The Norman Invasion of Wales
We will never know what Harold Godwinson's long-range plans for Wales were (see the previous article). In the brief time between his accession and his defeat at the Battle of Hastings by William the Conqueror, Harold gave no sign that he was intending to take personal control of Wales by force.
It is possible that he merely wished to prevent a powerful leader like Gruffudd ap Llewelyn from uniting all of Wales again. Certainly, Wales was anything but united in the wake of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn's death.
Gwynedd and Powys were divided under Gruffudd's half-brothers, and the rest of his domains were parcelled out among his former enemies. Gwent and Gwynllwg were ruled by Caradog, Glamorgan was regained by Cadwgan, and Deheubarth fell to Maredudd ap Rhydderch.
None of these leaders were able to rest easy. In a bewildering series of internecine battles and betrayals, all these men were dead by 1081. The two rulers left standing when the dust cleared were Rhys ap Tewdwr in Deheubarth and Gruffudd ap Cynan in Gwynedd. But the Welsh had other worries than their internal enmities.
William the Conqueror, though he seems to have had no intentions of invading Wales, wanted to ensure the stability of the frontier. Rather than trying to hold the border himself, he gave lands along the Welsh hinterland to his strongest and most loyal supporters.
Roger Montgomery received Shrewsbury, William Fitzosbern got Hereford, and Hugh of Avranches (Hugh the Fat) was given Chester.
These barons encouraged their followers to push gradually westward into Welsh territory. The Normans possessed several "weapons" which gave them an advantage over the Welsh. The Norman knights were better armoured and horsed than the Welsh, and they erected castles to hold each parcel of the territory they carved from Welsh holdings.
The early Norman castles were simple motte and bailey affairs; basically an earthen mound surrounded by a wooden palisade. These wooden castles were gradually replaced by more massive - and more easily defended - castles of stone.
William Fitzosbern overran the kingdom of Gwent, but he had no time to enjoy his triumph. He died in 1071 and when his son was imprisoned for treason in 1075 the Earldom of Hereford was abandoned. Although this initially gave the Welsh in the south-east a breathing space, their relief was not to last long. A number of Norman landowners established small fiefdoms along the border.
William visited Wales in 1081, making a pilgrimage to the shrine of St David, a visit that allowed him to display his wealth and power to the Welsh. Although William acknowledged Rhys of Deheubarth as ruler of that kingdom, Rhys wisely agreed to pay Willliam an annual tribute. Gruffudd ap Cynan was not so lucky - he was captured by Hugh the Fat of Chester and kept in prison for 12 years.
Hugh's cousin Robert took much of Gruffudd's lands, and the Normans seem to have regarded Gwynedd as a part of their kingdom. But the threat to Welsh territory did not stop at Gwynedd.
Roger, Earl of Shrewsbury pushed deep into Powys. Around 1086 he built a castle at the ford of Rhydwhiman across the Severn, and named the place Montgomery.
In 1087 William the Conqueror died, to be replaced on the English throne by his second son, also named William. The second William was not the forceful ruler his father had been, and he did nothing to restrict the ambitions of the Normans in Wales.