A Court in Splendour by Liz Whittaker

A Historical Novel from Llanerch Press

It is Christmas 1176 and at the Court of the Lord Rhys in Cardigan Castle, preparations are under way for one of the most important events in Welsh history – a contest of Bards and Musicians, which later became known as the First Eisteddfod.
Walter Map, envoy to King Henry II is in attendance, and invites three of the people closest to the Lord Rhys to talk to him of their life and the pending contest. This they do, each throwing a new light on their leader, and on their life in the once Norman town on the banks of the River Teifi in West Wales.
Walter, with his love of celebrity chatter and the trappings of wealth, could be said to embody the spirit of a 12th century Piers Morgan. Sent by Henry II to the wilds of Wales to discover what is going on, he finds himself unexpectedly charmed by the welcome he is afforded and impressed by the wealth of poetry and music on offer from the best poets and songsters gathered from throughout Wales, Ireland, France, England and Scotland.
The book is written with a light touch – a genuinely accessible read with moments of high drama, humour and pathos carrying the reader with ease into the 12th century. Along with the political and romantic intrigues the book offers an unforgettable insight into the court of The Lord Rhys and his uniquely imaginative moment in history which gave birth in later centuries to the annual celebration of music and bardic splendour that is the Eisteddfod today.

A Court in Splendour will delight anyone who enjoys historical novels and will undoubtedly add a new dimension to those interested in the history of Wales’s most famous cultural festival.


The First Stirrings of The First Eisteddfod and a Court in Splendour….
A few years ago I was contacted by telephone out of the blue by a polite young man I had never met who was looking for an author to write a story for a compilation he was working on. He knew I had several publications out at the time and he made the project sound interesting. The compilation would centre on the subject of Welsh heroes, and would include work from writers from all corners of Wales.
On the negative side he had no money to pay anyone and he was hoping we would all do it for free. I thanked him for the compliment and said I didn’t think so, not this time.
Surprisingly my prompt refusal didn’t put him off his stride, and he continued to describe in more detail what he hoped to achieve, explaining that he had some excellent writers on board already, who were all choosing a famous Welsh hero to write about and were happily giving their work for free as profits from the book would go to a charity.
I began to think that perhaps, after all, it would be an interesting project. The prospect of making my own decision about the subject, whilst also seeing my name in print alongside the names of other Welsh literary figures, contributed I’m sure to me agreeing in the end to say yes.
The person I chose to write about was The Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd, Cardigan’s own hero and founder of the first Eisteddfod. Since Cardigan is my home town I knew a little about him already, so I added a bit of research, wrote the story and sent it off.
I received a prompt email thanking me and telling me I would be contacted when the book was coming out. Three years went by and apart from the occasional communication during the first months I heard nothing of how the project was developing, and finally, when my emails went unanswered, I came to the conclusion it had fallen through.
I was left with a sense of disappointment. Unfinished projects leave a trail of sadness behind them, a sense of time wasted, and research hanging in the air. Much of my disappointment was connected with how I had begun to feel about The Lord Rhys. His life was so extraordinary and his gift to the Welsh nation so important I had been seriously enthused by my brief relationship with his story.
He and his family and friends had somehow become more real than I had anticipated.
So real that I could not bear to leave them, and I finally made the decision to continue with my research and perhaps work toward producing a novel, centring it around the Christmas of the first Eisteddfod. At the point where I was finishing the novel there was good news about the book of short stories. A Stone for Remembrance came out at the end of 2008, with a dedication to a contemporary Welsh hero, Ray Gravell and profits to the Ty Hafan Children’s Hospice.By the end of 2009 the novel which grew out of it, A Court in Splendour, is to be published by Llanerch Press, just in time for the 900th birthday of Cardigan in 2010!

Liz Whittaker is an ex-journalist and teacher who began working as an author when she took early retirement. Her previous published stories include The Fizzing Stone, Shapeshifters at Cilgerran, Manawl’s Treasure and A Stone for Remembrance. She lives in Cardigan, once the county town of Cardiganshire.
Today the town is in the more recently named county of Ceredigion and no longer holds any position of political or civic importance. It remains however, a small, charming market town on the estuary of the River Teifi, noted for its sailing and wildlife, and is celebrating its 900th birthday next year.
Liz Whittaker in front of Cardigan Castle wall and plaque commemorating the first Eisteddfod of 1176
Liz Whittaker

Cardigan / Aberteifi : Home of the first Eisteddfod
Cardigan Bridge

Photos from Cardigan & surrounding area

Aberteifi / Cardigan - Home of the first Eisteddfod

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