on the island of Avalon) is unsupported by any evidence.
While it is fun to look for parallels between known historical figures and King Arthur, none of the candidates are without problems. Lucius Artorius Castus may have been in the right place but he was a couple of centuries early and doesn’t seem to have been a great military leader, at least during his time in Britain. Had his middle name been different, he would not even be a candidate at all. The parallels drawn with Riothamus are largely parallels with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work of fiction rather than the early records of Arthur and although Ambrosius Aurelianus led a very similar career to Arthur, why isn’t he called Arthur?
In all eventuality, Arthur was just Arthur; the 5th century war leader described in the History of the Britons who held the Saxons at bay for a time and about whom we know frustratingly little. But whoever he was, his deeds had an impact that is still felt today in the legends told of him.
4. Ashe, Geoffrey (1985). The Discovery of King Arthur. London: Guild Publishing
Chris Thorndycroft is the author of the Hengest and Horsa trilogy. His follow-up, Sign of the White Foal, is the first part in a trilogy that re-tells the legend of King Arthur in an historical setting. Set in 5th century North Wales, it combines Celtic myth with real history and is based on the earliest elements of the Arthurian legend.
A generation after Hengest and Horsa carved out a kingdom in the east, a hero of the Britons rises in the west... North Wales, 480 A.D. The sons of Cunedag have ruled Venedotia for fifty years but the chief of them – the Pendraig – is now dying. His sons Cadwallon and Owain must fight to retain their birthright from their envious cousins. As civil war consumes Venedotia, Arthur – a young warrior and bastard son of the Pendraig – is sent on a perilous quest that will determine the fate of the kingdom. The Morgens; nine priestesses of the Mother Goddess have found the cauldron of rebirth – a symbol of otherworldly power – and have allied themselves with the enemy. Arthur and six companions are dispatched to the mysterious island of Ynys Mon to steal the cauldron and break the power of the Morgens. Along the way they run into the formidable Guenhuifar whose family have been stewards of Ynys Mon for generations. They need her help. The trouble is, Guenhuifar despises Arthur’s family and all they stand for… Based on the earliest Arthurian legends, Sign of the White Foal is a rip-roaring adventure of Celtic myth and real history set in the ruins of post-Roman Britain.
It is not given to many respectable churchmen to see themselves described as ”very large, double, resplendent in carmine -pink, with silvery shading and salmon yellow highlights” in their life time but the Very Reverend Dean Hole was the apotheosis of an active Victorian rosarian and had been immortalized in a new hybrid tea rose by Alexander Dickson, a leading Northern Irish rose grower of the period. There are still Dicksons growing roses today. The dean reveled in the fun.
Roses inspire a completely irrational passion in the least likely of bosoms, akin only to that caused by orchids. Trying to understand it involves a tiny bit of garden history. Modern gardens evolved from tiny patches of lawn with a few flowers around them safely enclosed behind the high walls of a Mediaeval castle keep to faux tapestry parterres, great natural seeming parks, huge shrubberies and serried masses of annual flowers by the Victorian era.
Those initial gardeners used whatever plants were at hand. The native British flora was beginning to be augmented by new plants from the continent. England had its own red and white native roses which only bloomed once a year. The Normans brought wallflowers and carnations with them as weeds attached to the stone for building castles. The Crusaders later brought anemones from their travels.
What ignited the singular obsessions for a particular plant was the arrival of huge numbers of newly discovered plants from North and South America, China, Japan, South Africa, India, India, Indonesia and the Antipodes during the nineteenth century. They were gorgeous, exotic and came in many different colours and varieties. For the first time there was extraordinary choice within the same sort of flower.
The roses from China which were not only beautiful but bloomed at least twice a year gave rise to a new frenzy. I have referred elsewhere to the ”What If” brigade, imaginative plant growers who saw wonderful new flowers emerging from combining two different kinds. Once the religious prohibition on deliberate cross breeding dwindled away in the early 1830s, the race was on. The first repeating Chinese rose was a delicate pink, small and modest but what if it could have larger and more striking blossoms. It is perhaps a bit surprising that clergymen were quite often in the forefront of this movement, clergymen and station masters.
Samuel Reynolds Hole, 1819 – 1904, was born on December 5, 1819 in Caunton, Nottinghamshire. He outlived Queen Victoria by three years. While still a very young man he made a note in his diary that “his eye had rested on a rose”. That seemed to be a simple casual comment but the next day he returned to that garden with paper and pencil as well as a small book about roses by William Rivers. The Duke of Devonshire underwent a similar epiphany with an oncidium orchid. It captured his soul. Reynolds Hole’s index rose was Rosa gallica ‘d’Aguesseau’.
