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The History of Monmouth

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The history of Monmouth can be traced back to at least the first known organised settlement in the area, the Roman town of Blestium. The Romans built a network of forts in the area, of which Blestium was one. There have been a large number of significant archaeological finds on the site that demonstrate the importance of the Roman settlement of the time. Such was the historical value of the finds that the Council for British Archaeology was moved to designate Monmouth as one of the top ten sites for archaeology in Britain. After the Romans left Britain, the settlement appears to have faded and there is little written about it until the time of the Norman Conquest and the Domesday Book of 1086. Monmouth is mentioned in the Domesday Book and for the next two centuries was ruled by Norman French Lords. Very soon after the invasion of 1066 William Fitz-Osbern, the Norman Lord and castle builder, built a wooden motte and bailey castle at Monmouth. The initial wooden castle was built as early as 1067, and would have eventually been rebuilt in stone.

In 1101, a Benedictine Monastery was established at Monmouth. This is where Geoffrey of Monmouth , author of ‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ (History of the Kings of Britain), was educated. The town suffered from destruction caused in the wake of the Battle of Monmouth. The fight was between the rebels led by Richard Marshal, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, and a royalist force led by John of Monmouth. The rebels were victorious and St Thomas’ Church and the Monnow Bridge were burnt during the struggle. The 13th century stone gated bridge at Monnow still stands, however, and is the only remaining bridge of its type. Monmouth Castle was owned in the early 13th century by Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster and son of King Henry III . He made the castle his main residence in the area and put considerable effort into its redevelopment. It was developed further in the early 14th century by the 1st Duke of Lancaster; Henry of Grosmont. The castle became a favourite residence of Henry Bolingbroke, who became King Henry IV . He continued to spend much time at Monmouth after becoming King and it was there in the late 14th century that Henry of Monmouth, later to become King Henry V , was born at the castle. Henry V’s famous victory of Agincourt is commemorated around the town of Monmouth, with place names such as Agincourt Square.

Monmouth was never besieged or directly involved in the troubles associated with the Glyndŵr rebellion of the early 15th century, but it was an important stronghold for Henry’s troops, who were involved in many battles in the surrounding areas. King James I granted Monmouth a town charter at the beginning of the 17th century, giving it town and borough status. In 1610 John Speed made a map of Monmouth which shows a layout of the centre of the town that is still quite recognisable in modern day Monmouth centre. The Shire Hall was built in 1724, on the site of the original Elizabethan market hall, design to be used as a court house.

Nelson is remembered fondly in Monmouth, having made two particularly notable visits. He gave his approval to the Naval Temple at Kymin Hill and later gave a rousing dinner speech where he praised the residents of the town for their loyalty to the crown. Present day Monmouth houses a museum with a magnificent collection of Nelson material. In 1840, John Frost, William Jones and Zepheniah Williams were tried for their part in the Chartist uprising in Newport . They had led a huge march of chartist supporters who were demanding the release of some imprisoned Chartists. Unfortunately, soldiers opened fire on the marchers and many were killed in a brief but chaotic struggle. For their part in the uprising , the three had the dubious honour of being the last men in Britain to be sentenced to being hung, drawn and quartered. Fortunately for them, the sentences were reduced to transportation following a huge public outcry.

Agincourt Square has a statue of Charles Rolls , who lived at the Hendre, just outside of Monmouth. Charles was a keen racing cyclist, motorist and aviator, having been the first man to complete a non-stop flight across the English Channel. He co-founded the infamous Rolls-Royce company; famous for its luxury cars and aeroplane engines. Monmouth has been without a railway service since 1964, despite having at one time had four different railway services running into the town. The four were all started between 1857 and 1883, but all closed down between 1917 and 1964. The Monmouthshire Show is an annual festival which has been held since 1919; although its origins can be traced further back to the cattle show organised by Sir Charles Morgan M.P. and the 8th Duke of Beaufort.

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