ENGLAND CHANGED RAPIDLY in the course of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
It follows that the institutions with which Domesday Book
dealt, and the country it described, altered swiftly in the years following
the great survey. Domesday Book pictures the country as it
existed in 1086. This may seem a fairly obvious statement, but it can hardly
be overemphasized, especially in regard to the frontier we are discussing.
The medieval Welsh frontier was neither a particular geographic location nor
a specific group of people. It was a process: a process of which
Domesday Book records only one particular stage.The character
of the frontier changed considerably only a few years after 1086. It would
have changed in any event, but in this particular case the process was
accelerated by the peculiar nature of the royal frontier policy.
We have seen that William the Conqueror finally secured peace along his
western border by developing a policy based on balance of power. He
stationed a strong group of Norman lords along the frontier to guard against
Welsh attack. He then helped to stabilize the position of Rhys ap Tewdwr and
used Rhys as a counter balance to the power of the border barons. As long as
both of these antagonistic powers remained intact, each limited the other's
freedom of action. It was in the royal interests that this situation be
maintained, and William took steps to avoid a decisive clash between the
two. It was probably for this reason that he allowed the Welsh kingdoms of
Morgannwg, Gwynllwg, and Brycheiniog to retain their independence; they were
to act as buffer states. Unfortunately for this plan,
80 The Normans in South Wales
these kingdoms never developed sufficient strength to fulfill their roles
adequately. Rather than forming a buffer between the Welsh king and the
Norman lords, they formed a vacuum. They offered a tempting avenue for
expansion, especially for the border barons.
There was little danger that Rhys would attempt to upset this balance of
power, for it was in his interests to maintain the situation as it was. Due
to the peculiar nature of the Welsh political system, his power was none too
secure and he was surrounded by rivals. Any active Norman intervention in
the affairs of Deheubarth could have been disastrous for him. At the same
time the system worked to Rhys' advantage by eliminating his external
enemies. The rival kingdom of Gwynedd was fully occupied with the threat of
Robert of Rhuddlan, and the buffer kingdoms were in too precarious a
position to entertain any thoughts of westward expansion. The status quo was
as favorable a situation as Rhys could hope for, and it was in his direct
interest to cooperate in maintaining it.
The greatest danger to this balance of power came from the turbulent and
land-hungry marcher lords. If the royal frontier policy was to be
successful, the border barons had to observe the agreement of 1081 and had
to respect the independence of the buffer kingdoms which separated them from
Rhys. William was more than equal to the task of ensuring this and he had
many advantages working for him. In the first place, he had chosen many of
the frontier lords because of their personal loyalty; ties of affection and
kinship assured that royal interests along the border would be served.
Secondly, many of these marcher lords held estates both along the Welsh
border and in the duchy of Normandy. Although rebellion might have gained
them a Welsh kingdom, it would assuredly have lost them their ancestral
homes. Thirdly, William had granted these men extensive privileges for
serving on the frontier. The privileges they possessed may have atoned for
the denial of those they coveted. Finally, disobedience to the Conqueror was
not a course to be undertaken lightly. He was a ruler without challenger and
had concentrated great powers in his hands. Moreover, he used these powers
decisively in enforcing his will. While he lived, his authority was supreme
and his frontier policy was maintained.
On September 7, 1087, he died and his strong hand was removed from the
border. By his wishes, his possessions were divided among his three sons.
Robert, the eldest, received the duchy of Normandy, William, surnamed Rufus,
became king of England, and Henry was
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 81
forced to content himself with a sum of money. The balance of power which
the elder William had established along the border deteriorated, since his
son lacked the power by which he could enforce his will in the region. The
border nobility felt no special feelings of loyalty or respect for Rufus. As
a matter of fact, many of them had already taken oaths of allegiance to
Robert. Nor did Rufus control their Norman estates. These were in the hands
of Robert, who quickly became a challenger to Rufus' authority in England.
Despite his obviously weak position, Rufus refused to adopt a conciliatory
path. On the contrary, he set about to destroy the customary limits which
had been set upon the feudal powers of the king, and began to strip the
border barons of the privileges they enjoyed. Within a few years he had even
resurrected the almost-forgotten doctrine that a fief was a lifetime
benefice only, granted at the pleasure of the king. This reactionary point
of view must have alienated large segments of the nobility, especially among
the border barons. Even this need not have been disastrous, if Rufus had
carried out his plans with the determination and pragmatism of his father.
These qualities, however, were sadly lacking in him. His personal
characteristics were passion, capriciousness, a tendency toward delusions of
grandeur and a complete contempt for the basic standards of
To all of these factors acting against him was added the treachery of his
uncle, Odo of Bayeux, who enlisted the aid of many nobles in his attempt to
depose Rufus and to place Robert on the throne. The rebellion erupted in
1088, ostensibly over the question of succession. The list of nobles arrayed
against Rufus, however, betrays a deeper cause of disaffection. Roger of
Montgomery, Bernard of Neufmarche, Roger of Lacy, Geoffrey of Coutances,
Robert of Mowbray, Gilbert of Clare, and William of Calais were all
prominent among those who took up the cause of Robert Curthose. This was, in
essence, a marcher revolt and was directed, no doubt, at gaining these men a
greater measure of freedom from the restrictions of royal authority. Despite
its powerful supporters, the insurrection was soon quelled by the resolute
action of the fyrds and some few loyal barons, all led by the archbishop of
Canterbury and by Rufus himself. It is difficult to say whether the movement
actually failed, however, since most of
1For the administration of William Rufus, see E. A. Freeman,
The Reign of William Rufus and the Accession of Henry I. The
complexity of Rufus' character has excited the imagination of many writers.
One of the most romantic is H. R.Williamson, in The Arrow and the
82 The Normans in South Wales
the marcher lords who took part appear to have escaped serious punishment.
What is more, this rebellion of 1088 coincided with the apparent
disappearance of the royal policy of maintaining a balance of power along
the Welsh frontier.
Bernard of Neufmarche seems to have begun his conquest of Brycheiniog
shortly after the end of the ill-fated insurrection. At least, in a charter
of the same year, Bernard was in possession of Glasbury.2It is
thus clear that royal guarantees of the independence of this buffer state
had been allowed to lapse. At the same time the marcher lords began to probe
the position of Rhys ap Tewdwr, and to seek a means of eliminating him and,
with him, the last obstacle to the conquest of South Wales. It seems clear
that the agreement of 1081 still had some force, at least in respect to
Rhys, for the means employed by the border barons were uniformly indirect.
In 1088, Rhys was attacked by the sons of Bleddyn, king of Powys. The
attackers may well have enjoyed Norman support in this, the first serious
attack on him since 1081. In any event, the attempt failed when Rhys
obtained the aid of a Danish fleet from Ireland. In 1091, another attack was
launched. This time the Herefordshire landholder, Gruffydd ap Maredudd,
attempted to assert his claim to the throne of Deheubarth. The hand of the
marcher lords can be seen even more clearly in this action. Rhys again
proved triumphant and defeated and killed his rival. Despite these
victories, however, his position was rapidly deteriorating. Although he was
able to maintain himself against these Norman-inspired conspiracies,
Brycheiniog was slowly crumbling before the relentless pressure of Bernard
of Neufmarche. In a short time, the independent kingdom of Brycheiniog would
cease to exist, and Rhys would find a strong Norman lordship established on
the very borders of Deheubarth. He took the only course that was open to him
when he allied himself with the hard-pressed king of Brycheiniog. In Easter
week of 1093, they moved against the Norman forces engaged in rearing a
strong fortress in the central plain of Brycheiniog. Rhys had been forced to
put himself in the power of the Normans and, in the ensuing battle, he was
killed. With his death the last vestiges of the agreement of 1081 came to an
end, and the last obstacle to massive Norman invasion was removed. J. E.
2Historia et Cartularium Monasterii Sancti Petri
Gloucestriae, ed. W. H. Hart Part I, p. 80.
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 83
...the death of Rhys put an end to a period of orderly,
legitimate rule; there was no one who had a rightful claim to the position
which he held, and force was to be henceforth the sole arbiter of the
affairs of the distracted and unhappy country.3
After the death of Rhys, the Norman onslaught began.
Rhys' death was a momentous event for South Wales and ultimately opened the
way for Norman domination of that region. Bernard of Neufmarche appears to
have been a dynamic figure in the chain of events that led to the demise of
the Welsh prince. It was he who led the way in destroying the kingdom of
Brycheiniog and forcing Rhys to battle. Finally, it was at the hands of his
troops that Rhys died. Despite his importance the accounts of the time are
largely silent concerning this marcher lord. Only incidental references,
together with the evidence of a few charters, make it possible to discern
even the broad outlines of his life. The details of his activities must
In his sketch of Bernard, Orderic Vitalis stated that he was a member of the
powerful Norman family of Aufay, distinguished by its close connections
with, and services to, the ducal house. It had as its caput the town of
Aufay, a few miles south of Dieppe and on the river Sie. The effective
founder of the family was Gilbert of St. Valeri, who established his
fortunes by marrying a daughter of Duke Richard. Their son, Richard,
continued long in the service of his uncle and was rewarded by being given
Ada, the widow of Herluin of Heugleville, in marriage. Richard was greatly
enriched by this advantageous marriage. He founded the town of Aufay and
gave his colonists the customs of Corneilles.
