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Avengers Assemble…Part II

In 1378 a Mercenary Captain fighting in the Hundred Years War was assassinated. His name was Owain ap Thomas, and he was a Welshman fighting for the French against the English, and his assassination was ordered by the English Crown.

Assassination of Yvain de Galles at the siege of the castle of Mortagne-sur-Gironde - from Jean de Wavrin’s 'Chronique d’Angleterre' British Library Royal 14 e iv
Assassination of Yvain de Galles at the siege of the castle of Mortagne-sur-Gironde – from Jean de Wavrin’s ‘Chronique d’Angleterre’ British Library Royal 14 e iv

[Owain is on the right falling backwards – his assassin, John Lamb, is behind him].

This might sound a sub-plot from ‘Game of Thrones’, but this was all very real and had repercussions which we are only just really beginning to understand in terms of the history, archaeology, literature and art history of this particular man.

Owain ap Thomas was also known as Owain Lawgoch or Yvain de Galles. His career as a mercenary captain in France, Switzerland and Guernsey, lasted from what the documentary sources can tell us from 1363 to 1378. He was buried in the nearby chapel dedicated to St.Leger, and his mercenary company continued on, fighting for the French Crown without him.

The story of Owain ap Thomas was written about by in A.D. Carr (1991). Owen of Wales: The End of the House of Gwynedd. University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1064-8. Copies are hard to find, but if you are interested in the period you should try and find a copy. The book identified the manors (consisting of a manor house and associated land) which Owain left behind when he went to France, and these were in Powys, Gloucestershire, Cheshire and Surrey. Inquisitions were held by the authorities in each of these places to find out when he had left and what property and possessions he had left behind.

The manor in Surrey was at Tatsfield (Latitude 51.287393; Longitude 0.029869080) and had been in Owain’s family for three generations. His grandfather Rhodri ap Gruffudd (brother of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd who had been Prince of Gwynedd until his death in 1282) had come into possession of the manor in about 1310, and it belonged to his son Thomas from 1315 to 1363.

I’ve been researching the archaeological evidence for the estates of Owain Lawgoch since 2004, and a paper on them was included in a book published in 2008 entitled ‘Mercenaries and Paid Men: The Mercenary Identity in the Middle Ages’. You can download a copy of the paper from http://works.bepress.com/spencer_gavin_smith/ The history of Tatsfield in the years after 1363 is for me, particularly fascinating. The manor itself ceased to exist as an administrative entity after Owain left, and it was handed over to the lords of the adjoining manor of Titsey (Latitude 51.278615; Longitude 0.014226437). They constructed a court house in Tatsfield to deal with the administration of the cases that happened there, but they continued only to live in Titsey.

I directed an excavation in Tatsfield in 2004, and the evidence from this and from the historical evidence I’ve also been able to research, suggests that the Manor House there was dealt with in the same way the Llysoedd were removed during the Edwardian Conquest (see https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/avengers-assemble-but-where/). The paucity of building materials left on the site suggested careful dismantling rather than simply pushing the building over and rendering it unusable. Doing this would leave a visible marker and a place where assembly could happen, and the proximity to London – only 20 miles to Westminster – would have been an even more potent and visible reminder than a series of castles along the north Wales coast.

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Enroled…Thank you so much! Let’s keep the adventure going…

So now I’m back in the fold of the academic community.

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And I wouldn’t be here with the help of the online community of people who may never have met me, but have read my posts on this blog and felt able to contribute to funding my research.

Am I nervous about restarting? Yes. But, having been able to keep a toe in academia through attending conferences and seeing material published in books and journals whilst I have been a little bit out of the loop is very comforting.

Time I feel to provide a comprehensive update of what I am writing about and why it needs to be done.

My PhD will consist of four chapters when completed. These will be:

1. Introduction to the topic and previous research undertaken.

2. Parks

3. Gardens

4. Temporary and Permanent Designed Landscapes

In addition to these, there is a Bibliography and a Gazetteer – created so each landscape component can be entered onto either a regional or national archaeological database.

Some of the people mentioned in the research will be be very familiar to you. The ‘big’ names like Owain Glyn Dŵr or Edward I make an appearance, but not as the leader of a rebellion, or as ‘The Hammer of the Scots’, but rather as men who created landscapes to enjoy with their families and utilise for economic gain.

I’m also writing about men like Reginald Balle, who lived in the village of Hope in north east Wales (Longitude: 53.118235; Latitude: -3.0328984) during the middle of the fourteenth century and how he profited from the creation of a brand new park just outside the village. And the numerous un-named servants who for 15 days in May, for at least a century and probably much longer, would have to climb trees to capture fledgling sparrowhawks in Pennant Lliw, near Llanuwchllyn in central north Wales (Longitude: 52.876692; Latitude: -3.744210).

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You may have visited some the places I’m writing about, for example Conwy castle (Longitude: 53.280082; Latitude: -3.825695) on the shore of the Conwy Estuary and the River Gyffin. Others, however are a bit further off the beaten track, like Hornspike on the Wales-England border Longitude: 52.903693; Latitude: -2.775291).

