IN A GENERAL SENSE the Norman Conquest of England represented the final triumph
of a continental Latin tradition over the northern Teutonic cultures which had
hitherto dominated the island. As such, the Conquest fundamentally altered
England's orientation by drawing it firmly into the continental orbit. The
English history with which we are most familiar was dominated by factors which
arose as a direct result of this new political and social alignment. For
students of that history William's victory seems to throw a new light on the
English scene. A new orientation and a new and purposive central authority
inaugurated an era of change and development. At the same time administrators
and scholars following in William's train recorded and expounded upon this
development. Small wonder then that later historians have experienced "an
instinctive feeling that in England our consecutive political history does, in
a sense, begin with the Norman Conquest."1
Since English historians have traditionally regarded the Conquest as the
watershed of their national development, they have lavished much energy and
erudition in investigating and commenting upon the event. The details of the
Conquest have been treated so extensively elsewhere that it is unnecessary to
elaborate upon them here. The same cannot be said for its more general aspects.
The same factors of political, genealogical, and constitutional motivation
which prompted the historians to their task inevitably colored their results.
1. J. H. Round, Feudal England: Historical Studies on the XIth
and XIIth Centuries, p. 317.
22 The Normans in South Wales
English treatments of their Conquest suffer from much the same partisanship and
political coloration as does American historiography of the establishment of
the Constitution, and for much the same reason.2 Another factor also
enters the situation. Until quite recently historians have neglected to
investigate fully the continental roots of the conquerors. As a consequence,
our understanding of the nature of pre-Conquest Norman society is at present
undergoing a basic revision.3 It is well, in this maze of
scholarship, to keep in mind a few general points which help to explain
something of the development of England immediately after the Conquest.
In the first place, to view the Conquest in terms of a national struggle, as
some historians have done,4 places a great strain on the available
data. It is difficult to see any national solidarity in the motley band of
Norman, Breton, French, and Angevin adventurers who accompanied William. Little
more can be discerned on the English side. Harold seems to have been a usurper
himself and was unable to gain the support of the great nobles of the land,
such as the earls Morcar and Edwin.5 As early as 1068 the English
people were willing to aid their conquerors in pacifying the rebellious city of
Exeter.6 While the English were to prove a source of strength to
William, the early years of the Conquest were to see numerous rebellions among
his Norman supporters. The solidarity of the conquering group was apparent only
when an identity of interest existed between William and his followers. Rather
than being an account of a national struggle, the Conquest of England appears
to be the story of a band of adven-
2 See D. C. Douglas, The Norman Conquest and British
Historians: Being the Thirteenth Lecture on the David Murray Foundation in the
University of Glasgow, delivered on February 20, 1946.
3 The traditional view of Norman society was developed by C. H.
Haskins in a number of works, including Norman Institutions; The Normans
in European History; "Knight-Service in Normandy in the Eleventh
Century," The English Historical Review, XXII (1907), 636 649;
"Normandy under William the Conqueror," The American Historical
Review, XIV (1909), 453-476; "The Norman 'Consuetudines et Iusticie' of
William the Conqueror," The English Historical Review, XXIII
(1908), 502-508. Some of the recent publications in this field are
Receuil des Actes des Ducs de Normandie, 911-1066, ed. Marie
Faroux; D. C. Douglas, The Rise of Normandy; C. W. Hollister, "The
Norman Conquest and the Genesis of English Feudalism," The American
Historical Review, LXVI ( 1961), 641-663.
4 See E. A. Freeman, The History of the Norman Conquest of
England: Its Causes and Results.
5 H. W. C. Davis, England under the Normans and Angevins,
1066-1272, pp. 5 ff.
6.See Round, Feudal England, pp. 431-455.
The Opening of the Norman Conquest 23
turers, predominantly Norman, who took the crown of a disunited land from the
hands of a usurper. Neither of the opponents enjoyed any extensive popular
support, and national feeling only became apparent at a much later date.
A second point is concerned with the degree to which the Conqueror pursued a
conscious and consistent policy in establishing a Norman state in England. We
mentioned earlier that British historians regard the Norman Conquest as marking
the beginning of the political development of modern England. From this belief
it follows that every act of the Conqueror constituted a precedent for later
development. It may well be that historians attempt to find in these precedents
something of the consistency and planning which some legalists profess to see
in the system of law which the precedents ultimately produced. The facts of the
Conquest do not support such a view. William's policy appears to have been one
of political empiricism, and not of theoretical principles. He acted in
response to what must have been three overwhelming pressures: the need to
maintain control over a numerically superior and potentially hostile
population;7the need to maintain solidarity amongst the
heterogeneous band of adventurers who had helped him to conquer the country and
upon whom he now had to rely to administer it; and, finally, the need to
continue a firm control over the turbulent duchy of Normandy, still his major
base of power. William succeeded in playing various groups against each other
and, by so doing, gained all three goals. That he did so is a tribute to his
political genius but does not attest to any conscious and consistent program on
This is perhaps overstating the case, for a certain measure of consistency can
be detected in the facts of the Conquest. In another context, the historian
William Rees has said:
Invasion may be prompted by other motives than mere lust for
conquest and, in spite of apparent exceptions, it may be established as a
general rule, that economic expediency rather than political passion is the
predominating and guiding principle in conquest, while the minimum of
disturbance necessary to attain political subjection constitutes a rude working
7 The military potential of the English is often underestimated. See
R. Glover "English Warfare in 1066," The English Historical
Review, LXVII (1952), 1-18
8 William Rees, South Wales and the March, 1284-1415- A Social
and Agrarian Study
24 The Normans in South Wales
The second part of this statement appears to describe William's policy of
conquest accurately. This factor lies behind his usual tendency to try to
return, at least in form, to the state of England in Edward's time. Where it
was practical to do so, William simply assumed the position and continued the
policy of the kings of England previous to Harold's accession. Where this was
impractical, he acted as the situation seemed to warrant. The rebellion of
Exeter was treated with benign majesty, while another rebellion in the
following year caused the entire North of England to be punished with a
ruthless savagery. The situations were different and so too were William's
responses. The Conqueror was also left to his own devices where previous policy
was lacking or had proven ineffective. Here too he proceeded realistically and
empirically toward a solution.
