Medieval Welsh Noblewomen: The Case of Margaret of Bromfield

Eras Journal – Richards, G: Medieval Welsh Noblewomen: The Case Of Margaret Of Bromfield

Medieval Welsh Noblewomen: The Case of Margaret of Bromfield
Gwenyth Richards
(University of Sydney)


The history of Wales in the thirteenth century leading up to the final conquest of the Welsh by Edward I in 1282-3, as constructed by modern historians, takes the form of a narrative of the exploits of Welsh noblemen. Welsh noblewomen appear to be almost totally absent from the scene except for one or two rare exceptions. This anomaly in the fascinating history of Wales at this particular period prompted me to endeavour to trace some coeval Welsh noblewomen with a view to documenting their lives and setting down the contribution they made to the events unfolding in Wales during this often turbulent era. Through the process of scanning the footnotes of the narratives of early and modern historians and closely researching primary sources I have become acquainted with the lives of several interesting, and I believe outstanding, medieval Welsh noblewomen.

Noblewomen in Wales in the thirteenth century were not mere ciphers who were manipulated by male family members and other noblemen for political gain in order to advance family holdings and prestige. Like their contemporaries in other parts of Britain and Europe, many of these women played an active rather than passive role in determining outcomes for their families.[1] They were not just observers. Women and men together ‘made’ the history of Wales in the thirteenth century.

One such woman was Margaret of Bromfield, who until quite recently seems to have been virtually overlooked by early and modern historians. She was the daughter of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Senana ferch Caradog, his wife. This means that she was a granddaughter of Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great) and a sister of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (d.1282), both of whom ruled much of Wales for the greater part of the thirteenth century. In view of her noble lineage, Margaret was married to Madog ap Gruffudd, who succeeded his father as ruler of northern Powys in 1269, until his own death in 1277. Unfortunately there is no mention of Margaret in one of the most important documentary sources of information about women in medieval Wales, namely Peter Bartrum’s Welsh Genealogies AD300-1400,[2] nor is she mentioned by great Welsh historians such as J.E. Lloyd and R.R. Davies. Even J.Y.W. Lloyd in his history of the nobility of Powys Fadog (northern Powys) stated that he was not able to discover whom Prince Madog married, although he knew that her name was Margaret.[3]

Margaret does emerge, however, on numerous occasions, from the pages of the public record concerning Wales in the thirteenth century, and some years ago I became intrigued as to the identity of this seemingly forthright, and even at times insistent, Welsh medieval noblewoman. In fact she is conspicuous on no less than twenty-three occasions in extant printed court records and correspondence concerning Wales, relating to what she saw as her own entitlements and those of her children, following the death of her husband. Margaret of Bromfield is an exemplar of how Welsh noblewomen were able to negotiate with powerful men in order to retain their inheritance.

Examination of the documents available reveals Margaret to be the sister of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. I note that J. Beverley Smith has reached this same conclusion in his mammoth work, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd: Prince of Wales.[4] She is mentioned briefly in his text, but is more fully discussed, as might be expected, in the footnotes. He also makes the point, with which I do not concur (see below), that the evidence for Margaret as the sister of Llywelyn is not as certain as the evidence he cites to identify Senana as the mother of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. My emphasis in predicating Margaret’s identity as the sister of the last great ruler of Wales relates to the fact that in medieval Wales one’s genealogy was of the utmost importance. Your status or who you were depended on your ancestry – who your father and grandfather were governed your standing in Welsh society.[5] This emphasis on the importance of ancestry is well documented by historians, for example R.R. Davies has stated that from at least the twelfth century Wales was ‘a genealogically obsessed country’.[6] Llinos Beverley Smith in her recent paper ‘Towards a History of Women in Late Medieval Wales’ delineates very succinctly the situation which pertained for women in the period between the conquest of 1282 through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Although she is concerned with the late Middle Ages, she states that ‘in earlier times, a person’s honour or worth…was directly linked to his or her status’ and stresses that even in the late Middle Ages a woman’s ‘own lineage and pedigree were clearly important matters of pride and even of practical consequence to her own issue’.[7]

