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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #118

Dear Reader,

My Sam Smith mystery The Hermit of Hisarya has been included in academic lectures this week in Bulgaria, discussing cultural studies and world literature, and the interrelation between cultural identity and the imagination. What an honour, I’m blown away 😱

https://academia.edu/51152850/

My latest translation, The Hermit of Hisarya in Portuguese.

My article about my ancestor John Howe features in this month’s Seaside News.

c1926, five generations from the Iveson branch of my family. More about the Ivesons next week.

My 5 x great grandmother Jennet, aka Jane, Williams was born to David Williams and Mary Jones in 1787 in Newton-Nottage, Wales. In the eighteenth century Newton-Nottage was a rural community and the majority of its inhabitants earned a living from the land.

Nottage, 19th century tithe map. Source: The National Library of Wales.

Jennet married Thomas Morgan in nearby Laleston on 10 October 1815. The couple produced five children: William, Richard, Mary, Sarah and a second child called Richard. Sadly, infant mortality was common in the nineteenth century and parents often reused a favourite name.

Jennet and Thomas’ eldest son, William, was born in 1812, three years before their marriage. Their first Richard was baptised on 21 January 1816, which indicates that Jennet was six months pregnant with her second child at the time of her marriage.

The accepted wisdom is that bastard children and their mothers were cast out by Victorian society. For the middle and upper classes this might well have been true. However, for the lower classes and those living in rural communities the locals took a more pragmatic view. Producing babies, in and out of wedlock, was literally a fact of life. An example from my family tree: my 3 x great grandparents William Bick and Fanny Brereton had six children before their marriage on 13 December 1868 (they had five more children after their marriage). Obviously, they did not feel pressurised into marriage and were not ostracised by their community. Marriages were expensive and many people needed the money for food and shelter. That said, some women were embarrassed about admitting to an illegitimate child as we shall see shortly.

Jennet’s husband, Thomas Morgan, was a shoemaker while his father, Richard, was a victualer in Laleston. When Thomas Morgan was born in 1784 only seven children were baptised in Laleston (population 2011, 12,586), which indicates that it was a small community, and that a birth, marriage or death was a major event.

Laleston baptisms, 1784.

Thomas Morgan died on 28 December 1827. A widow, Jennet supported herself and her family by working as a stone cutter at the local limestone quarries. Women who worked with stone, iron or coal usually wore shorter dresses compared to the Victorian norm because of the danger of those dresses catching fire. ‘Shorter’ in this instance means just a few inches above the ankle, so they were hardly a huge advertisement for health and safety.

In 1829 Jennet met Thomas Harris and the couple produced a son, George, baptised on 8 December 1829. In the ten years before 1829 and the ten years after there was no one called Harris living in Laleston or surrounding villages. A family called Harris arrived in the 1840s, but they were not related to Thomas or George.

George’s baptismal record.

So, what of the mysterious Thomas Harris? It would appear that he drifted into Laleston looking for work, took advantage of Jennet, a lonely widow, then drifted out again. There is nothing to suggest that he acknowledged George as his son or supported him during his childhood.

Between 1829 and 1851 George was know as George Morgan and George Harris. In 1841 Jennet told the census enumerator that George’s surname was Morgan, even though her husband had died two years previously. Clearly, with this untruth she was trying to save face.

On 24 December 1853 George, now a blacksmith, married Lydia Williams and the couple took the surname Morgan. Indeed, George acknowledged Thomas Morgan as his father. Did he know the truth? Probably, because at various times before his marriage he did call himself Harris. Thomas Harris played no part in George’s life, so George decided to adopt his mother’s married name.

Lydia was a ‘minor’ at the time of her marriage to George and the couple were living at the same address. A ‘minor’ in this context means someone under the age of twenty-one; Lydia was twenty. During her marriage to George she gave birth to ten children.

