Croft Castle church is older than it looks. Historians think that the church as first built in about 1300. In the seventeenth century the clock tower was added and the interior provided with box pews. All well and good. I failed to photograph the sun in splendour on the stained glass window, representing an association with the House of York, and although I noted the medieval floor tiles I didn’t photograph them either. I was sidetracked! I nearly didn’t photograph the fortified house (ok I know that later architects have romanticised the whole concoction)
Sir Richard Croft died on 29 July 1509 and is depicted in effigy form with his wife Eleanor, the widow of Sir Hugh Mortimer. Eleanor ran the royal household of Edward, Prince of Wales a.k.a one of ‘The Princes in the Tower’ while he was at Ludlow learning how to be a king. Croft was Henry VII’s treasurer, fought at Mortimer’s Cross (Yorkist), Towton (Yorkist) , Tewkesbury (Yorkist) and Stoke (Tudor). The Pastor Letters record that plain Richard Croft was knighted in the aftermath of Tewkesbury. He also became High Sheriff of Herefordshire, as did his son.
Sir Richard inherited Croft Castle when he was just 14-years of age in 1445. He and his younger brother were tutored with Edward Earl of March and Edmund Earl of Rutland. History knows this because in 1454 a letter was sent to Richard of York complaining about their behaviour. He owed loyalty to his powerful Mortimer neighbours. He was their steward but rose under the Yorkists before transferring allegiance to Henry VII who made him Prince Arthur’s steward at Ludlow making him a key official educating the prince (p.528 -Anthony Emery, Great Medieval Houses of England and Wales volume 2).
Sir Richard was very much part of the “famous and very Knightly family of the Crofts”, as William Camden called them in his Britannia. Somehow, a member of the minor gentry became a key player serving as a royal official for Kings Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII. Sir Richard was one of the nobles who wished for the young King Edward V to be crowned at once to avoid the need for a protectorate. Rumours of their murder spread throughout court. Believing the boys’ deaths to have been ordered by their uncle, Sir Richard Croft, an astute player of court politics, remained a royal official to Richard III while secretly offering his support to Henry Tudor’s cause it would appear although Breverton records that Croft was in exile with Henry Tudor and played an important part in his coronation.
And you’ll love this (not a lot) Richard Croft had a brother who was younger than him also called Richard! Richard the Younger was born in 1437 and died in 1502. Little brother was one of Edward Prince of Wales’ tutors at Ludlow. The Younger Richard fought for Henry at Bosworth as did Richard the Younger’s illegitimate son Thomas who was appointed a ranger at Woodstock but got himself into a spot of bother over a murder in the marches.
The Crofts did not get on well with the Stanley family. The latter were rather too acquisitive of land and the Crofts weren’t keen on losing territory to their neighbours.
I love the happy looking Croft lion laying at Sir Richard’s feet but most historians are fascinated with the boar on the wonderfully carved tomb. The hog actually belongs to St Anthony, one of the saints decorating the niches behind Sir Richard’s head, but its impossible to escape the thought of Richard III with his white boar…and then there’s that sun in splendour.
And because I can…Sir Richard Croft was the great grandfather of Henry VIII’s mistress Bess Blount making him the 2x great grandfather of Bessie and Henry’s son, Henry FitzRoy.
Richard of Tonbridge’s grandson Richard was the eldest son of Gilbert FitzRichard who was given the Lordship of Ceredigion by King Henry I provided he could take and hold it. After his father’s death Richard inherited assorted lands in England and Wales including the Lordships of Clare and Ceredigion. Richard paid a relief of £43 6s and 8d to enter Ceredigion(1) which interesting as it recognised the king’s authority to make the grant, which later marcher lords refuted, but whilst the records are very specific about the finances they are a little on the murky side as to whether Richard was the first Earl of Hertford or not but it’s generally accepted than neither King Henry or King Stephen elevated the baron to an earldom. Like his younger brother Gilbert, Richard was loyal to King Stephen and he benefited from that loyalty but not to the extent that Stephen was prepared to extend his land holdings in Wales – which was in ferment.
In 1136 Richard travelled through the borders in the direction of Ceredigion and was ambushed and killed . His body was transported back to Kent and buried in Tonbridge Priory which was his foundation. In between times Richard’s widow, the sister of Earl Ranulf of Chester, was forced to take shelter in Cardigan Castle before being rescued and returned to England.
