Monday, June 24, 2013

Madness Monday - George Sinclair, 4th Earl of Caithness: One Bad Dude - Munro Line

Reconstruction of Girnigoe Castle by Andrew Spratt
Does power lead to cruelty, or does cruelty lead to power?  Did George Sinclair (1527-1582) have the same “bad gene” that turned his great-uncle William Sinclair into the person known in history as “William the Wastrel”?  Was it the same gene that turned his grandson, another George and the 5th Earl of Caithness, into the person we know as “the Wicked Earl”?  Or were these fellows bad because they lived in cruel times?  It’s the age-old Nature v. Nurture debate, I suppose, but there were no niceties of the psychiatrist’s couch in the earl’s time.  There was just blunt force.

Girnigoe Castle Today
            George’s grandfather, William Sinclair, 2nd Earl of Caithness, had added to the Sinclair castles by building Girnigoe Castle three miles north of Wick on the east coast of Scotland.  (The spelling Gro├źn gho is found in some documents.)  It was a massive beast of a castle of the L-Plan towerhouse type with a massive square multi-storey tower typical in Scotland at the time.  Similar castles are known to have had walls 14 feet thick on the ground floor, and since Girnigoe was nearly impregnable until it was attacked in the seventeenth century by Cromwell’s cannons, we can probably assume that it was a pretty sturdy place.

Dungeon of Girnigoe Castle
            Of interest to us in the story of George Sinclair, however, would more likely be the dungeon of Girnigoe Castle.  George’s son and heir, John (called Master of Caithness as he was in line to be the next earl), fell (to put it mildly) from his father’s good graces.  In a dispute with the Sinclairs’ arch-enemy, the Earl of Sutherland, George sent his son John into the town of Dornoch to attack Hugh Murray of Aberscors, a Sutherland ally.  In this assault, John first burned down the Cathedral and destroyed the town, then besieged the castle.  The Sutherland allies “cried uncle” and surrendered the castle.  Agreeing to leave the county, the defeated group left three hostages as a pledge that they would follow through.  However, Earl George—was he paranoid?—took John’s decision not to kill the Sutherland allies as a sign that he (John) had turned against his father and was in league with the Sutherlands.  Therefore, when the three hostages were delivered, George immediately had them beheaded and threw his son John, aged 27, into the dungeon of Girnigoe castle, where he lived for seven years in darkness.  During the last months of his life, his two jailers (actually Sinclair kin) began feeding him salt-beef while depriving him of water.  The history books say that in 1577, John, Master of Caithness, “died insane from thirst.”

Sinclair Aisle in Wick, Caithness
Photo by Gordon Mackay
     In 1877, historian William Anderson aptly described the end of George Sinclair, thus: “The inhuman earl died at Edinburgh 9th September 1582, and his body was buried in St Giles [some say Rosslyn Chapel], where a monument was erected to his memory. His heart was cased in lead and placed in the Sinclair's aisle in the church of Wick, where his murdered son was interred. . . . In an incursion of the earl of Sutherland into Caithness in 1588, afterwards mentioned, one of his followers, having entered the church of Wick, found the leaden box which enclosed the heart of the cruel earl of Caithness and, disappointed in expectations of treasure, he broke the casket open and flung the corrupted heart to the winds.”  A leaden heart flung from a leaden case.  A fitting end to one bad dude. 
Anderson, William.  The Scottish Nation: Or. the Surnames, Families, Literature, Honours, and Biographical History of the People of Scotland.  London: Fullarton, 1877.  Available on Google Books.

Girnigoe Castle Today.  “Sinclair Girnigoe Castle.”  Wikipedia. 11 Jun 2013.  Web.  22 Jun 2013.

Inside the Dungeon.  “Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle.”  n.d. Web. 22 Jun 2013.

Reconstruction of Girnigoe Castle.  Used with the kind permission of Andrew Spratt. Stravaiging around Scotland.  2013.  Web.  22 Jun 2013.

Sinclair Aisle.  Used with the kind permission of Gordon Mackay. Gordonmac Dot Com.
© Eileen Cunningham, 2013



Sunday, June 9, 2013

Llywelyn the Great - Part II - Bain Line


St. David's, Pembrokeshire, Wales 
The life of Llywelyn Fawr connects not only to the kings and earls of his time, but also to the affairs of the Church, which was an ever present influence in medieval life. 
In the previous century, as part of the power struggle between Henry IV, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and Pope Gregory VII, the pope had declared that it was absolutely necessary for every person on earth to submit to him in order to enter heaven upon death.  Naturally, kings and emperors were not so sure this was the way they wanted things to play out.  But in the thirteenth century, Pope Innocent III was happy to use this tenet to meddle in the affairs of nations. 

This meant that he would take an interest even in the life of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, far away on the Atlantic Coast in Wales.  Here is one example.  Before marrying Joan, the daughter of King John, Llywelyn had been planning on marrying a woman who had been pre-contracted to Llwelyn's uncle Rhodri ab Owain (one of the villains in Llywelyn's story).  Though Rhodri seems to have died before the marriage took place, a pre-contract was as binding as a marriage in this time period, and Llywelyn would have needed a dispensation from the pope to marry her.  However, this never came to pass because, in 1211, he was fighting with King John again, and when they came to terms, part of their peace agreement was that Llywelyn would marry Joan, an illegitimate daughter of the king. 

