The Gwent Local History Council was set up in 1954 to encourage public interest in local history, to bring together societies and persons interested in the study of local history, to arrange lectures and publish the results of historical research. Their twice yearly magazine "Gwent Local History" has made a valuable contribution to the store of historical knowledge. Here Caerleon Net, with the full agreement of the Gwent Local History Council, is making available many of the articles from this magazine relating to Caerleon.
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Gwent Local History No. 35, Spring 1973
The Herberts of St. Julians
by Mrs Eija Kennerley, Phil. Mag. (Helsinki), B.A. (London)
Between Newport and Caerleon, just off the main road, are the remains of the old mansion of St. Julians, once owned by a branch of the famous Herbert family. It is now concealed by a row of brick houses and the only old parts left are: a gabled porch, a couple of windows at the back and some portions of walls. However, even that is enough to set the imagination working.
The Herberts of St. Julians have "gone utterly", as well as the house they once occupied. Facts are known about many members of the family but the facts are few and they relate to things which do not tell us about the realities of their everyday lives. These must be only guessed at. They did not leave diaries or letters, nor do we know what their rooms looked like and what kind of furniture they had, what they ate and drank. All that must be deduced from what is known of the life of the gentry in the period, generally.
To set the general background one could say that, in spite of many opinions expressed to the contrary, St. Julians probably was rather an ordinary country house, not a very grand one. Wales - and Monmouthshire did belong to Wales in social respect if not in the legal one - was poor compared with England in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the middle of the 17th century it could be said of Wales: "You can sooner find fifty gentlemen of £100 a year than five of £500. (2)
The position of St. Julians is about midway between Newport castle and Caerleon and the house is closely connected with these places. Newport castle at one time was in the hands of the Herberts (3) and Caerleon manor belonged to the Earl of Pembroke of the first creation, the ancestor of the Herberts of St. Julians, to whom Edward IV had granted it.
In Coxe's Historical Tour of Monmouthshire are two drawings showing the building in ruins. There is no means of knowing how correct the drawings are but what is shown, points to the style of the Tudor period.
It may be true that the house was an enlargement or follower of the ancient chapel of Saint Julian that traditionally is thought to have stood at the site. (4) In the 16th century, Churchyard called it "a fair house" (5) and archdeacon Coxe about 1800 called it "the venerable mansion of St. Julians". (6) Nearer our own time Sir Joseph Bradney says: "In front of the house there was a walled enclosure, as was usual in such premises. On the left was a small space with a wall around it which was said to be the site of the chapel of St. Julians. Nothing of the kind can be traced now. I am speaking of thirty or forty years ago when I first visited the spot". As Bradney's History of Monmouthshire was published in the early years of the 1930's, he must have seen the site for the first time at the end of last century. (7)
According to Bradney, St. Julians was part of the property of Goldcliff Priory. That is why the Book of Llandaff gives the boundaries of the estate. The size of the area is plausible enough for a mansion. (8) The boundary started near Caerleon bridge, went to the brook called Merthyr "which enters the Usk at Abernant". From there the boundary proceeded over Christchurch Hill to the source of the brook Llechau, "on whose bank stands a farmhouse called Glanllechan, which brook runs down to St. Julians and forms the pill". (9)
Nothing is known of St. Julians during the 14th and 15th centuries, except that the third son of the Earl of Pembroke, George, settled there at the end of the latter century. In Monmouthshire Record Office the name of a George Herbert appears in a document from the year 1492, as a witness, although it is by no means certain he is the same person as our George.
Sir George Herbert of St. Julians cannot have been older than 5 or 6 years at the death, i.e. execution (1469) of the Earl, because the eldest, William, was "scarce ten years old at the death of his father." (10)
George, being only the third son, found it necessary to make himself known to the king in special ways. He was a true member of a family which "managed to make a profit out of service to the crown, in peace or war, or both". (11) It is known (l2) that George was one of those Welshmen who assisted Henry VII in putting down the rebellion of Lambert Simnel in 1487 and that he was knighted for his assistance. He married Sibylla, daughter of Sir Richard Croft of Croft Castle, Herefordshire. More than a century later the Herberts of St. Julians still called the members of the Croft family "cousins', in the manner of the period. (13)
Sir George's son, Sir Walter, continued in his father's footsteps, accompanying his own king in turn, Henry VIII, to wars, probably 1512-1514. He is said to have taken with him "a hundred of the finest archers in the county, many of whom were said to be freeholders". (14) His badly mutilated effigy can still be seen in St. Woolos Cathedral.