Richard’s son Gilbert became the 1st Earl of Hertford whilst his younger brother Roger succeeded as the second earl. A daughter married into the Percy family. William Percy’s mother was a member of a Welsh royal family so the union had less to do with securing alliances in Yorkshire than establishing networks of kinship on the marches and in Wales. Other daughters married the earls of Lincoln and Devon reflecting the loyalties of the Anarchy between King Stephen and Empress Matilda. As the former was loyal to Stephen whilst the latter was created Earl of Devon by the Empress Matilda and turned pirate in the Isle of Wight on the empress’s behalf. Lucy de Clare was his second wife.
Richard’s descendants held the earldoms of Hertford and Gloucester until 1314 when Gilbert de Clare the 8th earl of Gloucester and 7th earl of Hertford was killed at Bannockburn. His widow, Maud de Burgh, protested pregnancy for the next three years until King Edward II called time on the possibility of there being a male de Clare heir to inherit the title.
(1) ed. White et al, p.255
White, Eryn Want, Jenkins, Geraint H., Suggest, Richard (eds.), Cardiganshire County History Volume 2: Medieval and Early Modern Cardiganshire. (Cardiff:University of Wales Press, 2019)
Arnulf was a younger son of Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury and Mabel de Bellême. He is associated with the earldom of Pembroke Castle and the founding of Pembroke Priory. His birthdate is usually given as 1066 but there is no exact record. The de Bellêmes were part of the Conqueror’s extended kinship network and although de Montgomery didn’t take part int he Conquest he was in England by 1067 where he was granted extensive land holdings. By 1086 he was a very wealthy man having been rewarded with land in Sussex, including manors which had belonged to King Harold, and Shropshire.
It was in 1086 that Arnulf first made his appearance on the known historical record when he witnessed a grant made by his father to a monastery in Normandy. Arnulf is also in evidence rebelling against William Rufus along with the rest of his family in support of Robert Curthose, the Conqueror’s eldest son. The family did not suffer when the rebellion failed and was soon involved in extending its landholdings and power base by an invasion of Wales- specifically the kingdom of Deheubarth – including modern day Dyfed. He is associated with the capture of Nest of Wales pictured at the start of this post with her lover King Henry I – the crowns are to represent their status rather than to suggest that they retired to bed wearing nothing but headgear.
When Roger died in 1094 he was succeeded by his son Hugh and after his death by Robert de Bellême, who was Arnulf and Hugher’s elder brother. De Bellême and his family supported Robert Curthose’s claim to the English throne against that of Curthose’s younger brother King Henry I in 1102. Arnulf had sent his steward, Gerald of Wales, to Ireland to arrange a marriage contract with Muirchertach Ua Briain of Munster which included military assistance as well as a bride. When the rebellion failed, the Montgomery family were banished from England and Arnulf lost Pembroke and the power that he wielded on the marches between England and Wales. The story of their rebellion and subsequent banishment is recounted by Orderic Vitalis, who quite frankly wasn’t totally impressed by the family then or in earlier times.
Following the banishment of the Montgomeries from English shores Arnulf took himself to Ireland and his father-in-law who had no doubt hoped to benefit from Arnulf’s potential as a trading ally. He spent the next twenty years in either Ireland or Normandy. He died circa 1122 at the latest but maybe as early as 1118.
Arnulf’s daughter, Alice, married Maurice FitzGerald the son of Nest the daughter of King Rhys and Arnulf’s steward Gerald of Windsor.
There were fourteen (ish) landmark battles fought on English soil between 1066 and 1403. I have mentioned a couple of other battles in this post for the sake of neatness.
The two key battles of the Norman Conquest are:
25th September 1066 – the Battle of Stamford Bridge
This saw the defeat of Norwegian king Harald Hardrada by Harold Godwinson. According to legend a Norseman wielding a battle axe held the bridge crossing on his own for half an hour before a Saxon overcame the warrior by the simple expedient of finding his way beneath the bridge without being seen and used his spear to wound the man from below. The English put Hardrada to flight but then had to march from Yorkshire to the south coast. Hardrada and Harold’s brother Tostig who had sided with Hardrada were killed.
14th October 1066 – The Battle of Hastings
There were various skirmishes, sieges and revolts during this period but only two set piece battles. There were no more set piece battles until The Anarchy (1135-1153).
Stephen of Blois became king in 1135. His uncle Henry I had made his barons swear to recognise the rights of his only surviving legitimate child the Empress Matilda but after he died many barons decided that they preferred a king to a queen; Stephen arrived in England first and secured the treasury. Matilda was supported by her half-brother Robert Earl of Gloucester and her uncle David I of Scotland. David also made a claim on Northumberland by right of his wife – Matilda, Countess of Huntingdon who was the daughter of Waltheof of Northumbria. He began his campaign by capturing Carlisle and then advancing to Northumbria via Hexham. Inevitably the Scots and the English clashed.
