Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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FITZOSBERN , WILLIAM (d. 1071 ), earl of Hereford, lord of Breteuil in Normandy ,

kinsman and friend of king William I . He was the first to urge William to invade England , and became the ‘ prime agent ’ in its conquest; he was mainly responsible for establishing Norman rule on the Welsh border and for conquering Gwent . He became earl of Hereford early in 1067 and his vigorous attacks on the border country brought about an alliance between Bleddyn and Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn (qq.v.) of Powys and the Mercian English in 1067 , which lasted until the Mercians finally submitted in 1070 . He overthrew Maredudd and Rhys ab Owain ab Edwin (qq.v.) of Deheubarth and Cadwgan ap Meurig of Morgannwg ( c. 1070 ), built castles at Wigmore , Clifford , Ewias Harold , Monmouth and Chepstow , and conquered Gwent . Though he earned a reputation for severity in England , he was conciliatory to the Gwentian Welsh , allowing many to retain their lands on the favourable terms granted by Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (q.v.) , and the Welsh reeves ( meiri ) were not displaced. Before his last departure from the country, he came to terms with Maredudd ab Owain by granting him the vill of Ley . To stabilize his defensive system of border castles, he attached chartered boroughs to them, attracting settlers by granting favourable conditions, e.g., he granted his French tenants at Hereford the very liberal ‘laws’ which he had given to Breteuil . These ‘laws’ became the prototype of the charters granted by many Norman lords to their boroughs, and they had an immense influence in Wales since Hereford was regarded as a model borough. He was killed in battle at Cassel , 20 Feb. 1071 , and buried at Cormeilles in Normandy .


  • Freeman , The history of the Norman conquest of England, its causes and its results (1867-79) , iv, 66-72, 103-6, 111, 126, 241-3, 502-4;
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ;
  • English Historical Review ( 1900 ), 74, 76, 302-3, 305-8, 313, 317-8;
  • A History of Wales: from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest , ii, 374-6, 444;
  • Liber Landavensis. The Text of the Book of Llan Dâv (1893) , 277-8;
  • The Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion , 1899-1900 , 148-50;
  • [see also E. A. Lewis , The Mediaeval Boroughs of Snowdonia a study of the rise and development of the municipal element in the ancient principality of North Wales down to the Act of Union of 1536 (London, 1912) ].


Ceinwen Hannah Thomas, Ph.D., Gilwern, Abergavenny / Nantgarw / Cardiff

Published date: 1959