On 9 April 1873 at the age of 86 Jennet died in Laleston. In her later years she lived with her daughter, and my direct ancestor, Mary, along with Mary’s husband and children. All of my Welsh ancestors during the Victorian era were tight-knit and supported each other. To date, I have not discovered any of them in the workhouse.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #117

Dear Reader,

My latest translations, The Olive Tree: Leaves, Sins of the Father, Smoke and Mirrors, and Mind Games, all in Portuguese.

Just discovered that my 7 x great grandfather Thomas Hopkin lived to be 96 (1730 – 1826). He lived in Hutchens Point, Nottage, Glamorgan. On 29 May 1762 he married Catherine Rees from St Athan.

In the 1980s, Douglas Adams wrote a book, The Meaning of Liff, in which he applied humorous definitions to place names. He included Nottage: items you store in your shed for years, decide to throw out, only to realise that you need them a week later.

From 1918, ’Marriage Advice to Young Ladies’ from a ‘Suffragette Wife’.

Original pamphlet: Pontypridd Museum, Wales.

In this month’s issue of Mom’s Favorite Reads…

An exclusive interview with author, playwright and journalist Tim Walker featuring his meetings with a range of movie stars

Short Stories

Poetry

New Releases 

Travel

Activities 

Author Resources 

And so much more!

Around twelve years ago this was the first branch of my family tree that I explored in detail.

My 3 x great grandfather Thomas Jones was born to Thomas Jones, a coal miner, and Mary Morgan on 16 July 1843 in Laleston, Glamorgan. Thomas and Mary were not married at the time. This is a common discovery I have made for many of my Victorian ancestors and I will elaborate further in a future post.

Thomas’ wife and my 3 x great grandmother Hannah Morgan (the names Hannah, Morgan and Jones reoccur a lot in my family; indeed, four of the first sixteen branches start with a Jones) was born on 30 July 1848 to Richard Morgan, an ostler, and Margaret Jones in Tythegston, a small village near Laleston. You can read Richard and Margaret’s story here https://hannah-howe.com/ancestry/ancestry-13/

In 1851 Thomas was living with his parents in Laleston along with his three year old sister Ann and his grandmother, Jennet Morgan. Jennet was a widow at this time. Meanwhile, Hannah was living in Tythegston with her patents, four siblings, three lodgers and her grandmother, Mary.

Bridgend, 18 June 1850, a picture commemorating the opening of the railway station.

Ten years later Thomas was employed as a servant at Broadland House, Laleston. The owner of Broadland House, at the time, was Charles Drummond, a Londoner, an ‘esquire’, who later moved to Somerset. Drummond died in Somerset in 1888 leaving £2,500 11 shillings in his will.

Broadland House was set in 70 acres of land and the farm employed five servants, including Thomas, who worked as a ‘cow boy’. Mention of cow boys conjures up images of the Wild West. However, Thomas’ work was more prosaic, milking and feeding the animals. Twelve years old, Hannah was still at school and it’s likely that the couple had yet to meet.

That changed a few years later and on 22 February 1868 Thomas and Hannah found themselves walking down the aisle in Ruhama Baptist Chapel, Bridgend. There is a large church in Laleston so presumably Hannah chose the venue.

A child soon followed, my direct ancestor, Thomas. At the time of Thomas’ birth the landscape around Laleston was changing dramatically with the arrival of the railways and the development of coal mines. Thomas left the land to work in a coal mine and this ushered in a period of transience for the family as they moved from village to village seeking employment.

In 1881 the family found themselves in Llandyfodwg near Bridgend. Now with five children, Thomas and Hannah lived in Cardigan Terrace. The street name is revealing and indicates that it was established when a number of families settled in Llandyfodwg to work on the land and in the local coal mines. These families originated from west Wales. They were joined by families from the West Country of England. 

The west Walians and the locals spoke Welsh while the people from the West Country spoke English. Over time, a period of twenty years, many Welsh speakers became bilingual. However, few of the English people learned Welsh.

No pictures of Thomas Jones or Hannah Morgan exist, but this is their son, Richard Morgan Jones.

