Category Archives: Anglo-Welsh History

Christmas comes but once a year…

 

 abergavennyChristmas 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.”

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Filed under Anglo-Welsh History, Twelfth Century

Joan, Lady of Wales

siwanJoan 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.

joan03

Morris, Marc. (2015) King John- Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta. London: Penguin

Warren, W.L. (1978) King John. London: Methuen

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Filed under Anglo-Welsh History, The Plantagenets, Thirteenth Century

Dafydd ap Gruffydd

EdwardDafydd was the grandson of Llywelyn the Great.  He was also the first nobleman in Britain to be executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered for treason.

The story is a complicated one and begins with Llywelyn the Great.  Llywelyn married Joan, the natural daughter of King John.  They had one son who inherited his father’s kingdom.  He died without heirs so the kingdom was inherited by the heirs of Llywelyn’s other son Gruffydd who had been excluded from a share in the power because of his illegitimacy.  This had followed the English way of excluding all but the legitimate heirs.  Now though Gruffydd’s four sons all had an opportunity to make a bid for power.

In 1256 Llywelyn ap Gruffydd managed to wrest power from his brothers.  The early years of his reign were helped by the fact of the Baron’s War in England and the role of Simon de Montfort.  Dafydd formed an alliance with King Henry in 1263 and continued to fight against his brother alongside Edward I from 1274.

The alliance with King Edward served Dafydd well.  He married Lady Elizabeth Ferrers, the daughter of the Earl of Derby and widow of William Marshall (2nd Baron Marshall).  He gained land and prestige in England.  But then Dafydd thought better of his links with the English and returned to fight alongside his brother.  He attacked Hawarden Castle during Easter 1282.  Edward was unamused.

That same year Llywelyn was killed and Dafydd became the next Prince of Wales.  It probably wasn’t a very comfortable position as Edward was hot on Dafydd’s heels.  In fact he was captured once but managed to escape into the Snowdonian Mountains.  Finally he was cornered along with his younger brother Owain.  Also imprisoned were Dafydd’s wife, their seven daughters, two sons and one niece.

The Lanercost Chronicle takes up the story:

The King sent him forward to the Tower of London with wife and children….David’s children were condemned to perpetual imprisonment, but David himself was first drawn as a traitor, then hanged as a thief; thirdly, he was beheaded alive, and his entrails burnt as an incendiary and a homicide; fourthly his limbs were cut into four parts as the penalty of a rebel.

 

This all took place in Shrewsbury.  As for his wife and children.  Their fates are not completely known.  His wife is thought to be buried in the church at Caerwys.  One daughter, Gwladys, a child, was sent to the Gilbertine convent in Sixhills Lincolnshire where she spent the rest of her life along with her cousin.  Her brothers Llywelyn and Dafydd were imprisoned for the rest of their lives.  Llywelyn died in suspicious circumstances in 1287 in Bristol Castle.

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Filed under Anglo-Welsh History, Kings of England, Monasteries, Thirteenth Century