Monday, 4 March 2013

Early Tudor Lineage and Loyalty: A Look at the Shields in Carew Castle, Pembrokeshire


Castles have received scholarship from military historians for decades; however, they possess so much more than just military features. They proclaimed wealth, status, power, and in the case of Carew Castle they displayed heraldry, lineage and loyalty to a new dynasty. Sir Rhys ap Thomas was a Welshman, a proud castle owner, and a military leader who helped defeat Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, thus placing Henry VII on the throne. Henry VII’s accession announced a new age for Sir Rhys who was showered with grants of land and administrative leadership that offered him a prominent role in the south-west of Wales. Just how Sir Rhys came to owning Carew Castle is a bit of a mystery. We can be certain it was in his possession by 1506 when he held a five-day sumptuous St George’s Day tournament marking the anniversary of his election into the Order of the Garter, possibly the first of its kind in Wales. It does seem highly likely Sir Rhys obtained the estate a number of years prior to the tournament due to the vast number of renovations he subsequently made on the property.
The renovations undertaken by Sir Rhys were primarily focused on the external appearance of his castle. He embellished the structure, essentially by inserting new windows and doors, by re-facing the whole courtyard, the outer fa├žade of the lesser hall and its apartments with a completely new outer skin. Sir Rhys also enhanced the ceremonial entrance into the great hall by adding a large porch which had three shields emblazoned over the arch (see fig. 1 below). The middle shield was that of Henry VII – the royal arms of England – and to either side are Prince Arthur’s shield as the Prince of Wales, and Katherine of Aragon’s coat of arms.[1] This is not the only clue we have from Carew that Sir Rhys felt a deep connection with the Tudor dynasty. During archaeological excavations at the castle in the early 1990s, fragments of two ornamental dragon sculptures were found. From the surviving shards it can be deduced that the design appears to have been a three dimensional dragon (60-80 cm high) grasping a shield emblazoned with the three white feathers symbolic of the Prince of Wales.[2] Why did Sir Rhys feel such a deep connection to the Tudor dynasty, and Prince Arthur in particular? There seems to be two reasons for this.
            First, and most important, Sir Rhys and Henry Tudor both claimed descent from Ednyfed Fycham, therefore, a blood relationship was shared between the two families.[3] In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries lineage, in a very real way, meant honour. Only one obligation went deeper than that of honour: the obligation to kin. For a man’s very being as honourable had been transmitted to him with the blood of his ancestors, themselves honourable men. Honour, therefore, was not merely an individual possession, but one of the collective, or the whole of one’s lineage.[4] This sense of lineage and kinship became one of the strongest factors of identity for the nobility and gentry during this time. This identity usually focused on a place or name that might have taken its origins from the family’s hereditary residence, but more importantly, it represented the pedigree which was, by this time, best expressed through heraldry.[5] The forging of identities during these centuries, and indeed centuries to come, heavily relied on one’s ancestors and lineage. Sir Rhys lived his life honouring, and perhaps even flaunting, his ancestors and lineage. He even adopted his coat of arms, three ravens, from one of his most famous ancestors, Urien Rheged, king of Gower in Wales, and alleged knight of the round table to King Arthur.[6]

Figure 1: Porch Entrance.[7]
Second, there was a personal connection between the two houses which led to an undisputed bond. However, it was not Sir Rhys, but his son, Gruffydd ap Rhys, who had a close connection to the Prince of Wales. Much like Edward IV, Henry VII set up his son with an independent household and council based in the Welsh Marches at a very early age. By 1493 the council, household, and prince were established at Ludlow castle, and thereafter, Arthur spent most of his time in the Welsh Marcher counties.[8] Gruffydd ap Rhys was a member of the prince’s household by 1501 with the marriage of Arthur and Katherine of Aragon, and during the wedding festivities he was created a Knight of the Bath. He was most likely at Ludlow when Arthur died, he certainly bore the prince’s banner immediately before his coffin, and carried it during the requiem mass in Worcester Cathedral. When Gruffydd also died prematurely in 1521 his tomb was placed close to that of the prince.[9] It doesn’t seem likely that Prince Arthur ever made it to Carew so although the shields might have indicated a royal visit, it doesn’t seem likely. However, it is surely not too inconsequential to suggest that Sir Rhys envisaged that at some later date Arthur, accompanied by his new wife, would make a royal progress through Wales. Such a progress would have inevitably brought them to Carew Castle, in the company of Sir Rhys’s own son, and when they arrived, their shields, proudly displayed, would have greeted them, proclaiming Sir Rhys’s, and his family’s, fidelity to the Tudor dynasty.
This was certainly an age of displaying heraldry and all its concomitants of shields, crests, supporters, and mottoes which turned into a way of conveying information, but more importantly, to broadcast one’s status. The rise in putting ancestral shields within residences might be a result of the multitude of up-and-coming men of the Tudor period wanting to show they were not all that new; and in the same stroke for old families to flaunt their vast heritage. Although Sir Rhys’s family had always been prominent in Wales, they never made it to the peerage, until, of course, Sir Rhys was elected to the Order of the Garter by Henry VII in 1499. In a sense the Welshman was displaying two things with the shields. Firstly, he wanted to show the vast lineage of his family, and its bloodline to the new king, and secondly, he wanted to proudly display his loyalty to the new dynasty.


 Contributed by: Audrey Thorstad



[1] Carew Castle Archaeological Project 1993 Season Interim Report, ed. by D. Austin (Lampeter: University of Wales, Lampeter, 1995), p. 18 (hereafter CCAP).
[2] CCAP, p. 14-6.
[3] The Poetical Works of Lewis Glyn Cothi, ed. by J. Jones and W. Davies (Oxford: Royal Cambrian Institution, 1837), pp. 163-6. For a family tree, see R.A. Griffiths, Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family: A Study in the Wars of the Roses and Early Tudor Politics (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1993), p. 84.
[4] M. James, Society, Politics and Culture: Studies in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 316.
[5] Carpenter, Locality and Polity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 255.
[6] ‘A Short View of the Life of Rice ap Thomas’, in Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family: A Study in the Wars of the Roses and Early Tudor Politics, ed. by R.A. Griffiths (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992) , p. 160.
[7] http://www.castlewales.com/carew.html [accessed on 15/01/2013].
[8] W.R.B. Robinson, ‘Prince Arthur in the Marches of Wales, 1493-1502’, Studia Celtica, 36 (2002), pp. 89-97; S.J. Gunn, ‘Prince Arthur’s Preparation for Kingship’, in Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales: Life, Death and Commemoration, ed. by S.J. Gunn and L. Monckton (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2009), 7-19.
[9] J. Morgan-Guy, ‘Arthur, Harri Tudor and the Iconography of Loyalty in Wales’, in Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales: Life, Death and Commemoration, ed. by S.J. Gunn and L. Monckton (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2009), 50-63 (p. 52); Griffiths, Sir Rhys ap Thomas, p. 51;John  Leland, Collectanea, 6 vols (London : White, 1774), V, pp. 375, 377, 380.

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