Friday, November 06, 2009

History of the Morgans (11): Miles Morgan d.1578

Mention 'pirates' to people today and almost immediately the name of Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean films hovers into their mind's eye; a different generation might offer up an image of a swashbuckling Errol Flynn (all sensible opinion must surely acknowledge that the finest 'pirate movie' of them all is Flynn's 'The Sea Hawk' (1940)?). Those with a passion for history might prefer to mention the deeds of the real life flesh-and-blood (with a hint of rum) seafaring hero, Sir Henry Morgan.

Very few would conjure up the name of Miles Morgan of Tredegar. With good reason. Miles, if he was indeed involved in piracy at all, was not very successful at it. Had Errol Flynn made a film about his seafaring career, it would have been a very short one, and the box office receipts would have been highly disappointing.

Part of Miles Morgan's Tredegar House still exists today in the form of the much altered Servant's Hall. It was here he moved in 1569 when he succeeded to the Tredegar estates as the illegitimate grandson of William Morgan, formerly Member of Parliament and Sheriff of the county. Miles' inheritance was a rich one and included: 40 farm houses, 200 cottages, 200 gardens, 100 orchards, 3000 acres of pasture, 3000 acres of furze and heath, 500 acres of wood, 60 acres of marshland and much more besides.

Marriage to his cousin Catherine Morgan of Machen and his participation in the traditional Morgan activities in the surrounding counties (Miles served as High Sheriff for Glamorgan in 1571) helped to solidify, and perhaps lend legitimacy to, his tenure as head of the Tredegar Estate. He also continued the Morgan tradition of bardic patronage.

For all of this surface normality, the Tredegar Estate seems to have been going through some financial difficulties during this period (Miles ultimately died in debt to the tune of £800.13.4d). Perhaps it was this parlous financial state that drove Miles to the dramatic, but ultimately tragic, step of heading to sea in a bid to recoup the family fortune. An exciting opportunity arose in 1578. Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the explorer, and half-brother to Sir Walter Raleigh, was to lead an expedition for "the inhabiting and planting of our people in America." Miles, who got on extremely well with Sir Humphrey, joined the expedition, bringing several Welsh gentlemen with him to serve under his command.

Back at Tredegar, Miles' bard had a bad feeling about all this.....

The fleet (of seven ships) was assembled in Plymouth. Gilbert took command of the flagship Ann Ager, which bore as her motto "Quid Non!" ("Why not?"), Walter Raleigh was to captain the Queen's own contribution to the scheme, the 100 ton vessel Falcon; while Miles Morgan had fitted out a 110 ton tall ship (the third largest of the fleet) named The Red Lion of Newport (which sounds rather like Miles went to sea aboard a floating pub!); a red lion was the heraldic device used by Miles, and his ship carried the motto "Now or Never."

Miles' bard composed a song urging his employer to come "back to Tredegar" and warning him to "go no more to the sea." Whether the bard actually had a presentiment of the disaster that was to follow, or whether he merely feared not getting paid, is unclear. Either way, Miles probably should have listened to him.

Second in command of the whole thing was the strutting peacock that was Sir Henry Knollys. Knollys was a relative of the Queen on her mother's side (those Boleyns again!) and made absolutely sure everybody was aware of that fact. He even publically declared that he thought himself worth at least twenty knights of the calibre of Sir Humphrey Gilbert. He thought even less of Miles Morgan. At some stage a row broke out between them, which ended with Knollys ordering Morgan's arrest and execution. A gallows was to be erected onboard one of the ships in Plymouth and, it is said, it was only the timely arrival of Gilbert that prevented the execution taking place.

Back at Tredegar, Miles' bard probably wondered why nobody was listening to him....

At last the great expedition set sail. Bad weather and worse luck plagued the fleet. A contemporary account records the sad outcome:

"Sir Humphrey adventured to sea, when having tasted of no less misfortune he was shortly after driven to retire home with the loss of a tall ship, and more to his grief a valiant gentleman, Miles Morgan." - Edward Haies -

The Red Lion was the only ship not to make it home. Some have speculated that they encountered a Spanish ship which sunk them. This is unlikely. The contemporary sources are remarkably quiet about the whole affair, but they surely would have mentioned such a battle. Although many facets of the voyage remain shrouded in mist, it seems more likely that Miles and his men encountered some terrible weather, which sent the unfortunate Red Lion, and all her crew, to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Queen, perhaps wary of angering a suspicious Spain, had Miles Morgan of Tredegar declared an 'outlaw' and his Tredegar estate to be sequestrated.

The Morgan family braced itself for more legal battles, and a certain Welsh bard, must have picked up his belongings from Tredegar House, and trudged off with a weary sigh to find an employer who would greater value his advice.

