WHO WAS SIR ROBERT POUNDERLING?
By Darrell Wolcott
Cited as the founder
of several Denbighshire and Flintshire families and the ancestor of Madog Rwth of c. 1295, the traditional identification
of this Norman knight is summed up by J.Y.W. Lloyd in these words:
"Sir Robert Pounderling,
Knight Banneret, Captain of Englefield (Tegeingl), and Constable of Diserth Castle, temp Edward II, lived at Siambr Wen, a
house yet known by that name in the parish of Diserth....His recumbent effigy in complete armor is still to be seen on his
stone monument at the west end of Tremeirchion Church, and is in excellent preservation. An anecdote is preserved of
him, to the effect that having had one of his eyes knocked out by a Welsh gentleman, on being asked why he had not challenged
another Welshman who had insulted him at Court, he replied that he had no wish to lose his other eye."
When we look to the various sources
which Lloyd used in 1885 to paint his biography, it becomes clear most of it is either heresay, conjecture, or both.
The earliest mention of this knight was by John Leland in the manuscripts he wrote during his "Itinerary in England and Wales
in or about the years 1535-1543." Here, we are told:
"Salisbyri, knight of Denbigh land,
told me that emong other thinges was a conestable of Dissart Castelle caullid Syr Robert Pounderling knight, a man of great
p... there and yn his Prince fa...and of so valiaunt corage that...there ordenid thereby the...a tylte for justes. And
at this place yn a certen chalenge one Theodore, a gentilman of Wa...did streek out one of Pounderlinges yes: and after this
Theodore cumming to the King of Englandes courte, and not thoroughly knowen but seen to be a man of a right goodly stature,
and be likelihod of strenkith: and to provoke him feates of armes, they...knowing that it was he that had streken owt Syr
Robert Pounderlinges [eye] brought the same Pounderling to chalenge hym at feates of armes; but when he saw Theodore
he saide that he entended that he should not strilke out his other yee".
Perhaps by the time this version
of Leland's manuscript was published in 1964, it had become illegible in places, accounting for the missing words designated
by "..." in the above paragraph. But Thomas Pennant recites the same tale in 1781 and says his information came from
Edward Llwyd's 1696 "Itinerary of Wales" and from Leland's manuscript. Pennant's version says:
"In a field a little to the
south of the castle (Diserth) is a ruinous building called Siamber Wen. This is said to have been the seat of a Sir
Robert Pounderling, once constable of the adjacent castle, a knight valiant and prudent, who had one of his eyes knocked out
by a gentleman of Wales in the rough sport of tournament; but being requested to challenge him again to "feates of armes"
on meeting our countryman at the English court, declined the combat, declaring that he did not intend that the Welshman should
beat out his other eye".
To demonstrate how such
tales evolve with subsequent tellings, Thomas Griffith in his 1830 "Gwyneddion:
An Account of the Royal Denbigh Eisteddfod, Sept 1828" relates it thusly:
"I must not pass
by without noticing a curious circumstance that took place in the neighborhood, between Sir Robert Pounderling, Constable
of this castle, and a valiant Welshman called Theodore. Sir Robert was celebrated for his prowess at tournaments, not
only in brandishing a sword or handling a lance, but particularly so in the pugilistic art. Notwithstanding all this,
at a tournament held in this county, the gallant Welshman accepted his challenge, and in the combat struck out one of Sir
Robert's eyes. When a similar fete was proclaimed to be held at the English court, our countryman attended and challenged
his old antagonist. Sir Robert, profiting by past experience, declined the combat, which showed that he not only possessed
valor but prudence, alleging as a justifiable apology, that he felt no inclination, nor indeed had the least desire, to run
the risk of having his other eye knocked out by a Welshman."
