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Departed Glories of the Grey Friars

By Major Francis Jones, C.V.O., T.D., F.S.A.

In this paper I shall discuss a manuscript compiled over four hundred and fifty years ago, now safely preserved within the walls of an institution devoted to historical matters, and which I had the pleasure of examining shortly after the last war. Part of the manuscript concerns Carmarthen and it is appropriate that it should appear in the Historian, in Volume III (1966) of which an account was published of the Grey Friars of Carmarthen, wherein (at page 15) reference was made to the manuscript reprinted below. We shall glimpse the folios of an ancient manuscript and gaze on the meagre remains of a medieval church which recent labour has literally unearthed.

Those interested in heraldry will benefit from a perusal of a record compiled in 1530 containing descriptions of coats-of-arms copied from memorials in the church of the Grey Friars in Carmarthen, by a herald conducting a visitation in South Wales and Herefordshire under the authority of the College of Arms where the manuscript is still preserved. He was William Fellow, Marleon de Aye Pursuivant to Charles Brandon, Duke of Norfolk and Earl Marshal, promoted Lancaster Herald on 1 November 1527, and advanced to Norroy King of Arms on 28 July 1536, an appointment he held till his death shortly before Christmas 1549.

During the visitation Lancaster called at a number of religious houses - the churches of the Grey Friars in Carmarthen, Brecon, and Cardiff, the cathedral of St. Davids, churches in Tenby and Haverfordwest, the church of the College of Abergwili, the abbeys of Neath, Wigmore, and Dore, as well as various secular homes. Since several of the religious edifices enumerated above have been destroyed and the surviving ones greatly renovated over the centuries, these descriptions are the only surviving records of the tombs and their heraldic embellishments, descriptions made just in time so far as Carmarthen is concerned, because five years after the herald's sojourn the Friary was surrendered to the Crown, then conveyed to lay persons, and by the end of the sixteenth century, the fabric had been largely destroyed and the attached cemetery converted into a field of pasture. In 1598-1600 Thomas Parry who had inherited the friary and its surrounds from his father, brought an action against Humphrey Toy of Carmarthen for forcible entry on Parry's close and house consisting of a messuage and a stable in "Le Grey Frieres", a dovecot, a garden, another garden in "Le Dam Street" [later called Mill Street], and a piece of land "lately enclosed being a parcel of the Cemetary of Les Grey Frieres", treading down herbage growing there and depasturing cattle therein.

Thus, Lancaster Herald's record is the only one we possess of monuments that graced the Friars' church, once ablaze with the colours of heraldry. What a sight it must have been! Today, not a single relic appears above the green meadow to remind us of its former existence. Happily, the eleventh-hour labours of Mr. Terrence James of the Dyfed Archaeological Trust, and his brisk auxiliaries have uncovered a large area of stone foundations that had slumbered so long beneath the sward. Alas, this graphic revelation is but for a brief moment and I write in the shadow of impending tragedy, for shortly the very site is to pass away wholly from the eyes of townsfolk, to be covered by an ambitious structure sponsored and erected by courtesy of the Carmarthen District Council for the delectation of modern man. I wonder what it feels like to pull up history by the roots. Sad days for Carmarthen these, my masters. The second and final Dissolution has arrived. The commendable exertions of the excavators are by no means completed, but they continue to soldier on, and in due course a full and illustrated account of their activities will be made available to the public.

Although the church contained numerous armorial shields, not all of their owners were interred there (e.g. nos. 6,7,18,19,21,32 infra), and their arms were probably introduced by descendants who desired to commemorate the brighter stars of their heraldic firmament. Three members of the Reed family of Green Castle, one of them a knight, as well as nearly thirty other West Wales notables were buried there. Let us now read what Lancaster Herald has to tell us.