Rosa gallica ‘d’Aguesseau’
After taking holy orders Hole became the vicar of Caunton in 1850. In 1887 he was elevated to dean of Rochester Cathedral. Everyone who met him remembered his warmth, largeness of spirit and genuine concern for all who suffered. He took his pastoral work very seriously and nothing stood in its way. The plight of the children who slaved away in monstrous factories for pennies a week really distressed him and he, together with Mrs Gaskell, worked very hard to improve their lot.
This warmth and caring were also clearly seen within his family. His wife and children doted on him. Lord David Cecil once said “If you want to know about a man’s talents, you should see him in society. If you want to know about his temper you should see him at home”.
All this is by way of saying he had his priorities correct but now back to the roses. At that period rose fanciers were like islands in an archipelago until Dean Hole came up with the idea of a national society where they could get together and compare notes. The example of the London Horticultural Society, later to become the Royal Horticultural Society in 1861 by edict of Prince Albert, lay before him. There was a National Carnation and Picotee Society too. The National Rose Show began in 1876.
Deans wore 'Shovel' hats
The show held meets during the year. This was very serious business. There were cups and awards to be won. Placement on the show benches was very important. The founders set very high standards and rigid rules about how it would proceed. It was not unknown for a staid clergyman to have a tantrum out of frustration with these rules in the most indecorous way.
Consider the Reverend Joseph Pemberton, normally a very mild mannered man who lived with his sister Florence in Havering-atte-Bower, Essex. Joseph had joined the new society in 1877 and his sister a year later in 1878. They worked as a team. The rose malaise had seized him while he was still a schoolboy. He and Florence spent all their spare time in their three acre garden reaching for perfection in their roses.
He had won other competitions so was feeling very confident when he entered the 1877 National Rose Show. There was some sort of mishap and his entry arrived the day after the closing date for submissions. Previously he had found that other club officials were very flexible about such matters but the NRS said no.
Pemberton went to expostulate in person and was shown other equally gorgeous entries which had been rejected. That made no impression on him. He simply took his roses from space to space around the hall until the Reverend D’Ombrain, club secretary, threw up his hands and allowed him to remain.
The love of roses led to unusual camaraderie across the social classes. Earls and dukes would chat easily with middle or even working class men over how to grow a better rose. The head gardener of a great estate was an absolute ruler in his domain, telling his employer quite candidly when he was wrong and the employer meekly accepting the rebuke. This led Dean Hole into close acquaintance with many aristocrats who would not otherwise have paid any attention to a rural vicar or even the dean of a cathedral.
The Duke of Rutland had told him to visit his gardens at Belvoir Castle whenever he was in Leicestershire. When the dean got there the head gardener realized that this was no ordinary tourist but someone who understood roses. He asked to whom he had the pleasure of speaking. As the dean told him his name the gardener turned round to his underlings and shouted “Turn on the fountains”! It was a sure sign of his esteem.
Dame Sybil Thorndike, the very well known English actress, grew up in Rochester and visited the dean as a girl. She is the one who remembered this anecdote.
The dean had been absorbing knowledge about roses from many sources over the years such as other men’s books, his own observations and conversations with experts. In 1869 he published “A Book About Roses”. This work cemented his reputation. When he was just beginning he read books by William Rivers and William Paul. They were true pioneers. The hybridization movement had only got under way in the mid-1830s though some earlier gardeners were crossing flowers subrosa for fear of offending the church. Roses are genetically very flexible. Even one which has several ancestors and might be considered to be sterile can still be used to breed successfully. William Paul’s book appeared in 1848 and went through many editions.
Dean Hole wrote ten other books, including some “memories” in 1892. He remained president of the rose show which later became the National Rose Society and then the Royal National Rose Society for many years. He corresponded with friends and colleagues at length. The move from the vicarage at Caunton to the Deanery at Rochester was a very emotional event. Not least was having to leave his garden behind.
The dean lectured about roses all over the British Isles and made one tour of the United States. Wherever he was he sat down and wrote to his beloved wife Caroline all the time.
Whatever flaws the dean might have had were completely neutralized beneath the fullness of his life and integrity of his spirit. There went a man.
Harkness, Jack 1985 “Makers of Heavenly Roses” London Souvenir Press
Massingham, Betty 1974 “Turn on the Fountains: the life of Dean Hole” London Gollancz
Quest-Ritson, Charles 2003 “Climbing Roses of the World” Portland, Oregon London Timber Press
Paul, William 1848 “The Rose Garden” London Shirwood, Gilbert and Piper
Judith M. Taylor MD is a graduate of Somerville College and the Oxford University Medical School and is a board certified neurologist. She practiced neurology in New York and since retiring has written six books on horticultural history as well as numerous articles and book reviews on the same subject.