22nd August 1138 The Battle of the Standard (Northallerton)
Eventually the English were victorious but David still retained control over the north of the country. Carlisle would not become English again until Henry II gained the throne.
2nd February 1141The Battle of Lincoln Stephen had been besieging Lincoln Castle when he received word that Robert of Gloucester and Ranulph of Chester were on their way to raise the siege. Stephen decided to fight and was captured for his pains.
1st July 1143 The Battle of Wilton. Robert of Gloucester attempted to capture King Stephen at Wilton Abbey. It was a surprise attack taking place at sunset. Stephen and his army attempted to break out but were forced back – Stephen escaped under cover of darkness from the abbey which was on fire by that point in proceedings. I’m in two minds about whether this is a key battle or not so have set it in italics – I don’t think it’s a landmark battle, it didn’t change the course of history – although it would have done had Stephen been killed or captured.
The Anarchy involved rather a lot of sieges, skirmishes and pillaging. As with the earlier Normans warfare was more to do with tactics and attrition than a set piece battle unless it was unavoidable. Stephen besieged Matilda in Arundel Castle for instance and again during the Siege of Oxford in 1142, Matilda had to escape over the frozen river in order to reach safety.
Under the Anjevin monarchs there was relative peace until King John proved unable to keep the empire that his father had built up. He resorted to taxation in order to pay mercenary armies in an attempt to regain his continental territories. This might have been acceptable had he been victorious – but he wasn’t. This led to the First Barons’ War (1215-17)
The First Barons’ War is more notable for its sieges than its battles. However, it is worth noting that the revolting barons had invited the French to invade which meant that after the death of King John, Henry III’s regent William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke had restore order and evict them. First he re-issued the Magna Carta which meant that the barons had very little reason to support the French.
20 May 1217 The Second Battle of Lincoln followed by “the Lincoln Fair” – i.e. a spot of pillaging. William Marshal attacked the Count of Perche who was holding the town but not the castle. There may have been 1000 men involved where as the Battle of the Standard involved armies of four and five thousand on each side. This battle is in italics because of the numbers. This was followed by a sea battle – the Battle of Sandwich.
The Second Baron’s War(1264-1267)
Henry III was nine when he became king. Marshal re-issued Magna Carta. Henry’s barons became used to power during his minority and expected more of a say in the way the country was run. Unfortunately when Henry III began ruling for himself he had a tendency to rely on foreign favourites rather than homegrown barons. He also set about trying to win his grandfather’s empire back – it wasn’t a success. Nor for that matter was his attempt to make his brother Richard the King of the Romans or his son Edmund the King of Sicily. All those campaigns required lots of taxation! In 1258 the barons forced Henry to accept the Provisions of Oxford which gave the barons more of a say in the way the kingdom was ruled. This did not go down particularly well with Henry who was a Plantagenet with the usual autocratic tendencies of medieval monarchs. The was a period of instability followed by outright revolt led by Simon de Montfort in 1263.
14th May 1264The Battle of Lewes
Simon de Montfort V Henry III & his son Prince Edward. Henry III narrowly escaped death and fled the battle field before being captured This resulted in a fifteen month imprisonment for Henry and Edward. This allowed de Montfort and the barons to rule under the auspices of Parliament under the Provisions of Oxford.
4th August 1265 Battle of Evesham
Prince Edward eventually escaped with the aid of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. Edward rallied marcher lords, took on de Montfort and won.
There was another battle at Chesterfield on 15 May 1266 to bring the Earl of Derby to heel but it wasn’t on the scale of Lewes or Evesham which is why it is not on the list as a key battle.
First War of Scottish Independence
I did say England but it’s almost impossible not to mention the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 that saw William Wallace defeat the English or the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 which saw Edward II put to flight by Robert the Bruce. These victories, together with Edward II’s unmartial outlook, allowed the Scots to invade Northumberland and Yorkshire .
20 September 1319 Battle of Myton
The Scots killed some 4000 English when an English army attempted to prevent the Scots from taking York. The Scots did not then take York because Edward II signed a peace treaty.
The Dispenser War (1321-1322)
Various barons including Edward II’s cousin Thomas of Lancaster rebelled against the king because of his reliance upon the Despensers. They weren’t terribly impressed with the way Edward handled the Scots either.
16th March 1322 The Battle of Boroughbridge Thomas was captured and executed.
14th October 1323 The Battle of Byland – Edward II was staying at Rievaulx Abbey when the Scots and the english encountered one another. The English, led by the Earls of Richmond and Pembrokeshire assumed that they would simply prevent the Scots from ascending Sutton Bank and force them to go the long way round. Instead the Scots chose to fight and ultimately Edward II was forced to flee.
