ii. The Opening of the Norman Conquest

21. The Opening of the Norman Conquest

IN A GENERAL SENSE the Norman Conquest of England represented the final triumph of a continental Latin tradition over the northern Teutonic cultures which had hitherto dominated the island. As such, the Conquest fundamentally altered England's orientation by drawing it firmly into the continental orbit. The English history with which we are most familiar was dominated by factors which arose as a direct result of this new political and social alignment. For students of that history William's victory seems to throw a new light on the English scene. A new orientation and a new and purposive central authority inaugurated an era of change and development. At the same time administrators and scholars following in William's train recorded and expounded upon this development. Small wonder then that later historians have experienced "an instinctive feeling that in England our consecutive political history does, in a sense, begin with the Norman Conquest."1

Since English historians have traditionally regarded the Conquest as the watershed of their national development, they have lavished much energy and erudition in investigating and commenting upon the event. The details of the Conquest have been treated so extensively elsewhere that it is unnecessary to elaborate upon them here. The same cannot be said for its more general aspects. The same factors of political, genealogical, and constitutional motivation which prompted the historians to their task inevitably colored their results.

1. J. H. Round, Feudal England: Historical Studies on the XIth and XIIth Centuries, p. 317.

22 The Normans in South Wales

English treatments of their Conquest suffer from much the same partisanship and political coloration as does American historiography of the establishment of the Constitution, and for much the same reason.2 Another factor also enters the situation. Until quite recently historians have neglected to investigate fully the continental roots of the conquerors. As a consequence, our understanding of the nature of pre-Conquest Norman society is at present undergoing a basic revision.3 It is well, in this maze of scholarship, to keep in mind a few general points which help to explain something of the development of England immediately after the Conquest.

In the first place, to view the Conquest in terms of a national struggle, as some historians have done,4 places a great strain on the available data. It is difficult to see any national solidarity in the motley band of Norman, Breton, French, and Angevin adventurers who accompanied William. Little more can be discerned on the English side. Harold seems to have been a usurper himself and was unable to gain the support of the great nobles of the land, such as the earls Morcar and Edwin.5 As early as 1068 the English people were willing to aid their conquerors in pacifying the rebellious city of Exeter.6 While the English were to prove a source of strength to William, the early years of the Conquest were to see numerous rebellions among his Norman supporters. The solidarity of the conquering group was apparent only when an identity of interest existed between William and his followers. Rather than being an account of a national struggle, the Conquest of England appears to be the story of a band of adven-

2 See D. C. Douglas, The Norman Conquest and British Historians: Being the Thirteenth Lecture on the David Murray Foundation in the University of Glasgow, delivered on February 20, 1946.

3 The traditional view of Norman society was developed by C. H. Haskins in a number of works, including Norman Institutions; The Normans in European History; "Knight-Service in Normandy in the Eleventh Century," The English Historical Review, XXII (1907), 636 649; "Normandy under William the Conqueror," The American Historical Review, XIV (1909), 453-476; "The Norman 'Consuetudines et Iusticie' of William the Conqueror," The English Historical Review, XXIII (1908), 502-508. Some of the recent publications in this field are Receuil des Actes des Ducs de Normandie, 911-1066, ed. Marie Faroux; D. C. Douglas, The Rise of Normandy; C. W. Hollister, "The Norman Conquest and the Genesis of English Feudalism," The American Historical Review, LXVI ( 1961), 641-663.

4 See E. A. Freeman, The History of the Norman Conquest of England: Its Causes and Results.

5 H. W. C. Davis, England under the Normans and Angevins, 1066-1272, pp. 5 ff. 6.See Round, Feudal England, pp. 431-455.

The Opening of the Norman Conquest 23

turers, predominantly Norman, who took the crown of a disunited land from the hands of a usurper. Neither of the opponents enjoyed any extensive popular support, and national feeling only became apparent at a much later date.

A second point is concerned with the degree to which the Conqueror pursued a conscious and consistent policy in establishing a Norman state in England. We mentioned earlier that British historians regard the Norman Conquest as marking the beginning of the political development of modern England. From this belief it follows that every act of the Conqueror constituted a precedent for later development. It may well be that historians attempt to find in these precedents something of the consistency and planning which some legalists profess to see in the system of law which the precedents ultimately produced. The facts of the Conquest do not support such a view. William's policy appears to have been one of political empiricism, and not of theoretical principles. He acted in response to what must have been three overwhelming pressures: the need to maintain control over a numerically superior and potentially hostile population;7the need to maintain solidarity amongst the heterogeneous band of adventurers who had helped him to conquer the country and upon whom he now had to rely to administer it; and, finally, the need to continue a firm control over the turbulent duchy of Normandy, still his major base of power. William succeeded in playing various groups against each other and, by so doing, gained all three goals. That he did so is a tribute to his political genius but does not attest to any conscious and consistent program on his part.

This is perhaps overstating the case, for a certain measure of consistency can be detected in the facts of the Conquest. In another context, the historian William Rees has said:

Invasion may be prompted by other motives than mere lust for conquest and, in spite of apparent exceptions, it may be established as a general rule, that economic expediency rather than political passion is the predominating and guiding principle in conquest, while the minimum of disturbance necessary to attain political subjection constitutes a rude working policy.5

7 The military potential of the English is often underestimated. See R. Glover "English Warfare in 1066," The English Historical Review, LXVII (1952), 1-18

8 William Rees, South Wales and the March, 1284-1415- A Social and Agrarian Study

24 The Normans in South Wales

The second part of this statement appears to describe William's policy of conquest accurately. This factor lies behind his usual tendency to try to return, at least in form, to the state of England in Edward's time. Where it was practical to do so, William simply assumed the position and continued the policy of the kings of England previous to Harold's accession. Where this was impractical, he acted as the situation seemed to warrant. The rebellion of Exeter was treated with benign majesty, while another rebellion in the following year caused the entire North of England to be punished with a ruthless savagery. The situations were different and so too were William's responses. The Conqueror was also left to his own devices where previous policy was lacking or had proven ineffective. Here too he proceeded realistically and empirically toward a solution.

