Stories from those who lived at Ruperra Castle.
A Little Boy's Story
Early memories of Ruperra by Howell Williams
I am unable to remember much of the first resident of the front room, hall, main stairs and bedroom facing the yard at Gwernleyshon but recall that a baker from away being an NCO in charge of training at Ruperra who stayed for some 12 months. When his replacement arrived he was married and it was welcome company for by mother. I was made a fuss of until I had my nose knocked out by the arrival of the new baby girl!
The new NCO trainer was from Leeds and they quickly became known as Auntie Helen and Uncle Albert (Seal). They stayed for nearly 2 years, he off in his uniform walking to the castle where the soldiers were mainly billeted in the new block of Nissan Huts on the west side of the castle. The offices, kitchen laundry and store rooms occupied the Bothy. I believe that at that time the stables were full of war machinery endless bits and pieces of redundant equipment and upstairs being used for overflow personnel.
We kept in touch for years afterwards even in the 1980s having the girl Christine visit with her husband and two grown-up children.
When I was about seven, we made the first of two trips to Leeds on the train. Although it seemed to me to be the other side of the world, I vividly remember the train journey to this day! Dad taking us to Newport in his pre-war car, Mam carrying her case, me with a small one and my little brother and sister. Change at Crewe, then on to the other big junction at Stalybridge to another railway company before arriving in Leeds and something new, train lines down the middle of the street! Right at the end of the train line in the country we came to their home. It was a three-bedroom flat in a huge house called Temple Newsam Hall which went with Uncle Albert’s job with the Health Authority. There was a big farm in with the hall but I was awake at 05:30 not by the cows but by the footsteps of its several hundreds of miners who had just got off the train to go to the colliery some miles down the lane, they all wore clogs.
The gardens and glasshouse at Ruperra must have had a big influence upon Uncle Albert’s life as on our second visit he was shortly to move into a nearby lovely gatehouse and the he later progressed to become the Head of the Parks and Gardens of the whole of the Health Board.
The Dutch Connection
On our welcome page, there is a reference in the introduction to the "Dutch born widow " of Lewis Morgan of Ruperra. You can now read an account of the historical background to the "dutch born widow". If you are a budding history student or just interested you may like to do a bit of your own research about the Dutch-Ruperra connection.
Part 1: The background - Who was Lewis Morgan of Ruperra’s Dutch born widow?
She was Anna, the daughter of Charles Morgan of Pencarn in Newport. In 2014 I walked the overgrown, rough stony site of where the house of Pencarn would have stood. Behind the business and industrial areas bounded by Cleppa Park and Coedkernew, there is evidence of Bronze Age and early mediaeval activity including a ‘settlement‘ at Pencarn. So it must have been a very desirable and beautiful place to live, with rich farmland around.
Anna’s father’s ancestors had acquired the lands of Pencarn through the marriage about 1430 between John Morgan ap Jenkin ap Philip, a Welsh lord of Caerleon, and Margaret Fleming, heiress of ancient Welsh estates in the Vale of Glamorgan. John Morgan was a lawyer, educated at Oxford University, and a parliamentary clerk. He supported Henry Tudor, and later becoming the bishop of St Davids. We know less of Margaret Fleming except that she was very rich and that they would have lived very privileged lives, so let us hope that they liked each other. On the left we can see how they may have dressed.
The Morgans of Pencarn lived interesting political lives, always supporting Henry Tudor’s claim to the English throne. They travelled in France and the Netherlands and held important positions as mercenary soldiers there. Henry VII‘s restoration of peace after the Wars of the Roses was disturbed in 1534 by his son Henry VII’s decision to end Roman Catholic religion in Britain by becoming Head of the Protestant Church in order to marry Ann Boleyn. The resulting plots and quarrels between Catholics and Protestants were eventually solved by more peaceful solutions in Elizabeth I’s reign, ending with the failure of the Catholic Philip II’s attempt to invade Britain by the Spanish Armada in 1588.
However, the matter was by no means settled in Europe. The small but heroic Dutch nation had been fighting for many years under the leadership of the equally heroic William the Silent of the House of Orange and his followers. His picture shows a wise but sad man. He wanted to free his country from the unwelcome rule of Roman Catholic Spain. Philip II of Spain may have failed to invade England but by 1600 he had a stranglehold on the Netherlands. The Morgans of Pencarn had rushed to help him.
