Life in a Medieval Castle 1: Clothes

This is the start of a new series, based on material from my book.

Wealthy men and women wore similar outer clothes[i] – a tunic with long sleeves made of linen, an over-tunic with shorter sleeves made of wool lined with fur, and then a hood and a mantle, usually circular and also fur-lined.[ii] The length, style and decoration of the clothes depended on the sex and status of the wearer, but people loved bright colours.[iii] Men’s tunics reached to the knee or below and were worn with breeches, linen under a long tunic, more substantial fabric when they showed under a shorter tunic.

Women’s tunics were floor length and linen (like a nightgown – indeed, they often slept in it). The tunic was slit at the neck and fastened with a brooch, and a girdle or belt at the waist. These also gave the opportunity for ostentation.[iv]  The men who served in lordly households wore livery to mark out who they served.[v]

Clothes in Britain were of better quality cloth than those on the continent, due to the mechanisation of the fulling process, using local water mills. This process shrank and tightened the cloth and made it stronger.[vi]Later in the fourteenth century, fashion dictated a wide variation of styles.[vii] While unmarried, Alina would have worn her hair loose, but once married she would have worn her hair in plaits wound over her ears in a ‘ramshorn’ and over that a wimple, a cloth headdress that covered the hair. Many also wore a cloth around the neck.[viii]


[i] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England,p.110
[ii] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England,p.106
[iii] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England, p.9
[iv] Labarge, Margaret Wade, Mistress, Maids and Men: Baronial Life in the Thirteenth Century (1965),  p.139
[v] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England,p.102
[vi] Stark, Rodney, The Victory of Reason, p.152-154
[vii] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England,p.101
[viii] Mortimer, Ian, The Time Traveller’s Guide To Medieval England,p.112
Hull, Marvin, Medieval Women © 2001-2008,


Planning for the Re-opening of Oystermouth Castle

As the Council’s event announcement says, on 16th June:

Celebrate the castle’s official re-opening with our spectacular medieval tournament and re-enactments. Let the children explore the castle and its grounds, complete with medieval sports, live music, fire juggling, storytelling and arts and crafts. Guided tours of the castle available.

The castle has had a £3.1 million conservation project, which has seen the Visitor’s Centre put inside the chapel, and a glass bridge constructed so that visitors can access the chapel top floor, but still have a clear view from below. Much restoration and conservation work has been done, including improvements to the grounds, and better access.

The chapel has been named ‘Alina’s chapel’, but until now there was no detailed information about who Alina was. My book, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth fills that need, and will be sold inside the castle. I have produced a poster linking the book to the re-opening, which will be distributed in the next week to all local outlets selling the book.

Blogroll & Sign Up

I have just updated this site, so you can now subscribe to emails when I post, and see some of the online sites I used in my research.

Some of the sites I have discovered more recently, but some, like the de Braose website, Hugh le Despenser website, Lady Despenser’s Scribery, & Edward II blog were very useful to me indeed. Credit where credit’s due.

Re-Think, Re-Write

I have done a lot of thinking about this book while I have been in hospital with my stroke, and with some distance from the initial creative spurt have begun to re-think things. My thoughts were confirmed when my daughter-in-law, the historian, returned my manuscript with copious notes. She had come to the same conclusion.

I have become fascinated by this period in history, and although I say that I am using the life of Alina de Breos to hang the story from, I have actually gone and written about everything, with occasional reference to Alina. So it doesn’t work.

I am very attached to what I have written, like most writers, and have to make a hard decision: Do I revert to a straight history of the period, or do I cut out the stuff that is not relevant to Alina? I have concluded that a straight history would not have the appeal that ‘The White Lady of Oystermouth’ would, especially with the opening of the visitors centre in Alina’s chapel at Oystermouth castle next year.

So I have the painful job of rejecting large chunks of my history (though I won’t delete it – you never know when it might come in useful), re-writing some with more relevance to Alina, and adding a lot that I have researched about daily life to tell more of her story. It is harder than I first thought because there is actually very little on record about Alina, or indeed any women in that period. They were considered inferior and just used to make prestigious alliances by marriage.

Wish me luck, and watch this space. I might drop some tidbits about life in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

The Pacification of the Welsh 3

To emphasise the end of Welsh independence, Edward went on a triumphal progress through Wales, from Chester to Chepstow. On the way he stayed at Oystermouth Castle (we assume that Swansea Castle was still in disrepair). In addition, he took to himself the symbols of Welsh princely power – Llewelyn’s coronet and seal, the jewel or crown of Arthur, and the most cherished relic in Wales, the piece of the True Cross known as Y Groes Naid. Edward did the same to Scotland when he removed the Stone of Scone.

Rhys ap Meredudd, in the south west, had defected to the king during the early fighting, but was unhappy with the settlement and rose in rebellion in 1287. It was put down, in part, with the help of the great siege engine owned by William de Breos mentioned in chapter 2. It was used to capture Dryslwyn and was then instrumental in winning the siege of [Newcastle] Emlyn without any loss of life. The whole bill for the engine, the men to maintain and man it, and the siege works, came to over £18. In addition to the siege engine, William had seven mounted knights and sixty three foot soldiers in his personal following and raised an additional twenty one horse, twenty one crossbowmen and four hundred foot. In total, an army of over 25,000 men was mobilised to crush this rebellion.

The last great Welsh rebellion, in 1294, was more serious because it was more widespread. In addition to the oppression and exploitation by Edward’s officials in administering Wales, the whole country was called to provide men and funds for Edward to fight in Gascony for his land there. Those Welsh leaders who did raise bands of knights and foot soldiers gave them arms which they then used against the English, and many of the lords were already away preparing to sail for France.

Once again Edward was forced to march armies into Wales, and by March 1295 the Welsh resistance was exhausted. Edward’s castles had proved their worth, and sucked up the Welsh assaults and drained their strength. Ifor Rowlands in the book ‘Edward I and Wales’ summed it up well: “Three campaigns within twenty years had deprived the Welsh of their natural leaders, drained them of resources and destroyed their capacity for resistance. An economically under-resourced, militarily backward and politically divided people – ever a volatile element within the Plantagenet dominions – had been ground to submission by an infinitely more powerful neighbour.”

To cap it all, Edward’s son (also called Edward), born in Caernarfon in 1284, was invested as Prince of Wales in 1301.