Saturday, 17 September 2022

War against the earl (1)

In October 1293 Earl Gilbert de Clare, lord of Glamorgan and Kilkenny, went to Ireland to deal with a revolt on his estates. The rebellion was serious, and he was obliged to spend the next twelve months putting it down. Clare took his family with him and stripped his garrisons in Glamorgan for the Irish campaign. 

Ireland and Wales were in a state of flux. In 1294 the long-running feud between the Burghs and the Geraldines erupted into open conflict; as a consequence the Irish rose and devastated Leinster, Newcastle McKynegan and other towns. One of the Irish leaders was Maurice Mac Murrough, who declared himself King of Leinster and united the mountain septs against the English government. 

These events roughly coincided with a widespread revolt in Wales. In the southeast, Clare's absence enabled the Welshry of Glamorgan to rise under their leader, Morgan ap Maredudd. It may be the revolts either side of the Irish Sea were co-ordinated, though evidence of communication between the Welsh and Irish leaders is lacking. 

English and Welsh sources agree the revolt in the southeast started in October 1294. Subsequent events are a matter of conjecture, and it doesn't help that the revolt was split in two. The Welsh in Morgannwg were led by Morgan, while those in Gwent were led by Meurig ap Dafydd, a former royal tax officer. 

 An English chronicle, Annales de Wigornia, records that Abergavenny was under siege by February 1295, and that the Welsh captured the castles of Morlais and Cefnllys. Morlais, a huge rambling place above the Taff Gorge near Merthyr Tydfil, had been the cause of a recent private war between Clare and Earl Humphrey de Bohun. Now it was seized by the Welsh. 

The English response is confusing. About 4000 troops had been sent to Cardiff in November 1294, but these were men of the earl, not the king. An English chronicler, Peter Langtoft, gave an interesting account of Morgan's motives: 

 “The earl of Gloucester, I know not the reason, has lost in South Wales moor and dwelling. Morgan attacks him, and does him destruction. But to King Edward, Morgan means nothing but well.” 

Morgan had every reason to hate Clare, who had disinherited his father. In context, he appears to have exploited Earl Gilbert's absence to get revenge.

Friday, 16 September 2022

Morgan's run (2)

In 1279 the royal justices met at Oswestry to preside over competing claims to the land of Llandovery and commotes of Hirfryn and Perfedd. The rival parties were John Giffard and his wife Matilda on the one side, and Rhys Fychan, Rhys ap Maredudd and Morgan ap Maredudd on the other. Morgan is the subject of these posts, so to avoid migraines let us focus on him. 

 An enquiry held the previous year, 1278, had found that Morgan was ejected from all his lands by Earl Gilbert de Clare and Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. Yet the court hearing of 1279 shows that his last land of Hirfryn, seized by Llywelyn, had found its way into the hands of John Giffard. It is impossible to believe that Llywelyn would have re-granted land held by Welsh barony to an English lord, so therein lies a mystery. 

Morgan came to Oswestry and claimed two parts of his former land of Hirfryn. It seems he took bad advice, because he made the mistake of claiming against Giffard alone. Giffard countered that he had no claim to Hirfryn, except in right of his wife. For this blunder Morgan was amerced (fined) and told he could proceed again by summons if he wished. 

He returned with a new plea at the court of Montgomery on 1 July. This time he claimed to have inherited Hirfryn from his father, and that he ought to hold it by Welsh law and custom as opposed to English. Those were indeed the terms by which Lord Edward had granted the commote to Morgan's father a decade earlier. He was given a day at 'coram rege' (king's court) to plead his case. This came to nothing when the jurors failed to turn up. 

Morgan was also litigating against Gilbert de Clare over lands in Ystrad Tywi and Glamorgan, and one of Clare's tenants, Bartholomew de Mora, over land in Llanwern. The result was another disaster. At the first hearing the justices could not agree if the earl had been reasonably summoned. At the second, Clare's attorney argued that Morgan was claiming lands in Glamorgan, but the writ only mentioned the land of Edlogan. On that basis, variance of writ and pleading, the claim was void. 

