Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


31.3.10
  Hear Me Roar

Seveal benches outside the cathedral in Braunschweig, facing the Castle Square, are based on stone carved lions. Every of the dozen or so lions has a unique facial espression.

Here are some of the chaps.

One of the lion benches

I could not find any information about those lions except that they are ‘newer’ which must mean ‘not Mediaeval’, because my father who lived in Braunschweig as kid, remembers them. The fact, that ‘bank’ and ‘bench’ are the same word in German doesn’t help with googling, either. Well, even without any further information the little lions are fun.

Grroarrr

Braunschweig is connected with lions because of Duke Heinrich the Lion and the great lion statue in the Castle Square comissioned by him. And of course, there are restaurants, pharmacies and whatnot having 'Lion' (Löwe) in the title. So it's no surprise there are a few of the fellows supporting benches.

Yaaawn

Heinrich owned a pet lion (who hopefully got a better diet than King Edward’s lion). According to legend, the lion refused to eat after Duke Heinrich’s death and died of grief. There are some scratches on the northern cathedral entrance said to have been made when the lion tried to force its entry, following the body of its dead master.

The real reason that caused those scratches may have been the attempt to obtain some powdered stone – after all, a cathedral is a holy place – to mix into medicines.

Purrrr

BTW, brownie points for the one who knows where the title of this post comes from. *grin*
 


26.3.10
  Sea Gulls

Almost a week without a new post? Oopsie. *grin* Well, here’s a lazy one; just some more photos of sea gulls. Because they are fun.

Guard Gull

Thou shall not pass!

Though I bet, contrary to Gandalf, this guy would have been bribable. Found him perching beside a staircase in Conwy Castle.

I want a cookie

What do you say, I should eat fish? Cookies are so much yummier.

That one pestered me in Beaumaris Castle when I had a little tea and cookie break, and didn’t want any arguments about healthy gulll food. Some gulls were not shy, but they never allowed a human close enough to touch them.

Gull acrobatics

Hey, I was first! No, I was, cheater! You're so mean to me, I'm not gonna talk to you again; ever.

Gulls sorting out who's where in the food line. This lovely photo with the evening sun sparkling on the water is from the harbour in Oban. Too bad the picture doesn't come with sound; those gulls made quite a ruckus.

Beauty in the sky

Gulls are really elegant birds when flying. I took this shot on the ferry to Mull. There were several gulls whirling around in hope of flying cookie crumbs. Which they duly got.
 


20.3.10
  The Smallest House in Britain

Can be found in Conwy, Wales. It’s painted in a pretty red so you won’t miss it, tucked in there between one of the town wall towers and another, bigger house.

Quay House, Conwy

The ‘one up – one down’ house measures 3.05 by 1.8 metres (10 x 6 feet). The ground floor room was heated by a coal fire; the coal stored under a bench. The top room is reached by a ladder through a trap door and provides just enough space for a bed. There are no bathroom, toilet or kitchen, but that was not so uncommon in the 16th century when the house was built.

The house was inhabited until about 1900. The last man who lived there was a 6’3’’ foot tall fisherman, Robert Jones He could not even stand upright in the wee housie since it’s only about 10 feet high; counting both storeys. Eventually, the council declared the house unfilt for human habitation, and Robert had to move out. The building is still in possession of his descendants, two elderly ladies who run a little museum and shop - dressed up in some sort of 16th century skirts and cloaks.

The house has made it into the Guiness Book of Records as Great Britain’s smallest house, and is one of the tourist attractions of the quay, the harbour street in Conwy.
 


13.3.10
  Arriving at Inchcolm Abbey

Inchcolm Abbey was presenting itself in best Scottish weather: stormy, wet, dark and brooding. But it suited the visit to an island where once a king got shipwrecked.

The waves in the Firth of Forth were more impressive than the ones a few days later on my visit to Staffa and Iona, which made taking photos from the ferry a bit of a challenge. After deboarding I got me a rain cloak in the Historic Scotland shop on the island, because balancing the camera and an umbrella in a futile attempt to block horizontal rain didn't work. Just well I consider weather like that to be fun nevertheless.

