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Mediaeval Lords of Glamorgan

The Norman Conquest of Glamorgan

 

Within 20 years of their victory at the Battle of Hastings, Norman warlords, greedy for booty and land but acting on the King's authority, were advancing into Wales. William Fitzosbern had virtually completed the conquest of Gwent by 1080 and newly erected castles at Chepstow, Monmouth and Caerleon bore testimony to the success of his mission.

The following year the Conqueror himself progressed through South Walesto worship at the shrine of St. David. The Annals of Margam tell us that during his journey he ordered the building of "the villa of Cardiff'. An exaggerated claim no doubt but, as William rode along the Roman road from Caerleon, his military genius would have appreciated the strategic importance of the old fort at Cardiff, despite several centuries of ruin and neglect.

The fact that William could venture through Waleswith such impunity, reveals the awe in which he was held by the Welsh kings. The most powerful figure in South Wales was Rhys ap Tewdr, King of Deheubarth but, in the same year that William made his pilgrimage to St. Davids, it is recorded in the Domesday Book that Rhys accepted him as his overlord, rendering a payment of £40 annually in recognition of this pledge. While the Normans were consolidating their gains elsewhere, William was content to accept this homage and allow Rhys a limited autonomy over the other rulers of South Wales. Consequently the subjugation of Glamorgan was delayed until after the Conqueror's death.

The manner in which the Norman triumph in Glamorgan was achieved remains a mystery but the warrior who planned the invasion, and later set up his headquarters at Cardiff Castle, was a knight from Creully by the name of Robert Fitzhamon. Almost certainly, while Rufus was visiting him at Gloucester in the winter of 1092-93, plans for the assault on Morgannwg were drawn up.

Not until 500 years later do written acounts of the Norman campaign appear. These are loosely based on the tales of the Welsh bards, and such legends as The Winning of Glamorgantend to be embellished by local aristocratic families, anxious to trace their heritage back to the Norman Conquest. This particular tale claims that Fitzhamon took advantage of a minor Welsh ruler, Einion, who had quarreled with his overlord, Iestyn ap Gwrgant, the King of Morgannwg. The legend should be treated with the greatest scepticism but does provide clues which hint at the events which might have occurred. (See also;The Winning of Glamorgan)

Almost certainly it was no local quarrel but a carefully devised plan that led to the Norman Conquest of Glamorgan. In 1093 there seems to have been a co-ordinated offensive in which Rhys ap Tewdr was slain during Easter week. However, his death occurred while he was resisting Bernard of Newmarch in Breconshire and not Robert Fitzhamon in Glamorgan as the legend claims.The story is probably correct in assuming that Robert enlisted the aid of Einion, thus taking advantage of the feuding which was common among Welsh rulers. No matter how the triumph was gained, the result is indisputable. Before the end of the eleventh century, Fitzhamon was lord and master of Morgannwg from the Rhymney to the Tawe. (See also; Robert Fitzhamon and the Conquest of Glamorgan & Cardiff Castle -The Norman Castle)

 

 

Robert Fitzhamon and the Conquest of Glamorgan

 

The manner in which the Norman triumph in Glamorgan was achieved remains a mystery but the warrior who planned the invasion, and later set up his headquarters at Cardiff Castle, was a knight from Creully by the name of Robert Fitzhamon. His ancestors were fierce Vikings who had played their part in carving out the Duchy of Normandy, and like them Robert was a courageous, ruthless soldier, prepared to risk his life for lands and royal favour. The loyalty which Fitzhamon showed, first to the Conqueror and then to his sons, William Rufus and Henry, was rewarded with extensive estates in Kent and Gloucestershire. Almost certainly, while Rufus was visiting him at Gloucesterin the winter of 1092-93, plans for the assault on Morgannwg were drawn up.

Not until 500 years later do written acounts of the Norman campaign appear. These are loosely based on the tales of the Welsh bards, and such legends tended to be embellished by local aristocratic families, anxious to trace their heritage back to the Norman Conquest. One of these accounts, The Winning of Glamorgan, was written on behalf of Edward Stradling from St. Donats during the sixteenth century. He claimed that his ancestor, William de Esterlinge, was a close friend of Robert Fitzhamon, though in truth his family did not set foot in Glamorgan until more than 200 years after the invasion. However, while this story and others like it must be treated with the greatest scepticism, it provides clues which hint at the events which might have occurred.