Sir Walter may have been a wild character - or then he was grossly gossipped about - because it was said that he was "the patron and protector of thieves and murderers". He was supposed to have been mixed up with some disreputable characters in the Magor area. (15) However, it is probably his name that was good enough for a witness - as a document in the Record Office shows.
According to Sir Walter's will (1550) he had a ship called "James" that he bequeathed to his second son George, which fact proves that the Herberts of St. Julians had then already realised the trading chances offered by the river Usk and were on their way gathering capital.
When Sir George and Sir Walter rode away to wars, St. Julians was being looked after by their wives, Sir George's wife Sibylla, then Sir Walter's first wife Mary, daughter of Sir William Morgan of Pencoed, and later by his second wife Cecely.
We know nothing about the characters or looks of these women; we can only imagine that they, like so many other ladies of the period, in castles and manor houses, became the actual householders, watchful and thrifty, giving all their time and energy to the economical running of the house and estate. They must have had servants, of course: in the house itself servant girls of all kinds, possibly a housekeeper, and a nurse to look after the children, as well as a wet-nurse. There may have been personal maids and laundresses, a cook or two and for the estate a steward, a gardener, stable-men and occasional workers. The ladies had to keep an eye on the steward as he hired the servants once every year. The servants had wages, board and lodging, but also a clothing allowance. Cloth had to be bought either yearly or more often. Then there was the spinning and weaving, the dressmaking, the embroidering, the storing of foodstuffs, making of preserves. Milk, butter and cheese came from the different tenants around, fish out of the river Usk. There was not a lot of furniture, yet; chairs were still unusual. But Cecely had at least two feather beds, as she bequeathed them in her will to her two nieces.
There were three children in Sir Walter's house: William, George and Miles. We do not know which of the parents died first; we only know that Sir Walter must have lived past the year 1550. He had been High Sheriff of Monmouthshire, that is why we can think him comparatively wealthy.
Sir Walter's eldest son, William, became sheriff in 1553 and M.P. in 1555. It was natural that he was elected to the Parliament, being a member of a notable family. There is no reason to suspect that he would have used any disreputable methods to be elected - a lamentably usual state of affairs at the period. (16)
It would be interesting to know for certain what Sir William's religious views were, as this was the time of temporary return to Catholicism during the reign of Mary I. There is one hint towards at least a tolerant attitude: he arranged the marriage - most marriages of the time were indeed arranged - of his son William to the daughter of William Morgan of Llantarnam, head of one of the foremost Catholic families of Monmouthshire. These two families, the Herberts and the Morgans rivalled for high office. Sir William Herbert was M.P. from 1555 to 1557, William Morgan from 1553 to 1554. The rivalry continued during the lives of their sons, Sir William junior being M.P. 1584 and 1586 and Edward Morgan 1584 to 1585, and 1586 to 1587.
Sir William's brother George was the actual merchant of the family. He probably lived in Newport, however, not in St. Julians. At the period the trade was generally growing, it was worth having ships to carry hides and wool, even wheat, to Bristol at least if not further. The cloth and cattle trade attracted the Herberts as they had attracted many other families "on the make" since the end of the previous century. George Herbert's ships may have gone past St. Julians, up the river to Caerleon, as the fact that he had a cellar there seems to show. His father has bequeathed the "James" to him with "all manner of cabelle, anchors, roopes, tacklinge, guns and ordnynnce weapons". He also was the owner of "Le Steven" which brought cargoes of salt and wines from La Rochelle, and "Le Dragon" or "Green Dragon". (17)
George was not very scrupulous in his dealings. His barque "The (Green) Dragon" "transgressed the Queen's regulations every time it left port, since its cargo was usually one of wheat carried down the Severn in trowes or barges from Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. This blatant evasion of customs tolls was common knowledge to Her Majesty's subjects in those parts, but not - by some inexplicable omission - to Her Majesty's Customs officials in Cardiff and Newport". (18) One can imagine the reason for the "inexplicable" ignorance of the officials. It must have been kept going by means George and other merchants knew only too well.
