Battle of Hereford Part II: The Battle

hereford1055

What happened on October 24th 1055 would most likely have stuck in the minds of many of the people who lived in Herefordshire for many years to come. I’m sure the names of Gruffudd and Alfgar would invoke terrible memories of burning buildings and blood strewn streets for a long time after that fateful date. As for the Welsh people, the Cymry, they would remember it as one of their great successes, a victory over the Saes invaders who had stolen their land. These days, the ravaging of Hereford is little known.  It certainly wasn’t a fight on the scale that the Battle of Hastings was eleven years on, and it wasn’t a hard won victory for the vanquishers; but it was a devastating blow to the Franco-Norman Earl of Hereford, who, in his effort to pre-empt the Welsh King Gruffudd and the outlawed English Earl Alfgar from sacking his burgh, lost both his reputation and his standing in English affairs, when overwhelmed by the sight of the enemy, he and his Norman contingent left the field and many of his mounted men to die.

Al Camacho (1)Len howell
An accurate portrayal of a mounted Norman knight of the mid 11thc – photo c/o Len Howell and Al Camacho as the Norman

Gruffudd, self-proclaimed King of Wales, became so after he had won his bid to become supreme leader over the other British kingdoms of Wales. He had become King of Gwynedd and Powys after he fought  against a Mercian army c 1040, killing Edwin, who was the paternal uncle of his later ally, Alfgar.  Gruffudd soon began harbouring ambitions of uniting Wales against her enemies and so set about ridding himself of any impediments to realising his goal. One of these impediments was Gruffydd ap Rhydderch, ruler of South Wales. This he did, with the aid of Alfgar of Mercia in a sort of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours type arrangement.

After being exiled from England for uttering treason against the king, Earl Alfgar washed up on the shores of  Rhuddlan, Gruffudd’s northern stronghold looking for an ally.  With him he’d brought a fleet of mercenaries from Dublin. It would be the second time that Gruffudd had used a renegade outlaw exiled from England to assist him. The first was Swegn Godwinson, the scandalous older son of Godwin, outlawed for bad behaviour.  Gruffudd was not above taking advantage of the discord that often went on at the English court. He was an astute and ruthless ruler, and to the Welsh, he was the Shield of the Britons. Unfortunately for him, he was to be betrayed by his own people some years later when murdered, they sent his head to Harold, Earl of Wessex.

Alfgar, Earl of East Anglia, was the son of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and the legendary Godiva of the naked horse-ride fame.  An unruly, truculent man, Alfgar was simply envious of the success the Godwins were having, and who could blame him, with the king based mostly in the south (he never seemed to go further than Gloucester) he was surrounded by Godwins all clamouring for power. The Anglo Saxon Chronicles don’t go into a lot of detail but he was banished from England after an angry outburst, the words, said to have been treasonous, seemed to have left his mouth without thinking. One might wonder just what those words were. Something, no doubt, very insulting about the king’s relationships with the Godwinson brothers.  He was stripped of all his wealth and lands. Like the Godwinsons before him, he was determined to return and first went to Ireland to gather a force of Hiberno Norse, before approaching Gruffudd, his family’s natural enemy.

The King’s nephew Ralph was made Earl of Hereford around 1052. Ralph was the son of Edward’s sister Goda and her deceased husband Drogo de Mantes who had been the Count of Valois, the Vexin and Amiens. His older brother Walter, became the Count after Drogo and appears to have died along with his wife in tragic circumstances. Ralph may have been raised at the court of Normandy and travelled to England either with Edward or perhaps arriving shortly afterwards. He was most likely to have been in his mid to late twenties at the time of the battle. Ralph wanted to introduce Norman style tactics into English warfare and although it was  not unheard of for English troops to fight on horseback, it was not the usual preferred method.

