Kidwelly and the lost treasure of Edward II

by David Sutton

In 1326 Edward II and his favourite Hugh Despenser, taking with them a vast treasure, were forced to flee London because of news that Edward's estranged wife Queen Isabella and her lover Roger de Mortimer had landed in England. Edward had lost the confidence of his people. He had been involved in wars with his barons and his reliance upon the hated Despenser, had made it unsafe for him to remain in London.

He retreated to Wales where Despenser controlled a number of Lordships with heavily fortified castles. On 27th 28th October Edward was in Cardiff and on the 29th he made the massive castle of Caerphilly his headquarters. On the 2nd November he left a garrison there to protect half his treasure, some £13,000, while he moved on to Margam Abbey and then to Neath where Despenser had a castle. The Queen and Mortimer made their headquarters in Hereford and placed Henry, Earl of Lancaster in charge of the army, with orders to capture the King and Despenser.

On 16th November the King, his Chancellor Robert de Baldock and Despenser were captured in woods near Llantrisant, having been betrayed by locals. The treasure at Caerphilly was recovered easily but the other half deposited in Neath Castle proved more difficult to find. Later enquiries, revealed that part of the treasure had been removed to Swansea and that some of the articles had been given in charge to the Constable of Kidwelly Castle and to three others of the lordship there. This was by agreement with John de Langton, the King's Clerk. Information given to the enquiry also revealed that the Constable of Kidwelly and armed men had forced a family at Swansea Castle to give up certain goods belonging to the King. A series of enquiries and legal action failed to recover the bulk of the missing treasure.

In a legal order from the new King Edward III, recorded in the Memoranda Rolls of 1331, the justice of Wales was “to reply for the goods taken by the following”. There followed a list of suspects, in which Kidwelly men were included; Walter Bexe (Box), Roger Basingho, William Legat, Richard Wadekyn, Roger Chaundler, John Dun, Bernard Dun, Robert Dun, Cadwgan ap Gruffydd, William and Gruffydd his brothers, William ap Cadwgan and Ieuan ap Goulhaved and his five sons. These men were accused by inquisition of Richard Peshale and David de le Bere, 23rd April 1331 of taking goods worth £1,000, “which were held by the King our father at Swansea”.

There is no evidence that any monies were found as the result of the justices' efforts. In fact a later entry in the Memoranda Rolls suggests the reverse, for in 1334 an entry states, “Cadwgan ap Gruffydd is to answer for the late Kings possessions in Swansea”. Again there is no documentary evidence to suggest that the treasure was found. Cadwgan was the leading member of the powerful Welsh, Dwnn (Dun) family of Kidwelly. Seven of the men listed in 1331 were members of this family and they, like the others, were in service to Henry of Lancaster, who commanded the army in Glamorgan against the King.

There seems little doubt that at least a portion of Edward's treasure ended up in Kidwelly.

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