Ewias Harold

Ewias Harold is reputed to be one of the oldest castles in Britain, although in this it has a bit of competition, viz. Clavering, Dover, Herefordshire Beacon, HowtonRichards Castle and Thruxton to name a few.  The early history of the commote of Ewias, from which the castlery of Ewias Harold was carved, is both complex and obscure.  The land of Ewias, the name is thought to be derived from the same word as the modern ewe, giving a meaning of sheep district, lay at the eastern end of the Black Mountains.  Much of the commote was a late Anglo-Saxon conquest from the Welsh and the castle now known as Ewias Harold may have been founded by a Norman known as Osbern Pentecost, possibly soon after 1046.  In 1052 at the latest, Hereford gained a Norman earl in the form of King Edward's nephew, Ralph Mantes, often rather inaccurately known as Ralph the Timid.  It has been suggested that he was responsible for building Hereford castle and he certainly encouraged other Normans into the district.  These would seem to have included Richard Fitz Scrope of latterday Richards Castle, Robert Fitz Wymarch of Thruxton castle and Osbern Pentecost who quite likely controlled the commote of Ewias from his castle at Ewias Harold.

In 1052 an anti-Norman revolution caused ‘the Frenchmen in London to flee west to Pentecost's castle and north to Robert's castle'.  Pentecost's castle was most likely that now known as Ewias Harold while Robert's castle was probably Clavering.  That Ewias Harold was later, according to Domesday, refortified by William Fitz Osbern in the period 1067-71, probably suggests that the original fortress did not survive the devastations of the Marches in the late 1050s and early 1060s.  In the face of the English opposition to their continued presence in the country, Osbern Pentecost and his companion Hugh, surrendered their castles and went to Scotland in the service of King Macbeth in 1052.  By implication this otherwise unknown Hugh may have had his castle quite near to Ewias Harold at Howton.  The Norman defeat of 1052 possibly marked the end of the first Norman castles in Ewias, while the Normans in Scotland were later killed in present day Ayrshire when Macbeth was defeated by Earl Siward in 1054.

The Domesday survey found that part of the bishop of Hereford's 9 hides lay within Ewias Harold castlery, where Roger Lacy (d.1106+) also held land as too did Henry Ferrers (d.1089).  It was further noted that Roger [Lacy] held of him 3 churches, a priest and 32 acres of land paying 2 sesters of honey and that Henry had 2 dwellings (masuras) in the castle itself.  The 3 churches were possibly Clodock, Llancillo and Llanveynoe, which were all mentioned in charters copied at Llandaff in the twelfth century, other alternatives include Dulas, Kentchurch and Kenderchurch.  Another undertenant at Ewias Harold was William Devereux whose descendants would be lords of Lyonshall castle.  The main section on Ewias Harold noted that Alfred Marlborough held Ewias castle from the king who had himself granted him the lands which Earl William, who had refortified the castle, had given him, viz 5 carucates in Mulstoneston and 5 in Manitone.  These 2 places now form the current parish of Ewias Harold.  The king also granted him the land of Ralph Brenay which belonged to the castlery.  The value of the ‘castle' was recorded as £10 in 1086, but no 1066 value was given.  There were then listed the vills which pertained to the castle, namely Burghill, Brinsop, Monnington, Bredwardine, a manor of Thornlaw hundred, Hill of Eaton, Pembridge, Stretford and Much Cowarne.  Outside of the county Alfred held a further 42 vills.  In total this gave him an income of over £300pa which put him amongst the top 40 wealthiest landholders in the Conqueror's England.

It was also noted in Domesday that Osbern [Pentecost], the uncle of Alfred, had held Burghill and Brinsop before 1066 after Godwin and Harold had been exiled.  If this was true it would suggest that Osbern was holding Ewias before the exile of Godwin in 1051, otherwise, why would not the same have been said of Ewias Harold and its castle?

