Sex, Romance, and the Viking Woman

Njals_Saga_miniature

Detail from Njal’s Saga

Sex and romance have spiced up history.

There’s the tragic tale of Marc Antony and Cleopatra and the Middle Ages pairing of intellectual souls, Heloise and Peter Abelard. There’s the stormy romance of Napoleon and Josephine, and the saga of true love and frustrated sex with Hrutr and Unnr…

Wait…what?

I had to drop in Hrutr and Unnr. They’re not exactly household names, but yes, sex played a role in their saga along with many others because Norse women embraced their pleasure just as much as the men.

What about romance?

That’s when I remind you men committed the sagas to paper. Sure, there’s a smidge of romance in the sagas. But, it’d be more accurate to say there was sex. Lots of it.

Even with male writers recording their history, Norse women defied diminishment. Their passion reached across the ages with thought-provoking differences:

The Pleasure of Beholding: Roman and most western European traditions lean toward the masculine viewpoint, placing women as erotic objects. Desire, and the joy of witnessing a fine form, are largely men ogling women. Women nowadays have turned that standard upside down with Jamie-Fraser-worship. But I digress…

Norse women were way ahead of Pinterest pics appreciating the male form. The Iceland sagas spread the visual wealth in words. It is often recorded how women took delight in viewing a handsome male body, and they weren’t afraid to say so.

Talk about equality.

Hair and Clothes: Poignant moments show up in the sagas. A popular love maneuver for Viking men was to lay their heads in a woman’s lap. Making your head vulnerable to someone is a sure sign of trust, but this was part of Viking love moves.

How_Gunnar_Met_Hallgerda

How Gunnar met Hallgerda. Henry J. Ford, 1905. The Red Romance Book.

The sagas tell of women washing their man’s hair…all in the name of love, courtship, and sex.

Another way women showed affection? Sewing shirts for their man. Of course, the task often turned to comical drudgery after the wedding. Leave it to men to write that into the sagas.

Enjoyable Sex: Admonishments of duty like “…lay back and think of England…” won’t be found in the sagas. Women liked sex. In fact, their extra-curricular activities caused as much trouble as the men’s.

The sagas are full of sex euphemisms:

*to amuse oneself (at skemmta ser)

*crowding together in bed (hviluprong)

*enjoy him (njota hans)

Norse women enjoyed their sexuality, reveling in an earthiness seldom seen in history.

I’ll close with a quick retelling of one Norse drama…

…a tale of two women and a man:

In Iceland, handsome Hrutr and headstrong Unnr fell in love. Business demanded that Hrutr sail to Norway. While there, he encountered the ageing, lusty Queen Gunnhildr. She provided beautiful clothes for Hrutr — probably didn’t sew them herself. Hrutr accepted these gifts and the queen informed him: “You shall lie with me in the upper chamber tonight; we two alone.” They went upstairs and the queen locked the door from the inside. (Nj 12.3:11-15)

They carried on for a year but Hrutr grew homesick. The queen asked him if there’s a woman waiting for him in Iceland. “No,” he lied. But, she didn’t believe him. As he was leaving, she placed a bracelet on him laden with a curse: he’ll be able to satisfy other women, but not his intended in Iceland.

Back in Iceland, Hrutr and Unnr got married, and the curse proved true. They experienced sexual frustration. They couldn’t “travel together” (samfor — another euphemism). After several years, Unnr told her father she wanted to divorce Hrutr because she cannot “enjoy him” (njota hans). They divorced and sadly went their separate ways, but not without additional drama.

It wouldn’t be a “saga” without it.

GinaConkle_ToFindAVikingTreasure_HRGina Conkle writes Viking and Georgian romance. She loves history, books and romance…the perfect recipe for historical romance writer. Her passion for castles and old places –the older and moldier the better– means fun family vacations. Good thing her husband and two sons share similar curiosities. When not visiting fascinating points of interest she can be found delving into the latest adventures in cooking and gardening.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Newsletter | Amazon | B&N | Kobo

You can read a translation of Njal’s Saga online here

Executions at Tyburn: Ritual and Reality

b6d06-tyburn_gallows_1746

Once enough to send a shiver down the spine of anyone in London or greater Middlesex, the infamous Tyburn gallows have at last begun to fade from collective memory.

Between 1196 and 1783, an estimated 60,000 people were executed at Tyburn. Murderers, sometimes, and highwaymen, certainly, but for every major criminal executed at Tyburn, there were four more condemned for petty theft. Most of the people hanged at Tyburn were under 21, and many of them were still children.