The first mention of Margaret in the public record as Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s sister was in 1258 when Henry III was concerned that Llywelyn was proposing ‘to marry Margaret his sister in a place in which damage may arise to the king’. In this document dated April 2, Richard de Clare, earl of Gloucester was commanded by Henry III ‘to be diligent in getting her into his power and when he has got her, in keeping her safely’.[8] The date of Margaret’s marriage to Madog ap Gruffudd of northern Powys is not known and it is not known to whom Henry III was referring when he was trying to prevent this proposed marriage of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s sister Margaret in 1258. The Brut for 1257 (second half) states that ‘Llywelyn ap Gruffudd made peace with Gruffudd ap Madog’[9] and peace continued between the ruler of Gwynedd and the ruler of Powys Fadog until 1276. For Llywelyn ap Gruffudd a political marriage between his sister and the heir to the ruler of northern Powys (Madog ap Gruffudd) would have been to his advantage and could cause ‘damage’ to the king, because such a marriage would help cement the newly established peaceful relationship between the houses of Gwynedd and northern Powys. Therefore in 1258 a proposed match between Gruffudd ap Madog’s son and Margaret was probably what Henry III was trying to prevent because it was not in the interests of the English crown to promote co-operation and agreement between native Welsh rulers.

In any case, Margaret did marry Madog Fychan of Bromfield and a further piece of evidence which points to Margaret as Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s sister is his letter to Edward I, dated October 15 (probably 1279), in which he thanked Edward for ‘granting to Llywelyn’s nephews, the sons of Madog Fychan of Bromfield, their inheritance’.[10] Yet another reference is in a letter dated October 22, 1284 which states that the king had ‘granted to Margaret, daughter of Griffin, for life the towns of Bodunan and Hyrdref, to hold in the same way as she previously held them in the time of Llewelyn, son of Griffin’.[11] Other references to her relationship with her brother may be noticed in documents dealing with litigation, for example a claim by Margaret’s brothers-in-law, Owain and Gruffudd, that Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had assigned to their brother Madog a greater share of the family hereditary lands than he should, because their brother had married ‘the Prince’s sister Margaret’.[12] Finally a document dated April 5, 1299 for a grant of land which had belonged to Margaret, notes that the land has come into the king’s hands because of the death of Margaret who was ‘sister of Llewellin, then prince of Wales’.[13] Clearly from the evidence cited Margaret of Bromfield was indeed Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s sister.

Early Narrative History

From a very young age Margaret would have experienced many set-backs. As the daughter of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn she was probably only too well aware of her position as a child of ‘the rejected bastard son of the prince of Gwynedd’.[14] Her mother had tried unsuccessfully to free her father and brother from prison and her father met his death trying to escape from the Tower of London in 1244. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had defeated his brothers Owain and Dafydd at Bryn Derwin in 1255 to become ruler of Gwynedd. Owain was in a position similar to the one his father had been in before him. As the eldest son Owain represented a serious threat to his younger brother, and ruler, Llywelyn. This meant that following his defeat, Owain was to endure a further twenty-two years of imprisonment.[15]

Although also Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s sibling, as a woman Margaret did not pose the threat to him which his brothers represented in terms of their rights as heirs to Gwynedd because under Welsh native law women could not become rulers nor inherit land. She could, however, be useful to Llywelyn who could gain political benefit through her marriage to a desirable ally. Margaret’s marriage to the heir of the prince of northern Powys suggests that Llywelyn did indeed take advantage of Margaret to gain him a political ally. In 1258 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was in a very strong position and it was at this time that the majority of the native Welsh magnates swore allegiance to Llywelyn and also in March 1258 he first used the title ‘prince of Wales’.[16]

The rise to power of her brother would probably have greatly improved Margaret’s life and prospects. Her marriage to Madog ap Gruffudd, who became ruler of northern Powys, would have granted her some prestige. Madog ap Gruffudd’s father had supported Llywelyn ap Gruffudd from 1250, and Madog continued to do so when he succeeded his father in 1269, until 1276.[17] Margaret’s privileged position as sister of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, who according to R.R. Davies was ‘undoubted master of native Wales from early 1258 until his death in 1282’,[18] would presumably have improved her status and afforded her some influence which she had not previously enjoyed. It is precisely this close family connection to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, however, which may account for her complex relationship with Edward I and the later high degree of animosity which she apparently experienced from him during the war of 1282, as well as for the inevitable early demise of her two young sons, who through her could have been regarded by the king as potential heirs to the house of Gwynedd.

The war of 1277 saw Llywelyn’s position very much reduced and following an attack on northern Powys by the earl of Warwick and his royal forces, Margaret’s husband Madog ap Gruffudd was forced to submit to the king or be disinherited in favour of his brother Llywelyn, who had defected to Edward I earlier in 1276.[19] So strictly speaking, in light of her husband’s submission, Margaret may be seen to have been allied with the king’s forces. Perhaps Margaret had temporarily gained some favour with Edward I because of Madog’s transfer of allegiance, although apparently he had no choice but to submit. Madog ap Gruffudd died in 1277, presumably in battle, but I can find no record of the manner of his death.

