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The River Wye


history: high medieval


In autumn 1016 King Cnut appointed Hrani as Earl of the Magonsaetan (the  people who lived in the non-Welsh part of what is now Herefordshire and the southern part of what is now Shropshire). Hrani was one of Cnut's Danish followers, but Englishmen also held senior positions in Cnut's system of government. By 1018 the formidable Godwine was an Earl. Godwine married Gytha, a Danish princess, and their sons received Danish names - Sven, Harold and Tostig. Sven and Harold were to play major roles in Herefordshire.

It was probably Cnut who extended the Wessex shire system into Mercia. Hereford became a county town of an area which included the southern part of the old Western Hecani/Magonsaetan territory and the northern part of the old kingdom of Ergyng - southern Ergyng or Archenfield retained its Welsh characteristics and its political position is debatable.

The area now in the parishes of Fownhope, How Caple, Brockhampton, Brampton Abbotts and probably Holme Lacy were in Herefordshire: the area of Ballingham, Bridstow, Foy, Hentland, Kings Caple and probably Bolstone were in Archenfield.

The accession of Edward the Confessor in 1042 brought the first Norman lords to England. Edward's nephew Ralph, known as 'The Timid' became Earl of Hereford. Other Normans built the first castles in the country - at Ewyas Harold and Richards Castle.

In 1055 Gruffydd ap Llewellyn, King of Gwynedd and Powys, led an army towards Hereford. With him was Ælfgar, the outlawed Earl of East Anglia. Ælfgar led a force of eighteen ships companies of Vikings that he had recruited in Ireland and it is likely that they sailed up the Wye. Earl Ralph led his force of Normans and English to meet them. In the battle that followed Ralph was decisively beaten and the Welsh, with their Viking allies entered and burnt the town of Hereford. Gruffydd returned home in triumph and laden with booty.

This potato field on the boundary of Dinedor with Holme Lacy parish, was once known as 'Bloody Meadow'. It is reputed to be the site of the defeat of Earl Ralph and the English by Gruffydd ap Llewellyn in 1055


The City of Hereford in flames as it might have appeared in 1055

image by Enok Sweetland

The combined militias of England were put under the command of Harold Godwinson who forced the Welsh back into the Black Mountains, west of Hereford, while he camped in the Golden Valley beneath. The stalemate was utilised by Harold to rebuild the defences of the town of Hereford.

However this was not an English victory. The Worcester version of theAnglo-Saxon Chronicle says 'and then when they [Gruffydd and Ælfgar] had done most damage, it was decided to revoke the sentence of outlawry against earl Ælfgar, and to restore him to his earldom'. Terms of peace were proposed and a meeting between Harold, Gruffydd and Ælfgar was arranged.  This was at Billingsley in Bolstone parish - tellingly, on the border between Welsh Archenfield and English Herefordshire. The Welsh king was obviously not negotiating from a position of weakness.



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Wye Valley History pages

maintained by Archenfield Archaeology Ltd


This project was part-financed by the European Union (EAGGF) and DEFRA through the Herefordshire Rivers LEADER+ Programme.