Abergavenny is a chiefly peaceful Welsh market town, so visitors may be shocked that here lies the site of one of the most heinous massacres in British history, even preceding the Scottish Black Dinner of 1440. Claire Barrand looks back on one of the bloodiest revenge acts in history which took place in her hometown, and as Christmas approaches so does the anniversary of the Abergavenny Massacre.
Established in 1087, by the Norman Lord Hamelin de Ballon, stands the remains of Abergavenny Castle. The Welsh borders were a treacherous place to live and by in 1100’s they were endless battle scenes between the English and the Welsh and the Castle changed hands more than once. When the Lord of Abergavenny, Henry FitzMiles was killed along with his only son and heir, his nephew, the 4th Lord of Bramber William de Braose inherited the Castle.
What followed has astonishing parallels to the Game of Thrones “Red Wedding” scene, as in 1175, William reached out to his uncle’s suspected murderer, Lord of Gwent Seisyll ap Dyfnwal, with a peace offering in the form of an invitation to a grand Christmas Day feast. The offer extended to Seisyll, his son Geoffrey and a great many Welsh Princes and leaders, declaring that he intended to build bridges and reconcile the differences between the English and the Welsh sides.
Seisyll was glad to make peace, and he arrived at the castle with all his family, followers and allies, and they customarily stacked their weapons outside and happily proceeded to eat drink and be merry.
However, at the height of the meal de Braose made a signal to his men who were lying in wait and the unsuspecting guests were all brutally massacred in a violent act of bloody slaughter. His act of revenge was heightened by the fact he had not forgiven Seisyll for his uncle’s death and blamed him.
Dozens of men, women, and children were ruthlessly murdered that night. Furthermore, he then went on horseback with his men to locate the seven-year-old surviving son of Seisyll named Cadwalladr and brutally butchered him in the arms of his mother too. The act did nothing to appease the hostility between Wales and England, and he earned his nickname “The Ogre of Abergavenny.”
The label seemed appropriate given his taste for particularly brutal acts of torture towards his prisoners even considering the times they were in; his actions were shocking to most. Favoured by King John of England de Brouse was exonerated for the atrocious act by Gerald of Wales who cited his generosity to local priories, and he went on to become the Sheriff of Herefordshire until 1199, then Justice Itinerant for Staffordshire.
His luck ran out though, as in 1882 the Welsh Lord of Caerleon too