Britannia, by William Camden


Small O ON the south of Radnor lies Brecknockshire, in British Brycheinog, so call’d, as the Welsh suppose, from Prince * * Girald. Camb. l.1. c.2.Brechanius, who is said to have had a numerous and holy Offspring, to wit, twenty four daughters, all Saints. This County is considerably larger than Radnorshire, but more mountainous; though in many places it has also fruitful Vales. It is bounded on the East with Herefordshire; on the South with Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire, and on the West with Caermardhinshire. But since nothing can be added in the description of this small Province, to what the industrious Giraldus Cambresis hath already written (who was Arch-Deacon hereof, † † Four, C.five hundred years since,) I may do well for some time to be silent, and to call him to my assistance.

Brechiniauc (saith he, in his Itinerary of Wales,) is a Land sufficiently abounding with Corn, whereof if there be any defect, it is amply supply’d from the borders of England; and is well stored with Pastures, Woods, wild Deer, and herds of Cattel. It hath also plenty of River-fish, on one side from Usk, and on the other from Wy; both abounding with Salmon and Trout, but the Wy with a better sort call’d Umbræ.Umbrae It is inclosed on all parts, except the North, with high mountains: having on the West, the mountains of Cantre-bychan; and towards the South, the Southern-hills, whereof the chief is call’d Kader Arthur; or Arthur’s Chair, from two peaks on the top of it, somewhat resembling a Chair. Which, in regard it is a lofty seat, and a place of strength, is ascribed in the vulgar appellation of it, to Arthur the most puissant and absolute Monarch of the Britains. A Fountain springs on the very top of this hill; which is as deep as a draw-well, and four-square; affording Trouts, tho’ no water runs out of it. Being thus guarded on the South with high mountains, it is defended from the heat of the Sun with cool breezes; which, with an innate wholsomness of the air, renders the Country exceeding temperate. On the East, it hath the mountains of Talgarth and Ewias.

On the North (as he saith) it is a more open and champain Country; where it is divided from Radnorshire by the river Wy: upon which there are two Towns of noted Antiquity, BûalhtBûalht. and Hay.Bualht Bûalht is a Town pleasantly seated, with Woods about it, and fortified with a Castle; but of a later building, viz. by the Breoses and Mortimers, when Rhŷs ap Gryffydh had demolished the old one. At present it is noted for a good Market: but formerly it seems to have been a place very eminent; for Ptolemy sets down the Longitude and latitude of it, and calls it Bullæum Silurum. Bullæum.Bullaeum ⌈Of this Town, in the year 1690. a considerable part (being that side of the Street next the river Wye,) was by a casual fire totally consumed. Whether this Bualht be the ancient Bullæum, or whether that City or Fort (allowing it to have been in this County) was not a place call’d Kaereu,Kaereu. some miles distant from it, may be question’d. At least it is evident, that there hath been a Roman fort at Kaereu: for, besides that the name implies as much (signifying strictly the Walls or Rampire,) and that it was prefix’d by the Britains to the names of almost all the Roman Towns and Castles; they frequently dig-up Bricks there, and find other manifest signs of a Roman work. It is now only the name of a Gentleman’s House; and not far from it, there is also another house call’d Castelhan. If it be urg’d in favour of Buelht, that it seems still to retain its ancient name, which Ptolemy might render Greek text: it may be answer’d, that Buelht,Buelht, what it signifies. which I interpret Colles boum, (Ox-Cliff or else Oxen-Holt,) was the name of a small Country here, from whence in all likelihood the ancient Bullæum (if it stood in this tract) was denominated: but that being totally destroy’d, and this Town becoming afterwards the most noted place of the Country, it might also receive its name from it, as the former had done. But (that I may dissemble nothing) since the congruity of the names is the main argument for assigning this situation to the ancient Bullæum Silurum; we shall have occasion of hesitating, if hereafter we find the ruins of a Roman Fort or City in a † † See Glamorganshire.neighbouring Country of the Silures, the name whereof may agree with Bullæum no less than Buelht.⌉fossil From this Town, the neighbouring part (a mountainous and rocky Country) is also call’d Bualht, into which, upon the Incursion of the Saxons, King Vortigern retir’d. And there also, by the permission of Aurelius Ambrosious, his son Pascentius govern’d; as we are inform’d by Ninnius, who in his Chapter of Wonders, relates I know not what prodigious Story of a heap of Stones here, wherein might be seen the footsteps of King Arthur’s Hound. Hay,Hay. in British Tregelhi (which in English we may render Haseley or Hasleton) lies on the bank of the river Wye, upon the borders of Herefordshire: a place which seems to have been well known to the Romans, since we often find their Coyns there, and some ruins of walls are still remaining. But now being almost totally decay’d, it complains of the outrages of that profligate Rebel Owen Glyn-Dowrdwy, who, in his march through these Countries, consum’d it with fire.

