Wednesday, 27 November 2013

What Have They Done To Swansea Castle Part 2


A while ago, I wrote about work on Swansea Castle. For years, the ruin has been fronted by a large grassy bank, and largely inaccessible.

The height of the bank was deceptive, because the soil had built up over the years, so the ground level was much higher than it would have been originally. So when the Council removed the bank, I was encouraged. I was not so encouraged to see concrete and paving replace it.


Now the barriers have gone and the Council workmen are putting the finishing touches to the site. It's not as bad as I feared. There are flower beds and seats. I'm withholding the final judgement until next spring when we see what is planted.


I'm also curious as to whether the Council will go on to the next phase and make the ruins accessible for the public. They've been talking about it, but will there be enough money?


It was Swansea Castle that led me to the medieval lords of Gower, and my two local history books, Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth and Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. Also available on Smashwords. Print copies available from me for £4.99, postage free.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Inheritance in medieval times could be a very complicated thing. Here, for example, is the story of part of William II de Breos' inheritance.

In the early part of the twelfth century, William de Braose (or de Breos) married Bertha, the daughter of Miles of Gloucester. While this was an advantageous marriage in terms of links to a wealthy family, it was not expected to bring William any land. Miles was Earl of Hereford and lord over Brecon, Upper Gwent, the Forest of Dean and other lands. 

Miles had four sons, as well as three daughters. The tradition was for the eldest son to inherit when the father died, but if he then died it would pass to the next son. With four sons, one of them would certainly inherit when Miles died. 

At the end of 1143 Miles died unexpectedly, while still in his prime. His eldest son, Roger, became the Earl, but was deprived of the earldom of Hereford for treason in 1155 and died within a few months. Miles' second son Walter inherited, but died about 1170 in the Holy Land or on the journey home. Both died without heirs. 

Bronllys Castle (Wikimedia)
Bronllys Castle
The third son Henry was certainly married, but he too died without children. He was killed in 1175 by Seisyll ap Dyfnwal, the leading Welsh chieftain in Gwent Uwchcoed. The youngest son Mahel never inherited as he was killed in 1165 by falling masonry from the burning castle of Bronllys.

So the land passed to Miles' three daughters, Margaret, Bertha and Lucy. Margaret married Humphrey de Bohun, himself a wealthy and powerful man, and inherited Hereford. Lucy married Herbert fitz Herbert and inherited the Forest of Dean and other lands. 

Brecon Castle (Wikimedia)
Brecon Castle

Bertha's marriage to William de Braose brought him Brecon and Upper Gwent, which, added to Builth and Radnor that he already held, gave him a solid power block of land in the Middle March. His son William III took revenge on Seisyll ap Dyfnwal for his uncle's death, which caused public outcry, but William III later took over his father's lands and added to them, becoming the most powerful member of the family ever.

Until he fell out with King John.

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

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Ogre of Abergavenny

This is the story of how another William de Breos got named The Ogre of Abergavenny by his Welsh neighbours.

William II, the 3rd Lord of Bramber, married Bertha, daughter of Miles of Gloucester, who had four brothers who were expected to inherit. But they all died childless and the inheritance was split between the daughters. William and Bertha got Brecon and Abergavenny, which gave them a vast block of territory in the Middle March of Wales. William was close to King Stephen and was in the escort for the defeated Empress Maud. He served King Henry II and was part of many of the king's expeditions in France. He was appointed sheriff of Hereford in 1173.i

William's son, William III, was very anti-Welsh, and it caused a lot of trouble. It may have led to war, but Rhys ap Gruffydd, the ruler of Deheubarth, submitted to Henry II as a vassal and was appointed Justiciar of South Wales. This kept the Welsh in check, until Henry II's death in 1189.

Abergavenny Castle (Wikimedia)
Abergavenny Castle (Wikimedia)
In 1175, however, William III decided to avenge the death of his uncle, and caused quite a scandal. This was Henry Fitzmiles, third son of Miles of Gloucester, who was killed in battle by a Welsh leader, Seisyll ap Dyfnwal of Castle Arnallt, in 1165. William invited Seisyll and other Welsh leaders of Gwent to Abergavenny Castle. Some historians, including Gerald of Wales, say it was to hear the reading of a royal proclamation, some say it was to a Christmas Day feast of reconciliation. They all left their arms outside, as was the custom. William's men rose and murdered them all, including Seisyll's eldest son Gruffydd. Seisyll's wife attempted to escape with her seven-year-old son, Prince Cadwaladr, but William hunted them down and killed the son in his mother's armsii.

This resulted in outrage and hostility from the Welsh, whom the kings were always trying to pacify. They named William 'The Ogre of Abergavenny'. Gerald of Wales emphasised his subsequent great piety and generosity to the priories of Abergavenny and Brecon, presumably in an attempt to atone for his crime. Seven years later Seisyllt's surviving sons took their revenge by burning Abergavenny Castle down. The keep survived and William III built a new castleiii.