Sunday, June 14, 2009

Llanthony times two

Llanthony Priory kept coming up in my research as a burial place for my ancestors the de Bohuns. On a map, I found a Llanthony in Monmouthshire, Wales, but the historical references were usually to “Llanthony in Gloucester.” How could that be? So I launched an internet investigation, wrote some emails, and visited both sites (for there are two indeed) on a 2006 vacation in UK.

Llanthony Prima, Wales
I made a point of visiting Llanthony Prima Priory near Abergavenny, six miles northwest of Llanfihangel Crucorney, Gwent, mid-Wales. What a beautiful site.

Llanthony Priory was founded in the Vale of Ewyas, in the Black Mountains of Wales, as a chapel dedicated to St. David, but became a priory in 1118. Hugh de Lacy (brother or cousin of my de Lacy ancestors) assumed its patronage and endowed it with lands. In about 1135, the rebellious Welsh, who had been displaced by the conquering Normans (including my ancestor Miles fitzWalter of Gloucester), sacked the priory. After a restoration of peace, the de Lacy family renewed their financial support and imported personnel from Gloucester to re-establish the priory.

However, repeated Welsh attacks on the remote and unprotected Llanthony made it dangerous. In 1136, the monks who had retreated from Wales established a daughter priory in Gloucester, called Llanthony Secunda.

Building the Llanthony Prima church began about 1180, and continued for 50 years. It began at the east end (the chancel) with rounded arches, and continued toward the west, with more gothic architectural features as the years passed.

To get to Llanthony Prima, you really have to want it, and intend to find it. But I found my way easily. The four-mile drive is mostly one vehicle wide, with occasional wide spots for courtesy passing, as in: one car stops and waits for the oncoming car to squeak by. There are places of dark, dense woods, and places where you drive between 8-foot hedgerows, and other spots you can see across the sheep-dotted river valley to the tree-covered escarpment. The late-afternoon sun was sometimes behind the mountains and sometimes spotlighted impossibly green pastures with grazing horses.

Admission to Llanthony is free, and there were a fair number of people there, who had been staying in the inn there and taking horse treks up into the mountains. Sounds like a very nice vacation! The horses have big, furry hooves, like draft horses, but they weren’t that tall. They were Welsh Cobs, descendants of war horses that could carry medieval warriors in heavy armor, and were good swimmers and jumpers. I suppose the wider hoof makes them more sure-footed.

Llanthony Prima--
where the altar would have been
The priory was very pretty, and you could see that it must have been a lovely gothic place when it flourished. The stones of the windows and crossing still stand. There’s also a wall that hangs 15 degrees off of plumb. The priory was sacked several times, by Welshmen, and by Henry VIII’s Dissolution vandals, who really gave it the death sentence.

Llanthony Secunda, Gloucester
My ancestors’ connection with “Llanthony” continued in the 12th century with Sybil de Neufmarche, daughter of Bernard de Neufmarche, Lord of Brecon (a conquering Norman) and Nest, granddaughter of the ruler of Wales, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn. Sybil de Neufmarche married Miles fitzWalter in 1121. Miles fitzWalter, 1st Earl of Hereford, Lord of Brecknock, and sheriff of Gloucestershire, lived 1100-1143. Sybil and Miles had seven children, two of whom were my ancestors: Bertha of Hereford, who married William de Braose; and Margaret de Gloucester, who married Humphrey (III) de Bohun.

Llanthony Prima and Secunda were Augustinian houses administered by the same prior from 1136 until 1205, when they formally separated. The Gloucester priory, established near the Southgate suburbs of the walled city, was richly endowed by Miles of Gloucester (Earl of Hereford). The lands had already been granted to the church by Miles’ father, Walter of Gloucester, and his father before him. Now they were attached to the new Llanthony Priory.

The Abbey of St. Peter, which became Gloucester Cathedral, considered that Llanthony Secunda “poached” grants of lands and monies (and lucrative burials and obituary masses) from local noble families. There was a decades-long argument over where Miles of Gloucester should finally be buried. Llanthony won. (But Gloucester Cathedral still stands!)

Llanthony Priory Secunda is the location where about 10 generations of de Bohuns (pronounced “Boon”) and others were buried. There’s not much left of the property but a few tithe barns and outbuildings.

I visited Llanthony Secunda on a windy and chilly morning in September. It’s just a block or two off the Bristol Road, near the historic docks on the Severn River, and near Gloucester’s city center. The entrance to the historic site is located in an industrial area. There’s a stone arched gateway into the grounds that remains from the 12th century.  This is a Google Maps view of Llanthony Secunda.

View Larger Map

Based on the storyboard plaque, I took photos of the site where the church had been, and even have a shot of the college building under construction, in the background of the ruins. I’m glad that the site is being preserved the best it can be after its abuse in previous centuries. The loss of the tomb effigies is horrible.
Gatehouse of Llanthony Secunda
The priory and its church, where all those de Bohuns were buried, was obliterated at Henry VIII’s Dissolution, and took heavy damage when it was a besiegers’ fort in 1643 during the Civil War. In 1810 or so, when a canal and rail line were built through there, they found human remains about two meters deep, which they then burned. The site is now protected as a historical monument.

My ancestors known to be buried at Llanthony Secunda in Gloucester include:
...Miles fitzWalter of Gloucester, 1100-1143
...Sybil de Neufmarche (his wife), d. 1143
...Humphrey III de Bohun, 1109-1187
...Margaret of Gloucester (m. Humphrey III de Bohun), 1125-1187
...Henry de Bohun, 1176-1220
...Humphrey V de Bohun, 1208-1275
...Maud d’Eu (his wife), 1208-1241
...Eleanor de Braose (m. Humphrey VI de Bohun) d. 1251

Additional links:
England and Normandy in the Middle Ages 
The Trials of Llanthony [Prima] 

Christy K Robinson is the author of five-star nonfiction and fiction historical books, as well as author of Discovering Love, Rooting for Ancestors and William and Mary Barrett Dyer websites. You will find her books at http://bit.ly/RobinsonAuthor.

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)

1 comment:

  1. Bob wrote:
    Fun read, beautiful buildings and greenery.

    Linda wrote:
    Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt...what a love story!!! Also one of intrigue! I love English history and I also have dabbled into research that takes part of my linage back to Glamorgan, Wales...but I do not come CLOSE to your fabulous research. When do you take the next tour group to England & Wales my dear?!?!? I want to sign up and go!!

    Christy responded:
    Linda, I'd love to take people to UK, but I'm so selfish that I'd only take them to MY historical spots (which are many). Of course, I'd give a great story of why we're there. I've been researching this stuff since I was a teenager. Both my parents loved history, and my mom got me into genealogy. My first trip to UK was in 2001, after years of planning, and marking maps with historical factoids and where ancestors lived.


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