The extent of Margaret’s favour with Edward I appears to have fluctuated in the period between 1277 and 1297. Following the death of Margaret’s husband in 1277, Edward I certainly appears to have intended for Margaret to have some control over the rearing and maintenance of her children. He ordered Roger Lestrange to assign to Margaret the lands of which her husband was in possession at his death. She was to hold these lands for the use of Madog’s children, provided she took an oath to return the lands and the children to the king when he demanded them.[20] Margaret was granted the custody but not the wardship of her sons. Edward I appointed Griffith son of Iorwerth as bailiff of the lands of Madog of Bromfield on December 10, 1277, and ordered him to deliver to Margaret the income from the lands for the maintenance of her children, ‘she having taken oath before the king that she will restore to him at his order the two sons and heirs of Madoc, whom the king delivered to her to be nourished and kept’. The king took the homage of the children on the octaves of Martinmas (November 1277).[21]

The letter to Roger Lestrange on December 10, 1277, mentioned above, provided that any surplus from the income of the lands was to be expended for the advantage of the children ‘as shall seem most expedient by the counsel of A.[nian] bishop of St. Asaph, the said Margaret, and the said Griffin’, so that Margaret’s counsel was important for decisions concerning the surplus. Also although Gruffudd ap Iorwerth was to have custody of and receive the income from the lands, he was to answer to the bishop and Margaret.[22] The tenants of the lands previously belonging to Madog were then notified on January 18, 1278 of the appointment of Gruffudd ap Iorwerth as bailiff, and informed that he would receive the income from the lands and ‘pay them to Margaret, late the wife of Madoc’.[23]

Disagreement and Discord

Matters did not proceed smoothly to the benefit of Margaret and her children, however, as a document dated January 4, 1278 reveals that the king ordered Roger Mortimer and Walter Hopton to hear four separate complaints by Margaret, two concerning the inheritance of the lands of her children which were being occupied unjustly by others and two relating to her own dower properties.[24] In the first complaint concerning the children’s inheritance Margaret stated that her brother-in-law Llywelyn Fychan ‘unjustly occupies the land of Megheyn'(Mechain?) and that ‘the wardship of the land ought to be kept by her and approved men of the inheritance’ until the children were of age. The second complaint was against Roger Lestrange who was unjustly occupying the ‘land of Maylorsesnek’ (Maelor Saesneg) with similar wording to the previous complaint. Roger Lestrange is described by R.R. Davies as one of a group of ‘high-handed and tyrannical officials’ whose conduct after 1277 contributed to the Welsh rebellion of 1282.[25]

According to the editor of the Welsh Assize Roll, 1277-1284, the fifth assize dealt with the claims of Margaret’s brothers-in-law Owain and Gruffudd to a reasonable part of their father’s lands against Margaret’s sons and their brother Llywelyn. They claimed that they had not consented to the manner in which their inherited property had been divided between the four brothers on the death of their father. They said that the prince of Wales had occupied their father’s lands and that after his death the prince had assigned a larger share than was usual to their brother Madog, because he was married to the prince’s sister, and they believed that they were entitled to a further share of their brother’s property following his death, before it was passed to his sons. An agreement was made for a new assignment of shares on February 9, 1278[26] and apparently Margaret’s children were ultimately granted ‘a third of the issues of the manor of Bromfield for their maintenance’.[27]Margaret’s complaints about her own dower property will be discussed below.

The administration of the wardship of Margaret’s children was evidently unsatisfactory and the king wrote to the justice of Chester in March 1279 ordering him to remove Gruffudd ab Iorwerth from his position as keeper of the wardship because he had ‘displayed less diligence than he ought about the wardship’.[28] As this letter ended with a wish that ‘it may not be necessary for the king to be solicited further in this matter’, it is more than likely that Margaret had complained to the king, although the king had said that he had learned of the situation ‘upon the information of trustworthy men’. Another letter from the king dated July 27, 1279 to the ‘freemen and all others of the cantred of Bromfield’ stated that he had ordered Roger Lestrange, who was constable of the castle of Dinas Brân to remove Gruffudd from his bailiwick ‘because he had not behaved himself well in it’. He said that Roger would appoint another bailiff in Gruffudd’s place ‘by the counsel of the lady of Bromfield’.[29]