Much more could be said about the Conquest, but a basic thesis is clear. William had no clear-cut and well-developed program of administration in mind when he began to establish the Conquest. Insofar as possible he attempted simply to take over the pre-Conquest structure and to exploit it for his own ends, always trying to satisfy the pressures acting upon him with a minimum of expenditure and loss of personal power. His major concern was with practicality rather than precedent, and with effectiveness rather than theory. This means that when one considers any particular aspect of the Conqueror's activities, it is well to begin with the specific personalities and situations involved before proceeding to the weightier matters of political policy and constitutional development.

In terms of the history of the Welsh frontier, the most important personalities were the three border earls whom William eventually established in the region. These were Hugh of Chester, Roger Montgomery and, of primary importance for the southern frontier, William Fitz-Osbern. Fitz-Osbern was one of the guiding forces directing the course of the Conquest of England, and it was he who set the pattern for the conquest and administration of the Welsh frontier. With his activities in the West of England the conquest of South Wales began.

Fitz-Osbern's youth had not been an easy one. His father was seneschal to

Robert, duke of Normandy.9 When Robert died in 1035,

9 For an excellent account of the establishment and rise to power of Fitz-Osbern's family, see D. C. Douglas, "The Ancestors of William Fitz Osbern," The English Historical Review, LIX (1944), 62-79. The account is more than genealogical; it is an investigation into early Norman history.

The Opening of the Norman Conquest 25

he left his seneschal as guardian of the infant duke, William the Bastard. The choice was a dangerous one. Osbern protected the infant duke loyally until 1049 or 1050, when he was struck down in the course of an unsuccessful attempt made by William Montgomery on the life of the duke.10 With the loss of their respective father and guardian, Fitz-Osbern and the duke fled together to the protection of friends and relatives. As the duke's power grew, Fitz-Osbern emerged as one of his most powerful and loyal supporters, and eventually assumed his father's old post of seneschal.11 The two worked together to establish and extend the duke's authority, and Fitz-Osbern performed important functions both in court and along the Norman frontier.

In Wace's long epic on the Conquest of England, Fitz-Osbern is pictured as the driving force behind the expeditions.12 If Wace is correct, Fitz-Osbern was in the duke's company when word was received of Edward's death and Harold's seizure of the throne He took this occasion to be the first to urge upon the duke the plan of an overseas expedition to take England from Harold.13 His suggestion bore its first fruit when the duke summoned the greatest of his barons to a council on the subject. Fitz-Osbern was prominent in a company which included some of the greatest names of early Norman history.14 Once the group had assembled at Lillebone, it became apparent that a considerable amount of opposition to the plan existed among the barons. Doubting the possibility of success, and reminding themselves that none of their obligations to the duke entailed overseas service, opponents of the expedition began to unite against the duke's plan. Fitz-Osbern took it upon himself to defend the duke's wishes. His oratory does not appear to have swayed the opposition, but it did impress the assembled barons to such a degree that they asked him to act as their emissary to the duke. According to Wace's account, he created great consternation among the barons by immediately exceeding the authority and ignoring the directives they had given him. Acting as a plenipotentiary rather than as an emissary,

10 William of Jumieges, "Historiae Northmannorum libri octo," Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, vol. CXLIX, cols. 847448.

11 Wace, Maistre Wace's Roman de Rou et des Ducs de Normandie, nach den Handschriften, ed. H. Andresen, 11. 4413-4414, p. 207.

12 Many scholars emphasize that Wace's account is late, and its reliability is doubtful. See especially Round, Feudal England, pp. 399-418.

13 Wace, 11.5908 ff., pp. 265 ff.

14 Ibid., 11.6003 ff., pp. 265 ff.

26 The Normans in South Wales

Fitz-Osbern assured the duke that the barons would give him full support in the venture, and that each of them would pledge double his normal obligation to the expedition.

The barons immediately objected to this high-handed procedure, and the council broke up amidst dissent and confusion. Fitz-Osbern had achieved his end, however, by preventing baronial opposition from crystallizing and uniting.l5 The barons of Normandy were henceforth able to abstain from the venture, but not to obstruct it. Fitz-Osbern was equally active in gathering resources for the coming invasion and, in the meeting which organized its final details, made one of the largest contributions to the force which was being made ready.16 If Wace's view is accurate, William Fitz-Osbern not only was responsible for the original conception of the plan to invade England, but was the major cause of its successful organization in the face of a recalcitrant and hostile nobility.

