Friday, 28 February 2020

Goronwy's end

Goronwy ap Heilyn is last seen at Llanberis, at the foot of Snowdon, on 2 May 1283. He was among the last cohort of supporters of Dafydd ap Gruffudd, who had assumed the title Prince of Wales after the death of his brother, Llywelyn, the previous December.

Sunset over Llanberis
Dafydd had wanted the crown all his life. Now it was finally in his grasp, in circumstances that resemble the last act of Macbeth. He had no soldiers left, no castles after the fall of Castell y Bere in April, and was reduced to hiding in the mountains issuing pointless charters to men who had already deserted him.

His final acts as prince occured on 2 May. On that day Gruffudd ap Maredudd, one of Dafydd’s remaining supporters, agreed to grant Cantref Penwedding to Rhys Fychan of Ceredigion. At the same time Dafydd empowered one of his officers, John son of David, to call out the men of Builth, Brecon, Maelienydd, Elfael, Gwerthyrnion and Kerry. The intention was to summon one last army and stage a final stand against the troops of Edward I as they poured into the mountain citadel.


Unknown to Dafydd, Rhys Fychan had surrendered to the king at Rhuddlan at the start of March. In exchange for his life, Rhys agreed to do military service at Aberystwyth for forty days for a fee of £16:

“Payment to Res ap Mailgun, admitted to the lord king’s wages, by order of lord W. de Valence, the lord bishop of St David’s and lord Robert Tybbetot, to guard the land of ‘Lanpader’ with 2 covered horses and 4 uncovered horses and 24 foot-soldiers, from 11 March until Monday 19 April, for 40 days, £16.”

Nobody answered Dafydd’s military summons, since the men of Maelienydd and elsewhere had already submitted to the king.


Goronwy was one of those who witnessed these two futile charters. He was killed shortly afterwards, probably in a skirmish during the final days of the invasion. All we know of his death is a brief note in the survey of the Honour of Denbigh, drawn up in 1334. This records that Goronwy ap Heilyn Sais had died ‘contra pacem’ - against the peace. The lands of his son, Madog, escheated to the crown, while another son, Llywelyn, was still in prison in 1316.





Thursday, 27 February 2020

Seeking justice

A foot in both camps (6)

In November 1282, at Rhuddlan, the grievances of Welsh individuals and communities were laid before the king by Archbishop John Peckham. These can be found in the multi-volume printed version of his register. 


As ever, it is useful to compare and contrast. Goronwy ap Heilyn, the former bailiff of Rhos and royal justice, complained that he had gone to London three times to get justice against Reynold de Grey, and not obtained it. Part of his complaint translates as follows:

“But when he believed that he would have that justice, then came Reginald de Grey, who openly said that he was entitled to take the lands by the writ of the lord king, and then seized from the said Goronwy the whole bailiwick which the lord king granted to him, and sold it as he willed. Then the said Goronwy sought justice from the lord Reginald for these oft-stated grievances, but received none.”

The protest of the community of Rhos and Englefield gives a slightly different account of Goronwy’s behaviour:

“Since he did not dare to approach the court in person, he sent a messenger with two letters, one to the lord king, and the other to his brother Llywelin, to explain to the lord king that he might lose all his lands. And the said Goronwy, because he did not carry out what he had promised them, and since the men of Rhos and Englefield were unable to obtain any justice, and since he did not wish to correct or set right those grievances, on account of this lost all his lands.”

The ‘brother Llywelin’ mentioned here is Friar Llywelyn of Bangor, who had defected to the English after being captured at sea with Eleanor de Montfort in 1275. According to the above, Goronwy was too afraid of Grey to approach the court, so he tried to get letters to the king instead. However, the men of Rhos and Englefield then accused Goronwy of failing to deliver on his promises, and even that he ‘did not wish’ to protect them.

Thanks to Rich Price for the translations.


Tuesday, 25 February 2020

An utter thug

The war of Reynold de Grey (2)

Lord Reynold de Grey, who made himself so hated in North Wales, was an equal-opportunities oppressor. Apart from abusing the communities of Rhos and Englefield, he also found time to wage war on his fellow Marcher lords.


In the mid-1270s the castle of Ewloe (second pic) built by the princes of Gwynedd, passed into the hands of Robert de Monthaut. After his death the land and tenements passed to his widow, Joan. She enjoyed them for four years until Grey threw her out and seized the manor for himself. When her son Roger came of age, he tried to sue Grey in court, but died while the case was in progress. Grey held onto Ewloe until his death, and it was finally restored to the Monthauts by Queen Isabella in 1327.