Margaret was still regarded by Edward I as competent to provide counsel in the matter of the choice of a replacement for the bailiff of the cantref of Bromfield, although he appeared to be tiring of her complaints. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd also wrote to Edward I, thanking him for granting his nephews their inheritance, but complaining about the administration of the lands and requesting removal of the bailiff.[30] The letter was dated October 15, and the editor notes ‘probably 1279’. In June 1280 the king ordered Gruffudd ap Iorwerth to present an accounting for his administration of the manor of Bromfield to Master Gruffudd ap Iorwerth and Nicholas Bonel.[31] It is possible that the bailiff had not been removed the year before, and that this is a follow-up. Edward I does, however, seem to have taken the complaints about the misbehaviour of the bailiff seriously.

Dower Rights

Margaret also appears in the court rolls in connection with her own dower rights during this period. This particular incident is interesting from the point of view of a narrative about the lives of thirteenth-century Welsh noblewomen, because it is one recorded instance of a dispute between two Welsh noblewomen about dower rights. It also is an example of the way Welsh inheritance laws were being rethought in the context of English law during the thirteenth century. In England under common law, a woman was entitled to dower of one third of the lands held by her husband when he died, to revert to the heir when she herself died, and Henry III’s Charter of 1217 stated that widows were to be given their dowers freely, without delay or payment, and were not to be forced to marry against their will.[32]In Wales the position for women was very different because under native Welsh law, women could not inherit land nor could title to land be inherited through the female line.[33]

The later Middle Ages saw the gradual adoption in many parts of Wales of English law and, ‘on the eve of the loss of its independence’ in the thirteenth century, in the words of Robin C. Stacey, Wales was ‘a hodgepodge of competing claims and jurisdictions’.[34] Stacey further states that ‘even the most nationalist of Welsh princes frequently changed, or rejected outright, individual customs of the law they cited in support of their political ambitions’.[35] J. Beverley Smith’s study ‘Dower in Thirteenth-Century Wales:a Grant of the Commote of Anhuniog, 1273’ reveals two instances where Welsh noblemen made formal provision for dower for their wives, despite native Welsh custom. The charter which relates to Angharad, the wife of Owain ap Maredudd of Ceredigion was formally approved by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and the two charters which provided dower for Emma, the wife of Gruffudd ap Madog of northern Powys, had been confirmed by his sons. This study argues that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd would also have approved these charters.[36] It seems Welsh native law and custom notwithstanding, some Welsh noblemen did dower their wives, and Madog ap Gruffudd, the son of Emma and Gruffudd ap Madog apparently also dowered his wife, Margaret.[37]

Margaret’s mother-in-law, Emma, the widow of Gruffudd ap Madog claimed against Margaret the manor of Eyton which was one of the manors her husband had assigned to her in dower. Emma claimed that she had been in possession of the manor during her husband’s lifetime, but that on his death, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had occupied it in time of war and granted it to Madog ap Gruffudd, her son, who had given it to his wife Margaret as dower. Margaret in turn acknowledged that this was true, but she claimed that Emma ‘of her own free will in time of peace,’ restored the manor to Margaret’s husband and quitclaimed it, so that she could not claim or challenge any right in it. An inquiry was then to be made.[38] A schedule attached to this roll states that ‘afterwards’ Margaret acknowledged Eyton to be Emma’s and she restored and quitclaimed it to her. In return for this Emma granted Margaret the manor of Eyton for the whole of Emma’s life for the payment of ten marks annually. If any default was made in the payment Emma would resume the manor of Eyton to herself and if Margaret died during Emma’s lifetime, the manor should also revert to Emma.[39]

Possibly Margaret had a change of heart but this claim appears to have been settled amicably. When the king ordered that the claim between Emma and Margaret be heard, it is interesting that he said that if it should be shown to belong to Emma, it should be taken into the king’s hands and Emma recompensed with the rent charge from another manor in the king’s lands in Chester, to wholly revert to the king when Emma died. On the other hand, if it were shown that the manor belonged to Margaret, ‘the manor ought to remain to Margaret in dower in accordance with the law and custom of those parts,’ provided that it revert to the king and his heirs after her death.[40] The king seems to have acted fairly towards Margaret here and possibly in her interests.