The seneschal appears to have been as active on the battlefield as in Council in supporting his lord's pursuit of the English crown. He held no personal command at Hastings but he and his contingent were detached to stiffen the possibly unreliable right wing which consisted primarily of French and mercenary troops under the command of Roger Montgomery.17

By 1067 the initial stages of the Conquest had ended in victory, and Duke William prepared to return to Normandy to take care of matters there. He left Odo of Bayeux and William Fitz-Osbern to administer his conquest as wardens of England. The chronicler Florence of Worcester notes that the new warden had already been created earl of Hereford.18 From other sources we know that Fitz-Osbern's jurisdiction extended far beyond the borders of Herefordshire, and included the entire area of Norman control north of the Thames. His special charge was the great castle which had been

15 Ibid., ll. 6085 ff., pp. 271 ff.

16 "In Calce hujus libelli in eadem scriptura adjicitur catalogus suppeditantium naves ad expeditionem Willelmi comitis in Angliam," Scriptores Rerum Gestarum Willelmi Conquestoris, ed. J. A. Giles, p. 21.

17 Wace, ll. 7673-7678, pp. 333-334

18 Florence of Worcester, Chronicon ex Chronicis . . ., s.a. 1067, II, 1. Also see Orderic Vitalis, "Historiae Ecclesiasticae libri XIII in partes tres divisi," Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, vol. CLXXXVIII, cols. 330-331. Orderic would seem to indicate that Fitz-Osbern did not receive his earldom until 1070 or 1071. Florence's statement is much more acceptable in view of the fact that Fitz-Osbern died quite early in 1071.

The Opening of the Norman Conquest 27

erected at Norwich in anticipation of Danish attack.19 These wardens were to play an active role in establishing the Conquest in England. A large number of William's troops had been left behind, and special orders had been given to press the construction of fortresses from which these forces could dominate the land.20 This program necessarily involved the expropriation of property, the impressment of labor, and the maintenance of free access to the various cities of the realm. In short, while the Conqueror had led the Conquest of England, he left to Odo and Fitz-Osbern the task of further subjugation of the land.

It was an exceedingly difficult duty. Perhaps they used overly harsh methods in fulfilling their orders, for the hitherto quiescent opposition soon became active and violent. One would expect the partisan Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to stigmatize the Normans' rule as oppressive, just as one would expect William of Poitiers to extol the virtues of the wardens.21 Ordericus Vitalis tends to corroborate the English view in a curious passage in his obituary for Fitz-Osbern. He characterizes his subject as the first and greatest oppressor of the English.22 The passage refers to the period of Fitz-Osbern's wardenship, and attributes the violent outbreaks to the effects of Fitz-Osbern's arrogance.

Whatever its cause, trouble broke out first in the western frontier, an area commanded by Fitz-Osbern. The English leader of this region, Edric, surnamed "the Wild" by his opponents, had submitted to the Conqueror before the latter's return to Normandy in 1067.23 The submission was more in name than in deed, however, and Edric's refusal to allow Norman rule in his district quickly led to a series of clashes between his Mercian levies and the Herefordshire Normans.

The Normans, led by Richard Fitz-Scrob, a pre-Conquest settler in the shire, repeatedly attacked the Anglo-Saxon rebel, but they could

19 William of Poitiers states that Fitz-Osbern was given command of "Guenta." This has usually been taken as Winchester. For the actual location, see Davis England under the Normans and Angevins, p. 13, n. 1.

20 Orderic Vitalis, col. 306.

21The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, According to the Several Original Authorities, ed. and trans. B. Thorpe, s.a. 1066, Part I, p. 339. Also William of Poitiers "Gesta Willelmi Ducis Norrnannorum, et Regis Anglorum a Willelmo," in Scriptores Rerum Gestarum Willelmi Conquestoris, ed. J. A. Giles, pp. 156-157.

22 Orderic Vitalis, col. 355.

23 Ibid., col. 306.

28 The Normans in South Wales

little afford the casualties he inflicted on their forces.24 The situation took a turn for the worse in the summer of 1067 when Edric struck an alliance with the Welsh kings Bleddyn and Rhiwallon. The combined Anglo-Saxon and Welsh forces took the offensive, and devastated all of Herefordshire up to the river Lugg.25 The castles, however, appear to have remained in Norman hands. Little is known about Norman operations against Edric in the two years following this massive raid. It seems clear, however, that they recovered sufficiently to resume their incursions into Edric's territory It also seems quite probable that these expeditions were used to provide a screen for efforts to rear castles in Shropshire, Edric's home district. At any rate, in 1069 we find Edric and his Welsh allies besieging a Norman garrison which had established itself at Shrewsbury. In the face of these rising threats to Norman rule, Fitz-Osbern hurried to the frontier to raise the siege.26 He was successful, and Edric was forced to withdraw, although not before burning the town. Edric's resistance was broken either at Shrewsbury or shortly after, for the summer of 1070 saw his final submission to King William.27

By the end of 1069, however, Fitz-Osbern had been transferred from England to Normandy to assist Queen Matilda in facing growing threats from Maine, Anjou, and Brittany.28 New opportunities were soon opened to him in Flanders, where civil war had broken out over the question of succession. The dowager countess, Richildis, offered herself in marriage to the widowed Fitz-Osbern, and he had immediately pledged her his support in the struggle. With a small force, he joined a French column, under the leadership of Philip of France, and moved northward to aid the countess' party. In February of 1071, this Franco-Norman column was met by the insurgents and was signally defeated. William Fitz-Osbern was slain,29 and his body interred at Cormeilles, one of the two monasteries he had en-

24 Florence of Worcester, s.a. 1067, II, 1.

25 Ibid., s.a. 1067, II, 1-2.

25 Orderic Vitalis, col. 318. Orderic's account seems to send both Brian and Fitz-Osbern to relieve both Shrewsbury and Exeter. It seems likely that the chronicler has confused the operations of two separate expeditions. See Freeman, The Norman Conquest, IV, 279, n. 2.