In his will George Herbert bequeathed his ships and his cellar "in Carlyne", where he kept his salt to his nephew Sir William Herbert junior. He may have kept other things there as well, or in some other cellar in Caerleon. He did import wines, and they must have been stored somewhere. According to "The Monmouthshire Houses" by Fox-Raglan, the houses in the area often provided a cellar which was "accessible for the large cider barrels from outside, and with an inner door to enable their contents readily to reach the hall". (19) A similar arrangement may have existed in St. Julians as well.
The third son of Sir Walter, Miles, died rather young, as his wife was a widow in 1568 already. Miles probably lived at Crindau, in his wife's home. However, his elder brother, William, bequeathed him in his will (which was already made in 1554) also "a tenement in the parish of St. Michael at Lanternam".
We now come to the most interesting of the Herberts of St. Julians, Sir William the younger, who was born 1554. He was 13 years old when his father died in 1567. (20) He combined the roles of the intellectual and the practical man.
Of Sir William's youth the National Dictionary of Biography tells that he studied under Laurence Humphrey, president of Magdalen College, Oxford, and must have been his private pupil. He was described by his friends as learned and 'of a very high mind'. His educational standard was the highest reached in the family so far, and the fact that he was given this chance shows that his father, Sir William the senior, understood the importance of education. In fact, the Herberts of St. Julians are even in this respect typical of the period. G. D. Owen writes: "Now that their (i.e. of the Welsh gentry) energies and natural turbulence were being canalised by the Government to more useful purposes, and the perquisites of office as well as influence and honours placed within their reach, something more than literacy was considered to be an indispensable condition for self-advancement and for the satisfactory performance of the many duties entrusted to them". (21) Sir William the junior later went even further in his educational zeal: he proposed to found a college, first in Ireland, in his own plantation area, then in Tintern.
Sir William did marry very prudently, at least in regard to property. Florence's father William Morgan was one of the wealthiest landowners of Monmouthshire. Whether the marriage was indeed prudent in other respects, we do not know. In the 1580's the life of the Catholics became difficult, as they could even lose their lives in addition to paying large fines for recusancy. Sir William Herbert was a zealous Protestant all through his life. There may have been times of tension in the house. On the other hand, Florence may have recanted and accepted her husband's religious opinions. In any case, she had enough sorrow in her life without this kind of difficulty, as we shall see later on.
One cannot help wondering, however, whether Sir William's Protestantism might have been of a rather calculated kind. In general, the Welsh were rather lukewarm towards religion at this period - some Catholic recusants being exceptions.
Sir William was knighted in 1578 and became sheriff in 1580, M.P. in 1584 and again 1586. In the latter year his life took another turn. Elizabeth I then approved the 'Articles' for the plantation of the lands in Ireland which had belonged to the Earl of Desmond, after the supression of the Desmond Revolt. (22) Sir William had probably some connections with others who took part in this new venture, through his activity as M.P. When the lord Deputy, Perrot, was dismissed, Sir William was one of the 'undertakers' who came to take large allotments of forfeited land in Munster. Sir William was not like most of the landlords in Ireland. He had real sympathy with the Irish peasants - would this have been the result of his relationship with the Welsh peasants around St. Julians? - and he tried to keep their rents reasonably limited. He also denounced the other planters for their tyranny and he seems to have thought the world of his Monmouthshire men whom he would have liked to bring to replace the English garrison. His Protestant zeal induced him to try to make converts among the Irish population. He even had parts of the Anglican service translated into Irish. All this had the effect that the English landlords in Ireland called him all kinds of names, laughed at his "fat conceit" and his "Welsh humour", as well as showed their contempt for his liking of the Irish. This spiritual battle came to a head in 1589, and Sir William returned to Wales, tired and disgusted. (23)
Now Sir William turned back to more solitary occupations. Before going to Ireland he had already written Latin philosophical and theological works which did arouse attention and even admiration. One of his admirers was Thomas Churchyard who might even have stayed in St. Julians when travelling in the area. His "Worthiness of Wales" came out 1587, so he must have been in Monmouthshire before Sir William went to Ireland. He dedicated a poem to Sir William. However, Sir William's later son-in-law, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, was not as enthusiastic. He describes Sir William's work, called "A Letter written by a Catholicke to a Romaine Catholicke" (1586) as being "an Exposition upon the Revelations" but "some thought he was as far from finding the sense thereof as he was from attaining the philosopher's stone which was another part of his study". (24)
In addition to his writing Sir William must have devoted some time to looking after his estate which was growing rapidly. Liswerry was granted by Elizabeth I to him in 1582, Lebenith was bought by him, he was appointed the chief steward of the manor of Rumney in 1583. (25) Besides he must have received some lands through his wife Florence. St. Julians alone consisted of 103 Welsh acres - within the manor of Carlion - besides, there were 24 Welsh acres of land and pasture "in Cawldrey" and "divers messuages, lands" etc. in Tintern, Newport, Stowe and Dyffryn".
