The winning of Glamorgan: Introduction

Pages 1-5

Cardiff Records: Volume 4. Originally published by Cardiff Records Committee, Cardiff, 1903.

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CHAPTER I. The Winning of Glamorgan.

DURING the last five years of the 19th and the first of the 20th century, I have had the great privilege of being permitted to transcribe whatever materials I required from the collection of Welsh MSS. accumulated by that zealous patron of Cambrian art, music and letters, the late Lady Llanover (Gwenynen Gwent.) (fn. 1) For this privilege I am indebted to the signal kindness and hospitality of the Honourable Mrs. Herbert of Llanover (fn. 2) (Gwenynen Llanofor), which also enables me to lay before my readers such extracts from that collection as come within the scope of the present work. A few words upon the Llanover MSS. will not be inappropriate by way of introduction. Lady Llanover was one of the most energetic members of the Cymreigyddion y Fenni ("Abergavenny Cambricists"), a society which flourished in the thirties of the 19th century and did excellent work for the cause of Welsh literature. Later on, the Cymreigyddion dwindled away, and eventually became extinct; whereupon their manuscripts came into Lady Llanover's possession, and were deposited at Llanover House. There they remained, in a large wooden chest in the library, until the death of their aged possessor, which occurred a few weeks before I first saw them. During the fifty years, or so, that these books were in the keeping of Lady Llanover, it was not always easy for students to obtain access to them; and, indeed, the treasures seem to have been but little disturbed by anyone—for when, by Mrs. Herbert's desire, I took them out of their coffin, they were in such a state of damp and mildew as must in a few years more have reduced them to powder. Well aware of the inestimable value of these manuscripts, Mrs. Herbert promptly took measures to secure their safety for the future; and the collection is gradually becoming known to the world of letters. My transcripts make a thick volume, but only a small proportion bears reference to Cardiff. This portion I am happy to present to the readers of the "Cardiff Records." Most of the Llanover MSS. are copies in the handwriting of Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg), that grand old genius who, in the 18th century, laid the foundation not only of the national Eisteddfod, but of modern Welsh literature. "Iolo" was a careful and reliable copyist, for his time, but not so infallible in this respect as some of his admirers have claimed for him. His transcripts are bound in dark red canvas cloth, unlettered. Some of the MSS. in this collection are originals, written in the 16th and 17th centuries. Of these, most were collected by Iolo Morganwg; a few were presented to Lady Llanover. Perhaps the most valuable of them are two thick quarto paper books consisting of Welsh poems, by various bards, in the handwriting of Llewelyn Sion of Llangewydd. In the collection are also many of "Iolo's" original manuscripts, treating of the Gorsedd and other Welsh antiquities. So much having been stated with regard to the provenance of the documents contained in this chapter, we will now turn our attention to "The Winning of Glamorgan," by which title are to be understood the various MSS. treating of the Norman conquest of Cardiff and the important County of which it has always been the capital.

There are extant many Welsh legends concerning the Conquest of Glamorgan by the Normans in the reign of William Rufus. In the absence of a detailed account of that conquest from Anglo-Norman sources, the fund of information supplied by these Welsh stories is interesting and valuable. They are characteristically Celtic; that is to say, they present a picturesque array of events, accounting in a romantic manner for the hard, unpoetic fact that Glamorgan was conquered by an alien invader. This is always necessary to the Celt. To be overcome by the Teuton is to him far less of a misfortune than to be destitute of an epic which shall clothe "regrettable incidents" in the language of romance and appropriate all the glory to the vanquished—say, rather, to the betrayed. It follows that the Welsh stories are not to be taken literally. Indeed, who that knows the Celt would think of reading Celtic chronicles as if they were railway time-tables? The value of our local legends lies in their idyllic picturesqueness, in the seductive art which transports us, malgré nous, into the Celtic dreamland; where, in a magic mist, is conjured up a vision of kindly Cambro-British kings, courteous princes, lovely heiresses, tyrannical Norman barons, holy bishops and faithful clansmen, moving ghostlike about the shining, fertile Vale of Glamorgan, with its fruit-laden trees and babbling trout-streams, its turretted castles, hospitable manor-houses and whitelimed homesteads. It must not be supposed, however, that the Welsh account of the "Winning of Glamorgan by the Norman Lords" is fiction of the stamp of "Amadis de Gaule." It is legend of the stratum which holds a rich deposit of fossilised history, and gives us, perhaps, more knowledge of the time and place it deals with than many a scientific composition. To begin with, its genealogies are instructive. The habit of sneering at Welsh pedigrees is best fostered by ignorance of the original documents. In spite of some almost inevitable errors of identity, such as the confusion of Iestyn ap Gwrgan with Iestyn ap Owain ap Hywel Dda, the descents given in these manuscripts are evidently made out in all good faith and follow genuine tradition.

