Flintshire takes its name from the former county of Flintshire established in 1536 which existed until 1974 when it was abolished under the Local Government Act 1972. Its re-establishment in 1996 under the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 does not follow those original boundaries and covers a smaller area. Flintshire is a county notable for appearing in older school geography texts as divided into two parts, with the smaller usually labelled "Part of Flint" and entirely surrounded by other counties and with a spur of Historic Denbighshire between the detached part and the main part county of Historic Flintshire. How it got into that state is story linked to the Earls of Chester, but the story has it's roots in Roman Chester and even Before The Romans.
At the time of the Roman invasion, the area of present-day Flintshire was inhabited by the Deceangli, one of the Celtic tribes in ancient Britain, with the Cornovii to the east and the Ordovices to the west. Lead and silver mine workings are evident in the area, with several sows of lead found bearing the name 'DECEANGI' inscribed in Roman epigraphy. The Deceangli appear to have surrendered to Roman rule with little resistance. The history of the area is quite complex given that it has switched between Welsh and "English" rulership on occasion. The exisrence of a line of Cheshire Castles along the River Dee and to the west of it at Pulford leads to a simplified view of the concept of a border, however the actual border location has fluctuated considerably.
Looking at topography there are several features which could provide a border between the northern Cornovii and the Deceangli. These include the Clwydian Range which has a number of hill-forts including (from the north) Y Foel (Moel Hiraddug near Dyserth), Moel-y-gaer, Penycloddiau, Moel Arthur, a second Moel y Gaer (near Llanbedr) and Foel Fenlli. An alternative which follows the line of the present English/Welsh border is associated with the flood plain of the River Dee, other alternatives include the River Gowy and the line of hill-forts along the Sandstone Ridge. Excavations at Pulford suggest there was a major settlement there in Iron-Age times and this could have been an important trade location between tribes on either side of a notional border. As hill forts are relatively rare in Cheshire it is not impossible that the line of forts along the sandstone trail were built by people of "Welsh" origin.
Matters are complicated by the arrival of the Romans and a long period of Roman rule. The sub-Roman Britons were later to be faced with the progressive migration and settlement of the Anglo-Saxons from the east, which would create a new border between the "Welsh" and the "English".
The historic county does not have the same boundaries as the current administrative Flintshire; in particular it includes a large exclave, Maelor Saesneg ("English Maelor") on the "English" side of the River Dee; it also includes Prestatyn, Rhyl and St Asaph which are now administered as part of Denbighshire, as well as Bangor-on-Dee and Overton-on-Dee, which are administered as part of Wrexham. Other exclaves of the historic Flintshire include the manors of Marford and Hoseley, Abenbury Fechan and Bryn Estyn, all on the outskirts of Wrexham, and also a small part of the parish of Erbistock around the Boat Inn. These were all completely surrounded by the historic county of Denbighshire. Additionally, a small part of Flintshire, including the village of Sealand, is isolated across the River Dee when its course was changed to improve navigation. There are two traditional tales associated with the border after the canalisation of the River Dee:
- That the new river course was placed on the Welsh side because new land which was connected to the English side would be more valuabale, and,
- That the Welsh demanded the border run down the former English bank of the estuary because so many Welsh sailors had drowned there, and it was not wished they be "buried in English soil".
Even after the periods when the area was contested by force, shifts in sdministration and governance have continued. This is due to the particular geology and geography of the area which has divided it into a series of north-south habitable strips (coastal and river valley) separated by less-habitable hilly and mountainous regions.
Prestatyn lies five miles north of the main east-west Roman Road from the legionary fortress at Deva (see: Roman Chester) into North Wales. Excavations between 1984–85 at Melyd Avenue, Prestatyn, in advance of proposed housing development, revealed part of a civilian settlement established shortly after AD 70, overlying an earlier Iron Age settlement dating to the 2nd–1st century BC. A bath-house and other buildings were added in the period AD 120–150, and there is evidence of continued occupation until the late 3rd or early 4th century AD. Apart from the stone bath-house all the buildings identified by excavation were of timber. Genetic evidence suggests some Balkan ancestry in the inhabitants of Prestatyn and this has given rise to the theory that the area may have been a popular retirement spot for troops of Legio XX, or possibly a location used for rest and recreation.
The later Romans were Christianised and a number of religious sites were established along the Roman roads of North Wales, with a significant monastery at Bangor-on Dee.
Sub-Roman and Welsh Monks
Following Roman Britain, the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons and the emergence of various petty kingdoms, the border region appears to have been "Welsh". Gildas provides little useful evidence on its location and neither does Nennius. Eliseg's Pillar may be associated with a border some distance to the east including what is known in later Welsh literature as "the Paradise of Powys". Viroconium Cornoviorum (near Shrewsbury) has been suggested as the capital of Powys - the semi-legendary "Caer Guricon". Faced with shrinking manpower and increasing Anglian encroachment, King Brochwel Ysgithrog (died c. 560) may have moved the court from Caer Guricon to Pengwern, the exact site of which is unknown but may have been at Shrewsbury, traditionally associated with Pengwern, or the more defensible Din Gwrygon, the hill fort on The Wrekin. Later rulers were buried at Meifod on the upper Severn. Meifod is a short distance north-east of the royal residence of the Princes of Wales at Mathrafal, and the relocation of the royal mausoleum indicates how Powys was being forced westwards. A number of places still identifiable in the Shropshire landscape today are mentioned alongside Pengwern in myth and poetry. The exact location of Llys Pengwern - the Court of Pengwern - is not known, and the problem is compounded by the fact that several other Pengwerns exist in Wales (e.g. near Denbigh in north Wales). A tradition, recorded by Gerald of Wales in the late 12th century, associates it with the site of modern Shrewsbury (although that town has been known as Amwythig in Welsh since the Middle Ages). A number of alternative locations have been proposed. A more recent suggestion is the Berth, a dramatic hillfort at Baschurch, but the archaeological evidence shows only the Iron Age fort with possible Roman reuse.