⌈Of this Owen Glyn-dwrOwen Glyndwr. or Glyn-Dowrdwy, is found the following account, in some notes of the learned and judicious Antiquary Robert Vaughan of Hengwrt Esq. “Sir Davidh Gam was wholly devoted to the interest of the Duke of Lancaster; upon which account it was, that Owen ap Gruffydh Vychan (commonly call’d Owen Glyn-Dwr) was his mortal enemy. This Owen had his education at one of the Inns of Court, and was prefer’d to the service of King Richard the second, whose Scutifer (as Walsingham saith) he was. Owen being assured that his King and Master Richard was deposed and murder’d, and being withall provoked by several affronts and wrongs done him by the Lord Grey of Ruthin his neighbour, whom King Henry very much countenanced against him; took arms, and looking upon Henry as an Usurper, caus’d himself to be proclaim’d Prince of Wales. And though himself were descended paternally but from a younger brother of the house of Powis, yet (as ambition is ingenious) he finds out a way to lay claim to the Principality, as descended by a daughter from Lhewelyn ap Gruffydh the last Prince of the British race. He invaded the lands, and burnt and destroy’d the houses and estates of “all those that favour’d and adher’d to King Henry. He call’d a Parliament to meet at Machynlheth in Montgomeryshire: whither the Nobility and Gentry of Wales came, in obedience to his summons; and among them the said David Gam, but with an intention to murder Owen. The Plot being discover’d, and he taken before he could put it in execution, he was like to have suffer’d as a Traitor: but intercession was made for him by Owen’s best friends, and the greatest upholders of his cause; whom he could not either honourably or safely deny. Yet notwithstanding this Pardon, as soon as he return’d to his own Country, where he was a man of considerable interest, he exceedingly annoy’d Owen’s friends. Not long after, Owen enter’d the Marches of Wales, destroying all with fire and sword; and having then burnt the House of Sir David Gam, it is reported that he spake thus to one of his tenants.”

O gweli di wr côch cam,
Yn ymofyn y Gyrnigwen;
Dywed y bôd hi tan y lan,
A nôd y glo ar ei phen

But to return.⌉

As the river Wy watereth the Northern part of this County, so the Usk, a noble river, takes its course through the midst of it. Usk, whence denominated. ⌈The British name of this river is Wysk, which word seems a derivative from Gwy or Wy, whereof the Reader may see some account in Radnorshire. At present it is not significative in the British; but is still preserv’d in the Irish tongue, and is their common word for water. There were formerly in Britain many Rivers of this name, which may be now distinguish’d in England by these shadows of it, Ex, Ox, Ux, Ouse, Esk, &c. But because such as are unacquainted with Etymological Observations, may take this for a groundless conjecture; that it is not such will appear, in regard that in Antonine’s Itinerary we find Exeter call’d Isca Danmoniorum from its situation on the river Ex, and also a City upon this river Usk, for the same reason, call’d Isca Leg. II.⌉

The Usk falling headlong from the Black-mountain, and forcing a deep Chanel, passes by Brecknock,Brecknock. the chief Town of the County, and placed almost in the Center of it. This Town the Britains call Aber-Hondhy,Aberhodni, Giraldo Camb. from the confluence of the two rivers, Hondhy and Usk. That it was inhabited in the time of the Romans, is evident from several Coyns of their Emperors, sometimes found there; ⌈and from a Roman Brick lately discover’d with this Inscription, LEG. II. AUG. as also from a square Camp near this place, commonly called y Gaer, that is, the Fortification; where Roman Bricks are frequently turn’d up by the Plough, with the same Inscription.⌉ Bernard Newmarch, who conquer’d this small County, built here a stately Castle, which the Breoses and Bohuns afterward repaired; and in our † † So said, ann. 1603.Fathers memory, King Henry the eighth founded a Collegiate Church of fourteen Prebendaries (in the Priory of the Dominicans) which he translated thither from Aber-Gwily in Caer-mardhinshire.Savedhan Savadhan coracles Lheweni