Anna’s father, Charles Morgan, of Pencarn born in 1575, followed the military bent of his uncle, Sir Thomas Morgan "The Warrior", known as "The Knight of the Golden Armour" who is said to have been a brave soldier and a modest man which maybe his picture shows. He was appointed captain of the first company of staunchly Protestant Welsh volunteers, protégés of the Protestant Earl of Pembroke and sent to the Netherlands to assist the Dutch leader William of Orange. Sir Thomas became colonel of the regiment and trained English soldiers in the use of musketry. He acted as governor of Flushing and Bergen-op-Zoom until his death in 1597. He was rewarded for his distinguished service by both Elizabeth I and the Dutch States General. He travelled back and forth between Britain and the Netherlands and as Member of Parliament for Pembroke Borough, dealt with ‘the punishment of rogues’ and with distributing the financial contributions of both Houses of Parliament to relieve ‘poor maimed soldiers’.
Meanwhile Charles Morgan is said to have been of ‘fighting stock’ and ‘brought up to arms since he was 10 years old’. When Sir Thomas the Warrior had bequeathed him his suit of armour. Charles joined the struggle against the Catholics in Europe with his elder brother Sir Matthew Morgan, who had been knighted by the Earl of Essex in the siege of Rouen in France in 1591.
Charles, who was by 1593 a very young Member of Parliament for Brecon, became a Captain in Essex's famous Cadiz expedition of 1596. He fought again in 1601 at the siege of Ostend against the Spanish but survived the terrible loss of life, heavy casualties and destruction.
When James I became king in England in 1603, Charles’ mother, an uncle, a brother, a brother-in-law and many friends hoped that he would lead an armed rising against James! However, Charles was aware that the new king, although the son of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, had actually been brought up by Scottish Protestants, and so he refused. James rewarded him with a knighthood and he then returned to the Netherlands at the age of 28 as Sir Charles Morgan.
Part 2 of the story will tell about Sir Charles Morgan’s beautiful Dutch wife, the mother of Anna.
Part 2: Sir Charles Morgan’s beautiful Dutch wife
Although as we have seen, Charles Morgan took part in the siege of Ostaend, he then went to London to fulfil his duties as MP for Brecon following the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. At this time the return of Catholicism was greatly feared. Having been knighted by James I in 1603, he travelled frequently between London and Holland and continued to act as a general in the Dutch war against Catholic Spain.
At the same time, in Wales, Sir Thomas Morgan of Machen had married Margaret Lewis, heiress of Ruperra. The Morgans made some very good marriages at this time and our current hero Sir Charles Morgan of Pencarn, known in the Netherlands as General Karel Morgan married Elisabeth the daughter of the Belgian nobleman Philips de Marnix de Sainte Aldegonde. The Van Marnix family were extremely powerful and very close to William the Silent’s Orange royal family.
Philips of Ste Aldegonde’s strong protestant activities against the Spanish Catholic rule had caused him to flee and be imprisoned at one time by the Spanish Duke of Alba. Famous as a writer and statesman and probable author of the text of the Dutch national anthem, he was one of the earliest translators of the Bible into Dutch. He was also considered to be the first Dutch cryptographer or code breaker and deciphered secret messages intercepted from the Spaniards on behalf of William the Silent.
It looks as though General Karel had made a very good marriage and must himself have been considered a very worthy person. It leaves one thinking what sort of people he and Elisabeth Van Marnix were. Had they fallen in love, or had their marriage just been arranged? Except for the picture of Charles in which he looks older than the 31 years in 1606 when he returned to the Netherlands, we have no pictures of him as a young man or of Elisabeth herself. Some details of their wedding, which must have been luxurious, would be very acceptable.
In 1608 Charles and Elisabeth had a daughter Anna, but sadly Elisabeth died a week after giving birth. In 1611 Charles erected a monument to her in the Old Church in Delft. The tomb was made of black marble and her effigy lay on a mattress of white marble. A cast of her face was taken soon after her death, so perhaps we do indeed have an idea of what she looked like.
When baby Anna grew up she specified in her will that she should be buried with her mother in Delft. However Anna herself was a very robust person, outlasting two husbands, living through a very interesting period of British history and not dying until 1687, the year when a later William of Orange became King of England.
