Monday, 9 November 2015

Llewelyn the Great, part 2, & the Scandalous Affair (Welsh History)

The next major figure in Welsh history after the Lord Rhys, was Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, known later as Llewelyn the Great. I wrote about him before in detail, which you can find here.
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There is also a whole chapter devoted to him in my book Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. My interest in Llewelyn is because of his links to King John and the de Braose family: He married King John’s illegitimate and much-loved daughter Joan (known as Siwan in Wales); in return for his help in their battle with John for their ancestral lands, both Reginald de Braose and his nephew John married Llewelyn’s daughters.
Later, Llewelyn arranged a marriage between his son and heir Dafydd and Isabel de Braose, granddaughter of Reginald. While the negotiations were progressing however, there was a major scandal caused by William, father of the potential bride. In 1228 he had succeeded his father Reginald de Braose. During a campaign against another Marcher lord, Llewelyn had captured William, who was fighting on the lord's side. He was held for ransom for £2,000. William may have been wounded and tended by Llewelyn's wife and her maids. He was held for six months, and on his release gave his word he would never again bear arms against Llewelyn, and his daughter would marry Llewelyn's son.

Not only would this be a third (or fourth) tie between Llewelyn's family and one of the most prominent Marcher families, but it would bring the Lordship of Builth as a dowry and other potential lands when William died and his lands were split between his daughters. Even more important, William's wife Eva was the sister of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and Regent of England.
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At Easter 1230, William visited Llewelyn's court to finalise the marriage arrangements and possibly to negotiate the release of the companions and servants who had been captured with him. One day William was discovered in Llewelyn's chamber in bed with Llewelyn's wife Joan, King John's daughter.

It's not known how long the affair had been going on, but it's possible they fell in love when Joan tended William's wounds after he was captured. They were immediately separated and imprisoned. Within a month William was tried by a council of Llewelyn's lords and sentenced to death. He was hung publicly on 2 May 1230. Llewelyn, normally the astute politician, behaved as an outraged husband with no regard for the consequences.

Joan was imprisoned for twelve months, but was later forgiven, so it seems there was genuine love between them. But it should be remembered she was also the half-sister of the king.

There are those historians who say it was a conspiracy to falsely accuse and murder William. Indeed, it did mean his daughters would come into their inheritance. But it jeopardised the whole marriage arrangement, so if it was true, Llewelyn was playing a dangerous game. Most likely it was a genuine affair. Llewelyn was at great pains to convince Isabel's relatives the marriage should go ahead.

It's interesting the Crown said nothing about the incident, except a mention in a letter to Llewelyn which referred to the 'mischance that befell him'. There was no mention of the fact he had taken it upon himself to try, judge and execute a subject of the Crown. In fact, he began to style himself 'Prince of Aberffraw and Lord of Snowdon'.

The marriage went ahead and William's lands were split between his four daughters and their husbands.


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