As most of Alfred's 1086 lands had earlier been held by King Harold (d.1066) it suggests that Earl William Fitz Osbern had claimed the royal lands of the dead King Harold under King William I's gift of the earldoms of Hereford and Gloucestershire and that the earl had subinfeuded them to Alfred together with the refortified castle.  Other lands hived off from the old Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog went to form the new Norman districts and honours of Archenfield, Ewias Lacy and Clifford as well as smaller sub-lordships like Bredwardine and DorstoneSnodhill honour was formed some time later in the early twelfth century.

Alfred Marlborough had a married daughter, Agnes, before 1086, but on his death before 1100 his lands were divided with Ewias Harold going to Earl Ralph the Timid's son, Harold.  The reasoning behind this grant is unknown as normally Alfred's heir would have been his grandson via his daughter Agnes, viz. Ralph Wigmore (d.1190+).  Harold must have been born before 1057 when his father died and in 1066 was in the wardship of Queen Edith, the widow of Edward the Confessor.  He was of age by 1086 when he was lord of Burton Dassett and Chilvers Coton in Warwickshire, Sudeley and Toddington in Gloucestershire and Droitwich in Worcestershire.  By 1100 he had added to these lands the vills of Pencombe, Monnington Straddle, Ashe Ingen and Eaton Tregoz as well as other manors in Hampshire, Somerset, Surrey and Wiltshire.  These estates probably gave him an income of over £200pa.

It is possible that he received these lands as heir to his mother, who is occasionally recorded in the Domesday Book as Countess Gytha, the widow of Earl Ralph of Hereford (d.1057).  She was still living in 1066 and dead by 1086.  All of the 47 lands associated with her in modern readings of the Book were in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and Rutland.  However there is ‘another' Countess Gytha mentioned in Domesday Book and this is Countess Gytha the widow of Earl Godwin (d.1053).  She is occasionally recorded in counties further to the south and modern editors of the Book have associated 37 places with this Gytha in Berkshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Somerset, Surrey, Sussex and Wiltshire.  Despite this there seems not reason to assume that these 2 Gythas were not the same woman.  The latest birthdate for Earl Swein's wife, Gytha Thorkelsdottir, would be about 1010 assuming her eldest son, Earl Swein (d.1052) was not born until after 1024.  Similarly, if she was the same person as the widow of Earl Ralph of Hereford (d.1057) she would have been a minimum of 48 if she gave birth to Harold Ewias posthumously and only 44 if he was born soon after their postulated marriage which could have taken place in 1053, Earl Godwin dying on 15 April 1053.  She was certainly dead by 1086, by which time she would have been a minimum of 76.  In short there seems every possibility that this was the same women referred to by the lands of her 2 consecutive husbands.

Whoever was Harold's mother, he went on to give the lordship its lasting name, Ewias Harold.  He had acquired Ewias Harold with its castle as the caput of his estates by 1100 when he founded Ewias priory.  By his foundation grant of that year he granted to St Peter's of Gloucester the church of St Michael with its chapel of St Nicholas in Ewias castle, together with the chapels of St James of Ewias, Kentchurch (St Kaene) and the chapel of Kenderchurch (Caneros) to found a convent in Ewias.  To support this new foundation he also gave the church of Foy with a carucate of land, the tithes of Foy fish-trap and mill, as well as the churches of Lyidard (Lidred), Allington (Alyngetone, Wilts) and Burnham (Somerset).  By 1291 the priory, never a rich house, was recorded as holding rights in Teffont (Tefunte), Allington (Albecaning), Elmerton (Helmerton) and Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire.  It is also apparent that Harold had failed to acquire some lands of Alfred that were previously appurtenant to Ewias Harold, namely the vills of Walterstone, Lancillo and Rowlestone.  These were henceforth held by the Lacys who also later annexed Dulas just north of Ewias Harold.

