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Opinion

At a time when statues are so controversial, why are we in Wales raising a new one for one of our conquerors?

24 Apr 2022 4 minutes Read
The statue of William Marshal being created. Picture by the Pembroke & Monkton Local History Society / Facebook

David Hannington Smith

At a time when statues are the subjects of such heated debate here in Wales, as well as in Bristol, London and across the world, is it really the right time to be celebrating conquerors in the land they conquered?

On Saturday 7 May 2022 at Pembroke Castle, families can enjoy a free day out. Sounds great!

The castle will be free to enter after 2pm following the unveiling of a statue of William Marshal, the first Earl of Pembroke. A Norman. A conqueror.

Someone who owned the land at one point but had nothing to do with its people.

Given the recent spiky debate, where we have heard arguments for the removal of statues commemorating people who did terrible things to become rich and famous, and against the removal of statues because it is, and I quote, “cancelling history”, what can we say about the placing of controversial or irrelevant statues that aren’t there yet?

Who was William Marshal?

He was a Norman knight. He was educated and trained to be a knight in Normandy. He fought for the Normans against Flanders and was a personal guard to Eleanor of Aquitaine (while in France).

He was a tutor to Henry the Young King, son of Henry II, had an affair with Young King Henry’s wife, was banished then reaccepted, fought against Richard the Lionheart (known most notably for hardly ever being in Britain during his reign), went his own Crusade and ended up marrying into money.

He fought and led in the First Baron’s War for King John, and was made protector of Henry III, a fourth Norman king he had dealings with, before dying in Oxfordshire in 1219 and is buried at Temple Church in London.

Riches

So what does any of that have to do with Pembroke? Exactly!

He wasn’t Welsh. He only held land in Wales because when the Norman William Marshal was 43, the Norman King Henry II and then his former Norman enemy Richard I “Coeur de Lion” gave him the 17-year-old daughter of a filthy rich Norman Earl, as a wife.

After Richard de Clare (the rich Norman earl) died, William Marshal inherited Pembroke, the titles, estates in Wales, England, Ireland and France and all the riches.

For historical context, Pembrokeshire was conquered by Normans and liberated by Princes of Deheubarth and Powys several times between 1080 and 1138.

Richard de Clare’s father was its first self-proclaimed earl. So, unlike now nearly a millennium later, the Norman conquest of Pembrokeshire would still have been fresh in the minds of the Welsh people.

Indeed, it was still going on more than 60 years after William Marshal’s death.

So, the question is, should the conquerors (or even the men who marry into the families of conquerors) be celebrated with statues in the lands in which they conquered, even if it is over 800 years ago?

Is there no one more suitable?

Why not have a statue of the Lord Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth?

Born in Deheubarth, conquered many Norman castles across south and west Wales, including Pembroke in the 1190s when William Marshal’s father-in-law owned it! He died in Deheubarth and is buried in St David’s, in Pembrokeshire.

Dropped the ball

I’m all for a fun day out and learning more about the history of the places I’m visiting.

However, there is no excuse now, after the heated discourse about statues and who we celebrate, to unveil a statue anywhere of anyone who has absolutely nothing to do with the land, the people, or the culture of the land where the statue is.

We’re told the whole point of statues is to teach people about the history of a place, but there are plenty of other lesser-known historical figures to learn about, commemorate and celebrate.

The Pembrokeshire Historical Society, however good their intentions, have dropped the ball when choosing which historical figures to celebrate.

So, come for a fun day out in Pembroke, where to can learn about an Anglo-Norman earl, who built an Anglo-Norman castle to solidify the Anglo-Norman conquest of Pembrokeshire killing plenty of Welsh people in the process.

And because we wouldn’t want to be accused of being “anti-English”, you won’t have to spend any of your Anglo-Norman pounds on a tourist tax, either.

In the ominous words of Michael Sheen: “Accommodate, accommodate, accommodate.”


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Quornby
Quornby
1 month ago

There will be a whole tribe of interlopers whose statues will disappear in our independent Wales, Victoria springs immediately to mind. While we are at it we can dump the biggest and highest bridge sign in the world into the. Severn.

Llinos
Llinos
1 month ago
Reply to  Quornby

Statues may go up. Doesn’t mean they will stay up though. I could easily spend a good few weeks in Ynys Mon removing the memorials to Victorian interlopers

Phil
Phil
1 month ago

He went to knight school…

Richard Jenkins
Richard Jenkins
1 month ago

It seems as if the school for the insensitive & slightly insane have scored another victory! Unless……the idea is to furnish disenchanted patriots in Penfro with an easy target for paint balloons & glued on traffic cones.

Llyn
Llyn
1 month ago

A bit like a Ukrainian town raising a statue to Vladimir Putin or the general of a Russian Army unit that that captured your town.

Philip Jones
Philip Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  Llyn

Top comment. I can’t see it lasting unscathed for long.

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
1 month ago
Reply to  Llyn

Or of Stepan Bandera in the Donbass or Poland?

Last edited 1 month ago by I.Humphrys
Rob
Rob
20 days ago
Reply to  I.Humphrys

Or statues of Stalin or other Communist dictators in former Soviet Republics.