By the eighteenth century, “Tyburn had become associated with mockery, irreverence, and the defiance of authority. The activities there encapsulated rough-and-ready humour, elements of carnival and, on occasion, very public displays of approval of sympathy for the condemned miscreants. For their part, the latter sometimes seem to have relished their brief moment of glory and to have drawn succour from it.” (1)

The public executions at Tyburn and the rituals surrounding them were intended to demonstrate the omnipotence of the law and to serve as a deterrent to crime. Hangings took place eight times a year in a highly ritualized and somber manner that was intended to put the fear of God into the condemned and the spectators alike.

The evening before the execution, the condemned would be offered the final sacrament by the prison chaplain before the bell tolled in the tower of St. Sepulchre’s Church. In 1604, Robert Dow left the church fifty pounds annually to toll the bells for the condemned both the evening before and the day of the execution. The hand bell was also rung within the prison at this time to accompany the following cry:

“All you that in the condemned hole do lie, Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die; Watch all and pray; the hour is drawing near, That you before the Almighty must appear. Examine well yourselves; in time repent, That you may not to eternal Flames be sent. And when St. Sepulchre’s Bell in the morning tolls, The Lord above have mercy on your souls.”

At dawn on the day of execution, the prisoner would have his irons struck off and replaced with a cord or handcuffs. A halter was placed around his neck by the Knight of the Halter, and he was loaded into the cart with the Ordinary and the coffin he was to be buried in. The cart stopped in front of St. Sepulchre’s Church where the bell was rung again, and the bellman would ask the crowd to pray for the soul of the condemned. The Ordinary was not there to provide comfort. His presence “indicated the involvement of the Church in the punishment of sin and recognized that although the prisoner’s physical life was about to be terminated, his soul could still be saved even at this late hour.” (1)

execution-at-tyburn1The law had their rituals and the public had theirs. While the authorities effectively stage-managed the executions to discourage the public from criminal acts, there is no evidence that this was any real deterrent as many attendees would later go on to commit similar crimes themselves.

Execution days were brilliant for businesses of all kinds. In addition to the pubs that benefited along the three-hour journey from Newgate to Tyburn, the “hanging fair” itself was ripe with opportunity for profit. Young pickpockets, known as “Tyburn Blossoms” did well in the tightly-packed and distracted crowds, the execution more an opportunity than a deterrent. Prostitutes could count on being busy as the carnival atmosphere and the grim demonstration of mortality drove many to the pursuit of more earthly delights. Cakes, pies, and baked potatoes were sold, and the “Last Dying Confessions” were purchased and circulated. Seats could be bought, and the grandstand known as Mother Proctor’s Pew made £5,000 (about £450,000 in today’s money) from the execution of Earl Ferrers alone.

Meeting a good end was crucial. While most would have been insensible with fear, the crowd loved those who showed a brave face. Some of the condemned gave daring or subversive speeches, joked with the crowd, or confessed at length, embellishing their crimes with lurid detail. The best executions had ballads written about them and were retold in newspapers and pamphlets. For so many who had lived lives of desperation and neglect, the idea of a little postmortem glory must have had its appeal.

The crowd loved a good show, and some of the condemned took the execution as a last opportunity to rebel. One way they did this was through their clothing. On the morning of the execution the prisoners were allowed to choose their clothes for the day. As the executioners could turn a handsome profit by selling the clothes of the condemned following the hanging, some chose to wear as little as possible to limit this.

A young Irish woman named Hannah Dagoe took this to the extreme. Intent on cheating the hangman out of the money he would receive for the sale of her clothes, she spent the three mile journey stripping them off and throwing them into the crowd. When they reached the gallows, she wore almost nothing at all. To add insult to injury, she kneed the hangman in the groin and leaped out of the cart herself, breaking her own neck.

What had been intended as a public display of punishment to encourage law and order evolved over time into regular acts of quiet rebellion. Executions became raucous fairs attended by thousands where pickpockets and prostitutes did their most profitable work. Displays of contrition and the warnings of the condemned were replaced with lurid confessions and triumphant farewells. While the law exercised power by executing people for relatively minor crimes, the people showed resistance by celebrating the condemned as heroes.

Evidence of the disregard the public had for the executions can be found in the tongue-in-cheek terms they developed for them. Tyburn became the “three-legged mare” or the “deadly nevergreen.” “Going west,” became a euphemism for execution, and being hanged was “to dance the Paddington frisk.”