Much more could be said about the Conquest, but a basic thesis is clear.
William had no clear-cut and well-developed program of administration in mind
when he began to establish the Conquest. Insofar as possible he attempted
simply to take over the pre-Conquest structure and to exploit it for his own
ends, always trying to satisfy the pressures acting upon him with a minimum of
expenditure and loss of personal power. His major concern was with practicality
rather than precedent, and with effectiveness rather than theory. This means
that when one considers any particular aspect of the Conqueror's activities, it
is well to begin with the specific personalities and situations involved before
proceeding to the weightier matters of political policy and constitutional
In terms of the history of the Welsh frontier, the most important personalities
were the three border earls whom William eventually established in the region.
These were Hugh of Chester, Roger Montgomery and, of primary importance for the
southern frontier, William Fitz-Osbern. Fitz-Osbern was one of the guiding
forces directing the course of the Conquest of England, and it was he who set
the pattern for the conquest and administration of the Welsh frontier. With his
activities in the West of England the conquest of South Wales began.
Fitz-Osbern's youth had not been an easy one. His father was seneschal to
Robert, duke of Normandy.9 When Robert died in 1035,
9 For an excellent account of the establishment and rise to power of
Fitz-Osbern's family, see D. C. Douglas, "The Ancestors of William Fitz
Osbern," The English Historical Review, LIX (1944), 62-79. The
account is more than genealogical; it is an investigation into early Norman
The Opening of the Norman Conquest 25
he left his seneschal as guardian of the infant duke, William the Bastard. The
choice was a dangerous one. Osbern protected the infant duke loyally until 1049
or 1050, when he was struck down in the course of an unsuccessful attempt made
by William Montgomery on the life of the duke.10 With the loss of
their respective father and guardian, Fitz-Osbern and the duke fled together to
the protection of friends and relatives. As the duke's power grew, Fitz-Osbern
emerged as one of his most powerful and loyal supporters, and eventually
assumed his father's old post of seneschal.11 The two worked
together to establish and extend the duke's authority, and Fitz-Osbern
performed important functions both in court and along the Norman frontier.
In Wace's long epic on the Conquest of England, Fitz-Osbern is pictured as the
driving force behind the expeditions.12 If Wace is correct,
Fitz-Osbern was in the duke's company when word was received of Edward's death
and Harold's seizure of the throne He took this occasion to be the first to
urge upon the duke the plan of an overseas expedition to take England from
Harold.13 His suggestion bore its first fruit when the duke summoned
the greatest of his barons to a council on the subject. Fitz-Osbern was
prominent in a company which included some of the greatest names of early
Norman history.14 Once the group had assembled at Lillebone, it
became apparent that a considerable amount of opposition to the plan existed
among the barons. Doubting the possibility of success, and reminding themselves
that none of their obligations to the duke entailed overseas service, opponents
of the expedition began to unite against the duke's plan. Fitz-Osbern took it
upon himself to defend the duke's wishes. His oratory does not appear to have
swayed the opposition, but it did impress the assembled barons to such a degree
that they asked him to act as their emissary to the duke. According to Wace's
account, he created great consternation among the barons by immediately
exceeding the authority and ignoring the directives they had given him. Acting
as a plenipotentiary rather than as an emissary,
10 William of Jumieges, "Historiae Northmannorum libri octo,"
Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, vol. CXLIX, cols. 847448.
11 Wace, Maistre Wace's Roman de Rou et des Ducs de Normandie,
nach den Handschriften, ed. H. Andresen, 11. 4413-4414, p. 207.
12 Many scholars emphasize that Wace's account is late, and its
reliability is doubtful. See especially Round, Feudal England, pp.
13 Wace, 11.5908 ff., pp. 265 ff.
14 Ibid., 11.6003 ff., pp. 265 ff.
26 The Normans in South Wales
Fitz-Osbern assured the duke that the barons would give him full support in the
venture, and that each of them would pledge double his normal obligation to the
The barons immediately objected to this high-handed procedure, and the council
broke up amidst dissent and confusion. Fitz-Osbern had achieved his end,
however, by preventing baronial opposition from crystallizing and
uniting.l5 The barons of Normandy were henceforth able to abstain
from the venture, but not to obstruct it. Fitz-Osbern was equally active in
gathering resources for the coming invasion and, in the meeting which organized
its final details, made one of the largest contributions to the force which was
being made ready.16 If Wace's view is accurate, William Fitz-Osbern
not only was responsible for the original conception of the plan to invade
England, but was the major cause of its successful organization in the face of
a recalcitrant and hostile nobility.
