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St Clears in the Middle Ages 1100 - 1500

by D. ARWYN THOMAS, B.A. Ysgol Gruffydd Jones, St. Clears.

St. Clears makes only a brief but nevertheless dramatic appearance in history books on the Middle Ages. The date was 1188, and the occasion was the itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury and Gerald the Welshman through Wales to preach the Third Crusade. The progress moved impressively from one important church or monastery to the next; out of Carmarthen towards Whitland's thriving Cistercian Monastery. Gerald, in his Itinerary, would probably have not written a word about the small village of St. Clears, but a sensational incident halted the company and commanded their full attention.

"On our journey," he says, "from Carmardyn to the Cistercian Abbey of Alba Domus, the Archbishop was informed of the murder of a young Welshman, who was devoutly hastening to meet him, when turning out of the road he ordered the corpse to be covered with the cloak of his almoner, and with a pious supplication commended the soul of the murdered youth to heaven. Twelve archers of the adjacent castle of St. Clare who had assassinated the young man were, on the following day, signed with the cross at the Alba Domus, as a punishment for their crime".1

Whether the culprit or culprits served in the Third Crusade we are not told. We are equally ignorant of their motives for committing such a crime during the Archbishop's presence in the area. But there is more to the history of St. Clears during the Middle Ages than that brief mention by Gerald. In many ways it reflects the struggles and influences which made up the quilt work pattern of medieval Wales, and in some ways it has certain claims to uniqueness.

Before proceeding further it is essential to be clear regarding the location of medieval St. Clears. The modern village can be divided roughly into three parts; firstly, Lower St. Clears, extending from the bridge over the Taf to the main east-west highway; secondly, the shopping and market area, centred along the main London Fishguard road; finally, Station Road, which is still growing.

The second and third parts grew as a result of modern road and rail developments, and were during the whole of the Middle Ages merely land areas in the parish of Llanfihangel Abercywyn. In search of medieval St. Clears one has to go to Lower St. Clears, where many of its features, notably the church and castle mound, are immediately apparent.

Proof is lacking for the theory that there existed a pre-Norman settlement at St. Clears. It is true that the Normans often built their castles on or near the settlements of their conquered foes. The site, well protected by the confluence of the Cynin and Taf, must have appeared attractive to the Welsh of Cwmwd Peuliniog, but the name of St. Clears does not appear till the 12th century. Could there have been a tref here called by some other name, now long forgotten? This is possible, though one must also note that there is no evidence of a Celtic church at St. Clears, which invariably accompanied a Celtic settlement, and that during the Age of the Saints, Llangynin seems to have been the hub of Christian activity in the area. Near the river-bridge over the Cynin on the A40 trunk road lies an area named Pentre. This has been conjectured to refer to a place lying at the extremity of the Tref, (Pen ~ end, extremity; Tre - settlement) thus implying the existence of a Tref towards Lower St. Clears. This argument proves nothing, because the name Pentre may well have come into use during the Middle Ages, and could have been the Welshman's way of describing a tiny hamlet situated at the northern extremity of the Norman borough of St. Clears. But perhaps the pick and trowel will one day contribute more to the settlement of this argument than pen and paper have achieved so far.

The Norman Invasion
To return to facts, a brief examination of the church, castle site, houses and certain fields reveal distinct Norman characteristics, leaving one in no doubt that it was the Norman invader who built medieval St. Clears. To ask when he built it is a question not so easy to answer.

Encroachment into West Wales was undertaken by the Norman barons under the encouraging eye of the crown; they were soon attracted by the fertile lands of the area and used the sea and river estuaries to penetrate far inland. The attacks on Carmarthenshire, which began in 1093, have been well documented in A History of Carmarthenshire (J. E. Lloyd, ed) vol i, where it is related how in that year the Normans, led by William FitzBaldwin, built a castle at Rhydygors. During the early years of the 20th century a vicar Home of St. Clears and local historian, the Rev Fred 0wen,2 argued that Rhydygors was an earlier name for St. Clears. But the weight of opinion declares Rhydygors to be on the Tywi (not on the Taf), a mile or so below Carmarthen Castle, for which site it was later abandoned. There seems to have been no connection between Rhydygors and St. Clears. Evidence for dating St. Clears is very scant. Only one Pipe Roll survives for the reigns of Kings prior to Henry II (1154): that is the Pipe Roll for the year 1130. It contains accounts for Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, thus illustrating those areas in Norman hands; but St. Clears is not directly mentioned. According to Lloyd "St. Clears by this time would have became the head of a lordship comprising the commottes of Amgoed and Peuliniog". From Brut y Tywysogion we learn that in 1146 William Fitzhay (Lord of St. Clears) moved against Hywel ap Owain who had taken Carmarthen and that in 1154 Rhys ap Gruffydd and a large force ravaged the castle of Ystrad Cyngen. J. E. Lloyd quotes3 Mrs Armitage as believing this latter to be the castle of St. Clears. Was this the pre-Norman name for St. Clears?

