WE HAVE SEEN that the Norman frontier in South Wales came to an end only a century after its inception. Viewed against the broad sweep of British history, a century is a rather short time, and South Wales but a small corner of the island. It is well to remember, however, that this century was a long enough period for three generations to pass through the experience of frontier life, and that three generations of men are quite sufficient to leave a deep impression upon the society of the region in which they live. This was especially true in South Wales, where the three frontier generations established a set of traditions and a way of life which were both distinctive and enduring and which even today have set South Wales apart from the rest of Britain.1
Neither the duchy of Norman nor the monarchy of England had ever devised a governmental policy which enabled them to stabilize and regularize the marcher regions which lay along their borders. Generally speaking, the marches lay beyond the power of central authority, and beyond the pale of society dominated by that authority. Social and political institutions are basically designed to promote stability in the society which adopts them. They are maintained, however, at the price of personal liberties, and, historically speaking, the social institutions which have promoted social stability have also acted to limit social mobility. Such at least appears to have been the
1A number of uniquely Welsh characteristics are noted by C. Hughes, Royal Wales: The Land and Its People.
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case in medieval England. These restrictive social and political institutions extended into the marches of Wales only in the most attenuated form, and, for this reason, the frontier was a land of opportunity. Slowly at first the settlers began to move into the area. Not only Normans and English, but a variety of peoples came-French, Flemish, Breton, Angevin, and others. Each of these peoples brought witty them their own peculiar ideas of how things were to be done, and they brought them into an area where generally accepted modes of behavior were at a minimum. Far more than in the firmly established societies of Europe, the men of the Welsh frontier were at liberty to develop their own institutions and to work out their own destiny.
The various regulating institutions of early England-the king, the Church, and others-set limits upon the lengths to which the innovators might go. By and large, however, the settlers of South finales seem to have been allowed to draw upon their cosmopolitan background, and to devise a way of life by which they could adapt to the peculiar conditions which characterized the Welsh frontier. The frontier society of South Wales was subjected to a number of unusual stresses: the cultural diversity of its members, a chronic lack of manpower, the necessity of accommodating large numbers of native Welsh within the social order, the constant threat of encroachments by unconquered Welsh tribesmen, the desire not to stray too far from the mainstream of life of Anglo-Norman society the desire to prevent royal and ecclesiastical domination, the goal of exploiting the frontier through further conquests-the list could be endless. These and other pressures reshaped the traditions and institutions which the early settlers brought with them, and gave them new emphases. A society emerged with certain peculiarities which set it apart from the rest of Anglo-Norman society. In the present chapter we will discuss four aspects of the Cambro-Normans' way of life, in an attempt to show that these peculiarities simply reflect the special stresses to which their frontier experience had subjected them.
(a) The Marcher Lords
Perhaps the most distinctive of the institutions of Cambro-Norman society was its peculiar political and judicial system. Throughout England, the Middle Ages saw the slow extension of royal authority in virtually every area of life, and the parallel standardization of usages and elimination of localism. In the marches of Wales, however, these processes were completely arrested and, in some instances,
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even reversed. The political structure of the Welsh frontier was anything but monolithic. Norman holdings were composed of a series of semi-independent lordships, each dominated by its marcher lord. The marcher lord was a semiregal figure, supreme within his own realm. The king's writ did not run in the marcher lordships of the Welsh frontier, and each lordship was like a petty kingdom, possessing its own parliament and system of justice.
The marcher lords claimed the right to their own personal chancery, and it is apparent that many of them exercised this right. One would expect to find that the records of these chanceries would provide reasonably full accounts of the legislation and administration of the Cambro-Norman lordships. Such is not the case, however, for the records which these chanceries must have compiled have been completely lost though some individual charters which they issued have survived. It is difficult to discover the cause of this loss, but the answer may lie in the destruction attending the English Civil War. When the marcher lordships were abolished under the Tudors, the center of administration for Wales was established at Ludlow in Shropshire. It may well have been that the records of the chanceries of the marcher lordships were removed to Ludlow at this time to be placed in a central repository. The city was almost completely destroyed in the course of the Civil War, and it may be that the records were lost at that time.2
Whatever the possible cause of their disappearance, most of the records are no longer available, and we must gain our information largely from other sources. Royal records provide the most important of these sources: pleas to the crown, inquisitiones post mortem feudal services owed to the crown, and records of escheats, especially when royal officials administered a lordship for a reasonably lengthy period. The fact that we must depend mainly upon royal records creates great difficulties in evaluating the political life of the marcher lordships. We have seen that the most distinctive characteristic of these lordships was their extensive independence from royal authority. And yet, our major data concerning the lords and their lordships comes most often from those instances in which they come into direct contact with agencies of the crown. We know when the marcher lords quarrel and appeal to the king, or when local government breaks down and royal authority steps in to administer an area. We
1G. T. Clark,The Land of Morgan. Being a Contributions towards the History of the Lordship of Glamorgan, pp. 26-27
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know but little of the orderly and regular workings of the Cambro-Normans' legal and political system, and of the cooperation which must have been characteristic of the invaders' way of life. In short, the data which we do possess is such that the student must infer the rule from his knowledge of the exceptions.
We do, however, possess an appreciable amount of information Concerning the powers and privileges of the marcher lord himself, the focus of the Cambro-Norman political system. In the course of time, the processes of standardization and of extension of royal authority reached the Welsh frontier, and attempts were made to strip the marcher lords of their traditional, but anomalous, rights. The border barons vociferously protested such attempts, and, in so doing, threw some light upon the nature and extent of the privileges they were defending.
The marcher lords recognized the fact that they were feudal nobles. They held their land by right of their and their fathers' conquests, and, as Gilbert, earl of Gloucester, stated, sicut regale. They were tenants in capite, each holding directly from the king. They occupied a special status, however. Their holdings did not form part of the realm of England, and within them, they enjoyed an almost complete immunity from royal interference. The royal legalists recognized the peculiar status of these lordships "in the marches, where the King's writ does not run."4 In addition, despite the fact that they were feudal vassals of the kings, the marcher lords denied the necessity of referring their quarrels to the king's court. On the contrary, they claimed the right of settling their disputes among themselves, according to their own customary law, the Law of the March, or even viribus armatis et vexillis explicatis.5 Their immunity from royal authority was not absolute, of course, but the conditions under which the king could interfere were extremely limited:
A lordship escheated to the Crown if there were no heir of age at the death of the lord, if the lord rebelled or was convicted of felony or treason,
3British Museum, MS Cotton Vitellius, CX, folio 172b. This MS has been edited and published by G. T. Clark, "The Appeal of Richard Siward to the Curia Regis from a Decision in the Curia Comitatus in Glamorgan, 1248," Archaeologia Cambrensis, Series IV, Vol. IX (1878), pp. 241-263.
