Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

lity still more congenial to the mountaineer,*-namely, pride of ancestry,—that first prompted him to undertake the task, and afterwards stimulated him to industry in its execution ; and however ridiculous this latter virtue-for pride of ancestry is a virtue--may appear, when exercised without discrimination by the illiterate and the vulgar; yet, in the genuine Welsh gentleman, it is an ornament which derives additional brilliancy from the

very influence which it possesses over the mind and manners of the individual.—But we wander from the work before us.

The most valuable and interesting feature in the History of the Gwedir Family, is the clear and comprehensive view which it exhibits of the manners of the Welsh, at a time when they were little better than actual barbarians; and at a period when“ not having the fear of God before their eyes,” they despised all manner of restraint, and all manner of moral and divine coercion. It is chiefly on this account, that we have undertaken a review of it; and as some one or other of the good baronet's progenitors were more or less interested in all the sanguinary feuds which we are about to detail, we cannot have better authority, or a more amusing and circumstantial narrator.

Before we proceed, however, to transcribe any part of our author's narrative, we will take a cursory glance at the state of Wales, previous to the time when Sir John's ancestors became so conspicuous; and we willt hen select from the Gwedir History such extracts as will elucidate still more clearly, the bloody and ireful quarrels” of that disastrous period, which immediately preceded the union of Wales with England.

The laws which passed in the English parliament, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, in consequence of the insur

* “ The inhabitants of mountains form distinct races, and are careful to preserve their genealogies.

Men in a small district necessarily mingle blood by intermarriage, and combine at last into one family, with a common interest in the honour and disgrace of every individual. Then begins that union of affections, and co-operation of endeavours, that constitute a clan. They who consider themselves as ennobled by their family, will think highly of their progenitors; and they, who, through successive generations, live always together in the same place, will preserve local stories, and hereditary prejudices. Thus every mountaineer can talk of his ancestors, and recount the outrages which they suffered from the wicked inhabitants of the next valley."

Dr. Johnson's Journey to the Western Isles.

+ God hath shewed such mercy to our kind,” says Sir John, « that ever since the time of Rodericke, the son of Owen Gwynedd, Lord of Anglesey, there lived in the common-wealth, in eminent sorte, one or other of our name, and many together at times.”

rection of Owen Glyndwr, subjected the Welsh to a state of bondage, the most deep and severe.* While they were yet in arms, the provisions of these statutes could not be enforced; but no sooner was the rebellion quelled, than they were put into execution with the most relentless and oppressive vigilance. With Owen Glyndwr expired the last glimmer of the regal power of the principality, and the Welsh, no longer animated by the presence of their native princes, and actuated solely by their passions, degenerated into a state of gloomy and savage ferocity. Their keen and warlike disposition, no longer kept alive by the power of an hereditary enemy, sank into sanguinary feuds among themselves, or became actively engaged in the pleasures of the chace. The rude inhabitants of the mountain districts still retained an enthusiastic predilection for that boisterous mode of living, bequeathed to them by their ancestors, and, indignantly spurning the adoption of the more refined habits of their conquerors, it was long, very long, ere they began to imitate the more polished manners of the English.

The period which succeeded Glyndwr's abortive attempt to regain the liberties of his country, --was one of gloom and anarchy, and one which our regard for historical truth compels us to pronounce most barbarous and disgraceful. Its history, as Mr. Pennant truly observes, is the history of revenge, of perfidy, and of slaughter. As in the calamitous wars between the Rival Roses," _father rose against son, brother against brother, and kinsman against kinsman: and much as we may admire the noble and heroic struggles of the Welsh, in defence of their independence for so many years, we cannot but deeply lament and deprecate their want of unanimity,--the ferocity of their manners,--and the turbulence and cruelty, which at this particular period characterized their still undaunted spirit. In so disturbed a state was the principality at this time, that no gentleman dared to venture abroad unarmed, or unguarded. “Questioning with my uncle," says our author, “ what should move him to demolish an old church, which stood in a great thickett, and build it in a plaine, stronger and greater than it was before; his answer was, he had good reason for the same, because the countrey was wild, and he might be oppressed by his enemies on the suddaine in that woodie countréy; it therefore stood him in a policie to have diverse places of retreat. Certaine it was, that he durst not goe to church on a Sunday, from his house of Penanmen, but he must leave the same guarded with men, and have the doores surę barred and boulted, and a watchman to stand at

66

* See particularly the second and fourth statutes of Henry IV. and the first of Henry V.

the Gärreg big during divine service;-the Garreg was a' rocke whence he might see both the church and the house, and raise the crie if the house was assaulted. He durst not, although he were guarded with twenty tall archers, make knowne when he went to church or elsewhere, or goe or come the same way through the woodes and narrowe places, lest he should be layed for: this was in the beginning of his time.”

The disordered state of the principality during this unhappy period, afforded ample opportunity for the commission of illegal depredations; and " soe bloody and irefull were quarrells in those days,” says our venerable Historian, "and the revenge of the sword at such libertie, as almost nothing was punished by law, whatsoever happened.” We must not be surprised, therefore, at the existence of the numerous outlaws, who infested Wales at that time, and who gained their subsistence by robbery and rapine ;-selecting, for the most part, as the objects of their prey, the English who dwelt on the confines of their country.

These outlaws, or brigands, were generally the descendants of petty chieftains, commanding vassals devotedly attached to their leader, and inheriting that deadly hatred towards the English, which had so conspicuously signalized their ancestors. They were by no means fastidious as to the manner in which they attacked or otherwise harrassed their foes; and from their intimate knowledge of the mountain passes, they proved a source of no trifling annoyance to their neighbours, for experience had taught the English the folly of pursuing their tormentors beyond the line of demarcation, and they very rarely succeeded in capturing them on their own ground; but when such a circumstance did occur, certain and immediate death was the consequence to the aggressor.