Another part of the evidence are the events surrounding the Battle of Chester (c616). Bede attempted to link this battle to the Augustinian mission to Britain and there is some suggestion that a synod of the British church took place at Chester in around 600. This would obviously place Chester in the still Christian British/Welsh region rather than in the "pagan" Anglo-Saxon region. However, parts of the Chester/Flintshire region eventually became part of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia by the 8th century AD.
Much of the western boundary of Mercia was reinforced under Offa of Mercia after 752. There is evidence that Offa's Dyke is possibly a much earlier construction, and several theories have been proposed as to whether earlier writers are referring to the dyke or Hadrian's Wall when they mention a border running "from sea to sea". Later writers seem to get it right: the late 9th- and early 10th-century Welsh writer Asser wrote that:
- "there was in Mercia in fairly recent time a certain vigorous king called Offa, who terrified all the neighbouring kings and provinces around him, and who had a great dyke built between Wales and Mercia from sea to sea" (Asser, Life of Alfred, 14).
The is also much debate over Wat's Dyke a 40-mile (64 km) linear earthwork running through the northern Welsh Marches from Basingwerk Abbey on the River Dee estuary, passing east of Oswestry and on to Maesbury in Shropshire, England. It runs generally parallel to Offa's Dyke, sometimes within a few yards but never more than three miles (5 km) away. Traditionally is was said to have been built by Aethelbald king of Mercia, who reigned from 716 to 757.
This evidence suggests that while the Welsh held Chester in 616, Offa had posession of Flintshire after 752. Tradition ascribes the foundation of St Johns to Æthelred, king of Mercia (674–704), in 689. He was the uncle to Werburgh. The direct authority for this statement quoted by John Leland is the Itinerary of Giraldus Cambrensisc (Gerald of Wales). However no such information is found in the surviving texts of the Itinerary (it was written in 1191). Two authorities of a subsequent date quote the early date in such a mannner as to imply their acceptance of it, and the source as being Giraldus: the MS Chronicle of St Werburgh and by Henry Bradshaw a native of Chester and monk of St Werburgh's Abbey. In his "Life of St Werburgh" (1513), Bradshaw writes:
- "The year of grace six hundred fourescore and nyen As sheweth myne auctour a Bryton Giraldus Kynge Ethelred myndynge moost the blysse of Heven Edyfyed a Collage Churche notable and famous In the suburbs of Chester pleasaunt and beauteous In the honor of God and the Baptyst Saynt Johan With helpe of bysshop Wulfrice and good exortacion"
The first clear problem here is the unconfirmable primary source and the second that a Mercian is now founding a church in what was recently a part of Wales. One possible explanation is that Bradshaw is trying to create an early association between Werburgh, her brother Æthelred and Chester. Werbergh herself never visited Chester (at least when alive), and it is not clear who controlled the site of the city following the Battle of Chester (616) and during her lifetime (~650-700).
Wessex and Mercia
Ecgbert (also spelt Ecgberht) was King of Wessex from 802 until 839. His father was Ealhmund of Kent. In the 780s Egbert was forced into exile by Offa and Beorhtric of Wessex, but on Beorhtric's death in 802 Ecgbert returned and took the throne. With the death of Offa and Beorhtric the focus of power shifted to the House of Wessex. Events also conspired to bring trouble in Wales: in 810, there was a bovine plague that killed many cattle (the primary form of wealth at the time) throughout Wales. The next year, the ancient wooden llys (royal hall) at Deganwy was struck by lightning. A destructive war for control of Gwynedd raged between 812 and 816, while in Powys a son of the king was killed by his brother "through treachery". In 818, there was a notable battle at Llanfaes on Anglesey. Although sources do not identify the combatants, the site had been the llys of King Cynan who had recently engaged in a destructive dynastic power struggle with a rival named Hywel, sometimes supposed to be his brother. Hywel was the last King of Gwynedd in the male line of Cunedda Wledig. He would be succeeded by the eldest son of Essylt daughter of Cynan Dindaethwy and Gwriad King of Ynys Manaw who was the Merfyn Frych of Nennius. Coenwulf of Mercia (reigned 796-821) took advantage of the situation in 817, occupying Rhufoniog (Denbigh) and laying waste to farms and sellements in the mountains of Snowdonia. Coastal Wales along the River Dee Estuary may have remained under Mercia’s control through 821.
Notably Cœnwulf of Mercia is described as dying at Basingwerk in 821 probably while making preparations for a campaign against the Welsh that took place under his brother and successor, Ceolwulf I, the following year. William of Malmesbury declared that, after Cœnwulf:
- "..the kingdom of the Mercians declining, and if I may use the expression, nearly lifeless, produced nothing worthy of historical commemoration."
Mercia did have a moment of glory that William was unaware of. Indicating the year 822, the Annales Cambriae states:
- "The fortress of Degannwy (in Gwynedd) is destroyed by the Saxons and they took the kingdom of Powys into their own control."
After their foray into Wales in 822 things would however go downhill for the Mercians. What happened is unclear, but it appears that the Welsh were able to rapidly expand eastwards. Under Ecgbert, Wessex rose to become the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, overthrowing the supremacy of Mercia. Ecgbert of Wessex captured Chester from the Welsh in 828, only six years after Cœnwulf had raided as far as the Conwy. Holinshead recounts the conquest as follows:
- During Egbert’s final war with Cornwall, the North Welsh had to the best of their ability aided their fellow Britons, and therefore Egbert launched a punitive expedition against them. He laid siege to and took Chester, then capital of the Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd – strongest of all the several North Welsh states. Of the punishments Egbert visited upon these Britons, the most humiliating was his command that the statue of their ancient king, Cadwalhon, be destroyed and never replaced. When he returned to Wessex, Egbert decreed that all the Welsh and their offspring leave his kingdom within six months or be put to death. Egbert ordered this apparently at the instigation of his wife, Redburga, who did exercise some political influence over her husband, and whose hatred of the Welsh was well-known.