Dr Taylor’s books include The Olive in California: history of an immigrant tree (2000), Tangible Memories: Californians and their gardens 1800 – 1950 (2003), The Global Migrations of Ornamental Plants: how the world got into your garden (Missouri Botanical Garden Press 2009), Visions of Loveliness: the work of forgotten flower breeders (Ohio University Press 2014) and “An Abundance of Flowers: more great flower breeders of the past” (Ohio University Press 2018). In 2019 she published “A Five Year Plan for Geraniums: growing flowers commercially in East Germany 1946 – 1989”. Dr Taylor’s web site is: www.horthistoria.com
The concept of a picnic has been existence for a very long time. (Of course, one could argue that eating outdoors was the very first way to eat, but let’s not go back quite that far.) Food historians suggest that the modern concept of the picnic evolved from traditional moveable outdoor feasts. The first English picnics were medieval hunting feasts staged before the chase (not after, I suppose, in case the hunt wasn’t particularly successful, but I digress).
The word picnic (which the OED says did not occur in print in English until 1748, in a letter by Lord Chesterfield) probably originated with the French pique nique found in a 1649 satirical French poem in which Frères Pique-nicques is known for visiting friends “armed with bottles and dishes.” (Kennedy, 2013) The word later was used to mean to ‘pick a place’, typically an isolated spot, where a group could enjoy a pleasant meal together, free from distractions and demands of daily life.
The English word ‘picnic’ became associated with card-playing, drinking and conversation. By 1802, British Francophiles formed a Pic-Nic society in London devoted to eating, drinking and performing amateur theatricals. Dinners for this society were provided by the members who drew lots to determine who would be bringing which dish—we wouldn’t want thirty-seven blancmanges to show up for the same picnic, would we?
The idea of a picnic also referred to a dinner where all those present contributed foods and was eaten indoors—rather like the modern pot luck meal. The meaning gradually changed to include the concept of eating out-of-doors and by 1860 (solidly in the Victorian era), the change in meaning—a meal eaten outdoors—was complete.
Picnics and the Privileged Class
In the 1800s, British authors began to describe picnics: the adventures of characters who staged their meals in pastoral locations, rather like theater sets. Romantic aesthetics were often important in crafting the ideal picnic setting. In “Emma,” Jane Austen’s character Mrs. Elton plans a “sort of Gipsy party.” She had in mind walking about the gardens, gathering strawberries, sitting under trees and the like, in addition to enjoying a meal out-of-doors. Her stated intention was to keep things as natural and simple as possible. (Kennedy, 2013)
However unpretentious picnics might appear, this activity was actually far from being simple. Hubbell (2006) tells us:
“Picnicking, which first evolved in early nineteenth century Britain, is an ideological act, freighted with values for ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, food and taste, aesthetics and ethics, community and solitude. To picnic is to consume not only particular food, but also a specific environment chosen according to an aesthetic standard, and a particular form of sharing food according to certain standards of behavior.
It means creating a moveable feast and overcoming difficulties and inconveniences, not only for preparation and transportation, but also for consumption and cleanup. Yet picnicking is the pleasurable pursuit of a leisured people, so the difficulty of moving the feast has some reward. The reward is primarily ideological: it enables the participant to share a form of eating that creates relationships between small groups of people, natural landmarks, and cultural ideals. These relationships form a consciousness of national identity. Picnicking, especially for early nineteenth-century picnickers, was thus a way of performing Britishness.”
So picnicking was far more than an impromptu meal outdoors. Even when each person attending brought food, it meant a great deal of work for everyone, especially the servants. Since picnicking was, during Jane Austen’s day, mostly the province of the privileged, servants were definitely involved.
Food and furnishing, dining ware and linens, not to mention the accouterments for any intended amusements—games, fishing, reading and the like—all had to be packed up and transported to the picnic site. Keep in mind, too, that the wagons used for transport might not actually be able to make it all the way to the chosen site and the final distance might require everything to be hand carried there. Afterwards, of course, it would all have to be packed up to be taken home, and possibly cleaned or laundered before being put away.
It was not until the Victorian Era with the rise of the middle class and train transportation that picnics became more widely enjoyed.
With out the benefit of modern refrigeration or convenient packaged food, what might have been eaten at a picnic? This suggested menu comes from Mrs. Beeton’s 1860 book, which is decidedly Victorian, but the foods are indicative of what might have been served in Austen’s era as well.
BILL OF FARE FOR A PICNIC FOR 40 PERSONS
A joint of cold roast beef, a joint of cold boiled beef, 2 ribs of lamb, 2 shoulders of lamb, 4 roast fowls, 2 roast ducks, 1 ham, 1 tongue, 2 veal-and-ham pies, 2 pigeon pies, 6 medium-sized lobsters, 1 piece of collared calf’s head, 18 lettuces, 6 baskets of salad, 6 cucumbers.