The mounted warrior would have looked very different to previous warriors who fought on foot. The mail that was being worn by this time was becoming longer than the usual byrnie that had formerly graced the bodies of 11thc warriors. The byrnie (or haubergeon) was more of a mail ‘shirt’ where as the hauberk covered the thighs and groin areas. Kite shields were also becoming popular as we see in the Bayeux Tapestry and they were more practical for using on horseback as the kite shield gave greater coverage to the unprotected side of the warrior’s body. He could hack or spear with his weapon-hand which would defend his other side from his shoulder down to his foot whilst he was horsed. He would also wear a conical shaped helmet like this spangenhelm wearing warrior. This chap is also wearing a mail coif under the helm to further protect his head, neck, and chest. The nose piece was a must to deflect sharp tips but would not necessarily prevent injury to eyes.

Spangenhelm warrior

The mounted warrior Norman style, would go into battle with a few javelins to project at the enemy, or a spear to skewer them with. His sword or hand axe would be for closer hand to hand fighting when proximity to his opponent made the longer arms too difficult to use. If he was able to afford them, he would no doubt be wearing some mail chausses on his legs to protect them whilst he was in the saddle, though this does not seem to be reflected in the Bayeux Tapestry but hey, the its the Tapestry, right? Therefore it must be true!

 Ralph had been working on his Norman style defences, too, building wooden structures with palisades, the pre-runner to castles. These would have consisted of a motte, a mound of earth with a towered structure within an inner bailey. The wooden fencing would have contained ramparts and lookouts. These were posted around the marcher borders and in Hereford itself. Ralph was obviously out to impress his uncle the king and may have considered himself worthy of being his successor, although there is no evidence to believe that he ever did, apart from the fact he was of the Royal bloodline through his mother. This might have been one reason why he was never declared an aetheling; he came from the distaff side of the House of Wessex. A great resounding defeat against the Welsh might have brought him the adulation and respect that he desired. Perhaps it would have gained him the title aetheling. Unfortunately for Ralph, it was not to be.

On October the 24th, the two armies faced each other across the plain. Here is what the D version of the AS Chronicle said about it

“…And soon after that, Earl Alfgar, son of Earl Leofric, 
was outlawed well-nigh without fault; but he turned to
Ireland and Wales and there got himself a great band, 
and travelled thus to Hereford; but there Earl Ralph came
against him with a great raiding party, and with a little 
struggle they were brought to flight, and many people
killed in that flight, and then turned into Hereford market
town and raided it, burned down the famous minster which 
Bishop Athelstan built, and killed the priests inside the min-
-ster, and many others as well, seized all the treasures in 
there and led them away with them. And then when they had 
done most harm, it was decided to reinstate Earl Alfgar, and 
give him back his earldom and all that was taken away from 
him. This raid was made on October the 24th…..”

Why the date of the 24th was chosen is not known. The initial battle was said to have taken place 2 miles outside of Hereford’s walls where Ralf and his men had gone to meet with the enemy. They must have had prior intelligence of the coming army, spies most likely had been seeking out intel on Alfgar’s whereabouts and doings, but this is not known.

The Abingon Manuscript elaborates a little more on the precipitating events of the battle and states that after Alfgar was outlawed, he went to Ireland and raised an army and then sought asylum with King Gruffudd of Wales. The allied forces then go into Hereford and Earl Ralph comes against him with a ‘great army’. “But before a spear could be thrown, the English people fled because they were on horse; and great slaughter was made”. The Manuscript also states about 400-500 English were slaughtered and the enemy lost none. It has  also been suggested that Ralph and his men left the field leaving the English to die. Hence he is later known as Ralph the Timid. As there is little evidence of a full eyewitness account of what happened that day, one has to imagine how this might have occurred. Whatever happened, the day belonged to the victorious duo, Gruffudd and Alfgar. Alfgar, we see was reinstated and Gruffudd most likely given Lordship over the lands around Archenfield. Harold Godwinson  later followed with a great army to chase the Welsh and their allies back into the mountains but there was no return match and Gruffudd’s Welshmen and Alfgar’s Hiberno-Norse made away with slaves, livestock and treasures from the church they had sacked.