So now the evidence suggests that the border had shifted east again by 828 and that Chester, and presumably the part of Flintshire between Offa's Dyke and the Dee has changed hands and is now back under Welsh control. Clearly the situation is very fluid as a decade earlier the Mercian border appears to be well to the west. It was not to remain fixed. Although Ecgbert seems to have defeated everyone in around 828, Mercia soon regained some independence. One problem with the historical evidence at this period is that it comes through the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle produced in Wessex which tends to downplay the role of Mercians. The Welsh kingdoms had been subject to Mercia since the mid seventh-century, at least in the eyes of the Mercians, and in 853 Burgred of Mercia sent messengers to Ecgbert's son Æthelwulf, king of the West Saxons, seeking his help to subjugate the Welsh. Æthelwulf advanced with Burgred against the Welsh, and successfully repressed their "rebellion". The ruler of North Wales at the time was Rhodri the Great, (c. 820–878) who had succeeded his father, Merfyn Frych, as King of Gwynedd in 844.
What had started as a three-sided conflict between the Britons in Wales and the Anglo-Saxons in Wessex and Mercia was soon to be complicated by a new threat from the east in the form of the Vikings. Frequenrly, the Viking threat would distract the Anglo-Saxons (particularly the Mercians) from their centuries of war with the Welsh, allowing the Welsh time to have their own internal conflicts. The Vikings also attacked Wales from their bases in Ireland. Hoever, there was a rough pattern that when there was civil unrest in England the Welsh were able to expand their borders and when England was internally at peace, land was taken back from the Welsh.
Just where the teritorial border between Rhodri and Burgred lay is uncertain. In the 870s Mercia became subject to attacks by the Viking Great Heathen Army, and in 874 it drove out King Burgred. He was succeeded by the last independent King of Mercia, Ceolwulf II, who was presented by the Wessex-influenced Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a puppet of the Vikings. In 877 they partitioned Mercia, taking the east for themselves and leaving the west to Ceolwulf. Gwynedd was also under attack from the Vikings, and in 877 King Rhodri Mawr was defeated and driven out. He returned the following year, but immediately came under attack from Mercia, which was still trying to maintain its hegemony in Wales. King Alfred's victory over the Vikings at the Battle of Edington in May 878 relieved the pressure on Mercia, and in the same year Mercia attacked, defeated and killed Rhodri Mawr.
The Chronicle of the Princes records Rhodri's death occurring at the Battle of Sunday on Anglesey in 873; the Annals of Wales record the two events in different years. According to the Chronicle, Rhodri and his brother Gwriad were killed during an Anglo-Saxon invasion (which probably would have been under Ceolwulf II of Mercia), although there is an alternative theory that he was engaged in conflict with the "dark foreigners" (Vikings). All the sources call his son Anarawd's subsequent victory over the Mercians at the Battle of the Conwy in 881 "God's vengeance for Rhodri". The fact that the battle was fought at Conwy seems to suggest that the Mercians under Ceolwulf II had seized teritory as far as the Conwy valley and that there was a counter-attack by the Welsh. It is not however certain where the border was situated after the defeat and death of Rhodri in 873. Some vague suggestion that the border was some distance to the west of Chester can perhaps be drawn from the fact that the remains of Werburgh were brought by Mercians to Chester for safety in c876 (between the Battle of Sunday and the Battle of Conwy). It also appears that around the time Plegmund - "a Mercian" according to Asser - was living near Chester from where he was summuoned to the court of Alfred sometime before 887.
Ceolwulf II died or was deposed in 879, and was succeeded as Lord of the Mercians by Æthelred. One of the first thing he did was lose at least a battle and possibly territory in Wales. Æthelred gave up his ambitions in North Wales and submitted to Alfred (the Great) of Wessex, sealing the deal by marrying Æthelflæd, Alfred's daughter.
The next we hear of Chester is from 894, just over a decade after Conwy:
- The "A" text of the ASC for the given year 894 is is described as " ... þæt hie gedydon on anre westre ceastre on Wirhealum, seo is Legaceaster gehaten ..." translated as referring to a "deserted" place on the Wirral;
- The "C" text of the ASC for the given year 907 states simply "Her wæs Ligcester geedniwod" which is normally translated as "Here was Chester renewed".
One possible implication here is that a Welsh threat had caused Chester to be deserted, although the Mercians, possibly with help from Wessex fought the Vikings there in c. 893/4. Another possible explanation is that "deserted" is being used as a euphemism for "occupied by the Welsh".
Æthelflæd refortified Chester and in 916 she led an expedition into Wales to avenge the murder of Mercian abbot Ecbryht and his companions, and succeeded in burning the palace of king Tewdr of Brycheiniog at Llangorse Lake and taking the queen and thirty-three others captive. She would die at the peak of her power and her brother King Edward the Elder would die at Farndon in the aftermath of a partly Welsh revolt at Chester, but before this he would fortify Cledematha (Rhuddlan) at the mouth of the River Clwyd, indicating that the English once again held Flintshire.
