The Mediaeval Charters
originally granted a charter, outlining its liberties and privileges, by Robert
the Consul.It was successively renewed by the lords of Glamorgan until the
surviving charter, which helped to create the future prosperity of the borough,
was written on behalf of Robert the Consul’s son, William of Gloucester. This
instrument appears to be a re-statement of earlier rights, issued by Earl
Robert between 1122 and 1147 and modelled upon charters given to Tewkesbury and Hereford.
The document absolved the burgesses of Cardiff,
that is the householders who paid 12 pence a year to the Lord of Glamorgan,
from all kinds of irksome feudal obligations.
Unless they were
merchants, they were not required to pay the market tolls levied by the lord.
Likewise, they were allowed to sell and inherit property without payment of a
fee. In many English towns, feudal lords maintained a profitable monopoly over
such necessities of life as the baking of bread, the brewing of ale, and the
grinding of corn. The burgesses of Cardiffwere not only given freedom of choice in such matters, but were permitted to
own a handmill, a horsemill or even a dovecot. The latter was a particularly
prized privilege since doves provided a regular supply of eggs and fresh meat.
A citizen was
expected to be available for jury service at the Town Court, where minor offences were
heard, but he would be excused if he was setting off on urgent business. As the
charter quaintly stated, "If a burgess be summoned to the hundred and.....
shall be ready to depart so that he have one foot in the stirrup, and thereof
shall have two neighbours witnesses, he shall be quit'.
Finally, all these privileges were extended throughout the county of Gloucestershire to the "burgesses,
knights and freeholders' of Cardiff.
The charter was updated and amended by subsequent lords of Glamorgan when they
came into their inheritance, and from the sixteenth century onwards the Crown
assumed the right to grant the borough its charter. Incentives were necessary
to persuade people to live in twelfth century Cardiff. A pioneering spirit was esential in
a region where danger was never far away
In 1340 Hugh
Despenser issued a fresh charter to the burgesses of the town, which confirmed
their earlier liberties and added to
government was delegated to officials, the most important of whom was the Constable of Cardiff Castle who also
became the Mayor of the town.
New commercial and
trading advantages were granted to the freemen of the borough. They were
allowed to open a shop and were given a monopoly of trade through the Town
Guild. All burgesses were entitled to graze their animals on the Great and
Little Heaths to the north of the town. The prosperity of the borough was
enhanced when permission was given under the charter to hold two annual fairs:
one on Midsummer's day, the Feast of St. John; the other on 7-8 September, the
Feast of St. Mary.
brought to an end arbitrary imprisonment in CardiffCastlefor what was termed an "ordinary offence'. A burgess, charged with such a
breach of conduct, was to be tried at the Hundred Court before a jury of his fellow
freemen, and any custodial sentence was to be served at the Town Gaol.
A greater voice in
the government of their community was given to the citizens of Cardiff and, once a fortnight, the Mayor
presided over the Town Courtor Council. From 1338 the Council met in the Town Hall which was built in High
Street on land allocated by an earlier charter of William Zouche in 1331.
The charter of
1340 stipulated that every year the burgesses were to nominate representatives,
and from these the Constable would select the Town Bailiff, 2 provosts
responsible for the maintenance of law and order, and 2 ale-tasters. These
officials were granted special privileges in return for assisting the
Constable in his administration of the borough. A later charter of 1421
restricted the right to choose nominees for office to a select body of 12
aldermen. This decision, removing the voting rights from the burgesses as a
whole, marked the end of open local government for 400 years. The aldermen now
became a self-perpetuating oligarchy, filling any vacancies in their ranks with
a successor of their own choosing.
Earl of Gloucesterand Ifor Bach
William, the son
of Robert the Consul was not as tactful nor as fortunate as his father. Using
Norman law, he appropriated lands from Ifor ap Meurig, the Lord of Senghenydd.
In breaking his father's pledge, William stirred up a hornets' nest. Ifor was a
small man in stature hence his nickname, "Ifor Bach' but, despite his lack
of inches, he had a fiery temper as well as an abundance of courage and he
decided to teach this Norman upstart a lesson.
