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My 18th great-grandfather was mixed up in that War of the Roses business that obsessed the British for so long. He was beheaded, as several of my other ancestors were, during those tricky Tudor years. HIs castle, Raglan, can still be visited today.
How does one begin to describe the handsome majesty that is Raglan Castle? Raglan, with its great multi-angular towers and Tudor-styling, is unlike any other castle in Wales. There were only three times during our vacation, when visiting a site, I said to myself, “this is why we came to Wales.” The first time was while viewing Conwy Castle from the spur wall near the Quay. The second was upon seeing the cathedral and Bishop’s Palace at St. Davids, and the last was while standing in front of the double-towered gatehouse at Raglan.
The main stone used in construction of the castle is sandstone, but of two different types. The 15th century castle is characterized by pale, almost yellowish sandstone from Redbrook on the Wye river, three miles away. The other sandstone is local Old Red Sandstone, red, brown or purplish in color, used in the Tudor work. A paler stone was also used in the fireplaces. From a distance, Raglan seemed to have a reddish cast, although on approaching the gatehouse, the castle’s yellow sandstone becomes obvious.
The castle is probably most closely associated with William ap Thomas, who fought with King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. In 1426, ap Thomas was knighted by Henry VI, becoming known to his compatriots as “the blue knight of Gwent.” Sir William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, was the next owner of the castle, and it is Herbert who is responsible for Raglan’s distinctive Tudor-styling. The castle was also the boyhood home of Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII. As a boy he bided his time at Raglan, while his uncle Jasper agitated a Lancastrian return to the throne in the person of young Henry.
Both William ap Thomas and William Herbert fought in France, and undoubtedly, the castles that they saw in that country influenced their work at Raglan. The elaborately decorated polygonal keep, as well as the double-drawbridge arrangement of the keep, unique in Britain, demonstrate French influence. In 1492, Elizabeth Herbert married Sir Charles Somerset, a natural son of Henry Beaufort, third duke of Somerset, and it is to the Somerset family as earls of Worcester that we owe the final architectural touches of the castle.
On approaching the gatehouse, we passed Raglan’s Great Tower, surrounded by its apron wall and beautiful moat. Pink wildflowers spring from the apron wall, creating an unforgettable image. The wall has six corner turrets, one of which has a postern door to the moat. The Great Tower, known as “The Yellow Tower of Gwent,” is the most striking feature at Raglan. It was begun by Sir William ap Thomas and was designed very much in contemporary French style. Unfortunately, the tower was largely destroyed by Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War. The tower and moat are outside the main body of the castle. The Great Gate leading to the Pitched Stone Court lies next to The Great Tower. It was raised by Sir William Herbert, and served as the main entrance to the castle after 1460, however, we chose to continue surveying The Great Tower from the outside, via the park surrounding the moat, finally entering the castle from the South Gate.
Through the South Gate, we entered the main Apartments. The porch and Grand Stair lead to the apartments in the Fountain Court. The Grand Stair reminded us of a similar structure at Carew Castle. The two most impressive rooms at Raglan are The Hall and Long Gallery. The hall is the finest and most complete of the castle’s surviving apartments. A plaque over the dais in the hall bears the distinctive arms of the third earl of Worcester, as Knight of the Garter. Viewing the Great Tower from the apartments, we saw a finely carved shield and badge over the first floor chamber, a good example of the castle’s surviving detail. The Long Gallery has been called one of the finest rooms of Tudor rebuilding in Britain. Once a showcase of Tudor elegance, the gallery contained handsome paintings, tapestries and sculptures. During this time, Raglan was one of Britain’s social centers. Important guests were entertained until the early hours of the morning. The gallery had a series of windows overlooking the Fountain Court, and an ornate Renaissance fireplace. The remains of the fireplace, clearly showing two carved human figures, are a major highlight of the castle.