Each change of address for Thomas and Hannah represented a move of only a few miles. The baptismal records of their children allow us to chart their movements: Laleston, Newcastle, Llangeinor and Llandyfodwg, all within a five mile radius of Bridgend. 

Within this transience records were lost and Hannah disappeared from history. A death record dated 1881 pointed to Hannah. However, when examined in detail it revealed a different Hannah Jones (her married name, of course). My Hannah’s death was not recorded, or more likely it was lost.

Hannah definitely died before 1891 because at that time Thomas was a widow. He’d moved to Llantrisant, the home town of Hannah’s grandparents. Maybe he moved there to be closer to his extended family.

In 1891 Thomas was still working in the coal mines. His working life  represented stark contrasts: the early years spent in the open air, the latter years spent working in the dark. Both occupations offer a certain romanticism: the pastoral beauty of the countryside, the camaraderie of men working in life-threatening conditions, their existence reliant upon each other.

In 1891 Thomas and his three children, Thomas, Richard and Margaret, lived in Dinas, Llantrisant. Like their father, Thomas Jr and Richard were coal miners while fifteen year old Margaret was their housekeeper. Margaret’s childhood effectively came to an end when her mother died as she assumed the role of ‘woman of the house.’

Thomas’ street contained thirty people. All the men were coal miners. Twenty-three of those people spoke Welsh, six spoke English and only one was bilingual. 

After 1891, like Hannah, Thomas disappeared from the historical record. It’s probable that he died in May 1898.

Bridgend coalfield: Bryndu Colliery.

While at work Thomas diced with death, every day. At random I have selected ten Joneses who worked alongside Thomas in the local coal mines. The brief notes that follow record their fate.

Thomas Jones, aged 22: killed by falling from a byat while moving a stage in the shaft.

Evan Jones, aged 14: killed by a full train passing over him.

William Jones, aged 38: killed when the mineshaft roof fell.

William Jones, aged 37: killed by a fall of coal.

William Jones, aged 16: killed by a fall of coal.

Richard Jones, aged 34: killed when the side of the pit gave way.

David Jones, aged 45: killed when the mine roof collapsed.

Thomas Jones, aged 48: killed by an explosion of firedamp, one of two people killed.

David Jones, aged 26: killed by a gas explosion, one of eleven people killed.

Lewis Jones, aged 12: run over by trams through breakage of coupling chains.

Bridgend coalfield: Aberbaiden Colliery showing the entrance to the slip.

Did my Thomas die in a mining accident? It’s possible, but there is no record. More likely he died from the illnesses associated with working in the coal mines, particularly ‘the dust’, aka emphysema, a cruel illness that smoothers the sufferer. 

Ancestors like my 3 x great grandfather Thomas worked and died so that Victorian society could prosper and a few select men could become obscenely rich. It’s a lesson from history we have yet to learn. Today, rich men pollute the planet and massage their egos by jetting into space. Meanwhile, many of their workers live and die in poverty. We must hope for a wiser generation, our children’s generation, that will look into the past, learn the lessons, and create a better future for us all.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

For Authors

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #112

Dear Reader,

My latest translations, both in Portuguese. A very busy time with the translations and soon all my books will be available in Portuguese.

In the Victorian era ships’ manifests had a section ‘Died on the Voyage’, which doesn’t inspire much confidence 😱

A part-time, flexible hours job offer from Publishing Wales.

“Good news! We’ve extended the deadline to apply for our brand new administrative role. Help shape Publishing Wales / Cyhoeddi Cymru, as we start this exciting journey.

Job description and further details below. Apply by 9th August.”

https://www.cyhoeddi.cymru/jobs

My 6 x great grandfather John Cottrell was a cordwainer and shoe shop owner in Leather Lane, London. On 2 December 1830 at 12.30 pm a ten year old boy, John Hagan, walked into his shop and stole a pair of shoes, value 5s. Twelve days later John Hagan appeared at the Old Bailey accused of theft. The verdict: guilty.

