The Origins of Y Drenewydd

Newtown received a royal charter to establish and hold a market on Tuesdays (still held today) and an annual fair in 1279. But why? The location of market town's was regulated by the Crown, not least because they provided a source of taxes. So why was Newtown granted a market charter, and not nearby Berriew or Abermule or Kerry? - It's all about politics and warfare...

The origins of Newtown seem buried in the to and fro of territorial possession within Wales, and in particular over the strategically important middle lands of Wales, arising from ongoing civil war between the English Crown and barons in the thirteenth century leading to the annexation of the Principality of Wales by Edward I.

Following Henry III’s defeat of Simon de Montfort's baronial rebellion of 1263, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd (Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf), last King of Wales, mounted a successful campaign to capture territory in central and eastern Wales. This included the areas known as Cedewain and Ceri, previously held by Llewelyn’s relative Roger de Mortimer, 1st Baron Mortimer, the “Slayer of Simon de Montfort”.

Roger de Mortimer played a decisive role in both Henry III and later in Edward I’s campaigns, indeed a very bloody one in terms of the death of Simon de Montfort (reputedly sending his wife the gift of de Montfort’s severed head). Roger de Mortimer fought with Llewelyn for dominance of much of central and eastern Wales until his death in 1282. de Mortimer and his decendents were powerful and extremely influential Marcher Lords, their domain centred of Wigmore Castle - just over the English border near Ludlow. Much of borderlands from Montgomery down to Abergavenney and Monmouth came under their control until the War of the Roses.

Llewelyn had used the turmoil of the baron’s rebellion to consolidate his power base in Wales, culminating in the Treaty of Montgomery of 1267. Not only was he recognised by the English crown as (the last) sovereign 'Prince of Wales', but it also confirmed his effective rulership, from his principality of Gwynedd, over most of north, east and central Wales - from Anglesey down to Brecon. Llewelyn’s domain included much of what had been the historic Kingdom of Powys and within that the cantref – a mediaeval administrative unit analogous to the English ‘hundreds’ – of Cedewain (sometimes anglicised to the Kidriorn Hundred). 

In the turmoil following Henry IIIs death in 1272 Llewelyn began construction of a castle and associated market at Dolforwyn (present day Abermule), close to the key strategic Norman border castle at Montgomery

Castell DolForwyn

Establishing the castle was a means of consolidating his dominance over the strategically significant Cedewain, threatening both the Prince of Powys Wenwynwyn (who had refuted Llewelyn's authority and allied himself with the new English king, Edward I) based at nearby Welshpool and the royal castle at Montgomery. Both were in the Severn Valley, effectively the gateway from middle England into Wales. 

Edward forbade the construction. Not only castles but also markets were key strategic assets of the Crown, sources of revenue and their location carefully regulated by royal license (with strict rules determining how far apart such markets needed to be, Dolforywn was clearly breaching the rules!). Llewelyn responded pithily that as this was his land he would assert his rights to build a castle and to establish a market.

By 1277 Edward had declared Llewelyn a rebel against the English crown and began a concerted campaign to conquer Wales, finally annexing the Principality of Wales in 1283.