The seneschal appears to have been as active on the battlefield as in Council
in supporting his lord's pursuit of the English crown. He held no personal
command at Hastings but he and his contingent were detached to stiffen the
possibly unreliable right wing which consisted primarily of French and
mercenary troops under the command of Roger Montgomery.17
By 1067 the initial stages of the Conquest had ended in victory, and Duke
William prepared to return to Normandy to take care of matters there. He left
Odo of Bayeux and William Fitz-Osbern to administer his conquest as wardens of
England. The chronicler Florence of Worcester notes that the new warden had
already been created earl of Hereford.18 From other sources we know
that Fitz-Osbern's jurisdiction extended far beyond the borders of
Herefordshire, and included the entire area of Norman control north of the
Thames. His special charge was the great castle which had been
15 Ibid., ll. 6085 ff., pp. 271 ff.
16 "In Calce hujus libelli in eadem scriptura adjicitur catalogus
suppeditantium naves ad expeditionem Willelmi comitis in Angliam,"
Scriptores Rerum Gestarum Willelmi Conquestoris, ed. J. A. Giles,
17 Wace, ll. 7673-7678, pp. 333-334
18 Florence of Worcester, Chronicon ex Chronicis . . .,
s.a. 1067, II, 1. Also see Orderic Vitalis, "Historiae Ecclesiasticae libri
XIII in partes tres divisi," Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne,
vol. CLXXXVIII, cols. 330-331. Orderic would seem to indicate that Fitz-Osbern
did not receive his earldom until 1070 or 1071. Florence's statement is much
more acceptable in view of the fact that Fitz-Osbern died quite early in 1071.
The Opening of the Norman Conquest 27
erected at Norwich in anticipation of Danish attack.19 These wardens
were to play an active role in establishing the Conquest in England. A large
number of William's troops had been left behind, and special orders had been
given to press the construction of fortresses from which these forces could
dominate the land.20 This program necessarily involved the
expropriation of property, the impressment of labor, and the maintenance of
free access to the various cities of the realm. In short, while the Conqueror
had led the Conquest of England, he left to Odo and Fitz-Osbern the task of
further subjugation of the land.
It was an exceedingly difficult duty. Perhaps they used overly harsh methods in
fulfilling their orders, for the hitherto quiescent opposition soon became
active and violent. One would expect the partisan Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to
stigmatize the Normans' rule as oppressive, just as one would expect William of
Poitiers to extol the virtues of the wardens.21 Ordericus Vitalis
tends to corroborate the English view in a curious passage in his obituary for
Fitz-Osbern. He characterizes his subject as
the first and greatest
oppressor of the English.22 The passage refers to the period
of Fitz-Osbern's wardenship, and attributes the violent outbreaks to the
effects of Fitz-Osbern's arrogance.
Whatever its cause, trouble broke out first in the western frontier, an area
commanded by Fitz-Osbern. The English leader of this region, Edric, surnamed
"the Wild" by his opponents, had submitted to the Conqueror before the latter's
return to Normandy in 1067.23 The submission was more in name than
in deed, however, and Edric's refusal to allow Norman rule in his district
quickly led to a series of clashes between his Mercian levies and the
The Normans, led by Richard Fitz-Scrob, a pre-Conquest settler in the shire,
repeatedly attacked the Anglo-Saxon rebel, but they could
19 William of Poitiers states that Fitz-Osbern was given command of
"Guenta." This has usually been taken as Winchester. For the actual location,
see Davis England under the Normans and Angevins, p. 13, n. 1.
20 Orderic Vitalis, col. 306.
21The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, According to the Several Original
Authorities, ed. and trans. B. Thorpe, s.a. 1066, Part I, p. 339. Also
William of Poitiers "Gesta Willelmi Ducis Norrnannorum, et Regis Anglorum a
Willelmo," in Scriptores Rerum Gestarum Willelmi Conquestoris, ed.
J. A. Giles, pp. 156-157.
22 Orderic Vitalis, col. 355.
23 Ibid., col. 306.
28 The Normans in South Wales
little afford the casualties he inflicted on their forces.24 The
situation took a turn for the worse in the summer of 1067 when Edric struck an
alliance with the Welsh kings Bleddyn and Rhiwallon. The combined Anglo-Saxon
and Welsh forces took the offensive, and devastated all of Herefordshire up to
the river Lugg.25 The castles, however, appear to have remained in
Norman hands. Little is known about Norman operations against Edric in the two
years following this massive raid. It seems clear, however, that they recovered
sufficiently to resume their incursions into Edric's territory It also seems
quite probable that these expeditions were used to provide a screen for efforts
to rear castles in Shropshire, Edric's home district. At any rate, in 1069 we
find Edric and his Welsh allies besieging a Norman garrison which had
established itself at Shrewsbury. In the face of these rising threats to Norman
rule, Fitz-Osbern hurried to the frontier to raise the siege.26 He
was successful, and Edric was forced to withdraw, although not before burning
the town. Edric's resistance was broken either at Shrewsbury or shortly after,
for the summer of 1070 saw his final submission to King
By the end of 1069, however, Fitz-Osbern had been transferred from England to
Normandy to assist Queen Matilda in facing growing threats from Maine, Anjou,
and Brittany.28 New opportunities were soon opened to him in
Flanders, where civil war had broken out over the question of succession. The
dowager countess, Richildis, offered herself in marriage to the widowed
Fitz-Osbern, and he had immediately pledged her his support in the struggle.
With a small force, he joined a French column, under the leadership of Philip
of France, and moved northward to aid the countess' party. In February of 1071,
this Franco-Norman column was met by the insurgents and was signally defeated.
William Fitz-Osbern was slain,29 and his body interred at
Cormeilles, one of the two monasteries he had en-
24 Florence of Worcester, s.a. 1067, II, 1.
25 Ibid., s.a. 1067, II, 1-2.
25 Orderic Vitalis, col. 318. Orderic's account seems to send both
Brian and Fitz-Osbern to relieve both Shrewsbury and Exeter. It seems likely
that the chronicler has confused the operations of two separate expeditions.
See Freeman, The Norman Conquest, IV, 279, n. 2.
