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Years 1100 to 1350 - The Welsh & The Normans

From the early 11th Century until the early 13th century, Swansea and Gower suffered on-going serious raids and counter raids, as the Anglo Normans tried to settle the land and the Welsh of North Gower and Carmarthenshire tried to stop them.  Whether the forces used a bridge or ford at Llandeilo Talybont, forded the river at Loughor or sailed across is unknown, however it does put “Gwlad Nini” at the centre of the continual uprisings for the best part of 2 centuries.



In 1093 the Anglo-Normans attacked Gower, Ystrad Tywi and Cydweli  and claimed victory by 1095. Gower was conquered by Henry Beaumont [Henry de Newburgh].  He erected a keep or castle at Swansea commanding the ford over the River Tawe.



Picture left is Swansea Castle  dating to the late thirteenth century.  It stands on a clifftop, below which the river Tawe originally flowed, and its position was strategic: it commanded the lowest crossing of the river, the main east-west route in south Wales, and a good harbour. What is visible now is only a small part of the latest castle on the site, which in its heyday in the late 13th century stretched from Welcome Lane in the north to Caer Street in the south, and from the clifftop in the east, almost to Princess Way in the West. The later distinctive arcaded parapet is reminiscent of the episcopal palaces at Lamphey and St Davids.



Henry I made   Henry de Newburgh, Earl of Warwick  (also known as Henry de Beaumont) Lord of Gower around 1107.   De Newburgh made Henry de Villiers his warden over Loughor Castle and the surrounding land. The Norman's main interests were in South Gower and the left the North to the native Welsh, which became known as the Welshery of Gower.  The exception was Loughor, which they held in order to protect the crossing of the Afon Llwchwr or River Loughor.



The remains of the stone Loughor Castle built on the old Roman Fort. Left



However, the Welsh continued to rebel, they attacked and burned Swansea Castle in 1116 so the Normans had to strengthen their defences by building stone castles in Gower. After a number of attacks, the Normans rebuilt Loughor Castle in stone.


The Normans not only conquored and took the lands of local people, they replaced the "Celtic Church"  by introducing  European orders of monks, they granted them land and they built impressive abbeys such as Neath. 

Neath was built on land  granted in 1129 by Richard de Granville. He gave 8000 acres at Neath to the Abbey of Savigny, Normandy for the establishment of Neath Abbey.  Building began in 1130.  


  When it was first built many rich and influential people, who hoped to buy themselves a place in Heaven, gave the Abbey gifts of land. The Abbey acquired land in Neath and as far afield as the banks of the Loughor in “Gwlad Nini”.   Land was important to the Abbey, where the monks could grow food on the land or use it to produce goods which they sold to earn money. (See Llandeilo Talybont, Cwrt Y Carnau and Neath Abbey)


In Gower, lands were also given to the Knights of the Order of St John,

or the Hospitallers, known officially as “Knights of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem,” was founded at Jerusalem during the first Crusade.

Henry de Newburgh, probably granted Loughor “borough status”. There is a record of the granting of one burgage to the order of St. John of Jerusalem about 1165 A.D.

The order owned the church and possibly the house known as ‘The Sanctuary’ which is close by.


The present town, though of very small extent and mostly of rather mean appearance, contains a few genteel residences, of which one, called the Sanctuary, is supposed to have been anciently part of the manor of Millwood, or St. John, near Swansea, and the property of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem.” Samuel Lewis 1833 (36)


The commandery of the knights St. John of Jerusalem, according to Bishop Tanner, was established here (in Slebech, Pembrokeshire) prior to the year 1301 .(36)


Gruffudd ap Rhys as Tewdur, Rhys ap Tewdur’s son and Hwyel Dda’s 4 times great grandson led a further unsuccessful revolt in 1116. However he was outnumbered by the Normans and his revolt failed.



 On the death of Henry I in December 1135, the Welsh of Gower, Breconshire and Carmarthen saw their chance of regaining independence they attacked the Anglo-Normans and thereby started a revolt across the land.



On 1st January 1136, Hywel ap Maredudd by the lord of Brycheiniog (Brecknockshire) led an army of Welsh against the Anglo-Normans, at Garn Goch, the Battle of Gower. Over 500 men were killed in this Battle.



The Clerk of the Bishop of Winchester wrote…” on King Henry’s death …. The Welsh, who always sighed for deadly revenge against their masters, threw off the yoke which had been imposed on them by treaties, and issuing in bards from all parts … made hostile inroads in different quarters, laying waste the towns with robbery, fire and sword, destroying houses and butchering the population. The first object of their attack was ….Gower … and hemming in with their levies on foot the knights and men-at-arms who, to the number of 516, were collected in one body, they put them to the sword. After which, exulting in the success of their first undertaking, they overran all the borders of Wales.” (31)



Although it is recorded that Henry de Newburgh regained Gower in 1138, the Battle of Gower was the first of many and the Welsh battled for their independence from the Anglo-Normans throughout the country for the next 150 years.


