Before the days of constitutional monarchy English kings and queens truly ruled as well as reigned. They distributed a wide array of patronage, pensions, annuities and estates and they were the font of justice as well as the leader of the nation’s armed forces in peace and war. Securing a monarch’s favour was essential for an individual’s advancement and equally important for towns to secure charters and grants allowing their economies to develop. During the Middle Ages Haverfordwest had a connection with a number of Plantagenet kings, partly explainable by its geography, being on the south-western tip of Wales, a major port with reasonably close proximity to Ireland.
The fiery Henry II found himself weather bound in Pembrokeshire for several weeks in 1171 and is the first monarch known to have visited the fairly new borough. King John departed from Haverford in May 1210 bringing a huge feudal host to Ireland with him. He returned in August of that same year. Edward I and his wife Eleanor of Castile stayed at Haverfordwest Castle in November 1284 while Richard II stayed at the castle with his court for a number of days in August 1394. It is interesting to consider how the government of England, Wales, Ireland and French territories that week was exercised not from Westminster but from Haverfordwest since the state functioned through the monarch’s royal person.
One particularly important royal visit, and one which has been almost completely overlooked by history, was that when Edward, Prince of Wales and eldest son of King Edward IV visited the borough in 1473. A decade later, along with his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, he was one of the tragic Princes in the Tower murdered almost certainly by their uncle Richard III (1483). Edward was born at Westminster Abbey on 2 November 1470, the son of King Edward and his wife Elizabeth Wydeville. The baby prince was created Prince of Wales, and along with a multitude of other titles, Lord of Haverford, in June 1471 and he was installed in Ludlow Castle as the nominal president of the Council of Wales and the Marches. It was here on 9 April 1483 that he began his reign upon the death of Edward IV although after a reign of only 77 days the uncrowned thirteen-year old boy was deposed in favour of his uncle.
Whilst the prince was in Ludlow the exercise of power was of course carried out in his name by officials. His counsellors moved around his estates looking after his interests. We know they were at Haverford in 1478 (the year before the famous charter to the town), Chester and Worcester in 1481 and Hereford in 1473. His chancellor was Thomas Vaughan. In one transaction the Lordship of Haverford (which included the borough and a large swathe of central Pembrokeshire) bound itself to him in the sum of £80, a considerable sum. Another important functionary was Sir Richard Haute who was steward, butler and constable of Haverfordwest, armourer of Pembroke and farmer of mills at Pembroke, Castlemartin and Coedraeth.
During his tenure as Prince of Wales an inestimable boon was bestowed upon Haverfordwest which framed local government for the next three and a half centuries. He granted the famous much-quoted charter on 30 April 1479 which made the community an incorporated borough. It was not the first charter granted to Haverford, that was the one granted by King John in 1207 (there may have been earlier ones which have not survived) permitting a market and fair and there was another important document granted by the great William Marshall somewhere between 1213-19. Before the town was incorporated the lord’s business was undertaken by Praepositi or prefects. The community had been a thriving borough since the thirteenth century with flourishing port, wool-based economy and French wine trade. There were perhaps as many as 390 burgages at Haverford (the suffix ‘west’ was added during the reign of Richard II). Moreover, with three parish churches, Augustinian priory, Dominican friary, sundry other religious institutions, stretches of town walls and gates and mills at the Priory, Cartlett and Slade, the community it was by any reckoning a prosperous community with affluent merchant class.
The Black Death of 1348 and later the insurgency of Owain Glyndwr (especially the siege in 1405) it has always been maintained brought decline and decay. There is no disputing that there were 120 decayed that is, empty burgages as late as 1473-4. There were still improvements as when significant sums were expended in 1477-78 on repairing the castle Exchequer House and outer walls using wood from ‘Mynwere.’ Perhaps the charter of incorporation was an attempt to promote the growth of the local economy by granting it independence and detaching if from the wider Lordship of Haverford. The charter of incorporation granted ‘of the mandate of the Lord his father (King Edward IV) stipulated that there should be a mayor, sheriff, two bailiffs while the twenty four common councilmen were to be chosen by the mayor. The borough and its environs were henceforth a county of itself. Thus the mayor was to take over from the lord’s steward and the bailiff the work of the lord’s reeves. Furthermore, the mayor was to be a justice of the peace, clerk of the market (this ceremony of ‘crying’ the market was last observed in 1861), coroner and admiral.
The charter was confirmed in a charter issued by Henry VIII dated 12 July 1532 endorsing the provisions of that granted by ‘Edward, first born of Edward IV dated the last day of April in the 19th year of his reign.’ It is remarkable to think how the charter set the tone of town government until 1835 when the Municipal Corporation Act swept away the old common council. The importance of the 1479 charter has long been recognised although Spencer Dimmock in his fascinating analysis of the urban function of Haverford notes how a number of features, the use of a seal (authorised in 1291) and the long existence of a corporate identity (quoted in 1317) and several craft guilds.
Despite his tender years, being only in his thirteenth year when he was murdered in the Tower, Edward V occupies an important place in the history of Haverfordwest. He created it as a town and county in its own right, a situation which persisted right up to 1889. The recent discovery of the remains of Richard III in a Leicester car park in September 2012 has awakened a great interest in the history of the Yorkist kings and renewed the debate as to the responsibility for murdering his two nephews whose remains may have been unearthed in the Tower in 1674. We can almost imagine Edward as a toddler, gorgeously attired, arriving in far-flung Haverford in 1473 travelling in a cumbersome medieval wagon accompanied by an enormous retinue. His place is history is assured since the municipal offices of mayor and sheriff today (the first mayor in 1479 was reputedly Richard Ffulke) were of his creation.
- Edward V as depicted in a medieval illuminated manuscript.
- The Tower of London where Edward and his brother disappeared in 1483.