The Tale of the Sheriffs of Gloucester
When William the Conqueror had set himself upon the throne of England and had made his rule secure, he turned his attention to the lands of Wales. Three earldoms along the border were granted to trusted men: Chester in the north to Hugh d'Avranches, Shrewsbury in the middle to Roger of Montgomery, and Hereford in the south to William FitzOsbern. These marcher earls built many castles to defend England and from these strong points began the conquest of Wales.
Roger de Pitres and his brother Durand were among the administrators of Earl William FitzOsbern of Hereford. They came from an estate in Normandy which Earl William had acquired from marriage into the Tosney family. Like many young men of the time, the brothers left their home to seek adventure.
When Earl William FitzOsbern died, his second son Roger de Breteuil was made Earl of Hereford, but he was not given the sweeping powers of his father. In particular, local administrators like Roger de Pitres and Durand were now answerable only to the King. Earl Roger rebelled in 1075, was defeated and imprisoned for life, and his lands were declared forfeit to the crown. Thus the former vassals to the Earl of Hereford were now tennents of the King. This raised the prestige and power of men like Roger de Pitres and Durand even more. Sometime in the 1080's Durand was made Sheriff of Gloucester.
Durand's son Walter of Gloucester was another capable and loyal official of the crown, and was made Sheriff of Gloucester at the death of his father. By his day the Normans had taken land all along the south coast of Wales, and built castles for their defense.
In particular, William FitzBaldwin, Sheriff of Devon, held the castle of Rhyd y Gors near Carmarthan, Merlin's town, before his death in battle in 1096 when the Normans were defeated and driven out by the Welsh. In 1105 William's brother Richard FitzBaldwin re-established the castle. At Richard's death in 1109, King Henry sent Walter of Gloucester, then perhaps his most experienced administrator, to command the castle. The defense of this territory now depended upon the castle built on a bluff above the river at Carmarthan. That was to remain a royal castle and the center of royal influence in south Wales.
For this and other service, Walter of Gloucester had reaped a succession of comparatively minor rewards in lands and offices. But his family was greatly enriched in 1121 when King Henry gave Sybil, the heiress of Bernard of Neufmarche in marriage to Walter's son Miles, with right to all her father's possessions, including the lordship of Brecknock when Bernard died in 1125. Miles was made Sheriff of Gloucester after the death of Walter in 1126 and Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1130.
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