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The Early History of Court Henry, Dryslwyn


From time to time, it has been said that Court Henry is so named because Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII stayed there on his way to England and victory at the battle of Bosworth. Unfortunately, this charming legend is not true. The house, which lies on the western edge of Llangathen Parish, a few hundred yards north of the Carmarthen-Llandeilo A40 Trunk Road at Cross Inn, took its name from the man who built it in the second half of the 15th century. This man was Henry ap Gwilym, a member of a family which had lived in and around the Parish of Llangathen for very many generations.

The majority of the historical records of Henry ap Gwilym and his ancestors are to be found in two manuscripts written in 1907 by Dr. E. A. Lewis of the University College of Wales, for Sir John Williams of Plas, Llanstephan. They are entitled:-

  1. "A collection of documents illustrating the history of the Castle, Town and Lordship of Dryslwyn, from the earliest times to the close of the reign of Henry VIII". (This manuscript has not been published and is MS 455 D in the National Library of Wales).
  2. "Materials illustrating the history of Dynevor and Newton from the earliest times to the close of the reign of Henry VIII". (This manuscript has been published in the The Transactions of the Historical Society of West Wales, Vol. I, 1911).

The pedigree of Henry ap Gwilym and his ancestors is recorded in Lewis Dwnn's Heraldic Visitation.

These are the main sources of information; others will be noted as they arise. Henry ap Gwilym was a descendant of Goronwy Goch on his father's side and of Llewelyn Foethus on his mother's side. A word or two about these well-known ancestors demonstrates that Henry ap Gwilym and his predecessors had been living in the Parish of Llangathen "time out of mind".

Goronwy Goch, who lived in the second half of the 13th century and into the early part of the 14th century, was Constable of Dryslwyn Castle in 1281 (Welsh Assize Roll 1277-84, pp. 171, 332). In 1301, he is named as one of the Three Foresters of Glyn Cothi. (P.R.O. Min. Acc. 1218/1). From time to time he is given the title "Lord of Llangathen". According to Lewis Dwnn, he married Dythgy, a descendant of the well-known Irish mercenary Eidio Wyllt, who came to Wales to help Prince Rhys ap Tudor in his battles against the Normans. Goronwy and Dythgy had a son named Griffith who is named in the Carmarthen Cartulary under the year 1309.

Griffith had a son David, (possibly another named Owen), and a daughter named Mawl. On his death, Griffith's property (whatever that may have been) was divided between his children and his father's honorific title, "Lord of Llangathen", passed to Llewelyn Foethus of Porthwrydd, now Berllan Dywyll, in the Parish of Llangathen.1 David, Griffith's eldest son, had two sons, Thomas and Llewelyn.

CourtHenryWindows.thumb.jpg Thomas, the eldest son, married Gwenllian, a daughter of Rhys ap Llewelyn ap Rhys and had three sons, Thomas Vychan, Rees and David. Thomas Vychan is recorded as living at Gwernan or Krynga, places which either no longer exist or, more likely, are mistakes for the two farms, Wern and Grongar in the neighbourhood of Grongar Hill in the Parish of Llangathen. He married Grisley, a daughter of Gwilym ap Philip of Llandeilo Fawr, by whom he had four children. His death is the subject of an ode by Lewys Glyn Cothi, which tells us little about him other than that he gave the poet, who was collecting funds for the Lancastrian cause, some substantial donations.

Thomas and Grisley's children were Thomas, Rhydderch, Gwilym and Margaret. Nothing is known about Rhydderch. Margaret married Llewelyn ap Adda of Trawscoed. Thomas and Gwilym have places in the manuscripts written by Dr. E. A. Lewis.

In 1451-2, Thomas ap Thomas Vychan and another farmer had been tenants of lands in Dryslwyn since 1424, for which they paid rent of 11-10 a year, with the understanding "To keep the King's Park there without waste or the destroying of wood, to repair and maintain the enclosure round the said Park and also clean the ditch round the said Park as often as neccessary". In the same years, 1451-2, Lewis ap Gwilym ap Thomas was one of the two Bailiffs of Dryslwyn Park. This Lewis, as will be seen later, was Thomas's nephew.

