Page images
PDF
EPUB

WALES AND THE SAXONS

253

as

SO.

other. Other subdivisions asserted themselves opportunity offered, so that the above rough division into provinces must not be regarded as always accurate. A Wales thus divided, and perpetually rent by internal conflicts, invited the aggression of the Saxons, and it is probable that the complete subjugation of Britain would have been accomplished by the descendants of Alfred, if it had not been for the Danish invasions. The position of the Welsh kings after the time of Athelstan seems to have been that of tributaries, who threw off their allegiance whenever it was possible to do

But still the Anglo-Saxon frontier continued to advance. Professor Lloyd has shown, from a careful examination of Domesday Book, that even before the Norman Conquest the English held the greater part of what is now Flintshire and East Denbighshire, and were advancing into the vale of Montgomery and the Radnor district. The victories of Griffith ap Llywelyn, an able prince who succeeded in bringing all Wales under his sway, devastated these English colonies ; but his defeat by Earl Harold in 1063 restored the English ascendancy over these regions. The unimpeachable evidence of Domesday Book shows that a considerable district in North Wales and a portion of Radnor were held respectively by Earl Edwin and Earl Harold before the Norman Conquest. Moreover, the fact mentioned by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 1065, that Harold was building a hunting-seat for King Edward at Portskewet, after he had subdued it, suggests that the land between Wye and Usk, which Domesday Book reckons under Gloucestershire, was a conquest of Harold's.

1 It is doubtful whether Deheubarth ever included the small independent states of Gwent, Brecknock, and Glamorgan.

3 “Wales and the Coming of the Normans,” Cymmrodorion Trans., 1899 3 There is an earthwork near Portskewet, a semicircular cliff camp with

a

The Norman Conqueror was not the man to slacken his hold on any territory which had been won by the Saxons. But there is no succinct history of his conquests in Wales; we have to make it out, in most cases, from notices that are scarcely more than allusive, and from the surer, though scanty, ground of documents. It is noteworthy that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is so hostile to the Norman kings that it discounts their successes in Wales. Thus we have only the briefest notice of William I.'s invasion of South Wales, which was very probably the beginning of the conquest of that region; and several expeditions of William II. are spoken of as entirely futile, though as we are told that the existing castles were still held by the Normans, or new ones were built, it is clear that this summing-up is not strictly correct. Our Welsh authorities, the Annales Cambriæ and the Brut y Tywysogion, seem to give a fairly candid account of the period, although the dates in the Brut are for the most part wrong (sometimes by three years), and they hardly ever give us a view of the situation as a whole. They tell us when the Welsh rushed down and burnt the castles built by the Normans

2

three ramparts and two ditches. It is scarcely likely that this can be Harold's work, as Roman bricks are said to have been found there. Willet's Monmouthshire, p. 244. Athelstan had made the Wye the frontier of Wales. Malmesbury, ii., 134.

1 See A.-S. C., anno 1097, and compare the entry for 1096 with the account in the Brut for 1093, which shows that the Norman castles had been restored, after being for the most part demolished by the Welsh.

3 The Brut y Tywysogion, or Story of the Princes, exists in no MS. older than the 14th century. It and the Annales Cambria have been disgracefully edited for the Rolls Series, and the topographical student will find no help from these editions. See Mr Phillimore's criticism of them, in Y Cymmrodor, vol. xi. The Aberpergwm MS. of the Brut, known also as the Gwentian Chronicle, has been printed in the Archeologia Cambrensis for 1864 ; it contains a great deal of additional information, but as Mr Phillimore observes, so much of it is forgery that none of it can be trusted when unsupported.

11

WALES AND THE NORMANS

255

in the conquered districts, but do not always tell when the Norman recovered and rebuilt them.

Fortunately we are not called upon here to trace the history of the cruel and barbarous warfare between Normans and Welsh. No one can turn that bloodstained page without wishing that the final conquest had come two hundred years earlier, to put an end to the tragedy of suffering which must have been so largely the portion of the dwellers in Wales and the Marches after the coming of the Normans. Our business with both Welsh and Normans is purely archæological. We hold no brief for the Normans, nor does it matter to us whether they kept their hold on Wales or were driven out by the Welsh ; our concern is with facts, and the solid facts with which we have to deal are the castles whose remains still exist in Wales, and whose significance we have to interpret.