Second War of Scottish Independence
King David II was too young to rule after the death of Robert the Bruce. This was the opportunity for Edward III to regain Scotland. He was supported by Scots who had been dispossessed by Robert the Bruce because they had supported the English during the First War of Independence. There were a series of invasions and King David was sent to France for safety. Edward gained the upper hand and there was a truce until David returned from Scotland. The truce was soon in tatters.
19th July 1333 The Battle of Halidon Hill saw Sir Archibald Douglas being defeated by Edward III. The battle was precipitated by Douglas’s attempt to raise the siege on Berwick which was at that time in Scottish hands.
1346 The Battle of Neville’s Cross David II arrived outside Durham, lost the battle and was captured. He spent the next eleven years in the Tower.
19th August 1388 Battle of Otterburn James, Earl of Douglas crossed the border with 6,000 men. Harry Hotspur, son of the Earl of Northumberland was sent to stop them. During the battle the earl was killed but Hotspur was captured. It was a decisive Scottish victory for the Scots despite the death of their general.
14th September 1402 Battle of Homildon Hill something like 22,000 men clashed. The English were once again led by Harry Hotspur but unlike Otterburn this time the English were victorious.
21st July 1403 Battle of Shrewsbury Between Otterburn and Homildon Richard II was deposed by his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. He was initially supported by the Percies but by 1403 they had changed their minds. The earls of Worcester and Northumberland renounced their loyalty to Henry IV saying that he was guilty of perjury. In reality Northumberland was irritated that Henry had taken the Scottish hostages that had been captured at Homildon which Northumberland regarded as Percy profit. Hotspur joined with Owain Glyndwr and the result was the Battle of Shrewsbury. The victory belonged to Henry IV.
As you may well imagine I am not going to list more than 600 castles! The castles were built at different times and in different political situations. Consequently they reflect the evolution of castle architecture as well as telling the story of various attempts to subdue the Welsh. Kidwelly Castle was initially built during the Norman period for instance. It was rebuilt in stone in the fourteenth century. Chepstow is also originally a Norman Castle. Pembroke Castle was established by the Normans in 1093 but usually lingers in most people’s minds as the birth place of Henry Tudor.
Carreg Cennon, perched dramatically on top of a cliff was built by a marcher lord but extended during the period of Edward I’s rule. Caerphilly Castle was built by the de Clare family.
If you would like to work your way through the full list please follow this link:
The ones that sprung to my mind were Edward I’s “ring of iron” – I think I may have called it a ring of steel in my last post. Edward invested more than £80,000 on his castles which must have been an eye-watering sum in the thirteenth century. The work which began in 1277 when he took on Llewelyn ap Gruffyd and then continued in 1282 when Llewellyn rose again. The Treaty of Rhuddlan in 1284 effectively crushed the Welsh and Edward’s castles meant that it made future rebellion more difficult. The treaty took all the land of the Welsh princes into English royal ownership at a stroke. The castles built after 1282 were overseen by Edward’s architect James of St George. James’s castles are concentric castles – they were of a new design based on concentric rings- so a series of walls and towers rather than just relying on the defensive nature of a keep. The advantage of a series of rings is that not only can you defend the building you can also attack more effectively.
Conwy Castle – the castle and walls of Conwy Castle and the town are amongst my favourite locations to visit. Historically speaking, this was where Richard II found himself outmanoeuvred by his cousin henry of Bolingbroke in 1399. In 1646 it was slighted by Parliamentarian troops having held out for the king.
Harlech Castle – These days more associated with stunning scenery Harlech was completed by 1330. It’s another fine example of a concentric circle, walls, towers and a rather fine gatehouse.
And let’s not forget the castles built by the Welsh in response to their hostile neighbours. Dolbadarn was built by Llewellyn the Great as was nearby Dolwyddelan. The circular tower must have been very impressive.
Essentially native Welsh Castles make use of the landscape to create a defensive structure – even today they are isolated. Welsh castles tended to have one tower which was circular or D shaped.
There are hundreds of castles built along the borders between Wales and England. It doesn’t help that the area isn’t particularly well defined. The number of castles and their varied sizes reflects the hostilities that existed not only between the English and the Welsh but between the Marcher Lords themselves. It was only in 1536 that the semi-independent jurisdiction of the marcher lords was abolished. It may be helpful when thinking about the region to think of the Earldoms of Cheshire, Shrewsbury and Hereford – all three having a castle once upon a time. Goodrich Castle springs to mind as does Ludlow Castle and the wonderful Stokes Castle which was actually constructed by a merchant rather than a baron.