This research needs to be done for the simple reason that it has never been done before in a complete way. This research pulls together information from many different sources in three different languages and helps archaeologists, historians and literature specialists all work together to look at this area of the country.

So, please, if you enjoy my blog and would like to help. Either share the link for my blog, or if you are able to contribute then you can do so at: http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks

Thank you…and enjoy watching the work unfold here.

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Please fund my Cutting Edge PhD Research…

Funding. Apparently even in these times of austerity it is available for cutting edge research…unless of course the people holding the purse strings don’t realise what you are researching is cutting edge.

And that is my problem in a nutshell.

I’m working on a topic which straddles the disciplines of archaeology, history, literature and art. It is also designed to enhance the information about some of the most iconic castles and landscapes which dot North Wales and the borderlands. I’ve written, so far, 122 letters to charities and other bodies asking for financial assistance.

So far, nothing.

All of the letters were speculative, and aimed at organisations I thought either would, should or may have an interest in my research. Attached to the letter I e-mailed was my most recent published article on my research and my CV to show my publication record.

Some e-mails went unanswered, even after three attempts, (once a week to ensure that they were not missed in the volume of other e-mails that might have been arriving in the same inbox). Some replies were perfunctory, stating simply they did not fund individuals, others more generous with encouragement to complete my research in their refusals to assist.

Others provided links to other organisations which they thought might be able to assist, and these were dutifully followed up – although to no avail.

Which all leaves me in an odd situation. I can stand in a room of my peers and relate my research – to which I invariably receive the question “You honestly can’t find funding!”. Which suggests that there is funding out there for this kind of multi-disciplinary work, but that for some reason I’ve yet to find out who controls it.

I’m signed up to restart my PhD this September at Manchester Metropolitan University, and I could of course borrow the money as a Career Development Loan – which is fine in theory – but if money like this is available as a loan – then where is the equivalent grant for researchers in situations like me.

I’m not saying my research is the most worthwhile cause that could be funded, but I’m certain that what I’m working on will have long term repercussions for the discipline as a whole. And if future generations of archaeologists can look at my work and build upon it, I’ve done the best I can.

If you think you can assist or if you think you know someone who can and you pass this on to them. Thank You.

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‘To Begin at the Beginning’…or ‘Has Anyone Seen That Confounded Bridge?’

Lines from Dylan Thomas ‘Under Milk Wood’ and Led Zeppelin ‘The Crunge’. Which probably seem to be an odd way to start a blog on Medieval Parks, Gardens and Designed Landscapes. However, in their own way, they have led to this blog being written. So, I thought I’d attempt to explain why I feel I should blog on this topic (although I am sure other topics will find a place at some point).

My name is Spencer Gavin Smith and I currently work as an archaeologist in the contracts section of the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, who are based in Bangor, North West Wales.

My blog will be about the research I have been carrying out for my PhD thesis entitled ‘Parks, Gardens and Designed Landscapes of Medieval North Wales and North West Shropshire’. As it is still a work in progress, the blog will highlight why I’m carrying out the research, and how the disciplines of Archaeology, History, Literature and Art all entwine to make this topic so interesting to study.

I’m from the town of Wrexham in North East Wales, (Latitude 53.045083; Longitude -2.9931521). I went to both Welsh Language Primary and Secondary Schools, so I’m comfortable using either language. I chose to read Heritage Conservation at Bournemouth University for my Undergraduate Degree, and during my second year, I was, like most other students at that time of their University lives, casting around for a dissertation.

One day, I was in the University Bookshop and I saw a paperback entitled ‘The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dŵr’, written by someone called R.R. Davies. I’d not done history at GCSE, and at A Level the curriculum I studied covered the 19th and 20th centuries. I was aware of Owain Glyn Dŵr – what school child, and especially one in North East Wales where he came from, couldn’t fail to have heard of him. But beyond a few basic facts I didn’t really know very much at all.

So I bought the book.

And within a few pages I was hooked. Not by any inherent nationalism fuelled by being in a University on the south coast of England but by the beautiful way the book was written. I ‘understood’ for the first time how history can be brought to life by the deft touch of someone who has a mastery of the sources at their fingertips. I curated that book – it became something I involved and devoted my time to in order to try and gain some understanding of a world which occupied the same space as I had growing up, but a very different time.

But, I found there was a problem with the book, and one I wanted to solve.  

Within the chapter on Owain Glyn Dŵr was a small section which dealt with his house, known as Sycharth (which probably translates as Sych ‘Dry’ and (g)arth ‘Courtyard’). According to R.R. Davies there was a contemporary poem which described the house and its surroundings, and the photograph of Sycharth published in the book showed that the site was still there and had not been built upon. In addition to the poem, in 1966 an archaeological excavation report had been published about work on the site.

Which all left me confused. If the poem described the site, and archaeologists had excavated there, why had R.R. Davies written so little?

I had my dissertation topic. Now to start on the research.