Inchcolm Abbey, seen from the ferry

Inchcolm, known as Aemonia to the Romans, is an island in the Firth of Forth. Thanks to its strategical position, it still played a role as part of the WW2 defenses. The Romans had a fort and probably a naval base in nearby Cramond (Alaterva) during the time of Antoninus Pius around 142 AD, but it is covered by houses and a church today. Some finds point at a reuse of the place during the campaigns of Septimius Severus in 211 AD. Inchcolm may have been used by the Romans (my guess would be a watchtower on the island; the Romans were no less clever than WW2 generals) but no traces have been found so far.

Inchcolm Abbey; a different angle

Fragments of carved stonework indicate that the island was inhabited by Christians since the - misnomed - Dark Ages; the name 'Island of Colm' goes back to a monk or hermit, St.Colm, a rather shadowy figure. In the later Middle Ages legend aligned him with St.Columba who was said to have visited the place in 567, giving Inchcolm it epithet as 'Iona of the east'. But that was only a way to connect the place with a more famous saint.

A hogback stone dating to the late 10th century is probably Scotland's oldest Scandinavian monument. It brings to memory the lines from Shakespeare's Macbeth:

Sweno, the Norways' King, craves composition;
Nor would we deign him burial of his men
Till he disbursed at Saint Colme's Inch
Ten thousand dollars, to our general use.


This refers to Sweyn Forkbeard, King of the Danes, who raided the coasts of England and Scotland, and was King of England during the exile of Ethelred the Unready. Sweyn died in 1014 and Macbeth became king in 1040, but that's Shakespeare for you, lol.

Closeup of the abbey

It was a dark and stormy night .... well, not night, but it certainly was stormy when King Alexander I of Scotland crossed the Firth in 1123. His ship got blown off course and wrecked at the shore of Inchcolm. Alexander and his retainers were taken in by the resident hermit and spent three days on the island while the storm raged. The hermit shared what he had, but that wasn't much: the milk of one cow, mussels and some fish. Maybe Alexander and his men could count it toward the Lent fasting. I had packed lunch and hot tea, and modern boats take you back after two hours.

When the storm finally abated and the men could repair their ship and sail to Queensferry, Alexander thanked God for his deliverance and vowed to build a monastery on the island. But he died the year after, so it fell to his brother David to fulfil the vow. The exact date of the foundation is not known; the earliest known charter dates from 1165, at which point the Augustinian brethren were already well established. Inchcolm belonged to the diocese of Dunkeld, and it was bishop Gregory (1147-1169) who oversaw the establshment of the monastery.

Inchcolm Abbey, seen from the boat pier

The monastery was raised to the status of abbey in 1235 and has undergone several renovations and enlargements during the Middle Ages. Later, Inchcolm came into the focus of the English and was attacked several times from 1296 onwards. After the Scottish Reformation in 1560, the abbey was abandoned.

One of the abbots, Walter Bower (1418-1449) is the author of the Scotichronicon, one of the most important sources for Mediaeval Scottish history. Bower began writing his history in 1441, adapting the annals of John of Fordun († 1387) and bringing them up to his own time. He also provided us with the specifics of Alexander's diet.

Inchcolm Abbey is the most completely preserved Mediaeval abbey in Scotland, now in care of the Historic Scotland Society. As usual, I got the guidebook, and there will be more photos and information.

The ferry

The ferry operating between Queensferry and Inchcolm was the only bit of colour on that dreary day. But German tourists and Scottish kids don't allow the weather to spoil their fun. There was a group of kids with parents; a birthday party as it turned out - they have a picnic on Inchcolm every year, and in case the weather is bad, they just move into the old chapter house for that while the kids chase each other through the cloister in a very un-monkish way. I got some birthday champagne and very sweet cookies, too. And fresh strawberries. You can't beat those; there must be a special sort in the UK.
 


