Chirk and the Ceiriog Valley in Wrexham North Wales
Croeso Network

Tours in Wales - Thomas Pennant - 1810

Thomas PennantFROM hence I hastened towards Chirk castle, keeping a lower road between the two dikes. On approaching the village of Chirk, is a very deep valley, consisting of fertile meadows, watered by the brook Ceiriog, and finely bounded by lofty wooded banks. On the very verge of that next to Chirk, stands an artificial mount; and, I think, the vestige of another, on the other side of the road goes between them. These were exploratory, and probably designed also for defence; and might have had on them a small fort for the protection of the pass. I imagine these mounts to have been Saxon, and coeval with the great labor of Offa, which runs at a small distance from them.

IN this deep valley which winds along the foot of the vast Berwyn mountains, was a bloody conflict between part of the forces of Henry II. and the Welsh, in 1165. Henry had determined once more to attempt the subjection of Wales, and to revenge the ravages carried through the borders by its gallant prince Owen Gwynedd; for that end, he assembled a vast army at Oswestry. Owen, on the contrary, collected all his chieftains, with their dependants, at Corwen. The king, hearing that his antagonist was so near, resolved to bring the matter to a speedy decision. He marched towards him; and in this valley, finding himself intangled in impenetrable woods, and recollecting his ill-fortune among the forests of Eulo, directed his vanguard to make the passage clear by cutting down the trees, in order to secure himself from ambuscade. The pikemen, and flower of his army, were posted to cover the workmen. The spirit of the common soldiers of the Welsh army grew indignant at this attempt; and, without the knowledge of their officers, fell with unspeakable fury on these troops. The contest was violent; numbers of brave men perished; in the end, the Welsh retired to Corwen. Henry gained the summit of the Berwyn; but was so distressed by dreadful rains, and by the activity and prudence of Owen, who cut him off from all supplies, that he was obliged to return ingloriously, with great loss of men and equipage.

THIS conflict is sometimes called the battle of Corwen; but with more propriety that of Crogen; for it happened beneath Castelh Crogen, the present Chirk castle; and the place still called Adwy'r Beddau, or the pass of the graves of the men who were slain here.

Church of Chirk

THE church of Chirk is dedicated to St. Mary; and was formerly an impropriation belonging to the abby of Valle Crucis. Within is a profusion of marble, cut into human forms, memorial of the later lords of the place, or their ladies. The best
bust of Sir Thomas Middleton, with a peaked beard, long hair; armed: and by him is another of his lady, a Napier of Luton. Sir Thomas was a successful and active commander on the side of the parlement during the civil wars. Towards the end of his life, he found that he had undesignedly established a more intolerable tyranny than that which he had formerly opposed. In 1659, he took arms, in conjunction with Sir George Booth, in order to restore the antient constitution. Sir George was defeated by the vigilant Lambert; and Sir Thomas forced to take refuge in his castle, where, after two or three days shew of defence, he was constrained to surrender on such conditions as the conqueror was pleased to dictate. The family pedigree says that the castle was commanded by his son (afterwards Sir Thomas) when Lambert came before it.

THE other monuments are composed of large and very ill-executed figures of lady Middleton, wife to Sir Thomas Middleton baronet, son of the former. She was daughter of Sir Thomas Wilbraham of Woodhey; and died at the early age of twenty-two, in the year 1675.

SIR RICHARD MIDDLETON, and his lady, Frances daughter of Sir Thomas Whitmore of Buildas. He died in 1716; she in 1694. At their feet lies their son Sir William, the last baronet, who survived his father only two years, dying at the age of twenty-four.

ON a small mural monument, is an elegant epitaph on Doctor Walter Balcanqual, a Scotch divine of distinguished character. In 1617, he was appointed master of the Savoy hospital, which he soon resigned in favour of the able but desultory Marc Antonio di Dominis, archbishop of Spalatro, in reward for his conversion to Protestantism. In 1618, he was sent to represent his country in the famous synod of Dort. He was promoted to the deanery of Rochester; and, in 1639, to that of Durham; by his great loyalty, having rendered himself hated by his countrymen, he was, in 1645, obliged to take refuge in Chirk castle; but, sinking under the fatigue of journey, and severity of the weather, he died on Christmas-day. The epitaph was composed by Dr. Pearson bishop of Chester, at the request of Sir Thomas Middleton, by whom the monument was erected.