The Norman invasion of St. Clears would have come up the Taf estuary from Carmarthen Bay. A castle was built at Laugharne, but there is no date for this either. Further up-river, almost midway between Laugharne and St. Clears and on the eastern bank of the Taf, lies the present-day farm of Treventy. In a field near the ruined church of Llanfihangel Abercywyn, the eye can discern a definite shape, classed by the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments, as the remains of what was a Norman motte and bailey castle. It is almost certain that this is Castell Abercofwy (the Cowyn enters the Taf here), mentioned in Brut y Tywysogion as being entrusted to Bleddri ap Cydifor, to hold for the Normans against the exiled Gruffydd (son of Rhys ap Tewdwr).

In 1116 Gruffydd returned from Ireland to fight for his inheritance. He destroyed Narberth castle, moved to Ystrad Tywi and attacked Llandovery. There is no mention of Clears in this saga. Is this an omission on the part of the chronicler? Did Gruffydd ignore it? Or is it possible that there was no castle at St. Clears in 1116, and that Castell Abercofwy represented the furthest Norman penetration up the Taf? The evidence on dating is brittle and no definite conclusions can be drawn from it. Being cautious one could date St. Clears castle between 1100 and 1146: being adventurous one could attempt to place it between 1116 and 1130.

There has been surprising indecision amongst some local historians regarding the site of the castle at St. Clears. Gildas writes: "The site of the old castle has been the subject of controversy between historians, but in our opinion the point is clear enough; the old farmhouse called Ostrey stood on the site occupied now by Davies shop and the old Ostrey was simply the old jail or part of it turned into a dwelling house: and the old jail was nothing but the old castle, or part of it adapted to that purpose. Some years ago in digging foundations for some new buildings at the back of the shop, now occupied by Mr. Davies, old foundations were discovered formed of huge stones, some of which are to be seen there now. Also a gigantic key was found there which was for years afterwards preserved at a neighbouring Smithy, but has disappeared. These facts prove beyond doubt that the old castle was located at The Blue Boar".4

The discovery of "huge stones" and a "key" is also recorded by Mary Curtis in her book Antiquities of Laugharne and Pendine, a work to be read with care. Yet another St. Clears historian, Taf,5 repeats the story. But it is quite obvious that the remains of the Norman castle at St. Clears lie at Banc y Beili — a name which clearly echoes the words Motte and Bailey. The castle was a wooden one; it was never built in stone like Carmarthen, Llansteffan, Kidwelly or Laugharne. This may help to explain why local historians like Gildas had difficulty in recognising the site, and why so many fanciful stories regarding the origin of the Motte were repeated.6

As to the Blue Boar, some other structure stood there: a jail, as suggested, or perhaps a manor house during the later Middle Ages - but definitely not a castle. The site lies in a hollow; the Normans always built castles using the land advantage; they would never afford the enemy the luxury of a downhill attack. The Blue Boar story gained publicity because successive historians copied each other without checking sources. It seems that the initial mistake was made by a W. Thomas of Whitland writing in Y Beirniad after misreading a reference in Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Wales. Had any of them consulted earlier sources, they would have discovered that Leland and later 'Edward Lluyd (1698), on their respective 'Tours', both correctly identified Banc-y-beili as the site of the Norman castle at St. Clears. Anyone who visits the place today, can appreciate how carefully chosen was this site. Wedged in between the confluence of the Cynin and Taf, it enjoyes maximum water protection; and from the summit of its 40ft high motte, there is a fine view in all directions — both factors of vital importance to the defenders. The Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments7 described Banc-y-beili as a fine surviving example of what a wooden Norman motte and bailey castle would have looked like.

