Cantref Selyf and Trawscoed, 
The Lost Welsh Abbey

The area of the upper Wye from Hay on Wye to Builth Wells has at best a very sketchy history in the Middle Ages. This area seems to have been Welsh controlled until only slightly after the Norman Conquest of England. It was probably in the summer of 1070 that William Fitz Osbern, as earl of Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester, invaded the land of Brycheiniog and defeated several Welsh kings. Before the eleventh century had finished Bernard Neufmarché had taken possession of much of what had been the Irish kingdom of Brycheiniog; the Braose family had annexed the northern cantref of Buellt; and Ralph Tosny of Clifford had taken the cantref of Elfael on the eastern side of the Wye. In this manner the Wye valley between Clifford and Buellt Wells lay at the boundaries of three great Norman lordships. Whether the native Welsh, recognizing Norman suzerainty, were permitted to continue in semi-independent occupation of their llys is unknown and is now probably unknowable.

Later in the twelfth century the land unit 'Cantref Selyf', was apparently part of the lands granted to Walter Clifford by Earl Roger of Hereford and lord of Brecon in the 1140's. ‘Cantref Selyf’ itself appears to be a misnomer or at best a remembrance of a long extinct land unit. In the 1160's and 70's the Welsh of Cynllibiwg, or Rhwng Gwy a Hafren as it was otherwise known, were able to push the Norman Marchers and their Welsh allies back towards England. In this period Walter Clifford (1130-1190) and his wife Margaret Tosny granted their northern lands in Cantref Selyf and the Eppynt mountains to Abbey Dore on condition that they founded an abbey at Trawscoed. This foundation duly took place, probably around 1170-73, but within twenty years the abbey was suppressed by the monks of Dore with the consequence that a long dispute erupted between Walter Clifford Junior (1160-1221) and the monks, which was only finally settled with the agreement of his son Walter Clifford (1190-1263).

It would seem likely that Walter Clifford (d.1221) was lord of the west bank of the Wye as a part of Cantref Selyf on 11 July 1205, when he was ordered to take charge of Boughrood castle from the rebel Matthew Gamages. In the meantime, with the Braose rebellion of 1208, King John's armies became increasingly involved in this area, twice marching up the Wye valley to Builth Wells to give battle in 1208 and 1210. It can consequently be deduced that this region was under Norman influence during this period, and it may be that it had not left Norman control at any time.

By the 1220's we get a better idea of the political realities in the Wye valley of Brycheiniog. Walter Clifford (1190-1263), confirmed the lordship of Llaneglwys to the monks of Dore after much ill-feeling, probably in June 1220. The land with its appurtenances seems to have included the sheath of land from the vicinity of Erwood up the Wye to the Eppynt mountains below Builth Wells on the east side of the old Roman road from Brecon to Castell Collen in Radnorshire. This confirmation of the first Walter Clifford’s pre-1170 grant may well have been influenced by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth's violent campaigns in South Wales. This is suggested as in earlier era's both the Normans and the Welsh had granted their most exposed regions to monastic houses, possibly in an attempt to gain religious benefit in both personal and dynastic quarrels. Walter Clifford’s grant of c.1170 may also be seen in the same light.

Some years later, probably in 1240, Walter again confirmed Llaneglwys to Abbey Dore. This manor of Llaneglwys included Gwenddwr, Crickadarn and Erwood. The charter goes on to state that these lands had been taken from the free forest by Walter and his ancestors and that any deer taken there should be taken to the grange of Gwenddwr and reported to Walter's bailiffs of Bronllys, the capital of Clifford held Cantref Selyf. As there was a dispute between Walter and the monks concerning the common of the whole of Walter's Cantref Selyf, as contained in the charters of Dore, Walter further restored to the monks pasture and common in both wood and herbage in all his lands south of the Roman road (Flemish Way). This document shows reasonably clearly that Llaneglwys included both Gwenddwr and Crickadarn and may well suggest that any fortifications in this region were obsolete by c.1170 (when the original grant was made) as the charters do not specifically exclude the grantor’s fortresses as does a contemporary grant made by Roger Mortimer (1153-1214) to Abbey Cwmhir in Maelienydd and Gwrtheyrnion in 1200. Despite this apparent rapprochement between the last Clifford lord of the district and Abbey Dore, further disputes arose between the two, probably as a result of the lessening of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth's influence (d.1240) on the Welsh princes of the region.

When disturbances troubled the Marches again, on 28 February 1241, Gruffydd Vaughan, the bailiff of Sir Walter Clifford, and Philip Fitz Richard (Clifford?) were accused of forcibly pillaging church lands in Cantref Selyf and committing 'trespasses, violences and grievances' upon Dore's men and lands. The accused acknowledged their faults before the prior and sub-prior of Monmouth and promised not to repeat them. Around the same time Maredudd ap Rhys of Emlyn (Deheubarth) admitted doing injury to Abbey Dore in Cantref Selyf and likewise promised to return to the monks their rights at Trawscoed, Llaneglwys and Gwenddwr. Obviously this had been the result of conflict between the forces of the royalist Walter Clifford and Prince Dafydd of Gwynedd. Some inkling of this dispute can be seen in Prince Dafydd informing the Vaughans that Dore 'having been much troubled by felonious persons', had been taken under his protection, and similarly that the bishop of St David's had taken the lands of the abbey in his diocese into his own hands. This is quite possibly the cause of the ruction with the Cliffords rather than a consequence of it. In the aftermath of these skirmishes the king confirmed Walter Clifford's 1227 chirograph apparently at Chester on 12 August 1241, from whence the king was proceeding to crush Prince Dafydd's insurrection.

During 1252 some problem seems to have occurred in the Wye valley for according to the Welsh Chronicles Llywelyn ap Gurwareth, the king's bailiff in the land which was Maelgwn Ieuanc's in Ceredigion, by the mandate of the king, took plunder from the men of Elenydd or Commote Deuddwr as it is otherwise known. This was because they had wrongfully claimed the right of pasture in the mountains of Maelienydd. This in turn may have led to the king ordering Walter Clifford to widen the passes of the Clettwr (Clettur', the stream that runs through Crickadarn to the Wye at Erwood) right up to the lands of Gruffydd Vaughan, which is above Walter's lands, ‘so that there will be no damage to our castle of Buellt’. Gruffydd Vaughan was lord of Llangynog just south of Builth Wells. Earlier, in May of the same year, Walter had given to Abbey Dore all his lands, tenements and liberties in Cantref Selyf including all Gwenddwr and Llaneglwys. This grant may have been the cause of the disturbances in Elfael and Maelienydd that year although there is no longer sufficient evidence to say what exactly occurred. Unfortunately nothing is apparently recorded of this region in the wars of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (1256-82), although it can be shown that the region was most likely in his power from 1260, when Builth and Aberedw castles fell to him. Much of the Middle Marches remained under Llywelyn’s control until his forced withdrawal during the war of 1276-77. Interestingly in 1265 it was at Pipton on the Wye in Cantref Selyf that Llywelyn met Simon Montfort's representatives and signed the momentous treaty of Pipton that was to lead to the even more momentous foundation of the 'official' principality of Wales, 1267-82, at Montgomery, during Michaelmas 1267. Such would suggest that until 1276 Llaneglwys, like much of Brycheiniog, was in Llywelyn’s hands.

 


Copyright©1994-2004 Paul Martin Remfry


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