Ownership of Flintshire over the period leading up to the Norman Conquest was also complex. The House of Aberffraw was displaced in 942 by Hywel Dda, a King of Deheubarth from a junior line of descent from Rhodri Mawr. This occurred because Idwal Foel, the King of Gwynedd, was determined to cast off English overlordship and took up arms against the new English king, Edmund I. Idwal and his brother Elisedd were both killed in battle against Edmund's forces. By normal custom Idwal's crown should have passed to his sons, Ieuaf and Iago ab Idwal, but Hywel Dda intervened and sent Iago and Ieuaf into exile in Ireland and established himself as ruler over Gwynedd until his death in 950 when the House of Aberffraw was restored. Between 986 and 1081 the throne of Gwynedd was often in contention with the rightful kings frequently displaced by rivals within and outside the realm. One of these, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, originally from Powys, displaced the Aberffraw line from Gwynedd making himself ruler there. After gaining power he surprised a Mercian army at Rhyd y Groes, near Welshpool . Defeating it, he killed Edwin, brother of Leofric, Cnut's Earl of Mercia:
- "Wealas slogon Eadwine Leofrices broðor eorles Þurcil Ælfget swiðe fela godra manna mid heom": (And the Welsh killed Eadwine, brother of Earl Leofric, and Thurkil and Aelfgeat, and very many other good men with him)
By 1055 he was able to make himself king of most of Wales. Eventually, he became powerful enough to present a real menace to England and annexed some neighbouring parts after several victories over English armies. Gruffydd had reached an agreement with Edward the Confessor, which actually gave him lands near Chester. Domesday also states that:
- "King Edward gave to King Gruffudd all the land that lay beyond the water which is called Dee. But after the same Gruffudd wronged him, he took this land from him and restored it to the Bishop of Chester and to all his men, who had formerly held it."
The death of his ally Ælfgar who is last heard of in 1062 left him more vulnerable. In late 1062 Harold Godwinson obtained the king's approval for a surprise attack on Gruffydd's court at Rhuddlan. Gruffydd was nearly captured, but was warned in time to escape out to sea in one of his ships, though his other ships were destroyed. In the spring of 1063 Harold's brother Tostig led an army into north Wales while Harold led the fleet first to south Wales and then north to meet with his brother's army. Gruffydd was forced to take refuge in Snowdonia where he met his death. Gruffydd's head and the figurehead of his ship were sent to Harold. The Ulster Chronicle states that he was killed by Cynan ap Iago in 1064, whose father (Iago) had been put to death by Gruffydd in 1039 when Cynan had fled to Ireland and taken refuge in the Viking settlement at Dublin.
Gruffudd ap Cynan (c. 1055 – 1137) the son of Cynan would become the Welsh king of Gwynedd from 1081 on and off until his death in 1137. In the course of a long and eventful life, he became a key figure in Welsh resistance to Norman rule. However before 1065 much of what was to become Flintshire had once again been annexed by the Eatldom of Mercia.
Englefield: Harold in Wales
Eventually what is now Flintshire became the Hundred of Englefield (Welsh: Cantref Tegeingl), derived from the Latin Deceangli. By the time of the Norman conquest in 1066 it was under the control of Edwin of Tegeingl, from whose Lordship the Flintshire coat of arms is derived, by attribution. Edwin's mother is believed to have been Ethelfleda or Aldgyth, daughter of Edwin of Mercia.
Immediately after the Norman Conquest, King William of England installed three of his most trusted confidants, Hugh d'Avranches, Roger de Montgomerie, and William FitzOsbern, as Earls of Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford respectively, with responsibilities for containing and subduing the Welsh. The term "March of Wales" was first used in the Domesday Book of 1086. Over the next four centuries, Norman lords established mostly small marcher lordships between the Dee and Severn, and further west. At the time of the establishment of the Earls of Chester, who succeeded the Earl of Mercia, the region formed two of the then twelve Hundreds of Cheshire of which it remained a part for several hundred years. Flintshire today approximately resembles the boundaries of the Hundred of Atiscross as it existed at the time of the Domesday Book, combined with rhe Hundred of Exestan.
Locally, Earl Hugh of Avranches held Eaton himself. The two barons who held the most manors in this area as tenants under him were Hugh Fitz Osbern (Pulford, Gresford, Allington) and Osbern Fitz Tezzo (Dodleston, Gresford). They appear to have been close although not related as once thought. Osbern Fitz Tezzo's son was named Hugh, making him also Hugh Fitz Osbern (and leading to some confusion among genealogists after Leycester mixed them up). They both held further manors elsewhere in Cheshire (about 10 each in total) and Lincolnshire. Richard Pincerna (Baker) held Poulton along with another manor in "Dudestan" called Calvintone, but it is not known where that was (the name is similar to that of the "lost" village of "Claverton"). Eccleston was held by Gilbert de Venables with 11 other manors and Farndon was held by Bigot de Loges along with 14 other manors in Cheshire. The church, in the form of the Bishop of Chester at St Johns and the canons of St. Werburgh’s, held land in Farndon and Pulford respectively, suggesting that the "land across the river" which King Edward gave to King Gruffudd may have included at least Pulford. The Domesday Book recorded two entries for Pulford, which is somewhat confusing, but suggests it was divided into two shares:
- "This Church [of St. Werburgh] holds Pulford and held it in the time of King Edward. There is ½ hide taxable. The land is one plough. There is one villager and one smallholder. The value was 4 shillings; now 5 shillings."
- "The same Hugh [son of Osbern] holds Pulford. Wulfric held it as a free man. There is one and a half hides taxable. The land is one plough, and there are two riders, and one villager, and two smallholders. This land was waste; now the value is five shillings."
Ormerod reports that Hugh Fitz Osberne had ejected the Saxon proprietor of Pulford. The similarity of his name to other noted Normans and errors and assumptions of antiquarians and genaologists has led to a good deal of nonsense creeping into "family trees". There may also be spurious inclusions of his name into at least one charter possibly forged by later monks (see: Richard of Avranches).
The status of the Palatinate of Chester was peculiar in that the Earls of Chester held it almost absoluitely and it was not formally part of England. The palatinate had its own judicial machinery to which the king's writ did not run; it was financially distinct and had its own exchequer (also based at Chester Castle); it had no justices of the peace, no visits from the assizes; it sent no representatives to parliament; and men spoke of crossing from Cheshire into England.