In 1035, Duke Robert died and was succeeded by the eight-year old William
the Bastard. Normandy entered a stormy period which saw Richard supporting
the young duke. His greatest trial came during the revolt of William of
Arques in 1053, when, alone of all of the nobles of his district, he
remained loyal to Duke William's banner. He garrisoned and held his castle
of St. Aubins against the insurgents. Supporting him in this action was his
son-in-law, Geoffrey, son of Turketil of Neufmarche. Turketil had acted as
guardian of the young duke, and was assassinated while performing this
3J. E. Lloyd, A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to
the Edwardian Conquest, II, 399.
84 The Normans in South Wales
haps in the same plot that took the life of William Fitz-Osbern's father.
Geoffrey now had entered into close contact with his father-in-law's group.
The rebellion was quelled, and the family of Aufay achieved the high regard
of Duke William for their loyalty. Geoffrey continued in the ducal service,
but with less success than had his father-in-law. He was the lawful heir of
Turketil's fortress of Le Neuf-Marche-en-Lions, on the borders of Beauvais.
He appears to have been unable to halt the raids of his French neighbors in
this region and for this reason lost the confidence of Duke William. He
apparently fell far from favor and was finally dispossessed of his fortress
for some trivial reason.4
Geoffrey had two sons to witness his disgrace in 1060. The one, Dreux, gave
up military service and entered the monastery of St. Evroult. He does not
seem to have shared his father's disgrace, for his duties consisted of
staying with the ducal court and attempting to obtain grants and
benefactions for the abbey.5 The other son was Bernard of
Neufmarche, who remained in the service of the duke. Born at the castle of
Le Neuf-Marche-en-Lions, he no doubt grew up with the excellent military
experience which life on the marches afforded.
There is some question as to whether or not Bernard participated in the
invasion of England. Although his name is generally accepted in the lists of
the conquerors made by modern compilers,6 the evidence is
somewhat mixed. To support the contention that he was present at Hastings,
one might point to the fact that he maintained a connection with Battle
Abbey so close as to suggest a special regard for the establishment. His
name appears on the charter by which William founded the abbey to
commemorate forever the battle in which the power of Harold was
broken.7 Bernard later established a cell of this abbey near his
castle of Brecon.8This evidence is less con
4Orderic Vitalis, "Historiae Ecclesiasticae libri XIII in partes
tres divisi," in Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, vol.
CLXXXVIII, col. 281. The castle was difficult to defend, and a series of
barons appointed by the duke failed in this task. Hugh of Grantmesnil
finally defeated the people of Beauvais, and the fief, or a portion of it,
was granted to him.
5Orderic Vitalis, cols. 455 and 457.
6Such as J. G. Nichols, "The Battle Abbey Roll," The Herald
and Genealogist, ed. J. G. Nichols, I, 202.
7Foedera, Conventiones, Litterae, et cujuscunque Generis
Acta Publica ...., ed.T. Rymer, Vol. I, Part 1, p. 4.
8See Monasticon Anglicanum ..., ed., W. Dugdale,
Carta II, 15 Ed. II, n. 8.
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 85
clusive than one might think. In the first place, the foundation charter of
Battle Abbey must be dated between 1086 and 1087.9Secondly, the
Battle Abbey cell at Brecon may have been established as an analogy to the
mother house; to commemorate the battle in which Bernard broke the power of
Rhys ap Tewdwr and delivered South Wales into Norman hands.
To argue against Bernard's participation in the Conquest, it may be pointed
out that his name is not present in Domesday. It is hard to believe
that he would not have received at least some English lands if he had taken
part in the original expedition. While this test is certainly not
conclusive, the burden of proof must rest with those who wish to include
Bernard among the conquerors. The lack of evidence suggests that Bernard did
not join William's expedition against England, or if he did, that he played
a very minor role. In any event the year 1086 found him without English
lands, but in attendance at the Conqueror's court, perhaps in his personal
service. The evidence shows that Bernard's fortunes took a decided turn for
the better in the next two years. His name appears in a charter of 1088 as
the donor of certain lands to the Abbey of St. Peter's at
Gloucestershire.10 The location of the grants shows that by then
he was not only a landholder in Herefordshire, but had already extended his
control to Glasbury, a vill which lay considerably within the borders of the
Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog. The question arises as to how and why Bernard
had come to the Welsh frontier.
At the time of Domesday, Gilbert Fitz-Turold, Alfred of Marlborough,
and Osbern Fitz-Richard held the Herefordshire lands which were later to
form part of Bernard's honor of Brecon. Some few of Osbern Fitz-Richard's
lands which later appeared in Bernard's hands were probably obtained as the
dowry of Agnes, Osbern's daughter, whom he had married sometime before
1088.11 He also held the estates of Pembridge, Burghill, and
Brinsop, all formerly in the hands of Alfred of Marlborough.12 No
account can be found as to
9It is interesting to note that the name "Willielmus filius Osb'
" appears as a testor to this charter. Since William Fitz-Osbern, earl of
Hereford, was long since dead, it is difficult to discern the identity of
10 Historia et Cartularium Monasterii Sancti Petri
Gloucestriae, I, 80, charters 281 and 282; II, 314.
11Chronicon Monasterii de Bello nunc primum typis
mandatum, ed. J. S. Brewer, p. 35. For Osbern's Domesday
estates, see Domesday Book: or the Great Survey of England by
William the Conqueror A.D. MLXXXVI, fol. 186b.
12Domesday Book, fol. 186.
86 The Normans in South Wales
how Bernard gained possession of these estates. The same is true of the
estates of Gilbert Fitz-Turold, which formed the greater part of Bernard's
Herefordshire holdings. As we have already noted, Gilbert's estates had
centered around the vills of Bach, Middlewood, and Harewood, which lay south
of Clifford Castle and at the head of the Golden Valley. In addition Gilbert
had been entrusted with the border station (domus defensabilis) located at
Eardisley. By this time he may have commenced construction of the
fortifications at Dorestone, Snodhill, and Urishay which were later to
connect Clifford and Ewyas Harold to form an unbroken line of frontier
It has been suggested that the factor that brought Bernard to the frontier
was most probably his marriage to the daughter of Osbern
Fitz-Richard.14 Although this is possible, there is no evidence
to connect his interests prior to 1088 with those of Osbern. It seems rather
unlikely that Osbern would have given his daughter in marriage to a landless
knight. In any event, the marriage would not explain Bernard's acquisition
of the lands of Gilbert and Alfred. If it is assumed that these lands were
granted first, then the factors encouraging the marriage become quite clear.
It appears that, for some reason or another, the estates of Gilbert
Fitz-Turold and Alfred of Marlborough reverted to the crown and were granted
by the Conqueror to Bernard, who was at the time one of his household
knights.15 Once firmly established on the border, he contracted a
marriage with Agnes which brought him Osbern's estates of Beryngton and
13I. C. Gould, "Ancient Earthworks," The Victoria Histories
of the Counties of England: Hereford, I, 236, 244-245, 254-256.
14W. H. Hunt, "Bernard de Neufmarche," The Dictionary of
National Biography. This view is shared by Lloyd, A History of
Wales, II, 397.
15 This is substantially the view expressed by W. Rees, "The
Medieval Lord ship of Brecon," The Transactions of the Honourable
Society of Cymmrodorion for 1915-1916, pp. 170-172. Rees points out
that although Bernard apparently received all of Gilbert's holdings, only a
portion of Alfred's estates were granted to him.
16 It might be well to clear up some misconceptions concerning
the identity of Bernard's supposed first wife. The Duchess of Cleveland
(The Battle Abbey Roll: With Some Account of the Norman
Lineages, II, 352-353) states that Bernard had two wives, the latter
being Nest, the daughter of Rhys ap Gruffydd. The duchess apparently derived
this information from T. Nichols, Annals and Antiquities of the Counties and
County Families of Wales.... The Duchess holds that it was this later Nest
who granted lands to Battle Abbey (See Chronicon Monasterii de
Bello, p. 35) while suffering "Qualms of Conscience." This is
doubtful, since the lands she granted were de propria hereditate,
and, at the time of Domesday lay in the hands of Osbern Fitz-Richard
(Domesday Book, fol. 176b), the father of Bernard's supposed
first wife. J. E. Lloyd, considering this matter (A History of
Wales, II, 397, n. 135), concludes that Bernard's only wife was
Agnes, daughter of Osbern Fitz-Richard. Nest, daughter of Llewelyn ap
Gruffydd, was the wife of said Osbern, and, hence, Bernard's mother-in-law,
not his second wife.
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 87
William Rees points out that this order of events is corroborated by the
evidence of the charters, which show that the earliest grants made by
Bernard were drawn exclusively from those estates previously held by Gilbert
The evidence clearly shows that sometime between 1086 and 1088, Bernard of
Neufmarche came into possession of a compact group of estates lying athwart
the Wye River. From these estates the comparatively broad valley of the Wye,
and the remains of an old Roman military road, led directly into the heart
of the independent Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog. It was perhaps only natural
that the energetic Bernard should have expanded along this line.