Yes – I know I’ve missed places like Powis Castle but in all honesty there are enough castles in Wales and the borders to populate an entire blog let alone a post. If i’ve missed your favourite then I can only apologise – and try and make the challenges a bit more manageable!
Scrob is pronounced “Scroob” and this particular Scrob is thought to be an ancestor of the Scrope family who I usually blog about in the context of border wardenry.
Richard was granted lands on the Welsh marches by Edward the Confessor – so he is part of that group of Normans who were established prior to the Conquest. Historians think that Richard had become part of the Confessor’s friendship network in Normandy and that when he became king in 1042 that Fitz Scrob benefited from lands in Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Study of Richard’s Castle near Ludlow reveals that Fitz Scrob built a simple motte and bailey fortification as early as 1050 making it one of the first castles in the country. Ultimately a settlement grew around the castle even though the local population were initially recorded as being very alarmed by the new structure in their midst.
Inevitably in the aftermath the Conquest a land hungry border baron with adult sons might have looked to his Anglo-Saxon neighbour with a view to acquiring some of his land. This appears to be what happened in the case of Fitz Scrob whose land lay alongside that of Eadric (Wild Edric), the nephew of Eadric Streona. Up until the Conquest Eadric had been one of the wealthiest landowners in Shropshire. His land was not forfeit after the Conquest because he had not taken part in the Battle of Hastings. However his lands were gradually confiscated and split up between Norman lords including Richard Fitz Scrob based in Hereford.
Somewhat ironically William the Conqueror had left Earl Edwin of Mercia in charge of the county recognising that the borders were an important area of his new kingdom. He did not want to antagonise the Saxons who lived there in case they made an alliance with the unconquered Welsh princes. This did not stop Fitz Scrob.
Some books suggest that Fitz Scrob expected reward from the Conqueror for having provided him with information prior to the invasion and that Eadric’s lands were what he had in mind. By 1067 Eadric, refusing to hand over his lands, was in revolt against the Normans. A raid towards Hereford is recorded that year. It accords with the period when William returned to Normandy and his regents took the opportunity to enrich themselves in his absence. As the Saxons began to rebel elsewhere in the kingdom the path of Eadric’s campaign has largely been lost. Edwin, Earl of Mercia also rebelled against William but swiftly made his peace when William returned to England.
In 1069 Eadric made an alliance with the Welsh, besieged Shrewsbury and burned the town. Ultimately William the Conqueror handed approximately 7/8th of Shropshire over to Norman land holders – after all Eadric had made an oath to him when William became king and even though he had been provoked he had rebelled – William was the tenant-in-chief and following Eadric’s rebellion he simply took the land leaving Eadric with only three manors to support himself and his family. Amongst the men to benefit was Osbern FitzRichard the son of Richard Fitz Scrob. History is not entirely certain when Richard Fitz Scrob died but he is last mentioned in the records in 1067.
Fitz Scrob’s descendants eventually married into the Mortimer family who played an important part in later medieval history. Another of them married Rosamund Clifford’s sister. Rosamund was, of course, the mistress of Henry II.
Augustin, Thierry. (2011) The story of the Conquest of England by the Normans: Its Causes, and Its Consequences, in England, Scotland, Ireland, and on the Continent Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Even before the Civil war started various key ports and fortifications were being snaffled either by Parliament or the Crown. Some, like Bristol and Lichfield, changed hands more than once inflicting severe damage on the local populations.
Chester sitting as it does on the River Dee was one of those strategic locations. It gave access to Wales, to Ireland and to the North. It was also Royalist in sympathy. Before the war it was a very fine town indeed. After the civil war, the siege and the plague which struck in 1647 it looked very much worse for wear.
By the end of 1643 Sir William Brereton (pictured right) who had been one of the MPs for Cheshire and been elected in 1640 to the Long Parliament had secured most of the surrounding countryside for Parliament. The Royalists extended Chester’s defences to include new earthworks recognising that their time would come. In 1644 those defences were improved by Prince Rupert – who seems to have got everywhere.
Rupert, had been named President of Wales in February 1644 but very swiftly irritated the local military commanders – mainly because he replaced them with experienced English commanders. The Welsh, unsurprisingly, were also becoming a bit fed up with the war. Rupert, having rocked the metaphorical boat left the region with rather a lot of its soldiery to lift the siege at York.
Parliament took the opportunity to gain an advantage over the depleted Royalist troops and took Oswestry which had, until then, been in Royalist hands. As the year went on things became even worse for the Royalists. A shipment of gunpowder on its way to Chester from Bristol was captured. The gunpowder was then used against the Royalists at Newton. This in turn led to the loss of Montgomery Castle. On the 18th of September the two forces met in open battle. The Battle of Montgomery is the largest battle to have taken place on Welsh soil during the English Civil War. The Royalists lost.