In 1151 another attack from across the Loughor by a son of Gruffydd ap Rhys, laid siege to and burned Loughor Castle.


In 1189 Rhys ap Gruffydd (The Lord Rhys) of Dinefwr Castle, once more crossed the Loughor to over run Gower and in 1192 laid siege to Swansea.


Dinefwr Castle at Llandeilo (Fawr) was a very significant place, Gerald of Wales (Gerallt Gymro) described it in the 1190s as one of the 3 ancient royal seats.


On the Glamorgan side of the Afaon Llwchwr /River Loughor Henry de Villiers built a motte and bailey castle known by a number of names, including Hugh de Meules Castle, Talybont Castle or Tower and by locals as Banc Llwyn Domen or Banc-y-rhyfel or, in English.


The Battle Mound possibly referring to a skirmish in 1215, when it was attacked and burned by  Rhys Grug also known as Rhys Ieuanc and Llewelyn ap Iorwerth (although other texts quote that the attack was by Rhys ap Gruffydd ). After this the castle was known as Castell du or Black Castle.

Picture left today's remains of Catell Du.


The  Brut yTywysogion  records that Rhys Ieuanc (the younger) advanced on Gower from the West  in 1215 and burned the castle at Loughor and Hugh de Meules’ Castle, Talybont Castle or Tower or Castell Du , although other texts quote that the attack was by Rhys ap Gruffydd .


In 1217 Llewellyn the Great, the leader of the independent Princes of Wales, led a campaign to reclaim Wales from the Normans. Rhys Grug, Lord of Deheubarth, joined Llewellyn’s army and was victorious over the Normans in Gower.


The Brut y Tywysogion or Chronicle of the Welsh Princes, says that Rhys invaded Gower and expelled the English. He then gave the lands back to the Welsh “Welshman to dwell in their lands" and made Morgan Gam lord of Afan and Gruffydd ap Cydifor mense lord of Gower. Gruffydd then became Gruffydd Gŵyr possibly holding Knelston as a Knight's fee (32).


  Gruffydd Gŵyr, as the name implies was a man of Gower, it is thought that his seat or main holding was Ynyscedwyn House in the parish of Ystradgynlais. He is also believed to be the forefather of the Lloyds of Pryscedwyn. In 1578, the historian Rice Merrick wrote  ‘Pryscedwyn, the house of Thomas ab Ieuan Gwyn ap Gwilym Ddu and so lineally to Gruffydd Gŵyr. (33) (See the section on Gruffudd Gwyr)



In 1218 Llewelyn made peace with King John's son and heir Henry III but he could not get Rhys Grug to surrender Gower until 1220. He had to invade Rhys' territory in order to force him to give Gower to John De Breos who was one of Henry’s men.


The De Breos Family became Lords of Gower and held the title for several decades but not without conflict;  their rule was corrupt and cruel. In 1283 some De Breos’ tenants were so unhappy that they left Gower and went to live  in Carreg Cennen, Carmarthenshire, which was ruled by the King. They said that they would rather live under the King than a Lord Marcher.  An enquiry into the De Breoses was ordered but William de Breos cleverly married the daughter of King Edward's right hand man in Carmarthen and had the enquiry stopped.


 The Breviate of Domesday says that in 1287,  Rhys ap Maredudd ap Rhys Grug, Lord of Dryslwyn  rose up  in June  and crossed the River Loughor and fell on Gower, Swansea and Oystermouth.  He was joined and supported by a number of local Gower Welshmen. However in July a much larger English force came to meet Rhys and many of his followers surrendered and abandoned Rhys. One of these was Gruffudd Frych, Lord of Glantawe, who offered his woods supraboscus to the Crown in order to keep his other lands. In doing so, they also accepted the English process of law – “the law of 12 and of inquest”. (31)   Thereby ending the Rule of Hwyel Dda in much of Gower.


William de Breos III in 1287 took a force from Gower across the Loughor to take Newcastle Emlyn from the supporters of Rhys ap Maredudd.  William III sold the former fief of Loughor to his seneschal John Iweyn in 1302. As Gower was held by the de Breos family for the King, he had no right to sell any part of the land and he therefore acted illegally.


In 1305 the residents of Swansea and Gower were so unhappy with the de Breoses that they petitioned the King.  

 John de Mobray II inherited Bramber and Gower from his mother Alina de Breos in 1331.


In 1338 he confirmed to his tenants in subboscus all their ancient customs and laws, thereby confirming that the Welsh in Gower were still abiding by the Welsh Law or Rule of Hwyel Dda.















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