However, John pleaded that he had no father and that his mother was in great distress. The judge, Mr Sergeant Arabin, took pity on John and respited the judgement, a rare case of leniency in an age when ‘justice’ was often cruel.

I am related to Geoffrey Howe, Baron Howe of Aberavon, CH, PC, QC, the deputy prime minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, 1989 to 1990. Our mutual ancestor is John Howe of St Hilary, Glamorgan (1786 – 1856) ironically, a thatcher.

By 1799, the Napoleonic wars had taken their toll on Britain. The British royal treasury was running out of money to maintain the army and navy. Soldiers were starving and His Majesty’s navy had already mutinied. For Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, the solution was simple: impose an income tax. Under the Act of 1799, all citizens who earned above £60 were to pay a graduated tax of at least one percent. Those with an income of over £200 were taxed ten percent. Some people regarded the tax as a patriotic duty while others complained. I don’t know what my 5 x great grandfather John Howe thought of the taxes, but their imposition forced him off the land into employment as a thatcher.

In 1799, not everyone was thrilled to pay their taxes.

John’s son, Edward, was also a thatcher. However, with his wife Rachel and their five children, Edward moved twenty-two miles west to Aberavon to ply his trade.

The fact that Edward employed a domestic servant suggests that he was successful in his business. However, this success did not influence his son, also Edward, who became a washman in the local tinplate and silver works. This begs the question: how did the grandson of a tinplate worker become a Conservative MP and deputy prime minister? The answer lies in understanding the Howe family and its traits.

In the 1600s and 1700s our ancestors Joseph, John and John Howe were landowners, churchwardens, Petty Constables and Overseers of the Poor, pillars of St Hilary society. In 1797, John the latter paid 2s 6d to ‘ten men in distress coming from the sea’ while in 1753 John the former made a payment of £1 17s 6d for the making and binding of Bibles, 1s for attending a coroner’s inquest and 7d for a pair of male stockings. He also awarded payments of a few pence to ‘the little boy of whom nothing else is known’.

John Howe’s account of 1753, written in his own hand.

In the 1800s my 2 x great grandfather William Howe was a deacon of the local Methodist chapel and Headman of the village, in effect chairman of the village council, assisting the villagers with community problems and organising local events. Important to note that all these relatives were bilingual and immersed in Welsh culture with its distinctive, community-based, way of life.

Elders of Capel-y-Pil, c1930. William is seated, third from left.

For the Howes, a desire to serve the community as public servants ran deep. Geoffrey Howe inherited this trait. But how did he make the leap from the tinplate works to Downing Street? The words of a Labour prime minister, Tony Blair, come to mind, “Education! Education! Education!” Through education, Benjamin Edward Howe, Geoffrey’s father, transformed the family’s fortunes.

The son of Edward Howe and Hannah Evans, Benjamin Edward Howe was born on 3 December 1888 in Margam, Glamorgan, ‘a dirty little town’ according to contemporary chroniclers. That dirt was generated by the heavy industry and blast furnaces that dominated the area during the Victorian era.

In 1901, Benjamin was a scholar living with his parents and older sister Elizabeth. Many industrialists were far-sighted and opened schools in association with their factories. For example, Margam Tinplate Infants School opened in 1850. Benjamin attended the school and excelled in his studies.

Ten years later, aged twenty-two, Benjamin was a law student soon to qualify as a solicitor. From this point, his life moved on apace. On 1 May 1913 he became a member of the United Grand Lodge of Freemasons. In 1923 he married Eliza Florence Thompson and three years later the couple produced a son, Geoffrey. By 1939 Benjamin had established himself as a solicitor and the Coroner for West Glamorgan. His sister, Elizabeth, had also done well for herself; she was a headmistress.

Benjamin, a Freemason at Afan Lodge.

During the Second World War, Eliza upheld the family’s sense of civic duty by performing the role of Central Leader for Women Services for Civil Defence. Meanwhile, Geoffrey attended Abberley Hall School in Worcestershire, a co-educational preparatory day and boarding school teaching 150 pupils. The actor Sir Anthony Quayle and the author Antony Beevor also attended this school.

