History

Wales under Norman rule

Wales under Norman rule

1066-1200

The Normans became masters of England, a centralised kingdom, in a matter of a few years. Wales, where power was far more decentralized, proved resistant to their power. During the reign of William II, the Welsh rose in revolt, and by 1100 the Normans had been driven out of Gwynedd, Ceredigion and most of Powys.

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The Story of Wales
The Story of Wales

More information about: Wales under Norman rule

Gruffudd ap Cynan became ruler of Gwynedd and Cadwgan ap Bleddyn ruler of Powys. Gruffudd ap Rhys ap Tewdwr sought to establish himself in Deheubarth. In the uplands of the borders and the south east, members of the old Welsh royal families struggled to retain a degree of authority.

The creation of the Welsh March

Thus Wales became divided between those regions still under native rule and the lordships controlled from the castles of the Normans - between Pura Wallia and Marchia Wallie. The Norman lords of the March, while subjects of the English king, were not subject to the law of England.

Their fiefdoms were like independent kingdoms whose rulers could, with impunity, hold courts, build castles and wage war. As the March would exist in some form for over 450 years, it became a major and lasting element in the history of Wales.

Social change

The Norman invasion coincided with a revival in the European economy and an improvement in the climate. The population grew and boroughs were established. In the March, the boroughs were settled by people on whose loyalty the Normans could rely - generally incomers from England.

This gave rise to the notion that towns were an alien intrusion into Wales; yet in the regions under native rule, semi-urban settlements also developed. In addition, the Normans encouraged foreign settlement in parts of rural Wales - Gower, Pembroke and the Vale of Glamorgan in particular.

Although most marcher lordships were inhabited in the main by the native Welsh, all of them had their Englishries - areas within easy reach of the borough and its castle settled by immigrants.

The regions under Welsh rule

While the marcher lords were consolidating their hold over much of the southern lowlands and the borders, the Welsh rulers sought to strengthen their power. Madog ap Maredudd (died 1160) was master of Powys, Owain ap Gruffudd (died 1170) of Gwynedd, and Rhys ap Gruffudd (the Lord Rhys, died 1197) of Deheubarth. Rhys also excercised protection over the smaller Welsh dynasties of northern Glamorgan and the uplands between the Wye and Severn valleys.

The rulers sought to learn from the methods of the Normans. They began to build castles and have mounted knights. In particular, they saw virtue in the new monastic orders.

By 1200 all the major Welsh rulers had a monastery of the order of Cîteaux. Cistercian abbeys like Strata Florida and Vale Crucis provided meeting places and burial grounds for the rulers and it is in their stone buildings that most of what has survived of the literature of early medieval Wales was protected.

The role of the king of England

All the Welsh rulers were obliged to recognise the overlordship of the King of England. This allowed energetic sovereigns like Henry I and Henry II to interfere extensively in the politics of Wales. Thus, side by side with the growing confidence of the Welsh rulers, was the growing power of the English king.

These two aspects were explored by Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), himself of both Norman and Welsh descent. In his Description of Wales (1193), he devoted one chapter to the ways in which the English king might achieve the total conquest of Wales. In another, he tells the Welsh how they should set about resisting such a conquest.

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