4Statutes of the Realm, I, 226.
5Clark, "The Appeal of Richard Siward," pp. 249-250. Also see The Welsh Assize Roll, 1277-1284, ed. J. C. Davies, pp. 309 and 315.
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if the lord deserted his lordship in time of war, or if the lordship were in dispute.
Even in these cases, the lordship was not absorbed into the realm of England, but, like an honor, it was maintained intact until again granted as a marcher lordship with all of the rights and privileges that were attached to this status.
This almost complete freedom from royal interference allowed the marcher lords to exercise within their lordships many powers which were elsewhere in England the sole prerogatives of the crown. They acted as kings in their own right, appointing their own sheriffs, possessing their own chanceries and their personal great seals. They had jurisdiction over all cases, high and low, civil and criminal, with the exception of crimes of high treason. They established their own courts to try these offenses, executed sentences, and amerced fines. They possessed all of the royal perquisites-salvage, treasure-trove plunder, and royal fish. They could establish forests and forest laws declare and wage war, establish boroughs, and grant extensive charters of liberties. They could confiscate the estates of traitors and felons, and regrant these at will. They could establish and preside over their own petty parliaments and county courts. Finally, they could claim any and every feudal due, aid, grant, and relief. The list of the powers, incomplete as it is, is still very impressive. Petty frontier barons exercised in their little lordships powers and privileges which were far beyond the aspirations of the greatest lords of England.7 They were the embodiment of sovereignty within their lordships.
Within the lordship itself, the inhabitants exercised a more powerful and immediate limitation on the powers of the lord. As we have said before, the frontier suffered from a chronic shortage of manpower. Each individual man was important to the security and prosperity of the lordship, be he a trader, an artisan, a man-at-arms or a simple farmer. The threat of emigration was an effective and immediate method of coercion by which the people could maintain a direct voice in the manner in which the marcher lord exercised the powers at his discretion. At the same time, the lordships were small,
6W. Rees, South Wales and the March, 1284-1415: A Social and Agrarian Study, p. 44, n. 2.
7Clark, The Land of Morgan, pp. 24-25.
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yielded little profit, and lay in constant danger of Welsh attack. The threat of civil strife or disobedience was proportionately more distasteful to the lord.8 The extensive immunities and powers which the marcher lords enjoyed were of distinct benefit to the inhabitants of the Welsh frontier, since the situation gave them an immediate and relatively responsive ruler, rather than the distant and all-powerful monarch to whom the rest of England looked.
The symbol of the marcher lord's power, and of his position in his community, was his castle, and virtually every marcher lord possessed one. He could build his castles when and where he pleased, a right apparently denied to the lords of England.9 The castle represented more, however, than just a symbol of the lord's power; it was the focus of Cambro-Norman life. It was not only their refuge in time of war, but the center of their political life in time of peace.
Each lordship had its castle. We are apt to think of a castle merely as a military fortification.. But the castle was something more than a place of defense . . . The Court of the Castle Gate, as it was called, embodied the courthouse of the old Welsh kings, though not in spirit. Amid hostile surroundings the courthouse had now to be fortified...10
The castle was the center of the legal and legislative activities of the Cambro-Normans. There remains no record of how the conquerors ordered these affairs. In Glamorgan, however, the Court of the Castle Gate endured into the sixteenth century. An Elizabethan author who was familiar with the later practices attempted to describe what the original might have been. The survival may indicate some flavor of the original proceedings:
He [Robert Fitz-Hamon] dwelt himselfe in the said castell or towne of Cardyff, being a faire haven towne. And bicause he would have the aforesaid twelve Knights and their heires give attendance vpon him euerie Countie daie, (which was alwaies kept by the Sherife in the vtter ward of the said castle on the Mondaie Monethlie as is before said) he gave everie one of them a lodging within the vtter ward, the which their heires, or those that purchased the same of their heires, doo enioie at this daie.
Also the morow after the countie daie, being the tuesdaie, the Lord his Chancellor sate alwaies in the Chancerie there, for the determining of mat-
8Rees, South Wales and the March, pp. 51-52.
9F. Lieberman, Die Gesetze der Angelsachesen, I, 556 and 558. Also see C. H. Haskins, Norman Institutions, p. 282.
10W. Rees, "Medieval Gwent," The Journal of the British Archaeological Society, XXXIV (1928), 202.
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ters of conscience in strife, happening as well in the said Sherfee as in the members; the which daie also, the said Knights vsed to give attendance vpon the Lord; and the Wednesdaie everie man drew homeward, and then began the courts of the members to be in order, one after another.11
Whether or not this is an accurate portrayal of twelfth-century usage, a general picture can be derived from other scattered data The knights and landowners who gathered at the castle gate formed both a parliament and a court, a legislative and judicial assembly. Led by the lord, or by his representative, these bodies helped to formulate and apply the laws by which the emergent Cambro-Norman society coordinated its activities. Thus the lordships were independent, not only of royal authority, but of each other. Each was allowed to develop its own local usages, and to treat with its lord as to how and to what extent he would exercise the massive powers vested in him. Thus it is erroneous to speak of a Cambro-Norman legal system rather there existed a number of such systems, flexible and developing independently. The nature of these various systems was lost with the chancery records of which we spoke earlier. A single fact stands out clearly, however. The laws of the Cambro-Normans stood untouched by the impetus for uniformity and consistency which elsewhere in twelfth-century Britain was producing the basis for the final supremacy of English common law.