After his wife’s death Sir Charles would have continued to be part of the current cultural and political atmosphere in Parliament in London as well as commanding the British military contingent at Bergen op Zoom, where, like his uncle ‘the Warrior’ he served as governor helping in the defence of Protestantism in the Netherlands and in Denmark.
He died in 1643 still hoping to recruit for the depleted company of one of his Welsh captains. The Earl of Essex had earlier called him ‘This honest and brave Captain’, but we can see that he was more than that. The monument that his daughter Anna erected to him at Bergen op Zoom, as well as the one that he had erected to his wife Elisabeth in Delft, are prime examples of the depth of his cultural appreciation of monumental architecture. Influenced by up to date British design they were constructed by Dutch sculptors, possibly working in Britain, but heralding a new era of sculpture to the Netherlands.
At his death a church bell was rung every hour in his honour ‘with no charge being made for this’.
In the next part we can follow the exploits of Anna Morgan, the ‘Dutch born Widow’!
Part 3: The Life of baby Anna Morgan 1608 -1687
Sir Lewis Morgan, the eldest son of Sir Thomas Morgan of Machen and his wife Margaret Lewis of Ruperra, was born in 1606. At the age of 18 he went to Jesus College Oxford like many sons of Welsh gentry. Having moved to the Middle Temple in 1626, he studied law at Leiden University in Holland. There he met and married in 1627 Anna Morgan daughter of his kinsman General Sir Charles Morgan of Pencarn. At first he was known as Anna Morgan’s cousin Louis!
Elected as Member of Parliament for Cardiff in 1628, and a political protégé of the Earl of Pembroke, he lived in a house on the Earl’s estate. Lewis sat in Parliament for only one year because Charles I decided to rule without Parliament, but he knighted him in 1629 at Whitehall.
Anna would have spoken several languages possibly including the Welsh spoken at Wilton House where her father-in-law Sir Thomas of Ruperra was steward to the Earl of Pembroke.
In 1631 Lewis and Anna lived at Ruperra Castle, newly built in 1626. They had two children, Thomas, the heir who died unmarried in 1654 and Elisabeth who married Edmund Thomas of Wenvoe in 1652. Sadly Sir Lewis died in his house in Hampstead when he was 29 and Anna 27.
In 1646 Anna married Walter Strickland at Delft in Holland. Already known at home as a reckless young man, Walter was prepared to take risks, and Anna was accustomed to supporting devotion to a cause. At the start of the Civil War in 1642 Walter, already a staunch supporter of Parliament became a member of Oliver Cromwell's inner cabinet. Parliament now appointed him Ambassador-General at the Hague with an annual salary of £400, a position designed to stop the Dutch giving financial help to King Charles, whose sister, Princess Mary Stuart had married Prince Frederick of Orange. The end of the Civil War in 1648 saw even more Dutch support for the Royals and Walter’s salary was raised to £600 in appreciation of his dangerous situation. He was frequently threatened and one of his old time Dutch colleagues was murdered in cold blood. After the execution of the King in 1649, the rifts grew deeper.
At home, the loyalty of the Pembrokes and the Morgans to the Parliamentary cause did not prevent Charles I, after losing the Battle of Naseby in 1645, from inviting himself to Ruperra Castle to organise military help against Parliament’s siege of Hereford Castle. No help was forthcoming but the visit certainly put Ruperra on the map as “The only building fit for a king in South Wales at the time”. Indeed Charles was impressed with the Castle and sent his top advisers, Isaac de Caux and Inigo Jones to help with the design of the gardens at Ruperra.
The end of the War and the execution of the King saw Anna and Walter returning from Holland in 1651. Walter was now one of only four civilians out of thirteen elected by the army to rule in Parliament in Cromwell’s Council of State and to invest Cromwell as Lord Protector. Walter’s peerage however, did not survive Charles II’s restoration to the throne in 1660, although the new King did not consider him a threat any more. He and Anna had no children and Walter died in 1671 when he was 73 and Anna 63.
Anna later married her third husband, High Sherriff John Melbourne who also had supported parliament in the Civil War, allowing parliamentary troops to be garrisoned at his 17th century mansion, Wonastow Court, and their horses stabled in the church. It seemed that Anna’s choice of husbands reflected her own inclination.