Stewed fruit well sweetened, and put into glass bottles well corked; 3 or 4 dozen plain pastry biscuits to eat with the stewed fruit, 2 dozen fruit turnovers, 4 dozen cheesecakes, 2 cold cabinet puddings in moulds, 2 blancmanges in moulds, a few jam puffs, 1 large cold plum-pudding (this must be good), a few baskets of fresh fruit, 3 dozen plain biscuits, a piece of cheese, 6 lbs. of butter (this, of course, includes the butter for tea), 4 quartern loaves of household broad, 3 dozen rolls, 6 loaves of tin bread (for tea), 2 plain plum cakes, 2 pound cakes, 2 sponge cakes, a tin of mixed biscuits, 1/2 lb, of tea. Coffee is not suitable for a picnic, being difficult to make.
Things not to be forgotten at a Picnic
A stick of horseradish, a bottle of mint-sauce well corked, a bottle of salad dressing, a bottle of vinegar, made mustard, pepper, salt, good oil, and pounded sugar. If it can be managed, take a little ice. It is scarcely necessary to say that plates, tumblers, wine-glasses, knives, forks, and spoons, must not be forgotten; as also teacups and saucers, 3 or 4 teapots, some lump sugar, and milk, if this last-named article cannot be obtained in the neighbourhood. Take 3 corkscrews.
3 dozen quart bottles of ale, packed in hampers; ginger-beer, soda-water, and lemonade, of each 2 dozen bottles; 6 bottles of sherry, 6 bottles of claret, champagne à discrétion, and any other light wine that may be preferred, and 2 bottles of brandy. Water can usually be obtained so it is useless to take it.
So, the next time you pack a few sandwiches and some cold cans of soda, reflect back on what the picnic used to be, and how Jane Austen would so be judging you now!
ReferencesBeeton, Isabella. Beeton's Book of Household Management. London: S. O. Beeton Publishing, 1861.
Cameron, Collette. “Pleasures and Proprieties of a Country Picnic. Collette Cameron. / May 31, 2015. Accessed June 3, 2019. https://collettecameron.com/pleasures-and-proprieties-of-a-country-picnic
Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Gaston, Diane. Regency Picnic or a Labor Day? The Risky Regencies. September 5, 2011. Accessed June 3, 2019. http://www.riskyregencies.com/2011/09/05/regency-picnic-or-a-labor-day/
Hubbell, Andrew. How Wordsworth invented picnicking and saved British Culture. Romanticism, Volume 12, Number 1, 2006, pp. 44-51 (Article) Published by Edinburgh University Press DOI: For additional information about this article Access provided at 11 Jun 2019 https://doi.org/10.1353/rom.2006.0003
Kennedy, Pagan. "Who Made That Picnic." New York Times, August 23, 2013. Accessed June 3, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/25/magazine/who-made-that-picnic.html
Oliver, Lynne. “The Food Timeline: Food-Picnics.” The Food Timeline. 2004. Accessed Jun 3, 2019, http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodpicnics.html
Sanford, Vic.Emma: Picnicking on Box Hill Jane Austen’s World. March 21, 2008. Accessed June 3, 2019. https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2008/03/21/emma-picnicking-on-box-hill/
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.
After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.
It was believed during my schooldays, that the first wave of so-called ‘Celtic’ settlers to Britain arrived in the Late Bronze Age, roughly between 1500 BC and 1000 BC. These early arrivals were thought to be the precursor for what became a long-established tradition of feudal and tribal Kingship, and which then spread across the country. Recent archeological findings, and the latest DNA analysis of Britain’s inhabitants have overturned these ‘invasion’ or ‘influx’ theories. It seems we aboriginal people of Britain have little connection to the Continental ‘Celts’, and that we have been here since the end of the last ice-age, tens of thousands of years ago!
In recent years chainmail armour was found to be a British invention, and even the iconic, curving and leaf-shaped swords attributed to the Celts, have since been proved to be a British creation. These were subsequently exported to Gaul and elsewhere around the world, along with so much more. Druidry is thought to have followed the same course, and we can only guess at what other concepts, theories and inventions from this period were British/Brythonic, and then mislabeled over following generations as Celtic.
The most obvious and most recent confirmation of this ‘aboriginal’ theory came from DNA analysis of ‘Cheddar Man’, and whose remains date back to the corresponding Mesolithic period, roughly 11,000 years ago. Mitochondrial DNA samples of this stone-age hunter have found to be a close match to a man, currently living in a village not far from the cave in the Cheddar Gorge, and where this ‘oldest-of-all complete skeletons’ was found. So, those ancient, aboriginal Brythons are still here!