The Cambro-Norman courts of the Welsh frontier did not recognize any great need for standardization. Both Welsh and Norman usages were recognized as valid, and archaic practices were steadfastly retained. Cases involving Welsh tenure and Norman feudal tenure were handled indiscriminately by the same court.12 Other lordships maintained both Welsh and English courts, each administering its special brand of justice.13 Insofar as Cambro-Norman legal arrangements did achieve some sort of consistency they represented
a partial fusion of such customary law as was known to the first conquerors, c. 1100, and Welsh customary law. . . . the system which thus began developed independently of that development of the common law in England which rendered the customs of c. 1100 archaic. No such develop-
11D. Powel, The Historie of Cambria Now Called Wales . . ., pp. 95-96.
12G. Owen, Prooffes Out of Auntient Recordes Writings, and Other Matters That the Lordshipp of Kemes is a Lordshippe Marcher, Baronia de Kemeys from the Original Documents at Bronwydd, pp. 72-74.
13Cartae et alia munimenta quae ad Dominium de Glamorgancia pertinet, ed. G. T. Clark, III, 831, and VI 2277-2278.
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ment would have been possible in even the greatest of English or Anglo-Irish franchises, for the writ of error which ran in all of them meant that the lord must be careful to see that the common law was applied in his court if the writ was not to be used against him, but in Wales this check did not operate, and local usage could prevail unhampered.14
This much is clear; the legal systems of the Welsh frontier were peculiar. They became so and remained so because the immunities which the marcher lords enjoyed protected the frontier, in large measure, from the forces which elsewhere were producing uniformity and centralization. It is impossible to say whether or not the laws of the marcher lordships were repressive or liberal. One can only point out that the people of the frontier were free to develop their own laws in cooperation with a ruler who was close to them and dependent upon their support. It would be surprising if they developed a legal system which they did not find congenial.
It should be evident by now that the political system of the Welsh frontier was unique, in terms of British constitutional development. It is also clear that most of those features which made it distinctive stemmed from a single factor-the extensive and anachronistic immunities and powers which the kings of England allowed the marcher lords to enjoy. The question remains as to why these minor barons were allowed to acquire and exercise rights which were jealously denied to even the greatest and most loyal magnates of England. This is not a simple question to answer. The traditional explanation has been that the rights and powers were granted partially as a reward for undertaking the arduous task of conquering the turbulent (Welsh) and partially to enable them to accomplish this task more easily. This explanation is, on the face of it, inadequate. It is difficult to explain how the right to wage private war on one's Norman neighbors or to have first claim on the royal sturgeon could have aided the border baron in subduing his Welsh opponents. It is necessary to look elsewhere for the source of these anomalous privileges.
Sir Goronwy Edwards has considered this problem at some length, and has arrived at the not too surprising conclusion that the marcher lords derived their powers directly from the Welsh chieftains whom
14A. J. Otway-Ruthven, "The Constitutional Position of the Great Lordships of South Wales," The Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Series V, Vol. VIII (1958), p. 12.
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they replaced.15 This explanation removes many difficulties. It can easily be seen that the powers that the marcher lords claimed, and the manner in which they exercised them, were quite similar to powers and activities of the lords of the commotes they had conquered. Such a process places the powers of the marcher lords in their proper perspective as an unusual, but integral, part of the process of British constitutional development. The initial principle which had governed the development of Anglo-Norman society had been that enunciated by the Conqueror himself-that the Anglo-Saxon system was to remain, and that the Norman conquerors were simply replacing Anglo-Saxon tenants. Finally, the grants he made to his followers carried with them every privilege and obligation which they had entailed under the English kings.16 It can be clearly seen that the Normans carried this principle with them into Wales. Edwards comments:
In Wales, as well as in England, they planted their feet firmly into the shoes of their antecessores. But in Wales, of course, their antecessores happened not to be Englishmen. And that is the historical explanation of the contrast between Norman handiwork in the March of Wales and Norman handiwork in England.17
As the border barons moved into Wales, they assumed a dual role- that of feudal lord and vassal of the king in the eyes of their Norman followers, and of tywysog for the conquered Cambrians. As Cambro-Norman society emerged, the two roles became one, and the functions merged. The formative period came during the reigns of kings who were either incapable or uninterested in arresting the process.
Thus it is seen that the almost pure feudalism of the Welsh frontier came about, not as a result of English or Norman development? but as the amalgamation of the intensely flexible institutions of the early invaders and of the relatively inflexible institutions of the conquered tribesmen. The peculiar political structure of the marches of Wales was determined in large measure by the peculiar political system of preinvasion Wales. In the end result, however? this amalgamation would not have occurred if it had not worked to the advantage of
15J G. Edwards, "The Normans and the Welsh March," The Proceedings of the British Academy, XLII (1956), 155-177.
16F. M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England, p. 618.
17Edwards, "The Normans and the Welsh March," pp. 174-175.
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those concerned. The possibility of acquiring the semiregal status of marcher lords drew turbulent and adventurous settlers to the frontier, and, in some measure, hope may have made up for the toil, frustration, and failure which was often their lot. The development of the marcher lord's power also created a governmental institution which both invaders and invaded could understand, and through which they might eventually be integrated. The wide range of powers in the hands of the border barons allowed them to develop organizations capable of facing and adapting to the rapidly changing fortunes of frontier life. Finally, the concentration of power in the hands of the marcher lord, and his independence of royal authority, provided the frontiersmen an immediate and responsive government, and the possibility of individual freedom and power which such a government brought.
(b) The Church on the Frontier
In the last analysis, Cambro-Norman society faced two great challenges: to develop institutions which could utilize not only the lowland environment of Wales but also the uplands which lay above the 600-foot contour line, and to develop institutions which could be shared by both the typically lowland culture of the Anglo-Normans and the typically upland culture of the Welsh tribesmen. We have seen how the Anglo-Norman conquerors of the eleventh century failed to meet these challenges, and attempted to insulate their lowland environment and their lowland culture through the erection of a line of fortresses. In the course of time, however, a distinctive Cambro-Norman society emerged in the area which, in some aspects of life at least, managed to make a start toward bridging the gaps between the two cultures. This appears to have been true of the political system which emerged along the frontier. Let us now turn to the role played by the Church along the Welsh frontier.