 Pope Innocent III
However, marriage was not the only cause that brought Llywellyn into contact with the pope.  If King John is famous (or infamous) for anything, it is for his famous feud with Pope Innocent.  The feud came to a head in 1207, and Pope Innocent let loose his most powerful weapons: he excommunicated John and, the following year, put all of John’s kingdom under an interdict, including Wales.  Putting a whole country under interdict was enormously powerful because it meant that no one in the kingdom could get married, have the last rites of the church at the time of death, or—so the authorities claimed—go to heaven.  Therefore, the subjects of an excommunicated king would rise up against him, which was, of course, exactly the hoped-for result. 

For this reason, Llywelyn had an ally in the pope in all his subsequent battles with King John.  From Llywelyn's point of view, the best part of it was that the pope released him from his loyalty to John as his overlord, which must have left John shaking his fist at the sky somewhere deep in the valleys of Wales.
Gerald of Wales
 Another example of how a medieval king interacted with Church business is Llywellyn’s support for Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), who was hoping to become bishop of St. David's.  This effort became embroiled in politics since Giraldus was wrangling to make the see of St. David's equal to that of Canterbury, the seat of England’s archibishop.  King John, as one would expect, was standing behind Canterbury.  In the end, Gerald was accused of stirring up the Welsh rulers (especially Llywelyn) and was effectively run out of the British Isles. 

Sarcophagus of Joan, Lady of Wales
But politics aside, Llywelyn had a sincere side to his faith.  He granted a charter to the Augustinian friars at Beddgelert, and, in his old age, founded a Franciscan convent at Llanvaes in Anglesey.  It was at Llanvaes that he buried his wife, Joan, when she died in 1237.  (Her stone coffin, left, now lies in the Church of St. Mary and St. Nicholas in Beaumaris, Anglesey.) 

Aberconwy Abbey, Burial Place
of Llywelyn the Great

His most noted donation to the Church, however, was his establishment of a Cistercian abbey at Aberconwy in 1199.  Over the years, his generosity meant that the Abbey of Aberconwy would hold 40,000 acres, more than any other abbey in Wales.

Penmon Priory, Anglesey, Wales
In addition to being a founder of these bodies, Llywellyn was a great patron of other Welsh religious houses among which were Basingwerk Abbey, Flintshire; Cymer Abbey, Gwynedd; Penmon Priory, Anglesey, and Puffin Island, Gwynedd. 

Near the end of his life, Llywelyn became partially paralyzed and retired to live as a religious at Aberconwy Abbey, where, in 1240, he died and was buried.
Coffin of Llywelyn Fawr
now in Llanrwst parish church

End of Part II

“Aberconwy Abbey,” Wikipedia. 9 Apr 2013.  Web.  1 Jun 2013.

“Llywelyn ab Iorwerth.”  The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Web. 1 Jun 2013.

“Llywelyn ab Iorwerth; Llywelyn Fawr , Prince of Gwynedd (the Great).”  Monastic Wales.  Universitat de Lleida.  n. d.  Web.  1 June 2013.

Ross, David. “Llewelyn ab Iorwerth (Llewelyn the Great).”  Britain Express.  n. d. Web.  1 Jun 2013.


Aberconwy Abbey.  “Aberconwy Abbey.” Wikipedia. 9 Apr 2013.  Web.  1 Jun 2013.

Coffin of Llewelyn ab Iorwerth. 22 May 2010.  Web.  9 Jun 2013.

Interior of Penmon Priory.  Photograph by J. Demetrescu. 2009.  Web.  1 Jun 2013.

Pope Innocent III.  Pope Innocent III.”  Wikipedia.  9 Jun 2013.  Web.  9 Jun 2013.

Sarcophagus of Joan, Lady of Wales.  Joan, Lady of Wales.”  Wikipedia.  19 Apr 2013.  Web.  1 Jun 2013.,_Lady_of_Wales

Statue of Gerald of Wales by Henry Poole. Photograph by Robert Freidus.  Victorian Web.    8 April 2012.  Web.  3 June 2013.


©Eileen Cunningham, 2013





Sunday, June 2, 2013

Amanuensis Monday - Marriage Document of Sarah Fauber and John Cash - Sanford Line

November, 1824Augusta County, Virginia

Know all men by these Presents, That we John Cash and Thomas Cash and Jacob Seig are held and firmly bound to James Pleasants, Governor of Virginia and his successors, for use of the Commonwealth, in the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars, to which payment well and truly to be made, we bind ourselves, our heirs, executors and administrators, jointly and severally, firmly by these presents.  Sealed with our seals this 15th day of November A.D. 1824.