Benjamin died on 27 July 1958. In his will he left the equivalent of £252,000 in today’s money. By this time Geoffrey had married Elspeth Shand and established himself as a barrister-at-law.

As a child in the late 1970s I met Geoffrey Howe at a family gathering, a christening. In all truth, I have no memory of that event. I do recall that later, in the 1980s, whenever Geoffrey Howe appeared on television a member of the family, usually my father, would remind us that he was a relative, a ‘cousin’, the catch-all description for any relative who lived outside our immediate household. 

In the Victorian era and early twentieth century the Howes were Liberals, supporting the local candidates. That support drifted further left as the Labour Party and its ideas took a firm grip on the South Wales Valleys. Therefore, in family terms, Geoffrey was an outsider.

Many members of my family hated Margaret Thatcher because of the destruction she wrought on the Valleys, particularly the mining communities. However, they always maintained their respect for Geoffrey believing him to be a man of honour and principle. As events transpired with Geoffrey’s resignation on 1 November 1990 triggering Margaret Thatcher’s resignation three weeks later that family loyalty and belief were not misplaced.

I wonder what Geoffrey would make of Boris Johnson and his government. I sense that he would detest the man and all he stands for. Furthermore, he would not recognise the Johnson government as a Conservative administration.

Geoffrey Howe

Geoffrey Howe was Margaret Thatcher’s longest-serving cabinet minister, holding the posts of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, Leader of the House of Commons, Deputy Prime Minister and Lord President of the Council. In many ways, he embodied 400 years of Howe history. 

Obituarists stated that Geoffrey Howe was ‘warm and well liked by colleagues’ and was ‘one of the kindest and nicest men in politics’. While Andrew Rawnsley of The Observer noted that fellow politicians regarded Geoffrey Howe as ‘one of the most honest and decent practitioners of their profession.’

I have never voted Tory and cannot envisage a situation where I would vote Tory. Nevertheless, I am proud to regard Geoffrey Howe as an ancestor.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #111

Dear Reader,

My latest translation, the Portuguese version of Operation Locksmith in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE series. Ana is already hard at work on two new translations: Snow in August in my Sam Smith Mystery Series and Branches in my Olive Tree Spanish Civil War series. It‘s always a privilege to work with talented translators.

Tabard Inn, Talbot Yard, Southwark before demolition in 1875, a familiar landmark for my London-based ancestors.

To date, I haven’t discovered any pictures of my 3 x great grandfather Thomas Jones, but here is his brother and my grand uncle Richard Morgan Jones 1874 – 1954. Bilingual, Richard was a coal hewer in the Rhondda Valley. I love the pride in his pose.

William Axe, my 6 x great-grandfather, was a Waterman to the Preventive Officers, overseeing the trade and potential smuggling that occurred on the River Thames. Here he features in The Times on 19 August 1789 in regard to a change in a by-law to allow a parcel of gold, rupees and dollars into the city.

The Mansell branch of my family tree begins with Philip Mansell, born c1040 in Normandy. Philip arrived in Britain with William the Conqueror in 1066 and established a manor in Buckinghamshire. 

In 1067, Philip married Demoiselle de Mountsorrell, whose family had settled in Leicestershire. The marriage increased Philip’s lands and also blessed him with five sons, including my direct ancestor Henry.

Philip was cup-bearer to William the Conqueror, a responsible position – Philip had to ensure that no one poisoned the Conquerer. His name was recorded on the Roll of Battle Abbey, confirming his participation in the Conquest. Indeed, Wace in his Chronicles of the Conquest wrote: ‘Then the Duke called in his good neighbours, the Britons, the Mansells, and Angevins, and those of Pontif and Boulogne.’

The surname Mansell originates from La Manche or Le Mans, with arguments in favour of either option. From Normandy, the name and family spread and within 200 years they reached my corner of Wales.