Anna’s life spanned the 17th Century Dutch Golden Age which despite the 80-year war with Spain, saw art, science, trade and military expertise flourish. She herself had many friendships with outstanding Dutch figures of the time. One was Constantin Huygens, a diplomat, latinist, poet, and musician whose promotion of Dutch monumental sculpture, came alive in Charles Morgan’s tomb that Anna erected in Bergen op Zoom, depicting herself and her children looking down in tribute to her father’s tomb.
By 1652 however, Cromwell’s Navigation Act was straining relationships between London and Holland despite the past help of the English and the Welsh in the war with Spain. Now the English Navy tried to prevent Dutch vessels trading with America, even seizing them.
Constantin Huygens was at the forefront of a diplomatic visit to Lord Protector Cromwell in 1652. He arranged for his son Ludovic to accompany him and to met Anna at her home in Chelsea. There, unfortunately too busy to leave the preparations for her daughter Elisabeth’s wedding to Thomas of Wenvoe, she masterminded visits to historic buildings for Ludovic and his party, with catering provided.
The 20 year old Ludovic gives an unique description of Ruperra Castle, less than 30 years old but already famous.
Meantime Dutch Admiral Van Tromp forgot to lower the Dutch flag in English waters. A warning shot accidentally hit the Dutch flagship the Brederode and the first Dutch War began.
Anna Morgan now a naturalised British Citizen, sailing back to Holland with her son at the time, ran into one of the warring fleets. We are not told which one! A diplomatic incident!
Anna died in I687 at her home in Chelsea. She was buried with her mother, Elisabeth Van Marnix at the Old Church in Delft.
Part 4: Battle at Antwerp between the French and the Spanish
In Part 3 our story had moved on from Charles Morgan of Pencarn. The Eighty Years war between the Dutch and the Spanish had finished in 1648 and the Netherlands were free to carve their own history in the world.
Prince Maurice of Orange and Nassau, son of William I, the Silent, and one of the finest generals of his age had carried on his father’s struggle until his death in 1625. He was succeeded by his half brother Prince Frederick Henry, William the Silent’s youngest son born some months before his father’s assassination in 1584. Prince Frederick was as good a general as his brother, and a far more capable statesman and politician, playing a full part in the Politics of the Netherlands.
By the 1630s the war had run its course. The Dutch had learnt great military skills while the Spanish were running out of money. It is amazing that such a small country could have made so much trouble for the Spanish for all those years.
Here is the copy of a hand written letter of 1635 from Sir Charles Morgan, probably to his regiment. It relates to a battle at Antwerp between the French and the Spanish. Relations between the Dutch and the French may have reflected Prince Frederick’s connection with his mother, the daughter of the French Huguenot Coligny.
Sir Charles Morgan would have cherished his friendship with Prince Frederick Henry. Neither would have taken any physical part in the siege of Antwerp. Charles was glad to be given the details of the amount of Spanish military equipment taken and Spanish leaders killed. Sir Charles died in 1643 aged 68 and Prince Frederick in 1647 aged 62.
In 1650 Prince Frederick Henry's son, William II of Orange, died suddenly. He had married Princess Mary Stuart eldest daughter of Charles II, King of England. William left a small baby boy who was later to become William III of England in 1687.
I have been with the prince* on Wednesday. Late on Sunday I understood from the prince about his great battles taking place between the Spaniards and the French, commanded by Marshal Schatilion and the prince Tomase, who captured the governor of Antwerp castle**. Also Laderon, Fronderato with most of the captains of the regiment were captured, then more than six dozen plates(?), (so te pard als te vote)?, sixteen items of muskets (?) and in the end seventeen cannons, that were well gained despite the cunning brought about by the Spanish, which caused Phillepin, monsieur de Houtrine to be hit in the leg, caused by the brutality of war, which is a consequence, gentlemen, of those who start the war.
So remaining forever,
Sirs, with affection,
to the end of time
* the Prince was Frederick Henry of Orange.
** The Dutch had been trying to recapture Antwerp Castle fortified and held by the Spanish since the 16th century.
The letter was written in Old Dutch and the person who translated it for us could not manage a few words in the fifth line down. If you are a budding linguist please have a go!