This particular tale claims that Fitzhamon took advantage of a minor Welsh ruler, Einion, who had quarrelled with his overlord, Iestyn ap Gwrgant, the King of Morgannwg. The legend should be treated with the greatest scepticism but does provide clues which hint at the events which might have occurred.

Almost certainly it was no local quarrel but a carefully devised plan that led to the Norman Conquest of Glamorgan. In 1093 there seems to have been a co-ordinated offensive in which Rhys ap Tewdr was slain during Easter week. However, his death occurred while he was resisting Bernard of Newmarch in Breconshire and not Robert Fitzhamon in Glamorgan. The legend is probably correct in assuming that Robert enlisted the aid of Einion, thus taking advantage of the feuding which was common among Welsh rulers. No matter how the triumph was gained, the result is indisputable. Before the end of the eleventh century, Fitzhamon was lord and master of Morgannwg from the Rhymney to the Tawe.

In England and Normandy, Robert owed allegiance to the Crown for his lands and titles but, as Lord of Glamorgan, his authority stemmed from the right of conquest. He had found his own army and had taken the risks of battle. Now he claimed the privileges of a lord of the Welsh March, taking for himself an assumption of powers which were normally part of the royal prerogative.

Within the area he had overcome by force of arms, Fitzhamon could seize the estates of the defeated Welsh and redistribute them as he chose. He was both lawmaker and dispenser of justice. The King could only interfere in a Marcher lordship when the inheritance fell to a minor, or when there was no heir to the succession. All along the Welsh border these Marcher lords retained a status of semi-independence, to the growing irritation of the later mediaeval kings. Strong monarchs such as Edward I were able to curb their more excessive claims but, not until after the Wars of the Roses and the rise of the Tudors, were these mighty barons brought completely under royal authority.

The knights who had fought with Robert Fitzhamon received their share of the conquered territory, for which they paid him due homage. At least one of the twelve knights was the fictitious creation of a later generation but some of them have left their names on the landscape of Glamorgan. Reginald de Sully inherited the manors of Sully, Dinas Powis and St. Andrew's Major, while Sir John Fleming was granted land at Wenvoe and at Flemingston, the village which bears his name.

As the Welsh people sullenly nursed their resentment towards the hated invader, Robert took steps to protect his newly-acquired lordship against a sudden rebellion. As part of their feudal obligation, his knights were required to build castles at vital points. A fine example remains at Ogmore-by-Sea where William de Londres erected banks of earth and ditches which are still visible. Thus, he was able to control the estuary at the mouth of the river and a stone castle, built by William's son a few years later, gave additional strength to the defences.

Fitzhamon did not keep extensive lands for himself but, in building castles and towns at Kenfig, Cowbridge, Llantwit Major and Cardiff, he retained a firm grip on his conquests. From the outset, CardiffCastlewas the focus of his administration in Glamorgan.

From the outset, Cardiff Castle was the focus of his administration in Glamorgan. The walls of the Roman fortress had decayed and the earthworks had become eroded over the centuries, but the site was still as strategically important as it had been to the legions so many years before. Apart from guarding the road and river crossings, the castle provided a base for further expansion into Bro Morgannwg where, for the moment, the Welsh hung on to a tenuous independence.

The castle at Cardiff not only provided a secure residence when Fitzhamon visited South Wales, but it also became the seat of government for his demesne. Among their feudal duties, his knights were expected to contribute to the castle guard for 40 days each year, fully equipped with armour for themselves and their horses. Robert supplied houses for the knights in the outer bailey and it was their responsibility to maintain these lodgings. In due course, military service of this kind became replaced with an annual cash payment known as "ward-silver'. But as late as 1208, King John, in his capacity as Lord of Glamorgan, was ordering his knights to repair their houses at Cardiff Castle and keep watch in accordance with their feudal pledge.

On John Speed's map of Cardiff for 1610, the ruins of the knights' lodgings and the Shire Hall are clearly marked. The Shire Hall was a timber building used as a council chamber and, when he was available, Fitzhamon presided over the Comitatus or County Court which met there each month. At these proceedings laws were made, taxes were levied, pleas were heard, and wrong-doers were punished. All the leading tenants of Glamorgan were expected to be present, either personally or through representation.

While he enjoyed great freedom in his Marcher lordship, Robert showed complete allegiance to the King elsewhere, serving the first three Norman monarchs with devotion and fidelity. When William Rufus was killed during a hunting accident in the New Forest, it was Fitzhamon who covered the corpse with his cloak and carried it on his horse to Winchesterfor burial.

