The Braose Rebellion of 1207 to 1210

The beginning of the thirteenth century saw the house of Braose at its zenith. William Braose Senior (1155-1211) was a close confident of the new king who could not do enough for his friend and counsellor. Indeed the relationship was certainly not just one way, for in 1202 William was instrumental in winning the decisive battle of Mirabeau for a grateful King John. In quick succession, between 1200 and 1205, William received from the king the right to conquer all he could from the Welsh to add to his barony of Radnor, the lordship of Limerick, the honours of Cardigan, Glamorgan, Gower, Gwynllwg, Lacy and Kington, and finally the Trilateral (Skenfrith, Grosmont and White Castle). It is difficult to assess how many knights pertained to these castles and their surrounding lands, but an estimation of this figure would give an idea of Braose power. In 1230 various Marchers admitted to holding 78½ Braose knights’ fees, apparently in England alone and this figure did not include the powerful rape of Bramber which John Braose still held. In Wales and Ireland contemporary and later surveys would suggest that before 1208 William Braose held the following knights’ fees. In Abergavenny there were about 13½ fees; in Brecon possibly 40; Elfael (Colwyn and Painscastle) apparently 52; Gower about 10; in Kington 22½; in the English Lacy lands 63½; in Limerick 60; in Radnor 13; and in the Trilateral probably between 5 and 10. The fees of Glamorgan with their castles had been withdrawn to the king in early 1207. In total during 1207 it would appear that William Braose could field some 300 knights and judging by Medieval formula, at least 6,000 infantry. He could also count upon support from two of the four lords of Deheubarth, Rhys Ieuanc and Owain ap Gruffydd, who were his grandsons and proved loyal fighters for his cause in the coming war. These princes could also provide infantry numbered in the thousands. From this it can be seen that Braose power was formidable, but events were to show that the power was in fact illusory when William challenged the king.

Supplementary to all the new lands the king granted Braose, William seemed to be immune to royal taxation. In 1202 alone he had two debts of £100 and £50 cancelled. Additionally, on 13 July 1207, just months before his catastrophic fall from favour, William Braose was granted the powerful town and castle of Ludlow to hold for his son-in-law, Walter Lacy. This left the Braose estates spread from his Sussex rape of Bramber in the South-East to Cardigan in the West. Between lay the Braose-held castles of St Clears, Carmarthen, Swansea, the Trilateral, Abergavenny, Pembridge, Brecon, Longtown, Colwyn, Painscastle, Radnor, Weobley, Kington, Knighton, Norton, Ludlow, Barnstaple and Totnes. Such impressive power was soon brought to naught.

The fall of the house of Braose from royal favour would seem to have begun when William Braose Senior began to withdraw from public life in favour of his son William Braose Junior who was subsequently known as the lord of Brecon. After the capture of Arthur of Brittany in 1202, and certainly before the end of 1203, William Braose Senior demised many of his lands to his son, William Junior, and King John accepted his homage for them. This was probably one of the major factors that caused the split between this powerful family and the Crown. Another major factor would appear to be the fate of Duke Arthur. In 1279 it was claimed that William Braose had obtained Gower in February 1203 by extorting a charter from King John when the king was in a panic and feared that William was going to leave him. This might well be related to William refusing further custody of Arthur around this time as he felt unable to protect him. William le Breton, who met William Braose in exile in 1210-11, stated before 1214 that King John brought Arthur to Rouen and soon aroused the suspicions of his barons as to his intentions towards his nephew. Consequently William Braose, as spokesman for the barons, declared that he would no longer be responsible for the duke and that he had handed him over to the king safe and sound. After a moody seclusion in his manor of Moulineux, John killed his nephew at Rouen by night on 3 April. Certainly many monastic chroniclers held John guilty of the deed. Did William Braose know what happened for fact and did this sour relations between them? Certainly even in 1204 King John let William off a £100 fine of which he had only paid £75.

Whatever the case King John is said to have had a dislike of William Braose Junior (1170-1210). In 1208 this led the king to fine him the astonishing amount of 300 marks for a trivial forest offence, though of course this was when the Braose were already in opposition to the king. The previous year, 1207, William Braose Senior and Junior had jointly pledged for fellow Marcher Fulk Fitz Warin of Whittington borrowing money. Despite the apparent normality in 1207 things moved rapidly in 1208. One of the local monastic chronicles is probably near the mark in his summary of events. The scribe of Worcester priory thought that King John suspected William Braose of treason. Consequently he ordered him to surrender five of his castles in Wales, which he did. These castles would appear to have been Cardigan, Carmarthen, Knighton, Norton and Kington. All of these castles, however, were in the royal gift and were not Braose strongholds. The exception is Kington which Braose had bought, but never paid for! After surrendering these castles William had a change of mind and subsequently attacked them in a vain attempt to win them back. As a consequence King John marched against him with a large army causing the recalcitrant Marcher to flee to Ireland. It was probably around this time that John demanded hostages of William Senior, but on the advice of his wife, the redoubtable Matilda St Valery (1155-1210), he refused them. It is likely that this immediately preceded the war.

The timescale of the war would appear to be this. The castles of Knighton and Norton had been turned over to Roger Mortimer of Wigmore by the king before 12 June 1207. Previously they had been in Braose hands since 1191. By 1 October 1207 William Braose, Walter Lacy and William Marshall were acting together in Ireland and apparently trying to bring Fulk Fitz Warin of Whittington into their influence. Probably this winter the Braose were instrumental in matching their mesne baron, Hugh Turbeville of Crickhowell, to the daughter of John Brampton of Brampton Bryan, the chief mesne lord of Wigmore barony. The marriage was witnessed by Stephen Devereux, the lord of Lyonshall and Lacy mesne baron to whom William Braose was now overlord. Finally on 19 March 1208 the king allowed William Braose to return Ludlow castle to Walter Lacy. A few days later the two were at enmity.