What is, perhaps, peculiarly noteworthy about these Glamorgan legends is their mixture of Celtic and Norman lore. Iestyn ap Gwrgan and his Welsh clansmen are commingled with the mail-clad barons of Robert Fitzhamon, fresh from Normandy; while the scenes shift between the massive masonry of the invaders' newly-built castles in the Vale, to the dry-stone fortresses of the Welsh chieftains on the distant hilltops. This makes the stories breathe the true spirit of the Glamorgan Vale, where traces of the Norman are inextricably mingled with the native antiquities; where Welsh St. Donat's holds aloof from an English counterpart, while Flemingston jostles Llancarfan and Bonvilston elbows Llantrithyd. So also (at least according to the Welsh epic) the laws administered by the officers of the Norman Fitzhamon were the "apostolic" laws of Morgan Mwynfawr and his successors of the ancient race; and the divisions of the high Lordship under the alien Lords followed the boundaries laid down centuries before the Conquest. The inevitable result of this amalgamation of Celt and Latin-Teuton was the evolution of a strong and talented race, with gifts of poetry, music and art derived from Ivernian great-grandmothers, a knowledge of organisation and administration inherited from Celto-Roman grandfathers, and a capacity for wholesale wickedness drawn from its Viking sires. The long association of the adaptable Norman with the all-absorbing Celt was inevitably destined to end, as it did in other lands, in producing an aristocratic class which, with all its feudal exclusiveness, was more Welsh than the Welsh; and which has done more to spread the influence of Welsh literature, in particular, than any pure Briton who ever lived.

The reader may notice in these documents a certain amount of confusion on the subject of the actual boundaries and extent of the ancient Kingdoms of Glamorgan and Gwent, and of the subordinate Lordship of Gwentllwg. The discrepancy in the statements as to the western limit of Glamorgan is inconsiderable, and the Crymlyn brook is now accepted for this boundary. (See ante, Vol. II., p. 2.) With regard to the eastern confines, however, the accounts are conflicting; the Taff, (fn. 3) the Rhymny and the Usk being variously given as the division between Glamorgan and Gwent, and the Taff and the Rhymny as the western boundary of Gwentllwg. An additional complication is introduced by the limitations of the modern Counties of Glamorgan (in Welsh Morganwg) and Monmouthshire, which latter is called in Welsh both Sir Fynwy and also loosely, Gwent. (fn. 4)

The following may, I think, be safely taken as a correct statement of the case. The old Welsh kingdom of Glamorgan extended from the Crymlyn brook, near Neath, on the west, to the river Usk on the east; that of Gwent from the Usk to the Severn at Gloucester bridge. Glamorgan and Gwent together formed a region anciently known as Morganwg, which included sundry minor territories. Gwentllwg, one of these, reached from the river Taff westward along the Severn shore to the Usk, and therefore lay within Glamorgan, not in Gwent.

Some valuable documents in the Welsh language are printed in the "Myvyrian Archaiology" and the "Iolo MSS.," and should be consulted by the student who is specially interested in the history and genealogies of the Welsh Princes and the Norman Lords of Glamorgan. The same is to be said of the chronicle compiled in English by Rice Merrick (Rhys Meuric), in 1578, and re-edited by the late Mr. Andrew Corbett.

Although I have here copied from the manuscripts of Iolo Morganwg some particulars which refer to the lesser lordships, apart from direct reference to the town of Cardiff, it must not be thought that the matter is foreign to the history of the County Borough. It should be borne in mind that Cardiff was the head and heart of mediæval Glamorgan, and that these minor manors were governed by the Chief Lord from Cardiff Castle. A collection of Cardiff records would be incomplete if it omitted all reference to the "members" which were so closely dependent on the Caput Baroniæ.

It will be well, in this place, to call the reader's attention to the shields of arms which form the head-pieces of the present Volume. They are the armorial bearings of the later mediæval Lords of Glamorgan and of the various lesser lordships, and of many of the old Welsh gentry of the County. These coats of arms will be fully explained in the Addenda to this book.


  • 1. "The Bee of Gwent." This bardic title, conferred by the Gorsedd of the Royal and National Eisteddford of Wales, bears, perhaps, some allusion to the famed beehives in the grounds of Llanover House.
  • 2. Only child of the late Lord and Lady Llanover, and widow of the late John Arthur Edward Herbert of Llanarth, Esq.; mother of Colonel Ivor John Caradoc Herbert of Llanarth, C. B., D. S. O., D. L., J. P., who is the genealogical chief of the entire Herbert clan.
  • 3. On the supposition that Gwentllwg was part of Gwent.
  • 4. Gwent a Morganwg is the ordinary Welsh phrase to signify the "Sister Counties," Monmouthshire and Glamorgan. This helps to show the less than nothingness of the popular myth that Monmouthshire is "an English County."