The Conqueror's youngest son, Henry I, who was constantly quarrelling with his elder brother, Duke Robert of Normandy, received the same loyalty from the Lord of Glamorgan. In the autumn of 1105, Fitzhamon was besieging Robert's castle at Falaise and in a skirmish a lance struck him on the temple, causing damage to the brain. For more than a year, the old warrior lived on as an invalid, until in March 1107 he died from his wounds.

He was laid to rest by the monks of Tewkesbury Abbey and to this day his bones lie in the abbey church he had founded. There are few memorials to Robert Fitzhamon in Cardiff, but his true legacy lies in the building of the first Norman castle around which grew the mediaeval town.

(See also: Cardiff Castle - The Norman Castle & The Norman Conquest of Glamorgan)


The Winning of Glamorgan


Not until 500 years later do written accounts of the Norman campaign appear. These are loosely based on the tales of the Welsh bards, and such legends tended to be embellished by local aristocratic families, anxious to trace their heritage back to the Norman Conquest. One of these accounts, The Winning of Glamorgan, was written on behalf of Edward Stradling from St. Donats during the sixteenth century. He claimed that his ancestor, William de Esterlinge, was a close friend of Robert Fitzhamon, though in truth his family did not set foot in Glamorgan until more than 200 years after the invasion. However, while this story and others like it must be treated with the greatest scepticism, it provides clues which hint at the events which might have occurred.

The King of Morgannwg in 1093 was Iestyn ap Gwrgan but he was compelled to accept the more powerful Rhys ap Tewdr as his overlord. The two men quarrelled, allegedly because Rhys lusted after Iestyn's wife. Such an insult could only be avenged through bloodshed, but Iestyn was practical enough to realise that his chances of success against his suzerain were very slight. So he sought assistance from Einion ap Collwyn, another petty ruler with a grudge against Rhys. This proved to be a shrewd move since Einion was on friendly terms with Fitzhamon and now enlisted his aid against their enemy.

The legend goes on to relate how Robert gathered an army of 12 knights, 24 squires and 3000 men. They marched to Bristoland from there sailed across the channel to Porthkerry. The combined Norman and Welsh forces set forth to do battle with Rhys ap Tewdr at Herwenorgan, an unknown field near Aberdare. Rhys and his warriors were outfought by the highly-trained Norman soldiers and, facing defeat, he fled, pursued by a knight who "sawed his head from his body'.

Iestyn and Einion were delighted. They paid the Normans for their services at Pentre Meyrick near Bridgend where, it was said, golden coins were laid in a row measuring a "golden mile', the name still given to that stretch of the A48. There, matters might have ended as Fitzhamon and his retainers began their journey back to Gloucestershire.

However, Iestyn had rashly promised the betrothal of his daughter to Einion, together with the manor of Dinas Powis, as a reward for his support. Now that Rhys ap Tewdr was safely removed from the scene, Iestyn refused to honour his bargain. The infuriated Einion rushed after Fitzhamon, beseeching his help once more, this time against the treacherous Iestyn.

Einion and Robert made a fresh treaty agreeing, that after Iestyn was defeated, they would divide his kingdom between them. Another fierce clash of arms took place at the Rhydwaedlyd, or "Bloody Brook', in Rhiwbina to the north of Cardiff. Bravely though he fought, Iestyn's defeat was inevitable. One account of the legend proclaims that he was slain and is buried near the battlefield, under a mound  known locally as the "Twmpath'. There is no proof of this, or of another version that he escaped and became a monk at Keynsham Priory near Bristol. Einion had finished on the winning side but more than half of his men had been killed, and the real victors of this quarrel between Welshmen were the Normans. As the spoils of war they kept Bro Morgannwg, the fertile Vale of Glamorgan, for themselves, while Einion settled on the Blaenau, the poorer uplands to the north.