27 Florence of Worcester, s.a. 1070, II, 7.

28 Freeman, The Norman Conquest, IV, 531, n. 1. Freeman suggests that the transfer was ordered at the midwinter gemot.

29 Orderic Vitalis, cols. 339-340; William of Malmesbury, De gestis regum Anglorum, libri quinque; Historiae novellae, libri tres, ed. W. Stubbs, Part II, pp. 314-315.

The Opening of the Norman Conquest 29

dowed on his Norman estates.30 His Norman holdings were given to his eldest son, William, while Roger, the younger son, received most of his father's English holdings, including the earldom of Hereford.31 It can be seen that William Fitz-Osbern's influence upon the Welsh frontier was limited to the period between the beginning of his wardenship in March of 1067, and his death in February of 1071. Even during this four-year period, he was occupied with many things other than his earldom of Hereford. Despite the shortness of his rule and the fact that the majority of his energies were directed elsewhere, he made great strides toward pacifying and organizing the region. Although the details of his administration are hazy, enough can be discerned to indicate that Fitz-Osbern laid down the lines along which the further expansion of Norman power into Wales was to proceed.

One of the first steps he took was to increase the strength of the Norman forces resident in the area. He accomplished this by offering such liberal rewards to his followers that knights were soon flocking to his service. His following assumed the proportions of a private army-one large enough to cause some concern to the Conqueror himself.32 Fitz-Osbern took additional steps to make Herefordshire an attractive residence for other, unattached soldiers. He did this by strictly limiting the amounts which such men could be fined for infringements of the law. This law in particular set Herefordshire apart from the rest of England. Here the natural license of fighting men was curbed by the threat of fines of only seven shillings. Transgressors in other shires faced fines of from twenty to twenty-five shillings.33

These methods seem to have succeeded in attracting enough battle-ready settlers to garrison the region adequately. Enough troops were available for Fitz-Osbern to carry out an extensive castle-building program. A series of fortresses were constructed at various points within the earldom itself and along its western border. Wigmore was built at the point where the river Teme descends from the Welsh

30 Orderic Vitalis, cols. 332-340. His wife, Adeliza, was already buried at Lyre, the second of the monasteries. See "Ex Chronico Lyrensis Coenobii," Receuil des Historiens de Gaules et de la France, eds. M. Bouquet et al, XII (1817), 776.

31 Orderic Vitalis, cols. 339-340

32 William of Malmesbury, Part II, pp. 314-315.

33 Ibid., Part II, pp. 314-315. It is surprising to note that this law remained in effect in Herefordshire as late as the time of William of Malmesbury.

30 The Normans in South Wales

highlands; Clifford arose where the Wye enters Herefordshire; the old fortifications of Ewyas Harold, located at the confluence of the Monnow and the Dore, were restored; Monmouth was built at the juncture of the Monnow and the Wye; and Strigoil was built where the old Roman road crossed the Wye and passed into the Welsh kingdom of Gwent.34 Fitz-Osbern appears also to have strengthened the defenses of Hereford, and may have been responsible for the first Norman fortifications at Shrewsbury.35

Domesday Book provides evidence that small boroughs had quickly arisen around some of these fortresses. There are indications that these settlements were established as part of a consistent program directed by Fitz-Osbern. The first step in this program lay in the erection of the fortresses themselves. These provided a protection that encouraged settlers and at the same time insured a market for merchants and artisans.36 Thus it seems clear that these towns were intended to be based on trade rather than agriculture. It is also apparent from the examples of Hereford and Shrewsbury that the new boroughs were French, rather than English, in character. Within their environment, the new towns were alien and artificial, and constituted a by-product of the Conquest.

The creation of such centers within a newly conquered area, or along an exposed frontier, was an established practice on the continent. To attract settlers into such new towns, it was customary for their lords to offer liberal terms in the new borough charters.37 These were extremely important to the success of the ventures, and set the pattern of life the new towns were to follow. Fitz-Osbern chose to grant to the boroughs he established the privileges enjoyed by Breteuil, a frontier settlement in Normandy which had long been in his hands. These customs, which had been devised for a frontier settle-

34 Domesday Book, or The Great Survey of England by William the Conqueror A.D. MLXXXVI, fol. 183b, Wigmore; fol. 183, Clifford; fol. 162, Strigoil; fol. 186, Ewyas Harold. This last was refortified by _Fitz-Osbern, having been constructed by the pre-Conquest Herefordshire Norman colony. See Round, Feudal England, pp. 317-331. For Monmouth, see The Liber Landafensis, Llyfr Teilo, or the Ancient Register of the Cathedral Church of Llandaff, ed. and trans. W. J. Rees, p. 266.

35 Since these fortifications were first mentioned on the occasion of Edric's siege of them in 1069, and since Fitz-Osbern had been in command of this portion of the frontier for two years by this date, it seems not unlikely that Shrewsbury had been garrisoned at Fitz-Osbern's command.

