History: so who was De Caversham?

When looking for a new name for our group (formerly Cardiff Castle Garrison until October 2018), we wanted a name based on a minor noble family of the mid-14th Century, preferably in South Glamorgan to reflect Cardiff base. Little did we know that we’d end up on a bit of a medieval detective story!

During the early 14th Century, the lordship of Glamorgan was held by the powerful de Clare family, after Gilbert de Clare, 4th Earl of Hertford inherited it in 1183. Following the extinction of the male line of the de Clares in 1314 with the death of Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Hertford at Bannockburn, the lordship of Glamorgan reverted to the crown. Edward II granted the de Clare lands to the husbands of Gilbert de Clare’s three sisters and Glamorgan was given in its entirety to Hugh Despenser the Younger in 1317.

Within the lordship of Glamorgan, there were many minor noble families. These included:

However, for our purposes, many of these were not suitable. The late 13th and early 14th Centuries appear to have been a time of flux for many noble families in Glamorgan. The De Sully line became extinct “in the time of Edward I”.  The male line of the de Umfraville family, Lords of Penmark since the Norman Conquest, became extinct by 1329 when both Henry de Umfraville and his son Robert were dead. The Le Fleming family died out in the mid-14th Century after the head of the family, William le Fleming, was executed (he had no male heir).

The manor of Cosmeston is particularly interesting. In 1307 it was held by Thomas Costyn, who still held it in 1314. However, he had no heirs and his fee reverted to the chief lord – first the De Clares and then, on their extinction, Hugh de Spenser. By 1317, Cosmeston had been granted for life to a new name – William de Caversham. It is unknown how long he lived for. The next record of Cosmeston is in a survey of 1429 at which point it had reverted to the chief lord, Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and was included as part of his demenses.

So, who was this William de Caversham?

As with most hunts for non-famous medieval people, this is difficult to determine with certainty. We can’t tell if a William de Caversham in one record is the same person as a William de Caversham in another record. However, a potential story does begin to appear.

Firstly, we know that Caversham is a place in England – it’s currently a suburb of Reading, Berkshire but was originally a separate manor in Oxfordshire, held in 1066 by a thegn called Swein. Interestingly, Caversham was one of the demenses of William Marshal and the place of his death. Following the extinction of the male line of the Marshals in 1245, Caversham was settled on the De Clares (who had links with the Marshals going back to William Marshal I, who married a de Clare). Following the extinction of the De Clare line in 1314, Caversham was inherited by the Despensers (via the De Clare co-heiress Eleanor).

So, we have a link between Glamorgan and Caversham (likely birthplace / early residence of William de Caversham, seeing as he was living in an era where surnames were not inherited but based on a notable characteristic of that individual). What about William himself?

Well, a William de Caversham is documented in Ireland. This William de Caversham is recorded as being part of the council of the archbishop of Dublin, assembled to witness a public penance in 1267 – he is recorded as being a seneschal. He apparently served in this office from 1267-9. A Willliam de Caversham (probably the same man) is also recorded as being an official of the Liberty and County of Kildare in 1274-77. Going back earlier, a William de Caversham (again probably the same man) was a farmer of part of the Archbishopric of Dublin in 1259-61.

Why was a De Caversham in Ireland? Well, the De Clare family (yes, them again…) played a prominent role in the Norman invasion of Ireland and held … Dublin. So, given the De Clares held Caversham in England, it’s quite plausible that the William de Caversham in Dublin (and later in Kildare) was part of the De Clare’s invasion and/or settling forces. William de Caversham evidently started out as a minor player (a farmer) and became a more major official (a seneschal).

So, how do we get from Ireland to Glamorgan?

Well, in 1297 a William de Caversham pops up in Keyrdyf (that would be Cardiff to you and me). He’s listed as the Treasurer of Keyrdyf in a patent roll of this date.  This is quite likely the same William de Caversham who later was given the lordship of Cosmeston (since it’s not a common surname in general, and certainly not a common surname in Glamorgan). Evidently he weathered the upheaval in Glamorgan following the extinction of the De Clare line and the introduction of the Despensers.

Is he also the same William de Caversham who was a seneschal in Ireland? We can’t really know. However, it seems plausible that the De Clares may have considered him a useful official and transplanted him from a role in their lands in Ireland to their lands in Glamorgan. An alternative is that one of these William de Cavershams (the official in Ireland, the Treasurer of Cardiff, the Lord of Cosmeston) may be the son of one of the others. Judging by noble families, it was not uncommon to name a son after the father in this period.

In any case, this/these William de Caversham(s) give us a fascinating insight into the far-reaching ambitions of some of the major noble families in 14th Century England and how these could impact on much more minor noble (and non-noble) individuals. We couldn’t resist naming our group after this fascinating minor noble family.


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