Digital Student Placements featuring Osian Elis
Our digital placement student, Osian Elis, explains that there is more to the rule of Marcher Lord (Welsh: Barwn y Mers), Robert of Rhuddlan, than we might suspect.
Elis explains: “I analysed the current state of study on the Cambro-Norman lordship created by Robert of Rhuddlan in north Wales in the late eleventh-century and noticed a gap in the literature: scant attention had been given to the secondary zone of authority he had created for himself beyond the river Clwyd and Rhuddlan.”
My first term as a student volunteer at Llandudno Museum has been an incredibly valuable experience, personally fulfilling and useful for my own academic / career development. I started my research project with an intention to write educational resources for young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five on the history of Deganwy between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. DeAnn and I decided that Degannwy was a particularly valuable case-study to improve public awareness and understanding of high medieval Wales as it was situated at the heart of north Wales, exposed to the power-play between the Normans advancing from the east and the native Welsh princes held in Snowdonia. It was also intimately connected to the political careers of some of the major personalities of medieval Wales: Robert of Rhuddlan, Gruffydd ap Cynan, Llywelyn the Great and Llywelyn the Last, as well as the kings of England, namely John, Henry III and Edward I. The rich choice of primary sources relating to Deganwy, including poetry, chronicles and governmental documentation, both Latin and Welsh, would have made it possible also to fill the educational resources with evidence from the period itself, making it more exciting and ‘real’ for the intended audience. My intention was to challenge popular misconceptions about the Middle Ages as boring or even irrelevant to the modern world, and to show how the politics and culture of north Wales in the period, especially Deganwy, can be an incredibly interesting story with real-world implications and lessons for today.
As I explored my ideas and collected and analysed the primary evidence, DeAnn and I began to consider whether the material was rich and varied enough to be developed into an academic article for publication. I analysed the current state of study on the Cambro-Norman lordship created by Robert of Rhuddlan in north Wales in the late eleventh-century and noticed a gap in the literature: scant attention had been given to the secondary zone of authority he had created for himself beyond the river Clwyd and Rhuddlan. I began to ask whether his power west of the Clwyd was formalised, built perhaps upon the styles and mores of government of the kingdom of Gwynedd itself. Had he usurped the rights and privileges of these native Welsh princes of north Wales, and was he styling himself politically as such? It has been developing into a very exciting research project, fitting well also with my main postgraduate studies at Oxford. My master’s dissertation focuses on the cross-Channel lordship created and held by the Avranche family after the Conquest of England in 1066, and looks at how their territories along the frontier with Brittany informed similar patterns of power in their new lands in Cheshire and north Wales. Robert of Rhuddlan, cousin to Hugh d’Avranche, first earl of Chester, was a part of this family, and was arguably the main Norman actor along the frontier with Brittany and north Wales in the late eleventh-century. Both research projects, therefore, lend to each other perfectly.
It has been a truly fantastic term, and I am very much grateful to the advice and guidance given by DeAnn. Working with her has made me realise that a career in museums, heritage and curation is an option after graduation, and am currently actively searching for such opportunities. I hope to continue my volunteering with Llandudno Museum and am excited to see where the project takes me next!