KRA-Week 2013-6: Richard III – England & Wales – by Jim Cowan

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King Richard III & Cardiff


by Jim Cowan


For some time, I had been aware of the historical website about Cardiff and Wales by Jim Cowan:

Cardiff History and Hauntings


RIII and Queen Anne Neville - Stained glass window at Cardiff Castle (Source: Geoff Wheeler, Richard III Society)

RIII and Queen Anne Neville – Stained glass window at Cardiff Castle (Source: Geoff Wheeler, Richard III Society)

The knowledgeable historical background on the website impressed me, when I had been searching for more information about the well known Richard & Anne glass window in Cardiff Castle.
This window was also the reason which brought us in contact.
Mr. Cowan commented on that picture here on the KingRichardArmitage website and, instead of releasing that comment, I asked him, if he could share his wide knowledge with us here at the website at more length.
See for yourself, what wonderful article developed from that comment, as Mr. Jim Cowan can tell the mysteries, story and connection between Cardiff and King Richard III so very gripping:


cardiff castle triptych (Source: Jim Cowan - Cardiff History and Hauntings)

Cardiff Castle triptych (Source: Jim Cowan – Cardiff History and Hauntings)

Cardiff is a city that often surprises the casual visitor. It is the capital city of Wales and has the buzz and activity that you associate with such centres of population, but at first glance does not appear like a typical capital city. Where are the historic palaces and churches? Why is the Cathedral more than 2 miles from the city centre? Where exactly is the “historic centre”?
As a proud citizen of Cardiff, and lover of royal history, one thing which for many years frustrated me was that Cardiff did not enjoy the colourful royal associations of the other capital cities of Britain: London and Edinburgh both have their palaces and sagas of Royal intrigue, plotting, triumphs and calamities.
Cardiff, by contrast, is a city which most associate with the industrial revolution; a Victorian dockland town which boomed when the coal mined in the nearby Welsh valleys was in demand throughout the world and Cardiff was its outlet. However, so rapid and dramatic was that transformation, that Cardiff’s life before the 19th century has been almost entirely forgotten.
Discovering this colourful but little known history has been for me a wonderful voyage of discovery. The jewel in the crown (pun fully intended!) has been discovering that, throughout its history, Cardiff has had fascinating, intriguing and, at times, dramatic links to English Royal History from the 12th to the 21st centuries. To paraphrase the famous line attributed to the cult TV series “Star Trek”, you might say of Cardiff that “It’s a Royal City but not as we know it!”
We even have a period of Cardiff’s history where key characters from the last turbulent years of the Plantagenet dynasty have links to the town.
So how is this so? For 600 years prior to the Victorian coal exporting boom, Cardiff was, in British terms, of no significance whatsoever. Its population hovered approximately between 1,500 and 2,000 people. It was a walled town, and by all accounts fairly prosperous in Welsh terms: it was the largest borough in Wales and, as a staple port, was the chief port of south Wales for exporting the produce of an essentially rural economy, and importing vital supplies, primarily trading with nearby Bristol. However, that fact alone illustrates the insignificance of Wales since its resistance to Anglo-Norman invasion was finally crushed in the late 13th century. In contrast to Edinburgh and London it was never a centre of Government and never a Royal powerbase.
However, all throughout its history we find the Royal connections! Some are admittedly on paper only but others are far more dramatic. These connections begin with the arrival of the Normans in south Wales in the late 11th century, some two decades after William the Conqueror’s Norman Conquest. The south-eastern region of Wales was seized from the Welsh Prince Iestyn ap Gwrgan by Robert Fitzhamon. Fitzhamon made a base in Cardiff, on the site of a mighty but ruined Roman fortress. Cardiff Castle was born, with a classic Norman Motte and Bailey Keep.
Fitzhamon was given the title “Lord of Glamorgan”. Essentially this role was equivalent to Governor General for the region stretching from the South Wales border with England to South West Wales. The Lord of Glamorgan would wield considerable power and autonomy and his was the most powerful of the so called “Marcher” Lordships, which, until the 16th century, existed along the entire English-Welsh border, to keep England safe from Welsh resistance. Through this title, its office and its system of inheritance, the Royal connections with Cardiff began.
Robert Fitzhamon, the First Lord of Glamorgan, arranged for his daughter Mabel to marry another Robert, the eldest illegitimate son of King Henry I. As the son of a King his upbringing had all the trappings of Royal privilege resulting in him being a brilliant soldier and tactical expert. This marriage brought the young suitor considerable land and titles, including inheriting the position of Lord of Glamorgan from his father in law, to which was added another title, 1st Earl of Gloucester. He fortified Cardiff with a stone keep which still stands today nearly 900 years later.
Robert is more commonly known as Robert the Consul and played a significant role in England during the 12th century struggle for the throne, between Henry I‘s daughter, Matilda (Robert the Consul’s half sister), and her cousin Stephen of Blois. During his Lordship events at Cardiff Castle changed the course of English Royal history when the castle was, in effect, occupied by two sons of Kings. One was Lord and Master of the castle, Robert the Consul, and the other his captive, Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, eldest son of William the Conqueror, and uncle of Robert the Consul. He was imprisoned following his failed attempt to depose his younger brother Henry I, spending the last eight years of his life the prisoner of Robert the Consul in Cardiff where he died in 1134.
The Royal link fleetingly re-emerges with Robert the Consul’s granddaughter, Isabel of Gloucester, in the late 12th century, with her marriage to Prince John, son of Henry II. Through that marriage Prince John took the title Lord of Glamorgan before the marriage was annulled and the title passed to relatives of Isabel.
From that point the title passed through a number of great noble families in the ensuing centuries including the De Clare family (the coat of arms of Cardiff still bears the three inverted Chevrons of this family); the Despenser family (one of whom, Hugh Despenser the Younger, was executed brutally in 1326 for his association with the ill fated Edward II), and the Beauchamp family.
Cardiff castle showing Norman Keep and the main house with the grey bay windowed section the Plantagenet house (Source: Jim Cowan - Cardiff History and Hauntings)

