Sir William ap Thomas, of Raglan in Gwent, was one of Guto’r Glyn’s early patrons. At the time when he first welcomed the poet into his home, perhaps sometime in the late 1430s, we can be sure that Sir William was the most prestigious patron whom Guto had yet served...
William ap Thomas’s date of birth is unknown, but since he married in 1406, he was probably born in the 1380s. For a man who was merely the fifth son of a Welsh gentleman of no more than local significance in north Gwent, William ap Thomas enjoyed a spectacularly successful career. Thomas (1994: 4) and Griffiths (2008: 262) suggest that his two marriages, both extremely favourable ones, were mainly responsible for his success. As well as the castle and manor of Raglan, Elizabeth Berkeley possessed family ties to the Beauchamps, the lords of Abergavenny (Griffiths 2008: 262). Gwladus Gam also brought her husband a great benefit, namely a connection with the royal court: Sir Dafydd Gam had served both Henry IV and Henry V (Thomas 1994: 4). Perhaps that was why William ap Thomas was knighted on Whit Sunday 1426 in the same ceremony as the young king Henry VI (Evans 1915: 53; Thomas 1994: 4); however, Griffiths (2008: 262) suggests the influence of Richard Beauchamp (see below).
Sir William assembled substantial lands in south-east Wales which are listed in Thomas (1994: 6–7). They extended from Coety in Glamorgan to Skenfrith on the border with Herefordshire. He also received a share in lands across England. The documents which name these lands in south Wales and beyond date to the period between 1422 and 1445.
As well as running his own estates, Sir William worked as an administrator of other people’s lands in his locality. Since the Marcher lords did not visit south Wales more than very occasionally, they had to entrust the job of running their lordships to trustworthy local men like William ap Thomas. As has already been said, William’s first wife was related to the powerful Beauchamp family. They owned the neighbouring lordship of Abergavenny, where William was a landholder, and also the lordship of Glamorgan. Between 1411 and 1435 Abergavenny was held by Joan, the widow of William Beauchamp (Pugh 1971: 185–6). As early as 1421 we find William ap Thomas working as steward of Abergavenny for Joan. William’s accounts for that year are published in Bradney (1992a: 4–5). When Joan died in 1435, the lordship passed to Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick and tutor to the young king, Henry VI (Pugh 1971: 187). Beauchamp had already received Glamorgan in 1423 (ibid.). It was a sign of the value of William ap Thomas’s service to Richard Beauchamp that he was sheriff of Glamorgan between 1434 and 1440 (ibid. 190; Thomas 1994: 8). When the earl died in Rouen, Normandy, in 1439, Sir William was among the influential men chosen to take care of the interests of his heir, Henry Beauchamp, who was underage, and especially to protect Abergavenny until Henry should come of age (Pugh 1971: 192; Thomas 1994: 9–10).
Another powerful man with whom William ap Thomas came into contact was Richard, duke of York. Richard was lord of Usk, the lordship in which Raglan itself was situated, as well as many other lordships which he had inherited from the Mortimer family. Richard came of age and secured his lands in 1432 (Johnson 1988: 10). Soon after, in 1433, William ap Thomas was deputy steward of the lordship of Usk. By 1442/3 he was chief steward of the lordship, and also in Caerleon and Maelienydd, which also belonged to the duke (ibid. 240). William rose in the duke’s service, becoming a member of his council. He was probably already on the council by 1441, when Richard went to France, and he was still a member in 1444 and 1445 (ibid. 17, 240). In 1441 he went with Richard on the Norman campaign.
There remains the matter of William ap Thomas’s service to the Crown. The king of England, by virtue of his title as duke of Lancaster, held the lands of the duchy of Lancaster in Wales. In south-east Wales these included the lordships of Caldicot and Magor, near Chepstow; Ebboth, a manor in the lordship of Newport; and the lordships of Monmouth and the Three Castles (Grosmont, Skenfrith and White Castle). William was appointed steward of Ebboth in 1431, steward of Caldicot for life in 1437, deputy steward of Monmouth by 1441, and possibly full steward of that lordship by 1443 (Thomas 1994: 7–8; Somerville 1953: 646–7). He held a number of other offices for the duchy of Lancaster: they are noted in Thomas (1994: 8) and in Somerville (1953: 650, 653–4). Even more strikingly, he also served in the royal shires in south-west Wales, far from his own region: he was sheriff of Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire in 1435, and during the period 1439–44 he rose to be deputy justiciar of the southern principality (Griffiths 1972: 147–8). The justiciar himself in these years was Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, uncle of Henry VI. Sir William was even steward of the lordship of Pembroke in 1433 (ibid. 148), a prefiguring of the position which his son would later achieve there. He was also appointed to several royal commissions, such as in 1420, 1431, 1432, 1434, 1441 and 1442 (Thomas 1994: 8–9).
Sir William ap Thomas died in 1445, sometime before 3 May (Thomas 1994: 11). According to a note in a fifteenth-century hand in Llst 4, 17v, the exact date was the night of 1 May. However, this note appears to attribute the death to 1440, which makes it difficult to accept its testimony (RepWM ‘Llanstephan 4’). Sir William died away from home, so it appears, and the body had to be brought back to Abergavenny, as described in the anonymous elegy (125.13–16). A note which accompanies the text in the sole surviving manuscript says that William died in London, but the source for this information is unknown. He was buried in Abergavenny, in St Mary’s priory church, where his grave may still be seen (Lord 2003: 153–4, 258–9). He left numerous children, both legitimate and illegitimate. His heir was his eldest son, William Herbert, who became exceptionally powerful in Wales during the 1460s and who patronized Guto’r Glyn in his turn. Richard Herbert was also a son of William ap Thomas. 2