As a result of this loss Lord John Byron, the Royalist military commander (pictured at the start of this post) could not put an army in the field and so Chester was effectively besieged. The Wheel of Fortune had turned in less than a year – from besieging Nantwich at the start of the year Byron now found himself besieged. By the summer of 1645 Brereton had control of most of Cheshire but the royalists still controlled the crossing point of the River Dee which enabled forces and supplies to get into and out of the town via North Wales which was Royalist.
Basically the siege was somewhat protracted by the fact that both sides kept nipping off to have a fight somewhere else. For example Prince Maurice, Rupert’s little brother, arrived in February 1645 but then left again taking a large number of Byron’s Irish troops with him.
With depleted numbers it was only a matter of time before the Parliamentarians drew closer to the town. There was also the bombardment. Byron wrote that Brereton had sent a barrage of 400 canon balls into Chester – which is pretty impressive. The original aim of the Parliamentary command had been to break the walls so that the town could be taken by storm. This proved ineffective and a tactic of bombardment was employed. There was widespread damage to property, injury and terror. On the 22nd September 1645 there was a partial breach of the wall but Byron received word that King Charles was coming with 4,000 cavalry.
On the 23 September Charles marched out of Wales and crossed the Dee into Chester – he had approximately 600 men. The rest of them were with Sir Marmaduke Langdale who crossed the Dee south of Chester with the intention of outflanking the Parliamentarians -making them the filling between his force and Byron’s.
Unfortunately the Northern Association Army were in the vicinity and upon receiving news of what the Royalists were up to had made a forced night march to intercept Langdale. The two armies spent the morning of the 24th September in a staring match before repositioning themselves at Rowton Heath. The king and his commanders inside Chester could do little but watch from the walls as the royalist cavalry was broken.
On the evening of the 25th September Charles recrossed the Dee with the tattered remnants of his relieving force. Byron refused to surrender. The Parliamentarian noose grew tighter around Chester and the bombardment became ever more intense. This didn’t stop Byron from trying to attack his besiegers on occasion.
When Chester did surrender it had more to do with starvation that the number of rounds of artillery fired at it. The mills and water supplies had been badly damaged by the bombardment. Lack of ammunition meant that the Royalists lost control of the crossing point and supplies could not enter the town.
Brereton shot propaganda leaflets across the walls to persuade the defenders to surrender but from October onwards there were no further attempts to breach the walls. Approximately 6000 people behind Chester’s walls were starving and diving of disease. It was just a question of waiting. By December 1645 the town’s defenders began to desert.
Chester’s mayor persuaded Byron to surrender in January 1646. The able bodied were allowed to leave whilst the sick and the starving were to be permitted an opportunity to recover. Brereton took possession of Chester on 3rd February 1646.
A quarter of Chester had been burned. What their artillery hadn’t destroyed the Parliamentarian soldiers now smashed.
So who are the de Clare family from yesterday’s post who seemed to be loitering in the New Forest when William Rufus met his end? Complicated – that’s what rather than who. Richard son of Gilbert arrived with the Conquest. Gilbert was a son of the Count of Brionne. Gilbert was actually one of Duke William’s guardians during his childhood and was killed in a bid to control William. Richard fled Normandy along with his brother only returning when Duke William was able to control the duchy. He was also one of Duke William’s extended family (Gilbert’s father was one of Duke Richard of Normandy’s illegitimate sons).
Richard Fitz Gilbert was with the Conqueror in 1066 and did rather nicely from the whole affair, acquiring more than 170 holdings including Tonbridge in Kent and Clare in Suffolk. The Domesday Book identifies him as a very wealthy man indeed. Not only rich but trusted by William who left him in England with the justicar role while he returned to Normandy in 1073. It was in this capacity that Richard helped to suppress the so-called Earls Rebellion in 1075.
Whilst more of Tonbridge Castle stands today than the castle at Clare in Suffolk, it was at Clare that the family chose to make their administrative seat- hence the de Clare element of the name. All that remains today of the castle is the motte – the mound of earth on which the wooden keep once stood. It must have been an impressive sight given that the motte is over 60ft tall today and can be something of a surprise to a casual visitor to the town. In the thirteenth century the wooden keep was replaced with a stone shell keep structure.
Rather interestingly, after William the Conqueror died Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare (to give him his full name) was one of the Norman lords who rebelled against William Rufus in favour of Rufus’s older brother Robert Curthose. He died in 1090 having retired to the priory at St Neot’s in 1088. He and his wife had re-founded the priory in the years after the Conquest and it should be noted that the de Clares were important monastic patrons wherever they held land.