As a castle however, it experienced a chequered and undistinguished history. St. Clears lay right in the cockpit of the 12th century struggle between Norman and Welshman for the fertile lands of West Wales. Its small wooden castle suffered frequent attacks and sometimes changed hands, as the following table of events shows:

1154 Ravaged by Rhys ap Gruffydd
1172 In Norman hands when Arglwydd Rhys met Henry II at Laugharne.
1188 Still in Norman hands (according to Giraldus Cambrensis).
1189 Captured by Arglwydd Rhys — custody given to his son Hywel Sais (so called on account of having spent so many years in captivity in England).
1195 William de Breose recaptured St. Clears from Hywel with a large force.
1215 Llywelyn Fawr suprised all by sweeping down upon the Normans of West Wales during a particularly mild December. Carmarthen was attacked on the 8th December and in turn Llansteffan, Laugharne and St. Clears fell to him.

On this last occasion the castle at St. Clears was burnt and utterly destroyed; as far as is known it was never fortified after its destruction at the hands of one of the greatest of the Welsh princes. But Llewelyn had not quite finished with St. Clears: in 1230 he hanged William de Breose for treason (an incident dramatised in Saunders Lewis' powerful play, Siwan). This had a profound effect upon the future history of the lordship of St. Clears.

The Lordship of St. Clears would have included all those lands ruled directly from St. Cleans castle. It is quite probable that the castle site was used as an administrative centre for some time after the castle itself was destroyed. In 1240 the lordship was divided into three parts amongst the co-heiresses of William de Breose: Maud m. Roger Mortimor; Eve m. William de Cantalupe; Eleanor m. Humphrey de Bohun.

After 1330 these 'thirds' became known as Tranes: Traney Morgan: Llandysilio Parish; Egremont Parish; Henllan Parish. Traney March: L1anboidy Parish; Llanfallteg Parish; Gilmaenllwyd Parish; St. Clears Parish. Traney Clinton: Llangynin Parish; Yr Hen Dy Eglwys Llandre.

Owners of the manorial lands included, at different times, William Herbert and Rhys ap Thomas. On the attainder of Rhys ap Gruffydd the lands of the lordship of St. Clears passed into the eager hands of King Henry VIII.

The Borough and The Priory Near the Norman castle there usually grew up a number of houses, in which lived the people who served the needs of the castle. These tradesmen and craftsmen also farmed small strips of land rented from the lord. Out of this nucleus grew the Borough of St. Clears and in the early days nearly all its people were foreigners: few Welshmen would serve the Norman master. But gradually, as the Middle "Ages wore on, many Welshmen found it lucrative to live in the Borough of St. Clears. No doubt some of the Flemish settled by Henry I along south Pembrokeshire found their way to Laugharne and St. Clears, and it is possible that some of the present day inhabitants of Lower St. Clears have Flemish blood in their veins.

Those who served the Norman lords would expect special privileges and rights: exemption from tolls, the right to hold markets and control trade. Such privileges were granted by the lord or in the form of royal charters. St. Clears received its royal charter from Richard II. The original copy was lost, but charters to Boroughs were usually confirmed at the beginning of each new reign; a copy of the one renewed on the succession of Henry VI was obtained from the Public Record Office and reproduced by Gildas in St. Clears Past and Present. Under it, the burgesses of the borough of St. Clears were granted the following liberty: "Neither they themselves nor any dwelling within the said town shall be counceled or adjudged by any Welshman in any appeals, indictments of treason, felony, conspiracies etc., nor in any pleas, plaints real or personal actions at the suit of any party or any matter touching the said town or any of the burgesses . . . . but only by English burgesses and true Englishmen". Herein is confirmation of what was happening in 14th century Wales. The influx of a growing number of Welsh people into the boroughs led to discriminatory laws being passed against them in an attempt to discourage the tendency.

The granting of a charter entailed the setting up of a Corporation to collect the tolls, administer lands, control markets and generally keep the terms of the charter. This institution has surprisingly survived to this day: though the Corporation was trimmed in the late 19th century the St. Clears Town Trust lives on. The history of the Corporation, which at one time boasted three Portreeves in office concurrently, has been written by T. I. Jeffries Jones.8

The pattern of settlement in the borough is clearly visible on the 1838 tithe map of St. Clears parish. The modern houses built on both sides of the road from the church towards the quay stand on the sites of the medieval dwellings. The same map highlights the strip of land owned by the burgesses on the southern-facing slopes above the Taf beyond Cliff Cottage; they are not now apparent, but in Laugharne the strips can be seen to this day.

