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Gwales Review
“My name is Walter Map, and I am clerk and recorder in the service of King Henry II.
“Where his Majesty the King goes, I go, and where His Majesty cannot go, either for politic or personal reason, I am, on occasion, sent by him, in his stead.
“Thus it was that it was I and no other whom the King sent into Wales, in the year 1176, on the occasion of the Christmastide Contest of bardic poets and musicians at the Court of the Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd, Prince of Deheubarth at Cardigan Castle.”

So begins the story of the first Eisteddfod, as told by the people of the court.

Perhaps best known as a storyteller and writer for children, Liz Whittaker has brought her lyrical skills to bear in this beautifully presented and clearly imagined tale, which she has dedicated to the town of Cardigan, her home and inspiration.

To provide a full record of the celebrations, as well as a nuanced portrayal of the Lord Rhys, Walter Map calls on three people to tell their personal stories: Father Rhygyfarch, the hunchback priest, who compares life under the monstrous Fitzstephen, former Castellan of Cardigan, with Rhys’s gentler and more generous rule; Rhys’s loving and long-suffering wife, Gwenllian, who offers a domestic view and a woman’s insights; and Hywel Sais, one of Rhys’s illegitimate sons, who has returned from the battlefield in France especially for the Christmas festivities.

Whittaker creates four distinct yet coherent voices to weave a fictional narrative that is grounded in carefully researched historical fact and follows in the bardic tradition of storytelling. Her characters come gently to life on the page, with the court, castle and town of Cardigan standing proudly in their midst.

Suzy Ceulan Hughes
(A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council. )

 

'A Court in Splendour -- what a wonderful, colourful, informative and enjoyable read. The story of the first Eisteddfod at Cardigan Castle is told from several viewpoints and in distinct voices, which brings the whole spectacle alive and leaves you wanting more.
The story engenders a sense of being close to the people of that time in Cardigan and to the history of the broader world.'
Jackie Biggs (Journalist and editor - Tivy Side Advertiser)

 

'Through the voices of the individual characters we discover, in an exciting way, a little known, fascinating, piece of Welsh history. I particularly like Gwenllian, as she sometimes has to put up stoically with her husband but is not immune to a lover's whisper, all the while looking after the business of the castle and her children.'
Patricia Andreoli. Grenoble.

 

'I just want to say thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to read your wonderfully crafted book. I just love your story telling and I feel you have not only delivered in making your story telling characters accessible to all, I feel you have created the kind of a warmth that very few books can offer. I have been reading the book in work this week and as I have been looking out of the window on this very cold, bleak and gloomy weather of ours your book has filled me with exiting warmth, not only for the heritage of the area but also anticipation for Christmastide events!! I feel like I now understand the passion surrounding the Bardic Chair.

May I wish you every success with A Court in Splendour!! A truly charming read!'
George Walters

 

'It is written in Brut y Tywysogion that the Arglwydd Rhys at Christmastide in the year 1176 held a contest in which poets and musicians gathered together and there was for the victor’s two chairs. This as we all know was the beginning of what has now come to be known as the most important event for Welsh poets and writers the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol.
Liz’s new book is one of fiction, giving the reader her interpretation of what happened in the town so long ago. In saying this however it is clear to anyone who has studied that period in history that lot of research has gone into the work, making it as factually correct as possible.
The story begins with Walter Map who was indeed a cleric in the court of Henry II. Did Map ever visit Cardigan, we do not know, but it could easily believed that he did, due to the fact that he was sent by the king to important events that were held across Britain to record what took place.
At the beginning of the book Map has journeyed to the town and is in the process of interviewing three ‘real’ people who were important in the life of Arglwydd Rhys, his priest Rhygyfarch, Gwenllian his wife who was in charge of all the servants within the castle and Hywel Sais one of Rhys’s sons.
Rhygyfarch tells us of how he came to serve Rhys, the part he played in helping to bring about Cardigan into the hands of the Welsh and the way that he is looking forward to the great event that has been planned.
Gwenllian takes us on a different journey, her marriage to Rhys, her family and all the preparations that she has to undertake for the gathering.
In contrast to the two others we first meet Hywel Sais at a hostel on the road from Cornwall. He speaks of his battles, his journeys with the king, his trip back to Cardigan and the changes that he has found on his return.
The book ends with Walter Map reporting back to the king in France on the welcome he received, the great event that took place and the way that he views the Welsh.
At the beginning of her book Liz states that she hopes that readers will have a sense of being there, in this she has succeeded. Many congratulations on your achievement.'
Heather Tomos. (Medieval History graduate and a history enthusiast particularly in relation to the West Wales area.)

 

'I suppose I cannot blame the author for the fact that I stayed up too late reading the first fifty pages before I could turn off the light but I do love the book, find it compelling and lyrical, wonderfully immersed in a sense of place and time.'
Richard Cook.

 

'Liz Whittaker`s immense talent and eye for detail enchants and transports us to 12th century Wales, in such a way that to read her is to be there & to understand every aspect of life at that time. It is a tremendous story and to know her characters and be swept along in events means that on finishing the book there is a sense of loss and a void to be filled.'
Jane Clifford.

 

`A Court in Splendour`, is a splendid read indeed. Liz Whittaker uses her agile imagination to weave a colourful tale of fiction combined with accurate and well researched fact. Her talent as a story-teller and her extensive cultural knowledge are both evident in this enjoyable insight into Welsh history. The story is told with a personal liveliness and breathes a sense of humour into this most important historical event . It should be read by every competitor and visitor to the modern Eisteddfod.
Louise Bird



Cardigan

 

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