Harold was still living in 1120 when he was at least 63 and had at least 5 sons.  His major estate, Sudeley, presumably passed to the eldest son, John, but Ewias was given to Robert who was still living in 1148.  Consequently their descendants took the surnames of Sudeley and Ewias.  At some point before 1137, when he was killed, Pain Fitz John of Ewias, seized Dulas from Robert.  This may have caused Robert to remove Ewias priory from that vill to Ewias itself.  Later in 1147, Robert Ewias founded Abbey Dore, only just over a mile north from Ewias Harold.  Robert also seems to have been responsible for increasing the knight service owed to his reduced barony of Ewias Harold with 2 of the earliest subinfeudation charters.  These are retained to this day by the Scudamore family.

Robert Ewias was succeeded by a son of the same name who died in 1198.  The barony then passed to his only surviving daughter's family, the Tregoz.  Her son, Robert Tregoz, was killed at Evesham in 1265.  The barony was eventually divided between his 2 grandchildren, Clarice and Sibyl.  Their mother, Julianna Cantilupe (d.1285), wrote a short account of her Cantilupe family origins, one of the earliest such accounts in the kingdom.  On the death of John Tregoz in 1300 Ewias Harold castle passed to Julianna's son, John le Ware (d.1347).  Sometime in the late fourteenth century the castle was taken from his grandson, another John le Ware (d.1399+) and given first to the Despensers and Montacutes and then to the Beauchamps.  Earl William Beauchamp fortified it during the Glyndwr wars.  On the death of Earl Richard Beauchamp of Worcester in 1422, the castle passed via his daughter to Edward Neville with whose family the castle then descended for centuries in a state of abandonment, although as late as 1477 it appeared in the inquest post mortem of Edward Neville.  By 1540 Leland had reported that:

a great part of Mapheralde Castle yet stands and a chapel of St Nicholas in it.  There was sometime a park by the castle.  The castle stands on a mean hill and on the right bank of Dulas brook hard in the bottom by it.  There is a village by the castle called Ewis Haralde.

Much collapsed in the next hundred years and in 1645 Richard Symonds could not even see any foundations of the castle or priory church he described as ‘ruinous and gone'.

Ewias Harold is a ridge end castle site.  The spur it rests upon runs to the south-east and is bounded to the north by the Dulas brook some distance off.  It is generally thought that the original castle of Pentecost consisted of the rectangular inner bailey the defences of which now mainly consist of the scarp of the ridge to the east, west and south.  It is thought that
the motte was added to this by William Fitz Osbern (d.1071) on the north-east front, looking up the ridge.  There is also an impressive ditch and in its northern half a rampart.  Along the south-western half of this front is a giant ditched motte standing some 30' higher than the bailey interior and 50' higher than the ditch bottom.  The summit is about 100' in diameter and 240' at the base.  The large summit has been much damaged by robbing operations for the foundations of what was apparently once a large shell keep about 80' in diameter.

Within the sub rectangular bailey, some 400' east to west by 330', are numerous apparent building foundations.  Without excavation it is probably fruitless to try to make sense of these earthworks as certainly much has been altered at the site on the northern front on either side of the motte and possibly elsewhere.  A further bailey or town ward lay to the south-east and still shows traces of a 6' high, ditched rampart.  The area enclosed seems to have been about 250' by 500'.  To the south-west of the site seems to be traces of wet defences or at least fishponds.  Modern buildings have much interfered with the site.

As both Longtown and Ewias Harold have mottes that are some 30' higher than the bailey and also some 50' above the ditch bottom, it puts them in a league with the tallest mottes in the country, ie. those over 30' high.  Such large mottes are often taken to denote a massively rich lord as well as an early building date.  It is therefore possible that both of these are part of the same Norman move into Brycheiniog made in the few years of Earl William Fitz Osbern's tenure of the district as he was often acting as king's justiciar at the time (1067-71).


Copyright©2021 Paul Martin Remfry