27 Florence of Worcester, s.a. 1070, II, 7.
28 Freeman, The Norman Conquest, IV, 531, n. 1. Freeman
suggests that the transfer was ordered at the midwinter gemot.
29 Orderic Vitalis, cols. 339-340; William of Malmesbury, De
gestis regum Anglorum, libri quinque; Historiae novellae, libri
tres, ed. W. Stubbs, Part II, pp. 314-315.
The Opening of the Norman Conquest 29
dowed on his Norman estates.30 His Norman holdings were given to his
eldest son, William, while Roger, the younger son, received most of his
father's English holdings, including the earldom of Hereford.31 It
can be seen that William Fitz-Osbern's influence upon the Welsh frontier was
limited to the period between the beginning of his wardenship in March of 1067,
and his death in February of 1071. Even during this four-year period, he was
occupied with many things other than his earldom of Hereford. Despite the
shortness of his rule and the fact that the majority of his energies were
directed elsewhere, he made great strides toward pacifying and organizing the
region. Although the details of his administration are hazy, enough can be
discerned to indicate that Fitz-Osbern laid down the lines along which the
further expansion of Norman power into Wales was to proceed.
One of the first steps he took was to increase the strength of the Norman
forces resident in the area. He accomplished this by offering such liberal
rewards to his followers that knights were soon flocking to his service. His
following assumed the proportions of a private army-one large enough to cause
some concern to the Conqueror himself.32 Fitz-Osbern took additional
steps to make Herefordshire an attractive residence for other, unattached
soldiers. He did this by strictly limiting the amounts which such men could be
fined for infringements of the law. This law in particular set Herefordshire
apart from the rest of England. Here the natural license of fighting men was
curbed by the threat of fines of only seven shillings. Transgressors in other
shires faced fines of from twenty to twenty-five shillings.33
These methods seem to have succeeded in attracting enough battle-ready settlers
to garrison the region adequately. Enough troops were available for Fitz-Osbern
to carry out an extensive castle-building program. A series of fortresses were
constructed at various points within the earldom itself and along its western
border. Wigmore was built at the point where the river Teme descends from the
30 Orderic Vitalis, cols. 332-340. His wife, Adeliza, was already
buried at Lyre, the second of the monasteries. See "Ex Chronico Lyrensis
Coenobii," Receuil des Historiens de Gaules et de la France, eds.
M. Bouquet et al, XII (1817), 776.
31 Orderic Vitalis, cols. 339-340
32 William of Malmesbury, Part II, pp. 314-315.
33 Ibid., Part II, pp. 314-315. It is surprising to
note that this law remained in effect in Herefordshire as late as the time of
William of Malmesbury.
30 The Normans in South Wales
highlands; Clifford arose where the Wye enters Herefordshire; the old
fortifications of Ewyas Harold, located at the confluence of the Monnow and the
Dore, were restored; Monmouth was built at the juncture of the Monnow and the
Wye; and Strigoil was built where the old Roman road crossed the Wye and passed
into the Welsh kingdom of Gwent.34 Fitz-Osbern appears also to have
strengthened the defenses of Hereford, and may have been responsible for the
first Norman fortifications at Shrewsbury.35
Domesday Book provides evidence that small boroughs had quickly
arisen around some of these fortresses. There are indications that these
settlements were established as part of a consistent program directed by
Fitz-Osbern. The first step in this program lay in the erection of the
fortresses themselves. These provided a protection that encouraged settlers and
at the same time insured a market for merchants and artisans.36 Thus
it seems clear that these towns were intended to be based on trade rather than
agriculture. It is also apparent from the examples of Hereford and Shrewsbury
that the new boroughs were French, rather than English, in character. Within
their environment, the new towns were alien and artificial, and constituted a
by-product of the Conquest.
The creation of such centers within a newly conquered area, or along an exposed
frontier, was an established practice on the continent. To attract settlers
into such new towns, it was customary for their lords to offer liberal terms in
the new borough charters.37 These were extremely important to the
success of the ventures, and set the pattern of life the new towns were to
follow. Fitz-Osbern chose to grant to the boroughs he established the
privileges enjoyed by Breteuil, a frontier settlement in Normandy which had
long been in his hands. These customs, which had been devised for a frontier
34 Domesday Book, or The Great Survey of England by William
the Conqueror A.D. MLXXXVI, fol. 183b, Wigmore; fol. 183, Clifford; fol.
162, Strigoil; fol. 186, Ewyas Harold. This last was refortified by
_Fitz-Osbern, having been constructed by the pre-Conquest Herefordshire Norman
colony. See Round, Feudal England, pp. 317-331. For Monmouth, see
The Liber Landafensis, Llyfr Teilo, or the Ancient Register of the
Cathedral Church of Llandaff, ed. and trans. W. J. Rees, p. 266.
35 Since these fortifications were first mentioned on the occasion
of Edric's siege of them in 1069, and since Fitz-Osbern had been in command of
this portion of the frontier for two years by this date, it seems not unlikely
that Shrewsbury had been garrisoned at Fitz-Osbern's command.