Robert of Rhuddlan
Robert of Rhuddlan is recorded to have served as a squire in the court of Edward the Confessor and appears to have come to the Welsh Marches before 1066 in the service of the king. Hugh of Avranches became Earl of Chester in 1070, and Robert appears to have been appointed Hugh's "commander of troops" in 1072. He immediately began hostilities with the Welsh, and having captured land in the cantref of Tegeingl. When Gruffudd ap Cynan tried to recover the throne of Gwynedd from Trahaearn ap Caradog in 1075, Robert assisted Gruffudd by providing Norman troops. Later the same year Trahaearn counter-attacked and drove Gruffudd to seek refuge in Ireland, but Robert was able to take advantage of the civil war to seize the cantrefs of Rhos and Rhufoniog and to build another castle at Deganwy. He now ruled most of northern Wales east of the River Conwy. In 1081, Trahaearn ap Caradog, who had been able to prevent Robert from encroaching further west, was killed in the Battle of Mynydd Carn by Gruffudd ap Cynan and his allies. Gruffudd now became king of Gwynedd, but shortly thereafter he was captured by treachery by the Normans at Rhug near Corwen. Gruffudd was imprisoned by Earl Hugh in his castle at Chester, but Robert seems to have been responsible for his capture, since he was the one to claim Gruffydd's lands. Robert built castles at Bangor, Caernarfon, Aberlleiniog and elsewhere. In the Domesday Book he is said to hold all of North Wales apart from lands belonging to the bishoprics of Bangor and St Asaph, holding these lands directly of the king and not as in fief from Earl Hugh. He was liable to an annual rent of £40.
Robert built a Motte-and-bailey castle at Twthill near Rhuddlan in about 1086, holding the lands as a vassal of Earl Hugh. Thse parts of Flintshire had presumably been retaken by the Welsh ater the Norman invasion. Tradition has it that Twthill Castle was built on the site of the palace of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, king of Wales. The Normans were making good progress in Wales: in 1090 the first castle to be built at Caernarvon was constructed by Hugh of Avranches, Earl of Chester, a wooden motte and bailey castle.
Robert's career was brought to an abrupt end in 1093 at the beginning of the great Welsh revolt. He was enjoying a noontide nap in his castle at Deganwy when the news was brought to him that Welsh raiders had landed in three ships underneath the Great Orme and pillaged his lands. Some sources say that these raiders were led by Gruffudd ap Cynan, who had escaped from captivity in Chester. The raiders had beached their ships and were busy loading the plunder. Robert despatched messengers to gather his troops and hastened to the Great Orme, where he found that the rising tide was about to allow the Welsh to refloat their vessels and get away with the loot before Robert's troops could appear. In a fury, Robert rushed down the slopes to attack them, followed only by his armour-bearer. He was killed by a volley of javelins, and the raiders sailed off with his head attached to the mast of one of the vessels.
Robert's lands in Gwynedd were now taken over by Earl Hugh of Chester, but the Welsh revolt of 1094 led by Gruffydd ap Cynan resulted in the loss of most of this territory. By late 1095 the uprising had spread to many parts of Wales. This induced the then king William II of England (William Rufus) to intervene, invading northern Wales in 1095. However his army was unable to bring the Welsh to battle and returned to Chester without having achieved very much. In 1098, the next Norman attempt to conquer north Wales suffered a severe setback. Florence of Worcester records that, in 1098, Hugh of Chester and Hugh de Montgommery Earl of Shrewsbury led troops into Anglesey and their furious 'victory celebrations' which followed were exceptionally violent, with rape and carnage committed by the Norman army left unchecked. The earl of Shrewsbury had an elderly priest named Cenned mutilated (by castrating him and blinding him in one eye), and "made the church of Llandyfrydog a kennel for his dogs". Gruffydd ap Cynan had retreated to Anglesey, but then was forced to flee to Ireland when a fleet he had hired from the Danish settlement in Ireland changed sides. Then, a Norwegian fleet under the command of King Magnus III of Norway, also known as "Magnus Barefoot", attacked the Norman forces near the eastern end of the Menai Straits. Hugh of Shrewsbury was killed by an arrow in the eye which the Welsh considered divine vengance for his mutilation of the priest.
Leadership of the marcher lords would have fallen to the Earl of Chester, had this earl not chosen this time to return to the continent to attend to his affairs there. The Norman conquerors were also denied royal leadership and support, since the king chose the critical year of 1094 to wage war against his brother, Robert Curthose. The Norman conquest in Wales had therefore lost the leadership which might have been expected to give it proper direction and while Norman power in Wales appeared everywhere to be at its height, direction and reserve strength were lost. Behind their appearance of power, the Norman invaders were critically weak. The Normans were thus obliged to evacuate Anglesey, and the following year (1099) Gruffydd ap Cynan returned from Ireland to take possession again. Hugh apparently made an agreement with Gruffydd and did not again try to recover these lands. Before his death in 1101, Hugh had made a huge fortune from his position as the Earl of Chester and also became so fat that he could hardly walk (he was known in later life as "Hugh the Fat"). Orderic Vitalis states that Hugh was "a slave to gluttony, he staggered under a mountain of fat" and was "given over to carnal lusts and had a numerous progeny of sons and daughters by his concubines". The Welsh called him Hugh Flaidd (Hugh the Wolf or Hugh Lupus) and a wolf's head appears on his arms. It was probably the Earl's declining health which contributed to the cessation of his attempts to conquer north Wales. Gruffydd ap Cynan died in his bed, old and blind in 1137, and was mourned by the annalist of Brut y Tywysogion as the "head and king and defender and pacifier of all Wales". The latter part of Gruffydd's reign was considered to be a "Golden Age"; according to the Life of Gruffudd ap Cynan Gwynedd was "bespangled with lime-washed churches like the stars in the firmament".
The Age of Princes
Owain Gwynedd followed his father on the throne of Gwynedd the following year and ruled until his death in 1170. He was able to profit from disunity in England, where King Stephen and Empress Matilda were engaged in a struggle for the throne, to extend the borders of Gwynedd further east than ever before. He was called Owain the Great and the first to be styled "Prince of Wales".