In medieval law, a 'good writ' was all. If the spoken plea did not match the text, a case was thrown out or had to start over. Morgan and Clare were summoned to appear again a month later. They did so, but Morgan was unable to deny the faulty writ. Thus he got nothing. He did no better with the Llanwern claim. To defend this, Clare's bailiff came and argued that Morgan should make the claim in the earl's court, not the king's, because he was a tenant of the earl. Morgan countered that he claimed as a baron of the King. At a further hearing, it was shown that his writ only mentioned lands in Glamorgan, while he was pleading for lands in Llanwern. 

So, Morgan had made the same mistake twice. He made one further plea of land at Abergavenny, against his fellow Welshman Rhys Fychan, but failed to attend the court. Well, why bother.

Thursday, 15 September 2022

Morgan's run (1)

Maredudd ap Gruffudd, lord of Hirfryn in south Wales, died at Llandovery castle in 1270 and was buried in the chapter house at Strata Florida. He had previously spent a year in prison in Ireland, after Earl Gilbert de Clare annexed his lands in Glamorgan and took him prisoner. 

Clare's action was in response to the decision of Lord Edward, who had granted Maredudd's lands and homage to Prince Llywelyn of Wales. This enraged Clare, who waited until Edward departed on crusade and then launched an invasion of the Glamorgan uplands. His conquest marked the end of the descendents of the old kings of Morgannwg, who had clung onto their patrimony for almost two hundred years. 

Maredudd's heir, Morgan, was left with Hirfryn in Deheubarth. Via the treaty of Montgomery in 1267, the homage of virtually all the lords of Wales was now owed to Prince Llywelyn. Morgan was duly summoned to Snowdonia to perform the ritual act of homage and fealty to the prince. As soon as the oath was sworn, Llywelyn declared Hirfryn forfeit and confiscated it. 

Morgan was now landless, completely shorn of his inheritance. The bare facts of the record give no reason for Llywelyn's action, which is puzzling. He had previously re-granted Hirfryn to Morgan's father after taking it out of the hands of the former lord, Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg. Llywelyn then insisted the lordship be held direct of him as a Welsh barony. Edward consented to this, at the expense of Clare. 

Llywelyn may well have considered that Morgan's family had expended their usefulness. After losing their lands in Glamorgan, they were now minor lords, of no great power or influence. In terms of hard politics, it made far more sense to take their last land under direct control. This gave Llywelyn a foothold in Deheubarth, and some potentially useful leverage against the rival lords of Dinefwr. The prince's decision was typically ruthless: his neighbours, Henry III and Edward I, were dab hands at this sort of barely legal theft. It was a question of dressing it up as legal process. 

As for Morgan, he could go and die in a ditch. He was an extra prince now, and extra princes in this era only went one way – down. 

Morgan said no.

Tuesday, 13 September 2022

Plot, plot, plot, plot, plot

“The cruel Thomas Turberville, disturbed our peace with wicked will.”

In September 1295 Sir Thomas Turberville was tried and executed for treason. After his conviction, he was dragged on a hurdle to a gallows and hanged on an iron chain. This was part of a bizarre ritual execution, in which the hangmen wore special uniforms of 'trowsers' and furred jackets, and beat the prisoner with clubs on his way to the gallows. Afterwards his body was torn to pieces by horses.*

Turberville was a former household knight and trusted servant of Edward I. In 1294 he was captured by the French in Gascony and agreed to turn traitor. The French sent him back to England, where he spied on English military preparations and sent a detailed report back to Paris.

The king of France, Philip the Fair, had great plans for Turberville. Two English chronicles state that, after he had conquered England, Philip meant to install the traitor as Prince of Wales. The idea of appointing a Welshman does not seem to have occurred to him: Philip was close kin to the Anglo-Norman ruling elite, after all. At this stage Anglo-French rivalry was a family quarrel over sovereignty, as opposed to the national conflict it later became.

The details of Turberville's capture are murky. We know he was lurking close to the Welsh border shortly before his arrest; on 23 September a fee of £1 was paid to William Wither, a royal agent, for watching Turberville's movements in Gloucestershire.

Now, in his report to Paris, Turberville twice claimed to be in secret contact with a certain 'Morgan' in Wales. These are worth quoting. In the first instance, Turberville wrote that he had met Edward I in London, and assured him the land of Wales was at peace:

“...wherefore I did not dare to deliver unto Morgan the thing which you well wot of.”

