At a time when statues are so controversial, why are we in Wales raising a new one for one of our conquerors?
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.
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.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.