36 T. F. Tout, Medieval Town Planning: A Lecture, pp.
37 Ibid., p. 9.
The Opening of the Norman Conquest 31
ment in Normandy, proved just as popular in promoting frontier settlements in
England and Wales. The low amercement, moderate rent, and other liberal
features of the laws of Breteuil were to become characteristics of the charters
granted to the Welsh towns established by the later Norman invaders of Wales,
and were carried to Ireland by the descendants of those same conquerors. It is
no exaggeration to say that the laws of Breteuil established the pattern for
the next century of urban life along the Welsh frontier.38
Under Fitz-Osbern's leadership, the Herefordshire Normans took the offensive
against the Welsh. Followed by Walter of Lacy and his other troops, he invaded
Brycheiniog and met his opponents in at least one decisive encounter. According
to one chronicler, he laid low "Risen et Caducan et Mariadoth," all kings of
the Welsh.39 These were apparently Cadwgan ap Meurig, king of
Morgannwg, Maredudd ab Owain, king of Deheubarth, and his brother, Rhys ab
Owain.40 It was a considerable victory, and it may well be that
Gwent fell into Norman hands as a result of this operation.41
Fitz-Osbern did not attempt to displace the Welsh population of the area he had
acquired. He appears to have followed a consistent policy of accommodation and
absorption rather than complete subjugation and displacement. Domesday
Book states that he obtained license from the king to grant a group of
Welsh villages the same
38 See M. Bateson, "The Laws of Breteuil," The English
Historical Review, XV (1900), pp. 73-78, 302-318, 496-523, 754-757; XVI
(1901), pp. 92-110, 332-345.
39 Orderic Vitalis, col. 331.
40 So holds J. E. Lloyd, A History of Wales from the
Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest, II, 375.
41 This is the view of J. E. Lloyd. It may be that the conquest of
Gwent was deferred until the time when Roger of Breteuil, in alliance with
Caradog ap Gruffydd, defeated Maredudd ab Owain at the Rhymney River. The
pertinent data is as follows: (1) Domesday Book for
Gloucestershire (fol. 162) records certain lands in the vicinity of a castle
which Fitz-Osbern had granted to Ralf of Limesi. These lands were in Gwent, it
is true, but it does not follow necessarily that other areas of Gwent were also
under Norman control. (2) Monasticon Anglicanum . . ., ed. W.
Dugdale, Vol. VI, Part 2, pp. 1092-1093. This passage records a grant made to
the abbey of Lyre of "a half of all tithes between the Usk and the Wye." This
gift is almost certainly the gift of William Fitz-Osbern or his son. The later
lords of the region of Gwent supported other religious foundations. The scope
of this gift indicates that it was made shortly after the conquest of the area.
(3) Liber Landavensis, pp. 262-263. Here a passage refers to "the
lord of Gwent, Roger, son of Osbern [sic]." In any event, Gwent was in Norman
hands sometime before 1075.
32 The Normans in South Wales
tax-free status they had been granted under the Welsh king, Gruffydd. These
settlements were left under the same Welsh prepositi, or maers, who had been
governing them under the native Welsh princes.42 This policy was
perhaps one which Fitz-Osbern had inherited from his English predecessors, who
had absorbed the Welsh district of Erging, or Archenfield, on much the same
terms. Whatever its origin, this approach continued to be a fundamental part of
the policy of the Norman conquerors of Wales and led directly to the
"Welsheries" of the later marcher lordships. One last piece of information from
Domesday Book also shows Fitz-Osbern's care to stabilize
conditions in his earldom. It is recorded that he made a series of grants to a
certain king"Mariadoth."43 This can only be his one-time foe,
Maredudd ab Owain.44 In this we can see how peace was made with the
Welsh chieftain, and how his interests were linked with those of the
It is difficult to evaluate adequately the significance of Fitz-Osbern's
accomplishments along the border. During the years when he was so active
elsewhere he somehow managed to transform the southern marches completely. When
he first arrived in 1067, Herefordshire was weak and vulnerable to attack from
many quarters. The land itself was prostrate from over a decade of harrying and
devastation. Fitz-Osbern established the Conquest in the region, immeasurably
strengthened its border defenses, and reduced the Welsh chieftains along the
frontier to impotence. Finally, he initiated a program of internal development
which slowly repaired the damages wrought by the border strife that preceded
his coming. Thanks to the security he brought to the region and to his
enlightened administration, Domesday Herefordshire seems comparatively
prosperous. It is not the prosperity of a frontier boom, but of a regional
recovery. The framework for this recovery had been laid by Fitz-Osbern. That
even more progress was not made by 1086 should-
42 Domesday Book fol. 162.
43 Ibid., fols. 187, 187b.
44 cf. Freeman, The Norman Conquest, IV, 679, n.1.
Freeman believes "Mariadoc" to be Maredudd ap Bleddyn. This is unlikely for two
reasons. In the first place, Maredudd ap Bleddyn was still very much alive in
1087, and his lands would not have been held by his heir, "Grifin"
(Domesday Book, fol. 187b). Secondly, "Grifin" later attempted to
seize the crown of Deheubarth (Brut y Tywysogion, or The Chronicles of
the Princes, ed. J. Williams ab Ithel, s.a. 1089, p. 54 ) . This
indicates a dynastic claim which could have come only from Maredudd ab Owain.
The Annales Cambriae, ed. J. Williams ab Ithel, p. 39, shows
Maredudd ap Bleddyn to have died in 1132.
The Opening of the Norman Conquest 33
not be considered a condemnation of his policies. The fault lay rather with the
political incompetence and overreaching ambition of his son, Roger of
Roger took over his father's English lands in February of 1071. At
approximately the same time Ralph Guader, a Breton, took command of
Fitz-Osbern's old charge of East Anglia. The two young men were apparently good
friends, for Roger soon contracted to marry Ralph's sister. The prospect that
these two powerful marcher earls should enter into such a close alliance was
not to King William's liking. He refused to allow the marriage to take place.
