The Lords of Chepstow - Sarah Woodbury

The Lords of Chepstow

This video focuses on two sites in South Wales established by the Lords of Chepstow: Chepstow Castle and Tintern Abbey

Chepstow Castle was begun in 1067 by the first Earl of Hereford, William Fitz Osbern, who was a close friend of William the conqueror. As you can see by the early date at which the first motte and bailey castle was begun, Chepstow was seen as a crucial early castle for control of the March. It is located on the western, or Welsh, bank of the Wye River, and thus for hundreds of years gave the Normans a foothold in Wales. Crucially, though it is in Wales, it can be supplied from the river in the event of a siege.

Subsequent Lords of Chepstow included William Marshal, the Earl of Pembroke and Roger Bigod, the Earl of Norfolk, each of whom improved and rebuilt the castle until it became the fortress we see today. 

At the same time Roger Bigod was making improvements to the castle, between 1272 and 1278, he also built walls around the town of Chepstow. These once stood up to 13ft/4m high, and stretched for almost three quarters of a mile from the west end of the castle all the way to the River Wye in the south. At one time they enclosed not only the medieval town, but the port and a large open area of orchards and meadows.

Extensive sections of the wall still stand, along with the town gate and remains of several of 10 semi-circular towers.

Tintern Abbey was a Cistercian Abbey, the first in Wales, and was founded in 1131 by Walter fitz Richard de Clare, the Norman Lord of Chepstow at the time. As I talked about in the second season of Making Sense of Medieval Britain, one reason the Norman conquerors established monasteries was in order to use religion, particularly a more Norman version of Christianity, brought in from the Continent, to control the populace. The Normans did this first throughout England to control the Saxons and then in Wales to control the Welsh. The monks who joined Tintern Abbey, for example, were not Welsh but Norman, many brought in from Normandy itself..

Tintern was always closely associated with the lords of Chepstow, who were often generous benefactors. The most involved was Roger Bigod, great-grandson of William Marshal. He undertook the rebuilding of the church in the late 13th century, and in gratitude the abbey put his coat of arms in the glass of its east window. It is the ruins of Roger’s church which dominate the site today.

Over the centuries, the Lords of Chepstow (including William Marshal and Roger Bigod) continued to support Tintern and it thrived up until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *