Lord of Cantref Bychan
Active 1088 to 1116

Richard Fitz Pons was probably the son of a Norman named Pons or Ponz who held the manor of Eaton in Berkshire shortly after the conquest, and was succeeded at Eaton by his son Walter Fitz Pons who held that manor at the time the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086. (And was himself the likely ancestor of the family of Hastings of Eaton). Other members of the family appear to have established themselves in Gloucestershire, including an Osbert Fitz Pons who held Longley on Severn and a Drogo Fitz Pons who held Leach at the time of Domesday, as well as a Simon Fitz Pons, who was the ancestor of the Poyntz family. The exact relationship between Richard and these other Fitz Ponses is not known, but it is very probable that they were all brothers.

What is known of Richard Fitz Pons is that sometime after the year 1075 he was appointed as steward of the lordship of Clifford near Hay-on-Wye in Herefordshire by Ralph de Tosny. As a result Richard is sometimes described as the baron or lord of Clifford, which is technically incorrect as Clifford actually belonged to de Tosny, but since Richard's descendants later assumed the lordship of Clifford at the expense of the de Tosny family this is understandable.

Richard Fitz Pons subsequently became one of the supporters of Bernard of Neufmarche who invaded and conquered the kingdom of Brycheiniog in the years 1088 to 1093. It was Richard who probably built the first castle at Bronllys near Talgarth at the confluence of the Dulais and Llyfni rivers, and later established himself there in the area known as Cantref Selyf on the western border of Brycheiniog, which he held as a knight's fee from the Lord of Brecon. Some time later Richard used his power base at Cantref Selyf to extend Norman authority westward and moved into the upper reaches of the Tywi valley during the years 1110 to 1116. Certainly by the year 1115 he was in control of Cantref Bychan on the eastern bank of the Tywi where he established his caput at Llandovery and where he naturally built a castle.

Richard's seizure of Cantref Bychan appears to have been carried out with the authority of Henry I as the Brut y Tywysogion refers to Richard as "the man to whom king Henry had given Cantref Bychan". He does not however appeared to have been permanently based there, as he left Cantref Bychan in the custody of one Maredudd ap Rhydderch ap Caradog, who was responsible for defending Llandovery Castle when it was attacked by Gruffudd ap Rhys in 1116. (Gruffudd only succeeded in buring the outer castle at the time.)

Richard Fitz Pons married Maud, daughter of Walter of Gloucester and sister of Miles of Gloucester, 1st Earl of Hereford, and Constable of England. Together they had two sons, the elder Simon Fitz Richard who was knighted sometime before the year 1129, and Walter known as Walter de Clifford, the ancestor of the Clifford family and the original line of the Baron de Clifford. Richard was probably still alive in 1121 when a charter granting to the aforementioned Miles of Gloucester the property of his father-in-law Bernard of Neufmarche refers to Cantref Bychan as "the land of Richard Fitz Pons".


There are a number of Internet genealogy sites who confidently ascribe various dates of birth for Richard Fitz Pons ranging between the years 1075 and 1088. (Some hedge their bets by claiming that he was born circa 1079.) These dates are clearly absurd given that Richard was old enough to be military active in the period 1088-1093, and was prior to that time old enough to hold Clifford from Ralph de Tosny. One suspects that some innocent has misunderstood a reference in some book to 'fl' or 'florit' as relating to his date of birth, rather than than the time at which he 'flourished', since the years 1075 and 1088 are both dates at which we can reasonably confidently claim that an adult Richard was active. In the circumstances sometime in the early 1050s would be a better guess as to the year of his birth. The same sources confidently claim that he died in the year 1129 at Bronllys Castle, which may well be right, but there appears to be nothing to support this contention. It is worth noting that neither Burke's Peerage nor the Complete Peerage feel sufficiently confident to ascribe any dates whatsoever to his life span.

Many of the same sites similarly assert that he was born in Llahnyndhry Castle. Unfortunately there is no such place as 'Llahnyndhry', which is clearly a piece of mistranscribed Welsh; very probably it is Llanymddyfri that is Llandovery which is intended, and fairly obviously Richard cannot have been born in the castle that he himself later built. Again one suspects some innocent has misunderstood a reference to Richard being 'of Llandovery' to mean that he was born there, rather than that he later possessed it. Given that his likely date of birth was Pre-Conquest, Richard was probably born somewhere in Normandy.


SOURCES

  • R.R. Davies, The Age of Conquest: Wales 1063-1416 (Oxford University Press, 2000)
  • George Edward Cokayne, Vicary Gibbs, et al, The Complete Peerage (St Catherine's Press, 1910-1959)
  • The entry for DE CLIFFORD from Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 107th Edition
  • Lise Hull, Bronllys Castle http://www.castlewales.com/bronllys.html
  • Lise Hull, Llandovery Castle http://www.castlewales.com/llandov.html
  • Clifford of Clifford from Stirnet Genealogy at http://www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/british/cc4aq/clifford01.htm

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