36 T. F. Tout, Medieval Town Planning: A Lecture, pp. 10-11.

37 Ibid., p. 9.

The Opening of the Norman Conquest 31

ment in Normandy, proved just as popular in promoting frontier settlements in England and Wales. The low amercement, moderate rent, and other liberal features of the laws of Breteuil were to become characteristics of the charters granted to the Welsh towns established by the later Norman invaders of Wales, and were carried to Ireland by the descendants of those same conquerors. It is no exaggeration to say that the laws of Breteuil established the pattern for the next century of urban life along the Welsh frontier.38

Under Fitz-Osbern's leadership, the Herefordshire Normans took the offensive against the Welsh. Followed by Walter of Lacy and his other troops, he invaded Brycheiniog and met his opponents in at least one decisive encounter. According to one chronicler, he laid low "Risen et Caducan et Mariadoth," all kings of the Welsh.39 These were apparently Cadwgan ap Meurig, king of Morgannwg, Maredudd ab Owain, king of Deheubarth, and his brother, Rhys ab Owain.40 It was a considerable victory, and it may well be that Gwent fell into Norman hands as a result of this operation.41

Fitz-Osbern did not attempt to displace the Welsh population of the area he had acquired. He appears to have followed a consistent policy of accommodation and absorption rather than complete subjugation and displacement. Domesday Book states that he obtained license from the king to grant a group of Welsh villages the same

38 See M. Bateson, "The Laws of Breteuil," The English Historical Review, XV (1900), pp. 73-78, 302-318, 496-523, 754-757; XVI (1901), pp. 92-110, 332-345.

39 Orderic Vitalis, col. 331.

40 So holds J. E. Lloyd, A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest, II, 375.

41 This is the view of J. E. Lloyd. It may be that the conquest of Gwent was deferred until the time when Roger of Breteuil, in alliance with Caradog ap Gruffydd, defeated Maredudd ab Owain at the Rhymney River. The pertinent data is as follows: (1) Domesday Book for Gloucestershire (fol. 162) records certain lands in the vicinity of a castle which Fitz-Osbern had granted to Ralf of Limesi. These lands were in Gwent, it is true, but it does not follow necessarily that other areas of Gwent were also under Norman control. (2) Monasticon Anglicanum . . ., ed. W. Dugdale, Vol. VI, Part 2, pp. 1092-1093. This passage records a grant made to the abbey of Lyre of "a half of all tithes between the Usk and the Wye." This gift is almost certainly the gift of William Fitz-Osbern or his son. The later lords of the region of Gwent supported other religious foundations. The scope of this gift indicates that it was made shortly after the conquest of the area. (3) Liber Landavensis, pp. 262-263. Here a passage refers to "the lord of Gwent, Roger, son of Osbern [sic]." In any event, Gwent was in Norman hands sometime before 1075.

32 The Normans in South Wales

tax-free status they had been granted under the Welsh king, Gruffydd. These settlements were left under the same Welsh prepositi, or maers, who had been governing them under the native Welsh princes.42 This policy was perhaps one which Fitz-Osbern had inherited from his English predecessors, who had absorbed the Welsh district of Erging, or Archenfield, on much the same terms. Whatever its origin, this approach continued to be a fundamental part of the policy of the Norman conquerors of Wales and led directly to the "Welsheries" of the later marcher lordships. One last piece of information from Domesday Book also shows Fitz-Osbern's care to stabilize conditions in his earldom. It is recorded that he made a series of grants to a certain king"Mariadoth."43 This can only be his one-time foe, Maredudd ab Owain.44 In this we can see how peace was made with the Welsh chieftain, and how his interests were linked with those of the Herefordshire Normans.

It is difficult to evaluate adequately the significance of Fitz-Osbern's accomplishments along the border. During the years when he was so active elsewhere he somehow managed to transform the southern marches completely. When he first arrived in 1067, Herefordshire was weak and vulnerable to attack from many quarters. The land itself was prostrate from over a decade of harrying and devastation. Fitz-Osbern established the Conquest in the region, immeasurably strengthened its border defenses, and reduced the Welsh chieftains along the frontier to impotence. Finally, he initiated a program of internal development which slowly repaired the damages wrought by the border strife that preceded his coming. Thanks to the security he brought to the region and to his enlightened administration, Domesday Herefordshire seems comparatively prosperous. It is not the prosperity of a frontier boom, but of a regional recovery. The framework for this recovery had been laid by Fitz-Osbern. That even more progress was not made by 1086 should-

42 Domesday Book fol. 162.

43 Ibid., fols. 187, 187b.

44 cf. Freeman, The Norman Conquest, IV, 679, n.1. Freeman believes "Mariadoc" to be Maredudd ap Bleddyn. This is unlikely for two reasons. In the first place, Maredudd ap Bleddyn was still very much alive in 1087, and his lands would not have been held by his heir, "Grifin" (Domesday Book, fol. 187b). Secondly, "Grifin" later attempted to seize the crown of Deheubarth (Brut y Tywysogion, or The Chronicles of the Princes, ed. J. Williams ab Ithel, s.a. 1089, p. 54 ) . This indicates a dynastic claim which could have come only from Maredudd ab Owain. The Annales Cambriae, ed. J. Williams ab Ithel, p. 39, shows Maredudd ap Bleddyn to have died in 1132.

The Opening of the Norman Conquest 33

not be considered a condemnation of his policies. The fault lay rather with the political incompetence and overreaching ambition of his son, Roger of Breteuil.

Roger took over his father's English lands in February of 1071. At approximately the same time Ralph Guader, a Breton, took command of Fitz-Osbern's old charge of East Anglia. The two young men were apparently good friends, for Roger soon contracted to marry Ralph's sister. The prospect that these two powerful marcher earls should enter into such a close alliance was not to King William's liking. He refused to allow the marriage to take place. The young earls took advantage of William's absence in 1075 to conclude the marriage without royal license. This act was but the symbol of a deeper disaffection, and the bridal feast was used as an opportunity to organize a rebellious conspiracy.