Chirk Castle

THE castle lies about a mile from the village, in course of Offa's dike, on the summit of a lofty hill, projecting from the great mass of the Berwyn mountains. Before the foundation of the present castle, stood another, called Castell Crogen; and territory around bore the name of Tref y Waun, the property of the lords of Dinas Bran. It continued in their possession till the death of Gryffydd ap Madoc, a strenuous partizan of Henry III. and Edward I. Edward, on the decease of Gryffydd, rewarded two of his favorites with the guardianship of the two eldest sons of Gryffydd: he entrusted Madoc to John earl Warren; and Llewelyn to Roger Mortimer, son of Roger baron of Wigmore: who, as before related, quickly dispatched the unhappy youths, and possessed themselves of their fortunes. Earl Warren, seized on the lordships of Bromfield and Yale; Mortimer on those of the present Chirk and Nan-heudwy. He became the founder of the castle. It continued in his family but a short time, being sold by his grandson John to Richard Fitz-alan earl of Arundel. The Fitz-alans possessed it for three generations; after which it passed to Thomas Mowbray duke of Norfolk, and justice of North Wales, Chester, and Flint, in right of his wife Elizabeth, elder sister to Thomas earl of Arundel. On the disgrace and exile of Mowbray, in 1397, it probably was resumed by the crown; and granted again to William Beauchamp lord of Abergavenny, who married the other sister; and by the marriage of his grand-daughter, sole heiress of Richard Beauchamp earl of Worcester , with Edward Nevil (afterwards lord Abergavenny) was conveyed into that family, in the reign of Henry VI.

THE next possessor which occurs to me, is the unfortunate Sir William Stanley, who, as Leland I says, 'repayred it welle.' After his ungrateful execution, it became forfeited to his rapacious master; and, as I conjecture, was bestowed, in 1534, along with Holt Castle (another of Sir William's castles) by Henry VIII. on his natural son Henry Fitz-roy duke of Richmond and Somerset. By his early death it reverted again to the crown.

IN the following reign, I imagine it to have been granted to Thomas lord Seymour, brother to the protector Somerset; for I find him in possession of Holt, to which it was an appendage.

ELIZABETH granted it, with the same lordships, to her worthless favourite Dudley earl of Leicester, On his death Chirk Castle became the property of lord St. John of Bletso; whose son, in 1595, sold it to Sir Thomas Middleton knight, mayor of London in 1614.

IN the year 1642, Charles I. by an order from Oxford, directed colonel Robert Ellyce, colonel of a regiment of foot, to possess himself of Chirk Castle, and to apply any money or plate he found there to the payment of his regiment, and then to deliver it to Sir Thomas Hanmer, whom his majesty had appointed governor. This gentleman was of Gwesnewydd near Wrexham, but descended from the Lloyds of Bodidris in Yale. He had served under Gustavus Adolphus, and was highly trusted by Charles. He had first a regiment of six hundred men, which being much weakened, he had a new commission, dated November 1643, for the raising of twelve hundred. Lord Capel also did him the honor of appointing him commander in chief (under him) of the counties of Denbigh and Flint.

THIS exalted pile has much to boast of in its vast view into seventeen counties, a most elegant and varied extent! The castle is square, and has five rounders uncommonly clumsy and heavy. Lord Clarendon and others speak of the entire demolition of this fortress after its reddition to Lambert. Only one side, with three towers, were pulled down, which Sir Thomas Middleton lived to re-build in one year.

THE chief apartments are a saloon, fifty - six feet by twenty-seven; and a drawing room within: a gallery, a hundred feet by twenty-two, filled with portraits. Among them are those of the duke of Ormond, and his son lord Ossory; the most virtuous characters, and the greatest ornaments of the vicious age of Charles II. admired, revered, unimitated. Ossory died before his father; who bore his loss with the firmness of a Roman, founded on the certain hopes of a Christian. I can scarcely say whether he passed a finer eulogy on his son, or satire on the times, by declaring, he would not change his dead son for any living one in EUROPE.

LORD KEEPER Sir Orlando Bridgeman, keeper of the great seals, in his robes, and with lank hair. He presided over two courts of justice with the most amiable character; and lost the seals for his refusal, in 1672, to affix them to the king's insidious declaration of liberty of conscience.

