Graham Writer

Musings of an author.

Rhys ap Thomas Hero of Bosworth

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By the end of the 14th Century the Plantagenet dynasty had fragmented into Yorkist and Lancastrian factions. In 1399 Henry Bolingbroke deposed his cousin Richard II and became the first Lancastrian monarch. The house of Lancaster ruled England for the next sixty two years but it was not a peaceful period in the history of England. Yorkist and Lancastrian nobles argued over who should be king and in 1455 the dispute escalated into a bitter war. The Wars of the Roses, as they were known, would drag on for thirty years. By 1461, the Yorkists, whose heraldic symbol was a white rose, had won a series of battles and installed their man, King Edward IV. Edward was violently Battle_of_Bosworth_by_James_Doyledeposed in 1470 by Henry VI, a Lancastrian. Subsequently, Henry was murdered by the Yorkist faction and Edward restored to the throne. The fighting and plotting continued but Yorkist kings continued to reign until 1485 when Richard III became monarch.

According to the poet Guto’r Glyn, Rhys ap Thomas struck the blow that killed Richard III himself. He described Rhys and his men, ‘…like the stars of a shield with the spear in their midst on a great steed.’

Rhys ap Thomas was born in Carmarthenshire in 1449. His father came from Llandeilo and his mother was from Abermarlais. Her ancestor, also named Rhys, had fought at Crecy with Edward III. Rhys ap Thomas’ family supported the Lancastrian cause. His grandfather was killed at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, near the Welsh border, when Rhys was twelve years old. Following the battle the Lancastrians, including Rhys’ father, retreated to Carreg Cennen Castle where they were besieged by the Yorkist army. They surrendered in 1462 and the Yorkists destroyed the castle. Rhys’ family lands were confiscated and the family went into exile in Burgundy.
The family returned in 1467 and recovered some of their land during the brief reign of the Lancastrian King Henry VI, who had usurped Edward IV. After Henry was murdered and the Yorkist Edward re crowned, Rhys’ family managed to keep their lands. In 1474, Rhys’ father, Thomas, died and Rhys inherited the family estate.

Shortly after the Battle of Bosworth, the printer William Caxton, who was a Yorkist sympathiser, published Thomas Malory’s book ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’ – The Death of Arthur – likening the dead King Richard III to Arthur. It was an instant success and marked the start of a propaganda war that would be won by Shakespeare and the Tudor kings.

In 1483, Edward died, and his young son was proclaimed king. Richard, Duke of Gloucester was named as the boy’s Lord Protector. Richard had the twelve years old king and his younger brother moved to the Tower of London claiming the move was for their own protection. He then had the boys declared illegitimate, which thereby disqualified rhysapeither of them any right to be king, and seized the crown for himself. After Richard was crowned, both royal princes were murdered. Richard III’s involvement was never proven but the boys were a serious threat to his legitimacy as king.
​​Richard III’s coronation triggered a new wave of Lancastrian activity. In Brecon, the Lancastrian Duke of Buckingham raised an army. It was part of a plot, planned by Jasper, Earl of Pembroke, to replace Richard with Henry Tudor. Buckingham’s army marched towards England. Suspecting that the revolt would fail, Rhys refused to join Buckingham’s force. When Buckingham’s soldiers reached the River Severn, it was in flood and impassable. Discontent spread through the ranks and many of his men deserted. Meanwhile Henry Tudor was attempting to return from Exile in France but storms made a safe landing impossible and he returned to the continent. The plot collapsed, Buckingham was betrayed and executed.
A purge of Lancastrian sympathisers in South Wales followed. Having declined to take part in the rebellion, Rhys was now regarded as someone the king might trust to serve him. Rhys was obliged to swear an oath of allegiance to the Yorkist King Richard and ordered to send his son to stay at the king’s court in Nottingham as a hostage to guarantee Rhys’ loyalty. In return Rhys was made the king’s lieutenant in South-west Wales and received an annual stipend of 40 marks.
Rhys prevaricated and instead of sending his son wrote to the king saying, ‘Whoever ill-affected to the state, shall dare to land in those parts of Wales where I have any employment under your majesty, must resolve with himself to make his entrance and irruption over my belly.’
King Richard was short of loyal supporters in Wales and let the matter drop. Two years later in 1485 Henry Tudor landed at Pembroke with a small force of retainers reinforced by French mercenaries. Jasper, Earl of Pembroke was there to meet his old friend. Instead of attacking Henry, as was Rhys’ duty, he joined the Lancastrians. This presented Rhys with a dilemma; what to do about the promise he had made to King Richard. Rhys consulted the Bishop of St. David’s for advice who suggested that the oath would be satisfied if Henry stepped over his body thereby passing over his belly. Rhys considered this proposal rather undignified but it gave him a better idea.

