July 2017



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July 2017


A group of us met at the church for a conducted tour led by Sir Trefor Morris.  He gave us a most comprehensive and interesting talk on the history of the church, its founders, benefactors and famous people.   It is one of the largest parish churches in Wales.

The priory was found by Hamelin de Ballon in 1087 as a monastery with a prior and 12 monks from the mother house in Le Mans, France, although little remains of the original building.  The main building dates from the fourteenth century and was commissioned by Sir John de Hastings following a Visitation from the Pope’s representative to investigate reports of laxity and corruption among the community.  When the Dissolution of the Monasteries Act came into force the townspeople persuaded Henry VIII to allow them to continue using the church.   The remaining structure of the original abbey was incorporated into the Church which was all that remained of the monastery.   Other buildings associated with the monastery were converted into houses.  During a restoration project in 1882 a pre-Norman font bowl was discovered buried in the churchyard and now stands on a modern plinth in the church.  In the north aisle there is a bell dated to 1308 which is thought to have been donated by Sir John de Hastings as the inscription reads ‘may be the bell of John last many years’. 

Among the treasures of the church are a very rare Jesse figure carved in oak and thought to be unique in England.  (A claim that might be disputed by Cullompton!)   There is also a fine wood carved figure of Sir John de Hastings.   On either side of the aisle at the head of the choir are the ornately carved stalls used during a visit by Prince Arthur Tudor and Princess Catherine of Aragon.  His shows the Tudor rose and feathers and hers a carved pomegranate thus dating them to 1501.

The major part of the monuments in the church are found in the Herbert Chapel and are beautifully and intricately carved alabaster tombs.  The most important of which is the tomb of Sir William ap Thomas and his wife Gwladys.  He was the founder of several dynasties including the Earls of Powys, Pembroke and Carnarvon and Gwladys was the widow of Sir Richard Vaughan; together they held court at Raglan Castle (visited by the group after lunch).  Of Ricardian interest the family subsequently took the surname of Herbert.   Another is the tomb of a little girl who fell to her death when out on the ramparts of the castle with her pet squirrel who is thought to have disappeared over the edge.  The de Hastings family is also well represented with fine tombs of Sir John de Hastings and Sir Lawrence de Hastings.  How these beautiful and ornate tombs survived the reformation is unknown but may owe something to the affinities of the House of Tudor and to the powerful Herbert family.

Following our tour the group had lunch in the medieval tithe barn associated with the Priory before heading to Raglan Castle.

Article by Angela Iliffe


On 6th July a small group of our branch members went on a field trip to visit St Mary's Priory, Abergavenny and Raglan Castle.

Raglan Castle is situated a couple of miles outside of Abergavenny and close to the village of Raglan.  It is one of a ring of medieval castles spread over the border between England and Wales.  Raglan Castle was begun in the 1430s and was built for show rather than battle in mind.  At various times the ruling families of the Herberts and the Somersets created a luxurious, fortified castle, complete with a large keep known as the Great Tower.  The current castle was begun by Sir William ap Thomas, his son William who changed his name to William Herbert, rose in prominence supporting the House of York during the Wars of the Roses.  It has connections with both Jasper and Henry Tudor who was at one time in the care of the Herberts.

Our guide for the tour, Julian, was exceedingly knowledgeable on the history of the castle and its surrounding area.  There are some beautiful architectural features including a magnificent large oriel window, original stone carvings and a garden.  The castle is certainly stunning and well worth a visit.

Bronwen Fraley

The Isle of Wight by Sylvia Charlwood

I had always thought that only one English princess was buried on the Isle of Wight.  Princess Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of King Charles 1st was kept a captive, under Cromwell, until she died, and was buried at the church in the village of Carisbrook. For a long time her tomb was unmarked, but Queen Victoria, who was interested in the Stuarts, had a proper and very beautiful memorial made for this poor young girl.

Reading Alison Weir’s book “Britain’s Royal families”, I see that Edward IV’s daughter, Princess Cecily, was said to have been buried at Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight.  She had married firstly John Welles, 1st Viscount Welles. They had two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne, sadly, both died young, After his death, she married Thomas Kyme (there are other versions of  the spelling of his name) of the Isle of Wight, who seems to have property at Wainfleet and Friskney in Lincolnshire, and they are believed to have had a son Richard who married a lady named Agnes, and they had children, also a daughter Margaret who married John Wetherby and they had issue.

Cecily died at Quarr Abbey on August 24th 1507, and was buried there. Sadly, her tomb was destroyed when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. There is a lovely stained glass window in Canterbury cathedral, the original being in a Scottish museum.

Book Review

MARI GRIFFITH - Root of the Tudor Rose 
The secret romance that founded a dynasty 
ISBN 9781 1783753291 

This is a first historical fiction novel by Mari Griffith and tells the story of the romance between Catherine de Valois and Owen Tudor, founders of the Tudor dynasty. 

Catherine, who married Henry V, was widowed when her son, the future Henry V1, was only ten months old.  She was befriended by her servant Owen Tudor, who she later married in secret as she was forbidden to remarry.  The story tells of her life first as a child brought up in a convent, then her marriage to Henry and subsequent marriage to Owen.  It is purely a story of fiction although the main characters and the events really happened.  

The author attempts to outline the political situation at the time both with the war with France and problems caused by a power struggle within the nobility to control a king intent on conquering France and later a King as a minor. 

I found it a fairly easy enjoyable holiday read, with just enough detail not to get too bogged down with the complex political intrigues of the time.  

Bronwyn Fraley