Thursday, 27 December 2012

Griffith ap Rhys- An important Welsh knight in early Tudor times

This week is the story of a powerful Welsh knight who was associated with Prince Arthur Tudor, the Cathedral, and the city of Worcester. Sir Griffith ap Rhys ap Thomas, the only legitimate son of Sir Rhys ap Thomas by his first wife Eva, was born circa 1470.  His father Sir Rhys ap Thomas played a pivotal role in the politics of the Wars of the Roses and under the patronage of Henry VII became the most powerful man in South Wales.
Griffith and Catherine. Copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

When in 1492 at the age of six. Henry VII's son Prince Arthur was sent to live at Ludlow Castle, Henry would have wanted his son surrounded by his most loyal supporters and Sir Rhys who was appointed his 'guardian'.  Griffith as Rhys's son was a obvious choice as companion for the young Prince of Wales.    Griffith seems to have been a close friend of Prince Arthur and served as his 'Master of the Horse'.    Griffith was created a Knight of the Bath during the wedding festivities.  He was also with Arthur when he returned to Ludlow with his new bride.

The tomb chest of Griffith ap Rhys in Worcester Cathedral. Copyright Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Arthur died in 1502 and when his body was taken from Ludlow Castle to Worcester Cathedral, Griffith played an important part at the funeral.  Dressed in mourning habit, his horse draped in black, he rode at the head of the procession carrying the prince's banner.  And at the interment in Worcester Cathedral he offered at the Gospel the rich embroidered banner of his Lord's Arms.

His coat of arms. Copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

After Arthur's death Griffith continued to serve the royal family and Henry confirmed that Griffith should inherit his father’s honours on his death.  Griffith was also present, representing Worcestershire, when Henry VIII travelled to France for the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. In the monastery’s accounts for 1521-22 is a reference to Griffith formerly owning a property in Birdport Street. No doubt it was a useful place where he could stay while visiting the region, and could facilitate trade between Worcester and Wales.

A Coat of arms on the tomb. Copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Griffith died sometime between July and October 1521, predeceasing his father who died later in 1525.  It is not known how he died but as he died intestate it was probably a surprise or he would, have made a will. 

A Coat of arms on the tomb. Copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Griffith married Catherine St John, daughter of John St John around 1507. 
The inlaid memorial brass plate of Griffith and his wife was already badly decayed by the seventeenth century and the present brass dates from the Victorian period.  The only child we can be sure of was one son, Rhys ap Griffith, who was later executed by Henry VIII for treason,  though if the Victorian brass is to be believed  they had 11 children, 7 girls and 4 boys all living to adulthood.  Catherine accompanied Griffith to France for the Field of the Cloth of Gold where she was in attendance on the Queen.  After Sir Griffith's death Catherine married Sir Piers Edgecombe. She made her will December 4, 1553, and died that month.  She is buried with Griffiths in his tomb which is located in the eastern choir transept in Worcester Cathedral below the tomb of the Arthur, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Henry VII. 

A Coat of arms on the tomb. Copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Around the tomb is this inscription:  Here in this tomb lyeth buryed the Body of the Noble knyght, Sir Gryffyth Ryce Son of Syr Ryce ap. Thomas knyght, which Syr Gryffyth dessyd the xxix day of September in the xiiii yere of Kyng Henry the viii. And also of Lady Catheryne the Wyfe, Daughter of Syr John Saint John whych decessed the …... day of …. Anno Dom. Mcccc …. on whose Soules, and all Cristen Soules Jeshu have Mercy.  Amen.

by Vanda Bartoszuk.

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