It is not likely, however, that his first encroachments in this direction
took place much before the autumn of 1088. William the Conqueror, as has
been said before, discouraged the border barons from disturbing the
stability of the frontier. Bernard would not have attempted to circumvent
his sovereign so soon after having received the grants which had established
his fortunes. William died in September of 1087, however, and the border
barons began to organize that rebellion against Rufus which finally
crystallized during Lent of 1088. The rebel cause enlisted the aid of
virtually all of the families along the border, including the newly arrived
Bernard. Together with his father-in-law, he joined the insurgent army which
gathered at Hereford shortly after Easter. A rather large force met at this
city, where the royal garrison had been recently captured by Roger of
Lacy.18 According to one chronicle, the entire shire of Hereford,
the men of Shropshire, and many Welsh joined the expedition directed against
the royalist city of Worcester.19 The rebels were met by the
garrison of that city, led by Bishop Wulfstan, and were decisively
defeated.20 By summer, the rebellion was quelled, and the major
17Rees,"The Medieval Lordship of Brecon,"pp.170-172.
18Orderic Vitalis, cols. 562 ff.
19The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, According to the Several
Original Authorities ed. and trans.B. Thorpe, Part I, pp. 356-358.
20Wulfstan's role in saving the threatened city was later
magnified into miraculous proportions. See E. A. Freeman, The History
of the Norman Conquest of England: Its Causes and Results, II, App.
D, for a detailed discussion of the development of this tradition.
88 The Normans in South Wales
surgent stronghold of Rochester fell into Rufus' hands. Strangely enough the
king's vengeance against the frontier nobles appears to have been quite mild. In
the case of Bernard there appears to have been no punishment at all. To the
contrary, almost immediately after the collapse of the rebellion he turned to an
activity hitherto strictly denied the border barons by royal authority -
invasion of the Welsh buffer states lying west of the frontier. By the fall of
1088 he had advanced as far as the vill of Glasbury, and the grant of this estate
to the church of St. Peter's of Gloucester may well have been in the nature of a
What prompted Bernard to flout a long-standing royal frontier policy by
attacking Brycheiniog? J. E. Lloyd, the eminent Welsh historian, suggests that
"... Rufus could not hold the reins of discipline with the firm hand of his
predecessor."22 This may well be, but it is hard to believe that this
was the factor operating in Bernard's case. In the first place, Rufus' power in
the summer of 1088 was as firmly established as it was ever to be, and had but
recently been impressed upon the marcher lords. Why did the invasion not begin
before, or after, Rufus had given "the reins of discipline" such a sharp jerk?
Again, it appears to be a general rule that, given a sovereign's weakness, it is
the greater, and not the lesser, nobles who are first freed of royal
restrictions. Why then was it the parvenu and minor lord, Bernard of Neufmarche,
who led the forward edge of Norman penetration, and not the rich and powerful
earl of Shrewsbury?
It is far easier to believe that royal frontier policy had been changed, and
that the border lords had been given license to attack the buffer states that lay
along their borders. Such an interpretation fits well with the facts. It was
obvious that the old system of a balance of power had failed to keep the marcher
lords from rebelling. Thus the continued protection of the buffer states was of
no value to Rufus. At the same time, the restriction was galling to the border
barons and had no doubt contributed to the disaffection which they had
displayed. Abandonment of Brycheiniog, Gwynllwg, and Morgannwg would have cost
the king nothing and would have been useful in restoring the loyalty of the
border barons. In this respect it is interesting to note that some of these
nobles, including Roger of
21Historia et Cartularium Monasterii Sancti Petri
Gloucestriae, I, 80, charters 281 and 282; 11, 314. The charter is dated
here 1088. It is confirmed by William II in his second regnal year, which did
not begin until September.
22Lloyd A History of Wales, II, 396-397.
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 89
Montgomery, earl of Shrewsbury, had returned to active support of the king by
the summer of 1088. It is quite possible that this support was bought by removal
of royal restrictions on expansion into the buffer states.
Later events show that, although the king abandoned the buffer states, he
continued to honor at least the letter of the royal agreement with Rhys ap
Tewdwr. The difference may have been that royal recognition and protection of
the buffer kingdoms was de facto, but the relationship between the king and Rhys
was de iure and consisted of a formal and binding contract between the
two. Abandonment of Brycheiniog, Morgannwg, and Gwynllwg simply entailed a change
of policy while abandonment of Rhys would have required perfidy. On the other
hand, the nature of the feudal contract between the Welsh and Norman kings was of
a purely personal nature and it is likely that Rufus agreed that Deheubarth was
to be regarded as fair game for the border barons after the death of Rhys.
Deheubarth, and not Brycheiniog, was the ultimate goal of the Norman lords, and
the invasion of the latter appears to have been at least in part a lure to force
Rhys to commit himself. Meanwhile, indirect methods were pursued in an attempt
to encompass the fall of Rhys. Bernard was the obvious choice to undertake the
invasion of Brycheiniog; his lands lay athwart the major invasion route to that
unhappy kingdom, and the lands which he might conquer would constitute an
adequate reward for his activities.
As we have stated before, Bernard reached Glasbury by the autumn of
1088. Probably with the assistance of Richard Fitz-Pons lord of Clifford, he
advanced steadily for the next two years. Talgarth was reached early in the
process, and a castle, Bronllys, constructed at the confluence of the Dulais and
Llyfni rivers, probably on the site of the Llys of the tywysog of the
commote of Bronllys.23 He then moved south, along the Llyfni River,
extending his control into the valley of the Usk. Moving up the latter, he
reached the area where Brecon now stands in about 1091. Brecon was the strategic
key to Brycheiniog, and Bernard probably immediately started the fortifications
at the confluence of the Usk and Honddu which were later to serve as the caput of
his honor of Brecon. The topography provided excellent defensive advantages since
Brecon lay at the intersection
23See G. T. Clark, "Bronllys Castle," Archaeologia
Cambrensis, Series III Vol. VIII (1862), pp. 81-92.
90 The Normans in South Wales
of the remains of a number of Roman roads, which were still probably as good
transportation routes as could be found.
In the next two years, it seems likely that Bernard continued extending his
control over the surrounding countryside, but no record of such operations
remains. The first mention occurs in Easter week of 1093, when an allied Welsh
army led by Rhys ap Tewdwr and Bleddyn ap Maenarch, king of Brycheiniog,
advanced out of the hills on Bernard's force.24 The king of Deheubarth
had, at last, been forced to discard the protection of the agreement of 1081 and
to gamble on battle. The Normans met the Welsh force near the new fortifications,
perhaps at the site north of Brecon later marked by Bernard's donation for a
priory of Battle Abbey.25 The battle ended, as has been said, with
the death of Rhys and the removal of the last obstacle to a full-scale Norman
invasion of South Wales.
Rhys' death, coupled with that of Bleddyn ap Maenarch, allowed Bernard to extend
his power throughout Brycheiniog. His path of conquest turned down the valley of
the Usk, and he advanced in that direction as far as Ystradyw.26
Even while this movement was underway, the rest of South Wales was swept by a
popular revolt of the Welsh, who reacted violently to Norman appropriation of
their homeland. This reaction, which began in the spring of 1094, at first left
Brycheiniog untouched. In 1095 the Normans of this region attempted to come to
the aid of their hard-pressed countrymen elsewhere in South Wales. Attacking
through Cantref Bychan and Ystrad Tywy, the Brecknockshire Normans devastated
Kidwelly and Gower, but without effect.27 The following year,
Brecknockshire itself felt the violence of revolt, when the Welsh of the area
allied with bands from Gwynllwg and upper Gwent, and apparently gained complete
control of the open country. The Normans sought refuge in their castles and
waited for the flame of revolt to die out.23
24Brut y Tywysogion: or The Chronicle of the Princes of
Wales, ed. J. Williams ab Ithel, p. 54. Note that the date given by the
Brut is 1094.
25It may well be that, as Battle Abbey itself was constructed on the
spot where Harold supposedly fell, Brecknock Priory occupied the spot of Rhys'
26The bishops of Llandaff complained of this annexation, since it
brought the area into the honor of Brecon, which lay in the diocese of St.
David's. See The Liber Landavensis, Llyfr Teilo, or the Ancient Register
of the Cathedral Church of Llandaff ..., ed. and trans. W. J. Rees, p.
27The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Part I, pp. 361-362.
28The various readings of the Brut y Tywysogion leave different impressions of the events of 1094. Most versions read that "the
inhabitants remained in their houses, confiding fearlessly, though the Castles
were yet entire, and the garrisons m them. MS D, however, a corrupt copy dating
from the fifteenth century, replaces "fearlessly" with "tremblingly." The former
reading is much to be preferred.
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 91
Two separate expeditions were mounted in an attempt to relieve these beleaguered
garrisons.29 The first was directed into upper Gwent and experienced no opposition in its advance. It was ambushed, however, on its withdrawal and suffered heavy losses. A second expedition, directed toward the heart of Brycheiniog, was crus
hed by the men of that region at Aber Llech.30 The Annales Cambriae point out, however, that it succeeded, before its defeat in performing what must have been one of its major objectives "Again they came into Brycheiniog and built ca
stles there."31 There is no further mention of the region in contemporary sources for this period, but it seems clear that the rebellious countryside was slowly brought back under control by the Norman garrisons in the area. The following year
s were quiet ones for Brecknockshire, in which the settlement of the area was finally established.