Despite his retirement from worldly affairs Richard de Clare left a tribe of powerful sons. There were at least six of them as well as two daughters, not to mention a wife, Rohese Gifford, who owned land in her own right. The de Clare family were well placed for power – they were related to the ruling house and were extremely wealthy. They were marriageable and therefore families sought alliances with the de Clares – which meant it wasn’t long before they were related to most of the other powerful Anglo-Norman families in the country adding to their political power.
Roger, the eldest son, inherited the Norman de Clare land. Gilbert who was the second of the de Clare sons inherited the English estates. In 1088 Gilbert and his brother Roger rebelled against William Rufus at Tonbridge. William promptly turned the motte and bailey castle into rubble – let’s not forget it was a wooden structure at the time. Gilbert and Roger were captured. Interestingly the family despite having rebelled against the king; being suspected of being involved with Bishop Odo’s conspiracies in 1083; and were undoubtedly part of Robert de Mowbray’s conspiracies against William Rufus, kept hold of their lands.
Gilbert turns up in William Rufus’s army fighting the Scots. The de Clare brothers appear at William’s side as part of the hunting party in August 1100 when he was killed. Had it been an ordinary hunting party it would have been evidence that the de Clares were reconciled with William but since William suffered his rather nasty accident it is almost inevitable that historians point out the earlier hostility as circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy. In 1101 Gilbert was at court with Henry I. It could all be perfectly innocent but there are rather a lot of coincidences – sadly all without the necessary documentary evidence to suggest conspiracy.
Gilbert remained hugely wealthy and influential. He founded Cardigan Priory having been given the area around Cardigan by Henry I (no thought was given to what the local population might think- essential you have the land providing you can keep hold of it!). Gilbert did secure Cardigan and Aberystwyth. It is almost impossible to write about Welsh Castles without mentioning the de Clare family.
Brother Robert, another of the hunting party was the Baron of Little Dunmow and steward to Henry I. Walter de Clare would found Tintern Abbey. He was a marcher lord in South Wales having been granted land by Henry I near Chepstow.
Between the brothers there were many children ensuring that de Clares married into important families, acquired land and a name for themselves but that’s an entirely different story which should include Richard de Clare, the Earl of Pembroke better known to History as “Strongbow.” His daughter married William Marshal. The two families would intermarry thereafter. The Earls of Gloucester were de Clares and stood surety for the Magna Carta. Eventually the de Clares would marry back into the royal family with the 7thEarl of Gloucester – another Gilbert de Clare- marrying Joan of Acre, the daughter of Edward I ensuring that the family were knee deep in the Scottish Wars of Independence and Edward II’s familial difficulties over the Despensers. This must have caused some head scratching as Hugh Despenser the Younger’s wife, Eleanor, was another member of the de Clare family.
Eleanor was the 8thearl’s sister. She and her two other sisters became co-heiresses after the 8thearl died at Bannockburn. She was sent to the Tower when Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer deposed Edward II. Three of her daughters were forced to become nuns at that time. Eleanor’s story is a complicated and cruel one – she escaped only by signing over most of her de Clare inheritance to the Crown. It was only when Edward III took control of his throne that Eleanor was able to regain her lands (she’s going to get a longer post another day.)
Whilst we’re at it let’s not forget Walter Tyrel the man who is supposed to have shot William Rufus – he was Richard de Clare’s son-in-law. All of which brings us back to the starting point – was William Rufus’s death an accident? Yes – it still might have been but when you start to look at the de Clare family and their previous relationship with William you do have to wonder.
And before I forget Gilbert Fitz Richard’s son was also called Gilbert. His wife was Isabel de Beaumont. The Beaumont family had also fought at the Battle of Hastings but more important to this post is the co-incidence that Isabel was a mistress of Henry I – what a tangled web.
Christmas 1175, Abergavenny Castle. The Anglo-Norman in charge, one William de Braose (there were many of them all very inventively called William), invited Seisyllt ap Dyfnwall from nearby Castell Arnallt around for a Christmas meal. Seisyllt, his son Geoffrey and the chieftains of Powys accepted the invitation. The intention, so William said in his politely worded invite, was to spend Christmas in each other’s company- to bury the hatchet. They would feast and celebrate and make a lasting reconciliation following the death of Henry Fitzmiles- an event incidentally that had ensured vast tracts of lands were now in de Braose’s ownership.
And what could be nicer at Christmas than peace and reconciliation? The Welsh left their weapons at the door and settled down for an evening of serious eating and drinking.
