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Men of Harlech

In March 1461, the Lancastrian forces of King Henry VI were decisively thrashed at Towton, the Yorkist army of King Edward IV winning the day after a bitter and close-fought battle. After that, England fell into the hands of the first Yorkist king. At least, that is what Edward would have liked. In truth, repeated incursions across the Scottish borders during which castles such as Alnwick and Dunstanburgh were quickly snatched continued for some years until the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham in 1464 finally quashed Lancastrian assaults in the north.

Harlech Castle 171107 006

One place is often forgotten in the story of the Yorkist takeover of England and Wales. Harlech Castle became the last, stubborn enclave of Lancastrian influence in Edward IV’s kingdom and was not brought under his control until 1468. The siege of Harlech Castle is often cited as the longest siege in British history, but that doesn’t paint an entirely accurate picture. For most of the seven-year period from 1461-1468, the castle wasn’t under direct attack, though assaults did come sporadically. It is perhaps more accurate to consider the resistance of Harlech Castle as it being held against Edward IV for seven years.

Harlech became a crucial foothold for Lancastrians in the same way that Calais was important to the English in France. An enclave within territory otherwise belonging to the enemy was both precarious and vital. Part of Harlech’s success lay in geography that is very different to what can be seen today. Walking the open walls around the top of the castle offers a glorious view of the mountains to the north, the town to the east, the coast running away south and the flat plains to the west that lead to the sea. It is this western aspect that is substantially altered. In the fifteenth century, the sea came right up to the castle, as witnessed by the presence of the Water Gate just outside the castle’s western walls. From here, the castle could be restocked and relieved with little that the Yorkists could do about it. Jasper Tudor had been driven from the Welsh coast and was probably in Ireland at this point, providing him with the perfect vantage point from which to send supplies to Harlech and to get intelligence and rumours both in and out.

Harlech Castle 171107 034

The garrison at Harlech was commanded throughout the siege by Dafydd ab Ifan ab Einion, a veteran of the Hundred Years’ War who appears to have served in Rouen. He has been linked to the forces commanded by another famous Welsh soldier named Matthew Gough, who had been killed fighting Jack Cade’s forces in London in 1450. In 1460, following the Battle of Northampton, Queen Margaret fled to Harlech Castle before escaping to Scotland and probably placed Dafydd in command at this point. Harlech became a sanctuary for dissident Lancastrians. In 1463, the Sir Richard Tunstall appeared there for about a year. A member of Henry VI’s household from a Lancashire family, Tunstall had been knighted by Henry in 1452. After his sojourn at Harlech, he headed north to fight alongside Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset at the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. After the defeats there, he found Henry and saw that he was secreted safely in Lancashire. Tunstall then returned to Harlech, perhaps recognising the importance of keeping a foothold on the Welsh coast.

The final demise of Harlech was caused by a failed Lancastrian invasion. In June 1468, Jasper Tudor landed at Barmouth a few miles south of Harlech. Edward IV had made known his intention to invade France and Louis XI’s response was to fund a Lancastrian invasion on Edward’s western flank. Jasper managed to capture Denbigh Castle, from where he held court in Henry VI’s name and launched raids further into Wales. This was enough to convince Edward to act decisively. Well, sort of. Edward planned to lead an army into Wales himself to crush the insurgency, only to delegate the task at the last moment to William Herbert. William took half the men he had raised around the mountains to attack Harlech from the north. His younger brother Richard Herbert was to approach from the south with the other half of the army, giving each brother around 4,500 men each. Richard encountered Jasper Tudor’s force south of Harlech and caused them to disperse and flee. When the brothers arrived at Harlech, a true siege began and did not take long to conclude.

Harlech Castle 171107 091

With food running short and no sign of supplies from the seas, Dafydd ab Ifan ab Einion surrendered the castle on 14  August 1468. Sir Richard Tunstall was taken into custody amongst the fifty or so prisoners seised from the fortress. Although he was taken to the Tower, Edward IV pardoned him, only for Tunstall to join the readeption government was Henry VI’s chamberlain. Tunstall was attainted when Edward IV regained power and managed to obtain the reversal of this punishment within a couple of years. He went on to serve both Edward IV and Richard III, the latter inducting him into the Order of the Garter before Tunstall was reported in the Ballad of Bosworth Field as one of four English knights to immediately join Henry Tudor when he landed in Wales in 1485. For his final victory against this remnant of Lancastrian resistance, William Herbert was given Jasper Tudor’s forfeited earldom of Pembroke.