Little mention of the processes of the Norman settlement of Brecknockshire can
be found in contemporary records. Only the charters help to give some indication
of the lines which this settlement followed. Bernard endowed the knights who
followed him with extensive Welsh fiefs.32 The strong fortresses of
Tretower, Blaen Llyfni, and Crickhowell were then constructed to guard those
passes which offered easy access to the lands south and east of
Brycheiniog.33 This policy of continuing the task of guarding the
border of England led to a repetition in miniature of the process which had
given birth to the lordship of Brecon. To guard the western frontier of
Brecknockshire, Bernard established Richard Fitz-Pons in Cantref Selyff, on the
far western border of the lordship. From this base of power Richard continued, on
his own, to extend Norman power westward. He moved across the border and, by
1115, was in control of Llandovery
29Lloyd, A History of Wales, II, 406, n. 9. Lloyd is of the opinion that both expeditions originated from the newly conquered region of Glamorganshire.
30Brut y Tywysogion, p. 58.
31Annales Cambriae, ed. J. Williams ab Ithel, p. 30 and n. 18.
32T. Jones, A History of the County of Brecknock ..., I, 61.
33See G. T. Clark, "Tretower, Blaen Llyfni and Crickhowell Castles," Archaeologia Cambrensis, Series IV, Vol. II (1873), pp. 276-284; "The Castle of Builth," Archaeologia Cambrensis, Series IV, Vol. V (1874 ), pp. 1
92 The Normans in South Wales
and the surrounding Cantref Bychan.34 The records state that Richard made this conquest with the express permission of Henry I, and the area was long held in fief by the Clifford family.35 Richard's achievement offers some indicati
on that the process which led to the creation of the marcher lordships was, to some degree, self-generating.
At the same time that Bernard acted to promote the formation of another dynamic
group of Norman border barons, he also created what amounted to a new Welsh
nobility by investing the sons of Bleddyn ap Maenarch with some of the more
untillable and mountainous portions of his lordship. Gwrgan received parts of
Blaen Llyfni and Aberllyfni, while Caradog was granted an otherwise
unidentifiable mountainous region. Drymbenog ap Maenarch, Bleddyn's brother, was
established in the hills of Cantref Selyff as a neighbor of Richard Fitz-Pons.36
It is clear then that the moors and mountains were allowed to remain in Welsh
hands, while the Norman conquerors concentrated their activity in the central
plains of the lordship. Castles were built on the slopes which overlooked the
comparatively fertile valleys of the Usk and Wye. Around Brecon a settlement was
established and was granted borough status. Manors were organized, and farming
villages soon began to dot the landscape. This agricultural exploitation, one of
the more interesting aspects of the settlement of Brecknockshire, was made
possible by a combination of circumstances. The land which lay in the valleys of
Brecknockshire was, and is, at least partly alluvial in origin. For this reason,
the soil has a higher fertility than one might expect from the region. Secondly,
although the area is at a comparatively high elevation, it is protected from the
extremely heavy rainfall of such altitudes by the high mountains which lie to
the west and south. These mountains produce, in the valleys which cut through
them, a rain shadow effect which reduces rainfall to tolerable limits. Although
these and other factors made agriculture possible to the Normans, the nature of
the region is such that it could never have been an easy or very profitable
pursuit. In any event, Norman agricultural development was limited to the valley
floors, for the
34Rees, "The Medieval Lordship of Brecon," p. 173; also see the essay entitled "The Family of Ballon and the Conquest of South Wales," in J. H. Round, Studies in Peerage and Family History, pp. 181-215.
35Brut y Tywysogion, p. 122.
36Jones, A History of the County of Brecknock, I, 62.
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 93
slopes were not at all arable, considering the technology of the times. As a
consequence, Normanization was restricted to the valleys, where the manors which
formed the economic basis of the society could exist. The moors, slopes, and
mountains were left to the growth of gorse and bracken amidst which the Welsh
pastoralists continued to tend their herds. They took no part in the development
of Brecknockshire, other than by paying tribute to their Norman lords, who had
established their manors and reared their castles in the valleys far below.
The Welsh of Brycheiniog had lost little through the Norman conquest of the
area. For the most part, the Normans could not use the pasture lands which the
Welsh valued most highly and made no effort to dispossess the natives of these
areas. On the other hand the land which the Normans had to control to exist were
the valleys which the free Welsh tribesmen had little desire to utilize. A
peaceful accommodation was possible, in which the Norman lords occupied a dual
position. In the valleys, the traditional manorial and feudal structure of
Anglo-Norman society was simply transplanted into the new region. In the moors,
however, the Norman lords displaced the native Welsh rulers and collected the
dues and tributes which hitherto had been rendered to them. The situation was
such that the two societies of the region impinged only at the uppermost
governmental level, and, by assuming a dual role, the Normans avoided too much
contact even here. In discussing the economic aspects of the Norman conquest of
Brycheiniog, William Rees states:
The advent of the Norman ... did not necessarily imply a violent
displacement of the native Welsh. Rather may it be said the Norman
agriculturalist of the valley supplemented the Welsh pastoralist of the hills so
that economically the area gained by the conquest. The Norman hold on the
lowland belt not only weakened the resistance of the Welsh, but also formed a
suitable base for expansion into the hill districts from the chief Norman
settlements either by force of arms or by the less spectacular but more
successful silent diffusion of Norman influences among the Celtic
We have seen that Rufus' abandonment of his predecessor's frontier policy
spelled the end of the independent buffer states which lay along England's
western border. Brycheiniog was the first to fall, and by 1093, Bernard was
actively engaged in transforming that ancient
37Rees, "The Medieval Lordship of Brecon," pp. 203-204.
94 The Normans in South Wales
kingdom into his honor of Brecon. The death of Rhys in that year then opened the
way for the invasion of Deheubarth itself. The marcher lords were not slow to
take advantage of this opportunity. In July of 1093, less than four months after
the death of Rhys, Roger of Montgomery completed his preparations and moved down from his mountainous base of Arwystli. In a short time, Ceredigion and Dyfed, the heart of Deheubarth, lay in his hands.
If control of this region had truly been the aim of the border baron's activity,then this goal had been achieved; Deheubarth had fallen and the core of Welsh power in the south was broken. But what was the fate of the other two buffer kingdoms, Morgannw
g and the mountainous realm of Gwynllwg which lay along its eastern border?
This question is far from easy to answer. The major outlines are clear: the
region was conquered by Robert Fitz-Hamon, and was eventually organized as a
marcher lordship. With this statement, however, we have presented all that can
be definitely said. The silence surrounding the Norman conquest of Glamorgan, and
Robert Fitz-Hamon to a lesser extent, constitutes one of the major
historiographic problems of the period. The major chronicles, both Anglo-Norman
and Welsh, make almost no mention of Glamorgan, one of the richest and most
fertile regions of all Wales. The most that can be derived from reasonably
contemporary data is a few bits of incidental information which are distorted
and often contradictory. To add to the confusion, a series of Welsh antiquarians
took it upon themselves to remedy this dearth of information by fabricating some
accounts out of equal parts of imagination and popular tradition.38
The lack of reliable data, the attractiveness of the spurious accounts, and
their appearance of authenticity all have tempted scholars to make use of these
accounts.39 Few secondary works are completely free from con-
38These accounts may be found in the following works: ( 1 ) D. Powel, The Historie of Cambria Now Called Wales ..., pp. 88-90. (2) Sir Edward Stradling's account contained in the same volume, pp. 90-101. (3) The "Gwentian Brut" c
ontained in The Myvyrian Archaeology of Wales ..., eds. O. Jones et al., pp. 690-701. (4) The "Brut Ieuan Brechfa," in the same volume, pp. 719-720. (5) "The Names and Genealogy of the Kings of Glamorgan," contained in Iolo Manuscript
s ..., ed. T. Williams ab Iolo, pp.15-16. An English translation of this section is contained on pages
39E. A. Freeman, for instance, is quite aware of the unreliable
nature of these accounts. Nevertheless, he tends to make use of the data and to
allow it to color his account. He stated in reference to these accounts that he
was "perhaps inclined to put more faith in the general story" than he once
thought was justified. See Freeman, The Reign of William Rufus, II, 613.
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 95
tamination by these sources, and some of the earlier treatments are content to
accept this worthless data at face value.
The silence surrounding the conquest of Glamorgan is supplemented by the
inadequacy of the data concerning Robert Fitz-Hamon, the leading spirit of this
conquest. Poor scholarship has succeeded in obscuring secondary accounts of
Fitz-Hamon to the same degree that forgeries have confused the picture of his
great accomplishment in Wales. Although the lack of data makes it impossible to
construct a detailed picture of Fitz-Hamon and the conquest of Glamorgan, enough
material is available to trace the general outlines, and to correct some of the
many errors which have crept into treatments of the subject.
Robert Fitz-Hamon was a member of a powerful Norman family who traced its
lineage from a close relative of Rollo, the original duke of Normandy.