"In the fryers of Carmardyn"

  1. Thomas Weryot of Orialton [Pems]-quarterly, chequy gules and sable, on a chief or a lion passant sable; and gules, on a chief azure a lion passant sable. [A Wyrriot daughter had married a Reed].
  2. Thomas Rede of Ye Roche [near Laugharne]-quarterly, argent 3 pipes in fess (?_or_), banded azure; and on a chief azure a lion passant sable.
  3. Henry Owgan of Wyston [Pems], or on a chief sable 3 martlets or.
  4. Guyan Penare [Gwion Penarw lord of Mabelfyw, son of Iorwerth son of the Prince Rhys Gryg d. 1234], azure 3 greyhounds argent, courant in pale, collared.
  5. David ap Llewelyn ap Phelipp, a lion rampant ermine.
  6. Llewelyn ap Iorwerth Drwyndwn, quarterly, vert and or 4 lions couchant, forelegs raised, counterchanged. [This was Llewelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd, d. 1240].
  7. The arms of Ryce ap Tewdyr, Prynce of South Walys [arms not described].
  8. William Aylewarde, merchaunt, of Carmardyn, quarterly, gules, on a fess or a crosslet gules, and, gules on a bend cotized azure 3 leopards' heads azure [sic].
  9. Henry Vernon of the Peke, quarterly, argent, fretty sable, and, argent a lion rampant or, collared.
  10. Ryce ap Harry, sable, on a chevron argent, between 3 owls argent, 3 horseshoes gules.
  11. John ap Llewelyn ap John, azure, 3 greyhounds courant argent, collared, over all a bend azure.
  12. John Bryne [or Bruyne, related to the Reed family]. argent an eagle displayed or, holding in its beak a fleur de lys argent.
  13. [ ] a chevron sable between 3 ermine spots on a chief or a lion passant [ ].
  14. John Rede of Roche besyde Laghan, quarterly, argent 3 pipes or banded azure, in fess, and, gules on a chief argent, a lion passant sable: crest, 2 demi-doves addorsed, proper, beaked gules.
  15. Richard a boyen [ab Owen] of Gowerland. Perrott. On a chief or a lion passant sable, impaling ermine and a bend gules 3 escallops azure.
  16. [ ], ermine, on a bend gules, 3 escallops azure.
  17. Thomas apowell of Carmardenshyre, argent a lion rampant sable.
  18. John Talley, Chancellor of St. Davyd [Chancellor 1493, d. circa 1509]. Party per bend argent and azure, on a cross formé entire sable, thereon 5 lunettes or.
  19. Robert Tully, Bishopp of St. David, borne in Brystoure [Bishop 1460 till 1480 when he died], azure 3 swans' heads erased at the neck argent, beaked gules, around each neck a collar attached thereto a cord ending in a ring.
  20. Griffeth Lloyd apryse, sable a boar statant argent, the field semeé of trefoils argent.
  21. Edmond Malyfant in Kydwallysland, gules, fretty argent, on a chief or, a lion passant sable.
  22. Gueyth Voyde [Gwaethfoed] lord of Hemlyne [Emlyn], sable, a lion rampant argent.
  23. Sir Ryce ap Gryffyth [of Abermarlais, born 1325], gules on a fess dancetty argent, between 6 lioncels rampant or, 3 birds statant sable.
  24. Robert ap Gwrwarett [Pems. His son Owen was alive in 1342], gules a chevron argent between 3 love-knots argent.
  25. Doctor Cantynton [of Eglwyswrw, Pems] azure a lion rampant or within an orle of 9 roses or.
  26. [ ], a chevron azure, between 2 fleurs de lys or in chief, and between the fleurs de lys a stag's head caboshed or, and in base a lion rampant or between 2 fleurs de lys or.
  27. Davyd Voell [of Trewern, Pems], argent a lion rampant sable.
  28. (Sir) Ryce ap Gryffeth ap Sir Ryce app Thomas ap Gryffithe ap Nicholas [of Dynevor], argent, a chevron sable between 3 ravens proper. He married Lady Katheryne daughter to the Duke of Norfolk that dedde ys, and they had yssue, Thomas, Griffith, and Anne [Sir Rhys ap Griffith married in 1524 Lady Katherine Howard, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk, and was executed for treason in 1531].
    1. Memorand. that in the graye fryeres in Carmardyn, in the myddest of the quyere lyeth buryed in a Tombe of Marbill Edmond Erle of Richemond ffather to King Henry the VIIth, which Edmond beareth quarterlye the arms of Rychemond and Sommerset and the sayde Edmonde deceased the fyrst daye of November in the yeare of our Lorde 1456.
    2. Item more, in the saide quyer on the Northside a lytle from the high aulter lyeth buryed in a goodly tombe Sir Ryce ap Thomas, Banneret, in a place where laye Sir Rice ap Griffeth [born 1325] great uncle to Sir Ryce app Thomas. This Ryce ap Thomas beareth in his armes gules a fece daunce betwene VI lioncels ramping or, on the fece iii ravens sable.
    3. Item more, in the sayde Quyer betwext the high aulter and the sepulture of Edmonde Erle of Richemond, Beth buryed Willyam de Valencia, a Norman that came in with the Conquest and was made Erle of Pembrooke; he was slayne with an arrowe out of the Castle of Lanstiffande [in 1282]. He beryth in his arms azure appon iii lions passant argent, a labell of three pointz gules.
    4. Also in the sayed Quyer on the South syde lyeth buryed Thomas Rede knight, whose armes be sett furthe among others in the fryers here before [_vide_ 2 and 14 _supra_].
    5. Item more in the sayde Churche before thymage of St Fraunces, lyeth buryed in a Tombe of Allabastre, Gryffyth Nycolas esquier who was graundfather to Sir Ryce aforesayde. In ye fryers of Carmardyn [contd.]
  29. George Herbert of Swansea, or on a fess party per pale azure and gules, 3 lions rampant azure: crest, on a wreath gules and or, a wyvern with a man's arm in its mouth.
  30. Thomas Pekocke of Penbrokesh, quarterly, on a fess between 3 peacocks, in their pride, 3 roses, and, on a chevron 3 escallops sable.
  31. John Hygon of Carmardyn, azure a chevron sable between 3 claws sable [Mayor of Carmarthen 1487].
  32. Thomas Whyte of Tynbyghe, gules a chevron or between 3 stags' heads caboshed or.
  33. [ ], argent a lion rampant sable.