The last hanging at Tyburn took place in 1783. After this, hangings were moved closer to Newgate to a site where crowds would be easier to control. They remained there until the end of public execution in 1868.

Sources

Tyburn: London’s Fatal Tree. Alan Brooke and David Brandon. Sutton Publishing Ltd, 2004.

The Thieves’ Opera. Lucy Moore. Harcourt, 1997.

An earlier version of this appeared on thehistoryvault.co.uk.

Diabolical Filthiness vs. Divine Castration: Medieval Witchcraft and the Malleus Maleficarum

Witches are trouble. According to the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), a medieval treatise on the identification and punishment of witches, they may hurt you, your livestock, or property, offer aid to the saucy ex-girlfriend you ditched for your straight-laced wife, or eat your unbaptized children in a tasty soup. The enemy is everywhere and capable everything from the fantastic (controlling the weather) to the mundane (imagining themselves in other places).

First published in 1487 by monks of the Dominican Order, Henreich Kramer and Jacob Springer, The Malleus Maleficarum was written to prove the existence of witches and to advise magistrates on how to convict them. By 1669, thirty-six editions had been published, significantly contributing to the witch craze that saw an estimated 60,000 people executed across Europe. Though the content is presented as fact, there were some who did not take the guidelines at face value including, interestingly enough, members of the Spanish Inquisition.*

marginalia, Roman de la Rose

Filling up bags of dicks from the dick tree. As you do. Marginalia from Roman de la Rose.

Given that so many people were incarcerated, tortured, or killed for the crime of witchcraft, one would think people in fifteenth century Germany flew around on brooms with baskets of body parts (or trees full of them, see left). Not so! The Malleus Maleficarum assures us that actual proof was not necessary and should not even be sought:

“We pray God that the reader will not look for proofs in every case, since it is enough to adduce examples that have been personally seen or heard, or are accepted at the word of credible witnesses.”

That’s right, all you need for your life to be thoroughly ruined is to piss off a neighbor who can accuse you of bewitching them or otherwise causing you harm. Unfortunately, little advice is given for those who have been wrongly accused. It does encourage you to be on the lookout for witches, however, as no one is safe from their terrible powers:

“It is asked whether a man can be so blessed by the good Angels that he cannot be bewitched by witches in any of the ways that follow. And it seems that he cannot, for it has already been proved that even the blameless and innocent and the just are often afflicted by devils, as was Job; and many innocent children, as well as countless other just men, are seen to be bewitched, although not to the same extent as sinners; for they are not afflicted in the perdition of their souls, but only in their worldly good and their bodies.”

Fear not, there are a few people who are impervious to bewitchment: those who prosecute them in any public official capacity, those who use sacred objects from the Church to protect themselves, and people who are otherwise blessed by Holy Angels.

Why are Inquisitors safe?

When taken by officials of public justice, witches immediately lose all of their powers. Proof of this comes from an anecdote about a Judge named Peter, who oversaw the arrest of “most notorious warlock” Stadelein, an unfortunate man from Boltingen in Lausanne. According to the authors, Peter assured his officials they could not be hurt by Stadelein: “You may safely arrest the wretch, for when he is touched by the hand of public justice, he will lost all the power of his iniquity.” As Peter promised, Stadelein was burned at the stake without any supernatural interference.

Although this is the only example given of the inability of witches to defend themselves against the authorities, the Malleus Maleficarum assures us it was not the only occurrence:

“Many more such experiences have happened to us Inquisitors in the exercise of our inquisitorial office, which would turn the mind of the reader to wonder if it were expedient to relate them. But since self-praise is sordid and mean, it is better to pass them over in silence than to incur the stigma of boastfulness and conceit.”

When magistrates in the town of Ratisbon were asked why Inquisitors were safe from witchcraft, they said “they did not know, unless it was because the devils had warned them against doing so.” We can only assume they were also on his payroll.

Lord knows one shouldn’t brag about how many defenseless people they detained. So what if I’m not an Inquisitor?

If you’re not an inquisitor or working on behalf of one, fear not! Holy Water, Blessed Candles, Blessed Salt, and consecrated herbs can also be employed to protect yourself and your livestock from witches. While you’re stocking up at the Church, be sure to have your children baptized, because witches may try to eat them if you don’t. You can also protect yourself by crossing yourself, writing the triumphal name of Our Saviour in four places in the form of a cross**, or regularly attending Mass:

“There were also three companions walking along a road, and two of them were struck by lightning. The third was terrified, when he heard voices speaking in the air, “Let us strike him, too.” But another voice answered, “We cannot, for to-day he had heard the words ‘The Word was made Flesh.’” And he understood that he had been saved because he had that day heard Mass.”

