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William ap Thomas


Above: Tomb effigy of William ap Thomas at St Mary's, Abergavenny, Wales.

From the Cadw guidebook for Raglan Castle, 1994.

William ap Thomas was the member of a minor Welsh gentry family and was responsible for beginning the construction of Raglan Castle as we recognize it today. He obtained Raglan through his marriage to Elizabeth Bloet, widow of Sir James Berkeley shortly after 1406. When Elizabeth died in 1420, ap Thomas retained Raglan as a tenant of his step-son James, Lord Berkeley, and in 1425 Lord Berkeley agreed that he could continue to hold Raglan for the duration of his life.

William married for a second time, and chose another heiress, Gwladus. She was the daughter of Sir Dafydd Gam and the widow of Sir Roger Vaughan. Both these men had been part of the Welsh contingent that fought with King Henry V in France, and both were at the battle of Agincourt, where William ap Thomas had also fought. In 1426, ap Thomas was knighted by Henry VI, becoming known to his compatriots as Y marchog glas o Went (the blue knight of Gwent). Gradually he began to establish himself as a person of consequence in south Wales.

As early as 1421 William held the important position of steward of the lordship of Abergavenny, and later became chief steward of the duke of York's estates in Wales, 1442-43. Other positions held by Sir William included that of sheriff of Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire, to which he was appointed in 1435, and his position as sheriff of Glamorgan followed in 1440. Although he became one of the followers of Richard, duke of York, and a member of the duke's military council, Sir William's sphere of influence was largely confined to south Wales.

By 1432 William was in a position to purchase the manor of Raglan from the Berkeleys for about L667 and it was probably from this time that he began to build the castle as we know it. His building programme eventually swept away most of the original structures. The principal buildings surviving from this time are the Great Tower (left) a self-contained fortress in its own right, together with the south gate, both equipped with gunloops. He also raised the hall, though later largely rebuilt, and part of the service range beyond. Two sources indicate that William ap Thomas was the builder of the keep. One of which is a contemporary poem praising ap Thomas, mentioning the tower at Raglan which "stands above all other buildings." There is also a reference to Sir William Thomas' tower from a family chronicle written by Sir Thomas Herbert of Tintern.

William ap Thomas died in London in 1445, and his body was brought back to Wales to be buried in the Benedictine priory church at Abergavenny. His wife Gwladus (the star of Abergavenny), as she was hailed by the poet Lewys Glyn Cothi, died in 1454. William was succeeded by his eldest son, another William (d.1469) who took the surname Herbert.


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