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Friday, 31 July 2009

Owain Glyndwr - even worse than the plague

It was the black rat that spread the plague, but this rat, I think you'll agree, has attitude.

The best accounts of how the Black Death affected Gwent come from manorial rolls. These show that the Manors of Abergavenny, Monmouth, Usk and Caldicot suffered particularly badly with rent receipts less than a third of a normal year. There is no written evidence of how the Plague affected the small marsh settlement of Newport, then about 30 houses. What is of interest is that despite all the excavations and rebuilding of Newport, no plague pits have ever been discovered. This is either because so few people lived in Newport and/or we simply threw the dead bodies into the strong tidal waters of the Usk.

If there were only thirty or so houses in 1348 it was a different story in 1386 when Newport boasted between 200 – 300 burgages. Having said that, the whole town was only worth about £21 (32 dollars) in rent, and that included the mill and fisheries as well as the two hundred burgages, so rents must have been low.

But there were still further heights to climb. By 1400 Newport enjoyed a rental value of £57 (80 dollars).

A year or two later, the rental value of the town was assessed as nil.

The reason: Owain Glyndwr.

Owain's strategy was to burn and destroy anything owned by, or of use to, the English, and to leave nothing on the land to help a pursuing army. As a result ordinary people suffered badly, both from the violence and the local famine that always followed.

In the Summer of 1402 the Glyndwr hordes entered Gwent from the North and scorched the earth through out the Usk valley. After laying waste to Crickhowell and Abergavenny they arrived at Newport. Within the day they destroyed the castle, the mill, and the bridge.

They badly damaged St, Woolos cathedral and the Austin Friary, drove off all the livestock and burned acres of standing crops. Every church in the moors of Caldicot and the Wentloog levels were similarly destroyed. The townspeople who had hidden in the forests returned to find the town a blackened ruin. Owain was the torch of freedom for many in Wales. He was just a torch for Newport – a curse worse far worse than plague.

When in 1403 King Henry IV's army was billeted in Newport the king found conditions so dreadful that he sent messengers to Bristol ordering ships to be loaded with flour, ale, wine, and salt fish for the starving people of Newport.

for Newport, Duerer's The Apocalpyse might apply more to Glyndwr than the plague it is more usually associated with.

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