Cardiff castle showing Norman Keep and the main house with the grey bay windowed section the Plantagenet house (Source: Jim Cowan – Cardiff History and Hauntings)

The Beauchamp family were responsible for the creation of the house on the west wall of Cardiff Castle, which forms the core of the present castle apartments. Their construction followed the dramatic years of the early 15th century when Cardiff was, like many towns in Wales, all but destroyed during the great but ultimately unsuccessful Welsh uprising against the English, led by the powerful Welsh leader Owain Glyndwr.
It is in the mid-15th century, however, that we find Cardiff Castle becomes associated with some of the leading figures in the Wars of the Roses, between the houses of Lancaster and York.
Cardiff Castle showing bay fronted grey stone Plantagenet house surrounded by the later Victorian Towers (Source: Jim Cowan - Cardiff History and Hauntings)

Cardiff Castle showing bay fronted grey stone Plantagenet house surrounded by the later Victorian Towers (Source: Jim Cowan – Cardiff History and Hauntings)

The Beauchamp claim to the Lordship of Glamorgan died out with their failure to produce a male heir. Eventually the Lordship was inherited by Anne, Countess of Warwick. Females were unable to carry the title in their own right, so it was assumed by her husband: Richard Neville, better known as Warwick the Kingmaker. Following his death at the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 the title passed to George Duke of Clarence, spouse of his eldest daughter Isabel, who held it until his death in 1477. After that time the title passed to Richard of Gloucester, spouse of Warwick’s other daughter, Anne.
Richard of Gloucester, of course, became King in 1483 which meant that de facto the Lordship of Glamorgan merged with the crown.
Richard Neville’s part in the general saga of the Wars of the Roses is widely known. What is frustrating is that so few details are known about the detail of life in Cardiff and Glamorgan at this time that we simply do not know the extent of the comings and goings of the Nevilles when they held the Lordship. Perhaps somewhere such details exist, buried and hidden as incidental detail and trapped in some archive for someone to discover one day. We see the references to Richard Neville in the Glamorgan Charters issued at this time but that is it. However, there are tentative clues to suggest that the Nevilles did more than hold the Glamorgan Lordship as a mere title.
For evidence of this we look not to political or military events at or directed from Cardiff Castle, but to something more aesthetic which still stands proudly to this day 200 yards from the castle: The Church of St John the Baptist.
St Johns Church tower, Cardiff (Source: Jim Cowan - Cardiff History and Hauntings)