One would think that their common faith would have provided a meeting ground for the invaders and the Welsh tribesmen. Both peoples considered themselves as integral pales of the Universal Church which dominated western Europe. Within this faith, however, there existed a great range and diversity of practices, and the Welsh and the Normans found themselves at opposite ends of this range Their cultural differences were perhaps more apparent in their religious practices than anywhere else.
As we have said before, Welsh religious practice was of the
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Celtic variety, and was dominated by the Clan - a monastic organization firmly based upon Welsh tribal structure. Organization was extremely decentralized, and the enforcement of discipline was virtually nonexistent. This led to a wide variety of practices, ranging from the excessive asceticism of the holy hermits to the secularism and corruption of monks scarcely distinguishable from the tribesmen about them. This is not to say that the Church in Wales did not serve the Welsh people effectively. The important fact is that the organization of the Welsh Church was extremely decentralized, and closely integrated into the tribal structure of Welsh life. It could not help but be a part of its society and a rallying point for Welsh nationalism.18
The Church in Normandy exhibited characteristics almost diametrically opposed to the Welsh Church. It observed Roman usage and was already one of the most highly organized representatives of this type. It exhibited fully the internal division between secular and regular clergy which the Welsh Church completely lacked. The secular clergy was firmly organized into a diocesan structure based upon territorial divisions of the duchy. The Church possessed immense wealth and engaged in a great number of activities, both spiritual and secular, on the local level. These activities were regulated by a chain of command running directly through the bishops to the local clergy. The final power, however, ultimately lay in the hands of the duke of Normandy. Thus the Norman Church was organized, centralized, and, in large measure, a tool of the central government. The regular clergy, on the other hand, were more closely connected with the feudal barons than with the central authority of Normandy. The Normans had taken monasticism to their hearts, and the monastic establishments of Normandy were perhaps the best regulated and most dynamic of Europe. The great families of the duchy vied with each other in founding and richly endowing monasteries on their estates. In exchange for these grants, the monasteries provided their patrons with chaplains, clerks, preferments for younger sons, and final resting places.19
This was the pattern of religious organization which the Normans brought with them into England, and later imported into Wales. The
18G. W. S. Barrow, Feudal Britain: The Completion of the Medieval Kingdoms, 1066-1314, p. 220. Also see J. W. W. Bund, The Celtic Church of Wales.
19The evidence of numerous charters attests to the services which the monasteries provided their benefactors.
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Church in Wales was quickly Normanized by the early conquerors, and used as a means of enhancing the authority of the king. The class system was replaced by an episcopal structure which was soon staffed with Norman prelates. This had the double effect of destroying one of the dynamic elements of Welsh tribal life, and of placing the Church in Wales under direct royal domination. The Norman bishops of Wales were responsible to the archbishop of Canterbury, who was, in turn, responsive to the needs and desires of the king. Thus the Church in Wales became closely bound to the interests of the conquerors.20 So close was this identification that in some areas the distinction disappeared between the Norman cleric and the Norman conqueror. The bishop of St. David's, for instance, was himself a lord marcher, maintained a military force at his disposal, and exercised the right to erect fortifications within his diocese.21 Indeed, the church architecture of South Wales even today bears witness to this early fusion of spiritual and military functions. The parish churches of this region are distinguished by their defensible sites, their thick walls, and, above all, their massive square towers which resemble keeps far more than campaniles. They are, in effect, small fortresses.
This manipulation of the Church in Wales to aid Norman interests and to weaken Welsh resistance may have been of immediate benefit to the early conquerors, but it worked to the eventual disadvantage of the emergent Cambro-Norman society. In the first place, the pro-Norman bias of the new ecclesiastical organization alienated the Welsh. The tool of domination could never become a means of reconciliation. Secondly, the episcopal structure of the Church in Wales was such that it was less responsive to the needs of the marcher lords and of Welsh society in general than could have been wished. In its secular aspects, Cambro-Norman society was able to develop in response to its frontier environment because of its relative immunity from royal authority. The Church in Wales did not enjoy such immunity, and hence found it impossible to adapt freely to its immediate environment. This is not to say that it made no attempts to do so. During the anarchy of Stephen's reign, Cambro-Norman prelates gained control of the bishoprics of Llandaff and St. David's.22 They immediately began a campaign to have St. David's recognized as the
20T. P. Ellis, Welsh Tribal Law and Custom in the Middle Ages, I, 11-12.
21M. Davies, Wales in Maps, p. 43.
22Handbook of British Chronology, eds. F. M. Powicke et al., pp. 198-199 and 204.
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metropolitan church of Wales. This would have substantially diminished the power of Canterbury, and hence of the king, to dominate Welsh ecclesiastical affairs. This attempt, and others that followed, failed, and the Church in Wales remained the captive of authorities whose interests were far removed from the problems of the frontier.23
Much the same is true of the role which the regular clergy played in the conquest of Wales. The monks were even more closely tied to the interests of the invaders than was the ecclesiastical structure which was established. As the Normans moved into Wales, they enriched their Norman abbeys with the fruits of their conquests. These great abbeys-Fecamp, St. Vincent, and their English sisters such as Battle and St. Peter's-established priories in their new possessions. The monks of these priories, mostly Benedictine, performed a number of functions. They exploited the lands and sent the profits back to the mother abbeys; they furnished the frontier garrisons with chaplains and the new lordships with clerks; and they attempted to supplant the influence of the native Welsh clergy on the local scene. They succeeded fairly well in all of these roles but the last. The very location of these early priories-Chepstow, Monmouth, Abergavenny, Brecon Ewyas Harold, and others-gives some indication of the causes of this failure.24 The early priories were erected in the shadow of the invader's castles, and drew their sustenance from land which had been but lately acquired from the Welsh.25 These Benedictine monks were too closely connected with recent injustices and too firmly allied with the interests of the conquerors to inspire the trust and devotion of the Welsh. The monastic orders which the early Norman invaders had imported into Wales uniformly failed to adjust to the frontier environment and to form a bridge over which the two peoples might communicate. The Benedictine monk and the Norman knight were equally out of place on the windswept and barren moors in which the Welsh made their home. This should not be too surprising. These monastic orders, like the Welsh episcopates, were not free to adapt to their environment. The priories were, after all, merely a device by which the distant and uninterested Norman
23J E. Lloyd, A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest, 1, 480 and 559.