To shew the extent of these licentious practices, it is only necessary to mention a few of the particulars of the statutes enacted for their suppression. “Whereas divers Welsh rebels, sometimes by night, and sometimes by day, have come into the counties of Salop, Hereford, and Gloucester, and the parts adjoining; and, hiding and lodging in the woods, have traiterously taken and carried off many of the king's liege subjects, and detained them in divers parts of the mountains of Wales, for half a year ascun foitz pluis et ascun foitz meins,”: until they were ransomed, to the great damage and mischief of the people of the said counties;- The king has therefore enacted and ordained, that the Justices of the Peace of the English counties shall have power to enquire of, hear, and determine all such sort of treasons and felonies; and if the offenders will not appear, the Justices of the Peace shall cause them to be outlawed, and shall certify such their outlawry to the officers of the lordship, to which such outlaws may have retreated, or where they may be sojourning or resident; and that

One of the most celebrated, as well as most daring, of these marauders, was Reginald Meredith Griffith, or, in the language of his country, Reinallt ab Meredydd ab Gruffydd, who resided in the neighbourhood of Mold, in Flintshire, at a strong hold, called Tower, a castellated building of great strength, part of which is yet to be seen. Here, then, lived Reginald in the fifteenth century, exercising undisputed authority over his little clan, by whose willing assistance he continued to molest and plunder all who were obnoxious to him, with fearless and unceasing activity. The principal objects of his attention, in this respect, seem to have been the inhabitants of Chester,* with whom he was continually involved in dispute; nay, a regular system of warfare is said to have been carried on between the two parties, and many a dire and deadly conflict was the consequence. In 1465, a considerable number of the tradespeople of Chester repaired to Mold fair to dispose of their several commodities.

This was an opportunity not to be resisted by the unconscionable free-booter, and he determined to avenge former grievances, by enriching himself at the expense of the “good men of Chester.” He assembled his followers, therefore, and hastening to the town, a quarrel was soon generated, and a contest as quickly ensued, in which, after several lives lost on both sides, Reginald gained the victory. This was yet further enhanced by the capture of Robert Browne, or Bryne, the mayor of Chester, who had led on his fellow citizens, and had attended the fair for purposes connected with his trade, which was that of a draper. Browne was an inveterate enemy of Reginald, and his life paid the forfeit of his temerity in venturing so near the haunts of the outlaw. He was hurried up to the tower after the action, and hanged without ceremony on an iron staplet, fixed in the ceiling

thereupon the said officers do take their bodies, and do such execution upon them, as by law required, without fine or redemption." 2 Hen. V. Stat. ii. ch. 5. This offence was made high-treason by 20. Hen. VI. It appears, however, that none of these statutes had much effect, for in 1534, (26 Hen. VIII.) an act passed, forbidding the keepers of the ferries on the borders of Wales to take any passenger across the river Severn after sun-set, or before sun-rise, as“ daily, divers felonies, robberies, and murders, have been many times committed in the counties of Gloucester and Somerset near the Severn, and the felons make their escape over the said river into South Wales, or the forest of Dean, by night, and when they are over the water, they are by divers privileges there kept."

* Chester is about twelve or fifteen miles from Mold.

+ This staple, the engine of so much cruelty, is still to be seen in its original position, and remains, a terrible memento of the lawless ferocity which distinguished Wales during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

of the great hall. Browne’s fellow-townsmen attempted, a short time afterwards, to avenge his death by the seizure of Reginald, and his principal accomplices in the murder, on whom they doubtless intended to inflict the same severe and summary mode of punishment. For this purpose, therefore, two hundred stout and active men left Chester, and proceeded forthwith to the Tower. But the wily free-booter gained timely notice of their approach, and, quitting his house, retired with his men to a neighbouring wood, where he remained to watch the operations of his visitors, who, as he had anticipated, rushed eagerly into the house. No sooner had they all entered, than Reginald hastened from his ambush, surrounded the Tower with his men, and set it on fire, cutting down the Chester-men, as they hurried out, without mercy or remorse. Few escaped to relate the fate of their comrades, and the outlaw of Mold experienced no further molestation from the intimidated inhabitants of Chester. Notwithstanding his unjustifiable contempt of the laws, and his numerous atrocities, he procured a pardon from Thomas Lord Stanley, President of the Council of Wales, which was subsequently ratified under the great seal by Edward the Fourth. And he died,-as many other rogues have died-at a good old age, and no doubt grievously lamented by his lawless, but faithful followers.

We must now return to our author, from whose “ History” we have two or three extracts to make, powerfully illustrative of that almost untameable ferocity, which influenced the conduct of the Cambro-Britons about the middle of the fifteenth century; first premising, that we have modernized, or rather anglicized, the orthography of the names, and that the events happened chiefly in the reign of the fourth Edward.

“The beginning of the quarrell and unkindness between Jevan ab Robert and Howel ab Rice ab Howel Vaughan, grew in this sort. Jevan ab Robert after his sister's death, upon some mis-like, left the company of Howel ab Rice, and accompanied John ab Meredith his nephew, and his children, who were at continuall bate with Howel ab Rice. The fashion was, in those days, that the gentlemen and their retainers met commonly every day to shoote matches and masteries ; there was noe gentleman of worth in the countrey, but had a wine cellar of his owne, which wine was sold to his profit; thither came his friends to meete him, and there spent the day in shooting, wrestling, throwing the sledge, and other actes of activitie, and drinkeing very moderately withall, not according the healthing* and gluttonous manner of our dayes.

* That is--drinking of healths.

« ZurückWeiter »