Sir William's character was on the inflexible side, which fact finally led to tragedy. According to Prosapia Herbertorum he would not keep cats to combat the rats which were infesting the house - we know that the banks of the Usk are still troubled by rodents - but used poison instead. He put it "upon Cards upon the Shelves and other places of his Study. It so happened on a time that the two young Lads came in the father all that time being intent upon his Study and playing tbout the Roome they perceived the Rats Cand (sic!) which they indeed thought was Sugar Candy. So as both of them eate thereof and carried the card unto their father who became affrighted aske (sic!) them what became of the Rats Cand that was within it the pretty Babes tould their fiather they eate it astonisht he went immediately to work with Oil of Olive Butter milk and what he had ready "
Nothing helped, and his two sons died. "Inexpressible was the Sorrow of the parents. Lamentable were the cryes of Seruants, and condoling of the family and friends for this great loss which in especiall manner wrought upon their dear Mother that she was well nigh distracted to the day of her death". We can imagine the scene very well: the commotion, weeping and the sense of loss.
The same source tells about the child who was left, Mary. She may have been older than the two boys; we know only that she was born in 1578, when her father died in 1593, she was about 15. As Welshmen generally, Sir William also was very proud of his pedigree, firmly believing that he was of royal descent. (26) This belief rested, however, on very shaky foundation. (27) He seems to have impressed Churchyard in any case, who said in his poem dedicated to Sir William, that by right Raglan castle should have belonged to Sir William and not gone to another Herbert branch through female line. (28) After the death of his sons Sir William saw the future of his family in doubt. The only way to preserve the name and the estate intact was to bind Mary to marry another Herbert. This Sir William stated many times over in his will.
According to the Prosapia Herbertorum "many were the suitors" of Mary. It is possible that she had a childhood sweetheart, the son of the famous Dr. Dee, the philosopher and alchemist whom her father knew well and with whom her father was studying alchemy in Mortlake, Surrey. (29) One suspects, however, that this may have been only a childish fancy, nothing more, as the children were both quite young then.
But Mary was lucky - at least so it seems. She married the dashing, young beau of the time, Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, who was a member of the family's Montgomeryshire branch and thus "a cousin". Lord Herbert of Cherbury writes in his Life: "I had not been many months in the University (i.e. Oxford) but the news was brought to me of my father's death. Shortly after I was sent again to my studies in Oxford, where I had not been long but that an overture for a match with the daughter and heir of Sir William Herbert of St. Julians was made Mary, after her father died, continued unmarried until she was one-and-twenty; none of the Herberts appearing in all that time, who, either in age or fortune, was fit to match her. About this time I had attained the age of fifteen, (30) and a match at last being proposed, yet, notwithstanding the disparity of years betwixt us, upon the eight-and-twentieth of February 1598 (or -9), in the house of Eyton . . . I espoused her".
It is intriguing to think what kind of a marriage that was. Lord Cherbury only mentions Mary in passing. He may not have had much time for her, having so many interests and so many admirers. Women as individuals did not matter very much in any case, at that period. She did bear "divers children" to him, all in the early years of their marriage, because the last one, Edward, was born soon after Lord Cherbury had gone abroad. Perhaps his description of the decision to go abroad tells something of their relationship.
