Lord of Brecon 1091?-1093
Born c 1050 Died 1093
According to Orderic Vitalis he was a member of a
powerful Norman family from the town of Aufay near
of Dieppe, established by one Gilbert of St
Valeri, who established his fortune by marrying a
daughter of Richard, Duke of Normandy.
Bernard was born naturally enough. in Neufmarche
near Rouen in Normandy, sometime around the year
1050. If he participated in the invasion of England,
he played only a very minor role, as his name is not
mentioned in the Domesday Book and he was granted no
land in England. However by 1086 he was in attendance
at king William's court, and sometime
between 1086 and 1088, he came into possession of a
number of estates in Herefordshire that had
originally been held by two gentlemen by the names of
Gilbert Fitz-Turold and Alfred of Marlborough. It
was soon after this that he married
Agnes1. a daughter of
Osbern Fitz-Richard another Herefordshire
landowner and obtained further estates of Beryngton
and Little Hereford as a result.
Bernard of Neufmarche consequently held a group of
estates lying within the Herefordshire side of the
Wye Valley and from which an an old Roman military
road led straight towards the Welsh kingdom of
Brycheiniog. As it was, it appears that royal policy
at that time was to maintain the status of the minor
Welsh kingdoms such as Brycheiniog as buffer states
between Rhys ap Tewdwr's Deheubarth
and the border earldoms of Hereford, Shrewsbury
and Chester, and as tempting a target as it might
be, the constraints of royal policy where such that he
had to stay his hand for the moment.
During 1088 a number of the Norman magnates of the
Welsh Marches rose up in a revolt led by Odo of
Bayeux against William Rufus and in
favour of his brother Robert, which was suppressed
Bernard of Neufmarche supported the revolt but in
common with most of the other participants received no
punishment at all, almost the opposite in fact; William Rufus'
response seems to have been to remove the constraint on westward expansion.
The conquest of Brycheiniog
During 1088 Norman policy towards the Welsh
frontier changed, attempts by the crown to maintain
the status quo were abandoned and the border magnates
given tacit permission to commence offensive
operations against Wales. It is likely therefore
that during the autumn of 1088 Bernard began his first
encroachments into the kingdom of Brycheiniog and
advanced as far as Glasbury, as a charter of 1088
records his name as the donor of certain lands there
to the Abbey of St Peter's in Gloucestershire.
Within the next two years he had seized control of
the commote of Bronllys and erected a castle there
at the confluence of the Dulais and Llyfni rivers.
He then worked his way south, along the course of the
Llyfni river, extending his control into the upper
reaches of the Usk valley. In in about 1091 he
reached the point where the river Usk meets the
Honddu and there he built another castle at this key
strategic location at the very heart of Brycheiniog.
This castle, and the later town that grew alongside
it, he christened 'Brecknock'
? and there he established
the capital for his new domain.
Bernard then spent the next two years gradually
expanding his control over the remainder of
Brycheiniog, but in the Easter of 1093 a Welsh
army led by Rhys ap Tewdwr, ruler of Deheubarth
and Bleddyn ap Maenarch, king of Brycheiniog, came
forward to challenge him and seek to drive him out of
Wales. The two forces met somehwere near the site of
the castle at Brecon and there Bernard of Neufmarche
was victorious, both Rhys ap Tewdwr and Bleddyn ap
Maenarch were killed and the Welsh forces defeated.
This victory naturally left Bernard free to
consolidate his grip on the whole of Brycheiniog and
transform the old kingdom into the new marcher
lordship of Brecon.
The Lordship of Brecon
Bernard unfortunately did not have long to enjoy
the fruits of his victory as died in 1093 shortly
after his defeat of Rhys ap Tewdwr. His marriage had
produced no sons, only a daughter named Sybil, so the
newly minted lordship of Brecon passed into the
hands of Sybil's husband Miles Fitz-Walter, earl of
both Gloucester and Hereford. That marriage
similarly resulted in a single daughter named Bertha
who married one William de Braose, into whose hands
the lordship then passed and in whose family it
remained for a century or so.
1 Who often seems to be referred to simply as 'Nest'; whether this is due to confusion with Osbern Fitz-Richard's wife who was named Nest and daughter of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, or whether it is because Agnes was also known as Nest to her Welsh relations is not clear.
2 Brecknock pronounced phonetically is a Norman approximation of the Welsh Brycheiniog, which is rendered into the modern English as Brecon.
- The Normans in South Wales 1070-1171 by Lynn H. Nelson (University of Texas Press, 1966)
- A History of Wales by John Davies (Allen Lane 1993)
- The Normans by David C Douglas (Folio, 2002)
- The Welsh Kings by Kari Mundi (Tempus 2000)