The rebels presented a formidable combination. They both could draw upon strong personal armies stationed along the frontier and they both possessed virtually impregnable private castles. They searched for outside aid and found it forthcoming. Ralph was able to obtain a pledge of support from the Danish court, which still entertained English ambitions. Together, they enlisted the aid of Waltheof, the English earl of Northumbria. The addition of another marcher earl increased the forces and fortresses at their disposal, and they had some hopes that, with Waltheof as their figurehead, the English could be induced to join their movement. The strength and prospects of the rebels were sufficient to cause William's deputy, Lanfranc, no little concern.

Actual rebellion, however, showed the real weakness of the rebels. Waltheof quickly repented, and Ralph and Roger soon found that they could not count on any English support of their cause. On the contrary, when Roger tried to march overland to join Ralph, he found his passage of the Severn blocked by the fyrd of Worcestershire. Another fyrd marched against Ralph, whose Danish support had failed to materialize. The rebellion soon collapsed, and with it the fortunes of the house of Breteuil. Roger and his followers were stripped of their possessions, and Roger himself was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment.45

This rebellion forced King William to re-evaluate his system of

45 The details of Roger's rebellion are covered by Orderic Vitalis cols. 51-356.

34 The Normans in South Wales

frontier defense. In erecting a series of counties palatine along the border- Chester, Shrewsbury, and Hereford- William had, in effect, attempted to follow the same policy pursued by Edward the Confessor in maintaining Harold Godwinson along the same border. William had been guided by considerations of expediency and practicality in choosing his personnel and establishing their authority. Giving these men sufficient strength to protect the frontier meant allowing them to recruit private armies of considerable size and erect fortresses of great defensive strength. In order to protect himself from the dangers that such a system implied, William quite sensibly recruited his border earls from those men of whose loyalty he was most assured. Only the wealthier of his followers could afford such a position, however, for the defense of the Welsh required a far greater expenditure than the revenues of the border shires could defray.46 It was necessary to make the arduous and often costly business of frontier guard attractive to his men. William accomplished this by granting his border earls liberties, prestige, and a certain measure of independence.

As long as loyal followers like William Fitz-Osbern manned the frontier, the system was efficient, economical, and effective. In the normal course of things, however, thanks to inheritance, King William could not always hope to dictate who would hold these positions and the privileges that went with them. The loyalty of the fyrds during Roger's rebellion must have been gratifying to the king, but his enforced reliance upon them at this critical juncture must have been alarming. William saw the dangers of the frontier system he had established, and did not return to it when the immediate trouble had passed. The escheated earldom of Roger of Breteuil was left vacant under royal administration. Meanwhile he searched for other means of peace along the frontier.

Political developments within Wales eventually provided William with a solution to his problem. It was not until 1081 that a measure of order began to emerge from the confusion which had ensued after the collapse of the Pax Anglicana which Harold had established following the defeat of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. The steps by which this unity came about started inauspiciously, with the invasion of Deheubarth by Caradog ap Gruffydd ap Rhydderch.

46 See W. J. Corbett, "The Development of the Duchy of Normandy and the Norman Conquest of England," The Cambridge Mediaeval History, eds J. R. Tanner et al., V, 506-511.

The Opening of the Norman Conquest 35

Caradog, king of the mountainous district of Gwynllwg, was an inveterate opportunist whose power had increased steadily since the elimination of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. He maintained a free hand by refusing to enter into the system which Harold had constructed. Instead, he struck out at English power as soon as it was practical, and he gained considerable prestige by doing so. In 1065, he plundered a royal lodge which Harold had built in lower Gwent and escaped to the mountains to enjoy his loot.47 In 1071, some seven years later, he enlisted the aid of the Normans in defeating Maredudd ab Owain, Fitz-Osbern's old enemy, in a battle fought on the Rhymney River, on the western border of Gwynllwg.48 Sometime about 1073 or 1074, he succeeded in replacing Cadwgan ap Meurig as king of Morgannwg. Now, in 1081, he was moving against Deheubarth.

His sudden attack was so successful that Rhys ap Tewdwr, king of Deheubarth, was forced to take refuge at St. David's. Rhys soon received an unexpected ally in Gruffydd ap Cynan, the deposed ruler of Gwynedd. Gruffydd had sought aid in Ireland and had returned to Wales at the head of a force of Welsh, Irish, and Danish troops, intent on regaining his lost throne. It was only natural for the two to strike an alliance, especially since Traehaearn ap Caradog, the reigning king of Gwynedd, was marching south to join forces with Caradog ap Gruffydd. The two sets of enemies met at Mynedd Carn, and Rhys and Gruffydd were completely victorious.49 The defeat effectively halted Caradog's climb to power. Rhys gained in prestige what Caradog lost, and by 1081 had emerged as the paramount ruler of the entire region of southwest Wales.

It is at this point that King William entered the scene. Later in the year 1081, it is surprising to note, the Conqueror was moved to pay a visit to the isolated see of St. David's. Contemporary accounts ascribe differing motives for this arduous undertaking.50 The Welsh chronicle Brut y Tywysogion suggests that a pious regard for the great saint of South Wales may have prompted the Conqueror's visit

47 Liber Landavensis, p. 278; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, s.a. 1065, Part I, p. 330.

48 Brut y Tywysogion, p. 26.

49 The location of Mynedd Carn has never been determined. see Lloyd, A History of Wales, II, 384, n. 2.

50 For a full discussion of the various contemporary accounts, see Freeman, The Norman Conquest, IV, 679-680, n. 3 and 4.