Re-entering the castle through the Great Gate, we entered the Pitched Stone Court, a large cobblestone area. Standing at the end of the court gives a magnificent view of the rear of the gatehouse and the Attic. The Attic, with its stunning Tudor-style windows, housed another gallery running along the rear of the gatehouse range. The building once held the castle’s extensive library, which was also destroyed by Cromwell’s soldiers. The wonderful thing about Raglan is that there are so many parts of the castle retaining detail and beauty, that you could spend an hour or so just admiring the beauty of any one area. A green park with benches surrounds most of the castle, giving visitors the chance to sit and contemplate the magnificence before them. There are several on-site exhibits explaining the history of the castle, and an extensive giftshop is planned for the future.
We could have easily spent a half day at Raglan, to properly survey the castle. By the time we finished looking at the exhibit rooms, it was late afternoon and time to find lodging for the night. Still, I had to take just one more walk around the moat and Great Tower. I used the excuse that I had not yet seen the back of the castle to prolong our stay. As I took my final walk around the moat, my eyes were fixed on the castle, not on the ground before me. I knew it would be quite some time before I’d experience a site such as this, and I wanted to burn this view of the castle into my memory forever. I was probably lucky I didn’t fall into the moat! Raglan was like a fairy tale castle I was afraid would disappear if I looked away. Carew had its aspects of beauty, but stately Raglan is a handsome, unique structure in every detail. I knew that our trip to Raglan would be a highlight of the trip, but if I had known just how magnificent the site was, I would have certainly set aside more time than the two hours we were there. If you ever travel to south Wales, make seeing Raglan Castle your number one priority. If necessary, drop all other plans, just don’t miss seeing Raglan! Once you visit this wonder of medieval architecture, you’ll understand why.
Raglan, stately and handsome, is perhaps deceptive. The might of its angular towers bears comparison with the great castles of Edward I, and suggests its origins lay in the bitter conflicts of the later 13th century. In face it belongs mainly to the 15th century, and was as much a product of social aspiration as it was of military necessity.
It was begun by Sir William ap Thomas, a veteran of the French wars, who grew wealthy through exploiting his position as a local agent of the duke of York in south-east Wales. About 1435 he began building the Great Tower, subsequently known as the Yellow Tower of Gwent, probably on the site of a much earlier Norman motte-and-bailey castle. Surrounded by a water-filled moat, the unusual hexagonal plan of the tower, together with its elaborate drawbridge arrangements, are more easily paralleled in France than in Britain. Within, there was a single large room to each floor, and the entire structure echoed the power and influence of its builder.
Following ap Thomas’s death he was succeeded by his son William Herbert who continued to develop Raglan. As a prominent Yorkist, he played a major role in securing the throne for Edward IV in 1461, and was raised to the peerage as Lord Herbert of Raglan. Eventually rising to earl of Pembroke, his political career is reflected in his sumptuous building. Under Herbert, Raglan became a veritable palace, unmatched in the 15th century southern March. He added the great gatehouse, the Pitched Stone Court and also rebuilt the Fountain Court with a series of formal state apartments for himself and his household. All of these repay careful examination. Notice, for example, the circular gun ports in the lower part of the gatehouse. The great kitchen lay in the tower at the corner of the Pitched Stone Court, and its huge ovens and fireplaces remain.
Herbert was beheaded following his defeat at the battle of Edgecote in 1469, and there were no further major alterations to Raglan until the ownership of William Somerset, earl of Worcester (1548-89). In the main, he was responsible for extensive changes to the hall, which remains the finest and most complete of all apartments in the castle. The huge fireplace survives, as does the tracery of the beautiful windows. These were once filled with heraldic glass, and the roof was built of Irish oak. Earl William also added the long gallery, without which no great Elizabethan house was complete.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Raglan was garrisoned for the king. Henry, the new earl, and later marquess of Worcester, poured his fortune into the royal cause. By 1646 the castle was under siege, one of the longest of the Civil War. It was pounded by heavy artillery under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, and finally the elderly marquess was forced to surrender.
