Spotlight on Cardigan

Spotlight on Cardigan

At our May meeting, Phil Davies stood in as speaker at the last moment and spoke about The Fitzgerald Family of Carew Castle.

This is Fiona Thomas' comments about the talk

Monday May 9th  Talk by Phil Davies : The Fitzgerald family of Carew Castle

“Are we all related?”was the question put forward  Phil Davies.  Research by the American Scientific Journal shows that over twenty generations one person would have a million relatives and over thirty generations there would be eight billion relatives so we must have common ancestors or the numbers wouldn’t work.  The family tree of local powerful families bears this out.

Thirty generations takes us back to the year 1020.  Rhys ap Tewdrw, king of Deheubarth (Dyfed) met with William the Conqueror in 1081 when William marched to St David’s as a pilgrim but accompanied by a force.  William controlled his barons but died in 1087 and was succeeded by his son, William Rufus, who cancelled the agreement with Rhys and encouraged his barons to invade Wales.  Rhys escaped to Ireland and raised an army but was captured by the Normans in battle in Brecon.  He was beheaded  in 1093in the Rhondda Valley at a place since known as Pen Rhys.  Confusion and disorganization followed and the Normans grasped the opportunity to invade Pembrokeshire.

Rhys ap Tewder ‘s daughter, Nest, famed for her great beauty, was captured and kept prisoner by William Rufus.  William’s brother, Henry 1, and Nest had a son known as Henry Fitzhenry.  Later, Princess Nest was sent back to Pembrokeshire where she married Gerald de Windsor Fitzwalter who had been left in charge of Pembroke castle by Arnulf de Montgomery.  Nest owned Carew castle and she and Gerald settled there.  Gerald probably built the stone castle in place of the original wooden one.  Their son, known as William Fitzgerald de Carew, passed on the official name of Carew to his children as their surname.  Their daughter, Angharad, married William de Barri and their son was Gerald Cambrensis or Gerald of Wales, a mixture of Norman and Welsh blood.

While she was still married to Gerald, Nest was abducted from Cilgerran castle by Owain, son of Cadwgain Prince of Powys.  He was her second cousin and was said to be overwhelmed by her beauty but Henry 1 was incensed by his action and Owain fled to Ireland.   Nest was returned to Gerald who died a year later. 

When Princess Nest was widowed her sons arranged for her to be married to Stephen Mareis who was Constable of Cardigan Castle.  Their son later became one of the Norman conquerors of Ireland.  The Battle of Crugmawr was fought in 1136 near Penparc, probably at the hill known as Banc-y-Warren.  Princess Nest was still resident in Cardigan castle which was left unscathed, possibly as a mark of respect to Nest who was the grandmother of men in both the Norman and Welsh armies.

Altogether Nest had nine children by both Norman and Welsh fathers.  The Fitzgerald name is well known in Ireland and America and her descendants may include well-known people such as the former president of America John Fitzgerald Kennedy and the writer Scott Fitzgerald.  Locally, descendants of the Fitzgeralds lived at Pentre Mansion Abercych.

There was a great deal of fascinating information in this talk, not only about the powerful families who ruled and fought over this area but also about the Norman and Welsh conflicts and the part Nest played as mistress, wife, mother and grandmother of many of them.


Fiona Thomas 12th May 2022



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Croeso i Cangen Aberteifi o Gymdeithas Hanes Teuluol Dyfed
Welcome to the Cardigan Branch of the Dyfed Family History Society
Chairman:  Rae Morgan
Secretary:  Ken James
Treasurer:  Goronwy Thomas
We meet at 7.30pm on the first Monday of the month (unless its a bank holiday) at Cardigan Castle, in the Tower Room (you will be able to enter Cardigan Castle, through the gate by the 1176 Restaraunt. The room is on the first floor, there is a lift for anyone who find the stairs difficult). Covid Rules will apply. We have a varied programme of invited speakers research evenings, visits to places of local interest.  These events are free for everyone, and we encourage non-members to come to our meetings. (see map below)
At our June meeting we had Hedd Ladd Lewis talk to us about The Rev. Thomas Evans. Here is Fiona Thomas' write up about the talk , which was very interesting.


The Life of the Reverend Thomas Evans 1826 - 1906: Speaker Hedd Ladd – Lewis

The Reverend Thomas Evans defies the stereo-typical image of a Victorian missionary: he was a compassionate man who had a wide experience of life.   He grew up in hardship as a boy in Newport and travelled world-wideas a sailor before becoming a preacher.  

Thomas was born in Newport, Pembrokesire, the son of a ship’s captain who was often away at sea and a heavy drinker when home.  He could have chosen to walk in his father’s footsteps but instead was influenced by his mother’s care and self-denial.  He left school at ten or eleven years old and it was his mother as well as the school and Sunday school who taught him to read and write.

When Thomas was about thirteen or fourteen years old his father told him he was to meet him at Llanelli and join him at sea.  This meant Thomas and his mother walking for two days and sleeping rough on the way there.  Thomas started off as a cabin boy but left working for his father at eighteen and went to Krondstadt where he had his first spiritual experience.  An outbreak of cholera meant the sailors being confined to their ships and Thomas began to give sermons to them.  He became known as ‘the sailor preacher.’

Thomas gained his Master’s certificate in his 20s and travelled worldwide.  During his time at sea he was shipwrecked in a storm off the coast of Beirut and was given shelter by a Jewish rabbi.

Arrested in Alexandria, he made his way back to Liverpool and then Newport where he was baptised and decided to apply to the ministery.  He went to Pontypool, became a minister and then decided to become a missionary.

Thomas Evans was accepted by the Baptist Mission to go to India and left for Calcutta with his wife in 1855 but sadly she died during the voyage.  He arrived there shortly before the first Indian War of Independence and took shelter in Agra after his house was burnt down.  Contrary to the wishes of many he brought people, including those of lower castes, from the surrounding countryside into the fort for safety.   When the fort was relieved by British troops he was appalled at the way the Sepoys were treated, including being executed by being tied to cannons and blown up.

Thomas met his second wife, Phoebe, in Agra and came home to Newport for a break.  They lost their first three children but the next two survived.  On his return to India he was given the job of organizing supplies as famine had broken out in 1874.  The opium trade meant that farmers had swapped growing food for opium.  He campaigned against the opium trade and started an Anglo/Indian temperance movement, using Indian religious texts to underline and explain his message.  His work led the British Government to produce a report on the opium trade but it was shelved as too much money was involved.

In 1896 he returned to Newport and stayed with his sisters but returned to India to become chaplain to the troops.  He died there in 1906 and was buried in Mussourie, India.

This was a man who did not lose his faith despite many challenges, who was compassionate to those whom others despised, and who respected other religions.   He was intelligent and resourceful but also seems to have been that rare being: a person who was open-minded and without prejudice.

Hedd is hoping to write a book about the life of the Reverend Thomas Evans.  It would be a lovely tribute to a man who deserves to be remembered for his ability to relate to all of humanity with compassion.

Fiona Thomas 15th June 2022


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