He had suggested to her that she and he should make their property over to their sons, but Mary had refused. "I told her then, that I should make another motion to her; which was, that in regard I was too young to go beyond sea before I married her, she now would give me leave for a while to see foreign countries; howbeit, if she would assure her lands as I would mine, I would never depart from her. She answered, that I knew her mind before concerning that point, yet that she should be sorry I went beyond sea; nevertheless, if I would needs go, she could not help it".
Lord Herbert of Cherbury went beyond sea, and very fast, satisfied that "I left her not only posterity to renew the family of the Herberts of St. Julians according to her father's desire to inherit his lands, but the rents of all the lands she brought with her". He also thinks that he had "lived most honestly with her".
There was Mary, left alone, expecting her youngest child, with "divers others" running around her - or around their nurse.
The people of Newport often fondly remember Edward Lord Herbert of Cherbury as the most glorious of all the Herberts of St. Julians. In popular books and articles are stories of his life in the mansion. To the writer of this article it seems highly improbable that he ever spent very long time there. Lord Herbert of Cherbury would never have wanted to stay in such a far-away district. Even the marriage ceremony was at Eyton - although it was customary to have it in the bridegroom's house - and soon after that he took his bride and his mother to Oxford, thereafter to London. He does mention St. Julians in his "Life" a couple of times, e.g. when he tells about riding from there to Abergavenny, at which occasion he bravely saved his servant from drowning in the Usk, but that is all.
The surroundings of St. Julians must have been quiet and dull. Only a person fond of hunting and fishing might have enjoyed the country atmosphere. True, Caerleon was near - but what was Caerleon of the first half of the 17th century like? There cannot have been much company for an adventurous and philosophic "coxcombe" like lord Edward - or for a highly educated and civilised man of the world as he also was. Newport cannot have been any better. G. D. Owen says about Welsh towns in the Elizabethan age:
"Unlike English towns there was a singular absence of organised pageantry and presentation of mystery plays and interludes based on scenes from the Holy Scriptures. Sometimes the soporific atmosphere of a Welsh town would be disturbed by the sudden appearance of a menagerie it would be true to say that the townsmen relaxed or sought their entertainment in drinking with their boon companions". (31)
Of course Lord Herbert of Cherbury was not one of the townsmen, but it has been known of noblemen that they did take part in the life of the towns in some way or other. Thinking of Lord Edward's character and interests, one cannot believe that he would have enjoyed the entertainments above described.
It has been suggested, or that impression has been given, that he wrote his works in St. Julians. There certainly would have been peace for that kind of work and - there was Sir William's library. Perhaps he did write something there during his rare visits. But when?
Lord Cherbury had property in Caerleon, e.g. in Jany Crane Street, "in right of Mary, his wife", and Le long y Backe, as well as freehold land "called Craig leche" and lands in "Lanvihangell ton y grose called Tir y castell coch", as the survey of Caerleon manor of the year 1622 tells us. In the survey of 1653 his name is still among the burgage holders and free tenants of Caerleon, although he had died five years before that.
The house was of course inherited by his eldest son Richard and in turn by his grandson Edward. The latter died without issue, and the estate came into the hands of his widow's new husband, the earl of Inchiquin. The widow married a third time, however. Her last husband was Isaac George, a sea captain who lived at St. Julians after her death. (32) She was buried in Caerleon. (33) After Isaac George's death St. Julians was let to farm and finally sold - some time before 1772 - to Charles Van of Llanwern. (34)
In these days the noisy modern world passes by St. Julians.
The site of the chapel is buried somewhere under modern buildings, and
the old porch is now squeezed almost out of existence. Caerleon Road
stretches from Newport to Caerleon and is tarmac covered - so is the
ancient London road that turns off from Caerleon Road about 300 yards
from St. Julians towards the direction of Newport. In the time of the
Herberts, the London road existed, but there was hardly anything else
than a bridle path between St. Julians and Caerleon, and even that went
round about. Skirting the hill it joined the old road going up to Christchurch,
at Ashwell, and from there along the river bank to the old bridge of
Caerleon at the spot where the Romans already had a bridge. Both of
the Williams must have ridden their horses along the London road on
their way to the Parliament and George must have used both the river
and the bridle path on his way to his cellars in Caerleon. Travelling
was difficult, except on horseback or by boat. In an ordinary way, the
women did not move about very much. Perhaps Florence Herbert went home
to Llantarnam sometimes, and perhaps to Ireland with her husband. Mary
did go away - to marry.
