Saturday, 6 August 2016

61 The Battle of Gower 1136

61 The Battle of Gower - 6 August 2016 (photos; plaques, 1136 stone)

Garngoch is an area of much historical interest - the site of a Roman settlement and where a Bronze Age burial cairn was excavated in 1855 by Sir J.T. Dillwyn Llewelyn of Penllergare.  Furthermore, just seventy years after the Battle of Hastings, a significant battle took place on the Common.

The least interested person in history is aware that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066, when William the Conqueror from Normandy defeated the Saxons under Harold Godwin.  William the Conqueror might seem remote to people in South Wales, but it was in Cardiff Castle that his eldest son Robert, Duke of Normandy, was imprisoned - by his younger brother King Henry I - for 28 years, and died there in 1134.  William’s second son had succeeded the Conqueror as king, before being killed in an alleged hunting accident in the New Forest, and was followed as king by William’s third son Henry I, who died in 1135.  The following year, as a direct result of Henry’s death which led to anarchy and civil war, the Battle of Gower was fought on Garngoch Common.  

Just south of Garngoch Hospital, before the road bridge over the A484 from Gorseinon towards Swansea, a sign points east to the battle site.  A short walk across a field leads to a 4-tonne memorial stone on a raised bank that was unveiled on St David’s Day 1986 by former Plaid Cymru president Dr. Gwynfor Evans.  Two adjacent slate plaques with inscriptions in Welsh and English state: “This stone commemorates the Battle of Gower January 1st 1136.  A force of Welshmen led by Hywel ap Maredudd of Breconshire battled to defeat an Anglo-Norman army.  Many perished with much bloodshed.  This suggests the origin of the Common's name Garn Goch.  Land without heritage is land without soul.”  The Battle of Gower Memorial Committee had campaigned for two years to draw attention to the battle, with the memorial stone from Blaenyfan Quarry being donated by Wottan Roadstone Ltd.

Henry I’s heir had drowned when the White Ship sank in the English Channel, which left only his daughter Matilda to succeed the king.  In those unenlightened times the thought of rule by a woman (whether Monarch, Prime Minister, or President) was unacceptable to many, so a state of turmoil, anarchy and civil war prevailed once Henry died.  The Welsh grasped the opportunity to rise up and reclaim lands taken by the Norman barons.

Hywel ap Maredudd, lord of Brycheiniog (Brecknockshire), gathered an army of men from there and from northern upland Gŵyr for this.  They encountered a force of Normans, who had seriously under-estimated the strength of the Welsh army, on the common at Garngoch on New Year’s Day 1136.  The Welsh inflicted a violent and comprehensive victory - it is said that 516 men were slain, mostly Normans, with accounts of wolves and ravens having a New Year’s feast from the rotting corpses of Norman soldiers.  The place name (literally red cairn) may refer to the vast amount of blood shed that day.  Although historical accounts are usually written by the victors and therefore are rarely impartial, an account of the battle was written in Latin during the next few years by John of Worcester in his “Chronicle of Chronicles”, and the battle is mentioned by Gerald Cambrensis in his “Itinerarium Cambriae” (Journey through Wales), written in 1191.  That precise number of 516 dead indicates accuracy of reporting.

That Welsh victory inspired more rebellions around Wales, with an attack on Kidwelly Castle when Gwenllian, Princess of Deheubarth, was killed, and in October the major battle at Crug Mawr near Cardigan where her husband Gruffydd ap Rhys defeated an Anglo-Norman force.  Unlike William the Conqueror’s sons, to whom any concept of brotherly love seemed anathema, when Gruffydd died the following year his sons co-operated in trying to regain Welsh lands lost to the Normans. 


  1. I never knew about this. A new road sign is needed pointing to the memorial stone as the old one is faded and can hardly be read as you are driving past.

  2. I believe the battle happened on the next field over.

  3. I wasn’t aware of the exact details of the battle. I read that Garngoch means “red stones” and that other places nearby, Cadle and Killay, mean “place of battle “ and “place of retreat” respectively. All three seem to be linked.

  4. What is the round of trees at the top anything to do with it