24See A. H. Williams, An Introduction to the History of Wales, Vol. II, Part 1, p. 25, table 1, for a more complete list.
25See Davies, Wales in Maps, p. 43. For a description of a few of these priories, see R. Graham, "Four Alien Priories in Monmouthshire," The Journal of the British Archaeological Society, new series, XXXIV (1928), 102-121.
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holdings. They, and the abbeys which were founded in South Wales in the early days, were instruments more of exploitation than of evangelism.
It was not until near the end of the frontier in South Wales that the Church introduced a monastic order which was capable of spanning the gap which existed between the native Welsh and the emergent Cambro-Norman society, and of bringing about some sort of communication between the two. This was, of course, the Cistercians, whose industry finally succeeded in developing the sheep-raising which gave the Welsh highlands a viable economy and allowed them to gain entry into the mainstream of European life. The success of the Cistercians in Wales was rapid. A small community was established in southwest Wales by Bernard, the Cambro-Norman bishop of St. David's, and eventually took up residence at Whitland, a place hallowed by the memory of Hywel Dda. In 1147, the Cistercians absorbed the order of Savigny, and, at a single stroke, became the possessor of the greatest abbeys of South Wales: Tintern, Margan, and Neath. The Cistercians seemed an order almost designed to fulfill a dynamic role along the frontier, since the creed of their order compelled them to seek out and to develop the wasteland and wilderness. It was not long before this compulsion led them to do what no lowland institution had been able to do-to cross the 600-foot contour line and establish themselves firmly in the barren Welsh uplands. In 1164, Robert Fitz-Stephen granted an extensive tract to Whitland for the establishment of a cell in the uplands of Cardigan. A cell of monks was sent out and established the community which soon became known as Strata Florida.26 The austerity and rural attitudes of the Cistercians struck a responsive chord in the Welsh among whom they settled. At the same time, the new arrivals shared none of the odium of having been the running dogs of the conquerors. The Welsh enthusiastically joined in support of the Cistercians, and the Lord Rhys became the patron of Strata Florida. From this center, high in the plateaus of central Wales, daughter abbeys were established throughout the Welsh peninsula. The Cistercian order became the first institution fully shared between the Cambro-Normans and the native Welsh. Its final victory, however, lay after the frontier era had come to an end, and it was the product not of the Norman
26For the history of the Cistercian establishment in Wales, the best single source is L. Janauscheck, Originum Cisterciencium, tomus 1. . . .
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frontier in Wales, but of the internal frontier which lay within the lowland environment of Europe itself.
In the last analysis, the Normans in South Wales failed to adapt their religious institutions fully to the frontier environment in which they lived and to use these institutions as a means of establishing a stable and integrated culture which could unite the upland and lowland environments of Wales. They failed for two reasons. In the first place, the early invaders used their religion as a means of conquest and of domination. The native Welsh rejected an institution which was patently but another instrument of the invaders' power. Secondly, and perhaps more important, the pattern of religious organization was such that control of the Church's activities along the frontier was placed in the hands of authorities who were more interested in profit and power than in creating an organization capable of adapting to the peculiar conditions existing along the Welsh frontier. It was only as the Norman frontier in Wales drew to a close that a religious institution appeared that was something more than merely a means to an end.27
(c) The Growth of Towns along the Frontier
The societies of the native Welsh and of the Norman invaders were far different. We have discussed many of the distinctive Norman institutions, such as the castle, the mounted knight, the manor and the royally dominated episcopates; and we have attempted to explain the role which each played in the Norman frontier experience in Wales. One last institution remains to be treated-the towns and cities which sprang up in the wake of the conquerors. These were as alien an intrusion into the land as the castles which were erected by the invaders. The small boroughs were hated by the native Welsh who attacked them repeatedly. Plunder was, of course, a primary motivation, but looting was invariably followed by the most complete devastation possible.28 The Welsh saw that these settlements were a vulnerable, but necessary, part of the Normans' program for the subjugation and settlement of Wales.
27Others were to follow. The friars became popular among the Cambro-Normans and, in some eases, among the Welsh. See R. C. Easterling, "The Friars in Wales," Archaeologia Cambrensis, Series VI, Vol. XIV (1914), pp. 323-356. See also R. P. Conway, "The Black Friars of Wales: Recent Excavations and Discoveries, Archaeologia Cambrensis, Series V, Vol. VI (1889), pp. 97-105.
28For instances of such attacks, see Annales Cambriae, ed. J. Williams ab Ithel pp. 36-71 passim.
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Town life was essentially foreign to Welsh society. The Welsh were a pastoral people, and moved their residences frequently. As a consequence, there was little in the way of fixed habitations anywhere in Wales outside of the alas communities. As a matter of preference, and as a result of the necessity of possessing adequate grazing land, the Welsh avoided concentrating in any one location. Their normal unit of settlement was the isolated family homestead, or, at most, the rude hamlets which sometimes huddled around the courts of local chieftains. Family groups tended to be largely self-sufficient, and there existed little trade to stimulate the growth of market centers. The very bases of urbanization were nonexistent in Wales, and urbanism tended to be repugnant to the sensibilities of the free tribesmen.
Such was not the case in Normandy. The people there were primarily agrarian, and their method of tillage demanded a large measure of cooperation amongst a substantial number of people. The result was that the agricultural population of Normandy tended to concentrate in small village communities and to operate on a communal basis. The isolated farmstead was a rarity there, and the people tended to favor community living.
Beginning in the early part of the eleventh century, a number of factors began to operate which concentrated numbers of these people in towns, or bourgs, and made this new urban settlement an essential feature of Norman life. In the first place, the economic life of Europe as a whole began to quicken, and everywhere, Normandy included, favorably situated agricultural villages, cathedral towns, and crossroads began to blossom out as marketing centers. It was not lost on the nobles that control of such centers could bring wealth and power. Where it was possible, the nobles simply extended their authority over the centers which had grown up, and demanded tolls and dues. For many feudal lords, however, this was impossible, since no marketing centers had grown up within their jurisdiction. As a result, many nobles were led to establish such bourgs by fiat and to concentrate all trading in their lands in these centers, where tolls and duties could be regularly collected.
