Caerleon Net

Thomas Churchyard, 1520 - 1604

Thomas Churchyard lived a long and varied life. The son of a farmer, he was born near Shrewsbury. In his early years he was a soldier and saw service in Scotland, Ireland, The Low Countries and France where was taken prisoner and escaped.

On leaving the army he sought a place in the court of Elizabeth The First. This he never achieved, though he was rewarded with a pension from the queen when he was over seventy!

From 1560 onwards he published a variety of works. He travelled much and in his later years, went “sundry times of purpose” through Wales to give a description of the country. “The Worthiness of Wales” was produced in 1587 (and dedicated to Queen Elizabeth).

Here we have a section of that work. After describing Monmouth, Raglan, Chepstow, and Usk, and referring to the castles of Grosmont, Skenfrith, Whitecastle, and Llangibby, he turns his attention to Caerleon:

Caerleon now step in with stately stile;
No feeble phrase may serve to set thee forth.
Thy famous town was spoke of many a mile;
Thou hast been great, though now of little worth;
Thy noble bounds hath reached beyond them all;
In thee hath been King Arthur’s golden hall.
In thee the wise and worthies did repose,
And through thy town the water ebbs and flows.

King Arthur’s reign (though true it were)
Is now of small account;
The fame of Troy is known each where,
And to the skies doth mount.

Both Athens, Thebes, and Carthage, too,
We hold of great renown
What then, I pray you, shall we do
To poor Caerleon town.

King Arthur sure was crowned there,
It was his royal seat,
And in this town did sceptre bear,
With pomp and honour great.

An Archbishop, that Dubric hight
Did crown this King in deed;
Four kings before him bore in sight
Four golden swords, we read.

These kings were famous of renown,
Yet for their honour due,
Repaired unto Caerleon town,
As I rehearse to you.

How many dukes and earls withal,
Good authors, can you tell,
And so true writers shew you shall
How Arthur there did dwell?

What court he kept, what acts he did
What conquest he obtained?
And in what princely honour still
King Arthur long remained

Queen Gwenevere was crowned likewise
In Julian’s church, they say;
Where that four queens in solemn guise,
In royal rich array,

Four pigeons white bore in their hand
Before the Princess’ face,
In sign the Queen of British lands
Was worthy of that grace.

Caerleon lodgéd all these kings
And many a noble knight,
As may be proved by sundry things
That I have seen in sight.

The bounds hath been nine miles about,
The length thereof was great;
It shows itself this day throughout
It was a Prince’s seat.

In Arthur’s time a table round
Was there whereat he sate,
As yet a plot of goodly ground
Sets forth that rare estate.

The city reached to Christchurch then,
And to Saint Julians both
Which yet appears to view of man
To try this tale of troth.

There are such vaults and hollow caves, (1)
Such walls and conduits deep,
Made all like pipes of earthen pots
Wherein a child may creep,

Such streets and pavements, sundry ways
To every market town,
Such bridges built in olden day,
And things of such renown

As men may muse of to behold,
But chiefly for to note,
There is a castle very old
That may not be forgot.

It stands upon a forced bill,
Not far from flowing flood,
Where, lo, ye view long vales at will
Environed all with wood.

A seat for any king alive,
The soil it is so sweet,
Fresh springs doth streams of water drive
Almost through every street.

From castle all these things are seen
As pleasures to the eye;
The goodly groves and valleys green,
And woody mountains high;

The crooked creeks and pretty brooks
That are upon the plain:
The flowing tides that spread the land,
And twines to sea again;

The stately woods that like a hoop
Doth compass all the vale
The princely plots that stand in troop
To beautify the dale;

The rivers that doth daily run
As clear as crystal stone,
Shews that most pleasures under sun
Caerleon had alone.

Great ruth to see so brave a soil
Fall in so sore decay,
In sorrow set, full were the soil,
As fortune fled away.

And would forsook to knowledge those
That erst hath been so great
Where kings and grave philosophers
Made once therein their seat.

Urbs Legionem was it named
In Caesar’s days I trow,
And Arthur holding residence there
(As stories plainly show).

Not only kings and noble peers,
Repaired unto that place,
But learned men, full many years
Received therein their grace,

Then you that ancient things denies,
Let now your talk surcease,
When prose is brought before your eyes
Ye ought to hold your peace.

And let Caerleon have his right,
And joy his wonted fame,
And let each wise and worthy wight,
Speak well of Arthur's name.

After some particulars in prose relating to Arthur’s time, the author thus proceeds:-

Now must I touch a matter fit to know,
A fort and strength that stands beyond this town, (2)
On which you shall behold the noblest show,
(Look round about, and so look rightly down)
That ever yet I saw or man may view;
Upon that hill there shall appear to you
Of seven shires a part and portion great
Where hill itself is sure a warlike seat.

Ten thousand men may lodge them there unseen
In treble dykes that guard the fortress well,
And yet amid the fort a goodly green
Where that a power and mighty camp may dwell
In spite of world, if soldiers victuals have.
The hill so stands, if bird but wing do wave
Or man or beast but once stir up the head
A bow above with shaft shall strike it dead.

The hill commands a marv’lous way and scope
It seems it stood far off for town’s defence,
And in the wars it was Caerleon’s hope
Or else in deed, the Duke of Glo’ster since
(That did destroy both town and all therein)
To serve his turn this fortress did begin.

Not far from this, much like unto the same.
Twmbarlum stands, a mountain of some fame.
A town near this, that built is all a length,
Called Newport now, there is full fair to view,
Which seat doth stand for profit more than strength.
- A right strong bridge is there of timber new,
A river runs full near the castle wall:
Near church, likewise, a mount behold you shall,
Where sea and land to sight so plain appear
That there men see a part of five fair shires.
As upwards high aloft to mountain top,
The market town is bright in healthful sort;
So downwards too, is many a merchant’s shop,
And many sail to Bristowe from that port.
Of ancient time a city hath it bin,
And in those days the castle bard to win,
Which yet shows fair, and is repaired in part,
As things decayed must needs be helpt by art.

He compares Wales with other countries thus:

For France is fine, and full of faithless ways;
Poor Flanders gross, and far from happy days;
Rich Spain is proud, and stern to strangers all;
In Italy poisoning is always rife,
And Germany to drunkenness doth fall.
The Danes likewise do lead a bibbling life;
The Scots seek blood, and bear a cruel mind;
Ireland grows nought—the people were unkind.
England, God wot, hath learned such lewdness late,
That Wales, methinks, is now the soundest State.


(1) In a marginal note, the author says:-

“ I have seen caves underground (at this day) that go I know not how far, all made of excellent work, and goodly great stones both over head and under foot, and close and fine round about the whole cave.” (return)

(2) Churchyard here refers to Lodge Hill. (return)

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