The people of Hereford were left to lick their wounds and Harold rebuilt the defences that seemed to have been neglected by Ralph. The fact that Alfgar was never called to account for this outrage shows how brutal and non-consequential life could be in these days. The fact that he got away with it shows how little regard there was for the ordinary people concerned. The razing and ravaging of lands was often a punishment levelled at the nobility but although it is an absurd notion for us to protest the irony of it with our 21st century outlook, the lower echelons of life in medieval times mattered only to their immediate lords for what they were worth in economical terms. A simple local thegn may have been devastated at the loss of his ‘people’ but for the major nobility it was more of a financial disaster than an emotional one. As for Ralph, it seemed he may not have ever got over the disgrace and he disappears from the pages of history until he dies in 1057. The Earldom of Hereford later passed to his son Harold, after the Conquest.

References

Barlow F (1997) Edward the Confessor (2nd ed) Yale University Press, US. 

Stenton F (1971) Anglo Saxon England (3rd Ed) Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Swanton M (2000) The Anglo Saxon Chronicles (2nd ed) Phoenix Press, London.

This Battle features in my novel  Sons of the Wolf and was part of the research I did for it.

The Battle of Hereford – Part One: The story of two men and a king

a-motte-and-bailey-with-timber-defences-many-were-built-like-this-following-the-norman-invasion-of-1066Ralph de Mantes was the son of King Edward’s sister, Godgifu, known commonly as Goda. Goda was the king’s full sister, therefore a daughter of Æthelred the Unræd, and her son, Ralph, was fathered by Count Drogo of Mantes, Goda’s first husband. As such, Ralph could have been considered in line for the royal throne of England, however, he doesn’t seem to have been referred to as ‘ætheling‘, at least there is not any documented evidence. Whether or not, Ralph, whom it was said Edward was very fond of, had aspirations to the throne of England, it is not known, however he was appointed Earl of Hereford in 1052 and he had a project in mind when he took up office, to use Norman-style defence works along the difficult to manage Welsh marches.

Due to the troublesome Welsh incursions along the Herefordshire and Welsh borders, Ralph and his followers, Richard FitzScrob and Osbern de Pentecost began to ‘Normanise’ the county and three castles were built in Herefordshire, Richard’s Castle, and Ewyas Harold Castle as well as the castle built in the town of Hereford.  These castles are two of only four known pre-Conquest castles, the other two being Hereford Castle and Clavering in Essex. Ewyas Harold Castle is thought to be the first in England.   One can’t help but wonder if this was an attempt on Ralph’s behalf to ingratiate himself to the English and his uncle, in order to raise his standing – and perhaps garner some support in regards to the succession of the throne. If it was, it was all going to come crashing down around him, soon.

In 1055, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn (or Griffith as its pronounced in Welsh) was the small-time king of Gwynedd at this time. Killing off all his other rivals enabled him to become self-styled king of Wales. He was born around 1013, which by 1055, would make him around 42 or 43 and well on the way to ‘medieval old age.’ However by this time, he still appeared to be a very robust man. He came to be known as the ‘Shield of the Britons’ for uniting Wales against the English, but unfortunately when he died, his subjects were unable to maintain what he had built up in a united Wales. He  was his father’s only son, however his mother, Angharad, remarried after Llywelyn’s death in 1023 and had two brothers, Rhiwallon and Bleddyn, and a sister for Gruffudd. On the death of Gruffudd’s father, Angharad’s new husband, Iago ap Idwal, took over power in Gwynnedd.