So much for legend. Almost certainly it was no local quarrel but a carefully devised plan that led to the Norman Conquest of Glamorgan. In 1093 there seems to have been a co-ordinated offensive in which Rhys ap Tewdr was slain during Easter week. However, his death occurred while he was resisting Bernard of Newmarch in Breconshire and not Robert Fitzhamon in Glamorgan. The legend is probably correct in assuming that Robert enlisted the aid of Einion, thus taking advantage of the feuding which was common among Welsh rulers. No matter how the triumph was gained, the result is indisputable. Before the end of the eleventh century, Fitzhamon was lord and master of Morgannwg from the Rhymney to the Tawe. (See also; Robert Fitzhamon and the Conquest of Glamorgan)

 

Robert, Earl of Gloucester and Glamorgan  

 

Mabel, the daughter of Robert Fitzhamon was the ward of Henry I. The King acted honourably towards the wealthy heiress and arranged a marriage between Mabel and his illegitimate son, Robert, whose mother may have been Nest, a Welsh princess. Robert acquired the lands and titles of Fitzhamon through his marriage to Mabel, but in addition Henry created him Earl of Gloucester. Despite his many titles, the Earl is remembered as Robert the Consul, or Counsellor. At first, Mabel had reservations about her marriage but, according to mediaeval chroniclers, she came to love her husband and bore him many children. A mural in the Banqueting Hall at CardiffCastle depicts a scene from their marriage at the West Door of Gloucester Cathedral. This room, the most beautiful in the castle, is a nineteenth century tribute by the Third Marquess of Bute and William Burges to the life and deeds of Robert the Consul.

As Robert was one of the leading noblemen of his age, involved in weighty affairs of state, he was unable to make frequent visits to Cardiff. Yet he played an important role in its story, both in the development of the castle and in the evolution of the town.(See also; Cardiff Castle – The Norman Castle

The overmantel and 20 superb murals in the Banqueting Hall of Cardiff Castle depict the civil war which followed the death of Henry I in 1135. The King's daughter and Robert's half-sister, Matilda, was the legitimate heir to the throne but several nobles were unwilling to accept a woman as their sovereign. Instead, they offered the crown to Henry's nephew, Stephen. Robert, despite his illegitimacy, might have been tempted to seize the crown for himself but preferred to champion the cause of Matilda.

Such chivalry earned him the admiration of contemporary writers and historians. William of Malmesbury commends Robert's virtues of nobility, justice and military skill. Geoffrey of Monmouth, who lived at CardiffCastle as a guest, honoured him as a brave soldier and a learned scholar. We might expect William and Geoffrey to praise the Earl because both had received favours from him, but Welsh chroniclers, such as Caradoc of Llancarfan, also wrote glowingly of his qualities. In fact, Earl Robert appears to have had few enemies, and emerges as a generous character in a cruel and brutal age. Whenever possible, he sought to avoid conflict and attracted the loyalty and respect of all who had dealings with him.

Robert's conciliatory statesmanship and diplomatic tact were apparent during the struggle between Matilda and Stephen, which lasted nineteen years. Most Welshmen took advantage of the situation to rise in widespread rebellion but Robert's authority was not challenged in Glamorgan which remained at peace. Perhaps the Welsh leaders recognised the strength of the Earl's military defences but it seems more likely that he made a genuine attempt to keep on good terms with them.

A peace treaty was drawn up with the Welshmen of Glamorgan, which accepted that "each party should forget and forgive all injuries and causes of grief and debate. And that each party and their heirs should hold and enjoy all such territories as they then possessed, for ever'. Thus, in recognising the conquest and settlement of the Vale by the Normans, the Welsh accepted the inevitable.

Robert too had made a concession, in confirming that the Welshmen should not be molested in the territory which they held. The Lord of Senghenydd, in particular, was granted considerable autonomy. Where he held property such as the manor of Whitchurch near  Cardiff, Welsh laws and customs, rather than those of the Normans, were to prevail. These concessions were to lead to conflict during the next 200 years, but while Robert lived, the peace was preserved.

A pioneering spirit was essential in a region where danger was never far away and, while Ifor Bach's raid of 1158 was directed at the Earl in his castle, another attack by the intransigent Welsh in 1183-84 left a trail of havoc in the town. It was for this reason that Robert granted Cardiff its first charter. Though no copy remains, it is almost certainly the predecessor of a similar charter issued by his son, William. (See also Cardiff’s Charters – the Mediaeval Charters)

The benefits, which Robert granted through his charter, succeeded in attracting traders, merchants and craftsmen, among them leathermakers and other skilled workers from France. For a short period, Robert even established a mint at Cardiff which produced coins for Henry I. In 1147, the year in which the Earl died, the town was already the largest borough in Waleswith a thriving community of about 2,000 people.

Of the Marcher lords of Glamorgan, It was Robert Fitzhamon and Robert the Consul who took a personal interest in the creation of the borough of Cardiff. For them it was a vital base to extend Norman influence, as well as to govern and defend their Welsh conquests.