A Fascinating Local History of Britric of Hanley Castle and the De Clares

A Fascinating Local History of Britric of Hanley Castle and the De Clares

Early Lordship over Gloucestershire

By AS for Mr Lee Hensley, President of the Chartered Freemen & Women of Gloucester


There is an interesting historical connection dating from 980, and the founding of Cranborne Priory, in Dorset. The chronicle of Tewkesbury states its patron was Æthelward Mᴂw (Seagull) otherwise known as Haylward ‘Snew’ (for his fair complexion). Haylward was a hugely powerful lord over much of the western counties. His son Ælfgar (or Algar) was earl of Devon.

Algar’s son Beorhtric, best known as Brictric (the fair) inherited great wealth and influence with more than 87 recorded places of his distributed throughout the West Country. Brictric was a kinsman of the Leofwine family whose princedom (Hwicce) was a State of the Mercian empire.

The State of Hwicce was a large area, formerly the tribal lands of the Dobunni, won by Ceawlin (of Wessex) at the battle of Deorham (Dyrham) in 577. It subsequently came into the possession of Penda the Anglian king of Mercia who created the sub-state kingdom (in 628) of the Hwicce.

The kings of the Hwicce include Osric who founded the Abbey at Gloucester and was buried in the Cathedral church in 680. Much later, from 960 to 1028, during the reign of King Æthelred (the unready) Leofwine was lord of the Hwicce. His son Leofric was the powerful earl of Mercia, famous as the husband of Lady Godiva and the legend of Coventry. He was known to be peaceful and just. Ælfgar, his son had a mixed reputation, he was earl of East Anglia before he was unseated as a result of trickery by Godwin.

Ælfgar, whose son in law was Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the King of Wales, sought revenge by taking a fighting force to Hereford to meet with King Edward’s  Norman nephew Ralph, earl of Hereford whose army turned up in armour on horseback (in Norman fashion). Ælfgar and Gruffydd’s men, on foot, quickly dispatched Ralph’s force. Ralph, ‘the timid’ ran off. Sadly, the City was destroyed as was the castle and its cathedral church were burned to the ground.

Shortly after this skirmish in 1056, King Edward (the Confessor) reinstated Ælfgar to his earldom, rights and property. His son in law Gruffydd, was not so lucky as he was sought, captured and his head sent to Harold Godwinson. Interestingly, Harold later married Gruffydd’s widow, Ælfgar’s daughter, some ten years after Ælfgar had inherited his father’s earldom of Mercia. I suspect this may have been to gain greater influence over the Mercian battle force, in time for the brewing battle at Hastings with William of Normandy.

Ælfgar became Earl of Mercia on his father’s death in 1057. His sons were famously Edwin, who became earl of Mercia in 1062 following his father’s death, and Morcar, earl of Northumbria in 1065. These earls came to an agreement with William, Duke of Normandy before eventually rebelling against his rule over England.

Brictric, son of Haylward, was fair of face, powerful in wealth and accomplished in his education. The king sent the youthful Brictric on embassy to Baldwin, the Count of Flanders. During his stay he met Matilda (or Maud) the daughter of Count Baldwin. She  was a young teenager who became besotted with Brictric and asked him to marry her. He refused and she became very upset and angry. So much so that she held a grudge and eventually sought wicked retribution.

Several years after meeting Brictric, Matilda married William, the Duke of Normandy. It almost immediately followed the Battle of Hastings in 1066, that Brictric was arrested in his hall at Hadley in the Hundred of Tewkesbury. He was taken from there, imprisoned and starved to death. His extensive lands and properties were confiscated and personally given to Queen Maud who retained them during her lifetime.

Brictric’s property, as with Edwin and Morcar’s confiscated estates, were passed to Maud’s son King Henry, before passing on to Henry’s illegitimate son Robert FitzRoy, the first earl of Gloucester. Robert married Mabel Fitz Hamon, daughter of the heir of Gloucester. Their son William died without a son, so the earldom passed through his daughter Amice’s marriage to Richard de Clare who then became earl of Gloucester. A dynasty of de Clare, earls of Gloucester, followed and they are commemorated at Tewkesbury Abbey and in the Gloucester City coat of arms.



The de Clares became extremely powerful barons, as earls of Gloucester and lords of the West Country, with estates in East Anglia (including Sudbury in Suffolk) and many other parts of Britain. They were Norman pioneers who, by the fiefdom of the Welsh Marches, controlled the Welsh from their castle at Pembroke. They played a prominent role in the invasion of Ireland that created the first British colony and the beginning of the ‘British Empire’. Richard ‘Strongbow’ de Clare, 2nd earl of Pembroke became Lord of Leinster and Justicia over all Ireland.

Memory of the de Clare’s is kept alive with the popular red wine we know as claret and with the titles, Duke of Clarence and Clarenceax, King of Arms. Well known are County Clare in Ireland and Clare College in Cambridge. The Clare chevrons can be seen in the coats of arms of many places today. The de Clare family were a formidable force and had a great influence on the British Isles.

Gruffydd ap Llywelyn was King of Wales 1055 – 1063, he allied himself with Ælfgar, son of Leofric,  earl of Mercia who had been deprived of his earldom of East Anglia by the Godwinsons. They marched on Hereford where they were opposed by a force led by Ralph, earl of Hereford. It was an army mounted in Norman fashion and they were defeated by the Welsh and Mercian force of Gruffydd and Ælfgar who were on foot. The City , Castle and monastic church were destroyed. Ælfgar was reinstated but died in 1062, and in 1064 Gruffydd was captured and his head sent to Harold Godwinson. Gruffydd was married to Ealdgyth the daughter of Ælfgar, earl of Mercia. In 1066, before the Battle of Hastings, Harold Godwin married Ealdgyth (also known as Alditha) who had a son Harold, by him at Chester in 1067. Alditha fled to Dublin and nothing more is known of either of them.


Alan Shelley, March 2019


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