LADY BRIDGEMAN, second wife to Sir Orlando, and mother to Charlotte wife to Sir Thomas Middleton.

THOMAS MIDDLETON in armour; grey beard, and long black hair. The same gentleman who is mentioned in the account of the tombs.

His daughter, countess of Warwick, dowager to Edward Rich earl of Warwick, and afterwards wife to Mr. Addison, and the reputed cause of his intemperance.

THE usual appertenance to antient castles, the dungeon, must not be forgotten. The descent is by forty-two steps; but, according to the laudable usage of its present lord, the captives endure but a short and easy confinement; and even that passes imperceptibly, amidst the good cheer and generous liquors bestowed on them by the kind warder, to whose custody they are committed.

Barbarous Custom

RE-PASSING through the castle gate, I recollect a barbarous privelege, retained longer in this country than in any other part of Britain, that of exempting from capital punishment even the most atrocious assassin, by payment of a certain fine. This was practised by the lord marchers of these parts in the fifteenth century; and continued in Mowddwy in Meirioneddshire till it was abolished in the 27th of Henry VIII.

THIS custom was derived from the antient Germans, who accepted a fine of cattle as a compensation for murder; this satisfied the relations, and was not detrimental to the public, which could not fail being injured by the extension of private revenge.

THE Saxons continued the custom under the name of Were-geld; and accordingly set a price on every rank, from the king to the peasant. The head of the king was valued at thirty thousand thrymses, or 4,500l.; half to be paid to his relations, and half to the kingdom for the loss it had sustained: that of a countryman was esteemed at two hundred and sixty-six, or 39l. 18s.

THE Were-geld of a Welshman was very low; for, unless he had property enough to be taxed for the king's use, his life was not reckoned of higher price than seventy thrymses, or ten guineas. The money or fine was distributed, as in the time of the antient Germans, among the relations of the deceased; and oftentimes a part went to the lord of the soil, as a compensation for his loss.


THE Welsh had in like manner their Galanas and Gwerth, of the same nature with the former; but our fine was usually paid in cattle, the wealth of the country.

THE Gwerth was not only a compensation for murder or homicide, but for all species of injuries. To cuckold the prince was expiated at a very high rate; the offender was fined in a gold cup and cover, as broad as his majesty's face, and as thick as a ploughman's nail who had ploughed nine years; and a rod of gold as tall as the king, and as thick as his little finger; a hundred cows for every cantref he ruled over, with a white bull with different colored ears to every hundred cows.

THE recompence to a virgin who had been seduced is very singular: On complaint made that she was deserted by her lover, it was ordered by the court, that she was to lay hold of the tail of a bull three years old, introduced through a wicker-door, shaven, and well greased. Two men were to goad the beast: if she could by dint of strength retain the bull, she was to have it by way of satisfaction; if not, she got nothing but the grease that remained in her hands. I fear by this, and other penalties for the same offence, that the crime as not held by my countrymen to be of a very deep dye.

WELSH, SAXONS, and NORMANS, had each their pecuniary atonements for lesser injuries. A Welshman, for the loss of his finger, received one cow and twenty pence; of his nose, six oxen and a hundred and twenty pence; and for being pulled by the hair, a penny for every finger, and two-pence for the thumb, the instruments of the insult. The Saxons had similar :fines; and the Normans, like persons of nice honor, provided a penalty of five sous for a lug by the nose, and ten pour un coup au derriere.

THE Scotch had also similar compensations for homicides and injuries; which, in their old laws, passed under the name of Cro, Galnes, and Kclchyn: and lastly, the Irish had their Eric, or satisfaction for blood. In fact, it prevailed over all parts of Europe, with variations conformable to the several complexions of the country.