Go to Church, kids.

How does one become blessed by an angel?

Bust_of_an_Angel-Filippino_Lippi_mg_9962

“You want me to do what?” Bust of an Angel, Filippino Lippi, 1495.

You will not be protected by a common blessing from just any old angel. While some angels may protect against witchcraft specifically, many do this by blessing “just and holy men … in the matter of the genital instincts.”

That is exactly what it sounds like, and before you get your hopes up thinking this is going somewhere sexy, it’s really not. A few examples are given of holy men who, after devoting themselves to lives of chastity, were granted the complete removal of sexual desire, which manifests itself in oddly surgical dreams.

According to the monk John Cassian, the Abbott S. Serenus was delivered from his earthly desires when “an Angel of the Lord came to him in a vision in the night, and seemed to open his belly and take from his entrails a burning tumour of flesh, and then to replace all of his intestines as they had been; and said: “Lo! The provocation of your flesh is cut out, and know that this day you have obtained perpetual purity of your body … so that you will never again be pricked with that natural desire…”

Erm, what if I like my provocation of my flesh where it is?

You can also be castrated by angels. In your dreams, of course. Heraclides tells of a monk named Helias who abandoned a monastery full of women (virgins, we are assured) when the temptation became too great. According to Heraclides, Helias was visited by angels in a dream to enable him to return to his work with the women: “One seemed to hold his hands, another his feet, and the third to cut out his testicles with a knife … when they asked if he felt himself remedied, he answered that he was entirely delivered.”

If you don’t enjoy prosecuting your neighbors, can’t regularly get to church (or belong to another religion), and don’t like the sound of divine castration, you might consider becoming a witch.

The Malleus Maleficarum warns us that all witches are evil regardless of what they use their powers for and they must be punished accordingly, but a lot of their abilities sounds useful for dealing with superstitious peasants or entertaining oneself when trapped in 15th century Germany.

There were three types of witches: Witches who caused harm but could not heal, witches who could heal but could not cause harm (we call them doctors now), and witches who could do both. Of those who harm, the most powerful are those who eat children. No matter how they used their powers, they always had congress with the devil as an Incubus who, rather helpfully, usually took the form of some random guy.

One woman who was later burned as a witch detailed her first encounter with an Incubus:

“When the Incubus devil had seen her, and had asked her whether she recognized him, and she had said that she did not, he had answered: “I am the devil; and if you wish, I will always be ready at your pleasure, and I will not fail you in any necessity.” And when she had consented, she continued for eighteen years, up to the end of her life, to practice diabolical filthiness with him…”

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken

“Anything but diabolical filthiness!” On the Punishment of Witches. Olaus Magnus, 1555.

Okay, so eating children is obviously out, but if diabolical filthiness sounds a little more appealing than divine castration, the Malleus Maleficarum tells us witches can also do the following:

  • Inflame the lusts of certain wicked
    TheWitch-no1

    The Witch No. 1. Joseph E. Baker, 1892. Lithograph depicting Salem Witch Trials.

    men toward some women, while making them cold to others

  • Raise hurtful tempests and lightnings
  • Cause sterility in men and animals
  • Throw into the water children walking by the water side
  • Make horses go mad under their riders
  • Transport themselves from place to place through the air, either in body or imagination
  • Affect Judges and Magistrates so that they cannot hurt them (which directly contradicts what they said in the previous chapter)
  • Cause themselves and others to keep silent under torture
  • Bring about a great trembling in the hands and horror in the minds of those who would arrest them
  • Show to others occult things and certain future events, by the information of devils, though this may sometimes have a natural cause
  • See absent things as if they were present
  • Turn the minds of men to inordinate love or hatred
  • Strike whom they will with lightning
  • Make of no effect the generative desires, and even the power of copulation
  • Kill infants in the mother’s womb by a mere exterior touch
  • Bewitch men and animals with a mere look, without touching them, and cause death
  • Cause plagues

Witches can be male or female, and their power comes as a direct result of their copulation with the devil, however we should note that God “gently directs the witchcraft of devils, so that when they try to diminish and weaken the Faith, they on the contrary strengthen it and make it more firmly rooted in the hearts of many.”