They didn’t notice when someone quietly shut and barred the entrance to the great hall. De Braose’s men were intent on burying the hatchet…firmly in the backs of their Welsh guests. They finished the evening by cutting down all the Welsh in the hall. De Braose even murdered Seisyllt’s seven-year-old son.
The fact is that Henry Fitzmiles was William’s uncle. His death at the hands of the Welsh triggered the massacre, another round in an on-going blood feud. What made the massacre at Abbergavenny different was that de Braose broke the unwritten laws of hospitality. Camden, writing in the sixteenth century described the act as one of “infamy and treachery.”
Joan was the natural daughter of King John. She is known as Joanna, Joan of Wales, Lady of Wales or Siwan to the Welsh.
She was born in about 1191 but history isn’t entirely sure who her mother was. It may have been Clemence Pinel but this information is gleaned from a sentence in the Tewkesbury Annals. Or it may have been Clemence wife of Nicholas de Verdun. This later is circumstantial evidence based on Henry III placing his niece in Clemence de Verdun’s care (http://plantagenesta.livejournal.com/53309.html)
We do know that Joan was brought up in Normandy and that in 1205 John arranged her marriage to Llywelyn the Great. This according to Morris was a mark of John’s favour to the Welsh prince. The pair were married the following year in Chester when Joan was fifteen. Joan bore at least one son and one daughter to Llywelyn – maybe more.
The marriage was certainly important for the peace of Wales. In 1210 there was a bit of a misunderstanding with Llywelyn having a bit of a rebellion whilst his father-in-law was in Ireland. The result was that John collected men and resources and proceeded to invade North Wales where his men promptly began to starve. John had to withdraw- presumably covered in embarrassment. He returned later in the year – and burned Bangor.
Joan was sent to have a chat with her father. Everything East of Conwy was handed over to John along with thirty hostages but Llywelyn remained at liberty and in possession of Snowdonia.
Inevitably the peace was short-lived which wasn’t terribly good news if you happened to be one of the thirty hostages. By 1212 open warfare was raging along the Welsh border. Chroniclers make it clear that John arrived in Nottingham on the 14 August where he made himself at home by having twenty-eight of the Welsh hostages hanged on account of the failings of their countrymen. Then he sat down for a meal – as you do.
If coffee had been available it would have been at about the coffee and mint stage of the meal that a letter arrived from Joan warning her father that there were traitors in the midst of his court and that his life was in danger if he went ahead with his planned invasion of Wales. In the event of a battle he would have a nasty ‘accident’. This was the second note of the evening. The first one had arrived shortly before from the King of Scotland containing a similar message.
Rumour ran a-mock. The chroniclers of the time became carried away by every bit of gossip available from the rape of the queen to invasion by the French. Sticking to facts- John cancelled his invasion of Wales; ensured the safety of four-year-old Prince Henry; sent all his barons home and then sent politely worded notes to the men he suspected demanding hostages flushing out two conspirators in the process.
In April 1226 Joan obtained a papal decree from Pope Honorius III, declaring her legitimate on the basis that her parents had not been married to others at the time of her birth. This did not give her a claim to the throne.
Unfortunately this respectability, which came in part from her impact in keeping the peace between Wales and England, came to rather an abrupt end in 1230. Joan was caught alone in her bedroom with William de Braose, 10th Baron of Abergevenny, a Norman lord. Bad enough to be found in a compromising position but De Braose was hated by the Welsh, who called him Black William.
De Braose had been captured by the Welsh in 1228 and then ransomed. Llywelyn and de Braose had used the time to arrange the marriage of de Braose’s daughter Isabella to Llywelyn’s only legitimate son and heir, Dafydd. So when William visited during Easter 1230 there were no raised eyebrows. However, when William turned up in Joan’s bedroom in the dead of night – more than eyebrows were raised. Llywelyn raised a gibbet in his backyard and strung de Braose up. It didn’t stop the pre-arranged wedding going ahead in 1231 – you couldn’t make it up.
Joan was locked up for twelve months but was forgiven and reinstated. She died seven years after her unfortunate interlude with de Braose and was much mourned by Llywelyn who died in 1240 having founded a Friary in Llanfaes in Joan’s memory.
The friary was dissolved along with all the other monastic foundations in England and Wales by Henry VIII and Joan’s burial place was lost – her stone coffin was rediscovered being used as a horse trough. Today it can be seen in Beaumaris Church.
Joan appears largely in footnotes of books pertaining to the men in her life and no doubt had she not been married to Llywelyn we would know even less about her. As is often the way when the truth is not known fiction is given freer reign. Sharon Kay Penman’s book Here Be Dragons develops Joan’s story and that’s where I first encountered her.
Morris, Marc. (2015) King John- Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta. London: Penguin