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Lord of Brecon 1091?-1093
Born c 1050 Died 1093

According to Orderic Vitalis he was a member of a powerful Norman family from the town of Aufay near of Dieppe, established by one Gilbert of St Valeri, who established his fortune by marrying a daughter of Richard, Duke of Normandy.

Bernard was born naturally enough. in Neufmarche near Rouen in Normandy, sometime around the year 1050. If he participated in the invasion of England, he played only a very minor role, as his name is not mentioned in the Domesday Book and he was granted no land in England. However by 1086 he was in attendance at king William's court, and sometime between 1086 and 1088, he came into possession of a number of estates in Herefordshire that had originally been held by two gentlemen by the names of Gilbert Fitz-Turold and Alfred of Marlborough. It was soon after this that he married Agnes1. a daughter of Osbern Fitz-Richard another Herefordshire landowner and obtained further estates of Beryngton and Little Hereford as a result.

Bernard of Neufmarche consequently held a group of estates lying within the Herefordshire side of the Wye Valley and from which an an old Roman military road led straight towards the Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog. As it was, it appears that royal policy at that time was to maintain the status of the minor Welsh kingdoms such as Brycheiniog as buffer states between Rhys ap Tewdwr's Deheubarth and the border earldoms of Hereford, Shrewsbury and Chester, and as tempting a target as it might be, the constraints of royal policy where such that he had to stay his hand for the moment.

During 1088 a number of the Norman magnates of the Welsh Marches rose up in a revolt led by Odo of Bayeux against William Rufus and in favour of his brother Robert, which was suppressed fairly rapidly. Bernard of Neufmarche supported the revolt but in common with most of the other participants received no punishment at all, almost the opposite in fact; William Rufus' response seems to have been to remove the constraint on westward expansion.

The conquest of Brycheiniog

During 1088 Norman policy towards the Welsh frontier changed, attempts by the crown to maintain the status quo were abandoned and the border magnates given tacit permission to commence offensive operations against Wales. It is likely therefore that during the autumn of 1088 Bernard began his first encroachments into the kingdom of Brycheiniog and advanced as far as Glasbury, as a charter of 1088 records his name as the donor of certain lands there to the Abbey of St Peter's in Gloucestershire.

Within the next two years he had seized control of the commote of Bronllys and erected a castle there at the confluence of the Dulais and Llyfni rivers. He then worked his way south, along the course of the Llyfni river, extending his control into the upper reaches of the Usk valley. In in about 1091 he reached the point where the river Usk meets the Honddu and there he built another castle at this key strategic location at the very heart of Brycheiniog. This castle, and the later town that grew alongside it, he christened 'Brecknock' ? and there he established the capital for his new domain.

Bernard then spent the next two years gradually expanding his control over the remainder of Brycheiniog, but in the Easter of 1093 a Welsh army led by Rhys ap Tewdwr, ruler of Deheubarth and Bleddyn ap Maenarch, king of Brycheiniog, came forward to challenge him and seek to drive him out of Wales. The two forces met somehwere near the site of the castle at Brecon and there Bernard of Neufmarche was victorious, both Rhys ap Tewdwr and Bleddyn ap Maenarch were killed and the Welsh forces defeated. This victory naturally left Bernard free to consolidate his grip on the whole of Brycheiniog and transform the old kingdom into the new marcher lordship of Brecon.

The Lordship of Brecon

Bernard unfortunately did not have long to enjoy the fruits of his victory as died in 1093 shortly after his defeat of Rhys ap Tewdwr. His marriage had produced no sons, only a daughter named Sybil, so the newly minted lordship of Brecon passed into the hands of Sybil's husband Miles Fitz-Walter, earl of both Gloucester and Hereford. That marriage similarly resulted in a single daughter named Bertha who married one William de Braose, into whose hands the lordship then passed and in whose family it remained for a century or so.


NOTES

1 Who often seems to be referred to simply as 'Nest'; whether this is due to confusion with Osbern Fitz-Richard's wife who was named Nest and daughter of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, or whether it is because Agnes was also known as Nest to her Welsh relations is not clear.

2 Brecknock pronounced phonetically is a Norman approximation of the Welsh Brycheiniog, which is rendered into the modern English as Brecon.


SOURCES

  • The Normans in South Wales 1070-1171 by Lynn H. Nelson (University of Texas Press, 1966)
  • A History of Wales by John Davies (Allen Lane 1993)
  • The Normans by David C Douglas (Folio, 2002)
  • The Welsh Kings by Kari Mundi (Tempus 2000)

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