6.3.10
  Stirling Castle and Robert the Bruce

A bit of a mixed bag with info snippets about Stirling Castle and Robert the Bruce. A more detailed guided tour of the castle will follow.

One evening, I revisted the Bannockburn Heritage Centre in Stirling (built in the late 1960ies) and the Bruce Memorial in a park that may have been the original battlesite, though the subject is still discussed. Like last time, the sky was a mix of sunshine and dramatic clouds which made for some interesting shots.

Robert the Bruce, against the Scottish summer sky

The famous battle of Bannockburn took place on 24 June 1314. I'm not going into details in this post - I should leave that to Kathryn (aka Alianore), our knowledgeable Edward II blogger. The short version is: the Scots* won that one and sent King Edward II of England packing in a hurry, though I'm sure he'd have liked to stay the night in the spectacular castle below.

* Well, Bruce's allies, to be correct, there were some Scots hanging out at Edward's court because they could not resist Edward's sex appeal decided to keep their oaths.

Stirling Castle, seen from the west

Stirling Castle did not look like today during Robert's and Edward's time - most of the buildings date from 1496 and 1583 - but it had been an important place in Scottish history since the time of King Alexander I who died at Stirling Castle 1124. The rock, guarding the crossing of the river Forth, probably was fortified much earlier, though any attempt to date occupation back to Roman times and a stronghold of the Votadini tribe has not (yet) been supported by archaeological finds.

Edward would have found the place not very accomodating anyway, since Robert the Bruce destroyed the defenses of the castle so the English could not use it against him. Had he but known that Edward galloped off to Dunbar instead.

Bruce Memorial; the other side

Robert the Bruce, born 1274 as son of Robert Bruce, 8th Lord of Annandale, and Marjorie, Countess of Carrick, became Robert I King of Scotland in March 1306 until his death in 1329.

I'm not going into a detailed biography of Robert the Bruce, but here is some basic information: Edward I ruled Scotland as province of England since 1296. During the rebellion of William Wallace and other strives, Robert seems to have been on and off the English side until neither Edward nor the Scots really trusted him any longer. Clearly a survivor in the game of alliances and allegiances, though. What Robert really wanted was the Crown of Scotland to which his family held a claim. Unfortunately, so did several other powerful families like the Balliol and Comyn. Robert met with John III Comyn (the Red) in February 1306 to discuss matters. Whether planned murder or temper getting he better of Robert - he stabbed John to death, and in a church to boot. So Robert the Bruce became King of Scotland and had a civil war with the Comyn allies on his hand right there.

King Edward I took advantage of that messy situation, of course, supported the Comyns by sending an army (I'm not sure how much they liked that sort of support), declared Bruce and his followers outlaws, and had the pope excommunicate Robert Bruce for murder. He defeated Bruce in battle and while Robert himself escaped, two of his brothers got captured and executed as traitors (the full hanging, drawing and quartering treatment), one of his sisters and his mistress, Isabella Countess of Buchan, were suspended from English castle walls in open cages. Robert himself fled into hiding and lived in caves. There's no shortage of those on the Scottish coast.

Another take of the Bruce Memorial

But Robert got lucky: Edward died in July 1307, and his son Edward II was too busy keeping the Earl of Lancaster and his merry band of disgruntled nobles from exiling Piers Gaveston, and updating his Facebook account, to wage war upon Scotland. Bruce started a successful guerilla war against every English and Comyn supporter he could flush out; and by the end of 1309 controlled all Scotland north of the river Tay.

Stirling Castle was one of the few places still held by the English. It was besieged by Robert's brother Edward (I'm going to call him Ned to avoid confusion with the English Edwards) who made a deal with the English constable that if an English relief army had not arrived by June 24, 1314, the garrison would surrender. So King Edward gathered 20,000 men, the largest army to invade Scotland. Now, his father would have made haggis out of Robert and Ned with that force, but Edward II botched the job, picked the wrong terrain (the bogs between the Forth and the Bannockburn) and the wrong tactics (mounted knights against pickets of lances), and lost to 7,000 Scots. Oops. Robert the Bruce took a bunch of nobles prisoner and exchanged them for the members of his family still held captive in England.