St Johns Church tower, Cardiff (Source: Jim Cowan – Cardiff History and Hauntings)

While the Nevilles held the Lordship, a new building began to emerge in the city centre. The Church of St John the Baptist had been in existence since the 12th century but the old building had been destroyed during Glyndwr’s 1404 attack on the town, which he had viewed as an English Colonial outpost.
The new Church was unlike anything seen in the town before: a 40m (130 ft) high tower emerged, taller than any building in the town, topped by a flourish of pinnacles. To this day no church tower in the southern half of the UK has as many ornamental pinnacles as this one. It was a sign that there was serious finance and intent behind its construction. Where could this support have come from? Certainly not the merchants of Cardiff. Cardiff was too small and modest for such opulent gestures.
The answer comes in a document contained in a church a few miles west of Cardiff. The 1721 register of the Church of Llanblethian, Cowbridge, contains the following entry:

“Anno 1473 Anne the second daughter and co-heir of Richard Neville the late Earl of Salisbury and Warwick was married to Edward Prince of Wales, son of King Henry the sixth. She was late Lady of the Manor of Glamorgan and Morganwg. Built this Tower the south part of Cowbridge Church and St John’s Tower in Cardiff was also married to Richard Duke of Gloucester afterwards King of England by usurpation…..”


St Johns Tower, Cardiff (Source: Jim Cowan - Cardiff History and Hauntings)

St Johns Tower, Cardiff (Source: Jim Cowan – Cardiff History and Hauntings)

While there is clearly an error in this record regarding the date of the marriage of Anne to Edward, there has never been any evidence to contrary regarding the date of the construction of the Tower, so this date is generally accepted and, with it, the acceptance that there would have been no other likely local patron of a building of such elegance and opulence at the time. Another suggestion which has been made is that both sisters commissioned the construction, with Isabel Neville responsible for the nave, and Anne responsible for the tower. Add to that the known piety of Richard and we may have a church in Cardiff whose elegance we owe to Richard and Anne, as well as Isabel. Whether as a statement of power or a genuine act of religious observance, the rationale is there to support such a view.
It would be wonderful to have some evidence that, while Lord of Glamorgan, Richard himself ever spent time in Cardiff Castle. The official line taken by the castle is that there is no evidence that he did. However, I tend to take the view that he may well have spent time there, even if it was brief. While there is no official record of his presence in Cardiff, Richard was known as a keen administrator. As Lord of Glamorgan from 1477 it would have been in character for him to oversee personally, even if only occasionally, the running of the region for which he was responsible. Had he come to Cardiff then business would probably have been conducted from the Plantagenet Hall of Cardiff Castle. In the nineteenth century this was remodelled into (and remains) the library of the castle.
Sadly we have no more than such speculation on which to base thoughts on Richard’s link to Cardiff. However, we have the visual evidence on which to base our imaginings, not only in St John’s Church, but with the Plantagenet exterior of the Cardiff Castle apartments.
Richard & Anne - Cardiff Castle Window, 19th century (Source: Jim Cowan - Cardiff History and Hauntings)

Richard & Anne – Cardiff Castle Window, 19th century (Source: Jim Cowan – Cardiff History and Hauntings)

In addition, the castle rooms are lined with stained glass windows of every Lord of Glamorgan from the twefth century creation of the title to its 16th century dissolution by Henry VIII (the last Lord of Glamorgan). This is thanks to the talented nineteenth century designer Charles Campbell, part of the team of the ingenious art architect William Burges, whose patron was the Third Marquess of Bute, richest man in Europe, and owner of Cardiff Castle, who transformed the building into a spectacular fairytale monument to his ancestry through gold, glass, marble, stone and wood. Whether by accident or design, as you enter the castle apartments, the first two figures you see are Anne Neville and Richard III beautifully portrayed in stained glass. It would be difficult to find in south Wales a more fitting place of pilgrimage for anyone seeking to discover and revere this much maligned figure.

by Jim Cowan,
Cardiff History and Hauntings



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