Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Power, Prerogative and Privileges of the Lords of Glamorgan

The medieval lordship of Glamorgan was one of the largest, wealthiest and perhaps the most important lordship within the Welsh marches. The lord of Glamorgan also simultaneously held the honour of Gloucester and other lordships within England making him one of the richest and most powerful men in Britain who was close to the king often engaged in affairs of national importance. 

(Sixteenth Century depiction of Robert Fitzhamon founder of Glamorgan)

The lordship of Glamorgan was formed in 1093 when Norman baron and vassal of king William II (1056-1100) Robert Fitzhamon (d 1107) seized power from the last native Welsh ruler of Morganwg, Iestyn ap Gwrgant (d 1093), and divided out his new fiefdom amongst his retainers. The stronghold and administrative centre of the lord of Glamorgan was Cardiff castle, its Norman stone built keep after nearly 900 years is still a dominant feature of Cardiff's skyline. The impressive stronghold of the de Clare dynasty Caerphilly castle, one of the largest castles in Britain, too still stands as a silent and evocative reminder of the power and ambition of the lords of Glamorgan.

(The Norman keep at Cardiff castle)

In the centuries after the initial conquest Glamorgan was gradually expanded by an aggressive series of military campaigns instigated by successive lords of Glamorgan; conflict with the native Welsh rulers of Blaenau Glamorgan and beyond it seemed was an almost permanent feature of life in the march and would be an issue that many of the lords of Glamorgan would have to address.

The marcher lordship of Glamorgan however owing to its unique foundation incorporated rights and privileges that made the lord of Glamorgan more powerful than the King’s English barons.  Upon accession to the lordship of Glamorgan the new lord could enjoy almost complete autonomy from the English crown as the king’s writ did not apply in the march, the lord of Glamorgan did not even owe the king military service. 

The lord of Glamorgan could deal with all civil matters regarding his subjects in his own court; for example, in the year 1245 Richard Seward lord of Talyfan and Llanblethlian was outlawed by Richard de Clare (1222-1262) on account of his alliance with Hywel ap Maredudd leader of Welsh resistance against the de Clare’s, and had his estates confiscated by earl Richard.  Seward felt that he had been unfairly treated and appealed directly to king Henry III (1207-1272) to intercede on his behalf, but there was little the king could do and Seward it seems lost all of his land holdings and possessions within Glamorgan.

(King Henry III)

The lord of Glamorgan did not need a royal license to construct castles.  For example, a dispute between Gilbert de Clare, also known as Gilbert the Red, (1243-1295) and Llewellyn ap Gruffudd prince of Wales (1223-1282) in the early 1270's lead Gilbert to begin building a massive new castle at Caerphilly.  This new construction was not appreciated by king Henry III who did not want to enflame further hostilities between prince Llewellyn and the ambitious Gilbert de Clare who were both also embroiled in the second Barons War in England (1264-1267).  Caerphilly castle was temporarily in royal control while a solution to the trouble was sought, Gilbert however had other ideas, and managed to regain his castle at Caerphilly by a simple rouse; the king was virtually powerless to take it back.

(Caerphilly castle)

Perhaps the most prized privilege enjoyed by the lords of Glamorgan was the right to wage private war.  It was not just Welsh lords that the lord of Glamorgan would turn his ire to if he was aggrieved or felt a sense of entitlement, but on occasion his fellow marcher lords.  For example, in the year 1222, earl Gilbert de Clare (1180-1230) mobilised a force of soldiers and began a siege of Dinas Powys castle seemingly over the issue of wardship with the heir to the lordship of Dinas Powys being a minor at the time.  The castle of Dinas Powys for reasons that are unclear was in the custody of William Marshal the younger earl of Pembroke (1190-1231) and Gilbert was quite within his rights to not only claim wardship of any given lordship within his territory but to go to war to enforce his prerogative.  It took the efforts of King Henry III to quell the violence and order William Marshal to give custody of the castle to Gilbert.