Since the tenth century this family had held the extensive lordships of
Thorigny, Creully, Mezy, and Evrecy in lower Normandy.40
Robert's exact genealogy is a matter of some doubt, but it seems clear
that he was a direct descendant of the Haimo Dentatus who was among the
nobles slain during the battle of Val-ès-Dun in 1047.41
It is difficult, however, to decide Whether he was the son or the
grandson, of this Haimo. William of Malmesbury states explicitly that
Haimo was Robert's grandfather.42 Acceptance of this source
leads to some difficulty, however, in that one is then forced to assign no
t one, but two sons to Haimo Dentatus. The first of these is Haimo
Vicecomes,mentioned in Domesday as a tenant-in-chief of lands in
Kent and Surrey.43 If Haimo Dentatus is the grandfather of
Robert, then Haimo Vicecomes would be his fa ther. This is quite all
right, except that a certain Robert Fitz-Hamon appears as witness on
certain charters which may be dated as early as 1049, and which are
certainly no later than 1066.44 These are too early for a
40This, and much of the other material in the following discussion is
based on T. F. Tout's article "Robert Fitz-Hamon" in The Dictionary of
National Biography, XIX, 159-162.
41Wace, Maistre Wace's Roman de Rou et des Ducs de Normandie, nach den Handschriften, ed. H. Andresen, 11.4037 ff., p. 192.
42William of Malmesbury, De Gestis regnum Anglorum, libri quinque, Historiae novellas, libri tres, ed. R.V. Stubbs, Part 1, p. 286.
43Domesday Book, fols.14 and 36b
44See G. T. Clark, The Land of Morgan: Being a Contribution towards the History of the Lordship of Glamorgan, p. 43, M. Pezet, Les Barons de Creully: Etudes Historiques, pp. 21-52; "Chartes normandes de l'abbaye de
Saint-Florent pres Saumur, de 710 a 1200," ed. P. Marchegay, Memoires de la Societe des Antiquaires de la Normandie, XXX ( 1880), 702.
96 The Normans in South Wales
Haimo Dentatus. Thus it would be necessary to assign him another son, one with
the name of Robert Fitz-Hamon, to whom the uncomfortably early charters might be
Some scholars have suggested that Robert was the son, not the grandson of Haimo
Dentatus.46 It is tempting to agree with this view, which would
eliminate the need of postulating a shadowy elder Robert Fitz-Hamon. Only the
single testimony of William of Malmesbury acts to discredit this suggestion.
Furthermore, if one assumes that he was indeed the son of Haimo Dentatus, and
was born five years before his father's death, for instance, in 1042, he would have
been twenty-four years old at the time of the Conquest, sixty-five at his death
in 1107, and of suitable age for all of the charters and the accomplishments
which are ascribed to his name.47
Whoever his immediate parent might have been, it is clear that he was not an
only son. William of Jumieges states that Robert was the brother of Haimo
Dapifer, a man whom Domesday notes as having been an extensive landholder in Essex.48 E. A. Freeman goes so far as to identify Haimo Dapifer as the elder brother, but this can hardly have been the case.49 In a listing of fees
held under the church of Bayeux, Robert is credited with ten fees in the honor of Evreux and with the hereditary post of standard bearer for the Blessed Mary of Evreux.50 Under the system of primogeniture, such family estates and honors norm
ally passed to the eldest son. Since Robert held them, and since no evidence exists to the contrary, Haimo Dapifer must have been his younger brother.51
45Tout, "Robert Fitz-Hamon."
46 Clark, The Land of Morgan, p. 19.
47 Fitz-Hamon probably married Sybil sometime about 1090. This would have made him forty-eight at the time of the marriage. His ability to father
four children by her (see Monasticon Anglicanum, II, 60) is not
unusual enough to present any obstacle.
48Historiae Normannorum Scriptores ..., ed. A. Duchesne, 306C; Domesday Book,fols. 54b, 100b, and 106.
49Freeman, The Reign of William Rufus, II, 82-83.
50Clark, The Land of Morgan, p. 20.
51 Pezet, Les Barons de Creully, p. 20. Pezet makes the same point and, interestingly enough, claims that Richard of Grenville is yet a third son of Haimo. Sources do mention a "Ricardus filius Haymonis as a Norman lord in 1096.
Pezet points out that Grenneville in La Manche was one of the family estates, and that Richard may have derived his name from this place. One must note, however, that Richard Grenville's foundation charter to Neath lists a
certain Robert Grenville, probably a brother, as a witness. This would add a
fourth son, a second Robert, and confuse matters entirely
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 97
Fitz-Hamon's early history is just as confused. It seems clear that he was not
present in the Norman expedition that conquered England, but even this is
disputed. When his biographer, Pezet, considered the evidence, he expressed some
surprise that none of the sons of Haimo Dentatus were listed on the Battle Abbey
Roll.52 To this must be added the fact that none of the chroniclers
of the Conquest mention Fitz-Hamon as having participated. After having
considered the dearth of positive evidence, Pezet was forced to suggest that
Robert must have joined the expedition since most of his immediate neighbors did
so. On the basis of this flimsy conjecture, Pezet firmly decided that Robert took
an active role in the Conquest of England.
Pezet would have been much happier had he read the Chronicle of Tewkesbury,
...in the year of our Lord 1066 William, duke of Normandy,
acquired England; he who led with him a young and noble man, Robert
Fitz-Hamon, lord of Astremerville in Normandy.53
One should not place too much credence in this source, however, for it would
have been only too easy for the monkish compiler to have attempted to glorify a
man who had greatly enriched the monastery, was regarded as its actual founder,
and lay buried in an honored position within its walls. In the second place, the
records of Tewkesbury appear to have been carelessly kept. In one case, William
I is made to confirm the grant of a Welsh church made by Fitz-Hamon. As will be
shown later, this seems quite unlikely, and the grant was probably confirmed by
William Rufus.54 Finally, the language of this particular entry is
suspect, and introduces the relationship between Fitz-Hamon and the Conqueror
much too abruptly to seem an integral part of the passage. The test provided by
Domesday is reasonably conclusive. If Fitz-Hamon had taken part in the
Conquest of England, we should expect to find his name entered in
Domesday as having shared in the spoils. His name does not appear,
however.55 This is a very important point, but it has been obscured by Sir Henry Ellis' presentation of
52Pezet, Les Barons de Creully, pp. 274-275.
53Monasticon Anglicanum, II, 60.
54Historia et Cartularium Monasterii Sancti Petri
Gloucestriae, I, 93.
55Pezet (Les Barons de Creully, pp. 275-276) states that Fitz-Hamon was listed in Domesday. He is mistaken on this point.
98 The Normans in South Wales
MS Cotton Vespasian B. XXIV, especially folios 53 and 55. These folios present
an account of those individuals and institutions holding burgages in the towns of
Gloucester and Winchelcombe. Ellis presented the list with the suggestion that it
may have been one of the original returns which formed the foundation for
Domesday.56 Robert Fitz-Hamon appears as a major holder in this listing, credited with twenty-two burgages in Gloucester and five in
Winchelcombe. Ellis attempted no explanation of why he appeared in this "preliminary compilation," but not in the finished product. The problem lies
in an erroneous dating of the document. Among the names which appear are those
of Earl Hugh and Bishop Sampson. The bishop was not consecrated until 1097, and
the earl died in 1101. The document dates within those limits and can have
nothing to do with the compilation of Domesday.57 The single objection to the Domesday test is, therefore, without value.
Pezet was unwilling to accept the obvious conclusion, and, amidst all the
rhetoric by which he sought to bolster his contention, he suggested that
Fitz-Hamon received a delayed reward for his services.58 It is true
that, as some time after Domesday, he did acquire the great expanses of
land which formed the honor of Gloucester, which had lain for some time in the
hands of Henry, the Conqueror's son.59 One account, that of the
anonymous scribe who continued Wace's narrative, states that he received these
lands from the Conqueror himself.60 The bulk of the evidence is to
the contrary, however. The Chronicle of Tewkesbury states that
William rufus, not his father, granted these lands to Robert "because of the
great labors the aforesaid Robert underwent with his father."61 Pezet
seized upon this passage as proof that Robert earned the honor of Gloucester by
56H. Ellis, A General Introduction to Domesday Book ..., II, 446. Unfortunately, Clark accepts this view; see Clark, The Land of Morgan, p. 20.
57See A. S. Ellis, "Some Account of the Landholders of
Gloucestershire Named in Domesday Book, A.D. 1086," unpublished, British Museum, number 10352.h.12, p. 5.
58 Pezet, Les Barons de Creully, p. 275. "... on peutêum;tre certain que sous l'une des armures de ces nobles hommes portant la gonfacon et la lance, de ces cottes de mailles, de ces longs et larges boucliers dont la tapiss
eries de Bayeux contient la representation battait le coeur du baron de
Creully ....Il ne fut point de recompenses dont il gratifia ses vaillants compagnons."
59 The transmission of these lands is considered in some detail by
Freeman, The Norman Conquest, IV, 761-764.
60Chroniques Anglo-Normandes ..., ed. F. Michel, I, 74.
61 Monasticon Anglicanum, II, 60.
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 99
activities during the Conquest.62 One wonders why, in that uncertain age, Robert would have been willing to wait twenty-one years for his share of the spoils.
It seems far more likely that Rufus rewarded Robert, not for services rendered
to his father twenty-one years before, but for services rendered to himself quite
recently. The revolution of 1088 had been quelled by the combined force of the
English fyrds and that small band of barons who remained loyal to the
king.63 Fitz-Hamon had been pre-eminent among this group of loyal
nobles. In view of this, it is not surprising to see the lush lands of the honor
of Gloucester placed in Robert's hands. They had proven difficult to defend
during the rebellion, and Rufus had been forced to abandon them while he pursued
the siege of Rochester. By placing Robert in Gloucester, he not only rewarded a
faithful follower, but also took steps to strengthen the defenses which barred
the routes to London to the powerful, faithless, and turbulent frontier
nobility.64 Thus it was the expediency of royal politics, rather than
the lure of the frontier or his accomplishments during the Conquest, which first
brought Fitz-Hamon to the Welsh border.