Lord Herbert of Cherbury describes his own father: " my father, whom I remember to have been black-haired and bearded, as all my ancestors of his side are said to have been, of a manly, or somewhat stern look, but withall very handsome and well compact in his limbs, and of a great courage ". It is only reasonable to assume that the branch which lived in St. Julians had the same good looks.
By their blood the Herberts were Welsh, and it seems they instinctively adhered to the Welsh monarchs, the Tudors, as did many other Welshmen of the period. They also consciously admitted being Welsh. Lord Cherbury says he knew the Welsh language and we can guess the previous generations knew it even better. It would have been the language spoken in St. Julians, even by the master and mistress of the house, not to mention the servants who mostly must have been local people. Since the Act of Union (1536, 1543) English was the language of legal procedure. However, a lot of Welsh had to be used in court proceedings, as the people of Monmouthshire were certainly Welsh-speaking in the 16th and 17th century, even until the 19th. The officials had to be bi-lingual.
To conclude: in the history of the Herberts of St. Julians one can see development from the military to the landowning officials and wealthy tradesmen, in fact the same development that was going on generally in Britain during the 16th and 17th centuries. One can also see clearly that they were "as actual as we are today".
1. G. M. Trevellyan, "An Autobiography and other Essays". Longmans, 1949, P. 13.
2. G. M. Trevellyan, English Social History (1955 ed), p. 151. Reference to Major General Barry's letter to Oliver Cromwell.
3. Coxe, A Historical Tour of Monmouthshire I, p. 52.
4. A note in Rev. W. J. Rees's English edition of the Book of Llandaff, p. 483.
5. Churchyard, "Worthiness of Wales", 1776 edition.
6. Coxe, I, p. 79.
7. Joseph Bradney, History of Monmouthshire, Vol. IV, part II, p. 300.
8. Rev. E. J. Rees, Book of Llandaff, p. 484.
9. Bradney, Vol. IV, part II, p. 294.
10. Prospapia Herbertorum, MS written in the latter half of the 17th century, possibly by Thomas Herbert of Tintern.
11. Glanmore Williams: The Welsh Church from the Conquest to the Reformation, p. 249.
12. Bradney, Vol. IV, part II, p. 295.
13. Dictionary of National Biography: "William Herbert acted 'probably at (Sir James) croft's suggestion (and) became an 'undertaker' ' for the plantation of Munster on 5 May 1586".
14. Bradney, Vol. IV, part II, p. 295.
15. Id. Bradney refers to Thomas Wright: History of Ludlow (1852), p. 383, but doubts this and thinks the rumours were perhaps exaggerated.
16. G. D. Owen: Elizabethan Wales, pp. 33-35.
17. J. W. Dawson: Commerce and Customs. Newport and Caerleon, p. 10.
18. G. D. Owen, Elizabethan Wales, p. 132. Refers to PRO Exchequer Q.R. Special Commissions. 2895.
19. Fox-Raglan: Monmouthshire houses, part II, p. 84.
20. Dict, of Nat. Biogr.
21. G. D. Owen, p. 198.
22. Edmund Curtis: A History of Ireland, p. 199.
23. A. H. Dodd: Studies in Stuart Wales, pp. 78-79.
24. Life of Edward Lord Herbert of Cherbury, ed. by Sidney Lee.
25. Bradney, Vol. IV, part II, pp. 296-297.
26. The Herberts traced their descent from a bastard of Henry I.
27. See Limbus Patrum Morganiae et Glamorganiae, by George T. Clark, London 1886.
28. Churchyard, ed. 1776.
29. Life of Lord H. of Cherb., Sidney Lee's ed. 2, p. 22.
30. Sydney Lee thinks he must have been 17 years old.
31. G. D. Owen: Elizabethan Wales. pp. 105-106.
32. Bradney, Vol. 1V, part II, p. 293.
33. The Parish Registers of Llangattock-juxta-Caerleon: Elizabeth George, buried 25th Febr. 1756.
34. Bradney, Vol. IV, part II, p. 299.
Obs. The notes of the Wills are all from the collection
of copies kept in Newport Ref. Libr.
There are several views of St Julians on the Newport Past Website.