Two miles to the East of Brecknock, is a large Lake, which the Britains call Lhyn Savèdhan,Lhyn Savadhan. and Lhyn Savàdhan, i.e. a Standing Lake: Giraldus calls it Clamosum, from the terrible noise it makes, like a clap of thunder, upon the breaking of the Ice. In English, it is called Brecknockmere:Brecknockmere. it is two miles long, and near the same breadth; well stored with Otters, and also with Perch, Tench, and Eel, which the Fishermen take in their Coracls. Lhewèni, a small river, having enter’d this Lake, still retains its own colour, and, as it were disdaining a mixture, is thought to carry out no more, nor other water, than what it brought in. It hath been an ancient tradition in this neighbourhood, that where the Lake is now,See Caermarthen­shire. there was formerly a City, which being swallow’d up by an Earthquake, resign’d its place to the waters. And to confirm this, they alledge (besides other arguments) that all the high-ways of this County tend to this Lake. If this be true, what other City may we suppose on the river Lheweny, but Loventium,Loventium. placed by Ptolemy in this tract; which I have diligently search’d for, but there appear no where any † † Vid. Cardiganshire.remains, either of the name, or the ruins, or the situation of it. Marianus (which I had almost forgotten) seems to call this place Bricenaumere;Bricenaumere. who tells us that Edelfleda, the Mercian Lady, enter’d the Land of the Britains Anno 913, in order to reduce a Castle at Bricenaumere; and that she there took the Queen of the Britains prisoner. Whether that Castle was BrecknockBrecknock-Castle. it self, or Castelh Dinas on a steep tapering Rock above this Lake, remains uncertain; but it is manifest from the publick Records, that the neighbouring Castle of Blaen Lheveny,Blaen Lheveni-castle. was the chief place of that Barony which was the possession of Peter Fitz-Herbert, the son of Herbert Lord of Dean-forest, by Lucy the daughter of Miles Earl of Hereford.lhwch ⌈As to the sinkingThe sinking of a Town at the Savadhan, an erroneous tradition. of Lhyn Savàdhan abovementioned, we find the tradition of Cities being drown’d, apply’d to many other lakes in Wales; as Pwlh-Kynffig in Glamorganshire, Lhyn Lhan Lhŵch in Kaermardhinshire, Ylhyngwyn in Radnorshire, Lhyn Dekwyn ucha in Meirionydhshire and Lhyn Lhyngklys in Shropshire. All which I suspect as fabulous, and not to be otherwise regarded, than as one of those erroneous traditions of the Vulgar, from which few (if any) Nations are exempted. It cannot be denied, but that in Sicily, and the Kingdom of Naples, and in such other Countries as are subject to violent earthquakes and subterraneous fires, such accidents have happen’d; but since no Histories inform us, that any part of Britain was ever sensible of such Calamities, I see no reason we have to regard these oral traditions.

At a place call’d y Gaer near Brecknock, there stands a remarkable Monument in the high-way, commonly call’d Maen y Morynnion,Maen y Morynnion. or the Maiden-stone. It is a rude pillar, erected in the midst of the road, about six foot high and two broad, and six inches thick. On the one side, where it inclines a little, it shews the portraitures of a man and woman in some ancient habit. It seems to have been carv’d with no small labour, though with little art; for the Figures are considerably rais’d above the superficies of the stone, and all that part where they stand is depress’d lower than that above their heads or under their feet. That it is very ancient, is unquestionable; but whether a British Antiquity, or done by some unskilful Roman Artist, I shall not pretend to determine; but recommend it (together with the tradition of the neighbours concerning it) to the farther disquisition of the curious.Fred

And at Pentre YskythrogInscription at Pentre Yskythrog. in Lhan St. Frêd parish, there is a stone Pillar erected in the highway, about the same height with the former, but somewhat of a depress’d-cylinder form; with this mutilated Inscription, to be read downwards.


I suppose this Inscription (notwithstanding the name Victorinus) to have been of somewhat later date than the time of the Romans; and that it is only a Monument of some person buried there, containing no more than his own name and his fathers; N. — filius Victorini.

But this upon a CrossInscription at Vaenor. in the high-way at Vaenor-parish, is yet much later; the Inscription whereof though it be intirely preserv’d, is to me unintelligible; for I dare not rely on a slight conjecture that I made at first view of it, that it might be read, In nomine Dei Summi, Tilus: Tilaus or Teilaw being an eminent Saint, to whom many Churches in South-Wales are consecrated.

cross inscription

In Lhan Hammwlch Parish,St. Iltut’s Cell. there is an ancient Monument commonly call’d ty Ilhtud or St. Iltut’s Hermitage. It stands on the top of a hill, not far from the Church; and is composed of four large Stones somewhat of a flat form, altogether rude and unpolish’d. Three of which are so pitch’d in the ground, and the fourth laid on the top for a cover, that they make an oblong square Hut, open at the one end; about eight foot long, four wide, and near the same height. Having enter’d it, I found the two side Stones thus inscrib’d with variety of Crosses.