Bayeux Tapestry. Scene 57: the death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. Titulus: HIC HAROLD REX INTERFECTUS EST (Here King Harold is slain).

The Mansell branch of my family continued with Henry born in Buckinghamshire, c1068, who married Emma de Lucy. Emma’s brother, Sir Richard de Lucy, was Chief Justice of the Realm. Henry and Emma produced John Mansell who married Elaine de Lutterell. Their son Ralph married Cecilia Pagnell and they produced my direct ancestor, Sir Robert Mansell.

At this time, 1136, the family were still based in Buckinghamshire with estates in various corners of the country. In 1163, Sir Robert attacked and defeated Sultan Nouradin at La Bochen near Tripoli. On his return from the Crusade he married Joyce de Alneto.

The Alneto branch of my family connects with Charles Carolingian – Charles III King of Western France – Godefrid of Denmark and Arnulf of Flanders, c890 – 28 March 965.

The son of Count Baldwin II of Flanders and Ælfthryth of Wessex, daughter of Alfred the Great, Arnulf, also known as the Great, was the third Count of Flanders. He ruled the County of Flanders, an area now in northwestern Belgium and southwestern Netherlands.

Arnulf, Count of Flanders

Through his mother, Arnulf was a descendant of the Anglo-Saxon kings of England, and through his father, he was a descendant of Charlemagne. Presumably Arnulf was named after Saint Arnulf of Metz, a progenitor of the Carolingian dynasty.

At the death of their father in 918, Arnulf became Count of Flanders while his brother Adeloft or Adelolf succeeded to the County of Boulogne. However, after Adeloft’s death in 933, Arnulf took the countship of Boulogne for himself, although later he conveyed it to his nephew, Arnulf II.

Arnulf greatly expanded Flemish rule in the south, taking all or part of Artois, Ponthieu, Amiens, and Ostrevent. He exploited the conflicts between Charles the Simple and Robert I of France, and later between Louis IV and his barons.

The southern expansion resulted in conflict with the Normans who were trying to secure their northern frontier. In 942 this led to the murder of William Longsword, the Duke of Normandy, at the hands of Arnulf’s men. With William Longsword’s death, the Norman/Viking threat receded and during the later years of his life Arnulf focused on reforming the Flemish government.

In genealogy, a question arises: how far back is relevant to the people we are today? In some respects you could argue that there is no relevance, yet these people are our ancestors and we are only here because of them. Relatives we enjoyed direct contact with nurtured us. However, through our DNA our natures and personalities are formed and I feel that all our ancestors are relevant to the people we become.

The Mansell branch of my family continued with Walter who married Hawise de Somerie. Walter held the sergeantry of Little Missenden as Napkin Bearer to the King, Henry III. You might recall that Philip, the progenitor of the Mansell line, performed a similar duty for William the Conquerer, which underlines the long and close association this branch of my family enjoyed with the rulers of England.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #109

Dear Reader,

Betrayal at #1 in America this week and #4 in the Netherlands.

The ‘Welsh Tree of the Year’ at my local park, Margam.

My article about the amazing Nancy Wake appears in this month’s issue of the Seaside News.

A map of all reported UFO sightings, 1906-2014. (Image: ESRI). Is there anybody out there…

Just discovered that my splendidly named ancestors Zephaniah Thorpe and Mary Discipline emigrated to New York City, arriving on 11 April 1838. Zephaniah was a sculptor specialising in marble. Maybe he worked on the pillars in this picture 🤔

A DNA test I took at Christmas 2020 established a link between a Morgan branch of my family and a Bevan branch. This in turn led to Barbara Aubrey, a gateway ancestor. A gateway ancestor is someone descended from royalty, the aristocracy, or landed gentry. Through Barbara Aubrey, and other gateway ancestors, I have discovered links to many of the noble households in Wales, especially in my home county of Glamorgan.