The young earls took advantage of William's absence in 1075 to conclude the
marriage without royal license. This act was but the symbol of a deeper
disaffection, and the bridal feast was used as an opportunity to organize a
The rebels presented a formidable combination. They both could draw upon strong
personal armies stationed along the frontier and they both possessed virtually
impregnable private castles. They searched for outside aid and found it
forthcoming. Ralph was able to obtain a pledge of support from the Danish
court, which still entertained English ambitions. Together, they enlisted the
aid of Waltheof, the English earl of Northumbria. The addition of another
marcher earl increased the forces and fortresses at their disposal, and they
had some hopes that, with Waltheof as their figurehead, the English could be
induced to join their movement. The strength and prospects of the rebels were
sufficient to cause William's deputy, Lanfranc, no little concern.
Actual rebellion, however, showed the real weakness of the rebels. Waltheof
quickly repented, and Ralph and Roger soon found that they could not count on
any English support of their cause. On the contrary, when Roger tried to march
overland to join Ralph, he found his passage of the Severn blocked by the fyrd
of Worcestershire. Another fyrd marched against Ralph, whose Danish support had
failed to materialize. The rebellion soon collapsed, and with it the fortunes
of the house of Breteuil. Roger and his followers were stripped of their
possessions, and Roger himself was sentenced to perpetual
This rebellion forced King William to re-evaluate his system of
45 The details of Roger's rebellion are covered by Orderic Vitalis
34 The Normans in South Wales
frontier defense. In erecting a series of counties palatine along the border-
Chester, Shrewsbury, and Hereford- William had, in effect, attempted to follow
the same policy pursued by Edward the Confessor in maintaining Harold Godwinson
along the same border. William had been guided by considerations of expediency
and practicality in choosing his personnel and establishing their authority.
Giving these men sufficient strength to protect the frontier meant allowing
them to recruit private armies of considerable size and erect fortresses of
great defensive strength. In order to protect himself from the dangers that
such a system implied, William quite sensibly recruited his border earls from
those men of whose loyalty he was most assured. Only the wealthier of his
followers could afford such a position, however, for the defense of the Welsh
required a far greater expenditure than the revenues of the border shires could
defray.46 It was necessary to make the arduous and often costly
business of frontier guard attractive to his men. William accomplished this by
granting his border earls liberties, prestige, and a certain measure of
As long as loyal followers like William Fitz-Osbern manned the frontier, the
system was efficient, economical, and effective. In the normal course of
things, however, thanks to inheritance, King William could not always hope to
dictate who would hold these positions and the privileges that went with them.
The loyalty of the fyrds during Roger's rebellion must have been gratifying to
the king, but his enforced reliance upon them at this critical juncture must
have been alarming. William saw the dangers of the frontier system he had
established, and did not return to it when the immediate trouble had passed.
The escheated earldom of Roger of Breteuil was left vacant under royal
administration. Meanwhile he searched for other means of peace along the
Political developments within Wales eventually provided William with a solution
to his problem. It was not until 1081 that a measure of order began to emerge
from the confusion which had ensued after the collapse of the Pax Anglicana
which Harold had established following the defeat of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. The
steps by which this unity came about started inauspiciously, with the invasion
of Deheubarth by Caradog ap Gruffydd ap Rhydderch.
46 See W. J. Corbett, "The Development of the Duchy of Normandy and
the Norman Conquest of England," The Cambridge Mediaeval History,
eds J. R. Tanner et al., V, 506-511.
The Opening of the Norman Conquest 35
Caradog, king of the mountainous district of Gwynllwg, was an inveterate
opportunist whose power had increased steadily since the elimination of
Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. He maintained a free hand by refusing to enter into the
system which Harold had constructed. Instead, he struck out at English power as
soon as it was practical, and he gained considerable prestige by doing so. In
1065, he plundered a royal lodge which Harold had built in lower Gwent and
escaped to the mountains to enjoy his loot.47 In 1071, some seven
years later, he enlisted the aid of the Normans in defeating Maredudd ab Owain,
Fitz-Osbern's old enemy, in a battle fought on the Rhymney River, on the
western border of Gwynllwg.48 Sometime about 1073 or 1074, he
succeeded in replacing Cadwgan ap Meurig as king of Morgannwg. Now, in 1081, he
was moving against Deheubarth.
His sudden attack was so successful that Rhys ap Tewdwr, king of Deheubarth,
was forced to take refuge at St. David's. Rhys soon received an unexpected ally
in Gruffydd ap Cynan, the deposed ruler of Gwynedd. Gruffydd had sought aid in
Ireland and had returned to Wales at the head of a force of Welsh, Irish, and
Danish troops, intent on regaining his lost throne. It was only natural for the
two to strike an alliance, especially since Traehaearn ap Caradog, the reigning
king of Gwynedd, was marching south to join forces with Caradog ap Gruffydd.
The two sets of enemies met at Mynedd Carn, and Rhys and Gruffydd were
completely victorious.49 The defeat effectively halted Caradog's
climb to power. Rhys gained in prestige what Caradog lost, and by 1081 had
emerged as the paramount ruler of the entire region of southwest Wales.
It is at this point that King William entered the scene. Later in the year
1081, it is surprising to note, the Conqueror was moved to pay a visit to the
isolated see of St. David's. Contemporary accounts ascribe differing motives
for this arduous undertaking.50 The Welsh chronicle Brut y
Tywysogion suggests that a pious regard for the great saint of South
Wales may have prompted the Conqueror's visit
47 Liber Landavensis, p. 278; The Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle, s.a. 1065, Part I, p. 330.
48 Brut y Tywysogion, p. 26.
49 The location of Mynedd Carn has never been determined. see Lloyd,
A History of Wales, II, 384, n. 2.
50 For a full discussion of the various contemporary accounts, see
Freeman, The Norman Conquest, IV, 679-680, n. 3 and 4.