Quite obviously, it
is only oral lore around Diserth, Tegeingl that a Sir Robert
Pounderling (a) was a constable of Diserth Castle, (b) resided at ruins near that castle now known as Siambr Wen (the
white chamber), or (c) lost an eye to a Welshman during a tournament. His earliest mention in pedigree materials was
in Peniarth Ms 127 written perhaps 10 years before Leland's work. The families said to descend from him point to
a birthdate c. 1180 and is consistent with him having been knighted during the reign of King John (1199-1216). If he
lost an eye as a young knight, he might have been given a non-combat position in his middle years by Henry III, but he would
have been long dead before the birth of Edward II. Lloyd's description of him as a Knight Banneret and Captain of Tegeingl
is nowhere supported in other sources. And his version of the events after the injury to Sir Robert does not agree
with the earlier sources.
The first assertion we
shall examine is that Sir Robert Pounderling lived at Siambr Wen near Diserth Castle. In the October, 1847, volume of
Archaeologia Cambrensis, the founder and editor of that journal, Harry Longueville Jones, wrote an article after personally
examining the ruins known as Siambr Wen. It was his conclusion that it was impossible to date when the structure was
built, but that it had no characteristics which were consistent with it ever having been a residence. In its interior
was a 6' x 6' pool apparently once a well but now its waters were barely discernible. Jones surmised that this was once
a holy fountain fit for the purposes of immersion and the remainder of the structure had a decidedly ecclesiastical form which
might have been a chapel. He added that the gables and arches which formed the northern and southern T-shaped ends appeared
to be styles from the mid-1400's.
One might suppose that
the constable of a castle would have a chamber within it for his living quarters, and we suggest that neither Sir Robert,
nor anyone else, ever lived at Siambr Wen. And we have only the word of "Sir Salisbury" that he was even connected
with Diserth Castle.
We now turn to the claim
that his effigy lies at Tremeirchion Church some 4 miles southeast of Diserth. It is true that the effigy of a knight
is located in this church, but not in "excellent preservation". The feet were missing and the carving on the mail was
worn away by 1890 when Stephen W. Williams examined it and submitted a drawing of it to Archaeologia Cambrensis. In
his article, Williams said he submitted the drawing and his discriptions of the effigy to the Baron de Cosson, an authority
on armour, who dated it to the late 13th century c. 1270/80 with one feature previously unknown until 1311. The effigy
is wearing a shield bearing a lion rampant within a border (carved in stone
and uncolored), arms that none of the descendants of Sir Robert claimed.
It is our belief that
the effigy depicts an unknown knight which local lore has identified as Sir Robert Pounderling to enhance the tales told of
him. It appears to date 100 years later than his birth and over 200 years before the "Salisbury" to whom Leland spoke.
The strong possibility that
he neither resided at Siambr Wen nor had a stone effigy made of him does not mean the entire oral tale is a legend.
There might have been a young knight, skilled at tournaments, who lost an eye and was later given a royal job at Diserth Castle.
But was his surname Pounderling? Outside of the material quoted above, no such family name is found in Burke's General
Armory, Landed Gentry, or Peerage. Colin Gresham, in his 1968 "Medieval Stone Carving in North Wales" claims this was
a Cheshire Family, but it is wholly absent from the Herald's Visitations of that shire. Michael Siddons, in his 1993
"The Development of Welsh Heraldry" says that a Robert Pounderling occurs as witness to a deed of c. 1280 but gives no
source for the statement. There was a Robert, grandson of Sir Robert, born c. 1235 but the citations do not say
he used a surname....merely Robert ap Hywel.
Perhaps Sir Robert's initial
employment at Diserth Castle was not as constable, but as "pounder". That person was in charge of the pinfold where
stray livestock was held until its owner claimed it and paid a fine for it grazing on public lands or lands of a neighbor.
Adding the suffix "ling" denotes either (a) pertaining to or concerned with; or (b) a younger version of the noun to which
it is attached. He might have been a lad who assisted the official pounder, and forever remembered by the Welsh as "Robert
the pounderling" even after attaining manhood and knightship. Whether he later was made constable of the castle is unproven,
If our guess were correct, his
family might well have been from Cheshire, but we don't know their surname. The ancestors of Sir Robert could be
well-known; we just don't know which family he came from.