In 1158 he
gathered together a small but determined band of retainers. They rode to Cardiff and tethered
their horses near the castle. Giraldus Cambrensis, who heard the story on his
journey through Walesin 1188, tells us that the castle garrison numbered approximately 120 soldiers. Though outnumbered, Ifor and
his trusty followers scaled the walls at dead of night. Before the alarm could
be raised, they broke into the living quarters of William, his wife and their
young son. The story goes on to relate how Ifor took them back to his own
stronghold, where he forced William to restore everything which had been
unjustly taken from him. The garrison was undoubtedly half-asleep and bewildered,
but it seems unlikely that Ifor could have succeeded without some friendly
assistance inside the castle. The raid was one of the most daring and impudent
in the history of Wales, providing a clear warning that the Welsh would not
meekly submit to Norman injustice. See also; Cardiff Castle – The
When William of Gloucester died in 1183 he left no male heir.
Through his daughters, the Lordship of Glamorgan passed first to King John, and
then in 1217 to the Clare family. For nearly a century this powerful dynasty
exercised great influence throughout the realm. It was a time of turbulence
when the King was frequently in conflict with his barons, and the Welsh princes
of Gwynedd were striving to unite the whole of Wales under their leadership.
In Glamorgan, the
Clares completed the Norman Conquest by squeezing and reducing the remaining
outposts of Welsh independence. Final success came in January 1267 when Gilbert
de Clare, nicknamed the "Red Earl' on account of his auburn hair, staged a
lightning raid and captured the Lord of Senghenydd, Gruffydd ap Rhys. He was
imprisoned at Cardiffand later removed to a more distant Clare castle at Kilkenny in Ireland,
presumably to thwart any plans of escape.
It seemed to be
the final act in the subjugation of the Welsh but a new threat came from
LLywelyn ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Gwynedd.
As he made considerable advances into Central and South
Wales, this self-appointed Prince of Wales aroused the fears of
all the Marcher lords.
To guard the RhymneyValley and to prevent an attack upon Cardiff from the north,
Gilbert built a mighty, concentric castle at Caerphilly. The need for it became
apparent in 1270, when Llywelyn raided and destroyed the partially erected
fortifications. After recovering his castle through a combination of diplomacy
and intrigue, Gilbert hastily completed its construction. All the latest techniques of
castle-building, many of them acquired by the Crusaders in their expeditions
against the Turk, were applied. The water obstacles alone were immense and,
when completed, CaerphillyCastle was virtually
on Caerphilly caused Gilbert to critically examine his defences elsewhere in
Glamorgan. Castell Coch, the "Red Castle', was built on the hillside near
Tongwynlais to protect the river crossing. In Cardiff, the wooden pallisade
surrounding the town was replaced with a stone wall, while a number of
alterations were made to enhance the fortifications of the castle. The skilful
nature of these defences can still be appreciated though a number of
alterations, most of them dating from the sixteenth century, have masked much
of the work. (See also; Cardiff Castle – The Castle in the Later Middle Ages)
The death of
Llywelyn ap Gruffydd at Builth Wells in 1282 marked the demise of Welsh
independence and it might appear that these defensive measures were
unnecessary. Even in defeat, however, the Welsh remained defiant, and in 1294
Madog ap Llywelyn rebelled against the new English laws imposed by Edward I. In
his final campaign, the Red Earl used CardiffCastleas his military base to crush the revolt in Glamorgan.
He died the
following year, having lived through dangerous, uncertain times. Not
surprisingly, his principal interest at Cardiffconcerned the state of its defences. Yet the borough seems to have flourished
while he was Lord of Glamorgan. Since both Gilbert and his son came into their
inheritance as minors, the royal inquisitions made on behalf of the Crown give
an insight into the prosperity of Cardiffbetween 1262 and 1295. The burgesses of Cardiffpaid their lord his seignorial dues in a lump sum. This "farm', as it was
known, rose from £66 to £127 during Gilbert's lordship. The number of burgages
increased to 420, indicating a population of just over 2,000. This evidence,
together with the substantial revenue from markets, fairs and mills, all point
to a thriving, successful community.
The last of the Clares, also named Gilbert, was killed at the
Battle of Bannockburn.
