Monday, May 25, 2009

The Massacre of Abergavenny Castle-William de Braose and the Darkest Hours Murder and Mayhem

I am indebted for much of the post connected with Abergavenny Castle for the scholarship of Frank Olding, who has written an excellent history 'Abergavenny Castle-A History'published and sold at Abergavenny Museum (housed in the keep of the Castle. This is a far more detailed account than given here. I had tied Geoffrey of Monmouths account of the Welsh 'Revenge'. The account of William de Braose's life and dealings with King John and the murder of Arthur of Britanny, true heir to Richard I I researched from the internet sources and the peerage history.


I have already explained, in earlier posts that Gwent/Monmouthshire was obtained by the Normans, from Saxons who had newly run over the land. William the Conqueror wished to concentrate on all his problems in the North of England and promised some of his most powerful barons they could build castles on the border and keep any lands they contained. Because the local Welsh Lords squabbled among themselves, gradually by allying themselves to fight against one and then the other, they were able, gradually to take the Monmouthshire lands. The overall Lord was Hamelin de Ballon who died 1103 and was born in Ballon, Maine France. His wife was Agnes de Ballon. Hamelin received thelands of Over Monnow from William Rufus (1087-1100) and was granted the Castle at Bergavenny, and was named Lord of Overmonnow.Hamelin first gave the money for the building of the Bourg. The only remains of this early castle are the motte (on which the Keep-Museum is standing)and a length of Norman bank under the East Tower. The first castle seems to have been made of wood-a typical Motte and Bailey with wood palisade and a flying bridge to the North.

William de Braose

Eventually the land came into the hands of the Braose family. William was a great favourite of King John and was also Lord of his Main seat at Bramber (1144-9th August 1211) Lord of Gower, Abergavenny, Brecknock, Builth, Radnor, Kington, Limerick, Glamorgan,Skenfrith, Briouze in Normandy, Grosmont, and White Castle Gwyn, and so owned all three Norman Castles in the area.William was very powerful.
He married Bertha de Pitres, the daughter of Miles Fitzwalter Earl of Hereford, then Maud de St Valery.

His Rise to power

In spite of his later misdeeds, Williams early life was spent making a name for imself. Being a third son he had to make his way in the world. 1192, he was made Sheriff of Hereford, a post he held until 1199 and 1196 was made Justice Itinerant for Staffordshire.

King Richard the Lionheart of England
William accompanied Richard to Chalus in 1199 and the King was mortally wounded there.

King John

He then supported King John's claim to the throne of England, supported the new king in making various royal grants and was in attendance with John in Normandy at the time of Arthur of Brittany's death in 1203. Arthur was John's nephew and was seen by many as the rightful heir to the English throne. He was the son of Geoffrey,his uncle who was the son of Henry II. Richard, believing John would be an unwise and incompetent king, had designated Arthur as his successor. In 1203, for some reason, Arthur was put in charge of William. William had personally captured Arthur in 1202 at the Battle of Mirabeau. Arthur was caused to disappear and to die and so the ob stacle to John’s Coronation was removed, although no concrete evidence ever came to light. There is somewhat better evidence that he at least knew the truth of the matter, which made it important for John to reward him well.

William was ruthless. He became fed up with the constant onslaughts of the Welsh under Seisyll am Dyfnwal-(s-eye-slith am Duvun-wath-approx ) The Chronicle of the Princes records the deed. Pretending to want to make peace, William invited Seisyll and his men to the castle and prepared a sumptuous meal before the parley. At the height of the meal, a signal was given during scene of joy and merrymaking , the Normans fell upon the Welsh and killed every one.There was no escape. This burned in the Welsh people as the worst betrayal ever. Worse was that the French made for Seisyll’s court and seized his wife Gwladys and slew his son, too young to fight.The Welsh chronicle continues ‘from that time forward , after that treachery, none dared place trust in the French.’

The Aftermath of the Massacre

Gerald of Wales describes the aftermath, while travelling through Abergavenny trying to raise men to take the Cross in 1188 with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
dow Burning with revenge, they concealed themselves in the overgrown ditches of Abergavenny Castle, which they had occupied while the Castellan was away. The previous day, a man called Seisyll the son of Eudas, had said to the constable as if warning him, but apparantly more for a joke and and a laugh than seriously :’This is where we shall climb tonight’. As he spoke, he pointed to the corners of the wall, where it seemed to be lower than elsewhere.

The Constable and his household stayed on guard all night, refusing to take off their armour and remaining on the alert until first light. In the end, tired out by their vigil and feeling safe now that day had dawned,they all retired to bed. Thereupon their enemies dragged the scaling ladders, which they had prepared to the precise corner of the walls which Seisyllt had pointed out.The Constable and his wife were captured and so were most of the men. A few escaped, finding refuge in the Keep. The Welsh occupied the castle and burnt the whole place down
.(Welsh Chronicle of the Princes)

The possibility was that even then in 1182, the keep was a stone building with a thick oak door.