This would imply that Turberville was carrying some message from the French, which he dared not deliver to Morgan while he held the king's attention. Second, he claimed to have organised a widespread revolt in Scotland and Wales, and that the Scots and Welsh would rise in arms against the English as soon as Edward sailed for France:

“And this I have well contrived, and Morgan has fully covenanted with me to that effect.”

The Morgan in question can only be Morgan ap Maredudd, a descendant of the old kings of Morgannwg. Whether or not he was really plotting against the king, or acting as agent provocateur, is uncertain. What we do know is that he suffered no punishment after Turberville's arrest, and is later found acting as Edward's spy and commissioner of array.

However, between the arrest and his later royal service, Morgan did lead a major revolt in south-east Wales. These medieval folk did love a good plot. Plot, plot, plot. It was the spice of life. Right up until the point they got horribly killed.

*Please don't ask me why they wore trousers and furred jackets. I have absolutely no idea. Maybe it was the fashion. 

Monday, 12 September 2022

Hammer of the sots

The news of Stirling Bridge, fought on 11 September 1297, probably reached Edward I in Flanders by early October. On the 9th he agreed a truce with his enemy, Philip the Fair, a tacit agreement which left both kings free to deal with their problems in Scotland and Flanders.

Or at least, that is the standard interpretation. The tendency is to cut-frame straight to the battle of Falkirk, which gives the impression that Edward steamed home at a billion miles an hour to crush William Wallace with his mighty hammer.

The reality could not be more different. Despite the truce, Edward remained on the continent for another six months, and delegated the Scottish crisis to his subordinates. Earl Warenne, who had made such a fool of himself at Stirling Bridge, was entrusted to deal with the Scots. Meanwhile the king remained focused on the French war.

When he negotiated the truce, it was laid down that Edward could resume hostilities, if his ally Adolf of Nassau arrived in Flanders with a German imperial army. Adolf had sent some help, but most of the Germans fighting in Flanders were contractors on Edward's payroll, acting independently of their king. Unless he arrived in person, the ceasefire held.

So, Edward and his other ally, Count Guy of Flanders, spent the next two months with their eyes fixed on the German border. Shortly after the truce, they received encouraging news that their allies in Burgundy and Bar-le-Duc were assembling reinforcements. However, there was no word from Adolf.

Finally, in late November, Edward gave up hope that Adolf would come, and asked for an extension of the truce. This was obtained, and the war suddenly turned into a party. After knighting his son-in-law, Duke John of Brabant, the king staged a massive banquet at the convent of St Bavo, outside Ghent. Here, Edward and his allies spent the winter months getting very drunk and competing to stage the most impressive feast.

Anxious to make things go with a swing, Edward summoned a troop of musicians and professional acrobats from England. They included Matilda Makejoy, a dancing girl or saltatrix, and minstrels with names such as Grease-Coat and Maggot. The troop had been part of the household of Hugh Cressingham, recently slaughtered and flayed at Stirling Bridge. Now he was dead, perhaps Edward got them at a discount.

Thus, while Scotland slid into chaos, Longshanks spent his time under a table in Flanders, 'carousing' with Matilda Makejoy. This interesting interlude is nowhere to be seen in Braveheart or Outlaw King, alas. It casts a slightly different light on the Plantagenet, generally viewed as an 'iron man' compared to other members of his dynasty. To historians, medieval warfare is a grim old business; all stats and payrolls and complex treaties. To the kings and princes who indulged in conflict, it was often a bit of a game, fought between close relatives.

When his hangover had worn off, Edward went to Brussels to visit his daughter and her husband, Duke John. The king was all business again, and in February 1298 received the extraordinary grant of Antwerp and adjoining towns from his son-in-law. This meant that Edward had effectively annexed the Duchy of Brabant, which enabled him to install a permanent English wool staple and mercantile community. Several years later, in 1305, the English wool merchants obtained a grant of special trading privileges from the anglophile duke. 

Thursday, 8 September 2022

Monstrous erections


In September 1267, at the ford of Montgomery (Rhyd Chwima), Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd knelt before Henry III and swore the double oath of homage and fealty. The treaty left Llywelyn in possession of much of Wales along the border from Chester to Abergavenny, and gained him formal recognition of his title. In exchange he and his heirs were made perpetual vassals of the English crown, and he agreed to pay a mortgage of 25,000 marks (about £20,000 in English sterling) at set rates per annum. 