The fall of Raglan virtually marked the end of the Civil War, and Cromwell’s demolition engineers were soon at work reducing the great walls. However, the strength of the Great Tower was almost great enough to defy them. Only after ‘tedious battering the top thereof with pickaxes’, did they eventually undermine the walls and two of its six sides were brought crashing down in a mass of falling masonry.
written by Jeff Thomas, 1994
William Pembroke Herbert (1423 – 1469)
Maud Countess of Northumberland Herbert (1453 – 1485)
Daughter of William Pembroke Herbert
Eleanor Dutchess Buckingham Percy (1474 – 1530)
Daughter of Maud Countess of Northumberland Herbert
Elizabeth Dutchess Norfolk Stafford Howard (1497 – 1558)
Daughter of Eleanor Dutchess Buckingham Percy
Lady Katherine Howard Duchess Bridgewater (1495 – 1554)
Daughter of Elizabeth Dutchess Norfolk Stafford Howard
William ApRhys (1522 – 1588)
Son of Lady Katherine Howard Duchess Bridgewater
Henry Rice (1555 – 1621)
Son of William ApRhys
Edmund Rice (1594 – 1663)
Son of Henry Rice
Edward Rice (1622 – 1712)
Son of Edmund Rice
Lydia Rice (1649 – 1723)
Daughter of Edward Rice
Lydia Woods (1672 – 1738)
Daughter of Lydia Rice
Lydia Eager (1696 – 1735)
Daughter of Lydia Woods
Mary Thomas (1729 – 1801)
Daughter of Lydia Eager
Joseph Morse III (1756 – 1835)
Son of Mary Thomas
John Henry Morse (1775 – 1864)
Son of Joseph Morse III
Abner Morse (1808 – 1838)
Son of John Henry Morse
Daniel Rowland Morse (1838 – 1910)
Son of Abner Morse
Jason A Morse (1862 – 1932)
Son of Daniel Rowland Morse
Ernest Abner Morse (1890 – 1965)
Son of Jason A Morse
Richard Arden Morse (1920 – 2004)
Son of Ernest Abner Morse
I am the daughter of Richard Arden Morse
SIR WILLIAM HERBERT, EARL OF PEMBROKE, was elder son of William Herbert of Raglan Castle, called also William ap Thomas, and in Welsh Margoah Glas, or Gumrhi, who fought in France under Henry V, and was made a knight-banneret in 1415. Herbert’s mother was Gladys, daughter and heiress of David Gam, and widow of Sir Robert Vaughan. Sir Richard Herbert of Colebrook was a younger brother. Sir William’s grandfather, Thomas ap Gwillim ap Jenkin (d.1438), secured Raglan Castle on his marriage with Maud, daughter and heiress of Sir John Morley.
The Herbert family claimed descent from ‘Herbertus Camerarius,’ a companion of William I, and his son ‘Henry Thesaurarius,’ both of whom were tenants in capite in Hampshire.1 The descendants of Henry Thesaurarius in the fifteenth-century claimed that he was ‘son natural of King Henry the First,’ and that they were thus connected with ‘the Royal Blood of the Crown of England,’2 but the pretension contradicts established fact. Peter, the great-grandson of Henry Thesaurarius, seems to have been the first of the family to settle in Wales. He received from John in 1210 many grants of land there forfeited by William of Braose, Peter’s descendants by intermarriages with Welsh heiresses acquired very large estates in South-east Wales, and practically became Welshmen.
Herbert was a warrior from his youth. He was knighted by Henry VI in 1449, and in 1450 was on active service in France under the Duke of Somerset. He was taken prisoner at the battle of Formigny in 1450, but was apparently soon released. He played a prominent part on the side of the Yorkists in the Wars of the Roses. In Wales he did very notable service against Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, Henry, Duke of Exeter, and James, Earl of Wiltshire.
On 1 May 1457 it was reported that the Lancastrians had offered him his life and goods if he would come to Leicester and ask pardon of Henry VI; but the Yorkists were still strong, and he remained faithful to them.3 On Edward IV’s accession Herbert was made a privy councillor (10 March 1461). On 8 May following he was granted the offices of chief justice and chamberlain of South Wales, and some sub-ordinate posts; on 7 Sept. he was made steward of those castles, including that of Brecknock in South Wales, which had belonged to Humphrey, Duke of Buckingham. On 4 Nov. he was created Baron Herbert, and received in consideration of his services the castle, town, and lordship of Pembroke, with numerous manors and castles on the Welsh marches.