Local border changes continued - as an example the motte and bailey castle at Mold was built by the Norman Robert de Montalt in around 1140 in conjunction with a military invasion of Wales. The castle was besieged numerous times by the Princes of Gwynedd as they fought to retake control of the eastern cantrefi in the Perfeddwlad (English: Middle Country). In 1146, during the period of English history known as "The Anarchy", Owain Gwynedd captured the castle. The catalyst for this capture being the imprisonment by King Stephen of Ranulph De Gernon then Earl of Chester. Owain's expansion eastwards had amusing consequences for Geoffrey of Monmouth who by that time had become bishop-elect of St Asaph (1151) and ordained a priest (1152). There is no evidence that Bishop Geoffrey ever visited his see - during his entire bishopric the area was Welsh territory. By 1167, Henry II was in possession of the castle, although it was recaptured by the Welsh forces of Llywelyn the Great in 1201. Anglo-Norman authority over the area began again in 1241 when Dafydd ap Llywelyn yielded possession of the castle to the de Montalt family. However, he recaptured it from the Plantagenet nobility in 1245.
In 1157 King Henry II (who ascended to the throne in 1154) decided to invade Gwynedd to halt the recent expansion of Owain Gwynedd into the lands of Powys, and to expand his empire into northern Wales. With the support of the Prince of Powys Madog ap Maredudd and Owain's brother Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd (whom Owain had recently stripped of his lands in Ceredigion), Henry led a large army (claimed to be as many as 30,000 men) into northern Wales and sent a fleet (led by Henry FitzRoy) to capture Anglesey to cut off Owain's supplies. Owain responded by raising a Welsh army of around 3000 men. According to a traditional story, the Welsh had learned of Henry's proposed route through overhearing talk in an inn at Chester, and were able to ambush Henry at Ewloe woods. Despite Owain's success in the Ewloe woods and his men on Anglesey's success, Henry had still succeeded in securing Rhuddlan, and so Owain felt obliged to make peace with him. Owain surrendered the lands of Rhuddlan and Tegeingl to Chester. He also gave Cadwaladr his lands back in Ceredigion, which re-cemented the alliance between the two brothers. Owain also agreed to render homage and fealty to Henry, hence (supposedly) taking the subsiduary title "Prince of Wales".
Despite the occassional flare-up the English Crown's interest in Wales, particularly in the North was quite fitful. English kings were generally content to accept Welsh recognition of their power while not having to do much to enforce it. There were spasmodic expeditions into Wales but the English Crown did not appear to seriously contemplate a full-scale invasion prior to Edward I. The balance of power in North Wales was largely an internal matter with the occasional involvement of a powerful Marcher lord.
Later Medieval: Edwardian Wars
War broke out in 1241 and then again in 1245 when Henry III returned to Chester with an army to relieve Dyserth Castle and build a new castle at Deganwy. Troops were mustered at Chester and the city benefitted from being a major source of provisions, equipment and weapons. The Royal "Wardrobe", which was the term used for the King's financial organisation, was moved ro Chester and large sums of money which were recieved from Ireland and elsewhere. These were stored at both Chester Castle and the Abbey.
Trouble on the border flared up in 1257 with Welsh forces penetrating almost to Chester and the construction of Ewloe Castle. Beginning in the early 1230s, the Princes of Gwynedd had started to gain the upper hand against the Anglo-Normans and Plantagenets who had taken territory in North Wales. Eventually by the late 1250s, the Welsh had reached Ewloe retaking lands up to the England–Wales border. A fortification had existed on or near the site since the Battle of Ewloe (Welsh: Brwydr Cwnsyllt) in 1157, when the Welsh successfully ambushed an English force under the command of Henry II (as they marched to Twthill at Rhuddlan). The English king only narrowly avoiding being killed himself having been rescued by Roger, Earl of Hertford. King Henry and his son Edward again brought troops and the Wardrobe to Chester and conducted negotiations with the Welsh. This was followed by a short campaign into Wales. Henry and Edward then had to return to England to deal with the growing crisis with his barons. Ewloe Castle is not mentioned in chronicles of the 1277 invasion suggesting the Welsh had abandoned the area; retreating to stronger defensive positions along the Clwydian Hills further to the west.
Henry III died in 1272 and was succeeded by his far more capable son, Edward I. Edward soon installed his mason Richard the Engineer at the Dee Mills with arrangements that grain could be ground free of tolls in the event of war. Edward arrived in Chester in 1275, but Llewelyn refused Edward's demand to come to Chester to do homage to him, and in 1276 Edward declared war. In July 1277, Edward launched a punitive expedition into North Wales with his own army of 15,500—of whom 9,000 were Welshmen from the south. From Chester the army marched into Gwynedd, camping first at Flint and then Rhuddlan and Deganwy, most likely causing significant damage to the areas it advanced through. Llywelyn was forced to seek terms. By the Treaty of Aberconwy in November 1277, Llywelyn was left only with the western part of Gwynedd, beyond the Conwy though he was allowed to retain the title of Prince of Wales. His brotherr Dafydd was given Rhufoniog and Dyffryn Clwyd, Edward took the remaining lands east of the Conwy (Rhos and Tegeingl) for the English Crown, "forever".
Edward also placed a large financial burden on Llywelyn, requiring annual payments of reparations to be made at Chester. Edward's new castles in Wales were placed under the juridiction of an officer of the Palatinate, the Justice of Chester. At the end of his first Welsh War in 1277, Edward I controlled Rhuddlan and built Rhuddlan Castle there. It was built concurrently with Flint Castle, at a time when King Edward I of England was consolidating his conquest of Wales. It was temporarily his residence, and his daughter, Elizabeth, is presumed to have been born there. From 1277, and particularly after 1283, Edward embarked on a policy of English colonisation and settlement of Wales, creating new towns like Flint, Aberystwyth and Rhuddlan. In 1280 an exchange was established in Chester for precious metals, and £1000 sent to Chester for the purpose. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd surrendered the English Maelor to Edward I in 1282. Edward then awarded it to Queen Eleanor. In 1309, under Edward II, it was granted to Queen Isabella. In 1397, under Richard II of England, it merged with the County Palatine of Chester to form "the Principality of Chester" restored to an earldom from 1398 by Henry IV.