The priory on both occasions had to officiate over the burial of many persons, and we cannot quite imagine what it must have been like to have been holy priests overseeing such a thing. Likelihood was that there was a mass grave somewhere close. We can only imagine what the private thoughts of those monks and the Prior they buried the corpses, intoning the De Profundis of the Funeral Service. The Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) had come and gone for them, and how fervently did the monks pray for the repose of the souls. William de Braose’s reputation for removing obstacles by violence and murder was vindicated, especially in the murder of a young innocent son.

End of de Braose and the Castle

Finally de Braose’s ambition and violence made him a problem for King John. Perhaps William, swollen with power and ambition tried to blackmail King John for more lands and money, and John considered that he was a threat. But soon after this William de Braose fell out of favour with King John of England. King John publicly cited overdue monies that de Braose owed the Crown from his estates. But the King's actions went far beyond what would be necessary to recover the debt. He distrained de Braose's English estates in Sussex and Devon and sent a force to invade Wales to seize the de Braose domains there. Beyond that, he sought de Braose's wife Maud who, the story goes, had made no secret of her belief that King John had murdered Arthur of Brittany. Gerald of Wales describes Maud de St. Valery, as a 'prudent and chaste woman' who bore her husband three sons William, Giles and Reginald de Braose.
De Braose fled to Ireland, then returned to Wales as King John had him hunted in Ireland. In Wales, William then allied himself to the Welsh Prince Llywelyn the Great and helped him in rebellion against King John!

Death and Disgrace for a Murderer-and the Murder of Maud and William

In 1210, William de Braose fled Wales in disguise as a beggar, to France. His wife and eldest son were captured, and he died the following year in August 1211 at Corbeil, France. He is buried in the Abbey of St. Victor in Paris by a fellow exile and vociferous opponent of John of England, Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury. His hopes to return alive to Wales and a burial in Brecon were to be unfulfilled. William's wife, Maud, and eldest son, William, once captured were murdered by King John, possibly starved to death incarcerated in Windsor Castle and Corfe Castle in 1210.

The Castle and Llewellyn ap Gruffydd

In 1215 Reginald de Braose joined Llewellyn in the struggles against King John and re captured the castle from royal troops. In 1233 the castle was comletely destroyed in a battle between Henry III and the Earl of Pembroke. Reginald and Owen ap Gruffydd gathered a huge army and attacked Monmouth and burnt it and made a big slaughter of the king’s men defending it.They went on to destroy Cardiff, Abergavenny,Pencelli, Blaenllyfri, Bwlchdinas and razed them all to the ground except Cardiff.


The Royal Court of Edward I comes to Abergavenny

1295-1319 Castle was in the possession of Edward I, who was anxious to subdue Wales once and for all. The castle was rebuilt in stone and most of the houses.1291 Edward called a grand meeting to hear a dispute between the powerful de Clare family and Humphrey de Bohun of Herefore and a great council of clergy and barons met at Abergavenny Castle. The whole royal court were at Abergavenny for three weeks.

Hastings Family

The Hastings familyJohn (1292) and his son, also John were the local lords responsible and got grants of money from the crown. This younger brother of John was Stephen and took the cross, becoming a Templar at Garway or Kemys Commander and later in Kent. Both brothers were devout. John was responsible for the reform and renovation of St Mary’s Priory in 1320. His recently restored tomb stands in the North transept and also a wooden effigy.

Owain Glyn Dwr

1401 was the last attack by Owain Glyn-dwr. May 12 1401, the villeins of Abergavenny rose against their lord, William Beauchamp.They released 3 criminals convicted to hang and killed the Sheriff of Herefordshire.1403, William said he was ruined by the revolt and claimed his soldiers could not travel beween Hereford and Abergavenny without being killed The town was beseiged in 1404 and Henry IV being a kinsman of William had him rescued. It did not fall.1486-1489 it was inherited by Jaspar Tudor , and then settled on Henry, Duke of York (The Future Henry VII) This may be one reason why the monuments of the chapel were not destroyed by Henry VIII –as they were his ancestors.

Civil War

The Castle was finally destroyed in the Civil War, when it obviously held out for the King Charles I under Colonel Herbert Price royalist governor of Hereford. It was then taken by the Roundhead governor of Gloucester for operations against Raglan and the Worcesters. Lord Herbert led a force from Raglan to try to take it back, but it failed. August 1646, Raglan surrendered and that was the end both of Royalist cause in Monmouthshire and protection for local Catholic priests by the powerful lords.
Much of the information here was thanks to the leaflet available at Aberganny Castle by eminent historian, Frank Olding.

1 comment:

Essayel said...

It's always nice to see one of one drawings used as illustration!