He soon cemented his position there by marrying Sybil, the daughter of Roger of
Montgomery and sister of Robert of Bellêum;me. After his marriage, a blanket
of silence descends upon his activities as earl of Gloucester. Pezet, in his
customary attempt to exalt the position and activities of the baron of Creully,
held that he joined Robert Curthose in the First Crusade.65 This
seems unlikely for a number of reasons. In the first place, Fitz-Hamon, a close
confidant and supporter of William Rufus, would not have joined forces with a
man who had a counterclaim to the throne. We should expect that Curthose
received no more support from Fitz-Hamon than he did from Rufus. Robert's supporters were not Fitz-Hamon's friends. Secondly,
62 Pezet, Les Barons de Creully, p. 278.
63 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Part I, pp. 356-358.
64 One need not believe, as does G. T. Clark (in The Land of Morgan), that the purpose of this grant was to provide Robert with a
strategic location for the invasion of Glamorgan. No indication can be found
that Glamorgan presented either a danger or an attraction for William Rufus. The
events of 1088, on the other hand, had shown clearly that the marcher lords did
present a danger. Only Wulfstan had stood between Rufus and the armies of the
65 Pezet, Les Barons de Creully, p. 283. Pezet's only authority for this remark seems to be the testimony of L. de Masseville,
Histoire Sommaire de Normandie, I, 248-249. De Masseville gives no indication of the sources from which he drew his list of the companions of
100 The Normans in South Wales
Fitz-Hamon had much at home to occupy his attention. Probably by now he
had occupied Glamorgan, and was engaged in the immense task of organizing
and developing his new acquisition. Moreover, a general Welsh insurrection
had broken out in 1094, and the Welsh of Brycheiniog, Gwynllwg, and upper
Gwent were in arms by 1096. It is unlikely that he would have left his
newly won domains surrounded by powerful enemies.66 A third
point is that no contemporary account of the crusade mentions Fitz-Hamon.
Fourthly, as Pezet himself points out, Curthose was still on his return
trip from the Holy Land when he received word of Rufus'
death.67 Robert, on the other hand, was in England, and in
Rufus' company, on the very day Rufus was to die.68 Finally,
Fitz-Hamon joined the forces of Henry in the confusion following the death
of William Rufus.69 If he had spent the previous four years
under the command of Curthose, it is difficult to explain his rapid
espousal of the duke's rival.70 It is clear that Robert
Fitz-Hamon did not join the First Crusade; the close of the eleventh
century found him ensconced on the marches of Wales, consolidating the
conquest of the Welsh kingdom of Morgannwg.
In the struggle between Henry and Robert Curthose, Fitz-Hamon took an
active part on behalf of the former. He engineered a truce between the
two; but it failed, and armed conflict broke out. He gathered followers
from his paternal estate in Normandy and attacked the nearby town of
Bayeux, held by Duke Robert's supporters. The attack failed, and
Fitz-Hamon himself was led captive into the town.71 This defeat
stung Henry into action, and he attacked Bayeux. He forced the liberation
of Fitz-Hamon and then devastated the town. Fitz-Hamon accompanied Henry
in his successful attack on Caen, and was active during the subsequent sie
ge of Falaise. In this
66Lloyd, A History of Wales, II, 406. Lloyd refers to Norman expeditions directed against the Welsh in 1096. If his inference is
correct that these forces came from Glamorgan, they may well have been led by
67Pezet, Les Barons de Creully, p. 284.
68William of Malmesbury, Part I, p. 333. This is not too telling a
point, however, since Robert was notoriously slow in relinquishing the delights
of his triumphal return. Fitz-Hamon could have decided to precede him. William
of Malmesbury does picture Fitz-Hamon as transmitting to Rufus the warning vision
of a monachus quidam transmarinus. However, this says only that the monk
was foreign, and not that he was in foreign parts when communicating this vision
69 William of Malmesbury, Part I, p. 394
70 Pezet, Les Barons de Creully, pp. 284-285. Pezet suggests a falling-out between Fitz-Hamon and the duke.
71 Wace, ll. 11,125 ff., pp. 469 ff.
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 101
last struggle, he suffered an injury which deprived him of his reason and
forced his withdrawal from active life.72 He was returned to
England, where he lingered for a time, before dying in March of 1107,
without male issue. His body was then interred at Tewkesbury, the abbey
which he had done so much to enrich and glori fy.73
Very little more is known of the life of Robert Fitz-Hamon. The striking
lack of information concerning him makes every account of his life more or
less unsatisfactory. Unless new information is found, the only aim of the
biographer can be to clear away the structure of error which contradictory
evidence and ill-founded conjecture have reared about the man. Much the
same is true of the story of Fitz-Hamon's great achievement: the conquest
of Glamorgan. We have already remarked on the dearth of data concerning
this event and mentioned the spurious accounts perpetrated by the Welsh
antiquarians. Although the falsity of this narrative has long been known,
many of the older works on the subject, otherwise quite respectable, have
been contaminated. For this reason, it is well for the student of the
subject to be acquainted with the details of this rather romantic tale.
According to this tradition, the conquest of Glamorgan occurred in the
following manner.74 Cydifor ap Gollwyn, a great chieftain of
Deheubarth, died in the year 1091, and his two sons, Eneon and Maredudd,
rebelled against the authority of the reigning king, Rhys ap Tewdwr. The
brothers allied themselves with Gruffydd ap Maredudd ab Owain, a claimant
to the throne of Deheubarth. The allies met Rhys at Llandudoch, and in the
ensuing battle were defeated, with Gruffydd being killed. So far, the
account of the antiquarians agrees quite well with contemporary narrative.
From this point on, however, the antiquarian tradition presents events for
which no contemporary source can be found.
According to this narrative, Eneon survived the battle, and fled to the
court of Jestyn ap Gwrgant, king of Morgannwg, who had also opened
hostilities against Rhys.75
75Eneon was well received at the court, perhaps due to the fact that
he had "served in England before."
72At Falaise, and not Tinchebrai as Clark states in The Land of Morgan, p. 43.
73 Monasticon Anglicanum, II, 60
74For the source of this tradition, see note 38 above
75 Jestyn was probably an actual person. Although no contemporary
evidence of his existence can be found, his name appears immediately after the
conquest as the patronymic of certain Welsh lords in Glamorgan.
102 The Normans in South Wales
and was well-knowen and acquainted with all the English nobilitie."76
He was given the promise of Jestyn's daughter in marriage and, in
exchange, offered to secure the services of a Norman army in Jestyn's
struggle against Rhys.77 He obtained the aid of Robert
Fitz-Hamon, twelve other knights, and a sizable force of Norman men-at
arms. The contingent sailed for Glamorgan and landed at Porthkerry early
in 1093. Jestyn and Fitz-Hamon made a concerted attack on Dyfed,
devastating the region. Rhys struck back, and met the allies in battle at
Bryn-y-Beddau, near the border of Brycheiniog. The allies were victorious,
and not only Rhys, but his two sons, Goronwy and Cynan, were killed. The
triumphant Jestyn paid the Normans their promised rewards; and
Fitz-Hamon's force returned to their ships. Jestyn was not so faithful to
the bargain he had struck with Eneon. Having been scorned, Eneon pursued
the departing Normans,
and when he came to the shoare, they were all ashipboard; then
he shouted to them, and made a signe with his cloake, and they turned
againe to know his meaninge.78
Eneon spoke with Fitz-Hamon, and urged him to attack the faithless Jestyn.
The Normans "were easilie persuaded, and so ungratefully turned all their
power against him, for whose defense they had come thither, and at whose
hands they had been well entertained, and recompensed with rich gifts and
great rewards. At first they spoiled him of his Countrie, who mistrusted
them not, and took all the fertile and valley ground to themselves and
left the barren and rough mountains to Eneon for his
The battle was fought at Mynedd Bychan, near Cardiff, where Jestyn himself
was killed. Eneon, henceforth surnamed fradwr, or traitor, received
the lordship of Senghenydd as his portion. The various accounts of the
conquest of Glamorgan then end with a listing of the twelve knights who
followed Fitz-Hamon.80These lists agree in recording the names
of Londres, Stradling, St. John, Turbeville, Grenville, Humffreville, St.
Quentin, Soore, Sully, Berkeroll, Syward, and Fleming.
76 Powel, The Historie of Cambria, p. 89.
77Ibid., p. 92. In Sir Edward Stradling's account, Eneon appears
simply as a follower of Jestyn- "a Gentleman of his."