Today, Harlech Castle is a stunning monument to Edward I’s campaign to impose himself on Wales. The sea has retreated from its w”Men alls, but it looms over the vast, flat plains left behind and still dominates the coastline to the north and south. The famous song Men of Harlech is widely believed to refer to this prolonged resistance to Yorkist rule, becoming something more like a Welsh national call to arms than a description of a long-running siege as part of a fight between two English royal houses. The 1873 version by John Oxenford romantically describes:

Echoes loudly waking,

Hill and valley shaking;

‘Till the sound spreads wide around,

The Saxon’s courage breaking;

Your foes on every side assailing,

Forward press with heart unfailing,

‘Till invaders learn with quailing,

Cambria ne’er can yield!

A modern visitor can walk the long entrance ramp that has replaced the old, open, wooden staircase into the castle and stroll the grounds at will. The walls remain open, and a pretty challenging walk as the wind blows in from the seas. If you pause for a moment there, it is easy to imagine standing there in the cold and high wind, heavy armour serving to help root your feet, but threatening to help drag you down from the walls with one false step. There can have been little romantic in August 1468 as cannon thundered from the town into the walls and food began to run short. With no hope of relief, surrender to an implacable and unforgiving enemy can only have held terror for those Men of Harlech, that last bastion of Lancastrian loyalty in England or Wales.

Harlech Castle 171107 076

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SIR MATTHEW CRADDOCK 1468 – 1531

 Matthew Craddock was the son of Richard ap Gwilliam ap Evan ap Craddock Vreichfras and Jennet Horton of Candleston Castle in Glamorgan. His great grandfather, William Horton of Tregwynt in Pembrokeshire, married Joan de Canteloupe the heiress of Candleston. Jennet Horton was their granddaughter.

I first came across Matthew Craddock while looking at anything that connected Bishop Stillington to Mathry in Pembrokeshire and his connection to the Craddock/ Newton family of East Harptree in Somerset. Some of the Craddock family (Caradog in Welsh) had changed their name to Newton however Matthew’s father retained the name Craddock. William Horton was from Tregwynt in the Parish of Granston and the living is annexed to that of Mathry which was where Stillington was living at one time .There are connections between Stillington and Sir John Newton of East Harptree whose father was a Sir Richard CraddockNewton.  Sir Richard Craddock Newton was the arbitrator for the Talbots in the Berkley dispute.

It was thought that Matthew and Sir John may have been brothers but this is thought to be unlikely now. It is possible that they are related but not brothers.

When discussing Sir William Herbert on the Richard III Forum and the fact that he was in charge of guarding the South Wales coast for his father in law Richard III in 1485 it occurred to me that the Glamorgan Castles could have been part of this defence and that maybe Matthew had supported Richard. In the Dictionary of Welsh Biography it is reported that the Calendar of Patent Rolls 6/3/1485 – 1486 1HVII says that Craddock was appointed Constable for life at Caerphilly and Kenfig Castles. In 1491 Sir Matthew Craddock was appointed Steward of the Gower and also in 1497. Then I read a short note on a genealogy site, though obviously genealogy sites are not a reliable sources, it said that Matthew Craddock had fought in Rhys ap Thomas’retinue at Bosworth, this came as a surprise and a disappointment though it would probably explain the appointments under Tudor. Apparently William Herbert didn’t fight at all at Bosworth, which begs the question was it because he had links to Tudor from childhood (Tudor was brought up by the Herberts as their ward) or had Richard excused him to look after Katherine in the event of a Tudor victory?

I had started looking at the families who lived in some of the castles along the Glamorgan and South Wales coast before I came across the information that possibly Craddock had fought in Rhys ap Thomas’ retinue. Some of the names were familiar to me as there were still some of their descendants living in Glamorgan at least until the 1960s.These families were the Stradlings, the Turbevilles, the Mansells and the Talbots.

Candelston Castle is on the west side of the River Ogmore on the opposite side to Ogmore Castle. All along the Glamorgan coast there are castles, to the east of Ogmore is St Donat’s Castle, seat of the Stradling family and to the west would have been Kenfig castle. Further inland from Ogmore are Newcastle Castle, guarding the approach to the Llynfi Valley, and Coity Castle, seat of the Turbeville family. The Turbevilles also inherited Newcastle when one of them married the daughter of Morgan Gam of Afan.  When the Normans took over South Wales they built castles at Ogmore, Newcastle and Coity. Ogmore Castle was an important link in the defensive system of the Ogmore estuary. They were known as the Ogmore Triangle. Apparently they had a system whereby they would come to one anothers aid if attacked. Ogmore is on the estuary of the river and would guard against invasion from the sea. Further north is Newcastle, in what is now Bridgend, it is built high on a hill overlooking the river and so protecting the access to the Llynfi Valley. Coity is slightly north west of Newcastle and protects the Ogmore and Garw Valleys.

