Monday, 27 June 2022

Making covenants


In late June 1265 the town of Gloucester surrendered to the royalists after a siege of three weeks. Robert of Gloucester, a local chronicler, describes the terms of surrender:

“And Sir Edward gave them life and limb, and yet more grace,
Their arms, and all other things, and their horses each one.
Then Grimbauld Pauncefoot turned to Edward anon,
And was made knight, and bore arms against Sir Simon”.

Grimbauld was one of many Montfortian barons who submitted to the future king, were granted mercy, and served Edward for the remainder of their lives. None of them are to be found among his political opponents, even when he rode roughshod over the Great Charter. This would suggest that Simon's baronial followers were very far from proto-democrats, inspired by love of the common man. What they wanted was effective leadership at the top. Henry III could not supply that, Edward I could.

They were also after material rewards. On 18 January 1266, a few months after his surrender, Grimbauld secured the marriage of Sybil Turbeville, daughter of Robert, lord of Crickhowell on the Welsh March. When Robert went on crusade and failed to return, the lordship passed to Grimbauld.

It should not have. Robert left two sons, Hugh and Thomas. Hugh had been enfeoffed (formally granted) Crickhowell long before his father left for the Holy Land. Even so, the lordship went to Grimbauld. He was definitely in possession by November 1275, when a merchant of Chartres acquitted Hugh Turbervill of his debts for Crickhowell, and declared that in future he would look to Grimbauld for payment. Hugh was appointed constable of Castell y Bere in 1290, but this was small beans by comparison.

His younger brother Thomas was a famous traitor, who defected to the French after being captured in Gascony. In 1295 he drew up a detailed report, which still survives, advising the French king how to invade and conquer England. Interestingly, the report states that the Welsh are ready to rise under the leadership of a certain Morgan:

“...if those of Scotland rise against the King of England, the Welsh will rise also. And this I have well contrived, and Morgan has fully covenanted with me to that effect.”

This can only be Morgan ap Maredudd of Glamorgan, since there was no other prominent Welsh leader of that name at the time. After several months of spying in England and the Marches, Thomas was arrested and executed at Smithfield. It may be that Thomas held a grudge against the king for the loss of his inheritance, which explains his actions.

Amazingly, his co-conspirator, Morgan, suffered no punishment. Morgan had also emerged unscathed from the previous Welsh war of 1283, where he appears among the last followers of Prince Dafydd's council. Every other member of the council was either killed or imprisoned.

Not Morgan. Every time, he came out smelling of roses. We know he worked as the king's spy in later years; he had probably always been in royal service, and acted as agent provocateur in the Turbeville affair.

No plaques for Morgan, one suspects.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Boomerang in Brycheiniog


On 15 May 1266 Roger Mortimer apparently suffered a bad defeat in Brycheiniog. This is reported in the Annals of Waverley, which translates:

“...and in the Vigil of Pentecost Roger de Mortimer's entire army was slain in Brecon, and he was the only one to escape”.

Mortimer's defeat is not referenced anywhere else. We don't even know who he was fighting, but can take a few educated guesses.

The silence in pro-Venedotian chronicles may imply the battle had nothing to do with Gwynedd. Hence, this was not a fight between Mortimer and his cousin Prince Llywelyn. The lordship of Brycheniog was also contested by Gilbert de Clare and Humphrey Bohun. Clare had protested to the king, Henry III, that Mortimer was planning to murder him. However, if it had come to an open fight between the two powerful Marchers, you might expect it to be noticed elsewhere. As for the Bohuns, they were a busted flush at this stage, especially after Lord Edward gave their remaining castles in Brycheiniog to Mortimer. So, we are left in the dark.

There is no reason to think the Waverley annalist invented the battle; he only mentions it in passing, and his very indifference serves as confirmation. Mortimer quickly dusted himself down, and re-appeared a few weeks later in command of part of the royal army at the siege of Kenilworth. Much like a boomerang, the Mortimers always came back.

Saturday, 25 June 2022

Y Groes Naid


On 25 June 1283, at Rhuddlan, Edward I announced that the sacred relic known as Y Groes Naid (the Cross of Neith) had been recently handed over to him, at Conwy, by Reynold Grey, Justiciar of Chester. Grey had obtained the relic from a group of Welshmen. These were Einion son of Ifor and his three sons, and Gronw son of Dafydd and his four sons.