The success of such ventures led to a craze for borough-founding throughout northern Europe. It was soon found that the combination of a castle and a borough formed an economic unit of unprecedented vitality. The castle attracted merchants with its promise of protection and it guarantee of a local monopoly of trade. At the same time,
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the garrison of the castle provided the merchants and artisans of the borough with at least a minimal market. The borough provided for the material needs of the castle, and brought the lord a substantial revenue. Finally, the burghers frequently produced enough agricultural goods to provide an adequate food supply for the entire community, and constituted an additional force of defenders in time of attack. The castle plus the borough possessed a strength and unity which the old combination of castle and manor had never exhibited.
Thus the second motive for borough-founding emerged. It was soon seen that the borough, and its attendant fortification, formed an admirable unit for the settlement of uninhabited areas. It was but a small step to the realization that such communities were the most effective method of attracting settlers to occupy and control newly conquered or disputed areas. The details of this process are particularly clear in Languedoc, where T. F. Tout notes that:
The origin of the bastides of Languedoc is to be found in the days before the northern conquest when monasteries, possessing large tracts of land and no tenants to till them, attracted settlers to their estates by setting up little fortresses for them to live in and investing the inhabitants with modest immunities.29
A regular and clearly defined process of bourg establishment grew up in the area, a process which was turned against the inhabitants of the region when their northern conquerors used the same methods to relocate numbers of their adherents in the heart of the conquered land. The bastides and villeneuves finished a process of conquest only begun by the mounted knights.
Thus we can see the advantages which the Normans saw in the establishment of bourgs-they provided revenue, a means of settling waste lands, and an admirable adjunct to border fortresses. The feudal nobility of Normandy entered enthusiastically into the new process of artificially stimulated urbanization. The years immediately preceding the Conquest of England saw the establishment of boroughs in all parts of the duchy, and the growing integration of such communities into the Norman way of life.30
By the time the Normans appeared on the Welsh frontier, they had had over a generation's experience in using boroughs as a means of
29T. F. Tout, Medieval Town Planning: A Lecture, pp. 10
30Haskins, Norman Institutions, pp. 48-49
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pacifying and controlling marcher areas It was only natural that they should embark on a similar course along their new frontier. The process was begun quite quickly.
When William I directed Fitzosbern to build castles . . . he sanctioned borough-making on a large scale, and only in a few eases is royal confirmation spoken of. The makers of boroughs who are not themselves tenants in chief get the consent of their overlord, but the king was a lord who was not likely to refuse, and, within their earldoms the earls Hereford, Shrewsbury, and Chester had regalian rights that made royal consent unnecessary. As the Leges Willelmi say, castles and boroughs and cities were founded and built to be places for buying and selling under control . . . so Fitzosbern and Roger Montgomery and Hugh Lupus, at the Conqueror's desire, civilized the border.31
The first step in this process lay in the establishment of Norman appendages or suburbs, to the English boroughs which the conquerors found already established along the border. Thus small colonies of French and Normans were located near the English communities of Hereford, Bristol, Shrewsbury, and others. These new communities differed from their English neighbors in two important respects In the first place, the English boroughs were fundamentally agrarian in character, and trade was a purely secondary pursuit. The Norman burghers were granted such small and barren tracts of land that they were obviously intended to devote their time primarily to trade and industry.32 The second major distinction between the English and Norman settlements lay in the fact that each possessed a separate charter of liberties. The English continued to operate under the grants and immunities they had received under the Anglo-Saxon kings, while the Norman settlers enjoyed liberties derived from the charters granted to towns in Normandy.
It must be remembered that the borough charters of Normandy varied widely in their terms. The particular needs of the settlers, the generosity of the lord, and the prevailing standards of the time all had a role in determining the particular form and content of a given charter. Along the Welsh frontier, however, one set of customs derived from a particular Norman bourg achieved such popularity that it set the pattern for urban organization in South Wales for the next
31M. Bateson, "The Laws of Breteuil," The English Historical XVI (1901) 335-336.
32 Ibid., pp. 335-336 and 339-340.
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century, and was exported to Ireland by the early conquerors' grandsons. We refer, of course, to the famous laws of Breteuil.33
Breteuil, a small bourg located near the border of Maine and Blois, lay in a Norman marcher territory in the hands of William Fitz-Osbern. The land was not good, but the town was firmly established and more than held its own in the face of repeated devastation of the area. It was perhaps only natural that Fitz-Osbern should turn to Breteuil as a model for the urban settlement of his new lands on the marches of Wales. The specific conditions embodied in the laws of Breteuil are difficult to reconstruct, but enough can be discerned to determine that they were distinguished by their liberality. The burgesses were allotted specific building sites within the bourg and were allowed small amounts of agricultural land outside the walls. They were allowed to sublet or to rent parts of their lots and to engage in trade within the town. For all of these privileges, they were charged a maximum of twelve pence, and their annual rent was not allowed to exceed this same figure of twelve pence. The burgesses were free to give up their positions and to leave their burgages at will, without penalty. If the lord were forced to borrow money from one of the burgesses, a maximum limit was set upon the time for which the lord could enjoy the loan. The burgesses were especially well protected against abuses of the law. They could not be forced to serve or stand trial in any court other than that of the bourg. Within the bourg, they could not be amerced a fine of more than twelve pence (except in certain royal offenses), and, if imprisoned, were allowed to meet their own bail.34 All in all, the laws of Breteuil provided the burgesses with a considerable amount of freedom of action, and immunity from the possible abuse of his power by the founding lord, and all for a quite modest sum.
It was, in all probability, this very liberality which made the laws of Breteuil so successful in providing the model charter for new boroughs established on the Welsh frontier. Life on the Welsh frontier was not such as to encourage artisans and merchants to forsake the secure and fertile fields of England and Normandy to re-establish themselves in the raw wilderness which the early frontier must have
33Miss Bateson's famous article on "The Laws of Breteuil" was carried in a series of issues of The English Historical Review, XV (1900), 73-78, 302-318, 496-523, 754-757; XVI (1901), 92-110, 332-345. For a dissenting opinion, see M. deW. Hemmeon, Burgage Tenure in Medieval England.