Mullock Bridge near Dale was chosen as the perfect site. Rhys stood underneath the bridge while Henry and his men crossed it. Rhys was satisfied that the promise he had made had been honoured and his conscience was clear. However, Mullock Bridge is a fun story but unlikely to be true. Henry divided his men into two forces, one led by himself and the second by Rhys ap Thomas. Henry travelled along the coast to Aberystwyth and then turned east across the mountains. Rhys’s journeyed across South Wales collecting more men as he went. The two armies joined forces at Welshpool. When they met Rhys’ force had grown by another 500 men and far outnumbered Henry Tudor’s.

William Shakespeare’s play Henry VI Part I, depicts rival Yorkist and Lancastrian supporters picking roses to decide what colour roses they would use as their emblems. The scene is fictitious. At the Battle of Bosworth Field the Lancastrian, Henry Tudor’s battle flag was a Welsh Red Dragon. After the battle his standard was carried in procession to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The green and white background on today’s Welsh national flag was added after the battle. Henry adopted the red and white Tudor Rose as a symbol after becoming king.

The combined Lancastrian army entered England and marched east. Yorkist spies warned Richard III of Henry’s return and the king called his men to arms. The opposing sides met on the 22nd August 1485 at Bosworth in Leicestershire. Richard had mustered about 10,000 men and arranged them along the top of a ridge. Henry had less than 5,000, most of them Welsh. A third army of 6,000 stood nearby commanded by Thomas Stanley. The Stanleys had always been Yorkist supporters but Richard had behaved badly CoatofarmsRhysapThomas,_KGtowards them and their loyalty was doubtful. Suspecting trouble Richard kept Stanley’s son as hostage.
Fighting began when Henry’s men led by Rhys advanced on Richard’s position. Richard sent orders for Stanley to attack but there was no reaction from Stanley whose men stood firm, watching the battle. A furious Richard sent word that he would execute Stanley’s son. Stanley replied that he had other sons. Stanley was waiting to see who would win before taking sides. Richard ordered his hostage beheaded but in the heat of the battle the order was ignored.

The battle continued until Henry rode towards the Stanley position to ask for their help. Seeing that Henry Tudor was now in an exposed position, Richard and a group of knights charged towards Henry hoping to kill him and end the battle quickly. Richard and his men were quickly surrounded. It was the signal that Thomas Stanley had been waiting for and his men entered the battle on Henry’s side. Richard’s horse was killed but the king, now alone and on foot, fought on, surrounded by Welsh pike men. Finally, a Welshman cut him down with a poleaxe. The battle was won. Henry Tudor was crowned on the battlefield and Rhys knighted by his new king.
After the battle, Richard’s body was stripped naked, tied to a horse and taken to Leicester where it was thrown in an unmarked grave. The Stanley was rewarded with titles and estates. Rhys returned to Llandeilo as Justiciar of South Wales, Governor of all Wales and was later made a Knight of the Garter. He remained loyal to Henry and put down a Yorkist uprising in Brecon in 1486.

In September 2012, excavators dug up a municipal car park in Leicester and recovered a skeleton with a deformed back. Richard III was known to have one shoulder lower than the other. DNA testing proved that the skeleton belonged to King Richard. There were numerous wounds and part of the skull had been sliced off with a bladed weapon, suggesting that Richard was fighting without his helmet before he died. The remains have since been re-interred in Leicester Cathedral.
Henry’s son, Henry VIII, had little interest in his Welsh heritage and valued Rhys’ loyalty less than his father had done. Rhys had a number of mistresses and several illegitimate children, and legitimate son Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Thomas died in 1521. Rhys himself died at Carmarthen Priory in 1525. After his death Rhys’ estates, which he’d willed to his Rhysapthomas tombgrandson also named Gruffydd, were confiscated by Henry VIII and given to a favourite courtier Lord Ferrers. Unsurprisingly, Rhys’s grandson was enraged. He threatened Lord Ferrer and held a knife to his throat. It was a serious mistake. Henry VIII had a violent temper and was not a man to be crossed. He had Gruffydd convicted of treason and beheaded. The theft of Rhys’ land and the news of Gruffydd’s brutal execution were badly received in Carmarthenshire. Rhys had been buried at Carmarthen Priory but later, after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, his tomb was moved to St. Peter’s Church, Carmarthen. Rhys ap Gruffydd, a man who had done so much to establish the Tudor Dynasty, had been betrayed by his king.