Gruffudd  was to claim kingship of Gwynedd in 1039. He’d already held a position of power within Powys and when  Iago ab Idwal was killed by his own men, Gruffudd expanded in to Gwynedd . This may have been a deal he had with the men of Gwynedd. It was quite common to kill a ruler off when he was getting too big for his boots, as Gruffudd was later to find out when he, too, was killed by his own men. By the summer of 1055, Gruffudd had rid himself of his other rival, Gruffudd ap Rhydderch, the king of the Deheubarth. This paved the way for him to take the title of King of all Wales.

Hywell Dda
Gruffudd ap Llywelyn

Alfgar,  son of Leofric, Earl of Mercia and the legendary Godiva of the naked horse ride fame, appears to have been an unruly, truculent man, envious of the success the Godwins were  having. He found himself exiled after what seems to have been an angry outburst during the witan’s meeting of Easter 1055 to decide a new earl for Northumberland. Charged with treason and stripped of all his wealth and lands, he fled to Ireland to raise a mercenary force. Like the Godwinsons before him, he was determined to return to England by force if he had to.  With 18 Hiberno/Norse ships filled with warriors, he sought out Gruffudd ap Llywelyn in Rhuddlan to ally himself with him for an invasion of England, but not before helping Gruffudd in his quest to become king of all Wales by defeating and killing his opponent in the kingdom of Deheubarth.  Interestingly, Gruffudd, had been his family’s natural enemy having killed Edwin, Alfgar’s uncle in an ambush in 1040, and also driven Hywel out of Powys and carrying off Hywel’s wife, who’d been a kinswoman of Leofric’s. But past recriminations seem to matter not when a man wanted to fight for his land and what he owned.

The Welsh had long been raiding across the borders and causing chaos for some time, which had caused Ralph to build his castle in Hereford and encouraged other Normans to do the same. He was also bent on training the local thegns to fight on horseback to emulate the continental style of combat. Most people believe that the English preferred to fight on foot, and mostly this seems to be so, however it may not have been unheard of for the English to go into battle on horseback. The tactics however, were not known, but in this case, Ralph wanted to create a continental-style force to combat the continuing harassment from across the Welsh border.
Earl on horse

What would a mounted ‘chevalier’ have appeared like and how would he have fought? Most likely he would go into battle with a few javelins to project at the enemy, or/and a spear to skewer them with. His sword or hand-axe would be for closer hand to hand fighting when proximity to his opponent made the longer arms too difficult to use. His tunic would need to be split in the front to allow comfortability in the saddle. The maille he wore would have to be longer than the byrnie to protect his legs, he would also use a kite shield, more manageable than a round shield on a horse. He would need to dexterous enough to be able to control his horse and manage various weapons on horseback. He would need years of training to achieve the sort of horsemanship that was seen at Hastings 11 years later. Those men would have been training from around 12/14, something these English men would mostly have lacked.

Ralph had been working on his Norman style defences too, building wooden structures with palisades, the pre-runner to castles. These would have consisted of a motte, a mound of earth with a towered structure within an inner bailey. The wooden fencing would have contained ramparts and lookouts.  Ralph was obviously out to impress his uncle, the king, and may have considered himself worthy of being his successor. A great resounding defeat against the Welsh might have brought him the adulation and respect that he desired. Perhaps it would have gained him the title atheling. Unfortunately for Ralph, it was not the outcome he must have hoped for. Although he had worked hard to ready his force against the coming invaders, when it came to the battle, Ralph and his band of Normans would fail their English forces miserably.

 

References

Barlow F (1997) Edward the Confessor (2nd ed) Yale University Press, US.

https://htt.herefordshire.gov.uk/herefordshires-past/the-medieval-period/castles/)

Stenton F. 1971 Anglo-Saxon England (3rd ed) Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Swanton M (2000) The Anglo Saxon Chronicles (2nd ed) Phoenix Press, London.