The initiation of this dispute and the outcome raise two interesting questions, although there are no recorded answers to these questions. Did Edward I act to make sure that Margaret could keep her home or did Emma and Margaret take the action they did to keep the property in the family? It is possible Margaret and Emma acted to forestall the inquiry which was to be made. If there were an inquiry and the manor was shown to belong to Emma, she would lose Eyton although the king would recompense her. If Margaret was shown to have the manor, she would have it for life but it would revert to the king when she died. By observing the formalities of restoring the manor to Emma and quitclaiming it, and thus avoiding an inquiry, Margaret retained possession, but Eyton would revert to Emma when Margaret died, and not to the king.

At the same time as she answered the claim by her mother-in-law, Margaret claimed half the land of Glyndyfrdwy as dower from her brother-in-law Gruffudd Fychan. She claimed dower rights in ‘Corveyn (Corwen), Carrau, Mistwer’, Bonun and Rechald’ which she said he detained from her unjustly.[41]She asserted that she was in possession until her husband’s death and that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had ‘occupied it in time of war, and bestowed it on Gruffudd’.[42] There was some confusion over this lawsuit and Gruffudd wrote to the king asking whether it should be heard before the king’s justices or whether it should be heard before Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, as Gruffudd stated that he held the land ‘by the king’s permission…in chief of the said prince’. In this letter Gruffudd makes the interesting comment that ‘he fears lest the said Margaret may influence the king against him’.[43] If Gruffudd Fychan was worried about the amount of influence Margaret may have with the king, it suggests that she was someone whose opinion was respected at the higher levels of the nobility.

The litigation was referred to the court of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd by Edward I. The editor of the Welsh Assize Roll, 1277-84 states that this was the only case referred for determination to the court of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.[44] Llywelyn ap Gruffudd wrote to the king on October 10, 1279 thanking him for transferring the case of Margaret of Bromfield against Gruffudd Fychan to his court. He said he had assigned September 28 for Margaret and Gruffudd to appear and that ‘when the parties appeared, Margaret produced certain charters on the strength of which she demanded the lands’. Evidently Margaret was minus instructa when she appeared so Llywelyn assigned her another day and place.[45] Not only was Margaret claiming against her brother-in-law, but she also appears to have incurred Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s displeasure over this litigation when she next appeared. He again wrote to the king on December 15, 1279 about this matter and although the letter is damaged and not clear, Llywelyn stated that even though Margaret was given the opportunity to appear, ‘the said Margaret would not at that time act or set forth’. Llywelyn further claimed that ‘although he could have proceeded against her and refused her a hearing later’ he did assign another day and place to proceed but evidently ‘Margaret fraudulently and to Llywelyn’s prejudice procured by false statements’, so that he was unable to dispense justice and apparently the letter was asking the king what his wishes were concerning the matter.[46] It is not known whether Margaret had attorneys to appear for her, but in this last court appearance before Llywelyn ap Gruffudd it would seem that Margaret appeared in person. Llywelyn stated that when he ‘enjoined Margaret by word of mouth that she should set forth her action against Gruffydd’,[47] Margaret would not at that time act or set forth. If he were speaking to Margaret in person, she must have been appearing for herself, which seems highly unusual.

Possibly Llywelyn was trying to maintain his lordship over this particular matter which pertained to Powys, even if it meant he would agree to his sister’s dower reverting to her brother-in-law, a subordinate prince. Llywelyn had been happy to acquiesce in the non-Welsh custom of dowering Welsh noblemen’s wives in the years when he was in a more powerful position, but in 1279 he was in a very different situation and questions of the allegiance of native Welsh noblemen and the maintenance of Welsh law and custom may have influenced him to take quite a different view of Margaret’s demands for her dower.

To my mind Margaret of Bromfield displayed a high degree of independence and determination when contrasted with the stereotype of a medieval noblewoman. She was quite active rather than playing a passive role in Welsh history. Although the Welsh are seen by modern historians as fighting for their independence in 1282 that does not seem to have been Margaret’s concern, and she was determined to take her ‘demands’ to the king when she was unsuccessful in her brother’s court. As J. Beverley Smith has stated, Llywelyn’s problems did not arise from Edward I wishing to ‘encroach upon Llywelyn’s jurisdiction’, but rather ‘from the inclination of the plaintiff [Margaret] to prosecute the action where it seemed best for her’.[48] Although this small incident may be seen as negative for the Welsh in terms of the events leading up to their conquest by Edward I, from the point of view of whether Welsh noblewomen played any active part in their own history, this is a direct action on Margaret’s part.