On 29 April 1462 he appeared in the House of Lords, and was made a knight of the Garter. Shortly afterwards he joined Edward IV in an expedition to the north of England, where Lancastrians still held out. In 1463 he was appointed justice in Merionetshire, and received new grants of land, including Dunster, and those manors in Devonshire and Suffolk which had been forfeited by Sir James Luttrell. On 3 June 1466 he was in London, and accompanied Edward IV on a visit to the Archbishop of York. In 1467 he was nominated chief justice of North Wales for life, and made constable of Carmarthen and Cardigan castles.
In August 1468 Pembroke and his brother, Sir Richard, advanced against the castle of Harlech, the last Lancastrian stronghold in Wales, where Jasper Tudor, with his young nephew Henry (afterwards Henry VII), still resisted the power of Edward IV. After a siege the castle, although strongly fortified, surrendered, but Sir Richard promised the governor to do what he could to save his life. Sir Richard petitioned Edward IV to that effect, and the request was unwillingly granted. Herbert seems to have taken Prince Henry prisoner, and he was appointed his guardian; but a plan to marry Henry to his daughter Maud failed.
He was advanced to the dignity of Earl of Pembroke (8 Sept. 1468), after the attainder of Jasper Tudor, and received the manor of Haverfordwest and the offices of chief forester of Snowdon and constable of Conway Castle. Soon afterwards the two brothers proceeded to Anglesey to apprehend seven brothers who had been guilty of ‘many mischiefs and murders.’ The mother pleaded strongly with Pembroke to spare the lives of two of her sons. Richard seconded her prayer, but Pembroke refused to yield, and executed all. Whereupon the mother cursed him on her knees, ‘praying God’s mischief might fall to him in the first battle he should make.’4
Meanwhile Pembroke and the Earl of Warwick had quarrelled. Pembroke, it is said, desired to marry his infant son to the daughter of Lord Bonvile, and Warwick opposed the arrangement. Pembroke thenceforth sought to widen the breach which was threatening the king’s relations with Warwick, and as early as 1466 he had captured in Wales a messenger of Queen Margaret of Anjou, with whom he showed that Warwick was intriguing. In January 1467 the disagreement seemed subsiding, and Pembroke and Warwick both attended a meeting of the king’s council.
But in July 1469 a rebellion, which was largely fomented by Warwick, broke out in the north. The rebels declared for Henry VI, and rapidly marched south. Pembroke readily prepared an army of Welshmen to resist their progress. He and his brother were ordered with their army to join at Banbury a strong detachment of archers under the command of Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devonshire, and to intercept the enemy there. The first part of the manoeuvre was successfully accomplished. But a skirmish between a detachment of Pembroke’s army under Sir Richard and some rebel troops ended in the total rout of the former.
Immediately afterwards Pembroke and Devonshire encamped at Hedgecote, near Banbury. A quarrel between the commanders, however, caused Devonshire to lead his archers away, almost in presence of the enemy. On 26 July Pembroke, with his strength thus seriously impaired, was forced to give battle [Battle of Edgecote]. Panic seized his Welsh followers. He and his brother fought desperately. Sir Richard is said to have twice passed through the ‘battail of his adversaries,’ armed with a poleaxe, and ‘without any mortal wound returned.’But the defeat was decisive, and both brothers were taken prisoners.
Pembroke pleaded for his brother’s life in vain, on the ground of his youth; he declared that he was willing to die. On 27 July he made his will, giving directions for his funeral, making many pious bequests to Tintern Abbey and other religious foundations, and providing almshouses for the relief of six poor men. On 28 July Pembroke and Sir Richard were brought to Northampton and beheaded there. Pembroke was buried in Tintern Abbey, and Sir Richard in Abergavenny Church, where his wife Margaret was also buried.5
Pembroke married Anne, daughter of Sir Walter Devereux, Lord Ferrers of Chartley, and had by her four sons, William, Walter, George, and Philip, and six daughters. By a mistress, Maud, daughter of Adam ap Howell Graunt, he had some illegitimate issue, including Sir Richard Herbert, father of Sir William, first Earl of Pembroke of the second creation (1501?-1570).