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


debra tucker said...


I love your very informative and humorous take on the Morgan family. I currently work at the Penllwyn Manor (Penllwyn Sarf) that was also owned by the Morgans. I have been trying to delve into the History of the place- hence how I came across your site. Would you have any or be able to tell me where I can find more information on the Penllwn - as I was informed that it was built by the Morgans but also that it was a farm house etc., Your help or guidance would be invaluable.

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