I do not know the outcome of Margaret’s claim to half of Glyndyfrdwy, but I believe she may have later reached an amicable settlement with her brother-in-law Gruffudd because in her later petition Margaret mentioned that she had good charters from Gruffudd for Corvain (Corwen)[49] which she had earlier claimed in dower and which was in Edeirnion (Glyndyfrdwy). In a similar case in England in 1279 Eleanor de Ferrers, the widow of Robert de Ferrers, earl of Derby, made many claims for dower, one of which was against Edmund of Lancaster. She was unsuccessful, but two years after her claim he made a grant to her of the fee farm rent of Godmanchester in Huntingdonshire.[50] Paula Dobrowolski believes this may indicate ‘some feeling of moral obligation’ on his part. As Dobrowolski states ‘it was unusual for a magnate of Edmund’s standing to part with anything unless there was a good reason for doing so’, and I feel that similarly, Gruffudd may have felt some moral obligation to his brother’s wife, and of course the towns would revert to him when she died.

Margaret may also have been the beneficiary of the income from at least two other towns because much later in 1284 she was to receive the grant of the two towns of ‘Bodunan and Hyrdref for life…to hold in the same way as she previously held them in the time of Llewelyn son of Griffin’.[51] So in 1279 Margaret was apparently living at the manor of Eyton which she was renting from Emma for ten marks per year,[52] receiving the income from three towns and as she presumably still had the custody of her children who would have been living with her, and she was responsible to see that they were ‘nourished and kept’, she would have had access to some of the income from their lands. The period from 1277 to 1282 was a particularly volatile time in Wales but Margaret seems to have managed surprisingly well in the circumstances.

Change of Fortune

Over the succeeding fifteen-year period, however, we witness the systematic gradual disintegration of Margaret’s position. The war of 1282 saw a change in Margaret’s fortunes. Margaret’s two young sons mysteriously disappeared following the final defeat of the Welsh in 1282. Their fate is not known, but as previously stated, in view of Margaret’s family relationship to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the boys could have been regarded by the crown as potential heirs to the house of Gwynedd. Historians from the sixteenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries claim that the children were murdered at the instigation of John de Warenne, but this claim is not supported by evidence, although their sudden disappearance is suspicious.[53] I am inclined to believe that they died or were killed during or after the war, because up until 1280 Margaret was concerned with her sons’ inheritance, but from 1282 on although she was still just as vocal about her own dower rights, she made no mention of her sons. In June, 1282, the men of Bromfield and Yale submitted to the king’s will,[54] and on October 7 that same year John de Warenne, the earl of Surrey, was granted all the land of Bromfield ‘which Griffin and Llewelyn, sons of Madoc Vaghan, held at the beginning of the said war’.[55]

In an undated petition Margaret asked the king for justice because the earl de Warenne had taken possession of the manor of Eyton and three vills which she held from her brother-in-law Gruffudd Fychan, and was ‘wrongfully’ holding them.[56] Margaret claimed that she had ‘good charter’ for a vill which she held from the king and also ‘good charters’ for two vills which she held of her brother-in-law Gruffudd, one of which was Corwen, which Margaret previously held in dower. The suggested date of this petition is 1278, but I believe this may be incorrect because the king did not grant the lands in Bromfield and Yale to John de Warenne until October 7, 1282.[57]

An endorsement on the petition states that ‘this woman offended against the King to such an extent that the King is not held to do her favour, but the King gave the land by grace towards the Earl’. This endorsement is intriguing. The king had dealt with her fairly over the five years since the war of 1277 and her husband’s death but now he was taking her lands away. We can only speculate as to what Margaret did to ‘offend’ the king because this is the only mention of her in these terms. Whatever her offence was, it would almost certainly have been connected to her recent catastrophic losses, but we will never know. By 1282 Edward I certainly had no sympathy for the Welsh. One can only imagine what Margaret’s position must have become by October 1282. She was not only mourning her children, she seems also to have lost her home and income as well. Her brother Llywelyn would be killed in December 1282.

An entry in the Close Rolls for May 11, 1284 states that Margaret came into chancery at Aberconway and demanded Eyton and Suulli against John de Warenne as dower and on the same day demanded, against Gruffudd Fychan, Corwen and Hafod Cilymaenllwyd in dower.[58] Eighteen months after the conquest by Edward I Margaret was still apparently making demands, although there was no mention of her children. Two grants were later made by Edward I to Margaret. The first dated May 30, 1284 from Carnarvon was an order for Margaret, as the widow of Madog of Bromfield, to be paid five marks yearly ‘out of charity’[59] and was possibly as a direct result of her appearance at Aberconway. The second, dated October 22, 1284 also from Carnarvon stated that the king had ‘granted to Margaret, daughter of Griffin, for life the towns of Bodunan and Hyrdref, to hold in the same way as she previously held them in the time of Llewelyn son of Griffin’.[60]

