PIETY AND POWER

 

 

Gwladys Ddu and William ap Thomas

rose from relative obscurity before

starting one of the most powerful

dynasties in Wales.

Helen Morgan reports:

 

 

                                                                     Image Courtesy: Helen Morgan 

 William was in the Welsh contingent who fought for Henry V at Agincourt in 1415. He was later knighted, began building Raglan Castle in the 1430s and died in 1445. Gwladys, the Star of Gwent, who died nine years later, married twice. Her first husband was Sir Roger Vaughan of Bredwardine who died at Agincourt alongside Gwladys’s father Davy Gam, a minor squire from Gwent. Six years later she married William, a widower whose first wife, Elizabeth, had been heiress to Raglan. He and Elizabeth had no children, and he bought the estate from her family.

His marriage to Gwladys was not a love match. Theirs was a business strategy on their way up the social ladder. When she died in 1454, she was commemorated by the Welsh bards and described as a power behind the scenes. Legend tells us that 3,000 mourners followed her body from Coldbrook House (on Skirrid Fach) to St Mary’s. Her tomb reflects the priorities and beliefs of women in late medieval Wales, says Professor Madeleine Gray. The effigy wears an elaborate, embroidered butterfly head dress and mantle. At her feet are two dogs: symbols of devotion and fidelity. “This couple’s tomb is one of the glories of St Marys priory church. I believe this to be a tomb designed and commissioned by Gwladys.” William’s effigy wears armour that is fashionable in the mid-15th century but too contemporary for a man in his sixties. “The panels of apostles and prophets are unusual on a tomb, as is the carving of the story of the Annunciation.”

Their son William was the first to take the surname Herbert. He became Earl of Pembroke, and guardian to the future Henry VII — establishing an important connection with the Tudors. He and his brother Richard supported the Yorkists in the War of the Roses. This affiliation to Edward IV played a vital role in the family’s ascent to power. The chapel where they lie is now known as the Herbert chapel because so many of Gwladys and William’s descendants are buried here.

Professor Madeleine Gray’s talk on Gwladys Ddu and William ap Thomas at the Borough Theatre on May 22 follows the AGM, starting at 7.30pm. Please book your seat via the Borough Theatre www.boroughtheatreabergavenny.co.uk or in person. Admission is free to members.

 

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