These ‘heroic-age’, Brythonic Kingdoms in this ancient period, almost always came to form the ancestral birthright locations of later, post-Roman Brythonic Kings. Their histories and achievements, their land boundaries and family lineages would have been fiercely protected by their Bards and passed down through the generations. The Brythonic warrior class were known to place a great deal of importance on their paternal lineage and being able to recite one's ancestors for many generations’ past would have been a given.
My Welsh history included the writing of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who in his History of the Kings of Britain tapped into this ancient and oral history carried forward by the Druids and then later by the Bards of this country. He greatly extended this earlier ‘word-of-mouth’ knowledge, attempting to list the lineage of all the kings of Britain who had reigned after the somewhat mythical arrival of one Brutus Greenshield from Rome. This long, ruling-line of Proto-Welsh Brythons ‘officially’ remained up to AD 689, when the end of Gwynedd's (Venedotia) attempts to regain Lloygr; the territory lost to the Anglo-Saxons, signaled to many that the time of the Brythons had come to an end.
The following list is far from complete, as there were many blanks and omissions in the surviving lists. It should not then be taken as being historically accurate, but it does form a framework for the known progenitors to these king’s and their descendants. Geoffrey of Monmouth championed the untraceable Brutus Greenshield as progenitor to this line (a political proposal?), but older Welsh sources offer an alternative, and the very namesake of this country; Prydein ap Aedd Mawr.
Aedd Mawr is purported by those ancient Brythonic scholars, to be the first tribal hunter-chieftain to have arrived with the melting ice and to have successfully settled here, naming these new lands he’d discovered for his son and heir; Prydein. Who knows, it may be Aedd Mawr’s remains that were discovered in Gough’s Cave Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, back in 1903, or perhaps it was his son’s; Prydein. That just boggles the mind….
The listed lineage (with exceptions and omissions); ‘ap’ = son of. Beli ap Manogan ap Eneid ap Cerwyd ap Crydon ap Dyfnarth (285 BC) ap Cherin ap Porrex (II) ap Millus ap Elidyr ap Peredur ap Ingenius ap Archgallo ap Kinarius ap Guithelin ap Gurguit-Barbtruc ap Belenos-Hên/Belinus (387 BC) ap Dyfnwal ap Dunfallo ap Cloten ap Rudaucus ap Staterius ap Pinner ap Ferrex/Porrex ap Corodubic ap Kimarcus ap Iago ap Sisillius ap Gurgastius ap Rifallo ap Cuneglas (750 BC) ap Marganus ap Leir ap Bladud ap Rud-Hud-Hudibras ap (Brutus Geenshield) - or, Prydein ap Aedd Mawr.
They must have been an impressive line of warlords, as their offspring became the uncontested rulers of Cymbri and all Prydein. One of these Kings name’s stands out, and he was Beli Mawr. Marrying Dôn, (the mythical Math ap Mathonwy’s daughter) Beli becomes high king of Cymru and all Britain. They blessed Britain with six impressive children, and who went on to form a cornerstone of Welsh and British history. Beli and Dôn’s five remarkable sons; Lludd Llaw Ereint, Caswallawn Fawr, Rianaw, Nynniaw and Llefelys (heroes of Mabinogion fame) wrote their own glorious history in the annals of Britain, when they banded together for the first time in history to repel the invasion forces of one Julius Caesar.
Caesar’s Invasions in 55 & 54 BC.
The Tusculum portrait. The only known bust of Gaius Julius Caesar sculpted whilst still alive Attribution Link
The only surviving texts from of these invasions, were written by Caesar himself and are well known. In later Welsh manuscripts, the age-old oral tradition had been written down, and their contents made contentious and controversial reading to contemporary historians;
The allies’ first, major contact with Caesar following his landing was made on at a flat plain of land, and near a stronghold known as CaerCant, (Canterbury Fort, Kent suggested). During this battle, King Nynniaw was able to bring Caesar to single combat. In this swordfight, Nynniaw was struck a terrible blow to the head and by Caesar himself, part of which was stopped by his shield and his helmet, but Caesar’s legendary Gladius had stuck-fast to Nynniaw’s shield-rim. Nynniaw then threw down his own sword and claimed the Roman gladius from his split shield. This infamous son of Beli Mawr went on to slaughter many Romans with Caesar’s own blade. Rumours were rife at the time that ‘Caesar the Treacherous’ had poisoned his blade, as all who had been injured by it on the field of battle subsequently died, as did Nynniaw himself, many days later and in fevered agony. Caesar’s poisoned gladius was labelled ‘Crocea Mors’ by the Brythons, meaning yellow or ruddy-death and was eternally cursed.