34See M. Bateson, "The Laws of Breteuil," and J. H. Round, Studies in Peerage and Family History, pp. 183-184.
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been. And yet we know that such men did immigrate into this region and did set up such boroughs. We also know that most of these boroughs had a single feature in common-they were organized under the laws of Breteuil. This similarity is too frequent to be a mere coincidence. It is far easier to believe that the early conquerors had simply found that liberties and immunities which had drawn men to the isolated and beleaguered bourg of Breteuil were also capable of inducing them to undertake the immense task of establishing cities in the Welsh wilderness.
The settlers often succeeded, and the modern cities of Hereford, Cardiff, Builth, Brecon, Carmarthen; and others bear eloquent testimony to this success.35 Far too frequently, however, they failed. The boroughs which must once have lain under the walls of Clifford's Castle, Wigmore, Ewyas Harold, Skenfrith, and the other castles which the conquerors constructed, have disappeared, and, at the most, quiet villages remain, existing as farm residences and as centers for the slight tourist trade which comes to view the nearby ruins. It must never be forgotten that for the most part the bourgs of the Welsh frontier were an artificial growth, stimulated by the needs of a garrison society.36 The bourgs and bourg life of the frontier were merely extensions of the castles near which they were built. There existed no organic economic basis for their existence until the growth of the sheep-raising industry of the Welsh interior provided the region with an exportable commodity other than a few hides, horses, and slaves.37 Only then did a true urban development take place in South Wales.
This is not to say that the original establishments failed in their purpose, but merely that the purposes of these frontier towns were more limited than one might recognize at first glance. They monopolized trade within their various localities and thus made it possible for the marcher lords to control this important activity. They ministered to the material needs of the frontier garrisons, and, to some extent, brought a touch of civilization to an otherwise lonely and isolated region. Through trade they slowly introduced the Welsh tribesmen to luxuries which, in time, lessened the isolation and fierce
35M. Bateson, "The Laws of Breteuil," XV (1900), 516.
36Ibid. XVI (1901), 345.
37 See E. A. Lewis, "The Development of Industry and Commerce in Wales during the Middle Ages," The Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, new series, XVII (1903), 121-173.
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independence of their enemies and rendered them more susceptible to other civilizing influences which were to follow. Above all, however, these small communities offered a security in numbers, and the laws of Breteuil offered liberties and immunities which drew badly needed men to the frontier and integrated them into a social organism which existed there. Neither the Norman castle nor the Norman borough in South Wales can be considered as separate entities. The basic organization in the Norman conquest of South Wales was a combination, or better still, an amalgamation of the two.
Up to the present, our discussions have been mainly confined to those social institutions which were characteristic of Norman society along the Welsh frontier. Although such analyses are important, they do little to illuminate the personal attitudes of the people who made up this society. We are fortunate that the Welsh frontier in the twelfth century produced two men of letters who were able, in some measure, to speak for a population otherWise rather silent and impersonal. It is not our purpose to speak of the literary merits of the works of these men, nor to discuss their roles in the history of literature, but to attempt to see in them some personal reactions to the peculiar environment of frontier life.
The first of these literary figures in point of time was Geoffrey of Monmouth (d. 1155), renowned as the author who introduced the Arthurian romances into European literature. It seems most probable that Geoffrey was neither Welsh, English, nor Norman, but Breton in extraction. He may have been the son of a settler in, or himself an immigrant to, the Breton colony established at Monmouth by Wihenoc, who took over the area after the fall of Roger of Breteuil. At any rate, Geoffrey probably knew the Breton language and was thus able to communicate with the Welsh inhabitants of the region where he spent his youth. His writings make it obvious that he was well acquainted with this lovely area, the locale of many of the folk tales which the Welsh and Bretons held in common. The greater part of his life, however, was not spent in this frontier region, but in Oxford. He first appears as a witness to an Oxford charter in 1129, and it seems likely that he spent most of the remainder of his life there.38
38See Lloyd, A History of Wales, II, 524 ff., for a short discussion of the details of Geoffrey's career.
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In 1136 his great work, the Historia Regum Britanniae, appeared, and it is probable that much of the work was done at Oxford. The subject matter of the work, however, returns to the traditions and region of his youth. In form, the Historia purports to be a history of the kings of Britain from the earliest times to the death of Cadwaladr. In essence, however, the book is a vehicle for the presentation of the Celtic romances surrounding Arthur, a messianic hero who would someday return to free the Celts of their oppressors. The scene of action ranges over the entire island of Britain, but tends to concentrate in South Wales, and especially the region of Monmouthshire, where the Celtic golden age reached its height under Arthur. The book glorifies the Celts. but Geoffrey takes pains throughout to impress upon the reader that he means to glorify the Breton Celts, and not the Welsh, who were but the remnants of the once-mighty race.39
The millennial element dominates the close of the book, which ends with the Saxons in complete control, and the Celts awaiting the time appointed by God when they should again gain control of Britain. Geoffrey emphasizes, however, that the restoration not to come from Wales, but from Britanny. Is there a general point to this entire account? Geoffrey is nowhere explicit, but it seems as if he is pointing out in the Historia that the long-awaited day of liberation had already arrived; the Bretons, and their Norman friends and allies, had returned to "Ynys Prydain," and had overthrown the Saxon oppressors. If this is true, then the Historia Regum Britanniae represents a Breton's attempt to justify his people's status along the Welsh frontier as a fulfillment of the messianic legends to which both Bretons and Welsh paid homage. Inherent in this is the plea for the Welsh to recognize this fact, to embrace their Breton brothers, and rebuild the golden age in Monmouthshire.
The Historia was written in the flush of success that attended the effective frontier policies of Henry I. The native Welsh were controlled, if not conquered, and the work of settlement and building in the frontier proceeded in security. It was quite possible, in these years, for Geoffrey to see in the new order of things the beginning of the long-awaited golden age. In the years that followed, however,
39Geoffrey of Monmouth, The Historia Regum Britannia of Geoffrey of Monmouth, ed. A. Griscom, especially pp. 532-535. For an excellent discussion of the Arthurian romance and its relation to Irish and Welsh folklore, see R. S. Loomis, Wales and the Arthurian Legend.