36 The Normans in South Wales
to his shrine.51 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, on the other hand,
states that William led a fyrd into Wales, and "freed many hundred
men."52 It may well be that both of these sources missed the real
point of the event. Modern analysts have suggested that there may well have
been a diplomatic purpose in William's actions, and that William used this
opportunity to accept Rhys' homage and to reinvest him with Deheubarth as a
This suggestion has much to recommend it. By making such a treaty, William
could have hoped to obtain peace along the frontier while at the same time
freeing himself to curb the dangerous border barons. Prior to the battle of
Mynedd Carn the pattern of political power in South Wales had been such that no
potential vassal existed powerful enough to assure William that the peace would
be kept. The fact that William's visit followed so closely upon the heels of
Rhys' triumph strongly suggests that an agreement with the victory of Mynedd
Carn was the actual reason for the Conqueror's remarkable journey.
Such an arrangement would not have been in the least unusual. Ample precedent
existed in the oaths of fealty which Welsh chieftains had made to the kings of
Anglo-Saxon England. As late as 1063, Harold, acting in the name of Edward, had
granted the kingdoms of Wales to Bleddyn and Rhiwallon. Bleddyn and Rhiwallon
had then sworn fealty to Edward and Harold, promising to obey their commands
and "to pay properly all which the country paid to preceding
kings."54 King William generally attempted to follow the customs of
Edward's time, and took great care that his followers enjoyed the same dues and
responsibilities as their predecessors. It does not seem likely that he would
have failed to pursue the same goal in his own case, and to restore an
arrangement which had been acceptable and profitable to Edward the
It is not sufficient, however, simply to prove that such a treaty was possible;
more positive evidence is required. Domesday Book may well supply
this evidence when it records the annual obligation of a certain "Riset" to pay
forty pounds to the king.55 It can be noted later
51 Brut y Tywysogion, p. 50.
52 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, s.a. 1081, Part I, p.
53 Lloyd, A History of Wales, II, 394; Freeman,
The Norman Conquest, IV, 679.
54 Florence of Worcester, I, 222.
55 Domesday Book, fol. 179.
The Opening of the Norman Conquest 37
in the same compilation that Robert of Rhuddlan pays a similar sum as the ferm
of his fief of North Wales. It is tempting, therefore, to infer that "Riset" is
Rhys ap Tewdwr, and that his payment is the ferm of his fief of South Wales.
This suggestion has its opponents however, and among them is the redoubtable J.
H. Round, who states:
One must not introduce into the text the tempting conjecture that
this was Rhys ap Tewdwr, who became king of South Wales in 1079, an event
which, Mr. Freeman suggested, might not be unconnected with William's
expedition through South Wales not long after, when he is said to have reduced
the Welsh kings to submission. The absence of rex before "Riset" is against the
If Round's argument is correct, a number of problems arise. What was the actual
purpose of William's visit to St. David's, and how can one explain the peculiar
peace which descended on the Welsh frontier in the years following it? The
treaty of 1081, if such existed, would provide the key to the understanding of
the history of the Welsh frontier for the next decade. It would be well,
therefore, to examine Mr. Round's admonition more closely before rejecting the
In the first place, Mr. Round argues from silence-in this case, from the lack
of the title rex. We must first ask ourselves how regularly his
contemporaries dignified Rhys with the title "king." The Brut y
Tywysogion, derived from a contemporary account probably written in the
vicinity of either St. David's or Aberystwyth, is likely to have had a most
ample knowledge of Rhys. He is mentioned in five entries, but in only one of
them is he styled "brenhin Deheubarth," or "king of Southwest Wales." In this
single instance, moreover, the chronicler was writing his obituary and had
every reason for stressing his high station. The Annales Cambriae deny him the
title even in this instance and call him "Rector dextralis partis"
instead.58 Both of these chronicles are drawn from the same
contemporary source and may share this source's peculiarities. It must be
stressed, on the other hand, that this source was written in Deheu-
58 J. H. Round, "Introduction to the Herefordshire Domesday,"
The Victoria Histories of the Counties of England: Hereford, Vol.
I, ed. W. Page, p. 281, n. 109.
57 Brut y Tywysogion, s.a. 1091 [sic], p. 54.
58 Annales Cambriae, p. 29.
38 The Normans in South Wales
barth itself and is more likely than any other to have reflected the most
stringent contemporary usage in this matter. It seems clear that Rhys' friends
and followers did not insist on calling him brenhin or rex. It does not seem
very likely that Domesday would have scrupulously observed the courtesy.
Mr. Round would probably not have been so concerned about this lack of title
were it not for the fact that Domesday uses the title rex in reference to
another Welsh leader only a few folios after omitting it in Riset's case. The
problem then is why Domesday should use the title in one instance and not in
another. Round's conclusion is that Riset had no claim to the title. A closer
examination of the situation, however, reveals another possible solution. The
passage where rex is used is one describing the Herefordshire estates held by a
certain "Grifin," obviously Gruffydd ap Maredudd ab Owain ab Edwin, son of
Fitz-Osbern's old enemy.59 Domesday here styles the father,
"Mariadoc," as rex no less than four times. Maredudd's claim to royal status
was valid. He had become king of Deheubarth in the general reorganization of
Wales which had followed the death of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn in
1063.60 He ruled this land until his death at the hands of Caradog
and his Norman allies in 1072. The throne then passed to his brother, Rhys ab
Owain, who was killed by the same Caradog in 1078. The throne then fell vacant
until taken up by Rhys ap Tewdwr, a kinsman of Maredudd through their common
grandfather, Eineon.61 It can be seen that the Herefordshire
landholder, Gruffydd, had a much stronger hereditary claim to the throne of
Deheubarth than did the reigning king, Rhys. It belonged to Gruffydd by the
simple application of primogeniture. Hereditary claims, however, without the
fact of possession, had little validity in Wales. Only a few years after
Domesday, Gruffydd was killed while attempting to take possession of the throne
to which he was the heir.62 Here then is a possible explanation of
Domesday's willingness to grant the title rex to Maredudd but not to Rhys.