It seems Caesar just about escaped with his life on that first incursion in 55 BC, and regardless of his later personal reports written in comfort and with the benefit of hindsight, he was given a thorough trouncing on the fields and beaches of Kent by the allied Brythons.
Sadly or happily depending on your viewpoint, Caesar’s second invasion the following year was far more successful. Caswallawn, in his infinite wisdom and his hubris had decided he didn’t need the Northern Triad to help him, even though they were declared eager and ready to make the long journey south again in defence of Britain. Caswallawn in his arrogance had declared that his forces alone could repel the Romans once and for all. This ‘Northern Exclusion’ was a massive insult to the northern tribes after all they had done in the first invasion, and it must have caused uproar and eternal resentment toward the southern states. (It may have even been the ancient inspiration for Britain’s current north-south, cultural divide). Despite Caswallawn’s fortifications of LludsDun, the Thames approaches and many parts of coastal Kent, and regardless of his courage and leadership, the shambles of this second defence, and the internecine and treacherous, shameful backstabbing which ensued remains a sad and pivotal point.
In this writer’s humble opinion, it marked the ending of the natural development of ancient Brythonic tradition, the culture and even the way-of-life in mainland Britain. Eventually, it changed the form and manner of Britons themselves. Regardless of those southern tribes’ shameful supplication to Rome, Brythonic Britain had almost a century to organise itself prior to the true Roman invasion of 43 AD, but they spent this time mostly adopting the culture, dress and attitudes of Rome, fighting each other and manoeuvring for more personal power, land and wealth. A cynical, technological age had come to replace a mythical, magical era, and nothing in Britain would ever be the same again, but hey; at least the roads got sorted out!
Again this was the prevailing history when I went to school, and which was entirely at odds with my handed-down Welsh history. Current thinking by leading archaeologists and historians on the period have also questioned the age-old and accepted wisdom of Rome’s gifts to ancient Britain. Did Rome bring us civilisation, medicine, education, roads, law and so-much more? In this writer’s humble opinion, they only brought their own versions of these things. We had all these concepts, teachings and advancements in Britain long before the arrival of Caesar. Our traditions and our laws were developed in our own way, and in our own style over countless generations. In-fact our glorious, unmatched culture stretched back tens of thousands of years uninterrupted, long-before the arrival on one Gaius Julius Caesar and centuries before Rome was even founded. The Romans only ever brought us the ‘cross of woe’ and almost four hundred years of brutal oppression, subsuming and destroying our own forms of art, education, construction and all the other things we were brilliant at before the Roman conquest. I think our Brythonic ancestors would have flourished had the Romans not invaded us so brutally and then stayed for so long. For example; an iron-age drover’s road in Britain was equal to anything the Romans built, and these superior roads would have criss-crossed ancient Britain since the onset of farming.
‘Excavation of ancient trackways is relatively rare but one event recently produced some interesting finds that have a significant bearing on the argument of the origin of Roman roads in Britain.
Archaeological evidence shows that well planned structures were being built from Neolithic times, through wet areas at least, such as the Sweet Track in the Somerset levels, itself laid over an earlier track. Increasingly sophisticated structures of timber and imported stone are found during the Bronze Age, as at Eton Rowing Lake (Berkshire), Fiskerton (Lincolnshire), Fengate/Flag Fen (Cambridgeshire), and several examples in the Thames estuary. Even gridded and metalled (gravelled) streets have been found in the later Iron Age tribal centres at Danebury and Silchester (Hampshire), from around 400 BC. The Romans certainly used these pre-historic trackways that followed escarpments, banks and ditches, which they straightened and engineered, combining short sections as necessary to provide direct routes as instruments of conquest. However, archaeological excavation has revealed that carefully surveyed and engineered, all-weather rural roads were not exclusive to Roman technology.’ Source; https://clasmerdin.blogspot.com/2015/06/the-ancient-highways-of-britain.html
From: The Institute for Creation Research: ‘Archaeologists uncovered the remains of a well-maintained and well-built British road beneath an ancient Roman road in 2011. This evidence contrasts what modern texts teach about primitive-pagan peoples inhabiting the land before Caesar conquered it, and even draws into question the long ages of human development suggested by evolution.
The ancient road, just south of Shrewsbury, was cobbled and even engineered with a camber for draining off water. The Daily Mail reported, "[It] even has a kerb fence system to hold the edge in place."1 Researchers used carbon-dating to determine its pre-Roman status.’
So, we are not the mongrel offspring of stone-age Caucasian or Gael invaders after all, nor are we Roman, Saxon or Norman equivalents. We are Brythonic/British aboriginal people. We always have been, and it’s high time we adopted the term Brythonic in our history teachings regarding ancient Britain and consigned the word Celt back over the channel to Gaul where it belongs, once and for all.