78 Ibid., p. 89.
79 Ibid., p. 89.
80 That is, Powel's and Stradling's accounts so end.
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 103
These accounts can be directly verified
in only two respects: in their account of the death of Rhys ap Tewdwr, and
in the genealogies appended to the texts. In both instances contemporary
data cast doubts on the narrative. In the first place, these Elizabethan
versions ascribe the death of Rhys to the allied force of Jestyn and
FitzHamon. Genuine records which refer to this event make no mention of
such an allied army. To the contrary, they explicitly state that Rhys met
his death at the hands of the Normans of Brecknockshire. 81
In addition to this, the genealogies are
clearly in error. While some of the names are probably those of original
conquerors, the Stradlings, for instance, did not settle in Glamorgan
until considerably after the conquest of the region.82 The
completeness and romantic detail of the accounts found in Powel's
Historie create distrust by their very richness. The well-developed
narrative seems to be more a literary endeavor based perhaps on local
tradition than a sober history based upon now-inaccessible
evidence.83 The narratives found in the Historie,
however, were corroborated by data presented by more recent Welsh
antiquarians. In the Myvyrian Archaiology and the Iolo
Manuscripts, Edward Williams presented what he said were transcripts
which he had made during his distinguished career, from original
manuscripts. 84 They verified the earlier narrative in all
essential points. For this reason, many were more disposed to accept the
Elizabethan narrative than before. More recent scholarship, however, has
branded the "transcriber" of these "documents" as having been guilty of
numerous forgeries. 85 Thus, all accounts which have presented
this rather romantic account of the conquest of Glamorgan have proven to
be of the most dubious validity. Since almost nothing contained in the
Elizabethan narrative can be corroborated, it must be regarded as
conjecture, or at the most as representing a sixteenth-century popular
The genuine data is extremely limited
and appears to be rather untrustworthy. The evidence as to the time at
which the conquest was made can be briefly summarized as follows.
(1) The Annals of Margan states: ". . . and the city of Cardiff was
81 Lloyd, A History of Wales, 11,402, n. 9.
82 Clark, The Land of Morgan, p. 187; Freeman, The
Reign of William Rufus, II, 613.
83 Clark makes this same point: Clark, The Land of
Morgan, p. 18.
84 The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales, pp. 719-720 and
85 G. J. Williams, Iolo Morgannwg, a Chywyddau'r
104 The Normans in South Wales
built, under King William I."86 This would indicate that Norman
power was established in Glamorgan by 1081. This period, however, is prior
to the founding of Margam, and the account contained in the annals is
clearly a conflation, probably of a Winchester chronicle and some other
source. Since the Annals make no mention of William I's visit to South
Wales in this same year, it seems unlikely that the sources from which
they are drawn were well acquainted with affairs on the Welsh border at
this time. If this is true, the Margan annals may represent only a popular
tradition, or, at best, a transitory aspect of William's visit to
Wales.2 A somewhat more impressive piece of information may be
found in the Cartulary of St. Peter's of Gloucester. This cartulary
records a confirmation by William the Conqueror in the following words:
In the year of our Lord 1086, I, William, King of the English,
upon the petition of Serlo, abbot of Gloucester, and certain of my nobles,
concede to God and to the church of St. Peter in Gloucester possession of
[those] lands which archbishop Thomas held of the same church. To wit:
Lecche, Otidona, Standisse; and also the church of St. Cadoc, with the
lands which Robert Fitz-Hamon gave to the same
If the dating of the document is correct, this passage would indicate that
Robert Fitz-Hamon held Welsh lands under William I, and hence prior to
1087.88 Few scholars would be willing to assign such an early
date to the conquest of the kingdom of Morgannwg. The objections which
might be raised are many. In the first place, there is the silence of
Domesday on this point. This compilation minutely records the
composition of the small outpost the Normans had established on the banks
of the Usk. It is silent concerning any acquisitions further west. It is
difficult to believe that a permanent Norman settlement in Glamorgan would
completely have escaped the notice of these compilers. Secondly, it seems
unlikely that Fitz-Hamon could have undertaken such an extensive task as
86Annales de Margan, ed. H. R. Luard, p. 4. MS D
of the Brut y Tywysogion agrees, but its editor characterizes
it as very carelessly constructed, the facts in many instances perverted
and the language frequently obscure." see Brut y Tywysogion,
87Historia et Cartularium Monasterii Sancti Petri
Gloucestriae, I , 334, i.e., fol. 85 of the cartulary. Serlo was
abbot of the monastery from 1072 to 1104.
88see Freeman, The Reign of William Rufus, II, 84, n. 2. Freeman suspects that an erroneous date has been given by the cartulary.
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 105
gation of Morgannwg without possessing an equally extensive base of attack
from which to draw the manpower and revenues necessary to support the
operation. The conquests begun by other border lords illustrate that this
was the normal procedure. Bernard of Neufmarche possessed considerable
lands in Herefordshire from which he advanced into Brycheiniog, as did
Roger of Lacy. Roger of Montgomery, the conqueror of Deheubarth, was, of
course, earl of Shrewsbury. Even Braose's conquest of Buellt was based
upon his early grant of lands around Radnor.89 More instances
could be adduced, but it is clear that the conquerors of South Wales
generally launched their attacks from extensive landholdings near the
object of their attack.90 Fitz-Hamon did possess such holdings,
but he did not acquire them until after the death of William
I.91 If Fitz-Hamon undertook the conquest of Glamorgan before
He received his vast Gloucestershire holdings, his achievement was quite
unique in character and represented a radical departure from the general
mode of Norman operations in the region. The evidence concerning the
conquest of Morgannwg is thus not only scanty, but apparently
untrustworthy, and assigns a date to the conquest which is far too early.
Some scholars would place the conquest of Glamorgan after 1093 in order to
make it accord with the general Norman onslaught which followed the death
of Rhys ap ewdwr.92 This is not a necessary supposition,
however, since Morgannwg, like Brycheiniog, was a buffer kingdom. The
forces which acted to protect Rhys and Deh eubarth ended in 1093, it is
true, but the policy protecting the buffer kingdoms ended as early as
1088. Brycheiniog was invaded in that year, and there is no reason to
assume that the invasion of Morgannwg was much delayed. It is impossible
to draw any conclusions from the scanty and fragmentary evidence which has
survived. It can only be stated that at sometime, very probably after the
accession of William Rufus, Normans under Robert Fitz-Hamon occupied the
lowland region of Glamorgan. Various features of this occupation strongly
suggest that the attack was launched across the Bristol Channel, rather
89Chartes Normandes de l'abbaye de Saint-Florent pres Saumur, de 710 a 1200, p. 14, n. 2.
90Freeman, The Reign of William Rufus, II, 73-74.
91See the discussion of this point earlier in this chapter.
92 Lloyd, A History of Wages, II, 398-399; Clark,
The Land of Morgan, pp.18-19
106 The Normans in South Wales
The most natural invasion route for the Normans to have followed consisted
of the Roman road leading from Caerleon to Cardiff and then through the
vale of Glamorgan along the line now followed by the A48 highway. If this
were the route used, we should expect the conqueror of Glamorgan to be
also the lord of Gwent. He was not, but was, rather, the lord of lands
lying directly across the Bristol Channel from the region invaded. It is
clear that, although the Via Juliana had acted as the axis of early Norman
penetration into Wales, this route was abandoned by Fitz-Hamon and his
colleagues. Glamorgan was invaded from Gloucestershire, Gower from
Somersetshire, Carmarthenshire from Devonshire, and Pembrokeshire from the
north. The cause of this new departure can easily be seen in the
topography of Glamorgan. On the eastern and western borders of the
country, tongues of highland project southwards from the upland mass of
central Wales, and extend to within a short distance from the sea. In
these two places, Avon in the west and Senghenydd in the east, the Roman
road runs at the very foot of the mountains. At these two points the
overland route of South Wales clearly lay under a constant threat of Welsh
attack. The efficiency of the road seems not to have been worth the
expenditure which would have been necessary to fortify these points
adequately. As a matter of fact, Fitz-Hamon not only neglected to fortify
these places at all, but actually left the highland regions in the hands
of native Welsh chieftains, and made no effort to extend any direct Norman
authority there. Even now these two upland areas are among the least
anglicized of the county of Glamorganshire. He could have afforded such a
negligent policy only if the Via Juliana held no strategic value for him.
Furthermore, the road could have been without strategic value only if
Fitz-Hamon were assured of secure sea communications with less threatened
Norman-held lands, most probably those which he held in
The conquest of Glamorgan by sea in itself represents a radical innovation
in Norman methods of invasion. It seems to have been a rather dangerous
policy in view of the continuing strength of the sea raiders who had long
dominated the region of the Irish Sea. Numerous indications exist that the
threat of attack by such raiders influence the policies of the Norman
conquerors. When Gower was occupied, for instance, two castles would have
been quite sufficient to defend the peninsula from attack by the mainland
Welsh. Far more than two castles were constructed, however, and most of
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 107
located in positions of no value except as defense from sea-borne
attack.93 Fitz-Hamon appears to have ignored this danger when
embarking on the conquest of Glamorgan, and after the occupation of the region,
took no extraordinary steps to construct defenses on the seacoast. Two factors
possibly influenced his thinking in this matter. In the first place, the coast
of Glamorgan was vulnerable to sea raiders at too many points to make effective
fortifications feasible. While such raids could have been irritating, the
raiders could have threatened Fitz-Hamon seriously only if they possessed a
mainland base. The Normans could reasonably expect to be able to control any base
which such raiders might attempt to establish. Secondly, in all probability there
existed a relatively large Scandinavian agricultural and trading community in
the vale of Glamorgan.94 It seems likely that Fitz-Hamon expected
amicable relations with the countrymen of his new tenants.