The Despensers and
the Tragedy of llywelyn Bren
Gilbert de Clare,
always displayed tact and prudence in his dealings with Llywelyn Bren, the son
of the last Lord of Senghenydd. A contemporary chronicler described Llywelyn
as, "a great man and powerful in his own country'. He enjoyed a good relationship
with Gilbert, who granted him lands at Whitchurch and allowed him considerable
death of Gilbert at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, The King appointed Payn
de Turberville as administrator of the late Earl's estates in Glamorgan,
pending a final settlement. The consequences were disastrous. Turberville
treated Llywelyn with contempt, dismissing him from all the offices to which he
had been entrusted. Nor was his vindictiveness directed at Llywelyn alone. In
1315 there was severe famine in South Walesand Turberville chose this particular time of hardship to inflict extortionate
taxes on the starving people of Senghenydd. Llywelyn himself was accused of
sedition, a charge which stirred him into
leading the most serious rebellion seen in Glamorgan since the Norman Conquest.
In January 1316
Llywelyn laid siege to CaerphillyCastle, and for three
months the rebels wrought havoc with fire and sword throughout Glamorgan.
Llantrisant was devastated and the inhabitants of the castle slaughtered. Mills
were razed to the ground at Senghenydd, Miskin and Neath. At Whitchurch, a
stone tower built near the church failed to provide any defence against the
marauding Welsh. Cardiffwas also attacked and the walls of the town were damaged. Despite the
destruction of 23 burgages, the castle remained impregnable and Llywelyn was
compelled to withdraw.
Soon afterwards, a
force of 150 men-at-arms and 2,000 foot soldiers was mobilised at CardiffCastle to crush the uprising. The troops
set out on 12 March 1316to relieve the beleaguered garrison at Caerphilly and Llywelyn decided to
confront the royal army at Castell Morgraig, north of Cefn Onn. The castle may
have been only partially completed and the Welshmen probably added further
makeshift defences. These were of little avail against the superior forces of
the King and Llywelyn's warriors suffered grievous losses before they withdrew.
After securing CaerphillyCastle, the King's troops
returned to Cardiff,
destroying the surviving Welsh strongholds along the way. The ruins of Castell
Morgraig, not far from the Traveller's Rest, remain a stark monument to
Llywelyn's brave stand.
The Welsh leader
surrendered to the Earl of Hereford
who dispatched him to the Tower of London. In Glamorgan order was
restored and the Earl, aware of the provocation which Llywelyn had suffered,
pleaded for clemency on his behalf. For two years he languished in prison.
Edward II was inclined to show mercy, but Hugh Despenser the Younger was now
Lord of Glamorgan through his marriage to Clare's eldest sister, Eleanor. He
persuaded the King to return Llywelyn to Cardiff,
where his execution would serve as a deterrent to other would-be rebels. A
gallows was raised outside the BlackTower, and on it Llywelyn
Bren endured the terrible death of a traitor. After hanging and disembowelling,
his head and limbs were severed from his body to be publicly displayed.
Greyfriars of Cardiff rescued his remains and gave him a Christian burial in
their convent. Those responsible for the death of Llywelyn Bren were also to
meet a violent end. When Hugh Despenser fell from grace, William Fleming, the
sheriff who executed the death warrant, suffered a similar fate to Llywelyn,
and by coincidence he too was interred in the church of the Greyfriars.
For some years
Despenser prospered as a royal favourite, and at the height of his power ruled
an area from Pembroke to Chepstow. In 1326 the scandalous homosexual activities
of Edward II and the greed of Despenser brought nemesis to both of them.
Lacking virtually any support from the nobility of England, they were pursued into South Wales by the vengeful Queen Isabella and her lover,
Both were captured
near Llantrisant. Edward died in agony at BerkeleyCastle,
while Hugh was taken in chains to Hereford.
On a gallows, fifty feet high to ensure that all could see, this infamous
Marcher lord met the traitor's fate. In the Banqueting Hall at CardiffCastle, the lords of Glamorgan and their
coats-of-arms are depicted in stained glass windows. The portrayal of Hugh
Despenser is instantly recognisable as his shield is upside-down, the symbol of
a dishonoured knight. After the execution of Despenser, the estates of Llywelyn
Bren were restored to his sons, in belated recognition of a cruel injustice.
