The Lady of Wales and her Secret Garden

My Manchester Metropolitan University page: http://www2.mmu.ac.uk/hpp/research/current-phd-students/

Please help fund my research: http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks – just over 50% funded to date.

My Academia.edu page: http://mmu.academia.edu/SpencerGavinSmith

During the previous two blog posts https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/lector-si-monumentum-requiris-circumspice/ and https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/facial-recognition/ I discussed the ‘male’ side of Dolbadarn Castle (Latitude 53.116526; Longitude -4.114234) and how that masculinity was articulated in the architecture of the building. This week, I want to look at the ‘female’ side of the castle and how that too is reflected in the architecture. The area of the castle I want to discuss is above the red line drawn on the plan of Dolbadarn Castle reproduced below:

Plan of Dolbadarn Castle, area to be discussed is above the red line/.
Plan of Dolbadarn Castle, area to be discussed is above the red line.

The place and power of his Llywelyn’s wife, Joan – known as the ‘Lady of Wales’ – has been noted by historians, particularly Dr Danna Messer (http://independent.academia.edu/DannaMesser) in her recent PhD “The Uxorial Lifecycle and Female Agency in Wales in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries”. Joan was a vitally important part of Llywelyn’s world, and her accommodation and social arrangements in and around the ‘female side’ of the castle are just as sophisticated as the ‘male’ side.

The entrance to Dolbadarn Castle is on the eastern side over looking Padarn Lake, now difficult to access because of the Ministry of Works post and wire face. Once the castle doorkeeper (someone who is mentioned in the Welsh law books) had granted access, then a visitor to Joan or her retinue would have turned right and passed through the fore-building attached to the castle curtain wall to arrive at the entrance to her hall.

Historians have commented previously on the fact that the Welsh law book specific to the Kingdom of Gwynedd in the thirteenth century contains a considerably expanded number of staff for the queen. The queen in this instance is Joan, although no work had been undertaken to attempt to place her and her staff into any of the castle accommodation which would have existed and is visible in the archaeological record. This hall was excavated during the repair and restoration of Dolbadarn Castle in the 1940s, and unfortunately there are no records of any archaeology which was recovered during this work. Understanding how the hall was used through archaeological means does become more difficult, however there are other methods which can be utilised. Although the hall was excavated, the areas to the north and south were not disturbed. By examining these areas, there may be opportunities to understand the relationship the hall had to these areas and the castle as a whole.

Dolbadarn Castle from the opposite side of Padarn Lake.
Dolbadarn Castle from the opposite side of Padarn Lake.

Beyond the hall is a triangular space which has not previously been discussed in any great detail. This space, walled in and separated from the rest of the castle by the hall, would appear to have served as a garden for Joan when she was in residence. A garden could be created prior to the arrival of the Queen and her household, and an example of this is the garden at Tintagel Castle (Longitude 50.668936; Latitude -4.761529) in Cornwall.

Tintagel Castle garden is the large rectangular structure in the middle of the picture
Tintagel Castle garden is the large rectangular structure in the middle of the picture

This garden would have consisted of potted plants which were put into the garden space. The advantage was that these plants could be moved with the female household. In terms of archaeological evidence, this can limit remains to broken and discarded plant pots or if the archaeologists are more fortunate, environmental evidence may be found.

In the next post, I’ll look at how all these elements around Dolbadarn Castle form one sophisticated and complex royal landscape.


Taking Stock…

It has been a month since I set up my gofundme page at: http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks and in that time 25 people have donated £620 – almost a third of my target. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has donated and hope that the next few months will be as successful in helping me reach my target and complete my research.

I start next month at Manchester Metropolitan University, and I’m really looking forward to being able to fully access a learning environment again. Since 2007, when I suspended my studies at the University of East Anglia in order to get a full time job after first being made redundant and then working on a short contract writing a book, it has been difficult operating on the periphery of academia looking in.

During the intervening period I’ve seen fellow PhD students who began their research at the same time as me complete their studies and secure teaching posts. They have been unfailing in their support for me and my lonely niche furrow!

When I’ve been able to attend conferences in this intervening period I’ve met students from Universities all over Europe, North America and Australasia involved in unpicking the various strands of history and archaeology, and seeing how all our individual stories weave together to help understand the medieval world (and beyond).

Peacock displaying 2 24.04.05

Peacock at Cardiff Castle – one of the photographs that reminds me how diverse my topic is

I hope the blog to date has provided you with some food for thought, and in case you haven’t seen the other work I’ve written recently, you might want to have a look at:

Where I discuss (very briefly) the research I’ve been undertaking on Medieval Grave Slabs and the Poetry connected to them.


Which is something I am working on with my family to turn a series of photographs, letters and other ephemera into a book on my Taid’s (paternal grandfather’s) experiences in World War II.

I hope you enjoy the blog, and if you want to donate to help support my research in North Wales and North West Shropshire, thank you.