Presumably Margaret would have received some income from these two towns, as well as the five marks from the exchequer of Carnarvon. A letter from William de Grandison to the Bishop of Bath, Chancellor, (suggested date May 1290 – Oct 1292) reporting payments, lists ‘Margaret of Bromfeld receives 5 marks per annum by the king’s gift: for her fee for 5 years, £16 13s 4d’.[61] By 1297 however, Edward I wrote to the chamberlain because Margaret had complained of receiving only two and a half marks of the five marks paid to her yearly.[62]


Unlike many other noble widows, Margaret did not remarry. She was mentioned for one last time on April 5, 1299 when the king granted land worth £15 in ‘Bodeuean in Thlen’, which had belonged to Margaret, to Morgan son of Mereduc. The land had come into the king’s hands because of the death of Margaret.[63] The exact date of Margaret’s death is not known, but it must have been somewhere between July 1297 and April 1299.

Margaret of Bromfield was one Welsh noblewoman from the thirteenth century who has left her mark on the public record. She was a granddaughter of Llywelyn Fawr and it is fitting that she emerges from the pages of the legal record as a determined and courageous woman who despite facing seemingly overwhelming personal tragedy managed to confront Edward I and survive, with her dignity intact. Although she has not been noticed by historians until quite recently, perhaps she can now tell her story from the narrative of Welsh medieval history, instead of just languishing among the footnotes like so many of her contemporaries.

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[1] For discussion of the activities of aristocratic women in France and England see T. Evergates, ‘Aristocratic Women in the County of Champagne’ in Aristocratic Women in Medieval France ,(ed.) T. Evergates, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999; J.C. Ward, ‘The English Noblewoman and Her Family in the Later Middle Ages’ in The Fragility of Her Sex? Medieval Irishwomen in Their European Context, (ed.) C. Meek and K. Simms, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1996; S. Johns, ‘The Wives and Widows of the Earls of Chester, 1100-1252: the Charter Evidence’ in Haskins Society Journal 7, 1995, pp. 117-32. Back

[2] P.C. Bartrum, Welsh Genealogies AD300-1400, University of Wales Press, 1974. Back

[3] J.Y.W. Lloyd, The History of the Princes, the Lords Marcher, and the Ancient Nobility of Powys Fadog, London, 1881, pp.174-5. Back

[4] J.B. Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd:Prince of Wales, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1998, pp.14, 38-9, 308, 423. See also reference to ‘Madog’s widow Margaret, sister of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of Gwynedd’ in M. Rogers, ‘The Welsh Marcher Lordship of Bromfield and Yale, 1282-1485’, Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1992, p.17. Back

[5] Gerald of Wales who wrote The Description of Wales at the close of the twelfth century, said that ‘the Welsh value distinguished birth and noble descent more than anything else in the world.’ Gerald of Wales, The Journey through Wales and The Description of Wales, trans. L. Thorpe, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England, 1978, p. 251. Back

[6] R.R. Davies, The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr, Oxford University Press, 1995, p.129. Back

[7]L.B. Smith, ‘Towards a History of Women in Late Medieval Wales’ in Women and Gender in Early Modern Wales, (ed.) M. Roberts and S. Clarke, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 2000, p.16, Smith gives a very thorough outline of how the various bodies of law and Welsh local custom operated in Wales in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and how Welsh women ‘secured important advancements’. See pp.14-18, 36. Back

[8] Calendar of Patent Rolls of Henry III, 4, 1247-1258, London, 1971, p. 660. Back

[9] Brut Y Tywysogyon, Peniarth Ms. 20 Version, (ed.) T. Jones, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1952, p. 111. Back

[10] Calendar of Ancient Correspondence Concerning Wales, (ed.) J. G. Edwards, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1935, p. 93. Back

[11] Calendar of Chancery Rolls Various, ‘Calendar of Welsh Rolls’ 1277-1326, London, 1976, p. 257.Back

[12] The Welsh Assize Roll, 1277-84, (ed.) J.C. Davies, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1940, p. 202.Back

[13] Calendar of Patent Rolls of Edward IAD1292-1301 , London 1895, p. 405. Back

[14] J.B. Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, p. 14. Back

[15] J.B. Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, pp. 72-4. Back

[16] J.B. Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, pp.108-9. See also J.E. Lloyd, pp. 723-24. Back