My direct ancestor, Gwladys ferch Dafydd Gam ‘the star of Abergavenny’ (1378 – 1454), was the daughter of Gwenllian ferch Gwilym and Dafydd ap Llewelyn ap Hywel, otherwise known as Dafydd Gam a man immortalised by William Shakespeare as Fluellen in Henry V.

Fluellen: “If your Majesty is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps, which your Majesty knows, to this hour is an honourable badge of the service, and I do believe, your Majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon St David’s Day.”

King Henry: “I wear it for a memorable honour; for I am Welsh, you know, good my countryman.”

The Battle of Agincourt, 1415. The Bridgeman Art Library.

Due to her discretion and influence, the poets compared Gwladys to the legendary Queen Marcia who was ‘one of the most illustrious and praiseworthy of women in early British history.’ Indeed, the poets sang Gwladys’ praises. ‘Gwladys the happy and the faultless. Like the sun – the pavilion of light,’ wrote Lewys Glyn Cothi. They also noted her beauty and luxurious dark hair.

Lewys Glyn Cothi (c1420 – 1490) was a prominent 15th century poet who composed numerous poems in Welsh. He was one of the most important representatives of the Beirdd yr Uchelwyr, ‘Poets of the Nobility.’ 

Lewys was a prolific poet, writing many celebratory poems and elegies. He was responsible for compiling much, if not all, of Llyfr Gwyn Hergest, the White Book of Hergest, which disappeared in the 19th century. He also added several poems to Llyfr Coch Hergest, the Red Book of Hergest, which is now in the National Library of Wales.

During Owain Glyndwr’s War of Independence, Gwladys served as Maid of Honour to Mary de Bohun (c1368–1394), wife of Henry IV, and afterwards she served Henry’s second wife, Queen Joan (c1370–1437). On her return to Wales, Gwladys married Sir Roger Vaughan of Bredwardine and from that day on she remained in her homeland.

Raglan Castle. Engraving, 1798.

The battlefield and royal politics proved tragic for Gwladys. At Agincourt, 1415, she lost her father, Dafydd Gam, and her husband, Sir Roger Vaughan. Later, at Easter 1456, her son Watkin was murdered at his home, Bredwardine Castle, while in 1469 two sons, Thomas and Richard (my direct ancestor) died at the Battle of Edgecote. In May 1472 a fourth son, Sir Roger Vaughan, was captured by Jasper Tudor and beheaded at Chepstow.

Gwladys’ second husband, Sir William ap Thomas of Raglan Castle, known as Sir William Herbert, also fought at Agincourt. Due to the colour of his armour, Sir William was nicknamed ‘The Blue Knight of Gwent.’

Gwladys’ first marriage produced five children, three boys and two girls, while her second marriage produced four children, two boys and two girls. All married into Welsh and English noble families: the Stradlings, Wogans, Vaughans, Devereauxs and Audleys. They also established the Herbert line, a branch of my family, one of the most influential families in medieval and post-medieval Wales.

In the Middle Ages, noble women were expected to obey their husbands, guard their virtue, produce offspring, and oversee the smooth running of their household. Good management skills were essential. Moreover, when her husband was away a wife’s role would increase substantially to the extent that she would assume control of her husband’s domain and even bear arms.

As Lady of Raglan Castle, Gwladys entertained her guests. She also assisted the needy and afflicted, and supported Welsh culture, especially the bards and minstrels. In Lewys Glyn Cothi’s elegy, he stated that Gwladys was ‘the strength and support of Gwentland the land of Brychan.’ 

Abergavenny Priory. Artist unknown.

Gwladys died in 1454. Along with her husband, Sir William ap Thomas, she was a great patron of Abergavenny Priory and an alabaster tomb along with effigies of the couple can still be found there.

According to legend, Gwladys was so beloved by her people that 3,000 knights, nobles and weeping peasantry followed her body from Coldbrook House (her son Richard’s manor) to the Herbert Chapel of St. Mary’s Priory Church where she was buried.

Born into privilege, Gwladys used her position to support the poor and vulnerable, and the arts. And for that she earned her people’s eternal love and respect.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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