The war would appear to have begun around the same time as the Pope placed England under an Interdict in a completely separate dispute on 24 March 1208. William Braose attacked all of the castles he had handed over to the king the previous year; failed to take any of them; and in a fit of rage is said to have sacked Leominster, a royal town. When King John's army approached from the east, William, largely abandoned by his knights, wisely fled with his family to Ireland. Here they were harboured by William Marshall and the Lacys. On 9 April 1208 Walter Lacy would appear to have surrendered his brother Hugh Lacy to the king as a hostage with a result that on 24 April the king confirmed Walter in his Irish lands. A few days later, on 29 April 1208, the king demanded that William Braose should ‘pay 1,000 marks from his debts to Gerard Athee for the expenses incurred in the king's expedition into Wales within the next four days’. Braose would seem to have refused this demand and by 23 May 1208 his son, Bishop Giles Braose of Hereford, abandoned his castles and fled the country. The result of all this was a war in Brycheiniog between William’s grandsons, the sons of Gruffydd and one J. ab Einion, against Gerald Athee, the sheriff of Gloucester, who had been given custody of all the Braose lands. Some two hundred English, as distinct from French, who also took part in the campaign, were killed in the fighting, before they were forced to retreat by the Welshmen of Buellt, first from Aberdihonw, a grange of Strata Florida just south of Builth Wells, and then from the entire district of Buellt. This meant that the sheriff had patently failed in his objective to lay waste the district and build castles 'vastaret et incastellaret'. As a consequence of all this martial activity there were no entries in the Pipe Roll this year for Herefordshire, Shropshire or Staffordshire. The fighting was probably over by 29 September when King John ordered his knights and lieges to go to the aid of Peter Fitz Herbert who had recently received the southern third of Brycheiniog of which Prince Gwenwynwyn was not trying to deprive him. The king expected the trouble to continue until Christmas, however little more seems to have come of this, except for the arrest of Gwenwynwyn at Shrewsbury.

Continuing the campaign the next year, King John invaded Wales and expelled Rhys Ieuanc and Owain ap Gruffydd who were no doubt still consorting with their grandfather, William Braose. This expedition included a parley with William Braose Senior, who would appear to have been helping his otherwise unsupported grandchildren. Gwenwynwyn had come to terms with King John on 8 October 1208 and Llywelyn ab Iorwerth on 25 December 1208. Despite John’s agreement with Llywelyn at the end of the year on 21 January 1211 he told the knights of the earldom of Chester that they must serve in the campaign he was organising, ‘against our Welsh enemies for the digressions caused by Llywelyn’. The campaign, however, would appear to have proved abortive for on 29 January 1209 a safe conduct was issued for the prince to come to Shrewsbury. The implication though is that Llywelyn was already backing Braose.

On 20 July 1209 John issued his list of complaints on the misconduct of William Braose, though whether before or after the parley Braose it is hard to say. What is known, however, is that this pronouncement was made when the king was commencing his campaign against Scotland, and in his entourage was Prince Llywelyn of Gwynedd! After the Scottish campaign Llywelyn and other Welsh princes paid homage to John at Woodstock between 16 and 19 October 1209. The Braose problem seemed settled. The same year we learn something of ‘the army of Wales’ which had mastered the Braose. Sheriff Thomas Erdington of Shropshire on returning his accounts for the past two years claimed £16 6d for liveries of 500 foot and 25 horse serjeants 'in the army of Wales' while Sheriff Faulkes Breauté claimed £46 6s 8d in Glamorgan "on the charges ... in leading the Welsh in the army of Wales". These two elements were probably minute parts of the forces which operated in Wales during 1208 and 1209.

With this matters apparently rested until early in 1210 when new armies were formed and the war was reopened in the Middle March, by William Braose Senior, and his Welsh and Lacy allies. The war did not go well for the rebels, and one source suggests that the movement in Wales had collapsed by the time the king reached the border, to set out in June on his victorious Irish campaign against the rebels. Braose according to the king, campaigned in Herefordshire in May, Pembrokeshire in June and Herefordshire in July and August, all of which he 'devastated'. However he and his allies failed to take any castles of importance, as Brecon, Abergavenny and Radnor, all appear on the royal records at Michaelmas. The next summer John convincingly humbled Llywelyn ab Iorwerth when he twice invaded north Wales. Simultaneously the news of the death of William Braose in exile in Paris on 9 August 1211 must have made him feel more secure in his victory over Prince Llywelyn.

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The Castles and History of Radnorshire (ISBN 1-899376-82-8) looks in great detail at New Radnor castle and the surrounding fortresses.  The book consists of 309 pages of A4 and examines in greater detail the history and castles of Radnorshire and Rhwng Gwy a Hafren.  Starting in the early eleventh century the book covers the age of the castles up to the Civil War of 1642-46.  Each castle description is buttressed by numerous photographs and plans of the earthworks and remains where they survive.  A new look is also taken at the battlefield of Pilleth and the evidence for the course of the battle is scrutinised.  The book also contains genealogical family trees of the major historical Radnorshire families and a full index.

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Copyright©1994-2007 Paul Martin Remfry

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