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Geoffrey's faith must have been severely shaken. The anarchy attending the reign of Stephen followed quickly on the heels of the appearance of the Historia, and the entire frontier was plunged into chaos. The work of the preceding generation vanished overnight, and all hopes of brotherhood and peace vanished in the settlers' grim struggle for survival. Thus was a period of disillusionment for the settlers along the Welsh frontier, and also for Geoffrey.
Little of this would be known were it not for the fact that, in his old age, Geoffrey published a second and relatively little-known work, the Vita Merlini.40 It first appeared in about 1151,41 after twenty-five years of anarchy in English affairs. The Vita is an incredibly involved Latin poem of over 1,500 hexameter lines purporting to present the life and prophecies of the famous Celtic seer Merlin. It was inevitable that much more of Geoffrey than of Merlin went into the complicated and obscure poetic prophecies which dominate the work. Although most of these are almost incomprehensible, some fees stand out with startling clarity. These few indicate that a great change had come over Geoffrey's attitude toward life along the frontier, and over his millennial hopes.
In the course of his account, Geoffrey puts the following prophecy in the mouth of a raving Merlin:
Then the Normans, sailing over the water in their wooden ships, bearing their faces in front and in back, shall fiercely attack the Angles with their iron tunics and their sharp swords, and shall destroy them and possess the field. They shall subjugate many realms to themselves and shall rule foreign peoples for a time until the Fury, flying all about, shall scatter her poison over them. Then peace and faith and all virtue shall depart, and on all sides throughout the country the citizens shall engage in battles. Man shall betray man and no one shall be found a friend. The husband, despising his wife, shall draw near to harlots, and the wife, despising her husband, shall marry whom she desires. There shall be no honor kept for the church and the order shall perish. Then shall bishops bear arms, and armed camps shall be built. Men shall build towers and walls in holy ground, and they shall give to the soldiers what should belong to the needy. Carried away by riches they shall run along the path of worldly things and shall take from God what the holy bishop shall forbid.42
This impassioned speech can only be a description of the anarchy
40Geoffrey of Monmouth, The Vita Merlini, ed. and trans. J. J. Parry.
41Ibid, pp. 9-15.
42Ibid. pp. 70-71 (J. J. Parray's translation).
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existing in Britain under the reign of Stephen. It is especially applicable to conditions along the border at this time. The phrase, "Then shall bishops bear arms . . . Men shall build towers and walls in holy ground . . ." seems especially indicative, since we have only recently pointed out that such activities were especially characteristic of the Church in Wales. If it is true that Geoffrey earlier pictured the Norman Conquest of England and the settlement of the frontier as the fulfillment of God's ancient promise to the Celtic people, then it is equally true that the Vita Merlini is witness to his terrible disillusionment. Earlier he had envisaged the settlement of South Wales as a cooperative venture between the natural heirs, the Bretons their faithful friends and allies the Normans, and the native Welsh. The Normans had betrayed this noble venture, and it was now evident that the time had not yet arrived for the golden age to begin. Faced with this fact, and troubled by the calamities which were being visited upon the Welsh frontier where he spent his youth, Geoffrey took his stand firmly on the side of his Celtic heritage-both Breton and Welsh-when he spoke through the mouth of Merlin's sister, Ganieda, saying:
Normans depart and cease to bear weapons through our native realm With your cruel soldiery. There is nothing left with which to feed your greed for you have consumed everything that creative nature has produced in her happy fertility. Christ, aid thy people! restrain the lions and give to the country peace and the cessation of wars.43
Ganieda speaks not only for the Welsh, but for the entire people of England. Whether intentionally or not, Geoffrey has her speak especially for the settlers along the Welsh frontier. The reign of Stephen; and the anarchy which attended it was a period of disillusionment for the settlers, and nowhere does this disillusionment appear more clearly than in the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth. In 1136 he awaited the imminent arrival of the golden age of ancient prophecy; in 1151, he longs only for peace.
In the course of time, peace, after a fashion, did return to the frontier. In the intervening period, however, the character of the settlers had changed, and the bases had been laid for a distinctive If Cambro-Norman society. This society was little prone to chiliastic dreams of peace. Nurtured on war, they viewed the world about them with a realism that would have been abhorrent to Geoffrey. This new
43Ibid., pp. 116-117 (J. J. Parry's translation).
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society accepted their Norman and Welsh traditions with pride, and confronted their frontier environment with aplomb.
It was not until the Norman frontier in South Wales was drawing to a close that this Cambro-Norman society found a spokesman. The character of this man, Giraldus Cambrensis, made the wait worthwhile. Like his fellow Cambro-Normans, he was proud, turbulent, and realistic. He was, moreover, one of the most prolific authors of his age.44 Enough has been written about him, both by himself and by others, to make any extended analysis of his work superfluous. At the same time it is unnecessary to say much about his observations and attitudes regarding life on the Welsh frontier, for they have formed one of the major bases for the present work.45 One observation may not be out of place, however, for, as Geoffrey of Monmouth represents the first disillusionment of the early settlers' hopes, Giraldus illustrates the final disappearance of the frontier-in the Turnerian sense-from the Cambro-Norman mentality.
In the Descriptio Kambriae Giraldus, in typical fashion, undertakes to advise the world as to the proper way to go about the conquest and final subjugation of Wales. His final solution (omitted in later editions) was couched in the following words:
Further, I would not know how to hold a land so wild and so impenetrable, and inhabitants so untameable. There are some who think that it would be far safer and more advised for a prudent prince to leave it altogether as a desert to the wild beasts and to make a forest of it.46
There is a sad note of defeatism in these words. The mentality of the frontier is one that sees opportunity and progress lying over the horizon Giraldus feels none of this. He instead suggests that the complete elimination of the frontier, and its transformation into a desert fit only for wild beasts, would represent a final victory for the Cambro-Normans. It is a long way from the golden age of Geoffrey to the desert of Giraldus.
44Giraldus Cambrensis, Opera, eds. J. S. Brewer et al.
45See especially chapter VII above.
46 Giraldus Cambrensis, Opera, eds. J. S. Brewer et al. Part VI (Itinerarium Kambriae), pp. xxx-xxxi, and 225, n. 4.
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