War broke out in 1282, as a result of a rebellion by Llywelyn's brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd, who was discontented with the reward he had received from Edward in 1277. On Palm Sunday that year, Dafydd ap Gruffydd attacked the English at Hawarden Castle and then laid siege to Rhuddlan. The revolt quickly spread to other parts of Wales, with Aberystwyth castle captured and burnt and rebellion in Ystrad Tywi in south Wales, also inspired by Dafydd according to the annals, where Carreg Cennen castle was captured.
Edward himself arrived at Chester in the midst of the 1282 activity, and took command of the cavalry already mustered there. With him came the royal court and chancery, and during 1282 and 1283 chancery enrolments were made at Chester. Edward moved on into north Wales after staying in the city for over three weeks and leaving orders for 1,000 woodcutters to be assembled there and sent on to Rhuddlan to help clear pathways for his men. The city remained a major centre for provisioning the army; late in 1282, for example, the justice of Chester and the sheriffs of some 15 counties were ordered to ensure that it was continuously supplied with victuals and other merchandise. The English launched a three-pronged attack, with Edward leading his army into North Wales along much the same route as in 1277. The conquest of Gwynedd was completed with the capture in June 1283 of Dafydd, who had succeeded his brother as prince the previous December. Dafydd was taken to Shrewsbury and executed as a traitor the following autumn.
The Statute of Rhuddlan (12 Edw 1 cc.1–12; Welsh: Statud Rhuddlan), also known as the Statutes of Wales (Latin: Statuta Valliae) or as the Statute of Wales (Latin: Statutum Valliae), provided the constitutional basis for the government of the Principality of Wales from 1284 until 1536. The statute was not an act of Parliament, but rather a royal ordinance made "after careful consideration" by Edward I on 3 March 1284. It takes its name from Rhuddlan Castle where it was first promulgated on 19 March 1284. Although it was later superceeded, it was only formally repealed by the Statute Law Revision Act 1887.
The result of Edward's conquest of Wales included the creation of a new "Principality of North Wales" (Anglesey, Camarvon and Merioneth - the original Gwynedd) and a series of "Marcher" lordships in the east (Denbigh, Mongomery, Radnor, Brecknock) and south (Monmouth, Glamorgan, Carmarthen, Pembroke). Flintshire and Cardigan were part of the King's personal fief (thus, not part of the kingdom of England) and in 1301, they were bestowed on Edward's son, Edward of Caernarfon (the future Edward II), with the title "Prince of Wales" and thereafter the lands and title became the customary endowment of the heir to the throne. The Marches remained outside the shire system, and nominally somewhat outside the control of the English monarchy.
Council of Wales and the Marches
The Court of the Council in the Dominion and Principality of Wales, and the Marches of the same, commonly called the Council of Wales and the Marches, which was based at Ludlow. Its area of responsibility varied but generally covered all of modern Wales and the Welsh Marches of Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Cheshire and Gloucestershire. In 1457, Henry VI created for his son, Prince Edward, a Council to rule Wales and the marches, Cheshire, and Cornwall. It was re-established by Edward IV of England as a body to counsel and act on behalf of his son, the infant Edward, Prince of Wales. King Edward had recently been restored to the monarchy during the Wars of the Roses, and he and his allies controlled most of the marcher lordships within and adjoining Wales. He established his son at Ludlow Castle, and appointed his allies from the Woodville and Stanley families as leading figures in the Council.
When Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (descended from an Anglesey landowning family) seized the English throne in 1485, becoming Henry VII, no change was made to the system of governing Wales, though he remained concerned about the power of the Marcher Lords and the lawlessness and disorder in the Welsh Marches. To deal with this there was a revival of the Council of Wales and the Marches, which had been re-established in the reign of Edward IV. After the deaths of many of the Marcher lords during the Wars of the Roses, many of the lordships had passed into the hands of the crown. The Council was again based at Ludlow with Arthur Tudor in charge. Young Arthur was die there before his 16th birthday: see Arthur Counter-factual for more on this.
Henry VIII did not see the need to reform the government of Wales at the beginning of his reign, but gradually he perceived a threat from some of the remaining Marcher lords and therefore instructed his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, to seek a solution. His solution was the annexation or incorporation of Wales and a move against some of the remaining Matcher Lords and others associated with the Marcher Council, including William Brereton.
The second Laws in Wales Act of 1542 gave the Council statutory recognition; it had previously been based solely upon the king's prerogative. Wales was annexed to the Kingdom of England, the legal system of England was extended to Wales and the norms of English administration were introduced. The intention was to create a single state and legal jurisdiction. The Acts are sometimes misleadingly referred to as the Welsh Acts of Union.
The full Council was composed of the Lord President and his deputy, with twenty members nominated by the king; these included members of the royal household, some of the bishops of Wales, and the justices of the Court of Great Sessions. It continued to sit at Ludlow, and had responsibilities for the whole of Wales together with the Welsh Marches. These were initially deemed to comprise Cheshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. From 1542 the Justice of Chester (from 1578 the Chief Justice of Chester) often acted as a de facto Vice-President of the Council, without formally holding the title. Within the County Palatine (which encompassed Cheshire, the City of Chester, and Flintshire), the Justice enjoyed the jurisdiction possessed in England by the Court of Common Pleas and the King's Bench.
The City of Bristol was exempted in 1562, and Cheshire in 1569. The Council itself was abolished on 25 July 1689, following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which overthrew James II and established William III (William of Orange) and Mary II as joint monarchs.