Click to view previous chapters in this series:
10. William Morgan d. 1569
9. John Morgan d. 1513
8. Sir Morgan ap John d. c1504
7. Sir John Morgan d. c1492
6. Ieuan ap Llywelyn ap Morgan
5. Llywelyn ap Morgan (lost Tredegar in 1402)
4. Morgan ap Llywelyn d. c1384
3. Ifor Hael of Gwern y Cleppa
2. Llywelyn ap Ifor and Angharad
1. Sir Morgan ap Maredudd d. c1331

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween 2009

Well, it is almost upon us. Another few nights of spooky goings-on await at Tredegar House. Over 3000 people are expected to attend the event over the three nights. It is a complete sell-out. Last night was the final rehearsal for those involved in sketches. Everything seems to be coming together quite nicely. New ideas are coupled with the return of some old favourites.

Are you attending this ghoulish extravaganza? Feel free to leave any reviews, feedback and comments here.

Here's to a successful (if slightly jumpy) Halloween!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Servant's Evening Is Upon Us!

All is set for the first Servant's Evening tomorrow night. The ticket sales have been quite healthy (with a few tickets already being snapped up for the September event) and we should have people there with family connections to a Tredegar House footman, a seamstress, Park Keeper, Game Keeper, Home Farm worker, and gardener, among others. Hopefully the weather will stay reasonably nice enabling us to wander around the formal gardens and take a look at the Stables and Riding School as well as the House itself.

Last minute tickets are still available for tomorrow evening (6pm start) and any information can be found by giving Tredegar House a ring on (01633) 815880

For those of you who have visited Tredegar House before but have never had chance to delve into the unrestored parts of the House (including the Nursery Wing, Attics, and cavernous cellars) Unexplored Tredegar tours return on Saturday, at 1pm, and 3pm; again, give the House a ring to book tickets.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Servant's Event Date Confirmed

Two dates have been confirmed for the Servants Family History event. The new Tredegar House events booklet has this to say:

Thursday 4th June (6pm) Thursday 17th September (6pm)

Follow in the footsteps of your relatives with this tour of Tredegar House. There will be tales of the Morgan family and some of the servants. The tour will visit a variety of rooms in the House and some of its spectacular outbuildings. The tour will finish with a glass of wine in the Servant's Hall, where we will answer any questions that you may have, chat about your own families' connection with the House and listen to any of your family stories.
Adults £8.50 Concessions £7.50 (price includes a glass of wine)

Tickets can be booked via Tredegar House (01633 815880)

Other events that are popping up soon include:

Butler and Housekeeper Tours: Sunday 12th, 19th and 26th April (2.45pm) Step back in time to 1895 and allow the butler Mr Smith and the Housekeeper Mrs Williams, to take you on a tour 'Below Stairs' on the eve of a visit from the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury.
Adults £8.50 Concessions £7.50 (price includes afternoon tea in the Brewhouse)

Easter Monday - A Traditional Easter at Tredegar House:
Monday 13th April. Stroll around Tredegar House at your own pace. Children's activities throughout the day including: an Easter Bonnet Parade hourly from noon; making traditional Easter cards; a quiz throughout the house including an Easter egg hunt. An egg for every child.
Doors open at 11am. Last entry at 4pm
Adults £4.00 Concessions £3.00 Children FREE

Plus, the House itself re-opens again for guided tours on Wednesday April 8th!
Tours run Wednesday-Sunday, starting at 11am, then hourly until 4pm.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Murder Mystery (Feb 13th)

There may still be a chance to pick up last minute tickets for the latest Tredegar House Murder Mystery. Give the House a ring (01633 815880) for more details.

Who wouldn't want to see in the Valentine's Day weekend with a grisly murder, in the presence of such vivid characters (and potential murderers) as the poet Evan Morgan, his sister Gwyneth, that star of stage and screen, the Hon. Lois Sturt, the occultist-for-hire Meredith Starr, and, topping it all off, the quite remarkable Marchesa Casati?

Tredegar House murder mystery evening, Friday 13 February.

'Cupid's Poisoned Arrow'

Are they the perfect couple, or is their marriage a perfect sham? Are they, as some believe, the reincarnation of Romeo and Juliet or is the truth far more sinister? And just who was it that shot the late Lord Tredegar through the heart with a golden arrow?

A perfect way to spend Friday 13, and see in the Valentines weekend. Interrogate the characters in the sumptuous state rooms at Tredegar House then retire to the Morgan Room to deliberate over a three course meal for only £30

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Morgan Homes Shiver

Tredegar House and Ruperra Castle in this week's snow. (courtesy of the ever-intrepid Monty Dart)