In 1324, the pope acknowledged Robert the Bruce as King of Scotland. Edward had been sent into early retirement where he died under questionable circumstances, and his son, another Edward, was rather busy, first trying to cut something off his mother's lover, Roger Mortimer (no, not that part; the head) and later he was more interested in the English claim to big chunks of France, so he was willing to agree on the Treaty of Edinburgh in 1328. Robert the Bruce died the year thereafter and was succeeded by his son David (kudos for putting an end to the Roberts in that family). Edward III later came back a few times to remind the Scots that England was still there. ;)

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle has often been the focus of historical events during history. It was besieged at least 16 times, and three battles have been fought in its vicinity. A number of Scottish kings and queens have been to Stirling Castle for important events like coronations; or died there. To give you a little tidbit just for the time of Robert the Bruce, here's a - somewhat shortened - excerpt of the timeline given on the Undiscovered Scotland website:

  • 1291 - Stirling Castle is placed under the control of Edward I of England.
  • July 1291 - The Scottish nobility swear fealty to the English Crown at Stirling Castle.

  • 1296 - Edward captures the castle.
  • Sept. 1297 - Battle of Stirling Bridge (William Wallace is victor over the English). Stirling Castle which is held by the English, surrenders to the Scots.
  • 1298 - The Scots abandon the castle after the lost battle of Falkirk; Edward I again resumes control.
  • 1299 - Robert the Bruce lays siege to the castle and regains it from the English.
  • 1304 - The castle is besieged by the English and surrenders to Edward I.
  • 1314 - The castle is besieged by Robert's brother; a deal is made that the castle will surrender if the English don't relieve it by June 24 (midsummer's day).
  • June 24, 1314- Battle of Bannockburn. The castle surrenders to the Scots and Robert destroys the defenses to prevent it from being used again by the English.
  • 1333 - The English again take control fo Stirling Castle and rebuild its defenses.


  • Rinse and Repeat.

    View from the North Gate into the Nether Bailey

    With the above timeline, you don't need to wonder that the castle has been altered a lot during the centuries. The north gate, dating from 1380, is the oldest remaining part of the castle, and the fortifications of the Nether Bailey probably date from the same time though they have been rebuilt later.

    This was another case of reliving the past: when I passed through the gate the first time, there were kids rolling down the grass-covered wall, and they did the same this time. I sat on the grass and had a little picnic, just like ten years ago. It's a pretty spot nowadays, and the sun had come out both times as well. I didn't roll down the wall, though; didn't want to get grass stains on my jacket. But it looked like fun.

    View from the battlements to the Highlands

    Stirling is called the Gate to the Highlands, and on this photo, the sun was so kind to highlight the mountains in the north. Beautiful, isn't it?

    Sources: The official Castle guidebook, the Undiscovered Scotland website, a booklet about the Battle of Bannockburn and a short biography of Robert the Bruce I got in the Bannockburn Heritage Centre.
     


    1.3.10
      Felix Dahn, A Struggle for Rome

    A Struggle for Rome (German: Ein Kampf um Rom) was published in 1876, but I'm sure the novel - a veritable doorstopper - will appeal those among my readers who still enjoy books like Ivanhoe (published 1819) and The Three Musketeers (1844), or maybe Tolkien's less well-known stories like The Sons of Húrin.

    The novel starts with a nightly meeting in a half-runied temple outside Ravenna in 526 AD. King Theodoric is dying, and old Hildebrand, the king's friend and battle companion, has called some men to discuss the future of a kingdom endangered by the conquered Romans who want to drive the victors off, and the emperor in Byzantium who wants to reunite the former Roman Empire under Byzantine rule. There are Witigis, honorable and loyal, the handsome, dashing young Totila, his brother Hildebad the Strong, and Teias, warrior and bard with a mood as black as the byrnie he wears. Those five men swear a solemn oath that could have been taken right out of one of the Icelandic sagas, to sacrifice goods, love, and life for the survival of the Goths and the Ostrogoth kingdom of Italy.

