News: Daniel White at the Edinburgh War Through Other Stuff Conference

I’m delivering a paper at the War Through Other Stuff (WTOS) conference at the University of Edinburgh on the 22nd February. WTOS is an interdisciplinary conference focusing on ‘alternative histories of conflict’. As opposed to looking at war in the traditional, military-historical sense, the papers being presented are focused on the ‘other stuff’ of conflict, a whole swathe of topics from ‘the impact of conflict on cultural and social life’, to the role of non-combatants in conflict. My paper explores the evidence for peace-making women in medieval Icelandic feud. While more literary minded scholars such as Jóhanna Friðriksdóttir have already stated the claim of the pacific woman in medieval Icelandic society, such arguments are premised on an approach to the Icelandic sagas as literary works. Due to the fact that I hold to Mikhail Steblin-Kamenskij’s theory on the nature of the sagas (i.e. that they were considered as “true” records of the past under the definition of truth held to by those writing them) meaning that I do not agree with the methodology of the literary scholar with reference to these texts. Over the course of my paper, I show that it is possible to make the case for the peace-making woman in medieval Iceland while considering the sagas as “true”, rather than fitting them into the ill-fitting modern category of literature.

Daniel White
MA Medieval Studies

News: Birmingham’s Steve Walker to present on ‘Problems of Identity in Early Medieval Britain’ at CCASNAC 2017

Steve Walker has been invited to present a paper at the CCASNC (Cambridge Colloquium for Norse, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic) Conference 2017.

The conference will be held at Wolfson College, Cambridge, on 11th February.

The theme is ‘Identity and Ideology’ and my paper is entitled ‘Who Do We Think They Were?  Problems of Identity in Early Medieval Britain‘.  Steve’s paper will examine at how modern nationalist ideologies inform and influence our reading of early medieval writers such as Bede and Gildas and risk distorting our view of fifth- and sixth-century British history.

Steve is a distance-learning PhD, so if you are a Birmingham PhD who’s also travelling to CCASNC do introduce yourselves!

CeSMA afield: Troubling Europe

CeSMA’s own Naomi Standen is off to Fernuniversität Hagen in Germany next week to provide some much-needed global context at the conference “Troubling Europe: Connecting Contested Pasts from ‘Rome’ to ‘Europa’” run by  Felicitas Schmieder, Univ. of Hagen and  Elizabeth Tyler, Univ. of York:

Cultural memory, including memories of the medieval past, has been important for creating national identities for at least two hundred years. This project shifts the focus to Europe to pursue the subject of medieval narratives of community which extend beyond peoples, kingdoms and nations (such as being descendants of the Trojans) and how we study those narratives in the context of contemporary Europe. The aim is to contribute to research on European identity in the Middle Ages, while also interrogating the contemporary politics which drives an interest in a specifically European past. We are interested in interrogating the tension between a small, exclusive Europe and a wide, hegemonic one, in confronting issues of Eurocentrism and in opening up the complexities and contradictions involved in the misfit between medieval and modern ideas of Europe. We encourage research on modern narratives of Europe and on medieval narratives of communities; already established research on national narratives will provide us with methodology and possible starting points but will not be in the core of our interest. This project will involve an integration of basic research with public outreach and impact. We also aim to apply for a COST action on the subject of medieval Europe.

CeSMA Seminars this term

Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages – Research Seminars

All Seminars are held on at 17:15, Arts Lecture Room 8 

Tuesday 24th January 2017

Diane Antille (Neuchâtel)

‘Women and Goldsmiths’ Works in the Fifteenth Century: The Case of Charlotte of Savoy’

Tuesday 7th February 2017

Sam Van Shaik (British Library) ‘Bilingual Manuscripts from the Silk Road’ 

21st February 2017

Robert Swanson (Birmingham)

‘Strategies of Parochial Management in Late Medieval England: Three Cambridgeshire Contrasts’ 

7th March 2017

Francesca Dell’Acqua (Birmingham)

‘The Normans in Southern Italy: What the Salerno Ivories Tell Us’

21st March 2017

Holly James-Maddocks (Birmingham)

‘The Illuminators of the Middle English Poetic Tradition’

CeSMA Seminar: Elizabeth Tyler on ‘Lay Vernacular Literacy in the Court of Edward the Confessor: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ‘C’ and the Vision of Leofric’

6th December 2016

We were very lucky to have Elizabeth Tyler of the University of York at our seminar last term, talking about the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This talk was part of a wider programme of research that aims and destabilising the idea of Anglo-Saxon England as a ‘receiver culture’, arguing instead that it was a small but culturally influential region and we should see it as a part of Europe, rather than separate.

In her talk, Elizabeth Tyler argued for the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle C-version (MS Cotton Tiberius B. i) as a complete text, a carefully crafted compilation with a political agenda. This ‘ambitious court discourse’ was aimed at promoting Leofric to his king, Edward the Confessor, and the texts within it work in conversation to achieve this.

