|Chepstow Castle, a crossing point|
Monmouthshire in the 14th century was relatively accessible from England and became quite affluent, particularly in the towns which grew up (some around castles) such as Chepstow, Abergavenny, Monmouth, Newport, Tryleg and Caerleon. The county had a higher ratio of castles per square mile than any other similar region of England or Wales, except Herefordshire and Northumberland. To get my tenses right - it still does and therefore has a record number of post-castle-visit CAKE opportunities. Even though some fortresses were starting to fall into disrepair, several were sufficiently comfortable and welcoming for leading English lords to spend time in them, Henry V being born in Monmouth.
These lowlands of the south-east were also appealing because of their good hunting: a well-stocked park in Grosmont made it a favourite residence of the House of Lancaster and the towns offered specialised crafts and services, weekly markets and twice-yearly fairs. A suburb of Abergavenny was called Englishton and several spots were the homes of Benedictine priories, outposts of northern French monasteries.
|The River Usk from the Flood Route or Noah's Ark Route|
I have scattered the story of affluence with photographs because it is hard to know how to illustrate this next part of the story. Towards the end of the century Monmouthshire (Gwent) was composed of 5 great lordships: Abergavenny; Monmouth and Three Castles; Striguil (Chepstow); Usk and Caerleon; and Gwynllwg (Newport) - the latter now having the least visited ruined castle in the area. (Don't try to boost its numbers: the local council makes no attempt to make the relic accessible.) Changes in lordships caused by natural demise were disruptive but the advent of the Black Death was cataclysmic.
There are many facts here which are only probable but the outline is clear: in the winter of 1348-9 the pandemic arrived and was known as "Y Farwolaeth Fawr" which does sound more ominous than the English version, "The Great Death". It killed between a third and a quarter of the population. Recurrent further outbreaks meant that economic recovery seemed nearly impossible: particularly distressing was that of 1361-2 which carried off the younger generation who might otherwise have revived the economy. In 1362, 36 of the 40 tenants of Caldicot are recorded as dead and only 114 labour services remained out of a previous 2000, though these figures might be cumulative over more years. Areas spared so far were devastated by the 1369 spread of this virulent disease. The county was overturned by such losses.
I can pick 3 words from my unlocked word-hoard to answer that question: Owain Glyn Dwr.
I have written a brief biography of this enigmatic man followed by an attempt at assessment. Many of my posts are about castles in Monmouthshire: you might like to start by reading about Henry V's birthplace: Monmouth Castle. An account of Marcher lordships goes a little further in explaining this aspect and there is an article on Medieval markets in the area.
On the right of this blog there is a rather daunting list of books consulted with gratitude but I am particluarly indebted to The Gwent County History vol. 2 for this piece.