The most distinctive feature of St. Clears during the Middle Ages was the Cluniac Priory. The Cluniac Order were originally a group of devout monks who wished to reform the Benedictine Order, and in 910 they established their own monastery at Cluny in Normandy. From here it was to spread elsewhere. At first the movement adhered to strict monastic rules, the monks leading austere and frugal lives; but degeneration followed and eventually the Cluniac Order became guilty of the very evils it had set itself out to remedy. It was the Normans who first brought the movement to Britain, the first establishment being set up in England at Lewes during the year 1077. The strict discipline of the Cluniac Order meant that each daughter-house was ruled directly from the parent-house; the Priory at St. Clears was the daughter-house of that famous Abbey near Paris, St. Martin-des-Champs, and was therefore in close contact with France. There were only two Cluniac foundations in the whole of Wales, the other one being at Malpas near Newport.

Where was this Cluniac Priory situated in St. Clears? Here the evidence of place and field names, often of vital importance to the local historian, provide invaluable clues. A field named Parc y Prior and a road called Lon Prior inform us that we need not look far from the church for the site of the old Priory. Confirmation is forthcoming from Edward Lluyd's visit in 1698, when, he relates, he talked to men in St. Clears who could remember a wall in Parc y Prior which, it was claimed, represented the remains of the old Priory building. There can be no doubt that the Cluniac Priory of St. Clears stood in this field adjoining the church. It was never a very large building because at no time did it house more than two or three monks.

J. E. Lloyd dates the Priory as early 12th century, and others have assumed that it was established soon after the castle was built. It now seems probable that it was founded later than was at first imagined. Writing on St. Martin-des-Champs and its dependencies Rose Graham states: "The Priory of St. Clears in Carmarthenshire was not founded until the middle of the 12th century, and the founder is unknown. It was included in the possessions of St. Martin-des-Champs, which were conferred by 'Pope Eugenius III in 1184; it was not in the Bull of Pope Lucius II 1147 in which Barnstaple and St. James by Exeter were noted".9

Since William Fitzhay was Lord of St. Clears in 1146, and very much on the offensive against the Welsh, the Priory is unlikely to have been in Welsh hands by 1147, which would account for its omission from the Bull had it then existed. As it was, the Norman was well in control of St. Clears, but there is no record of the Priory being in existence. Thus it can be established that a substantial time lapse occurred between the erection of the castle and the establishment of a Cluniac priory at St. Clears. Initially the Priory served the needs of the castle, but later, when the parish church came to be built, the whole parish came within its orbit. It must be admitted however that the Priory had an undistinguished and sometimes disreputable career. Its influence upon the area was negligible, this being in striking contrast to the large and influential Cistercian monastery at Whitland. Three main reasons help to explain its apparent failure. Firstly, the Priory was too small to be effective. Usually it housed only two monks (the Prior and one other), and the small number often led to a relaxation of discipline. This was a charge laid by the visiting inspectors df St. Martin-des-Champs in 1297: "The Prior and his companion were living evil lives and the property was in a bad state". It seems that they had appropriated church funds to their own use. Another, John Soyer, is said to have led a dissolute life. One cannot help feeling sorry, nevertheless, for these monks, isolated in a strange, damp land amongst an alien people who showed little interest in them.

The second cause of failure was due to the fact that the Priory was ruled directly from France. The Prior was nominated by the Prior of St. Martin-des-Champes: thus on the death of a Prior messengers would hurry towards the Quay at St. Clears bound for Paris, taking with them the palfrey, cope and breviary of the late Prior. Each year the Prior of St. Clears attended the general chapter at St. Martin on July 4th (the feast of St. Martin); it is recorded that sometimes they stayed too long and spent too much money. This extreme centralisation did not help the little Priory to make any headway in far distant Wales. True, the Cistercian movement likewise began in France, but once in Wales its members identified themselves closely with the people, and as a result became extremely thriving and popular.