So God is also with those accused while the devil protects the Inquisitors?

That sounds about right.

Jessica Cale

*If the Spanish Inquisition thinks you’re nutty, that might be a bad sign.
**Iesus + Nazarenus + Rex + Iudaeorum + , in case you were wondering)

Source
The Malleus Maleficarum of Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. Translated with an Introduction, Bibliography, and Notes by the Reverend Montague Summers. Dover Publications, New York. 1971

10 Welsh Castles to Celebrate St. David’s Day

Today is the feast day of Saint David, the patron Saint of Wales. It is a public holiday in Wales not unlike Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland, and is celebrated with parades, festivals, and other cultural events. It is a day to celebrate Wales and Welsh culture around the world, so I thought I would share some of what I love about Wales with you today.

I was lucky enough to go to Swansea University for both of my degrees and I lived in Wales for seven years. There are so many things I love about Wales that it would be difficult to summarize in a single blog post, so I’m going to focus on one of my favorite things: the castles! 

As I’m a historical romance author with a degree in Medieval History, it might not surprise you to hear that I love castles. If you like castles, too, you should know that Wales has more castles per square mile than any other country on earth, and they’re all beautiful with dramatic locations and fascinating history. I got to visit many castles and other historical tourism attractions around Wales as a freelance journalist, so I have built up quite a collection of photos and Cadw brochures. Although I haven’t seen every castle in Wales yet, I do have my favorites, and I thought I would share those with you today. 

In honor of St. David’s Day, here are ten of my favorite castles of southern Wales:

10. Hay


Hay Castle in Hay-on-Wye is one of the last surviving castles of the Welsh marches. Built for defense by William de Braose in the late twelfth century, it was sacked by the last Prince of Wales, Llewelyn II in 1233. It was rebuilt by Henry III, and in 1660, the Jacobean mansion Castle House was built alongside it. Although it has been damaged by fire twice in the last hundred years, there’s still much to see, and parts of the 18th century formal gardens can still be seen. Today, the castle is owned by the Hay Castle Trust, an organization devoted to the conservation of this historic monument. Preserving Hay Castle will take a lot of work, and the Trust has a vision to make the a center for education and culture. You can learn more about them here

It’s well worth a visit, and not only for the history: Hay-on-Wye has a yearly festival of arts and literature visited by hundreds of thousands with lots of great guest authors. The town itself is the National Book Town of Wales and has more than two dozen bookstores, many specializing in used and rare books. 

9. Oystermouth


The first castle on this site was built in 1106 by William de Londres after Gower was captured by the Normans. Ten years later, it was burned by the Welsh of Deheubarth when they retook the Gower peninsula, and again in 1137 after it had been rebuilt. Henry III expelled the Welsh from the Gower in 1220 and gave it to John de Braose who at last built it in stone. Edward I even visited in 1284. The chapel was later improved by Aline de Mowbray, and much of it still stands today (see one of the fourteenth century windows, above). Oystermouth is located just outside of Mumbles, overlooking Swansea Bay, and has recently undergone a massive refurbishment by the National Assembly for Wales. Updates include a thirty-foot high glass viewing platform and bridge through the chapel to the windows on the other side. 


8. Weobley


Weobley Castle is a fortified manor house overlooking the Llanrhidian Marsh built more for comfort than defense by the de la Bere family in the twelfth century. While the walls are not what they once were (I climbed them) perhaps due to Owain Glyndwr’s attack in 1403, the castle was built with many comforts, including private rooms, fireplaces, decorative windows, and multiple indoor toilets! 

7. Margam


Margam Castle is really a Victorian country house built between 1830 and 1840 during the Gothic Revival for Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot. It was designed by Thomas Hopper and Edward Haycock Snr. David Evans-Bevan bought it in 1941, but found it too large to live in, so the castle fell into disrepair. Restoration began after it was damaged by a fire in 1977. Today, the castle hosts ghost tours and is a popular setting for ghost hunter TV shows. Episodes of Doctor Who have also been filmed here. 

6. Laugharne


Now little more than a beautiful shell, Laugharne has a long and complicated history. The first castle on this site was built in 1116 by Robert Courtemain and served as the place where Henry II and Rhys as Gruffudd agreed to a treaty of peace in 1171. Rhys ap Gruffudd later burned it down in 1189 when the castle was retaken by the Welsh of Deheubarth after the death of Henry II. Rebuilt in 1215 by the Normans, Laugharne was promptly captured by Llewelyn the Great and destroyed in 1257 by Llewelyn ap Gruffudd. Although Sir John Perrot converted it into a Tudor mansion in the late sixteenth century, it suffered further damage by cannon fire in a week long siege during the Civil War, after which it was left as a romantic ruin. 

