Wenvoe’s Part In A Game Of Thrones
WENVOE’S PART IN A GAME OF THRONES
As Brexit heralds an uncertain future, it is worth a look back to what was going on in Wenvoe and other Vale villages during the turbulent summers of 1648 and 1649. Following a prolonged period of civil war between King and Parliament, our community was torn apart by the nearby Battle of St Fagans and in 1649 by the shocking trial and execution of King Charles I.
Civil wars are often the bitterest of conflicts dividing family members and friends alike. Ordinary people in Wenvoe however, probably did not understand what the war was about. For centuries they had been loyal to their King and Parliament. Farm labourers and their families in the local community suddenly found themselves on one side or the other. This decision was made for them by their social superiors and landlords, several of whom actually changed sides during the conflict.
The uncertainty and impact of these events must have been frightening. This cartoon from the time ‘The world turn’d upside down: or, A briefe description of the ridiculous fashions of these distracted times’ summed up how people would have felt about the perilous times in which they lived. It was a clever image summing up how ordinary life was undergoing strange and unpredictable change.
Local people had already suffered greatly in the years of conflict before 1648. Officials warned villagers if they didn’t pay wartime taxes they would be subject ‘at your peril of pillaging and plundering, and your houses fired and your persons imprisoned.’ Apart from those conscripted to fight, skilled craftsmen were forced to leave their homes to work for the armies.
The battle itself, in May 1648, involved around 11,000 men. It ended in victory for the well paid, trained and equipped Parliamentarian
forces. The Royalist army, who had hoped to restore Charles I to the throne, was routed. Many men from surrounding villages were ‘volunteered’ to join the Royalist army and bring their homemade weapons such as Welsh bills (a farming implement similar to a scythe) and clubs to the fight in the face of the cavalry, pikes, muskets and canon of the professional armies. The brutal fighting, much of which was close at hand, was reminiscent of what we saw in TV’s recent Game of Thrones. The exit wound of a musket shot was the size of a dinner plate and it was no surprise therefore that the River Ely was said to have flowed red with blood.
In the days following the battle, locals who had already witnessed horrific scenes and injuries were forced to help with mass burials of several hundred dead. One burial mound, which can still be found at Duffryn, is said to be the resting place of Royalists caught and killed when fleeing after the battle. Soldiers did not wear dog tags so once inevitably stripped of all possessions, bodies could not be identified. In local villages, the bereaved families never knew what happened to their loved ones. Survivors faced plundering at the hands of victorious soldiers. Diseases like bubonic plague and dysentery were spread by both armies. Farms were ruined. With food stores and farm animals seized for army use, starvation was inevitable. Vengeance was rife. Miles Button of Duffryn was captured and fined £5000 for his part on the Royalist side in the battle. His annual income was £400. His brother wasn’t so lucky. He was tried and executed for treason.
And what of the loyalty shown by our farm labourers to the King? Already by June 14th a poster appeared in Cowbridge calling all able bodied men between 16 and 60 to rendezvous with weapons and horse ready to fight for Parliament.