Gruffydd, a substantial tenant of Herefordshire, had every reason to insist on
his father's regal status while denying the same status to Rhys. It may well be
that Gruffydd did
59 Domesday Book, fol. 187b. See note 44 above.
60 Lloyd, A History of Wales, II, 372.
61 Ibid., II, 767.
62 Brut y Tywysogion, s.a. 1089, p. 54. Note that the
Brut lags two years at this point. The actual date is 1091.
The Opening of the Norman Conquest 39
exactly this, and that Domesday simply records the personal prejudices and
ambitions of Gruffydd ap Maredudd.
Thus the omission of the title rex with reference to Riset does not prove that
he was not Rhys ap Tewdwr. Indeed, it suggests quite the opposite. The Domesday
evidence, then, indicates that an arrangement was made between William and Rhys
in which Rhys received Deheubarth as a feudal fief in exchange for an annual
render of forty pounds. Additional documentary evidence supporting this thesis
may be found in the Brut y Tywysogion. This Welsh chronicle refers
to William the Conqueror a number of times, and a curious pattern of titles is
used. The entry for 1066 styles him "William the Bastard, prince [tywyssawc] of
Normandy."63 It then continues to describe his conquest of England.
In the entry for 1081 (listed 1079), he has become "Gwilim Vastard Vrenhin y
Saeson ar Freinc ar Brytanyeit."64 In the usage of the Brut, Saeson
is generic for all English, while by Freinc is meant the Normans and not the
French proper. Thus his title has become "William the Bastard, king of the
English, Normans, and Britons [Welsh]." This is a title he did not lose. His
obituary reads "Gwilim Vastard, tywyssawc y Normanyeit a brenhin y Saeson ar
Brytanyeit ar Albanwyr." The important point to be noted is the use of the
title brenhin y Brytanyeit. The last person, previous to William, to bear such
a title in the Brut was Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, a man who had united all of Wales
under his sway.
It seems hardly likely that this title was simply rhetorical or honorific. Both
from geographical location and from interest, the Brut was very close to the
political realities of the times. The subject matter of this chronicle consists
primarily of accounts of the dynastic struggles and conspiracies through which
men pursue such titles. One need only note that the last entry stresses that
William is king of the English, but only prince (tywyssawc) of the Normans.
Again, he appears as brenhin y[r] Albanwyr. William had a good claim to this
title King of the Scots, as the result of a feudal arrangement much the same as
that which probably took place between himself and Rhys. Taken in themselves,
the titles accorded to William by the Brut y Tywysogion are
perhaps inconclusive evidence of a rapprochement between the Welsh and English
kings. Yet they are most easily ex-
63 Ibid., pp. 44-46.
64 Ibid., p. 50.
40 The Normans in South Wales
plained by assuming that William actually did receive homage from Rhys during
his journey into Wales. Certain other facts also support this theory. The
endemic warfare of the Welsh frontier and the Norman raids which had slashed
deep into the heart of Deheubarth suddenly came to an end. The remainder of
Rhys' reign was marred only by internecine struggles.65 on the
English side of the frontier the occupation of Gwent appears to have proceeded
peacefully, and Domesday reveals a countryside slowly recovering from the
effects of the Welsh attacks which had marked the 1060's. The situation along
the border remained peaceful until after the death of Rhys ap Tewdwr, when the
Normans burst in on South Wales like a long-pent flood-as if only the existence
of the Welsh king had stayed their advance.
When all the evidence is considered, three possible political motives for
William's pilgrimage to St. David's emerge. First, he may have felt it wise to
reinforce the ascendancy which Rhys had gained at Mynedd Carn and thus maintain
in authority a figure with whom it would be possible to deal in stabilizing his
Welsh frontier. Secondly, an expedition in force would be useful in impressing
upon the Welsh of Morgannwg their now precarious position between two powerful
and allied powers. This would do much to curb their adventurous spirit and to
heighten the prospects of peace along the southern frontier. His third motive
was probably to bring about the personal confrontation which was necessary to
perform the solemn act of homage. This relationship would have been far more
valuable to William than a simple restoration of the arrangements which Edward
the Confessor had made with the dangerous Welsh.
The treaty of 1081 had numerous advantages for William. A strong and loyal Rhys
ap Tewdwr made it unlikely that the Welsh would ally with rebellious Norman
border lords against the king. At the same time, even a small Norman border
force could threaten the comparatively weak, but pivotal, buffer states of
Brycheiniog, Gwynllwg, and Morgannwg. Without control of these vital invasion
65 Ibid., pp. 52-55. In 1088, Rhys was driven from
Deheubarth by the attack of two sons of the king of Powys. He obtained Danish
aid from Ireland, defeated the invaders, and regained power. In 1091, he was
attacked by Gruffydd ap Maredudd ab Owain. This latter attack may have been
aided and encouraged by Gruffydd's Norman neighbors in Herefordshire, but there
is no evidence that they took a direct part in the attack.
The Opening of the Norman Conquest 41
routes, Rhys did not present an active threat to the security of the border
shires. William's original plan had been to create the border earldoms of
Chester, Shrewsbury, and Hereford as semi-independent military buffer states.
This policy had proven dangerous. With danger of Welsh attack lessened, the
independence and power of the Norman border lords could be safely limited, or
at least a start could be made in that direction. Meanwhile, the border shires
could continue their slow process of recovery and growth.
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