Serving the King
William de Braose passed many responsibilities in Wales and Bramber to his heir, also William, as early as 1198 but was still an immensely powerful man. He was Sheriff of Hereford under King Richard from 1192 to 1199. Although not in the Holy Land with his sovereign, William's son Reginald appears on the Acre Roll as a crusader. William himself fought alongside Richard the Lion Heart in 1195. He was also at Chalus in 1199 when Richard received his fatal arrow wound. On his death bed Richard agreed to appoint Giles de Braose as Bishop of Hereford. This added a new dimension to the family's formidable power, including yet another castle, Bishop's Castle in southern Shropshire.
At this time, we have a glimpse of how William might have appeared to his contemporaries: courageous, ambitious, astute and politically sophisticated. He was first to reach John with the news of Richard's death and was instrumental in securing John's succession. The new king entered England to attend his coronation via the de Braose port of Shoreham. William was soon granted all the lands he could conquer from any Welsh enemies of the crown to extend his honour of Radnor.
William then accompanied King John to fight in Normandy. On August 1, 1202 William de Braose captured John's sixteen year old nephew Arthur, Duke of Brittany. Arthur was besieging John's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Mirebeau. The young duke had allied with King Philip of France to contest John's succession and represented a very dire threat. John was elated at the victory.
William de Braose guarded his valuable captive at the castle of Falaise. The King's Chamberlain, Hubert de Burgh, also stayed at Falaise as Arthur's custodian. King John sent three men with orders to castrate and blind his young rival but Arthur escaped this mutilation thanks to the compassion of his jailers. They dismissed John's men and put about a false story that the prisoner had died.
Arthur was moved to Rouen. Shortly afterwards William de Braose announced to the King and his barons that he was relinquishing the guardianship of Arthur. A French chronicle by Guillaume le Breton quotes William de Braose's words: "I know not what fate awaits your nephew, whose faithful guardian I have been. I return him to your hands in good health and sound in all his members. Put him, I pray you, in some other, happier custody. The burden of my own affairs bids me resign."
Before long Arthur had disappeared, outraging those who suspected his wicked uncle John. Some held William de Braose personally responsible. Others said he received the King's bribes to keep silent and his greed degenerated to blackmail. Suspicion focused on July 1203, when William received custody of the city of Limerick. (That year he also gained Kington in Herefordshire.) Two years before Arthur's death, William had already obtained North Munster in Ireland, possibly at the death of his uncle Philip to whom Henry II had first granted it . John demanded huge fees for these lands, but William probably never intended to pay.
In October 1202 John granted William the custody of Glamorgan and four months later he received Gower. The King wrote off several old de Braose debts and a lengthy family dispute was concluded in William's favour when he gained Totnes. In 1206 the de Braoses' power increased still further. William received the "three castles", Whitecastle, Grosmont and Skenfrith, but again for a high fee. The King also re-appointed him Sheriff of Hereford and a justice itinerant of Gloucester. William de Braose had become the most powerful magnate in the country. (11.1)
King John's troubles multiplied when he lost Normandy and other continental domains to France. In 1207 the Pope imposed Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury and John's resistance provoked a papal interdict on England. The people suffered the distress of being unable to bury their dead, receive mass or confess their sins. Many nobles, the Archbishop and several prominent churchmen, including Giles de Braose, Bishop of Hereford, fled to France where King Philip encouraged the exiles in their intrigues against John.
Llantilio or Whitecastle was the largest of three strategic strongholds in Upper Gwent held by William de Braose.
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Grosmont castle stands on a hill above the village. The large church nave accommodated the castle garrison in troubled times.
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The beautiful village of Skenfrith has preserved its ancient castle. The church has a heavily fortified tower with a "dovecote" cap.
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