William had already taken on many of the duties of the lordship from his father when the inheritance was granted to him by the king on March 1, 1291. Their favourite residence in Gower was Oystermouth castle. (right)
True to his father's tradition, young William had law suits that had been rumbling on for years. In 1299 the Bishop of Llandaff succeeded in a plea to the king, who ordered William to answer for his misdeeds before the court and the royal justices. In 1306 William's tenants in Gower sought justice from the king, having taken the drastic step of deserting their lands. They accused their lord of failing to protect them and their rights. His neglect and mismanagement had disgraced the marcher lordships. William was forced to issue charters of rights for the burgesses of Swansea and his tenants in Gower.
Another case reached boiling point in 1307. William was ordered in court to give eight hundred marks to his father's third wife and widow, Mary de Roos. William mounted the bar in fury and bitterly insulted the judge. The king ordered him to walk from Westminster to the exchequer without his sword belt and with his head uncovered, to seek the judge's pardon. He was then put in the Tower of London for contempt of court. William was all but bankrupt and forced to sell his lands to pay his debts.
If William de Braose neglected his duties as a landlord, it was probably because his king demanded so much from him in war.
Edward I called out the feudal host in 1277 and began a determined series of campaigns to conquer Wales. His Welsh wars continued for twenty five years and brought an end to Welsh independence. William gained his early military education as a squire to Reginald de Grey, lord of Ruthin, who fought in Wales. William's father took men from Bramber and Gower to fight Llewelyn, the last great prince of Wales, who was killed in 1282. The siege of Emlyn (near Cardigan) in January 1288 illustrates what an enormous commitment the lords of Gower made to the Welsh wars.
William was still his father's heir when he fought to subdue Rhys ap Maredudd that winter. He had seven mounted knights and sixty three foot soldiers in his personal following. He raised another three heavy and eighteen light horse, two mounted and nineteen foot crossbowmen, and 400 foot. The army used hundreds of woodmen from the Forest of Dean to hack a path through the wooded mountains.
William also had an enormous siege engine. It was hauled across the difficult winter terrain on four carts, pulled by forty oxen which were later increased to sixty. He employed men to pick up 480 rocks on the beach below Cardigan and take them by sea and up the river Teify to Llechryd. From there the stones were carried by 120 pack horses.
The siege engine needed blacksmiths, mechanics, twenty four woodcutters to make a bridge for the assault, two master workmen and large quantities of pig fat to grease it. It was escorted by twenty horse and 463 foot soldiers, who were also William de Braose's men.
The siege began on New Year's Day and was over by January 20. Detailed administrative records of the siege still exist. They show that not one man was lost by the English force. Presumably the great siege engine and its 480 rocks wore down the Welsh defenders of Emlyn castle and persuaded them to surrender peaceably.
As the English crown subdued Wales, the autonomy of the marcher lords was inevitably the next royal target. Under Edward II William de Braose was the unwitting cause of a bloody showdown, after which the marcher lords were never to recover their former glory.
Tragedy accompanied the demise of the de Braose barony. William and his first wife, known only from surviving records as Agnes, had a son William. This son, the de Braose heir, died in 1320.
William married his second wife, the heiress Elizabeth de Sully, in 1317 but she remained childless. William's oldest daughter Joan married James de Bohun of Midhurst in about 1295, but she too died before her father in 1323.
In 1297 William had won the valuable wardship of John de Mowbray from the king in honour of his loyal service in Flanders. William betrothed ten year old John to his six year old daughter Alina and the young couple later became William's heirs. Gower was Alina's future inheritance but politics in the marches of Wales became increasingly hostile.
In 1320, after the death of his son, William sold the reversion of Gower to the earl of Hereford, Humphrey de Bohun, who wanted it for his son after Alina's death. William attempted some spectacular double dealings with his other warlike neighbours. While Humphry de Bohun, Roger Mortimer of Chirk and Roger Mortimer of Wigmore each claimed to have received charters confirming their purchase of Gower from William, Edward II promoted his self seeking favourite, Hugh Despenser. John de Mowbray decided to settle the issue by seizing Gower himself. All hell broke loose.
The king ordered the confiscation of Gower on October 26, 1320, because William had not sought a royal licence to "alienate" it to John de Mowbray. He sent a force to take it but at the little chapel of Saint Thomas, by Swansea castle, armed men were ready to prevent the seizure. Men of the king's own household returned on November 13 with a larger and more successful force. This was a challenge to the marcher lords' cherished autonomy. They rose in revolt. In August 1321 a baronial coalition in parliament banished Hugh Despenser and his father. John de Mowbray regained Gower.
Six months later a royalist resurgence prompted the Despensers' return. At the battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322 the royalists carried the day and the terrible slaughter on the rebel side was exacerbated by the executions which followed. John de Mowbray was drawn by three horses and hung at York. His body was left there in chains for three years. Alina had fled by boat to Ilfracombe in Devon but her hiding place was discovered. She and her son John were thrown into the Tower of London.
William was a broken man, forced to give his last remaining lands to the king for a life annuity. The outcome of Boroughbridge left him £10,000 in debt to Hugh Despenser. In his efforts to gain his daughter's freedom William submitted to the conniving schemes of the Despensers and relinquished almost everything he owned. From the Tower Alina described him as "frantic and not in good memory ". He never lived to see her free.
William died in 1326, ironically the year the Despensers were executed. The king was deposed the following January. Alina married Richard de Peshale, whom she met when they were prisoners together in the Tower, and together they held Gower until her death in 1331. Bramber passed to her son John de Mowbray.
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William de Braose
Mother: Alina de Moulton
Bramber Castle, West Sussex, England
May 1, 1326
Bramber Castle, West Sussex, England
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