In 1461-2, Thomas ap Thomas Vychan is recorded as the sole tenant of Dryslwyn Park, but in 1464-5, the Park was re-let to two tenants, one being Thomas's nephew Henry ap Gwilym. One can assume that Thomas died between 1462 and 1464. He apparently had no surviving issue. At this stage, a simple pedigree may make the the story easier to follow.


Thomas ap Thomas Vychan has been dealt with above. Rhydderch is unknown except for his name. So, we come to the other son, Gwilym ap Thomas Vychan. Gwilym is recorded in the pedigrees as living at Cadfan, in the Parish of Llangathen, a house, now known as Lethr Cadfan north of Broad Oak, which still retains some 15-16th century features. There are no records of Gwilym's tenure of land in Dryslwyn or Dynevor; he simply appears in the pedigrees, which show that he married Gwenllian, a descendant of Llewelyn Foethus and had live (or six) sons and a daughter, as shown in the pedigree above.

Henry is the son about whom this essay is written, but the other children are of some interest. John inherited Cadfan, married and had issue. Llewelyn inherited Brynhafod, a farm near Cadfan of which no significant old buildings remain. Lewys Glyn Cothi wrote an ode to Llewelyn in which he says he also owned two other houses in Llangathen, namely Lan-lais (Glan Lash, between Broad Oak and Cross Inn) and Glandulais (near Cross Inn). In the second line of this ode the poet calls Llewelyn "Lewis" and apparently the two names are interchangeable. So, Llewelyn and Lewis may be the same person, which is why his name is shown with a question-mark in the pedigree above. Gwilym's sister Elen is shown twice in the pedigree above, because, as will be explained later, she may have been Henry ap Gwilym's daughter and not his sister. Elen married Llewelyn ap Gwilym of Ystradffin (in Rhandir-mwyn).

Henry ap Gwilym is mentioned in both the manuscripts by Dr. E. A. Lewis and was also the subject of an ode by Lewys Glyn Cothi. It is said that his father gave him the farm called Lan-lais, which conflicts with what Lewys Glyn Cothi says in his ode to Llewelyn, in that the latter owned Lan-lais, so one can only suppose that Henry passed it onto Llewelyn.

In the year 1456 Henry acted as surety for arrears of rent of Sir William Herbert, which would indicate that by this time he was a fairly substantial farmer/landowner. By 1466, although not specifically stated, he was the tenant of Dryslwyn Park and also was the tenant of divers lands which included the profits of the mill and Court of Altigar (Allt-y-gaer, south-west of Grongar Hill). This mill was burned down in 1466 and took eight years to re-build. To pay for the cost of re-building, Henry's rent was reduced from 11-10 a year to 6 and he was also given a grant of 2-5-8. It is this rent figure of 11-10 that makes it fairly certain the land was Dryslwyn Park, because it is the same sum as paid by his uncle Thomas ap Thomas Vychan for the Park.

The last record of Henry ap Gwilym is under 1492, when he was definitely the tenant of the Park. In 1506 the Park was leased to Henry's daughter Elen. There may be some confusion here. Lewis Dwnn shows Elen as Henry's sister, but Dr. E. A. Lewis clearly says she was "Verch" Henry ap Gwilym. Francis Green of St. David's was of the opinion that there were mistakes in the printed edition of Lewis Dwnn's Visitation and perhaps this is one of them and that Elen's true place in the pedigree is as Henry's daughter. Hence the asterisks in the pedigree above.