Lord Grey was an utter thug, whose aim in life was to steal as much land as possible and kill anyone who tried to stop him. He actually said as much to Earl Warenne, when the two came to blows in 1287. He was also a brilliant military captain: born into a later age, he would have given Quantrill’s Raiders the fright of their lives. In 1267 Grey’s light cavalry slaughtered the March riders of Earl Gilbert de Clare outside London, and a couple of years later crushed an army of outlaws in the northern counties. His skill at guerilla warfare made him indispensable in Wales, and he was among the four big ‘batailles’ of English heavy cavalry at Falkirk. Such men were too useful to throw away.


Grey’s great-great grandson, Baron Grey of Ruthin, was the chap who triggered the revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr. The third pic is an illustration of the Grey arms, taken from The Grey Hours, a book of hours made for the family and dated c.1390.


King Caupens

Yesterday I forgot to post on the anniversary of the Battle of Roslin in 1303, so here’s another tidbit from the Wars of Independence.


In the spring of 1304, on his way to reduce the last patriot garrison at Stirling, Edward I was met at Findo Gask in Strathearn by a band of Scottish women. They came not to hurl jibes at the foul tyrant but serenade him. The entry for their payment, by the king’s gift, translates:

“To the seven women who met the king on the road between Gask and Uggelville, and who sang in his presence as they were accustomed to do in the time of Lord Alexander, late King of Scotland, this is as sent as the king’s own gift.”

Possibly the meeting was spontaneous, though a nasty suspicious person like me might see it as a clever bit of PR, cooked up by Edward’s advisers to project his takeover of Scotland as a natural progression from the days of Alexander III. There was, of course, no mention of John Balliol.


Edward was certainly fond of Scottish music, and employed two prominent Scottish musicians at his court. One was James de Cowpen, who first performed for the king at the wedding of his daughter, Princess Joan, to Gilbert de Clare in 1290. James was described as ‘King Caupenny of Scotia, who came to Westminster to the feast of the aforesaid nuptials’. He was paid the considerable sum of 50 shillings, by the king’s gift, for performing as ‘Rex Haraldorum’ or King of Heralds.

These heralds were officials at the court, responsible for organising jousts and tournaments and drawing up lists of knights for muster. They were also employed as messengers and spies. James de Cowpen appeared again at Edward’s court in 1296, after the deposition of John Balliol, and appears frequently in the accounts after that date. He received many gifts of favour from the king, including jewellery and a horse, and his name appears as Jakketus de Scotia, Monsire Capenny, Capigny, Capainy, Capini, Capin and Copyn.


In the last reference, dated 1307, he is “Roy de Copiny, harpour’. In 1306 James travelled north to Lanercost, where he played to the king to soothe the pain of Edward’s final illness. His last payment is dated 13 June 1307, at Carlisle, after which he vanishes. One of his descendants - or a copycat - played for James IV in 1503 under the name ‘Johne de Cowpanis’.

The second musician was Master Elyas, once the personal harper of Alexander III. Edward first heard Elyas play at Westminster in 1278 and awarded him 60 shillings. Elyas transferred his services to Edward after the death of Alexander in 1286, and was afterwards known as the King’s Harper or Master Elyas le Harpur. In 1296 he was granted lands in Perth and Fife, and was probably one of the five Scottish harpers who played for Edward in 1303 at Sandford near Largo Bay in Fife.






Monday, 24 February 2020

Ruthless justice

A foot in both camps (5)

On 14 November 1281 Reynold de Grey was appointed justice of Chester, with custody of the men of Chester and the two cantreds of Rhos and Englefield in northeast Wales. Grey’s appointment, more than any other, has been identified as the greatest single contributor to the war of 1282-3 in Wales. As a direct result of his actions, the men of North Wales regarded themselves as absolved from the oaths they had sworn to the English crown:


“Reynold de Grey, on an objective appraisal of the evidence which is available to us, must bear a grave responsibility for the resort to armed resistance in the spring of 1282.”

- J Beverley-Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd: Prince of Wales

Yet, despite the importance of the evidence against Grey, nobody has ever translated it from the printed material in the register of Archbishop John Peckham. So it falls to yours truly and my friends, for which we will no doubt receive knighthoods.