Leofgar – Death in the Valleys

 

 

October 1055 saw Earl Ralph’s magnificent defeat by the allied forces of Alfgar of Mercia and Gruffudd, self-proclaimed King of Cymru (Wales). The Battle took place 2 miles out of Hereford and during the aftermath of the English’ defeat, Hereford was razed to the ground. Ralph, otherwise known as Ralph de Mantes, and after this unmitigated disaster, Ralph the Timid, was Edward the Confessor’s nephew by his sister Goda. He may have fancied himself as the king’s heir, seeing as in 1055, the king and queen had failed to produce one and there were none likely to appear on the horizon, soon. Gruffudd had been causing trouble along the Welsh border for decades and was to provide Ralph with an opportunity to show what he was made of, so, having been granted the Earldom of Herefordshire, he set up a Norman-style defence along the marcher lands. This involved motte and bailey wooden castles, palisaded around a tower on a mound within a courtyard.

hereford1055_large
Having fought his way to supremacy in the north of Wales, Gruffudd ap Llywellyn decided to consolidate his power by embarking on a mission to exterminate his opponents in the south of Wales. This came at a very good time for the Mercian lord, for having been outlawed for unknown treason(1), Alfgar was in need of a powerful ally that would aid him in his restoration to power in England. And Gruffudd, having found the south of his kingdom the hardest battle to win, was obviously happy to have an ally against his arch enemy, Gruffudd ap Rhydderch of Deheubarth.

Earl on horse
How one of Ralph’s English cavalrymen may have looked

Ralph may have upset Alfgar in some way, perhaps had something to do with his exile (though I might add that this is just conjecture). Or it may have been that Ralph just happened to be in the place Alfgar wanted to use as a springboard back into England. Whatever the case, Ralph’s Norman-style English cavalry forces were destroyed, with Ralph earning the insulting nomenclature of ‘Timid’ for running away with his Norman retainers and leaving his men to be slaughtered.

The ensuing result was that Harold Godwinson was to lead the negotiations with Bishop Ealdred, conceding the diocese of Archenfield, Ergyng in Welsh, to Gruffudd. Alfgar was permitted to return from exile, picking up his former earldom of East Anglia and all that he had owned before, which seems very lenient to me, but Harold Godwinson always was very keen to quell problems with diplomacy, rather than to give battle. He was not too young to know the perils of a divided kingdom and was born not long after the troubled years of Æthelred the Unready, and would know that a divided kingdom is a vacuum for invaders.

Earl Ralph must have been taken ill or so disturbed by his embarrassing defeat, that he does not seem to have shown much of himself for the next two years, and although he seems to have kept the title of earl, the responsibility fell naturally to Harold Godwinson.
So, with all the other responsibilities that he must have had, Harold needed to appoint a strong man to protect and oversee this important town. Also, Hereford was an ecclesiastic see, and so who better than his doughty mass priest, Leofgar, who had once been a warrior before taking up the cloth, for the position of Bishop of Hereford. Part of the treaty that had been made in Billingsley after the Battle of Hereford, was that the diocese must relinquish control of Archenfield to the bishopric of Glamorgan (2). Harold wanted a man who was strong, as well as pious, who was able to look after the new church’s interests, reminding the Welsh that they had burned the old one down and that they needed to pay recompense for the deaths of the canons who had tried to defend the church during the attack. Purely conjecture on my part, but perhaps they were supposed to have help rebuild it and return all the treasures they had stolen from it, and Leofgar, enraged that nothing had been forthcoming, decided to take on the Welsh individually, without consulting his masters.