More Modern Maelor
In 1536, under the rule of Henry VIII, the English Maelor became an exclave of the county of Flintshire, surrounded by Cheshire, Shropshire and Denbighshire, as the Hundred of Maelor, later often called "Flintshire Detached". The Welsh Maelor, or Maelor Gymraeg, was included in Denbighshire. The English Maelor's market town and administrative centre was Overton: its constituent parts were the parishes of Bangor-on-Dee and Worthenbury, the three townships of Overton Villa, Overton Foreign and Knolton in the parish of Overton, Penley township from the Shropshire parish of Ellesmere, Iscoyd township in the Shropshire parish of Malpas, and Wallington, Halghton, Tybroughton, Bronington, Hanmer and Bettisfield townships in the parish of Hanmer.
The Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844 did not resolve the partition of Flintshire, although many other counties lost separate enclaves. North-east Wales retained much archaeic administration, with powerful local landowners still being very much a law unto themselves.
In 1887 a Boundary Commission was appointed to review the remaining enclaves nationally. At an inquiry at Overton, it was found that most of the population favoured becoming part of Shropshire, and this was later supported by resolution of the Flintshire justices of the peace. However, when local government legislation was introduced no change was made. Under the Local Government Act 1894 the area became Overton Rural District which was renamed the Maelor Rural District in 1953.
The administrative county of Flintshire was abolished in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972, and the area became part of Clwyd. Wrexham Maelor was one of six local government districts of the county of Clwyd from 1974 to 1996 and was formed from parts of the administrative counties of Denbighshire and Flintshire. Since Clywd was itself abolished in 1996 under the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994, the area has been administered as part of Wrexham County Borough, which is otherwise made up of parts of the historic Denbighshire. Most of the rest of the historic county forms part of a single-piece county of Flintshire, with Rhuddlan, in Cheshire according to Domesday, having now ended-up in a new Denbighshire.
Flintshire and the lower Dee valley have been a contested buffer-zone between the inhabitants of Noeth Wales and those of Central England for centuries. To some extent this is due to geography, as the region contains a number of potential north south-borders between the River Weaver and the Conwy. Around and between these borders are moderately wide and fertile river valleys which can support agriculture.
Initially, the Dee Valley appears to have formed a border between the Decangli and the Cornovii. Roman military conquest spread from Roman Chester to establish settlements throughout North Wales. With the departure of Rome and the arrival of the Anglo Saxons the Dee Valley appears to have remained under British (Welsh) control, although the Angles fought the Welsh there at the Battle of Chester (616). According to tradition Chester was Mercian in 689 when St Johns was supposedly founded by the mercian king. Mercian control of parts of Flintshire was regained at some point, possibly just prior to the construction of Offa's Dyke, possibly c770 although both that earthwork and Wat's Dyke are difficult to date. Chester itself appears to have been Welsh again in 828 when Ecgbert of Wessex raided it, and it appears to have been safely Mercian in 875/6 when the remains of Werburgh were taken there. The Mercians appear to make a foray deep into Wales in the 870's and may have held land as far as Conwy until 881 when they suffered defeat there. Thereafter Chester may have been deserted or nearly so with the Welsh having advanced up to the Dee. Around 900 the Mercians were back (to stay this time) and they seem to have controlled land as far as Rhuddlan, where Edward the Elder built a burh (921) although it appears they faced a revolt in 924 which resulted in Edward's death at Farndon. The Earls of Mercia fought the Welsh after 1062 and gained control of much of North-Eastern Wales, however much of this was probably taken back at the time of the Norman Conquest when the English occupiers would have been weak. The Normans attempted to conquer North Wales and Robert of Rhuddlan enjoyed a brief success before being killed. North Wales passed into local control, then briefly back to the Normans under Hugh of Avranches before being recovered by the Welsh. Some areas to the west of the River Dee remained in Norman and later Plantagenet hands. and Rhuddlan and Tegeingl were ceded to the Earldom of Chester around 1157. In 1241 the English were back and building a castle at Deganwy, but by 1257 the Welsh were castle-building at Ewloe. Edward I took a more forceful approach in the 1270's and 80's taking Rhos and Tegeingl into English Crown control and building his "iron ring" of castles in Wales.
There were many Gwynedd-based rebellions after 1284 with varying degrees of success with most being led by peripheral members of the old royal house. In particular the rebellions of Prince Madoc in 1294 and of Owain Lawgoch (the great-nephew of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd) between 1372–1378 are most notable. Because of this the old royal house was purged and any surviving members went into hiding. A final rebellion in 1400 led by Owain Glyndŵr, a member of the rival royal house of Powys, also drew considerable support from within Gwynedd.
The upshot of all this conflict was the creation of a patchwork of Marcher Lordships along the English-Welsh border, something which the Tudors decided to simplify while removing the power of the Marcher Lords and their local administrations.
The sketch map below shows some of the potential borders between control from the east (Mercian, Anglo-Norman) and that from the west (Briton, Welsh). An extremal case would be a "Welsh" border down the Sandstone Ridge with it's line of hill-forts. Moving westwards the next logical border roughly follows the course of the River Dee and follows the line of the Cheshire Castles. Further west is a line approximating to Wat's Dyke as assumed on the Smith maps and copied by later cartographers. Then comes Offa's Dyke here shown as taking the ridge-line of the Clwydian range. Another alternative would be the Vale of Clwyd, through or near to Rhuddlan. A final potential border runs along the course of the Conwy.
Sources and Links
- River Dee: people and places along the river from source to sea;
- Dark Ages: a general look at the history;
- Battle of Chester: Angles vs. Welsh in 616;
- Ecgbert: Wessex become dominant;
- Ælfgar: Chester before the Norman Conquest;
- Æthelflæd: Effectively Queen of Mercia;
- Chester in 900: the puzzle of a "deserted" city;
- Road Transport: trade routes around Chester;
- Cheshire Castles: the line of Norman Castles on the Dee;
- Medieval Chester: a general look at history;
- Arthur Counter-factual: Edward I's use of the Arthur myth;
- Elen of the Hosts: more use of myth for political purposes;