Wales was under his sway, and he built castles therein,” says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in summing up the reign of the Conqueror; a passage which is scarcely consistent with its previous almost complete silence about events in Wales. There can be little doubt that William aimed at a complete conquest of Wales, and that the policy he adopted was the creation of great earldoms along the Welsh border, endowed with special privileges, one of which was the right of

conquering whatever they could from the Welsh. To these earldoms he appointed some of his strongest men, men

1 The barbarity on both sides was frightful, but in the case of the Welsh, it was often their own countrymen, and even near relations, who were the victims. And so little patriotism existed then in Wales that the Normans could always find allies amongst some of the Welsh chieftains. Patriotism, however, is a virtue of more recent growth than the 11th century.

2

a

2 There is, however, no contemporary evidence for the existence of the Marcher lordships before the end of the 12th century. See Duckett “On the Marches of Wales,” Arch. Camb., 1881.

9

little troubled by scruples of justice or mercy, but capable leaders in war or diplomacy. It was an essential part of the plan that every conquest should be secured by the building of castles, just as had been done in England. And we have now to trace very briefly the outline of Norman conquest in Wales by the castles which they have left behind them.

We shall confine ourselves to those castles which are mentioned in the Brut y Tywysogion, the Pipe Rolls, or other trustworthy documents between 1066 and 1216, the end of King John's reign. Of many of these castles only the earthworks remain; of many others the original plan, exactly similar to that of the early castles of Normandy and France, is still to be traced, though masked by the masonry of a later age. Grose remarked but could not explain the fact that we continually read of the castles of the Marches being burnt and utterly destroyed, and a few months later we find them again standing and in working order. This can only, but easily, be explained when we understand that they were wooden castles built on mottes, quickly restored after a complete destruction of the wooden buildings.

North Wales appears to have been the earliest conquest of the Normans, though not the most lasting. North Wales comprised the Welsh kingdoms of Gwynedd and Powys. Gwynedd covered the present shires of Anglesea, Carnarvon, and Merioneth, and the mountainous districts round Snowdon. Powys stretched from the estuary of the Dee to the upper course of the Wye, and roughly included Flint, Denbigh, Montgomery, and Radnor shires. Hugh of Avranches, Earl of Chester, was the great instrument of Norman

1 The districts of Cyfeiliog and Arwystli, in the centre of Wales, were also reckoned in Gwynedd.

NORMAN ADVANCE IN NORTH WALES

257

conquest in Gwynedd, and in the northern part of Powys, which lay so near his own dominions.

He was evidently a man in whose ability William had great confidence, as he removed him from Tutbury to the more difficult and dangerous position of Chester, and gave his earldom palatine privileges; all the land in Cheshire was held under the earl, and he was a sort of little king in his county.

Hugh appears to have at once commenced the conquest of North Wales. As Professor Lloyd remarks, Domesday Book shows us Deganwy as the most advanced Norman post on the North Welsh coast, while on the Bristol Channel they had got no further than Caerleon. In advancing to the valley of the Clwyd and building a castle at Rhuddlan, the Normans were only securing the district which had already been conquered by Harold in 1063, when he burnt the hall of King Griffith at Rhuddlan. Nearly the whole of Flintshire (its manors are enumerated by Domesday Book under Cheshire) was held by Earl Hugh in 1986, so that he commanded the entire road from Chester to Rhuddlan. His powerful vassal, Robert of Rhuddlan, who became the terror of North Wales, besides the lands which he held of Earl Hugh, held also directly of the King Rhos and Rhufeniog, districts which roughly correspond to the modern shire of Denbigh, and “Nort Wales” which Professor Lloyd takes to mean the remainder of the principality of Gwynedd, from which the rightful ruler, Griffith ap Cynan, had been driven as an exile to Ireland.

It does not appear that there was any fortification at RHUDDLAN? before the “castle newly erected” by

2

1 “Wales and the Coming of the Normans," Cymmrodorion Trans., 1899. ? In the descriptions of castles in this chapter, those which have not

R

« PreviousContinue »