In more recent years, the castle has served as a place of inspiration for artists and writers. Here Richard Hughes wrote Hazard, and Dylan Thomas wrote his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. The nearby boathouse was home to Dylan Thomas and his family from 1949-1953 and still has much of original furniture. Well worth a visit! 

5. Carew


Carew Castle stands on a limestone bluff that has been used for military purposes for at least 2,000 years. The first stone keep was built on this site in 1100 by Gerald de Windsor. The castle was expanded almost continuously until the Carew family fell on hard times during the Black Death and it was mortgaged. Rhys ap Thomas expanded the castle again with luxurious Tudor apartments. Carew reverted to the crown in 1531 when Rhys’ grandson was executed for treason by Henry VIII. Like Laugharne, it was acquired by Sir John Perrot and completed. The castle was repurchased by the Carew family in 1592 after Sir John Perrot died out of favor in the Tower of London. Although it was refortified by the Royalists during the Civil War, much of it was pulled down by the local Parliamentarians it was abandoned during the late seventeenth century. There’s still plenty to see, though, and the grounds also contain Wales’ only intact Tidal Mill built in the early nineteenth century. 

Oh, and it’s haunted by a monkey.

4. Pembroke


Begun in 1093 by Arnulf de Montgomery, Pembroke has withstood sieges and survived the Civil War. Henry VII was born there in 1457. Enormous and wonderfully intact, Pembroke Castle is like a full-sized playground for adults. There are enough rooms, halls, and staircases in wonderful condition to keep you busy for hours, including the massive drum tower built in by none other than William Marshal (sigh!). You can climb the stairs and even sit on the top if you’re brave, or try not to look down if you’re not! There are few places where so much history is so accessible. It is without a doubt one of the best preserved castles in Wales. 

3. Cardiff 

Although parts of Cardiff Castle are medieval or even Roman, much of what you see today is the result of a nostalgic fever-dream that Bute had in the 19th century and built with the help of mad genius William Burges. This idea we have of the middle ages being particularly romantic is a result of hundreds of years of rose-tinted propaganda dating back to the early Arthurian Romances, and it hit a high point when the Industrial Revolution set people yearning for simpler times.

One of the best things to come out of this was the Arts & Crafts movement, and Cardiff Castle has some truly spectacular examples of art and art-architecture from it. I’ve been several times, and have never had the same tour twice. Here’s a bonus picture of the library:


2. Caerphilly


Caerphilly Castle is the second largest castle in Britain. The only one bigger is Windsor! Built in the thirteenth century by Gilbert de Clare, it introduced concentric castle defenses to Wales and boasts “the most elaborate water defenses in all of Britain.” Situated on an island surrounded by artificial lakes with fortified dams, Caerphilly withstood several attacks throughout the fourteenth century and eventually fell into disrepair until it was restored by the Bute family in the eighteenth century. Beautiful as it is well-designed, Caerphilly is a wonderful day out and can even be rented for weddings and other parties. Several episodes of Doctor Who have been filmed here, too! 

Some of Caerphilly’s defenses:


And the hall:


1. Raglan

Of all the castles I’ve seen, Raglan may be my favorite. A fifteenth century castle in the Welsh Marches, Raglan is a newer castle than many in Wales, but is no less stunning for it. Sir William ap Thomas started it in 1432 and building continued under his son, William Herbert, the first Welshman to be made an earl. Expansions were made through the 17th century until the civil war. It resisted Cromwell’s army during a thirteen-week siege before it was surrendered and dismantled by parliament.

Enough of it remains that it’s well worth a visit. The hillside setting is beautiful in the summer, and swallows dart around the moat catching insects. As lovely as it is now, you can tell that it was stunning when it was still in use. If you have ever have the chance, be sure to see it. At only thirteen miles away from Tintern Abbey, you can’t beat it for location.

Bizarrely, the land Raglan was built on had previously belonged the Earls of Hereford following the Norman Invasion. I find this a particularly strange coincidence not because of the location (come on, Hereford is right there), but because there is an Earl of Hereford in my novels. By the time I’m writing in the 1670s, the title had gone extinct.

Happy St. David’s Day!