The sources are silent concerning the Scandinavian settlement which may have
aided him in his conquest of the region. In any event it is clear that the
existence of this colony influenced the disposition which Fitz-Hamon made of the
newly won area. The area of Scandinavian settlement, which corresponded roughly
to the vale of Glamorgan proper, became the core of his lordship, and was
retained under his direct control as the body of the shire.95 This
region, comprising the only lands of any appreciable agricultural worth in the
county, was apparently devoid of Welsh, and Celtic place-names are nonexistent
in the area. The northern frontier of this region was formed by the old Roman
road, and Fitz-Hamon took care to retain personal control of Cardiff, Cowbridge,
and Kenfig, all centers lying along this northern border and linked by the Via
Juliana. At Cardiff and Kenfig he maintained fortresses which not only protected
the northern borders of the body of the shire, but were also able to act as
93 D. T. Williams, "Gower: A Study in Linguistic Movements and
Historical Geography," Archaeologia Cambrensis, LXXXIX (1934), 312.
94See B. G. Charles, Old Norse Relations with Wales. The possibility and extent of Norse settlement in Wales have been much inflated. Charles rejects these claims in every area except Glamorgan, where the evidence indicates that a
permanent agricultural settlement was made.
95 Place-name studies have roughly defined the area of Scandinavian
settlement. See D. R. Paterson, "The Scandinavian Settlement of Cardiff,"
Archaeologia Cambrensis, Series VII, Vol. LXXVI ( 1921), pp. 53-83, "Scandinavian Influences in the Place-Names and Early Personal Names of
Glamorgan," Archaeologia Cambrensis, Series VI, Vol. XX (1920 ), pp. 31-89.
108 The Normans in South Wales
ports for a coastal fleet" Fitz-Hamon thus retained direct control of the most
fertile areas of the old kingdom of Morgannwg, together with a relatively large
settlement of non-Welsh people from which he could draw manpower in case of
need. The care which was taken to organize and defend this area makes it clear
that the vale of Glamorgan and its Scandinavian settlement was regarded by
Fitz-Hamon as forming the core of his holdings and providing the firmest base
for his power.
To a greater or lesser extent, Welshmen and Celtic influences were present
throughout Glamorgan outside of the vale proper. The general rule seems to have
been that Welsh population and culture was concentrated in the uplands, while
the river valleys were largely devoid of such influences. This entire region was
organized into member lordships, perhaps corresponding to earlier Welsh commotes
each of which was accorded special treatment based upon particular local
conditions. From the Norman point of view, the most valuable lands were those in
which Celtic influences were least, both because this allowed the importation of
a more subservient population and because such lands were of a higher
agricultural potential than those favored by the Welsh. With these
considerations in mind, we need not be surprised to see that the lordships of
Meisgyn and Glyn Rhondda, comprised of the valleys of the Taff and Rhondda
respectively, were kept under the direct control of the earl himself. To
these two must be added the somewhat mountainous, but strategic district
known as Tir yr Iarll (Earl's Land), lying between the Avon and Ogmore rivers.
Four districts, Coety, Llanblethian, Neath, and Talavan were placed in the hands
of Fitz-Hamon's vassals. Each of these constituted a separate member lordship,
but their organization was somewhat similar. Norman power in each was
concentrated in the fertile and arable lowland area. The mountainous portion of
the district, however, constituted a "welshery," in which Welsh laws and
customs were allowed to continue with a minimum of Norman interference. The
Norman lords apparently endeavored to maintain a dual position with respect to
the Welsh and non-Welsh tenants, for in Neath and Coety, at least, there is some
indication that the ruling families of Grenville and Turbeville married Welsh
96 At least these places were able to provide ports. There is no
evidence that any such fleet existed.
97For the family of Turbeville see G. T. Clark, "Coyty Castle and
Lordship, Archaeologia Cambrensia, Series IV, Vol. VIII (1877), pp. 121;
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 109
Finally, three mountainous districts were allowed to remain under the direct
control of Welsh chieftains. One of these, Senghenydd, was granted to Eneon, the
"Eneon Fradwr" of the Elizabethan narrative. Welsh life and customs remained
undisturbed in this region for many years. The Welsh lords of the region were
little affected by Normanization, and maintained a fierce independence for many
To the west the situation was quite different. The lordships of Ruthyn and Avon
were granted to two sons of Jestyn ap Gwrgant. These Welsh lords of Avon
especially showed the effects of Normanization. Under Caradog ap Jestyn (Ca.
1078 Avon was transformed into a Norman lordship. A castle was constructed on
the bank of the Avon River, and a Welsh borough established at Aberafon.
Intermarriage brought the ruling family closer to conformity with the
ideals of Anglo-Norman aristocracy. The lords of Avon thus became benefactors of
Margam and Neath, dropped the Welsh system of patronymics, and adopted the
family name of Avene. By the fourteenth century, Avon was, to all intents and
purposes, an English district, and its lords members of the English
The processes by which Glamorgan was conquered are obscure, but the general
outlines of its settlement are clear. The governing philosophy of the conquerors
is evident in the details of the post-conquest political organization of the
region: to reduce friction and reach an early modus vivendi through
decentralization and recognition of the local problems of each of the separate
districts which comprised the lordship. There appears to have been no single
rule which governed the organization and administration of Glamorgan. This
is, in itself, most significant.
Brecknock and Glamorgan were only two of a number of Norman lordships
established in Wales in the closing years of the eleventh century. In the course
of time, the Normans succeeded in extending at least nominal authority
throughout all South Wales, and organizing the region into the distinctive
political entities which we know as the marcher lordships. Cemais, Pembroke,
Kidwelly, Laugharne, Gower, and others, not to mention such inland districts as
-ial Particulars of the County of Glamorgan," Archaeologia Cambrensis,
Series IV, Vol. VIII (1877), pp. 249; Vol. IX (1878), pp. 121 and 114-134.
For the Grenvilles, see J. H. Round, Family Origins and Other Studies...,
98For the lords of Avon, see G. T. Clark, "The Lords of Avan, oF
the Blood of Jestyn," Archaeologla Cambrensis, Series III, VoL XIII
(1867), pp. 1-44; "The Manorial Particulars of the County of Glamorgan."
110 The Normans in South Wales
Elfael, are all worthy of study. The character of each of these lordships was
unique, representing, as it did, a particular response to unique local
conditions and problems. The differences between the marcher lordships were
sometimes striking. Cemais, situated on the very edge of the border, faced
constant danger of being swamped by the overwhelming numbers of native Welsh who surrounded the lordship on all sides. Lacking a firm agricultural base to attract
immigration, Cemais gradually absorbed Celtic influences and population, until it
became decidedly pro-Welsh in outlook. In return, Cemais became an area of
acculturation, through which Norman influences percolated into Welsh
Wales.99 Only a few miles to the south, the lordship of Pembroke
presented a strikingly different aspect. This lordship consisted of a relatively
extensive and fertile plain, the limits of which were sharply defined. The
Norman conquerors of the region imported English and Flemish settlers into this
fertile area to defend it against all Welsh encroachments. Welsh-English
relations along the borders of Pembroke were marked by the most unrelenting
hostility and uncompromising distrust. As a result, Pembroke took little part in
the development of distinctive Cambro-Norman institutions, and was content to
remain an imperiled outpost of almost purely English society-a "Little England
The Norman response to the frontier in South Wales was marked by variety. Each
lordship was, in large measure, independent, and each strove to establish the
modus vivendi best suited to the particular local circumstances. Glamorgan
represents a miniature example of the processes of conquest and settlement in
South Wales as a whole. There were, however, characteristics common to Norman
frontier experience throughout Wales. For this reason, the marcher lordships,
although exhibiting extreme variety in many aspects of their development, show
great similarity in others.
In the first place, there was a certain newness and freedom surrounding the
establishment of these lordships. In Wales, the conquerors were able to construct
new societies, and, in the absence of a restrictive central authority, were able
to model their new states after
99For Cemais, see E. Laws, The History of Little England beyond Wales and the Non-Kymric Colony Settled in Pembrokeshire, and G. Owen, Prooffes Out of Auntient Recordes, Writings and Other Matters That the Lordship of Kemes
is a Lordshippe Marcher, Baronia de Kemeys, from the Original Documents at Bronwydd
100For Pembroke, see footnote 99 above.
The Establishment of the Marcher Lordships 111
their hearts' desires. Throughout the conquered regions, the barons sought to
institutionalize and formalize their independence of a regulation which royal
authority had been unable to enforce on the turbulent border.
Secondly, the marcher lords faced the necessity of establishing and maintaining
peace within their holdings. To do this, they attempted to avoid unnecessary
disturbance. Finding that Welsh population tended to concentrate in upland
regions of little or no agricultural potential, the marcher lords expended no
effort in dispossessing the natives of these lands. They found that immigrants
tended to prefer agricultural land and the Welsh preferred pastoral land. They
attempted to maintain this division and to rule each people in accordance with
that people's custom. Intercultural contacts were kept at a minimum in the
interests of peace.
Lastly, there was the necessity of defending these small lordships against the
attacks of the turbulent and still-unconquered Welsh. The task of conquest had
been slight compared to the problems of defense. The problems grew greater as
time passed. Faced with a common enemy, the Welsh people responded by developing a degree of common identity and a cultural vigor which made them an ever more formidable adversary.