One of those who protested against Grey was Goronwy ap Heilyn. He presented his own complaints before the king, while another set of complaints was presented on his behalf by the men of Rhos and Englefield. I’ve only just started looking at this material and will provide translations in future posts.


Grey’s first action was to remove Goronwy from his office as bailiff of Rhos, and his kinsman Cynfrig ap Goronwy as bailiff of Englefield. They were replaced by Grey’s officers, Welsh and English, each of whom was identified as agents of ‘ruthless justice’. The likes of Cynfrig Sais and Cynfrig Fychan would incur the wrath of Welsh communities no less than Hick Lemayn and Robert Crevequer.



Sunday, 23 February 2020

Laws and wars

A foot in both camps (4)

On 4 December 1281, at Chester, a report was submitted to the king concerning the laws and customs of the Welsh. This was part of an ongoing survey, called the Hopton Commission, into the nature of the Welsh legal system and which laws and customs they ought to be governed by.


Goronwy ap Heilyn had been appointed as one of four Welshmen on the original seven-man commission in 1278. The personnel changed over the years, but Goronwy remained in favour and was re-appointed as a royal justice in the Marches.


The final report of the Hopton Commission takes up several pages in the Welsh Rolls. It is essentially a report of a long list of witnesses, Welsh and English, who were asked to describe their experience of native law and custom. The answers varied, sometimes depending on the attitude of the witnesses. One Welsh lord, for instance, remarked:

“Of the other articles he knows nothing, because he gives more attention to hunting than to the discussion of law.”

The responses of the cantref of Rhos in northeast Wales make for interesting reading. Goronwy was bailiff of Rhos, one of the first Welsh communities to rebel against Edward I only a few months later. This powder-keg situation is not evident in the report, in which one individual after another declared in favour of English common law over the law of Cyfraith Hywel (Hywel Dda).


Goronwy himself was key to promoting this attitude. One witness stated that the people of Rhos were well content with the new law, because their bailiff encouraged them. The ‘community of the country’ also desired common law over Cyfraith Hywel. This trend was repeated all over Wales, even among the princes: Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd himself, for instance, made use of the English law of dower on behalf of his sister, Margaret.

It was not, therefore, an issue of law that drove the North Welsh into revolt. For the real cause we must look to individuals in the royal administration of Wales. The chief culprit was Reynold de Grey, justice of Chester.




Saturday, 22 February 2020

A mix of kings

A foot in both camps (3)

In December 1279 Goronwy ap Heilyn took an inquisition concerning the manor of Prestatyn in the Four Cantreds, northeast Wales. He presided alongside the Justice of Chester, Guncelin de Badlesmere, Cynrwig ap Gronw, bailiff of Rhuddlan, and the Archdeacon of St Asaph.


It was presented that Richard, once king of England, had possessed the manor by right of conquest and bequeathed it to Henry III, who in turn bequeathed it to Edward I. The ‘right of conquest’ was perfectly valid in law, which makes one wonder why anyone bothered to dress it up with claims of legitimacy and birth etc. This applied to William the Conqueror all the way down to Henry Tudor.

Owain Gwynedd
Sir Robert Banastre challenged the king’s right to Prestatyn on the basis that the aforesaid King Richard - presumably Richard the Lionheart - had granted the same manor to Robert’s grandfather, another Robert. Owain Gwynedd, then Prince of Wales, then violently ejected the grandfather and destroyed the town he built on the manor.


Several points of interest. One, Robert didn’t know his history, or pretended not to. His ancestors first came to Wales during the time of William the Conqueror, and his grandfather was granted Prestatyn by Henry II, not Richard I. Second, Owain Gwynedd died in 1170, nineteen years before Richard became king. In 1167 he destroyed the tower at Prestatyn built by Robert’s grandfather. Afterwards the Banastres fled into Lancashire, where they were granted lands by the Earl of Chester.

Despite getting his kings mixed up, it seems Robert’s plea was succesful. His granddaughter Anghard married Sir Henry Conwy of Richmond, Yorkshire, after which Prestatyn remained in the Conwy family for centuries. They became Welsh gentry and eventually married into Welsh royalty: Jenkyn Conwy, Robert’s descendent, married the daughter of Maredudd ap Hywel ap Dafydd, who was lineally descended from…Owain Gwynedd.

History is irony.