The period between Cnut’s death and Edward the Confessor’s accession was complex and turbulent with many disputes for succession. Earl Godwin was a powerful political figure at the time, and he initially didn’t support Edward the Confessor. In fact, the two of them appear to have been in conflict with one another.Godwin was continually resented and resisted by Edward, despite being married to his daughter. Edward appears to have aligned himself with Leofric as an attempt to try to dilute some of Godwin’s power. We can see the patterns of this in ASC C, which promotes Leofric and his family.

The C-version of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle reflects this. This is somewhat to be expected, because chronicle-writing was part of the ‘political sparring’ of the court culture at the time, but it isn’t just the ASC C-version in the Tiberius B.i manuscript that serves to promote Leofric – it’s the whole manuscript.

The whole manuscript is a universal chronicle, not just a collection of histories. It connects England, Imperial Germany and Northern France in this period. It does  become more local as it gets closer to the present day, but it creates a sense of universality by linking these disparate elements together. This manuscript – Leofric’s own version of history – is reflective of the culture of intellectual ambition, and the political value this held, at the Anglo-Saxon court. It engages with a long and wide tradition of universal history-writing, too, which stemmed from the German empire and shouldn’t been seen as an isolated or introspective process.





CFP: Crossing Borders

Call for Papers
Crossing Borders in the Insular Middle Ages, c. 900-1500
2nd Biennial Conference
University of Birmingham, 3-5 April 2017
Keynote speakers:
Prof. Carolyne Larrington (Professor of Medieval European Literature, St John’s College, Oxford)
Prof. Máire Ní Mhaonaigh (Professor of Celtic & Medieval Studies, St John’s College, Cambridge)
We are delighted to announce the second biennial conference in the Crossing Borders in the Insular Middle Ages series, to be held at the University of Birmingham, 3-5 April 2017.
The conference series explores the role of cross-border literary translation and transmission in the construction of political, national, international, regional, and cultural identities in Britain, Ireland, and Iceland across the long period c. 900-1500. It is intended to foster discussion about contemporary methodologies in comparative literary studies by international scholars working in English, Scottish, Celtic, and Scandinavian Studies. For the 2017 conference, we are particularly interested not only in the movement of texts and ideas across the Insular regions, but also lines of connection with continental Europe.
Proposals for papers are invited from scholars in any field of medieval literary or linguistic study in the following areas:
 processes of translation and adaptation across Insular vernacular languages (English, Welsh, Irish, Older Scots, Old Norse, Old Icelandic, and French) and other European vernaculars or Latin
 discussions of cross-border thematic influences and correspondences
 lines of transmission and textual distribution
 cross-border manuscript and book circulation
 perceptions of other Insular peoples
 literary engagements and intersections with cross-border material and visual culture
 linguistic borrowings across Insular languages
Additional confirmed speakers include Prof. Helen Fulton (University of Bristol), Prof. Erich Poppe (Philipps-Universität Marburg), and Dr Emily Wingfield (University of Birmingham). Proposals are also welcomed from doctoral students and early career scholars.crossing-borders-2017cfp

Guest Post: Barbara Daniels on Castles in the Southern Welsh Marches


  Whereas the mighty castles of North Wales were built by Edward I to gain and maintain order in that part of the country, the more southern castles in the Welsh Marches were constructed after the Norman Conquest by order or agreement of William I to subdue the troublesome inhabitants of the region. The word March derives from the French “marche” or “border” (medieval Latin Marchia Wallie) and designates the area loosely round the border between England and Wales where Marcher lordships were established and where these men had considerable independent powers. The term “March of Wales” first appears in the Domesday book of 1086.  Marcher lords such as William FitzOsbern, Roger de Montgomerie and Hugh d’Avranches were expected to contain and rule over their areas with a degree of autonomous power. Early castles were mostly wooden motte and bailey structures which were later replaced by stone for strength and invulnerability.

Chepstow Castle

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  This imposing castle dates from 1067 onwards and was clearly designed to reinforce the new conquest by its commanding position and by its being the first one to be built in stone. Earl William FitzOsbern, one of the staunchest supporters of William I, is credited by many historians with the construction of the rectangular Great Tower at Striguil (Chepstow) and Archdeacon Coxe quotes from Domesday; “Castellum de Estrighoiel fecit Wilhelmus Comes”.    

 In 1189, the castle passed to William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, the “flower of chivalry” who married the de Clare heiress, Isabella, the daughter of Richard “Strongbow”. He and his 5 sons updated the outmoded castle and Roger Bigod transformed the domestic arrangements in the later 13th century, including the sumptuous tower which later held Henry Marten, regicide, as prisoner. The beautiful and complex doors, now stored on a staircase, have been dated by dendochronology as 800 years old.