36 The Normans in South Wales

to his shrine.51 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, on the other hand, states that William led a fyrd into Wales, and "freed many hundred men."52 It may well be that both of these sources missed the real point of the event. Modern analysts have suggested that there may well have been a diplomatic purpose in William's actions, and that William used this opportunity to accept Rhys' homage and to reinvest him with Deheubarth as a feudal fief.53

This suggestion has much to recommend it. By making such a treaty, William could have hoped to obtain peace along the frontier while at the same time freeing himself to curb the dangerous border barons. Prior to the battle of Mynedd Carn the pattern of political power in South Wales had been such that no potential vassal existed powerful enough to assure William that the peace would be kept. The fact that William's visit followed so closely upon the heels of Rhys' triumph strongly suggests that an agreement with the victory of Mynedd Carn was the actual reason for the Conqueror's remarkable journey.

Such an arrangement would not have been in the least unusual. Ample precedent existed in the oaths of fealty which Welsh chieftains had made to the kings of Anglo-Saxon England. As late as 1063, Harold, acting in the name of Edward, had granted the kingdoms of Wales to Bleddyn and Rhiwallon. Bleddyn and Rhiwallon had then sworn fealty to Edward and Harold, promising to obey their commands and "to pay properly all which the country paid to preceding kings."54 King William generally attempted to follow the customs of Edward's time, and took great care that his followers enjoyed the same dues and responsibilities as their predecessors. It does not seem likely that he would have failed to pursue the same goal in his own case, and to restore an arrangement which had been acceptable and profitable to Edward the Confessor.

It is not sufficient, however, simply to prove that such a treaty was possible; more positive evidence is required. Domesday Book may well supply this evidence when it records the annual obligation of a certain "Riset" to pay forty pounds to the king.55 It can be noted later

51 Brut y Tywysogion, p. 50.

52 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, s.a. 1081, Part I, p. 351.

53 Lloyd, A History of Wales, II, 394; Freeman, The Norman Conquest, IV, 679.

54 Florence of Worcester, I, 222.

55 Domesday Book, fol. 179.

The Opening of the Norman Conquest 37

in the same compilation that Robert of Rhuddlan pays a similar sum as the ferm of his fief of North Wales. It is tempting, therefore, to infer that "Riset" is Rhys ap Tewdwr, and that his payment is the ferm of his fief of South Wales. This suggestion has its opponents however, and among them is the redoubtable J. H. Round, who states:

One must not introduce into the text the tempting conjecture that this was Rhys ap Tewdwr, who became king of South Wales in 1079, an event which, Mr. Freeman suggested, might not be unconnected with William's expedition through South Wales not long after, when he is said to have reduced the Welsh kings to submission. The absence of rex before "Riset" is against the conjecture.56

If Round's argument is correct, a number of problems arise. What was the actual purpose of William's visit to St. David's, and how can one explain the peculiar peace which descended on the Welsh frontier in the years following it? The treaty of 1081, if such existed, would provide the key to the understanding of the history of the Welsh frontier for the next decade. It would be well, therefore, to examine Mr. Round's admonition more closely before rejecting the possibility.

In the first place, Mr. Round argues from silence-in this case, from the lack of the title rex. We must first ask ourselves how regularly his contemporaries dignified Rhys with the title "king." The Brut y Tywysogion, derived from a contemporary account probably written in the vicinity of either St. David's or Aberystwyth, is likely to have had a most ample knowledge of Rhys. He is mentioned in five entries, but in only one of them is he styled "brenhin Deheubarth," or "king of Southwest Wales." In this single instance, moreover, the chronicler was writing his obituary and had every reason for stressing his high station. The Annales Cambriae deny him the title even in this instance and call him "Rector dextralis partis" instead.58 Both of these chronicles are drawn from the same contemporary source and may share this source's peculiarities. It must be stressed, on the other hand, that this source was written in Deheu-

58 J. H. Round, "Introduction to the Herefordshire Domesday," The Victoria Histories of the Counties of England: Hereford, Vol. I, ed. W. Page, p. 281, n. 109.

57 Brut y Tywysogion, s.a. 1091 [sic], p. 54.

58 Annales Cambriae, p. 29.

38 The Normans in South Wales

barth itself and is more likely than any other to have reflected the most stringent contemporary usage in this matter. It seems clear that Rhys' friends and followers did not insist on calling him brenhin or rex. It does not seem very likely that Domesday would have scrupulously observed the courtesy.

Mr. Round would probably not have been so concerned about this lack of title were it not for the fact that Domesday uses the title rex in reference to another Welsh leader only a few folios after omitting it in Riset's case. The problem then is why Domesday should use the title in one instance and not in another. Round's conclusion is that Riset had no claim to the title. A closer examination of the situation, however, reveals another possible solution. The passage where rex is used is one describing the Herefordshire estates held by a certain "Grifin," obviously Gruffydd ap Maredudd ab Owain ab Edwin, son of Fitz-Osbern's old enemy.59 Domesday here styles the father, "Mariadoc," as rex no less than four times. Maredudd's claim to royal status was valid. He had become king of Deheubarth in the general reorganization of Wales which had followed the death of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn in 1063.60 He ruled this land until his death at the hands of Caradog and his Norman allies in 1072. The throne then passed to his brother, Rhys ab Owain, who was killed by the same Caradog in 1078. The throne then fell vacant until taken up by Rhys ap Tewdwr, a kinsman of Maredudd through their common grandfather, Eineon.61 It can be seen that the Herefordshire landholder, Gruffydd, had a much stronger hereditary claim to the throne of Deheubarth than did the reigning king, Rhys. It belonged to Gruffydd by the simple application of primogeniture. Hereditary claims, however, without the fact of possession, had little validity in Wales. Only a few years after Domesday, Gruffydd was killed while attempting to take possession of the throne to which he was the heir.62 Here then is a possible explanation of Domesday's willingness to grant the title rex to Maredudd but not to Rhys. Gruffydd, a substantial tenant of Herefordshire, had every reason to insist on his father's regal status while denying the same status to Rhys. It may well be that Gruffydd did