Eifion Wyn Williams was brought-up in Snowdonia by a family of teachers, historians and poets. His Taid (Grandfather) was an orator and a storyteller of note, and the whole family would listen to his historical tales of dark Druids, and magic, glimmering warriors like Lludd Llaw Ereint (silver hand) and Lleu Llaw Gyffes (agile handed), both of whom feature in Eifion’s recent writing. A common character in one of Taid’s tales was a huge and terrifying giant called Yspaddaden Pencawr, who incidentally lived locally and actually ate naughty children! Eifion recently turned his focus to his Taid’s stories, the result of which is a historical trilogy entitled Iron Blood & Sacrifice, He hopes that they will appeal to a broad readership, as they are novels of adventure, love and bloody conquest at the end of the day, and with a large slice of romanticism throughout from a hopelessly romantic Brython.
Last time, I talked about the hidden history to be found along the trails in Padarn Country Park. It seemed that every time there was a clearing through the trees which offered a view, I could see Dolbadarn Castle in the distance. During my stay in Llanberis, most of my walks started from the castle, which is in the grounds of the Royal Victoria Hotel where I was staying.
Dolbadarn (stress on the middle syllable) is an imposing ruin and is notable for being a Welsh Castle. Yes, of course, you might be thinking; it’s a castle in Wales so it’s a Welsh castle, obviously! But what I mean is that this is not one of the ‘Iron Ring’ castles built by Edward I when he subjugated the Welsh, nor is it one which he remodelled - unlike, say, Rhuddlan where he even altered the water course.
Dolbadarn was built by a native prince, Llewelyn Fawr, ruler of Gwynedd, probably in around the 1230s. The very fact that however far I walked - up to ten miles most days - I could almost always see the castle, just shows what a good site he chose, and how imposing it would have been.
Situated at the tip of Llyn Padarn (Lake Padarn), it was built to protect the route from north to south. No one was getting through without being seen. Like another Welsh castle, Dolwyddelan, it appears that the entrance to the castle was on the first floor, (or second floor, for US readers) as seen here, but originally access might have been provided by a moveable wooden ladder which, when taken away, would make it hard to get inside.
Despite the fact that today it nestles in one of the most popular tourist areas, only a short walk from the foot of Mount Snowdon and the National Welsh Slate Museum, on many of my frequent visits I had the place to myself. Although of course when it was garrisoned, there would have been a lot of soldiers there, still one can have a sense of isolation, even today.
So how must it have been for the man who spent twenty years imprisoned here?
Although the castle was built by Llewelyn Fawr (Fawr means ‘great’), it was his descendants who created the ‘human’ story of this place. Despite being married to King John’s natural daughter, Joan, Llewelyn Fawr had an uneasy relationship with the king of England. Not much changed with the next generations. The Welsh were fighting for their independence, but unfortunately they were fighting each other, too.
Llewelyn with Gruffudd & Dafydd
There were separate Welsh ‘kingdoms’ which Llewelyn Fawr had, during the course of his reign, managed to incorporate into his sphere of authority. The trouble was that Welsh laws of inheritance meant that lands were divided amongst brothers, which led to fraternal discord.
Llewelyn Fawr had a son Gruffudd, who was not the son of princess Joan, but the product of an earlier liaison. Joan gave birth to a son named Dafydd. To cut a long and complicated story relatively short, Dafydd was the one who succeeded his father and Gruffudd was imprisoned, along with his son, at another Welsh castle, Criccieth. The prisoners were then handed over to King John’s successor, Henry III and incarcerated in the Tower of London. Famously, Gruffudd attempted to escape, but fell and broke his neck.
Gruffudd falls from the tower
The son who was imprisoned with him was called Owain, known as Owain Goch (Goch means red, so presumably he was a redhead). War broke out between Dafydd of Gwynedd and Henry of England, who no longer had the prisoner Gruffudd as leverage. When his Uncle Dafydd died without issue, it was not Owain, however, who succeeded.
Gruffudd had three other sons besides Owain and it was Owain’s younger brother, another Llewelyn, who was able to take control. Brotherly love was conspicuous by its absence. Of the four brothers, Rhodri, who might have been the youngest, played less of a part in the fighting between England and Wales and, indeed, between the Welsh siblings.
Owain, and another Dafydd, the fourth brother, were more prominent. Dafydd was often a thorn in Llewelyn’s side, sometimes fighting alongside him, sometimes throwing in his lot with the English.
To begin with, though, Llewelyn and Owain were allies. When their Uncle Dafydd died childless, technically the king had a legal claim to Gwynedd. Henry tried to stir up support for Owain, but Owain, held at Chester at this point, managed to evade his captors, fleeing into Wales, and catching up with his brother where the two were able to put up a united front.
