Stormin’ Normans

Aoife

The marriage of Aoife and Strongbow

May 1st 1169 is traditionally given as the day the Normans came to Ireland.  It was a tradition in Ireland for ousted kings or princes to run abroad to seek support to retake their crowns.  Belgium was a popular place to go because Flemish mercenary spearmen had a good reputation.

On this occasion though the ousted King of Leinster Dermot MacMurrough decided to go to Aquitane.  100 years on from the Battle of Hastings the Norman invaders were well settled in England, Wales and parts of Scotland.  In Wales the Normans intermarried with the Welsh Marcher Lords and created extended families of troublemakers.

Henry II, based in Southern France, the lands of his wealthy wife,  maybe thought he could get rid of a few Welsh troublemakers by sending them to wild Ireland.  Or else Dermot, rebuffed by Henry, went independently to Wales, and pitched his case to Robert DeClare (Strongbow).  Dermot dangled the promise of his daughter and the kingshop of Leinster in front of Strongbow, who reached for the prize.  So Robert Fitzstephen was despatched to lead an expedition.  He brought three ships, thirty mounted knights and about 300 Welsh and Flemish footsoldiers to Bannow Strand in Co.  Wexford in the south west of Ireland.

Two days later they were followed by two more ships led by Maurice de Prendergast and a further 300 soldiers.  There they were met by 500 Irish supporters of MacMurrough.  They marched on Wexford and successfully took the Danish city.  For a time it seems that matters stabilised or went against the invaders.  McMurrough begged Strongbow for more troops and a year later another force landed at Baginbun led by Raymond le Gros.  They routed an army of Irish and Norse from Waterford.

In August 1170 Strongbow himself arrived with thousand men and now the Normans had a critical mass of troops.  First they took the stoutly defended city of Waterford.  There Strongbow married his promised prize, Aoife MacMurrough, in the wedding pictured in the painting above from the Irish National Gallery.  They swept rapidly up the coast and siezed Dublin.

In May 1171 with the death of Dermot the Norman knight Strongbow became King of Leinster and was threatening to expand to the rest of Ireland.  Henry II the Angevin King of lands from Southern France all the way up to Scotland had reason to fear a rival Kingdom in Ireland.  He brought his army to Ireland and rapidly established some of his own knights in lands here.  It then appears that he did a deal with the remaining Irish of Ulster, Munster and Connacht.  At the Rock of Cashel he met the Kings and appears to have set out a stable peace.  No doubt this involved their support for Henry to deny Strongbow any further power.

Henry installed his younger son, John Lackland, as Lord of Ireland.  This is the John we see frequently represented as the weakling younger brother to Richard Lionheart.  The evil prince of the Robin Hood tales depicted in the Disney movie as a spoiled thumb sucking juvenile lion.  The craven who ended up capitulating to the powerful Barons when he signed the Magna Carta at Runnymeade.

Princejohn07

 

 

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Granada

Granada

Say 1066 and everyone thinks of Normans, William the Conqueror, Harold Godwinson with an arrow in his eye, Harald Hardrada, the Battle of Stamford Bridge, the Battle of Hastings. Then there was the Granada Massacre, and only the Jews bother to remember.

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In 1066 Al Andalus was a muslim kingdom ruled by Berber Kings in a period of flux between the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate and the rise of the Almoravids. In this power vacuum numerous Berber warlords seized power of fractured city states.

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The culture of tolerance and pluralism that marked the Caliphate was replaced by the motivations of a dog-eat-dog world. The enlightened Jews who had risen to high administrative positions under the Caliphate suddenly found that the sin of not being Muslim was punishable by death. A mob descended on the Royal Palace of Granada on 30th Dec 1066 and massacred the Jews.

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The famous Alhambra was originally a simple fort constructed in the 9th century. In the 11th century the Moorish rulers converted it into a fortified palace and laid the foundations for the current complex. The final royal ornamentation was completed much later, in the 14th century, just before it was lost to the Christian forces of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

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I visited Granada in 1978 as a teenager. I remember the heat of the night, the smell of jasmine, and hair oil, the bustle of all the people out strolling after dark.  I remember the Latin quarter on the hill with small artisan workshops making beautiful Moorish geometric marquetry plates.  I also remember the dark gypsy-like Andalusian boys chasing us down the street, trying to lure us into a “Flamenco Show” with the promise of “free champagne”.

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My mother asked one of them why we should pay to see dancing when we could dance ourselves.  He asked us to prove that we could dance.  So we danced an impromptu “Walls of Limerick” on the street.  He jumped onto his moped and raced off.  Ten minutes later he returned with a crowd of about 20 of his friends and asked us to dance again.  When we obliged we got a great cheer.  The young man then collected his winnings on the bets he had made on his boast.

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I remember at the Alhambra the parking attendants were injured veterans of the Civil War. Back in those days there were fewer tourists and we didn’t have to queue for hours to get in.

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The ornamentation is stunning but what really marks out the palace is the way the Moors integrated water into the design. Everywhere there are pools, fountains, qanats, runnels and cisterns. In the desert water is life. The Moors demonstrated their mastery through their ability to command water.

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This video may give a sense of the serenity of the space they created. Manuel da Falla’s “Night in the Gardens of Spain” is a fantastic and somewhat underplayed set of Nocturnes for Piano and Orchestra. The first movement takes the Gardens of the Generalife of the Alhambra as its inspiration. The linked video uses footage from the gardens to build the atmosphere.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qxqzo0fLKKQ

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While we are in Andalusia I attach an exerpt from the Soliloquy of Molly Bloom at the end of Ulysses by James Joyce. Joyce wrote this in unpunctuated prose. I have parsed it out in the way I would read it, with a lot of very gaspy yesses.

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Molly Bloom Soliloquy (Exerpt), from Ulysses; by James Joyce

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and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain
yes
when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used

or shall I wear a red
yes
and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought
well
as well him as another
and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again
yes
and then he asked me would I
yes
to say
yes
my mountain flower
and first I put my arms around him
yes
and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume
yes
and his heart was going like mad and
yes
I said
yes
I will
Yes.