59 Domesday Book, fol. 187b. See note 44 above.

60 Lloyd, A History of Wales, II, 372.

61 Ibid., II, 767.

62 Brut y Tywysogion, s.a. 1089, p. 54. Note that the Brut lags two years at this point. The actual date is 1091.

The Opening of the Norman Conquest 39

exactly this, and that Domesday simply records the personal prejudices and ambitions of Gruffydd ap Maredudd.

Thus the omission of the title rex with reference to Riset does not prove that he was not Rhys ap Tewdwr. Indeed, it suggests quite the opposite. The Domesday evidence, then, indicates that an arrangement was made between William and Rhys in which Rhys received Deheubarth as a feudal fief in exchange for an annual render of forty pounds. Additional documentary evidence supporting this thesis may be found in the Brut y Tywysogion. This Welsh chronicle refers to William the Conqueror a number of times, and a curious pattern of titles is used. The entry for 1066 styles him "William the Bastard, prince [tywyssawc] of Normandy."63 It then continues to describe his conquest of England. In the entry for 1081 (listed 1079), he has become "Gwilim Vastard Vrenhin y Saeson ar Freinc ar Brytanyeit."64 In the usage of the Brut, Saeson is generic for all English, while by Freinc is meant the Normans and not the French proper. Thus his title has become "William the Bastard, king of the English, Normans, and Britons [Welsh]." This is a title he did not lose. His obituary reads "Gwilim Vastard, tywyssawc y Normanyeit a brenhin y Saeson ar Brytanyeit ar Albanwyr." The important point to be noted is the use of the title brenhin y Brytanyeit. The last person, previous to William, to bear such a title in the Brut was Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, a man who had united all of Wales under his sway.

It seems hardly likely that this title was simply rhetorical or honorific. Both from geographical location and from interest, the Brut was very close to the political realities of the times. The subject matter of this chronicle consists primarily of accounts of the dynastic struggles and conspiracies through which men pursue such titles. One need only note that the last entry stresses that William is king of the English, but only prince (tywyssawc) of the Normans. Again, he appears as brenhin y[r] Albanwyr. William had a good claim to this title King of the Scots, as the result of a feudal arrangement much the same as that which probably took place between himself and Rhys. Taken in themselves, the titles accorded to William by the Brut y Tywysogion are perhaps inconclusive evidence of a rapprochement between the Welsh and English kings. Yet they are most easily ex-

63 Ibid., pp. 44-46.

64 Ibid., p. 50.

40 The Normans in South Wales

plained by assuming that William actually did receive homage from Rhys during his journey into Wales. Certain other facts also support this theory. The endemic warfare of the Welsh frontier and the Norman raids which had slashed deep into the heart of Deheubarth suddenly came to an end. The remainder of Rhys' reign was marred only by internecine struggles.65 on the English side of the frontier the occupation of Gwent appears to have proceeded peacefully, and Domesday reveals a countryside slowly recovering from the effects of the Welsh attacks which had marked the 1060's. The situation along the border remained peaceful until after the death of Rhys ap Tewdwr, when the Normans burst in on South Wales like a long-pent flood-as if only the existence of the Welsh king had stayed their advance.

When all the evidence is considered, three possible political motives for William's pilgrimage to St. David's emerge. First, he may have felt it wise to reinforce the ascendancy which Rhys had gained at Mynedd Carn and thus maintain in authority a figure with whom it would be possible to deal in stabilizing his Welsh frontier. Secondly, an expedition in force would be useful in impressing upon the Welsh of Morgannwg their now precarious position between two powerful and allied powers. This would do much to curb their adventurous spirit and to heighten the prospects of peace along the southern frontier. His third motive was probably to bring about the personal confrontation which was necessary to perform the solemn act of homage. This relationship would have been far more valuable to William than a simple restoration of the arrangements which Edward the Confessor had made with the dangerous Welsh.

The treaty of 1081 had numerous advantages for William. A strong and loyal Rhys ap Tewdwr made it unlikely that the Welsh would ally with rebellious Norman border lords against the king. At the same time, even a small Norman border force could threaten the comparatively weak, but pivotal, buffer states of Brycheiniog, Gwynllwg, and Morgannwg. Without control of these vital invasion

65 Ibid., pp. 52-55. In 1088, Rhys was driven from Deheubarth by the attack of two sons of the king of Powys. He obtained Danish aid from Ireland, defeated the invaders, and regained power. In 1091, he was attacked by Gruffydd ap Maredudd ab Owain. This latter attack may have been aided and encouraged by Gruffydd's Norman neighbors in Herefordshire, but there is no evidence that they took a direct part in the attack.

The Opening of the Norman Conquest 41

routes, Rhys did not present an active threat to the security of the border shires. William's original plan had been to create the border earldoms of Chester, Shrewsbury, and Hereford as semi-independent military buffer states. This policy had proven dangerous. With danger of Welsh attack lessened, the independence and power of the Norman border lords could be safely limited, or at least a start could be made in that direction. Meanwhile, the border shires could continue their slow process of recovery and growth.


logo Return to Carrie Home Page - Return to the Carrie Donated E-Books Home Page