Finally, frequent warfare between England and France disrupted the life of the alien priories, i.e. those which paid taxes to mother • priories on the continent. As soon as war broke out the King would seize the revenues of these alien priories, as he had no wish to see money leave the country destined for enemy pockets. In 1337 the Hundred Years War began; consequently the Cluniac priories found themselves in frequent and increasing difficulties, e.g. in 1393 "Thomas de Tetford is charged £7 for the rent of St. Clears Priory payable to the crown during the war with France ". Previously this money would have arrived at St. Martin-des-Champs. In addition the rent was increased. The Prior must therefore have been a very unhappy man at a time when the burgesses of St. Clears were celebrating the granting of their charter. Furthermore, suspicion of spying hung over the monks whenever there was war; any letter innocent or otherwise, to or from St. Martin would be regarded with grave misgivings. How could they flourish under such circumstances? The Priory's unhappy history came to an end in 1444 when Henry VI dissolved it. Its possessions, which included Llanglydwen and Llangynin churches, were granted to the warden of All Souls College, Oxford. Thus was finally severed a three hundred year old link between St. Clears and France.

But if the Priory disappeared, the church, dedicated to Mary Magdalen, continued to serve the needs of the parish. To this day it bears many features charaoteristic of Norman Cluniac churches. Its fine chancel arch is the one unmistakable piece of Norman architecture in Carmarthenshire. As with the Cluniac church at Malpas, the capitals are a striking example of the Romanesque. During its earlier period the church would have terminated at the west end with a flat wall and gable, but in the 13th century a massive unbuttresscd miltary type tower was added. Upon entering the church one feature strikes the visitor — the north and south walls slope outwards at an appreciable angle. Some have blamed the weight of the roof and subsidence for this, whilst others claim it to represent a definite style of building during the Middle Ages.

Port of Long Tradition
There is no mention of the port of St. Clears in A. G. Prys Jones' The Story of Carmarthenshire, though Carmarthen, Kidwelly and Laugharne all appear. But St. Clears has a longer maritime tradition than Laugharne; ships were still docking at St. Clears Quay (near Manordaf) well into the 20th century. The Normans, unlike the Welsh, made the fullest use of seapower: having arrived by water at St. Clears, they immediately set about developing it as an inland port. In times of danger it might well prove to be their one and only escape route.

There is ample documentary evidence of shipping activity at St. Clears during the Middle Ages. In wartime ships were frequently commandeered by the king for carrying troops and supplies to the continent. Thus Close Roll Ed, I 1297 commanded all ships of St. Clears (40 ton and upward) to report to the king April 27th at Plymouth. Again Close Roll Ed. II 1326 informed the bailiffs and community of St. Clears that all ships of 50 ton and upward must report to Portsmouth on the Sunday after the Recollection of John the Baptist, to prepare for an attack upon the French. Since all ships under 50 tons were also to remain in port in readiness, the fishermen of St. Clears were probably annoyed by this interference with their livelihood.

But the records of military campaigns do not tell the whole story, because St. Clears developed as a trading port: indeed this was the only reliable way in which vital supplies reached the borough. The little ships traded with Bristol, Ireland, France and the ports of Carmarthen bay, whilst Flemish merchants would land at St. Clears and rest temporarily before trekking off inland to sell their wares. After the granting of a charter, harbour dues and tolls were payable to the Corporation run by the burgesses. What type of goods were imported? The Welsh Rolls Of Edward I for 1282 shed light on this question. This was the year when Llywelyn the Last was fighting for his life and Edward was moving in to finish the conquest. One of the king's weapons was the economic blockade of ports in order to prevent vital supplies reaching the Welsh and in the case of St. Clears the bailiffs and merchants were ordered to see that no-one was to carry inland the following goods — corn, wine (red and white), honey, salt, iron and armour. During the following year the merchants of St. Clears were directed to depart to the coast of Merioneth and to expose their goods for sale "for the convenience of the king and his subjects". Was the royal army encamped there? Or had The building of Harlech castle already begun? In any event, there was considerable maritime activity on the Taf during the Middle Ages; it was after all the easiest means of transport because roads to and from St. Clears hardly existed.

Quite obviously the burgesses of St. Clears had no sympathy for the Welsh princes and their aspiration towards independence, because they fully realised that they owed their charter to the king of England, the last person they would wish to alienate. By 1400 however many Welshmen had managed to shoulder their way into the boroughs, attracted by the easier life and increased propects of material gain. But the national uprising of Owain Glyndwr placed them on the horns of an agonising dilemma and those who rushed to his banner were taking a calculated risk, many of them living to suffer the full impact df English vengeance. William Gwynn lost 30 acres in St. Clears, and the lands of Llywelyn ap Morgan were given to Thomas Carneve on account of Morgan's "rebellion".10 Another. David Gwilym, likewise lost his lands, which went to Richard Ludlow prior of St. Clears (Pat Roll Henry IV 1403); for once, the little Cluniac Priory got something out of the king. Not many years later, in 1415, four St. Clears archers fought for the king at the Battle of Agincourt.