Ogmore, Newcastle and Coity were built by William de Londres in the 12th century and Coity was granted to Payn de Turbeville by Robert Fitzhamon. Payn Turbeville’s gt grandson Gilbert Turbeville married Matilda daughter of Morgan Gam of Afan and in 1217 he acquired the manor of Newcastle previously held by Morgan Gam and from then on Coity and Newcastle devolved together. The Turbevilles held both properties until 1380 when Richard Turbeville, a descendant of Payn Turbeville, died without issue and the properties descended to his sister Catherine and her husband Sir Roger Berkerolles. Their daughter Gwenllian Berkerolles married Sir Edward Stradling of St Donats.

The Stradlings came to Britain after the Norman conquest. They are a branch of the noble family of Strattigan who lived near Thun in Switzerland and they arrived in Wales in the late 13th century. In the late 14th century Sir Edward Stradling, Gwenllian Berkerolles husband, was twice Sheriff of Glamorgan. Edward and Gwenllian Stradling’s grandson, also called Sir Edward Stradling married Cardinal Beaufort’s daughter Joan by Alice Fitzalan and became Chamberlain and Receiver of South Wales. He died on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. His son Henry Stradling married Elizabeth Herbert of Raglan. Henry and Elizabeth’s son Thomas Stradling married Jane Matthew but Thomas died young in 1480 leaving Jane a young widow with a small child Edward, who was the Stradling heir to St Donat’s. (St Donat’s is now Atlantic College)

Imagine my surprise when, not long after I had read that Matthew Craddock had fought in Rhys ap Thomas’ retinue at Bosworth, I read in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography that Jane Stradling’s second husband was none other than Sir Rhys ap Thomas. Thomas then became guardian to the young heir,  Edward Stradling. Jane died in 1485 presumably leaving young Edward in Rhys’ care. There was a suggestion that Rhys took the money from the St Donat’s estates for three years in a row.

This explained to a certain extent the connection between Matthew Craddock and Rhys ap Thomas as Candleston Castle, like Ogmore Castle, is only a few miles west along the coast from St Donat’s. Matthew Craddock would have only been about seventeen in 1485, as it is thought that he was born in 1468, however, it is also thought that he might have been born as early as 1458. He would have been old enough to fight at Bosworth. After Bosworth he began a rapid rise being appointed Constable for life of Caerphilly and Kenfig Castles and Steward of Glamorgan in 1491 and 1497. He married Alice Mansell daughter of Sir Philip Mansell of Oxwich Castle, on the coast west of Swansea. I believe there doesn’t appear to be a record of the date, though some sources give 1489 as their date of marriage. They also report that his wife’s name could have been Jane Mansell. There doesn’t appear to be a complete set of facts about Craddock’s life. However, Matthew and Alice/ Jane’s daughter Margaret married Sir Richard Herbert the illegitimate half brother of William and Walter Herbert.

There are obviously connections through marriage between all these families. So were they Yorkist or were they Lancastrian, or were they doing a Stanley and supporting whoever was in power to get the best deal for their family? I doubt if we will ever know. In the Inventory of Ancient Monuments of Glamorgan, it is reported that Warwick was Lord of Glamorgan and that Clarence claimed it in 1474, however, it was awarded to Anne’s share and Richard became Lord of Glamorgan. It is reported that he raised the salaries of the officials of the Lordship to stop them extorting ancient dues from tenants, so he may not have been unpopular in Glamorgan. After Bosworth, Jasper Tudor was the Lord of Glamorgan.

In 1517 Sir Matthew Craddock married Lady Catherine Gordon, wife of “Perkin Warbeck”. Lady Catherine had been taken into the household of Elizabeth of York after” Perkin’s” arrest and had been treated well by Henry Tudor, however, he had never allowed her to leave court. Some sources report that he kept her a prisoner though he did treat her well. After Henry Tudor’s death Henry VIII gave her property in Berkshire in return for her promise not to leave England. When she married Craddock she was, however, allowed to live in Wales with him. Though it is also reported that they spent their married life at Court, because Lady Catherine was head of Princess Mary’s privy chamber.

There are various stories that Lady Katherine and “Perkin Warbeck” had a son and that he was brought up in Reynoldston on the Gower Peninsular. There is a story that a family named Perkins are descended from him. There is no evidence to prove that Katherine and “Perkin “ had a son, however, it has always seemed odd to me that she had agreed not to leave England and yet she ends up marrying the man who had been the Steward of the Gower and also lived there. I just wondered if she went to spend time with her son.

Unfortunately my idea that Sir Matthew Craddock was a supporter of Richard III came to nothing, however, it led to discovering connections between the families who controlled the coast of Glamorgan and maybe helping to explain how they flourished under the Tudors. In my opinion they probably would have fared just as well had Richard won Bosworth, indeed they might have fared better.

  1. Coity and Candleston Castle videos: h/t Stefen Felix.
  2. The DWB indicates that Craddock died between 14 June and 16 August 1531

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