White Castle

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  White Castle (so named either because of the white plaster of which traces can still be seen or because the site was originally owned by Gwyn ap Gwaethfoed, whose first name means “white” in Welsh.) Again it may have been William FitzOsbern who started the building, and it forms a triangle, whose sides are approximately 5 miles long, with Grosmont and Skenfrith, but White is the largest and best preserved of these Three Castles. They were brought under single ownership by King Stephen in 1138 and stayed that way until the early 20th century.

  White was never developed as a domestic residence and retains a military feel in its isolation. At one point it was re-orientated by 180 degrees so that the visitor now enters via the old rear – and safer – ward where the garrison camp plus animals and refugees could be housed. There are the ruins of the original small squarish stone keep but the stronger round towers projecting from the curtain walls and the twin-towered gate-house represent a more modern movement in castle design. It is unusual amongst Welsh Norman castles in having its outer bailey largely intact.

  Rudolph Hess was brought here to exercise during his internment in WWII and a visitor may also like to know that there is a fascinating medieval moated site nearby called Hen Gwrt (Old Court) which was probably the manor house of the Bishops of Llandaff.

Raglan Castle


  Raglan Castle is at the other extreme being largely a nobleman’s vast home with little military pretension, though the Twr Melyn Gwent (yellow tower of Gwent) could be held in case of battle. It is a 15th century fortified palace in the French style with its hexagonal towers and was built by a father-and-son team, Sir William ap Thomas (knighted by Henry VI) and William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. It had a Fountain Court with domestic apartments, glass windows and fireplaces as well as a showy second-floor gallery which would have been heated and hung with panelling, portraits and tapestries. Later a moat walk was added with busts of Roman Emperors in niches fashionably decorated with shells along with elaborate gardens, ponds, orchards and deer. Being a comparatively late castle, it enjoyed relative peace and represents a transitional period between forts and manor houses.

  During the Civil War the aristocratic Catholic and wealthy Marquis of Worcester, Henry Somerset, gave nearly a million pounds in financial support to King Charles and was therefore a prime target for Roundhead attack, being hit on the head at dinner by a musket ball. He joked about this but finally surrendered after the arrival of the mortar, Roaring Meg, and Sir Thomas Fairfax on 7th August 1646. There was a bloodless outcome after a 10-week siege and the Marquis left, pleading for the safety of his 2 young pet pigeons. Instructions were given for the castle to be completely destroyed but this did not happen and it was decided instead to slight it and render it incapable of any military function: it was undermined and all traces of aristocratic life such as books and fish in the ponds were eradicated.

Usk Castle, Goodrich and Caerphilly


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   Usk Castle was described by the ubiquitous Archdeacon Coxe who said that “no castle in Monmouthshire has been subject to more frequent assaults”, the main battle being the one at nearby Pwll Melyn (yellow pool) where the forces of Owain Glyndwr, led by his son, were decisively defeated in 1405. After that his rebellion lost strength and petered out. Usk Castle is comparatively small, family-owned and charming.


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  Goodrich Castle is another castle which was involved with strife throughout its history, being at a strategic position between Ross-on-Wye and Monmouth. Its site may have been part of an Iron Age hillfort, the smallish keep is early Norman, the barbican has a similar design to that of the Tower of London and the gate-house has one tower larger than the other and would have boasted portcullises, drawbridge and murder holes. There was a chapel and luxurious large domestic buildings of which the Solar is still impressive. Of particular interest is the powerful mortar, Roaring Meg, built nearby, which helped in the surrender of Royalist forces, as did – perhaps – the fact they were down to their last 30 barrels of beer and 4 of gunpowder.



  Caerphilly Castle is also interesting for its weapons, replicas of Medieval siege engines: a trebuchet, a mangonel, a perrier and a ballista. They are housed in the ward of the largest castle in Wales, if you take the surrounding artificial lakes into account. It was built by “Red” Gilbert de Clare, a man of enormous wealth and fiery hair, rising at incredible speed between 11th April 1268 and 1271 to counteract the political and military threat posed by Prince Llewelyn ap Gruffudd to the Marcher lords of South-East Wales. Its function as a fortress was comparatively short-lived though it had a lasting influence on castle design as its concentric form was the precursor to that of the North Welsh castles of Edward I. It was connected with many outstanding royals and individuals, including the infamous Hugh le Despenser, the younger. His lavish efforts on the Great Hall are a visible statement of abundant hospitality and do not tax the imagination as much as the ruins of other castles.

Other castles

 There are several others in this vaguely defined area including Cardiff Castle which is fascinating but mostly Victorian apart from its Norman motte, Caldicot Castle and Ludlow Castle. With less to see nowadays but of historical interest are Monmouth Castle, birthplace of Henry V, and Abergavenny Castle, scene of the Christmas massacre by the villainous William de Braoze. There is a high concentration of castles in this area, tokens of the fighting spirit of the Welsh – the Romans had trouble in this region with the Silures but were perhaps more successful at controlling them from fewer fortresses because of their methods of integration.


You can read Barbara’s regular blog here.