Lancaster also included arms "in the College of Aberguly a myle from Carmardyn" blazoned party per pale gules and azure 3 cats' heads affronteé ermine erased, and on a chevron or, a rose gules between 2 cocks gules both facing inwards towards the rose.

Although not mentioned by the herald, the wife of Sir Rhys ap Thomas was also interred in the church of the Grey Friars, and by his will dated 1525 the Knight expressed a wish to be buried beside her when his time came. Of the galaxy of tombs and memorials in that temple of God in Lancaster's time, only two have survived - those of the Earl of Richmond, removed to St. David's Cathedral, and of Sir Rhys removed to St. Peter's church, Carmarthen, after the ravages of Dissolution. Recently, a statement has come to light making it extremely likely that the remains of other kinsmen of Sir Rhys, as well as the alabaster tomb of his grandfather Griffith ap Nicholas, were also taken to St. Peter's. A distinguished visitor* who entered St. Peter's church on Sunday 20 June 1802, noted " contains the interesting monument of Sir Thomas ap Rhys [sic]...We have to lament the loss of three other fine alabaster effigies in memory of personages of the same illustrious house, which were absolutely beaten to pieces by masons and converted into plaister for the moulding of the cornice of the church then repairing about 12 years ago". Are descendants of those masons serving on any of our Councils today I wonder? How thorough are men when they turn their hands and hearts to destruction! And what a debt we owe to the custodians of the fragile folios of bygone centuries, and to the spades of the persevering antiquaries of our times.

February 1984.

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