We should not end his story
without trying to guess the identity of the Welshman, Theodore, whose prowess at tournament sports put out one of his eyes.
If we assume Sir Robert competed as a young knight, our timeline for his ensuing family would place the injury c.
1205/10. Not many noble Welshmen of that era were named Tewdwr or Tudor (their equivalent of Theodore). One of
these, Tudor ap Ednowain ap Bradwen, was born c. 1185 and a member of a prominent North Wales family which might be expected
to attend Royal Tournaments. And if Sir Robert had been a bit older when injured, say c. 1220/25, we'd suggest his opponent
was Sir Tudor ap Ednyfed Fychan born c. 1200. That man was the son of the seneschal of Llewelyn Fawr, king of Gwynedd,
and virtually certain to attend such tournaments.
The fact that none of his descendants
appear to have adopted surnames, Pounderling or otherwise, for the ensuing 200 or more years but were given Welsh names, strongly
suggests his wife was a Welsh lady. She was also of noble birth else we would not find his grandson, and subsequent
generations, married to daughters of Welsh noblemen. In fact, she may not have
married Sir Robert at all; he may have simply fathered her child and walked away, leaving her to name and raise the boy.
The early generations of the family
are incorrectly charted by Peter Bartrum in his "Welsh Genealogies AD300-1400", partly because some (but not all) of his sources
refer to two different men as "Madog Rwth". We believe the early generations were:
1180 Sir Robert ?
1295 Madog Rwth(d)
1355 Hywel Goch
133,32 and Pen. 134, 113/115 cite "Madog Rwth ap Robert ap Iorwerth ap Hywel ap Sir Robert"
(b) Pen. 127,
64 cites "Robert ap Hywel ap Sir Robert" married "Gwladys ferch Bleddyn ap Madog ap Mabon", a lady born c. 1245. Bartrum
thought the citation had omitted Iorwerth, but the timeline shows this was a different branch of the family. Thus by
attaching this marriage to the Robert ap Iorwerth ap Hywel, Bartrum dates Sir Robert a full generation too early
Pen. 134, 107 and 110 identify a "Madog ap Robert" of this family which confirms that both men named Robert had sons called
Madog, but some citations incorrectly called both "Madog Rwth". The c. 1265 Madog, in addition to a son Hywel, had sons
Bleddyn and Ieuan and a daughter Marged.
(d) Pen. 127, 64
cites "Madog Rwth ap Robert" married "Gwenllian ferch Rhys ap Ednyfed Fychan". Such a lady would be born c. 1235 and
not fit as a spouse of either Madog in this family. We believe "Gwenllian ferch Rhys ap Ednyfed ap Rhys ap Ednyfed Fychan"
was meant, a lady born c. 1295. This Madog Rwth had no known children except the son Hywel.
(e) Bartrum charts
these Hywels as a single man born c. 1300, but marriages shown for their descendants date them a full generation apart. Hywel
Goch was NOT a brother of Iorwerth.
other glaring error in construction on Bartrum's chart is found among the descendants of the c. 1265 Madog ap Robert, where
two separate ladies named Mali ferch Bleddyn ap Ieuan ap Madog are conflated:
1295 Bleddyn (a) 1300
(a) Bleddyn and
Ieuan were brothers of the Hywel ap Madog of c. 1295 in our first chart
(b) Pen. 134,107
cites "Bleddyn ap Ieuan ap Madog" married "Mali ferch Ednyfed ap Rhys ap Rhys ap Llewelyn ap Ednyfed Fychan", a lady born
earliest Mali (on the right above) married Tudor ap Ithel ap Rhys ap Maredudd descended from "Ednowain Bendew II", a
man born c. 1360. She also married Deicws Llwyd of Faenol ap Llewelyn ap Ednyfed, a man born c. 1365. The
2-generations younger Mali married Maredudd ap Dafydd ap Meilyr descended from Llywarch Hwlbwrch , a man born c. 1410.