To really understand what followed, we have to look at what the treaty did not say. There is no mention in the text of the lordship of Glamorgan, which remained intact in the hands of its lord Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester. 

Gilbert had succeeded his father, Richard, as earl in 1264. He pursued a vacillating course in the Montfortian wars in England, changing sides as it suited his interest. In 1267, before he marched on London, Gilbert came to agreement with Llywelyn: according to Brut y Tywysogion, the attack on London was a joint enterprise between the two men, and Gilbert raised his army in Wales. Hence, when he seized the capital in the summer of that year, London was effectively conquered by an army of Welshmen. Before anyone gets too excited, bear in mind they were led by an English earl. 

The following year, October 1268, Gilbert and Llywelyn met again, this time in Cantref Selyf in Brycheiniog. The text of their treaty survives (attached, third pic), and is arguably just as significant as the better-known treaty of Montgomery. The Cantref Selyf agreement shows the state of play in Glamorgan at this time. When Gilbert switched sides to join the king, in 1265, Llywelyn seized the opportunity to invade the lordship. According to the treaty, he had pushed on from the valley of the Usk and gained effective control of Northern Miskin as far as Pontypridd and Senghenydd above Caeach. There is no other record of Llywelyn's conquests in northern Glamorgan, but the Cantref Selyf agreement is sufficient proof. This was a serious bit of diplomacy, and neither Llywelyn or his rival were messing about. 

Both men were anxious to prevent their dispute being transferred to the ging's court (Coram Rege). This would take the final judgement out of their hands and into those of royal justices, which had to be avoided at all costs. Hence they reached a compromise: the men of Miskin and Senhenydd, who had been withdrawn to Llywelyn's lordship, would remain in his possession along with their goods and chattels. Otherwise the status quo would be maintained in the Glamorgan uplands, and neither party would wage war on the other.

Gilbert had already thought of an insurance policy. In April 1268, several months before the meeting at Cantref Selyf, he started work on the mighty fortress of Caerphilly. As JE Lloyd remarked, the terms of the treaty make the story of Caerphilly 'clear as day'. The Welsh prince had advanced deep into southern Glamorgan, so Gilbert's monstrous erection was intended to guard Cardiff and the coast lands. Llywelyn, for his part, was just as determined to knock it over. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Troupe Alemande (1)


On this day in 1294 Adolf of Nassau, King of Germany and titular Holy Roman Emperor, formally declared war on Philip the Fair of France:

“Adolf, by the grace of God king of the Romans, forever august, to the noble sovereign lord Philip, king of France. Since the goods, possessions, laws and administration of justice, and territories of our empire have been held by your ancestors and yourself for so long as a result of unlawful occupation, having been appropriated without cause, the evidence of which being manifest in many and various places, we, being unable henceforth to ignore the truth of these matters under the guise of forbearance, inform you by these present letters that we intend to pursue the redress of such great injustices and to bring the forces within our power against you. Given at Nuremberg, on the 31st day of August in the year of our Lord 1294 and the third year of our reign”.

Philip's response was less grandiose. He sent a sheet of parchment to the German court with just two words written on it: 'Troupe Alemande', which translates as Stupid German. This was a gross insult, but Philip could get away with it. Despite his royal title, Adolf was virtually powerless, and had only been elected because he had no money. Thus the German electors could safely ignore him, or slap him about, as they wished.

The 'unlawful occupation' referred to Philip's policy of expanding the borders of Capetian France. Apart from invading Flanders and Gascony, he also sought to gobble up the border provinces of the empire. For several years he had been fighting a way by proxy in eastern Burgundy, the Franche-Comté, where Adolf and a coalition of Burgundian nobles defied French ambition.

Adolf's position improved when he agreed to ally with Edward I against France. This was formally agreed on 21 August, ten days before he sent his letter of defiance to Paris. The German king was promised a lavish English subsidy of £120,000, to be paid over in three installments. This money was to be used to raise an imperial army to fight the French.

Adolf's subsequent actions are murky, and the fine detail has to be extracted from non-English language sources.