Crosses on a stone

I suppose this Cell, notwithstanding the crosses and the name, to have been erected in the time of Paganism; for that I have elsewhere observ’d such Monuments (to be hereafter mention’d) plac’d in the center of circles of stones, somewhat like that at Rolrich in Oxfordshire. And though there is not at present such a circle about this; yet I have grounds to suspect that they may have been carried off, and applied to some use. For there has been one remov’d very lately, which stood within a few paces of this Cell, and was call’d Maen Ilhtud; and there are some Stones still remaining there.⌉

In the reign of William Rufus, Bernard * * De novo mercatu.
Lords of Brecknock.
Newmarch the Norman, a man of undaunted courage, and great policy, having levied a considerable Army both of English and Normans, was the first that attempted the reducing of this Country. ⌈Having discomfited and slain in the field Bledhyn ap Maenyrch,Bledhyn ap Maenyrch. and seised on the Lordship of Brecon, and forced his son and heirR. Vaughan. Gwgan to be content with that share of it, which he was pleas’d, by way of composition, to appoint him, he gave him the Lordship and Manours of Lhan Vihangel Tal y Lhyn, part of Lhan Lhyeni and Kantrev Seliv, with lodgings in the Castle of Brecknock; where, in regard he was the rightful Lord of the Country, there was such a strict eye kept over him, that he was not permitted at any time to go abroad without two or more Norman Knights in his company.⌉ Which Bernard Neumarch having at length, after a tedious war, got this country out of the hands of the Welsh, he built Forts therein, and gave Possessions of Lands to his Fellow-soldiers; amongst whom the chiefest were the Aubreys, Gunters, Haverds, Waldebeofs, and Prichards; ⌈(of these, Roger Gunter, a younger brother of that Family, intermarrying with the daughter and heir of Thomas Stodey, 8 Hen. 4, settled at Kintbury or Kentbury in Barkshire.⌉ And the better to secure himself amongst his enemies the Welsh, he married Nêst,nest the daughter of Prince Gruffydh; who being a woman of a licentious and revengeful temper, at once depriv’d her self of her reputation, and her son of his Inheritance. For Mahel the only son of this Bernard, having affronted a young Nobleman with whom she conversed too familiarly; she (as the Poet saith)

Iram atque animos à crimine sumens,

Spur’d on by Lust to anger and revenge;

depos’d upon Oath before King Henry the second, that her son Mahel was begotten in adultery, and was not the son of Bernard. Upon which, Mahel being excluded, the estate devolved to his sister Sibyl, and in her right to her husband Miles Earl of Hereford; whose five sons dying without issue, this Country of Brecknock fell to the share of Bertha his daughter, who had, by Philip de Breos,Call’d also Braus and Breus. a son, William de Breos, Lord of Brecknock; upon whom the seditious spirit and * * Procax.shrew’d tongue of his ¦ ¦ Matildis de Haia.wife drew infinite calamities. For when she had utter’d reproachful language against King John, the King strictly commanded her husband, who was deep in his debt, to discharge it immediately. Who after frequent demurrings, at last mortgaged to the King his three Castles of Hay, Brecknock, and Radnor; which soon after he surprised with a mixt multitude that he had got together, and put the Garrisons to the Sword: he also burnt the Town of Lemster; and with fire, sword, and depredations, continu’d to annoy the Country, omitting nothing of the usual practices of Rebels. But upon the approach of the King’s forces, he withdrew into Ireland, where he associated with the King’s enemies: yet, pretending a submission, he return’d, and surrender’d himself to the King, who was about to follow him; but after many feign’d promises, he again rais’d new commotions in Wales. At last, being compelled to quit his native country, he died an Exile in France: but his wife being taken, suffer’d the worst of miseries; for she was starv’d in prison, and so, did severe penance for her scurrilous language. His son Giles, Bishop of Hereford, having (without regard to his nephew, who was the true heir) recover’d his father’s estate by permission of King John, left it to his brother Reginald; whose son William was hang’d by Lhewelin Prince of Wales, who had caught him in adultery with his wife. But by the daughters of that William, the Mortimers, Cantelows, and Bohuns, Earls of Hereford, enjoy’d plentiful fortunes. This Country of Brecknock fell to the Bohuns, and at length from them to the Staffords; and upon the attainder of Edward Stafford Duke of Buckingham, considerable revenues were forfeited to the Crown, in this County.

James Butler,Earl of Brecknock. afterwards Duke of Ormond, was created Earl of Brecknock, upon the Restoration of King Charles the second, in the year 1660.⌉

This County has 61 Parishes.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52