They had surrendered: '...the most holy wood of the Cross which is called by the Welsh 'Crosseneyht', which Llewelyn son of Griffin, late prince of Wales, and his ancestors, princes of Wales, owned'.

This was supposed to be a portion of the true cross, held inside a reliquary. As a reward, these Welshmen and their heirs were exempted from doing military service for the king outside the Perfeddwlad, unless at their own will, and at the king's cost instead of their own. The handing over of the cross was probably a staged presentation, symbolic of conquest. Einion son of Ifor, the leader of the band of Welshmen, was a former clerk of Prince Llywelyn's. For his action he was rewarded with a robe worth 20 shillings, and sufficient funds to enable him to study at Oxford.

The cross was taken regularly by Edward on his travels. Surviving household accounts show he worshipped before it every day, in his private chapel, and spent lavishly on decoration: for instance, in 1293-4 he spent the considerable sum of £104 on adorning its pedestal with gems set in gold. After the king's death in 1307, an inventory of relics in his chapel included:

'The Cross of Naid embellished with gold and precious stones, together with the foot of that Cross, of gold and gems, in a small leather case the shape of that foot, outside the coffer.'

 In 1352 Edward III gave the relic to the Dean and Chapter of St George's Chapel, Windsor, which the king had established as a major centre of devotion. In 1552 it was confiscated, along with all the other relics and treasures in the chapel, on the orders of Edward VI, to “await the king's further instruction”.

There is a certain irony in a Tudor king, descended of a Welsh lineage, confiscating a relic that had been taken by a Plantagenet conqueror. However, Edward VI was probably acting out of Protestant zealotry rather than thoughts of historical revenge. There are no further references to Y Groes Naid, and it was probably destroyed by Oliver Cromwell (another Welshman in disguise) and his Puritan commandos in the 1640s.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Death from the Waves - special guest post by Gordon Doherty

Around 1200 BC, a great migration of peoples occurred - a shadowy multitude of many different tribes and cultures who roved violently across the near east upon a mighty fleet of bird-prowed ships. The Egyptians - one of the few powers who survived their assaults -  dubbed them as 'the Sea Peoples'.

 A depiction of the Sea Peoples by the inimitable Giuseppe Rava. Here we see 1: a priest; 2. an aristocrat; 3 & 4. warriors of the 'Ekwesh' - one of many tribes amongst the Sea Peoples mass.

Amongst the many Sea Peoples tribes were: The Sherden, The Peleset, The Ekwesh, The Teresh, The Lukka, The Shekelesh, The Meshwesh, The Kariska, The Denyen, The Tjekker, The Weshesh (yes, many of those names sound like they should be pronounced with no teeth in!)

Together, this huge host descended from the north and the west in a series of waves, and proceeded to churn the near east into oblivion. Within a period of forty to fifty years at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the twelfth century almost every significant city in the eastern Mediterranean world was violently destroyed, many of them never to be occupied again.

The Sea Peoples' path of destruction. They came in two major waves - one naval, one inland.

Read the full article at Gordon’s blog:

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Shot fast


22 June 1265. On this day Prince Llywelyn of Wales and Simon de Montfort agreed the Treaty of Pipton. I posted the details recently, but essentially Henry III was forced to grant Llywelyn the whole of the principality of Wales, plus a hefty chunk of the Marches. In return Llywelyn had to pay a fee of 30,000 marks and provide the 'king' – Simon, in reality – with military aid.

That aid was urgently required against Lord Edward and the Marchers. On the day the treaty was sealed, they were busy at the siege of Gloucester. The town was defended by a Montfortian baron, Grimbauld Pauncefoot. Robert of Gloucester, an eloquent local chronicler, provides a handy account (translated from the Middle English):

“Sir Edward and his forces shot fast
Strong engines, and therewith to the castle cast;
And the others defended themselves, and little were aghast.
So that about three weeks the assault between them lasted,
And even they within waited for succour from Sir Simon;
For else they must needs yield the tower and the castle
To Sir Edward, by an agreement that they could not bear,
For forty days, arms against him in any place.”

The chronicler also describes how John Giffard, one of Edward's barons, broke through an undefended section of wall and forced the Montfortian defenders to retreat to the castle. The royalists were then able to focus on pounding the castle with siege engines.

