Thursday, 31 October 2013

Land Ruled by William de Braose/Breos

William de Breos, third of that name, held more land and power than any de Breos before or since. 

Remains of Bramber Castle (Wikimedia)
Remains of Bramber Castle (Wikimedia)
In the beginning, the family was called de Briouze after their estate in southern Normany at Briouze-Saint-Gervais. Gillaume de Briouze came to England with William the Conqueror, who rewarded him with land at Bramber in Sussex. He anglicised his name as William de Braose, and the family were know as de Braose for many years. At some point the name was changed to de Breos, and this is the version I use, since there are traces of that version around Swansea and Gower today. 

In addition to Bramber, William I de Breos administered Knepp, Washington, Findon, Steyning & Horsham. He was succeeded by his son Phillip, who gained half of Barnstaple in Devon through marriage, and took Radnor and Builth in the Welsh Marches in 1095. The Welsh held out against the conquest of England, so the king granted that his barons could keep any land in Wales that they could take and hold. These were the first de Breos holdings in Wales, but by no means the last. 

Phillip's son William II gained control of Brecknock and Abergavenny by marriage to Bertha, the daughter of Miles of Gloucester. William III was William's son, and served King Henry II and Richard the Lionheart, and then served King John, who proved to be both his patron and his nemesis. 

By the time John became king, William III had inherited all the lands of his predecessors and added Elfael & Kington in Wales, Stratton St Margaret & Berewick in Wiltshire, and King's Arley in Staffordshire. He gained Tetbury & Hampnett in Gloucestershire through marriage to Matilda St Valery. He was already a powerful man. 

But it was under John's patronage that he rose to the greatest heights. In 1200 John gave William the right to take as much of the lands surrounding his barony of Radnor as he could. In 1201 John gave him the county of Limerick in Ireland. Lords with lands in north Tipperary and Limerick were then told to hand them to William, and Knocgrafan Castle. Between 1200-1202 John gave William Shoreham in Sussex and entrusted him with lands in Normandy, including Walter de Lacy's lands and Longueil near Rouen. 

Limerick Castle (Wikimedia)
Limerick Castle (Wikimedia)
By 1203 John had given him Glamorgan and Gower in Wales and the city of Limerick in Ireland (to go with the county he already had in his control). William then successfully fined for custody of Walter de Lacy's English lands, all the more surprising as Walter was his son-in-law. He also got lands in Gloucestershire, Hereforshire & Shropshire. In Devon he gained custody of the estates due to the heir of John of Torrington, and half the barony of Totnes. Also two knight's fees in Warwickshire and Leicestershire, and Buckingham Castle. 

By 1204 William had Carrickfergus Castle in Ulster, custody of some neighbours' lands, and temporary custody of William de Burgh's land in Munster. In 1204 all his lands in Normandy were lost, when King John lost Normandy to the French. But in compensation, John gave him more land in England and Wales. 

Grosmont Castle (Wikimedia)
Grosmont Castle (Wikimedia)
He gained Paddington in the hundred of Wudetun, half the village of Gumshall, and the honour of Winton in Dorset by 1205, and in December 1205 William was re-granted the castles of Grosmont, Skenfrith, Abergavenny & Llantilio in Gwent in Wales. In 1207 he gained Ludlow Castle on the agreement of his son-in-law Walter de Lacy. 

In Briouze William had the power to summon people to attend pleas concerning the ruler. As a Marcher Lord he also had power independent of English law. The combination of land and local authority in English, Marcher, Norman and Irish counties meant that William was crucial to the centralising government of the king and his exercise of national power. The large amount of castles that William was custodian of, by 1208, ensured that he acted as an administrator and a defender of the king's will in the localities. 

Approximate extent of William's lands in Wales (by Carrie Francis)
Approximate extent of William's lands in Wales (by Carrie Francis)
William was essentially a Marcher baron who had become a crucial member of the king's court but still maintained his position and presence in the localities and it was this situation that made him unique among his family. 

And then King John turned on him. 

For more of the story read my book Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. Available in print from me for £4.99 postage free, or from Amazon UK. Available on Kindle from Amazon UK or US  and in all other ebook formats from Smashwords.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

How I Found My Niche Market

When I was thinking about possibly publishing this fascinating story I had discovered in Gower history, a publisher very kindly sat me down and explained why no publisher would touch it. The problem was that the market was too narrow. 

My book was about the Lordship of Gower in medieval history. Think of all the people interested in history, then divide it down to Welsh history, then divide that down to this little part of Wales – a peninsular on the south coast. Or think of all the people interested in Wales, then divide it down to Welsh history... you get the picture.

A publisher wants a chance of a return on his investment, and the market is not big enough. 

But my book meant a lot to me, and I thought that if I was fascinated by the story, then other people would be too. So I took a deep breath and self-published, as Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth. It was a gamble, because in order to attract the tourists it had to be a paper book. It is an ebook too, but I've not sold many. The sales have been nearly all in paperback. 

Because I found the market was not too narrow – it was a niche market! Tourists and locals alike love the castles in Swansea and Gower, and want to know about them. They see a slim book that is easily affordable and beautifully illustrated, and they buy it.

Oystermouth Castle (Wikimedia)
Oystermouth Castle (Wikimedia)
So far, in 18 months, I've sold over 300 copies! I covered all my costs and printed more, and had money over. Encouraged, I looked at my research and found another story. I published Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John in September, using the money from Alina and my own cash. Even though the tourist season is officially over, I've covered most of my costs already!

Swansea Castle
Swansea Castle
I managed to persuade some key local places to stock my book: the two museums, the two tourist information centres, bookshops and general stores in key places, and even inside Oystermouth Castle. And I put in the work to get in the local paper, radio and magazines and go to as many events as I could. 

So it is possible to sell to a small market – if you judge it right. All I've got to do now is crack it with fiction!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Princess Anne at Oystermouth Castle

Princess Ann at Oystermouth Castle (Wales Online)
Photo from Wales Online
Last Friday, 27th September, Princess Anne visited Swansea. Her first stop was Oystermouth Castle, where she was welcomed by a large crowd. The Wales Online article even mentioned that the castle is haunted by a white lady, which is the subject of my first local history book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth (see right).

Princess Ann at Oystermouth Castle (Evening Post)
Photo from South Wales Evening Post
Here she is being shown around by Roger Parmiter, President of the Friends of Oystermouth Castle. There are lots more photos of Princess Anne's visit here 

The castle has recently had £2m worth of conservation works which have greatly enhanced the visitor experience. Work to stabilise and repair some parts has allowed entry to areas that it was not previously safe to go into, and the improvement of paths both inside and outside the castle has made access much easier, especially for disabled people like me or those with young children or prams. 


The biggest change has been the work on the chapel tower, built by Alina when she returned to Gower after her imprisonment in the Tower of London. A glass bridge allows access to the chapel floor without restricting the view from the ground.

Alina's family were Lords of Gower, and loved to live in Oystermouth Castle, using Swansea Castle merely as an administrative centre. In fact, enhancements were made to Oystermouth Castle, while Swansea Castle was in need of repair, and some of the towers were actually sold off. 

IMG-20130824-00501The chapel would have been brightly decorated, not plain stone. Traces of the paintings have been found during the refurbishment, and a graphic representation made of how it might have looked. I'm sure Princess Anne was impressed – I wish I could have presented her with my book! It's the only account in existence of Alina's life and the events surrounding her, which led to the toppling of Edward II from the English throne.