Valley Trip – September 5th, 2015
Nowadays we often forget
how important the Marcher lands were in the history of medieval Wales, and the
association of Herefordshire with Owain Glyndŵr and his family can seem
quite strange. Yet three of his daughters married Herefordshire squires, and
the fourth daughter’s marriage to Edmund Mortimer brought her into the same
network. Offa’s Dyke was not the boundary then, and Herefordshire in particular had very strong links of marriage and
tradition with its western neighbours.
One need only look at Herefordshire place names to see this
demonstrated and the Golden Valley and its surrounding villages are major
examples of this. The Valley itself gets its name from a Norman mistranslation
Welsh Dwr (Water) became French d’or
Today we will be visiting some of the sites particularly
associated with Owain Glyndŵr. His final resting place is a mystery, as it
seems he wanted it to be, but if he does lie hereabouts, then he is still not
far from home, and his descendants still remain close at hand – Crofts, Scudamores, Cecils.
Although the Skirrid Inn is
best known at the moment for the ghost stories that have gathered round it, and
for its gruesome reputation as the place where evil doers and innocents alike
were hanged in the stairwell, it does also have a Glyndŵr connection.
Owain himself is said to have rallied his troops here, in the
courtyard, before setting off to attack various of Henry IV’s supporters who
The castle here dates back to the 12th
century. It was one of the fortresses known as the Trilateral, along with Skenfrith and White Castle, intended to control the border
lands. In March 1405 Grosmont, which had only a small
garrison, was attacked by a Welsh force, led by Rhys Gethin, one of Glyndŵr’s leading commanders.
However, Prince Henry, newly appointed to deal with the rising
responded too rapidly. He sent reinforcements from Hereford, and on March 11th
the Welshmen were defeated. The prince, writing to his father, estimated that
as many as a thousand of them might have been slaughtered, and Owain’s
brother-in-law and his secretary were captured and sent to London. This was the
first major Welsh defeat.
Although the Cistercians who built Dore Abbey were a foreign
religious order, often with ties to a mother house in England, over time they
became very much a Welsh organisation, supporting Glyndŵr, not Henry IV.
The abbey had acquired lands across Herefordshire; at the Dissolution of the
Monasteries in the 1540s the church itself and much of its land was bought by
the Scudamore family, but the building was left to decay until 1633 when Lord
Scudamore restored the remaining section.
The nave was lost, as were most of the
monks’ quarters. But the chancel, ambulatory and chapels remain. It is said
that Scudamore was advised to restore the church so that God would grant him
the long-desired heir to his estates; Scudamore duly had his heir – something
this fine restoration more than earned.
This site is in the parish of Vowchurch.
It has been identified in recent years as the place of Glyndŵr’s burial,
in a mound near Monnington Court, (a much later
building, never the home of Glyndŵr’s daughter and her husband). Various
excavations and surveys have taken place at the mound, and it appears that some
sort of buried stone structure has been identified by geophysics, but no
graves. The mound is often described as a motte, but the RCHAM suggests that it
may be a natural feature. In any case, it seems very unlikely that the Welsh
leader would have been buried anywhere except in consecrated land.
Glyndŵr is also associated with the nearby Chapel House,
where he is said by some to have spent his last days. However
the present building is 16th century. The land belonged to Dore
Abbey in the 15th century and Chapel House could perhaps have been
built on the site of an Abbey grange (farm) which would have had a chapel attached
for the use of the lay-brothers who did the actual farming.
It is not clear how ancient the tradition about Glyndŵr’s
burial here actually is; it could be that the suggestion was made as a means of
diverting the enquiries of journalists and others about the grave site. One
thing is clear, though – Owain Glyndŵr, like King Arthur, is someone to
whom legends and traditions attach themselves.
One of the earliest, near contemporary references to
Owain’s last days (and the only one to give an actual location) states that he
died on Lawton’s Hope Hill. Lawton’s Hope itself was part of the estates of the
Monningtons of Sarnesfield,
and it seems that the manor house there (no longer in existence) was a
favourite home of Sir Richard Monnington and his
wife, Glyndŵr’s daughter Margaret.
If Owain did, as tradition has it, spend his last years
between his daughters’ houses, then Lawton’s Hope lies halfway between Croft
Castle and Kentchurch Court. Whether he was en route from one home to another, or whether the ‘Hill’
was added for the benefit of his enemies to make his end seem more miserable,
Lawton’s Hope has to be a strong contender for his final home - if not for the
site of his grave.
Here too one suspects that the Monnington
name has led to confusion. It is possible that Sir Richard Monnington’s
ancestors had some connection with the place (his father’s name was Moynton - but the estate had passed from the Giffords to the Audleys, and in
Glyndŵr’s day belonged to Thomas Touchet who
fought for Henry IV during the rising.)
Despite this, in 1680, when the parish church was being
rebuilt, a grave was discovered under a plain stone in the roots of a sycamore
tree and this was immediately taken to be that of Owain Glyndŵr. The body
crumbled to dust almost at once. The story is very reminiscent of the discovery
of the supposed bodies of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere by the monks at
Glastonbury, and is clearly yet another example of Glyndŵr’s power to
attract stories, sometimes possibly genuine, but often new versions of ancient
Roberts Jones (for the Owain Glyndŵr Society)
1 The Skirrid Inn
7 Canon Pyon 13 Tretower
2 Campstone Hill
8 Monnington-on-Wye 14 Crickhowell
3 Grosmont 9
4 Abbey Dore 10 Bronllys 16 White Castle
5 Monnington Straddle 11
Castell Dinas 17
6 Hereford 12 Cwmdu 18 Kentchurch