Why St. Clears?
The most intriguing puzzle remains. How did St. Clears acquire such an unexpected name? When the Normans came to Laugharne they merely adapted the Welsh name for the Commotte Talacharn—Laugharne. Not so with St. Clears; the surrounding Commottes are Amgoed, Peuliniog, Ystlwyf and Penrhyn, but none of these names were used. This, has proved to be a peculiarly negative search; it is relatively easy to disprove or cast doubts upon various theories, without necessarily getting any nearer to the truth. To attempt to argue a case on the grounds of spelling is futile, because medieval clerks were highly individual spellers, depending sometimes on whether they were more acquainted with Latin or French. The following versions have all appeared in different historical documents: Clear, Clere, Cleer, Claire, Clara, Cler. Writing in the Deanery of St. Clears magazine 1906, the Rev. Fred Owen argued that 'Clare' was used in St. Clears not as a noun but as an adjective meaning pure and undefiled. Thus St. Clears was the church of the pure and undefiled saint — the Virgin Mary. Quite apart from the question of grammar, both the church and the holy well (Ffynnon Fair) at St. Clears are dedicated to Mary Magdalen, a fact which invalidates Owen's whole argument.

The oldest explanation relates the misty tale of a pious lady who founded the town in the 6th century, she being the Lady Santa Clara. No evidence is produced and the whole story can be dismissed because the name St. Clears does not appear in the chronicles until the 12th century and references to 'pious lady' and `town in the 6th century' bear a distinct folk lore tint. Another explanation makes use of the castle motte ; it is said that bards met on the twmp (mound) to hold poetry and music competitions, and since the Irish word for 'minstrel' was 'clair' this conveniently explained the meaning of the village's name. The tale earns full marks for ingenuity but little else.

St. Clare, founder of the Poor Clares order, the famous female saint of Assisi, has many dedications throughout the world. Her renown was widespread during the Middle Ages, and there seems to be a reasonable case for assuming that the little Welsh village represented another St. Clare dedication; reasonable that is, until dates are checked and it is discovered that the place-name was in use long before she was born in 1194. Volume iv of the Catholic Encyclopaedia contains two other Saints of the name: Clare of Rimini (b. 1282) and Clare of Montefalco (b. 1268). A glance at the dates reveals that these are even more unlikely candidates than Clare of Assisi.

Kenneth Watkins, another St. Clears historian, identifies St. Clear as a male Benedictine Monk who founded the Priory,11 but St. Clears Priory was a Cluniac not a Benedictine foundation. Spurrell in his History of Carmarthen mentions a St. Clare being martyred in Normandy in 951, but gives no reference. This saint does not appear in the Catholic Register; perhaps she was guilty of some heresy. Or was she a local saint whom the Norman invaders of St. Clears revered? The mystery remains. Finally, one amusing item after attending St. Stevens Auction Rooms, London, on Tuesday 22nd November 1910 and witnessing the sale of "a portion of a bone of Santa Clara" for eight shillings, a Mr John Lewis wrote to the Camnaathen Antiquarian Society, hoping that the natives of St. Clears would be interested in the fate of the town's founder.

The story of St. Clears in the Middle Ages is not as scintillating or dramatic as that of some other places, but it is interesting. It was a lonely inland borough, whose wooden castle soon crumbled to be superseded by a stone structure near the sea at Laugharne. Ten miles away to the east lay Carmarthen, the royal headquarters in South Wales, a staple town and an important maritime port; a little less distant to the West lay the large Cisterian abbey of Whitland, the home of over a hundred monks, and one of the most famous abbeys in the whole of Wales; hemmed in like this St Clears was a little overshadowed. But it is not only the big and the great which matter in history; to be fully understood life must be studied in detail, and for detailed study the smaller units can be very illuminating. In many ways, what went on in St. Clears between 1100 and 1500 is a microcosm of life in the Middle Ages, and to study it is to subscribe to the belief that an appreciation of national history rests upon a proper understanding of local history.
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