Ralph's men
How Ralph’s men might have looked

Leofgar was in his position as bishop for 3 months before he decided to ride out with an army from the town, and attack Gruffudd in a place called Glasbyrig. It is not known what prompted this impulsive act, but as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle suggests, he swapped his chrism and cross for his sword and spear not long after his conscecration and was killed by Gruffudd’s army along with all the priests he had taken and Ælfnoth, the shire-reeve as well as many other good men. No doubt, among the ‘many good men’ would have been survivors of the terrible battle the year before, eager for revenge. But it came to nought, for Gruffudd was victorious and Leofgar and his men were slaughtered.
Glasbury-on-Wye, where the battle is said to have taken place, lies between Brecon and Hereford, on a bend in the river of Wye. Behind it, stood the majestic back drop of the mountain range known as the y Mynyddoedd Duon, or the Black Mountains in English, and the Brecon Beacons. Considering that Gruffudd had only just come to power in the South of Wales after his defeat of that other King Gruffudd in Deheubarth, it might have been pertinent to him to have kept a presence there, to consolidate his hold and ensure that the terms of the treaty with the English were kept to.

Glasbury on wye 3
The River Wye in Glasbury, perhaps the battle was fought on those fields to the right

The fact that Leofgar’s defeat was so decisive shows the Welsh king’s power in establishing a disciplined army that could easily travel by land or river and disappear in to the mountains quickly if needed. The local Herefordshire levies were certainly no challenge to them as their defeat shows.

This was a turning point in the Welsh king’s reign, for the peace deal included lands beyond the river Dee that had been long disputed over, and Edward acknowledging Gruffudd as ‘King of the Britons’, albeit a subregulus or an under-king. That a nation significantly larger in size as England was to Wales, should be so pressured into ceding a considerable amount of land to the Welsh shows the power Gruffudd possessed in resisting English rule. Despite his reduction in status to the English king, he was never compelled to attend the English court at any time.

Lost kingdoms of Wales
A map showing the area called Ergyng to the Welsh and Archenfield to the English

As a consequence of Leofgar’s actions, England had conceded ‘all the lands beyond the river called Dee’ except for a narrow strip along the estuary to the Welsh to add to their gains of 1055 in the Ergyng. According to Davies, these were lands that had been in English control since the days of Offa. There is a story as told by Walter Map, but cannot be verified historically, that the two kings, Edward and Gruffudd had a stand off on opposite sides of the banks of the Severn, one on the Welsh side and one in Gloucestershire. Gruffudd had agreed to bend the knee to Edward, who was his overlord in name only, but had refused to cross the river to meet with Edward, and Edward was refusing to cross to meet with Gruffudd. After all, why should he? It was preposterous that he, Edward, whose lineage went back to the days of Cerdic who conquered England from Gruffudd’s ancestors, the Britons, should have to play the subservient to that Welsh upstart who thought himself as entitled a king as he. With each king protesting that their lineage was better than the other, arguments for whom should cross first went back and forth for much of a day until eventually, Edward conceded and allowed himself to be politely rowed across the river where Gruffudd is said to have avowed himself on bent knee to recognise Edward as his overlord. In some ways, there was an agreeable outcome for both not to lose all of their integrity; Edward received Gruffudd on bent knee, however Edward was the one who had to cross. Whether this is how it happened is not confirmed by any contemporary source, but makes for a good story.
Gruffudd may not have bent his knee completely; like one who makes an oath with fingers crossed, he may have kept at least one of his knees slightly off the ground, because it would not be long before he was back at it again, causing trouble and getting mixed up with that rebellious English Lord, Alfgar once more.

 

Notes

1 Most likely the cause was that he had upset the king and his courtiers for not being elected to the Earldom of Northumberland, which was given to Tostig Godwinson.
2 Davies, in his his book, Gruffudd ap Llewllyn, The Last King of Wales, suggests that the evidence for this is in the Book of Llandaff, which points to the Bishop of Glamorgan having been concecrated in 1056 by Archbishop Cynesige in the presence of King Edward. The document also attests to Bishop Herewald’s activities in the area which indicates that the English had ceded the diocese at the time of the peace treaty.

 

Primary Sources

References
Davies S & Davies W (2012) The Last King of Wales: Gruffudd ap Llywelyn c. 1013-1063 The History Press

Petts, D. The Early Medieval Church in Wales (Stroud 2009) p.170