Kathryn GIbson
Kathryn GIbson
1 month ago

William Marshal served 5 kings of England ‘loyally’. His avarice knew no bounds. He certainly was no friend to the people of Wales.
This statue does not belong in Wales.

Hogyn y Gogledd
Hogyn y Gogledd
1 month ago

Statues are not cheap; so I wonder who is paying for this.

I went to the web-site of the PHS, but there is no mention of the statue at all.

Very odd.

Llefain
Llefain
1 month ago

I think it was from donations. No idea who from though. But I remember a fundraising pitch in the window of the “shopfront” they use in Main Street (not an open shop) when they first proposed this.

SundanceKid
SundanceKid
26 days ago
Reply to  Llefain

Reasing between the lines, the Monkton Society say they have been working “in partnership” with Pembroke Town Council and regeneration. That in itself, suggests to me that some public money has been involved.

Danies
Danies
1 month ago

But what about all those ‘Welsh’ castles, which more often than not were built to keep the Welsh down or out? They are nevertheless promoted by the Welsh tourist industry, and probably earn a significant amount of money for the Welsh economy.

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
1 month ago
Reply to  Danies

Yeah, but we conquered ’em!

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
1 month ago

Bronze? Hmmm? £4,000 plus per ton for scrap.
Interesting, very interesting. There’s another statue of Henry there as well and for the life of me I can see no CCTV coverage.

Llewz!
Llewz!
21 days ago
Reply to  Kerry Davies

Set u the WhatsApp group, I’m in! 👍

Gaynor Jones
Gaynor Jones
1 month ago

Has any medua approached the Pembroke and Monkton Historical Society for a reason. I really would like to hear the “logic” behind their mad, crass and ignorant decision

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
1 month ago

Would a statue of paedophile Jimmy Savile be hoisted aloft in celebration of his charitable endeavours for the English NHS in full knowledge of his abuse crimes? No! So why celebrate a man like William Marshal who like Vladimir Putin was party to war crimes and ethnic cleansing of the Welsh. Yes, we should learn about these tyrants and their crimes not celebrate a monster.

Last edited 1 month ago by Y Cymro
Dave
Dave
1 month ago

I’m sure he has some descendents

Llefain
Llefain
1 month ago

This town is an embarrassment. Nobody knows anything about history. The town guide is so badly sycophantic and one-sided it is literally what drove me to the pro-indy movement. The castle and its draw to tourists and their view of our history is the only thing these “historians” or the town council care about (the current canvasing material has been a minor cringe-fest for me). It is shameful, humiliating, and needs some serious attention from outside eyes. I feel like I’m the only person who was annoyed at the proposal of this farce when it popped up in their shop… Read more »

Iain Graham
Iain Graham
1 month ago
Reply to  Llefain

Why not a statue to The Lord Rhys???

Has a child visiting from oversea Wales to visit relatives I often asked where are the stairs to Welsh heroes as to be found in Scotland

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago

Sheen got it wrong – assimilate, assimilate, assimilate is more in tune with what is going on right now. The Anglo Brit establishment is undergoing a bit of symbolic hand wringing over what its ancestors did to various ethnicities when conquering large tracts of other newer continents and thus a few statues will be destroyed or stashed away in dark rooms. However the same establishment has no qualms about rejoicing in its ancestors’ ravishing of our country and will carry on digging out and erecting all sorts of crap as it continues to celebrate its ascendancy.

Keith Parry
Keith Parry
1 month ago

These days statues not approved of by the general public tend to be dumped in the town harbour.

Iwan
Iwan
1 month ago

This is akin to raising a statue of Adolf Hitler in London to commemorate the Blitz.

David Pilling
David Pilling
1 month ago

Whatever one makes of a statue to William Marshal, the idea that he was totally alien to ‘Welsh Wales’ and can be equated to Hitler is absolute nonsense. In reality one of Marshal’s granddaughters married Prince Dafydd ap Llywelyn, his son Richard was a staunch ally of Prince Llywelyn the Great, and another granddaughter was mother to Rhys ap Maredudd, lord of Ystrad Tywi. Thus, far from being some ghastly interloper, Marshal was ally and common ancestor to two of the three major ruling princely dynasties of Wales! None of which means a statue to the guy is necessary, but… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by David Pilling
SundanceKid
SundanceKid
26 days ago
Reply to  David Pilling

Yes, we certainly do need some perspective. The man led many war campaigns, one of which was an attack on Lincoln in 1217. Not content with victory, his forces went on to sack the city. So notorious was this event that it became known as the Lincoln Fair, and is recorded by no less than one of his admirers, Roger of Wendover. Given there is a likelihood that there were still pockets of Welsh resistance across Wales at that time, we really cannot rule out further atrocities by his forces here. Why are we celebrating a suspected war criminal in… Read more »

Llewz!
Llewz!
21 days ago
Reply to  SundanceKid

Absolute zinger of a response! 🔥

Keith Gogarth
Keith Gogarth
27 days ago

Typical ! What is wrong with these people and just after the Pembroke Ice cream fiasco. There is something amiss with those in charge down there. Note I did not say leadership.

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