[17] R.R. Davies,Conquest,Co-existence and Change: Wales 1063-1415, Oxford Uni Press, 1987, p. 235. Back

[18] R.R. Davies, Conquest,Co-existence and Change, p. 317. Back

[19] J.B. Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, pp. 423-4. Back

[20] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 162 (This letter seems to be incorrectly dated January 11, 1278. Chronologically it should have been dated around November, 1277). Back

[21] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 161. Back

[22] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 161. Back

[23] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 164. Back

[24] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, pp. 170. Back

[25] R.R. Davies, Conquest, Co-existence and Change, p. 348. Back

[26] Welsh Assize Roll, pp. 202-3. Back

[27] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 183. Back

[28] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, pp. 180-81. Back

[29] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 178. Back

[30] Calendar of Ancient Correspondence, pp. 93-4. Back

[31] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 183. Back

[32] Robert C. Stacey, Politics, Policy, and Finance under Henry III 1216-1245, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1987, p. 5. For discussion of Medieval dower, see also R.E. Archer, ‘Rich Old Ladies: The Problem of Late Medieval Dowagers’ in Property and Politics: Essays in Later Medieval English History, (ed.) T. Pollard, Sutton Publishing, UK , 1984. Back

[33] R.R. Davies, ‘The Status of Women and the Practice of Marriage in Late Medieval Wales’ in The Welsh Law of Women (ed.) D. Jenkins and M.E. Owen, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1980, p. 100. Back

[34] Robin C. Stacey, The Road to Judgment:From Custom to Court in Medieval Ireland and Wales, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994, p. 142. Back

[35] Robin C. Stacey, The Road to Judgment, 1994, p. 180. Back

[36] J.B. Smith, ‘Dower in Thirteenth-Century Wales:a Grant of the Commote of Anhuniog, 1273’ inBulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, Vol XXX, November 1983, pp. 348-355. Back

[37] Llinos Beverley Smith also refers to this study in her recent paper as an example of how in the thirteenth century native arrangements of the assignment of land in dower were already being made. L.B. Smith, ‘Towards of History of Women in Late Medieval Wales’, p. 23. Back

[38] Welsh Assize Roll, p. 245. Back

[39] Welsh Assize Roll, pp. 245-46. Back

[40] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, pp. 170-71. Back

[41] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 171. According to J.Y.W. Lloyd ‘Corwen’ was a manor in Edeyrnion and ‘Carrog, Mwstwr and Bonwn’ were manors in Glyndyfrdwy. Back

[42] Welsh Assize Roll, p. 246. Back

[43] Calendar of Ancient Correspondence, p. 107. Back

[44] Welsh Assize Roll, p. 222. Back

[45] Calendar of Ancient Correspondence, pp. 85-6. Back

[46] Calendar of Ancient Correspondence, pp. 95-6. Back

[47] Calendar of Ancient Correspondence, p. 96. Back

[48] J.B. Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, p. 499. This incident which concerned the question of Llywelyn’s jurisdiction and resulted in the king transferring the hearing from his court to Llywelyn’s is one of a number of such episodes which Smith believes were among the grievances Llywelyn cited in correspondence to Archbishop Pecham in an attempt to justify his involvement in the rebellion of 1282. Back

[49] Calendar of Ancient Petitions relating to Wales, W. Rees (ed.), Cardiff, 1975, pp.287-88. Back

[50] P. Dobrowolski, ‘Women and their Dower in the Long Thirteenth Century 1265-1329’ in Thirteenth Century England VI , Proceedings of the Durham Conference 1995, (ed.) M. Prestwich, R.H. Britnell and R. Frame, The Boydell Press, UK, 1997, pp. 159-60. Back

[51] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 290. Back

[52] Welsh Assize Roll, p. 245. Back

[53] J.B. Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, p. 520 See also T.P. Ellis, The First Extent of Bromfield and Yale AD 1315, Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, London, 1924, p. 4.Back

[54] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 226. Back

[55] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 240. Back

[56] Calendar of Ancient Petitions, p. 287-88. Back

[57] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 240. Back

[58] Calendar of Close Rolls of Edward I, 1279-1288, London, 1970, p. 297. Back

[59] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 285. Back

[60] Calendar of Welsh Rolls, p. 290. Back

[61] Calendar of Ancient Correspondence, p. 118. Back

[62] Calendar of Close Rolls of Edward I, IV, 1296-1302 , London, 1970, p. 44. Back

[63] Calendar of Patent Rolls of Edward I, AD1292-1301, p. 405. Back

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