    At the same time, another secret meeting takes place in the catacombs of Rome. Here a group of squabbling Romans is clearly dominated by one man: Cethegus. Cold, ambitious, manipulative, but a brave fighter as well, he is the most formidable antagonist Dahn invented.

    The characters from Byzantium don't need any secret meetings; that place is a conspiracy all by itself, and the strings are played by the Empress Theodora.

    After the death of Theodoric the Great, the struggle for Rome - on the arena of politics and intrigues as well as the battlefield - between the Byzantine general Belisarius, the Roman Cethegus, and the Gothic oath-brothers begins, a struggle the Goths soon know they will lose. But they fight on, and the men sacrifice what they hold dear: Hildebrand executes his own son for treason. Witigis abandons the woman he loves to marry Theodoric's granddaughter in an attempt to avoid civil war between the Goths only to nurse a snake that will bring about his downfall. Totila can for a short time stem the Byzantine tide but is betrayed by a friend on the battlefiled of Taginae where he falls (552 AD). Teias leads the Goths into a last desperate fight well worth a song, and faces Cethegus in a duel on the slopes of Mons Vesuvius where both find a heroic end. His cousin Aligern makes peace with the Byzantine, and the few surviving Goths are allowed to leave Italy in search of the mysterious Thule in the far North.

    Except for Cethegus, all the main characters are historical, and the main events based on historical sources (mostly on Procopius of Caesarea's De bello Gothico), but Dahn deviated from those where the story demanded it since he was both a historian and a writer.

    Felix Dahn (1834-1912) made a career not untypical for 19th century Germany. He studied law - and worked as a professor of law in Munich and Breslau - and history. He wrote a great monography about the Kings of the Germans (from the beginnings to Charlemagne, 1861-1909), a biography of Procopius of Caesarea, and an Early History of the Germanic and Romanic People (Urgeschichte der germanischen und romanischen Völker, 1889).

    He also wrote poetry, plays and novels. In the 19th century, an academic and literary career were not exclusive at all. Most of his novels take place during the Migration times, like Attila, Stilicho, The Batavians, Chlodovec, and a novel about Julian the Apostate. A few times he used later settings like the Crusades. But the novel that would make Felix Dahn famous and that would remain popular long after his death is Ein Kampf um Rom - A Struggle for Rome.

    A Struggle for Rome is a 19th century novel and thus the interpretation of history is somewhat idealised and biased. In particular the Goths stand for honour, respect of old customs, the courage to fight a battle already lost. Not that different from Sir Walter Scott's idealised Highlanders. But there are sufficient exceptions to avoid black and white depictions: like queen Mataswintha whose personal revenge carries her people to the brink of destruction, or Belisarius who is brave and way too honest for the court at Byzantium. Cethegus, despite his questionable methods, is willing to sacrifice everything for his dream of a renewed Roman republic.

    The style is rich in description, and the chapters dealing with the Gothic Thing and some other scenes sprout a fair number of alliterations. Esp. old Hildebrand can't speak a sentence without Wagnerian wording. The English translation has carefully modernised the style; the alliterations are not carried over, and a few excess adverbs and adjectives have been cut.

    A Struggle for Rome is a grand tapestry of the Ostrogoths' attempt to keep their Italian kingdom against overwhelming odds, a tale of heroic deeds and battles, of intrigues and betrayal, and of friendship and love. Into the increasing doom after Theodoric's death, after Witigis' fight and fall, shines a ray of light when Totila for a short time manages to drive the Byzantine army back, but after his death Teias with his dark songs and fearsome axe takes over until the end. He would not be misplaced in Tolkien's Silmarillion.

    If you click the Search Inside feature on the Amazon link above, you can get a larger version of the English cover. It shows the final battle between Teias and Cethegus.
     


    Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.

    All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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    I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.

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