It would be interesting to know where those engines came from. The royalists had assembled in a hurry after Edward's escape from Hereford, in late May, and had no access to the usual depots. Perhaps the Marchers kept a few in stock.

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Sodledum bell


In mid-June 1487 England was once again in a state of civil war. A Yorkist army, strengthened by professional German mercenaries and Irish levies, had landed in England and marched through Lancashire to the outskirts of York. Along the way they picked up support from local gentry, notably Sir Thomas Broughton.

This campaign, that ended in the battle at Stoke, is sometimes treated as a postscript. That is exactly what Henry Tudor wanted everyone to think: according to his propagandists, Bosworth was the important engagement, in which the Son of Prophecy fulfilled his destiny. Stoke, two years later, was a minor blip on the road of Tudor greatness.

(Just to be clear, I am not criticising Henry for making effective use of propaganda: any ruler with a working brain did the same thing). In reality it was a very serious affair, and almost ended in disaster for the new king. The Yorkist commander, John de la Pole, was no mean general. He also benefited from the presence and advice of Martin Schwartz, captain-general of the German troops.

Schwartz was a highly experienced soldier. Born in Augsburg, the son of a cobbler, he scrambled up the ranks through sheer drive and ability. His services were much in demand, and in 1486 he was hired by Maximilian, future Holy Roman Emperor, to lead a company of German and Swiss mercenaries or 'landsknechts'. Their job was to drive the French out of the Burgundian Netherlands and suppress a Flemish revolt. Schwartz performed his task with rather too much efficiency; after recapturing certain Flemish towns, he allowed his men to pillage them and slaughter the townsfolk.

It seems the German also made quite an impression in England. The English called him 'Martin Swart' and composed a song about him. A fragment of it survives:

“Martin Swart and his men, sodledum, sodledum, Martin Swart and his men, sodledum bell. With hey troly loly lo, whip here Jack, Alumbeck, sodledum, syllerum ben, Martin Swart and his merry men.”

In the 1972 drama series, Shadow of the Tower, Henry VII (played by James Maxwell) is shown humming part of the verse in his tent after the battle.

The real Schwartz and his 'merry' men were an extremely formidable crew, and Maximilian was probably glad to pack them off to England. They would shortly prove their worth.

Thursday, 9 June 2022

Wicked sons


In June 1265 Simon de Montfort's regime was looking seriously fragile. His chancery at Hereford continued to pump out orders in the name of the captive king, Henry III, but the military situation was dire. After his escape from Simon's custody, Lord Edward was joined by a host of nobles: Gilbert de Clare, Roger Mortimer, John de Warenne, William de Valence, Warin Bassingburne, Robert Walerand, even the justiciar, Roger Bigod. The prince raised his standard at Wigmore castle, where men of the border counties came flocking in.

To an extent, Simon owed this situation to his sons. Whatever one makes of the earl himself, contemporaries regarded his male offspring with horror. One of his own knights begged Simon to restrain them:

“For thou hast wicked sons, foolish and unwise,
You do not reprove their deeds,
Nor will you at all chastise them.
I warn you to give good heed, and correct them soon.
You may be blamed for them,
For vengeance is a granted boon.”

This impression is borne out by their behaviour. Simon's eldest son, Henry, was nicknamed 'the wool-carder' for his unjust seizure of English wool exports. He and his brother, Simon junior, were accused by the annalist of Tewkesbury of butchering two hundred Mortimer tenants – serfs, probably – in one day.

Simon junior in particular seems to have been a lovely drop of stuff. A lengthy court document exists, in which he is accused of chasing Isabella de Fortibus, the widowed Countess of Devon, all the way into Wales. He did this so he could force her to marry him and gain her vast estates. This was not an uncommon tactic, and required the abductor to rape his victim: the woman would thus be dishonoured, with no choice but to wed.

Fortunately for Isabella, she managed to escape. The same could not be said for another of Simon junior's victims, Henry of Almaine, nephew to Henry III. In 1271, six years after the battle of Evesham, Henry was butchered in a church in Italy by Simon and his brother Guy. When he tried to cling to the altar, they cut his fingers off and dragged him into the street. He was then hacked to death.

Young Simon died in Siena 1271. Penniless, excommunicate, utterly despised. The Italian poet, Dante Aligeri, described him thus: “Cursed by God, a wanderer and a fugitive”.