I CANNOT but relate the occasion of this digression. Two villains, who had committed a most horrid murder in the remote parts of Wales, fled into this neighborhood for protection, about the latter end of the fifteenth century. Two families at that time divided the country with their feuds; the Kyffins and the Trevors: who were ready at any time to receive under their protection, any banditti that were recommended to them by their remote friends, when their villanies rendered it unsafe for them to remain at home. The Trevors at this time gave asylum to these murderers. The friends of the person they had slain wished for revenge: being at that time in league with the Kyffins, a plot was laid to surprise the assassins. Jevan ap Meredydd, a gentleman of Caernarvonshire, who was most anxious to obtain redress for the injury, came over with six men, and was directed to keep himself concealed lest the Trevors should be alarmed, and frustrate his design. He accordingly kept within all day, and watched all night: at length the villains fell into his hands. The Trevors instantly pursued him ; when he was toId by the Kyffins, that if he was overtaken, and the offenders rescued, he would lose his revenge; for, according to the custom of the country, they would be carried before the gate of Chirk castle, and be instantly cleared; on the payment of five pounds, This determined Jevan to order his followers to strike off their heads on the spot. One of them executed his order but faintly; when the criminal told him, that if he had his neck under his sword, he would make it take a better edge. I wish the cause had been better, that applause might have been given to this contempt of death ; but such assassins as these could scarcely be animated with that prospect of immortality; which made their remote ancestors, inspired by the Druid songs, think it disgraceful to preserve a life that was so soon to return.

THE same consideration influenced the antient Danes; a warrior fell, laughed, and died. Thus was the end of the Scandinavian hero, Agnerus.

Herculè nemo illo visus mihi fortior unquam;
Semivigil subsedit enim cubitoque reclinis
Ridendo excepit lethum, mortemque cachinno
Sprevit: et Elysium gaudens successit in orbem.
Magna viri virtus, quæ risu calluit uno
Supremam celare necem, summumque dolorem
Corporis ac mentis læto compescere vultu!
                                                                    SAXO GRAMM. p. 36. I. 29.

Ne'er did I yet such fortitude behold!
By the stern king of terrors uncontrol'd
The hero fell. Upon his arm reclin'd,
Serene his features, and compos'd his mind.
Th' Elysian fields just op'ning to his view,
To Odin's hall with eager haste he flew:
With joy, with triumph, he resign'd his breath,
And smil'd away the agonies of death.

FROM Chirk, I made an excursion to Brynkinallt, about a mile below the village. This had been the seat of the Trevors, descended from, Ednyfed Gam, a descendant of Tudor Trevor.

THE house is of brick, built in 1619. In it is a good portrait of Sir John Trevor, master of the rolls, in the robes of his office, sitting. He enjoyed that place both in the reign of James II. and of William III. He was able, dexterous, and enterprizing; and in the reign of the first, had the graceful compliment paid to him of being the designed successor in the chancellorship to Jeffries, in case it was possible that the last could have been affected with any scruples. King William found necessary to make use of Trevor, who was appointed first lord commissioner of the great seal, and privy counsellor. He had been speaker of the house of commons in each reign. In that of William, he is recorded to have been the first who managed a party by buying votes, for which purpose he was intrusted with money by the court; but in 1694-5, was expelled the house for receiving a bribe of a thousand guineas from the city of London, in order to expedite the passing of the Orphan bill, which had long stuck in the house; and which he ought to have done from the sole motive of justice and compassion. The commons designed to have proceeded against him by impeachment; but the affair dropped by the prorogation of parlement. Yet his pride must have suffered most severely; for he was compelled officially to put the question to the house,'That Sir John Trevor, speaker of the house, by receiving a gratuity from the city, &c. &c. was guilty of a high crime and misdemeanor.'

By the marriage of his daughter Anne to Michael Hill esq. it passed into this family, and is now possessed by Arthur lord Dungannon, descended from Arthur Hill esq. second son of that match.

ON leaving Chirk castle, I ascended the front of Cefn Ucha, amidst the magnificent and flourishing plantations that arise under the direction of the present owner. This lofty hill extends towards. Llangollen, and affords a prospect uncommonly great. The distant view is boundless. One side impends over a most beautiful valley, watered by the Dee; diversified with groves, and bounded towards the end by barren and naked rocks, tier above tier.

DESCEND towards Llangollen, seated on the river, environed by lofty mountains. Enjoy a most beautiful ride by the side of the Dee. On the opposite bank, Trevor house makes a handsome appearance. It once belonged to the Trevors; passed by marriage to the Lloyds of Glanafon in Montgomeryshire, and again by the same means to the Lloyds of Pentre-hobin in Flintshire. Below it, almost at the water edge, is a grotesque antient house, which gives variety to the scenery, called Plâs yn Pentre, once the property of the Foulkes; in later days of the Skies of Oswestry.      



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