Sunday, 29 January 2017

88 Edward I at Oystermouth Castle


88 Edward I at Oystermouth Castle

Oystermouth Castle is certainly not hidden history, although one aspect may be somewhat overlooked.  That aspect is the visit of the English King Edward I during December 1284, when Oystermouth, rather than Swansea Castle, was the principal residence of the lords of Gower. 

The castle’s fortunes had oscillated during a time of social unrest as the Normans sought to consolidate their hold on South Wales.  During the twelfth century within a period of twenty years Oystermouth Castle, which was initially built of wood, had twice been captured and then burned by the Welsh of Deheubarth - the area of Dyfed, Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi. 

Even in 1256 – less than thirty years before King Edward’s visit – the castle was again destroyed, on this occasion by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, recognised as prince of Wales, and grandson of the powerful ruler Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great).

Gower in 1203 came into the hands of the de Breos family (there are variant spellings), who held Oystermouth Castle as part of their extensive land holdings and titles, along with other castles in Gower and in the Welsh Marches.  The de Breos dynasty had the means to rebuild Oystermouth in stone, with a high curtain wall, additional internal buildings, a chapel, basements, and three-storey residential buildings with fireplaces on each floor.  Towards the end of that century Oystermouth rather than Swansea had become their principal residence.

Edward I, who at 6ft 2in tall acquired the epithet Longshanks, became King of England in 1272 when aged 33.  He was known as “the hammer of the Scots”, though that campaign followed his dealings with the Welsh, especially the war of 1282-83.

The last prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Guffydd, was killed in a skirmish near Builth Wells on 11 December 1282 - an obelisk stands near the site in the village of Cilmeri.  Ironically four years earlier Edward I had been present at Llywelyn’s wedding at Worcester Cathedral - and had paid for the wedding feast.  Llywelyn’s death marked the end of effective Welsh resistance until the time of Owain Glynd┼Ár over a century later. 

1284 was a significant year for Edward, culminating in his stay at Oystermouth Castle in December.  The Statute of Rhuddlan imposed English law throughout Wales, and the king journeyed through the country to emphasise English dominion over Wales, reminding Marcher Lords that it was with his permission that they ruled.  To consolidate his conquest of North Wales, Edward initiated the huge building project to erect the “iron ring” of colossal stone fortresses from Harlech in the west along the North Wales coast to Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Conwy and Rhuddlan, to the innovative deigns of James of Saint George.  It was at Caernarfon Castle (whose construction took nearly 40 years) that the future Edward II was born on 25 April, at that time being second in line to the throne.   But the baby prince’s elder brother Alfonso died aged ten in August, so that by the time the King came from Kidwelly to Oystermouth in December the prince was heir to the throne – two other elder brothers having already pre-deceased him.  Prince Edward was the 16th and last child of Eleanor of Castile, who died aged 44.  Twelve ‘Eleanor crosses’ were later erected at the site of each overnight stop as her body was carried from near Nottingham to London, the final one being Charing Cross, though this is now a replica and does not stand on the original site.  

The two-day visit to Oystermouth Castle in 1284 came when the castle had been fairly recently re-built, when Edward I’s conquest of Wales was complete, and in the year of the death of one son and the birth of another.  He could then turn his attention to the Scots …                         

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