(Contemporary depiction of a medieval siege

These events show us just how powerful the lords of Glamorgan actually were and the lengths that they would go to to get what they wanted.

The power enjoyed by the lords of Glamorgan did not go unnoticed by the monarchy and after nearly two hundred years of near complete autonomy in the march and no doubt many a raised eyebrow in England, the lord of Glamorgan finally met his match in none other than king Edward I (1239-1307). King Edward I, also known as Longshanks, really needs little introduction.  King Edward's campaigns in Wales and Scotland show us just how brutal and efficient he could be if he wanted something badly enough and Edward had a very clear vision of Britain unified under his rule which did not include his barons waging private war. 

A series of events involving Gilbert de Clare the red earl of Gloucester and lord of Glamorgan, and Humphrey de Bohun (1249-1298) earl of Herford and lord of Brecon during the late thirteenth century, gradually drove Edward to curtail the power of both earls and exert royal authority over the marcher lords, something previous monarchs were unable or unwilling to do.  There were quite a few  sources of discontent between Gilbert and Humphrey but the most contentious issue between the earls occurred in 1289 when Gilbert began building a castle at Morlais near Merthyr Tydfil on land claimed by Humphrey to be within the boundaries of his lordship.

(Gilbert de Clare The Red)

Edward was abroad at the time in Gascony and could not deal with the issue personally but a commission consisting of some of the most powerful people in England including Queen Eleanor, the king's cousin the earl of Cornwall, regent of England while Edward was away, and the archbishop of Canterbury, assembled with a view to persuading Gilbert to desist from his actions, but they failed.

In the year 1290 earl Humphrey formally appealed to the king against earl Gilbert for trespass; however, Gilbert failed to turn up at the royal court.  Edward promptly issued a proclamation forbidding private war.  Gilbert's response was audacious.  Gilbert sent his soldiers into Brecon with the de Clare banners unfurled and stole livestock and other possessions belonging to earl Humphrey.  Several of Humphrey's men were also killed in the raid.  This brazen act of aggression was a direct challenge to the king's authority which tells us a great deal about Gilbert's character and his sense of privilege within his lordship.

(Brecon castle)

A second Brecon raid took place not long after in June when earl Gilbert was actually with king Edward at Westminster, and a third raid took place in November.

Earl Humphrey once again protested to the king but it seems he was prepared to drop the matter for the sake of marcher prerogative, but by now Edward was heartily fed up of Gilbert's increasing acts of defiance towards the crown and established a royal commission at Brecon in 1291 with a jury of 24 to hear evidence of raids and counter raids that took place in 1290.  Earl Gilbert, predictably, and in another act of defiance didn't show up. 

A new royal commission was established at Abergavenny in October 1291 this time personally headed by the king.  Both earls had no choice but to attend on this occasion, and although Gilbert vehemently protested he was arrested along with earl Humphrey. Both earls were put on trail at Westminster in January 1292 where they had their estates declared forfeit for life; both earls were then thrown back in jail afterwards.

(King Edward I)

King Edward however didn't intend to keep the earls in jail for too long or to permanently keep their estates and their liberty and possessions were eventually restored to them although they were both heavily fined, earl Gilbert 10,000 marks and Humphrey 1000 marks respectively.  Edward's actions were intended to show both earls that royal authority was supreme and that waging private war would no longer be tolerated.

For a time there was peace in the march, but in 1295 King Edward had further cause to take Glamorgan into royal custody as Gilbert intended to launch a millitary offensive against one Morgan ap Maredudd, the leader of a short lived rebellion against Gilbert within Glamorgan, after Morgan had capitulated declared himself the king's loyal subject.  Gilbert had also delayed surrendering the temporalities of the bishopric of Llandaff to John of Monmouth who had been elected to the see of Llandaff which contributed towards Edward's decision to once again temporarily confiscate the earl's estates as a reminder that the earl's actions would not be tolerated.  Earl Gilbert's estates were restored to him in 1296 but shortly after Gilbert de Clare died with the prerogative of the marcher lord to wage private war dying with him.

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