Robert FitzHamon, The Twelve Knights & 'The Golden Mile'

Robert FitzHamon the Norman conquer of Glamorgan is thought to have been born somewhere between the years 1045 and 1055, in Cruelly, Calvados, France.

He is thought to have been the child of Hamo, Count of Corbeil and Elisabeth d'Avoye. Robert is thought to be the great grandson of Richard I of Normandy.

Not many details are known about Roberts life before 1087.

Robert became married to Sybil de Montgomery between 1087 - 1090. They went on to have four daughters including Maud FitzHamon and Isabella (or Hawisa) who is said to have married the Count of Brittany.

Although Robert FitzHamon founded Tewskesbury Abbey during 1087, the actual building of the present structure did not start until 1109, several years after his death. The abbey was apparently built under the influence of his wife, Sybil who was said to be a “beautiful and religious woman”.

Robert was a loyal supporter of William the Conquerors son,  William Rufus throughout the Rebellion of 1088 and he was rewarded the Lordship of Gloucester for his outstanding duties to the crown.

Later with the help of his carefully selected  “Twelve Knights of Glamorgan” FitzHamon became the  Norman conquer of Glamorgan, in doing so he fought and killed both Rhys ap Tewder and Iestyn ap Cwrgan. His main seat of Lordship for Glamorgan would have been at Cardiff Castle.

The story goes that Einon ap Collwyn was sent to convince Robert FitzHamon to help Prince Iestyn ap Cwrgan defeat his neighbour and rival Rhy ap Tewder. FitzHamon agreed to help but in return he asked for a ‘mile of gold’. It is thought to receive his reward FitzHamon lined a mile with Norman soldiers and tradition states that coins were placed “side by side” in front of the soldiers.

The 'Twelve Knights of Glamorgan' were the legendary followers of Robert FitzHamon. 
Together they conquered Glamorgan, South Wales. 

The Twelve Knights of Glamorgan: 
  • Sir William de Londres , Ogmore.

In 1116, William de Londres was forced to abandon the Castle of Ogmore when the Welsh appeared in force. His butler, Arnold is credited with protecting the castle from the Welsh attack during teh absence of William de Londres and for this he was knighted Sir Arnold Butler, also recieving the castle and Manor of Dunraven as a reward.

William or his descendant John built Ewenny Abbey one mile from the castle. Nearby was a religious place appeneded to Ogmore Castle by Maurice de Londres (The son of William) or his descendent John in 1141, Ewenny Priory is two miles from Ogmore Castle.

The lands passed in 1298 to the First Duke of Lancaster.

William de Londres and his son Maurice de Londres are also connected to the The Legend of Ogmore Castle

  • Sir Payne de Turbeville, Coity.

The de Tuberville family held the Lordship of Coity from c.1092 until c.1380. The Lordship is thought to have been founded by Sir Payne de Turberville.  He was given this Lordship in return for his services during the Norman Conquest. The Turberville Lordship was ended by the death of Richard Turberville, Sir Payne de Turberville's 6th great grandson in c.1380. He left no male heiress, leaving his sisters as four co-heiresses. His eldest sister Katherine married into the Berkerolles family which led the Lordship to be taken up by their family.

The descendants of Sir Payne de Turberville came to own Sker House during the late 1500’s. The family played a very important part in the affairs of the county as they had held the Lordship of Coity many years before.
  • Sir Richard Grenville, Neath.
  • Sir Robert St. Quintin, Llanblethian.
  • Sir Richard Siward, Talyfan.
  • Sir Gilbert Umfraville, Penmark.
  • Sir Roger Berkerolles, St. Athan.
  • Sir Reginald Sully,  Sully.
  • Sir Reter le Soare, Llanbedr-ar-Lai
  • Sir John Fleming, Wenvoe.
  • Sir Oliver St. John, Fonmon.

  • Sir William Stradling, St. Donat’s.
The Stradling Knight, who is believed to be an ancestor of Sir Edward Stradling of St Donats, comes under much scrutiny from many historians as it has been more recently determined that the first Stradling recorded in Glamorgan actually arrived later than FitzHamon.*

After Robert FitzHamon became the receiver of a serious head injury, he was “never the same mentally”. He then died two years later in (d.1107).  Robert is buried at Chapter House, Tewkesbury Abbey.

Below is the story of  'The Golden Mile' as told by Alun Morgan. 

Not far from Porthcawl, on the main A48 road to Cardiff, there is a very straight section of the highway which even today is known as ‘The Golden Mile’. Historians maintain, however, that the original ‘Golden Mile’ was a mile or two to the east of the stretch of road known today by that name -- nearer the village of Pentre Meyrick. This name is shown on very old maps and this is how the story came about.

Iestyn ap Cwrgan, Prince of Glamorgan, was always at war with a neighbour, Rhy ap Tewdwr (the Welsh often preferred fighting with each other rather than uniting against a foreign enemy). One day, being rather hard pressed, Iestyn sent a plea for help to the Norman Baron FitzHamon. The messenger he sent was a trusted follower, Einon ap Collwyn, himself a brother of a former prince of South Wales. Einon, if successful, was to have Iestyn’s daughter in marriage. FitzHamon listened carefully to Einon and promised aid on condition that he received a ‘mile of gold’.

Iestyn and FitzHamon then combined forces and defeated Rhys ap Tewdwr, who was chased and slain near Hirwaun. To receive their reward the Norman soliders lined up in one long rank along a path which became known as Y Milltyr Aur - The Golden Mile. Tradition has it that the coins were placed side by side in front of the men. But Iestyn did not keep his promise to Einon, so Einon went away and persuaded FitzHamon to come back and join forces with him against their former ally. The Norman required encouragement, for he saw his chance of great gain for himself against the quarrelling Welshmen. He joined forces with Einon and it was Iestyn’s  turn to be defeated and killed.

This story has given rise to a further legend for, in the eyes of most Welshman, Einon was now the traitor who, for his own ends, had laid his country open to attack and conquest by the Normans. This is the story.

A drover was once driving his cattle through the Vale of Glamorgan en route for the meat market of London. Feeling tired he rested in a shady nook and was surprised to see a fox creeping towards him. The fox had an old,  grey appearance and had a worried look on its face. The startled drover then heard the fox speaking. It explained that it was burdened with sorrow and distress. Overcoming his fear the drover laughed at which the fox became angry, explaining that he was really Einon ap Collwyn, who had betrayed the Welsh to the Normans. As a punishment for his sins he was doomed to spend the rest of eternity as a fox.

It is not difficult to understand why this story came about for in Welsh country districts the fox was regarded as the devil’s spy and many were the stories told about this animal. To see several together, for example was unlucky and to see a dark or black fox meant death  for the beholder. The sight of a grey or white fox indicated a mortality within one’s own family.

The drover, we are told, avoided that particular route on future occasions.

Illustration by Margaret Wooding

* Although the first Stradling recorded in Glamorgan was after the time of Robert FitzHamon, it may just mean that the Stradling Knight went unrecorded. 

Images: Tewkesbury Abbey Ewenny Priory - My Own

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