   The condition of the above obligation is such that whereas a marriage is shortly intended to be solemnized between the above bound John Cash son of [indistinguishable]Thomas and Sarah Fauber of Augusta County; if therefore there shall be no lawful cause to obstruct the said marriage, then the above obligation to be void, otherwise to remain in full force and virtue

Signed, Sealed, and Delivered in the presence of:

John Cash, Jefferson Kinney, and Thomas Cash, and Jacob Sieg


Jacob Sieg lived in Greenville, Augusta, Virginia, and appears in the 1820 census.

Jefferson Kinney (b. 1805) lived in Augusta County, Virginia, and appears in the 1860 census.

Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd (1172-1240) - Bain Line - Part I

Llywellyn the Great ap Iowrth
Prince of Gwynedd
Take a peek at the life of Llywelyn ab Iorworth (1172-1240) and you will see the High Middle Ages themselves. 

Known to history as Llywellyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great), Prince of Gwynedd, Llywelyn was not only a man of his times, but a man for his times.  His father, Iorworth, had been one of nineteen sons of Owain Gwynedd, king of Gwynedd, the northwestern-most point of Wales (see map below). 

When Owain died, his sons fell to fighting, and the two sons of Owain’s second wife—Dafydd (David) and Rhodri—triumphed through treachery and cruelty.  Iorworth was driven out of Wales and died at the age of 22.  Llywelyn was just a tot at the time, and his story is the story of the recovery of his grandfather’s kingdom—and then some, battling Anglo-Norman kings and becoming embroiled in all the big events of his day.

Wales, c. 1271, after the reign of Llywelyn the Great
 And that is why his life can be viewed as a microcosm of medieval Europe.

Let’s start with geography, not the most thrilling subject to most Americans, but looking at it from Llywelyn’s point of view, you’ve got to know (a) where your kingdom is, (b) where your enemy is, (c) where your ally is, and (d) where those pesky “Normans” are (they had been English kings and earls for a hundred years now, but to the Welsh, they were still French).

So, Llywelyn’s homeland was Gwynedd (Note: in Welsh, dd is pronounced as th).  Throughout most of the medieval period, there was no king of Wales as such, just princes (sometimes they called themselves kings) of the various principalities. Thus, Llywellyn was the prince of Gwynedd. 

His nearest enemy would have been in the principality just to the east, Powys (in gray).  Over the years, he had a number of altercations with the ruler of Powys, and finally annexed southern Powys to his own kingdom—which is one of the reasons they call him “the Great.”

Ranulf de Blondeville, Earl of Chester
One of his chief allies would have been in Scotland.  In fact, he married one of his natural daughters, Elen the Younger (not to be confused with her older sister, Elen the Elder), to an earl of Fife. In addition, depending on the year, he also found an ally in the English county of Chester, where the Norman earl, Ranulf de Blondeville, could be counted on. (Note to the Gards: Believe it or not, Ranulf, or more specifically his sister, is an ancestor on the paternal side of our family!)

And, last, the pesky “Normans” were all about: two kings of England—King John (the “evil” brother of Richard the Lionhearted), who, by the way, was the father of Llywelyn’s wife (it gets complicated); and King Henry III (the two came to blows in the 1230s).

King John of England
But there were other Anglo-Normans roaming around Wales.  Earl Ranulf has been mentioned already (fortunately, they were on friendly terms), but there was another guy named Hubert de Burgh.  Hubert (or, as he would probably have said it, "oo-BEAR") was the earl of Kent, but he seems not to have spent much time in Kent, which is completely on the other side of the isle and much to the southeast.  Rather, he seems always to have been romping around on the king’s errands, most of which took him to Wales, where he probably headquartered at Montgomery Castle, which the king had given to him for his services.
Purple Diamond
"Gem of Power"
Again, this relationship gives us another glimpse of medieval life because a person who was your enemy one day would be your friend the next and vice versa. It all depended on how the winds were shifting in London or Edinburgh or Rome.  So, Hubert was an erstwhile enemy, but at one point got himself in big trouble with the king because he had furtively removed from the royal treasury a gem which made its wearer invincible in battle and had bestowed it upon his sovereign's enemy”—our man, Llywelyn the Great!

End of Part 1.


Collings, Michael R.  Gem Lore: An Introduction to Precious and Semi-Precious Stones.  2nd ed.  (Available on Google Books)

Llywelyn ab Iorwerth.”  Dictionary of National Biography.  12:7.
     (Available on Google Books)
“Llywelyn the Great.”  Wikipedia. 24 May 2013.  Web.  1 Jun 2013. 

Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester.”  Wikipedia. 8 May 2013.  Web.  1 Jun 2013. 
John, King of England.”  Wikipedia.  1 Jun 2013.  Web.  1 Jun 2013.,_King_of_England
 Map of 13th-Century Wales.   “Llywelyn the Great.”  Wikipedia. 24 May 2013.  Web.  1 Jun 2013. 
 Purple Diamond.  Almor Design.  Facebook.  8 Feb 2011.  Web.  2 Jun 2013.
 Ranulf de Blondeville.  Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester.”  Wikipedia. 8 May 2013.  Web.  1 Jun 2013.,_6th_Earl_of_Chester


©Eileen Cunningham, 2013

Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney and Lord of Shetland

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