In little more
than a decade, the Despenser family recovered from Hugh's disgrace and regained
the lordship of Glamorgan. Eleanor de Clare outlived Hugh and her second
husband, William Zouche. When he died in 1337, the title reverted to Eleanor's
eldest son, Hugh Lord Despenser, who had been imprisoned for four years at the
time of his father's downfall. He regained the favour of the new monarch,
Edward III, through his
distinguished service as a soldier baron in the war against France. His
most heroic exploit was at the Battle of Crecy in August 1346, when he fought
his way across the Somme to capture the town
of Le Crotoy.
Hugh and his
successors took little interest in the mundane, everyday administration of Cardiff. They were
absentee landowners who were pre-occupied with great issues of state and were
content to draw their seigniorial revenues from their property in Glamorgan.
Local government was delegated to officials, the most important of whom was the
Constable of Cardiff Castle. From 1340 he also became the Mayor of Cardiff, and
in that same year Hugh issued a fresh charter to the burgesses of the town,
which confirmed their earlier liberties
and added to them.
troubled years of the early fifteenth century, the Despensers continued to keep
a tenuous hold on the lordship of Glamorgan. In 1401 Thomas Lord Despenser
followed his ancestor to the scaffold after foolishly joining a conspiracy to
restore the deposed Richard II to the throne. However, in Glamorgan, his family
was allowed to retain its estates, though Richard Despenser, as a minor,
remained in the custody of the King. Richard's death in 1413 marked the end of
the family's male line
The Later Lords of Glamorgan
In 1423 Isabel
Despenser married Richard Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick. The new Lord of Glamorgan found
Cardiff still bearing the scars of the Glyndwr Revolt and he decided to
strengthen the castle along its west wall with a formidable octagonal tower. A
range of new domestic apartments, including the
Great Hall, were also built along the wall about this time. (See also; The
marriage, the lordship of Glamorgan passed to Richard Nevill, known to history
as "Warwick the Kingmaker'. He played a prominent role in the Wars of the
Roses and, when he was killed at the Battle of Barnet in 1471, the title came
into the hands of the Yorkist dynasty. George, Duke of Clarence and younger
brother of Edward IV, held the demesne until he was arrested for allegedly
plotting to seize the Crown. George was imprisoned in the Tower of London and,
according to tradition, was later drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine, a most
unusual form of execution. Thus, the Lordship of Glamorgan passed to his
brother, the Duke of Gloucester, who was to become King Richard III.
When he died a
violent death at Bosworth Field in 1485, the Tudor monarchs ensured that this
important region remained in their firm grip until the kingdom recovered from
the turbulence of the Wars of the Roses.The era of the Marcher lords was over.
Their special privileges were no longer required to maintain order along the
Welsh border, and the Tudors reduced their status to the same level as other
peers of the realm.
nobles of the fifteenth century had little interest in Cardiff but their apathy
did the borough no real harm. Inevitably, when the region became more settled,
the later lords of Glamorgan delegated the administration of the town to their
stewards, aided by the leading citizens of the borough. This pattern of
government, with some modifications, was to survive until the nineteenth
Trusted officials were given office as a reward for loyal service. The Sheriff of Glamorgan and the Constable of Cardiff Castle were
rarely local men and in 1474, for example, the positions of Constable and
Sheriff were held by Sir James Tyrrell. He was appointed by Richard of
Gloucester and was later suspected of murdering the Princes in the Tower on
As the Middle Ages
drew to a close, Cardiff appears to have recovered from the worst effects of
the Black Death and the Glyndwr Revolt. The number of burgages had fallen to
269 in 1542, suggesting that the population had decreased in the last 200
years, but the town remained one of the largest in Wales. It was a trading centre, a port
and a busy market town, vital to the surrounding countryside which it would
eventually absorb. High Street was the
commercial focus of the borough, where merchants and traders of substantial
wealth, among them eight Aldermen, lived in fine houses. Cardiff obviously made
a favourable impression on Rice Merrick, when he wrote in 1578, "This
Towne is very well compacted, beautifyed with many faire Houses and large
Streetes... Within the Walles is little or noe vacant or wast Ground, saving
for Gardens, and those very small, because it is so well replenished with
Some of the lords of Glamorgan are buried in Tewkesbury Abbey in
very fine tombs but there are reminders in Cardiff of the part they played in
its history. They appear in stained glass windows at St. John's Church and the
castle. Street names in Riverside, such as Fitzhamon Embankment, Clare Road
and Despenser Gardens also recall the
associations of these great nobles with Cardiff.