At some unknown date in the second half of the 15th century Henry ap Gwilym built Court Henry. A certain amount of the stonework of that period still exists, but, as the house was considerably altered in the early 19th century, the shape and extent of the original Court Henry is uncertain. Tradition states that Henry ap Gwilym fought eight or ten duels with Sir Thomas ap Griffith of Dynevor, father of the illustrious Sir Rhys ap Thomas. The account can be found in The Cambrian Register of 1795, under "Bioghaphy"; this was written by an unknown author in the early years of the reign of King James I. Why these duels were fought is not stated, but it is clear from the story that Sir Thomas ap Griffith was a skilled and belligerant soldier, who settled arguments by fighting. We only have a cloudy view of Henry ap Gwilym, but something can he re-constructed from what is known of the two rivals' past.

It says in the article in The Cambrian Register that Sir Thomas ap Griffith in his youth, won great renown in the army of the Duke of Burgundy. Lewys Glyn Cothi's ode to Henry ap Gwilim indicates that Henry had served in the army of Gascony. Perhaps old rivalries, stemming from France, continued in Wales. According to the article, Henry lost all the duels, but he was luckier than a certain Turberville, who, fighting on behalf of Sir William Herbert, got his back broken by Sir Thomas ap Griffith.

This is all that history relates of Henry ap Gwilym, the builder of Court Henry, but in the telling of the tale it is sad to find so many 15th century people of Llangathen who are no more than shadows on the screen of history. How did Llewelyn Foethus come to be called the "Luxurious"? Why did Henry and Sir Thomas fight those duels? And one of the bigger enigmas of the Parish of Llangathen: what was the original Aberglasney? and what was the significance of the castellated gateway there. Or older still, what was Castle Argol, by which name Gronger Hill was anciently called?

This, so, was the early history of Court Henry. The remainder is as follows.

Henry married Mably, a daughter of Gwilym ap Llewelyn of Ystradffin. He had a son Howel about whom nothing is known and two daughters, Mably (or Eva) and Jonet. Mably became the first wife of Sir Rhys ap Thomas the heir of Sir Thomas ap Griffith, Henry's old adversary. Elen, who has been written of above may have been a daughter or a sister, and Jonet married Sir William Mathew of Rhadyr. For these two daughters to have married titled husbands, gives some idea of the estate of Henry ap Gwilym.

The next family to own Court Henry was a branch of the Herberts. Whilst absolute proof is lacking, circumstantial evidence shows the following probably to have been the case. When Mably married Sir Rhys ap Thomas, no doubt a substantial dowry was settled on her and this could well have included Court Henry, passing to her absolutely sometime between 1492 and 1506, the period when her father, Henry ap Gwilym would have died. Mably and Sir Rhys ap Thomas had an only son, Sir Griffith ap Rhys, K.G. of Newton, courtier and soldier, who married Katherine, daughter of Sir John St John of Bletso and died in 1521 before his father, having had a son, Rhys ap Griffith.

This Rhys ap Griffith was beheaded for treason in 1531 and his lands confiscated by the Crown. However, the lands confiscated did not include the property settled on his mother, Katherine, who in 1532, married Sir Piers Edgcomb of Cotehele, Cornwall. In 1593-4 certain lands belonging to, or perhaps the estate of Katherine Edgcomb, were sold to John Herbert, his wife Jane and their son John, the lands being in the Parish of Llangathen.2

John Herbert senior, a successful lawyer in Carmarthen, was a descendant of Sir Richard Herbert of Coldbrook and his wife Margaret, a sister of Sir Rhys ap Thomas. Sir Richard and his brother Sir William Herbert, were both beheaded in 1469 after the battle of Edgecote, in which Warwick the King-Maker defeated the royal forces.

Although it is not specifically stated, the sale of land to John Herbert and his family must have included Court Henry, because the will of John Herbert senior, which is in the National Library of Wales, gives one the feeling that he had lived there for many years before his death in 1594.

This then is the story of the builder of Court Henry. He left no memorial tombstone at Llangathen Church which exists today; nevertheless, he left his name for posterity in the house he built.

Note: There is another Court Henry, just to the north of Cil-y-Cwm. The house is now a ruin. It may well have been so named by its one-time owner William Herbert, who died in 1711. This William Herbert was a grandson of the John Herbert, lawyer of Carmarthen, who purchased Court Henry (Llangathen).

London 1979.
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