They had to come to terms with the English, though, and the Treaty of Woodstock in 1247 saw Llewelyn and Owain forced to agree to Henry’s conditions. As has been pointed out by Michael Senior, the very fact that the brothers ‘had to arrange to meet [there], and under the auspices of a neighbouring king, implies that they were not that close.’ Had they already begun to argue? They controlled only a small part of their grandfather’s old kingdom, but seem at first to have managed to work together, forming alliances with neighbouring princes.
However, when Dafydd, their younger brother, came of age he ingratiated himself with the English king, paying homage to him and receiving land in return. His share was not as great as that controlled by his brothers though and he wasn’t especially happy about it. Owain took his side, happy for Dafydd to have a greater stake in Gwynedd. Llewelyn was not so well-disposed to the idea.
Now, brother fought brothers. At the battle of Bryn Derwin in June 1255, Llewelyn took on Owain and Dafydd, and won. He then went on to breach the terms of the Treaty of Woodstock, retaking the Perfeddwlad, an area of Gwynedd which had been under Henry’s control.
Thereafter, Llewelyn’s story became inextricably linked to that of Simon de Montfort - he married Simon’s daughter - and the fighting with King Henry’s son Edward which eventually saw the deaths of both Llewelyn and, fighting at that point on Llewelyn’s side, Dafydd, too.
But what of Owain Goch? The brothers initially worked together to control the lands confirmed by the Treaty of Woodstock, but when Dafydd came of age, bent the knee to the English and received land in return, Llewelyn got cross, and Owain did not support him. The battle of Bryn Derwin apparently lasted only an hour or so, and Llewelyn emerged the victor. Both of his brothers were then imprisoned. Dafydd was released not long after, but Owain was not so lucky.
The Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes) describes the fight: "Llywelyn and his men, trusting in God, awaited, unafraid on Bryn Derwin the fierce coming of his brothers, and a mighty host along with them. And before the end of one hour Owain Goch was captured and Dafydd fled, after many of his host had been slain."
Owain remained a prisoner until 1277. Not everyone agrees that he was incarcerated at Dolbadarn, but it is generally assumed that this was where he spent his years as a prisoner. The sixteenth-century antiquarian John Leland believed he had been held in a tower, and the thirteenth-century court poet, Hywel Foel ap Griffri ap Pwyll Wyddel, described how the prisoner was kept in a tower as a ‘guest’ for a long time: "Gŵr ysydd yn nhŵr yn hir westai." Surely this was the tower?
Imprisoned first with his father in 1239 at Criccieth, then again at the Tower of London, and now in the stronghold at the head of Llyn Padarn; Owain must have wondered at his ill-fortune. He was released under the terms of the Treaty of Aberconwy, in 1277, when Llewelyn was forced to submit to Edward I at Rhuddlan. By the terms of the treaty, Llewelyn was allowed to retain the title of Prince of Wales, but he was no longer an overlord, although he was now finally able to meet and formally marry his bride, Eleanor de Montfort. Perhaps all might have been peaceful, had Dafydd not risen up and attacked Hawarden Castle and provoked Edward's ire. Perhaps Llewelyn might have stayed out of things had his wife not died in childbirth. The attack on Hawarden occurred in March, 1282, on Palm Sunday. Things 'escalated quickly', and were not destined to end well for these two brothers.
What did Owain make of it? After he was released, he lived quietly on his estates and is believed to have lived until around 1282. Long enough to see his brother seemingly triumphant over the hated English king? Or a little longer, enough to learn that Llewelyn, apparently betrayed, lost his head in an ambush in Powys?
Standing at the foot of this imposing castle, on a quiet sunny evening, I couldn’t suppress a shiver. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but it is bleak too. How must it have felt, to be a prisoner here for over twenty years? How much would it have worsened the suffering to know that one was a prisoner at the command of one’s own brother? Owain’s story does not occupy much space in the books about Welsh history. Most of it, after all, was spent here in this tower. But it’s certainly a story worth thinking about, if we want to think, write, and learn about the human stories which lie in hiding amongst the pages of those books.
Further reading: A Time for Princes - Michael Senior The Welsh Kings - Kari Maund The Welsh Princes - Roger Turvey Brut y Tywysogion - available online here
Illustrations: Public Domain images via Wikipedia - Mss from Matthew Paris Photographs: taken by and copyright of Annie Whitehead
Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. She has written three award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon Mercia. Her history of Mercia, from Penda the pagan king to the last brave stand of the earl of Mercia against the Conqueror, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, is published by Amberley. Annie has a deep and abiding love of North Wales and its rich history and takes every opportunity to visit.