Court in Splendour by Liz Whittaker
Historical Novel from Llanerch
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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!
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
birthday next year.
from Cardigan & surrounding area
here for more about Cardigan
here for more about Cardigan Castle