Murder Mayhem and Madness in Carmarthenshire

Rural Carmarthenshire had always been an idylic, rustic paradise where time moves slowly, dictated by the seasons. Where autumn follows summer and spring, bringing new life to the fields, follows the dark months of winter. In the heart of Carmarthenshire, nestling in the Towy Valley, sits the small town of Llangadog. First appearances are of a sleepy hamlet, a place where motorists drive slowly around a labrador, sleeping in the road outside the Red Lion – where locals, with time to spare, stop to gossip in the post office and the butcher next door knows every customer by name. Casual visitors might be forgiven for thinking that not much of interest ever happens in such a quiet backwater as Llangadog and the surrounding villages. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Queen’s Square Llangadog

​​William Powell of Glanaraeth Mansion was a particularly unsavoury character. As a youth, he was brought to trial for the murder of a servant girl who he was accused of pushing out of an upstairs window. The members of the jury acquitted him of the crime, allegedly, because he bribed them.  A male servant later disappeared. Powell was suspected of killing him, dismembering the body and disposing of it but there was no proof.


William Powell’s House

After Powell married, he discovered that his wife was friendly with William Williams, a draper from Llandovery. The two men became bitter enemies. Despite being married, Powell entertained local women in a house he built in Llangadog, much to the annoyance of their husbands and brothers. In January 1768, several of the disgruntled men went, with William Williams, to Glanaraeth Mansion and murdered Powell. All the men, except Williams, were quickly apprehended because they had left a trail of footprints in the snow. Two were hanged for the crime while the others turned king’s evidence to escape the gallows. Williams escaped to France and died later in a boating accident.


He wrote his name above the door.

Llangadog Fair was always a lively event. During the 1811 fair, Lewis Griffiths, a local lawyer, was set upon by three men from Llanddeusant. He died from his wounds. The three attackers were charged with manslaughter and two were convicted. The third, John Rees escaped and remained at large for 10 years until he was caught and stood trial for Griffith’s killing.

In 1816, 26 year old lay preacher, Rees Thomas Rees of Gelli Bant was courting Elizabeth Jones from a farm in the village of Gwynfe. The couple were in love but Elizabeth’s family objected to the match and refused to countenance a wedding. Unfortunately, as a result of their liaisons, Elizabeth became pregnant. Not wanting Elizabeth to have a child out of wedlock, Rees travelled to Brecon and purchased a bottle of medicine, which he was told would abort the baby and solve the problem. Elizabeth drank the contents and complained of a great pain. She died a short time later. The bottle had contained arsenic. poisonRees fled to Liverpool intending to escape to America but the distraught lover changed his mind and surrendered to the authorities, explaining that it had all been a terrible mistake. The authorities took a different view. Rees was tried for murder, convicted and hung on the gallows at Babel Hill in Carmarthen. There was considerable sympathy for the young man’s predicament and a crowd of 10,000 turned up to watch his public execution. After Rees was cut down, his body was sent for dissection. Elizabeth Jones and her unborn child were buried beside the old church in Gwynfe.

A stage coach, stopping at the Red Lion Llangadog in 1832, was being unloaded when the horses bolted. Three passengers were still in the coach. Two men managed to jump clear, leaving a frail old lady behind. The driverless coach careered along the main road at a full gallop until it was stopped in Llandeilo, nearly seven miles away, where the old lady emerged shaken but otherwise unhurt.

In 1832, the grave digger in Llandingat churchyard accidentally broke into an old coffin and discovered bones, later identified as having belonged to a lawyer named Morgan.gravedigger Strange silver globules were revealed as bones were removed. Morgan’s death certificate identified the cause of his demise to be apoplexy but tests of the silver globules revealed he had been poisoned with mercury. The killer was never identified.

During the 19th Century Llangadog was a thriving meeting place for drovers starting their long walk to England. There were fourteen taverns in the town and fights were common. In March 1845, a brawl started in the Rose and Crown between Evan Evans and William Grey. The argument was over who should pay for the 16 quarts of ale they had consumed. During the fracas, Grey was bitten on the lip. The wound became infected and, after he died of tetanus, Evans was charged with murder. Evans was found guilt but, hearing of his previous good character, the judge sentenced him to just 14 days hard labour.

During World War II a Lancaster bomber was flying over Mynydd Ddu when the pilot lost control and the aircraft hurtled towards the mountain. Four crewmen baled out before the pilot regained control and managed to land at Swansea. Three of the jumping crewmen survived but the fourth, Sergeant Trevor Jones, was lost. His body was found weeks later. lancasterThe unfortunate airman had crawled three miles over the mountain with a broken leg before expiring.

In 1879 Watkin Hezekiah Williams, whose bardic name was Watcyn Wyn, arrived in Llangadog to teach at the seminary on Back Way. His arrival was welcomed by the people. The seminary, which had no living accommodation, lodged its pupils in the town and the extra income from their rent was greatly appreciated by all. The good will was, however, short lived. Within a year, Watcyn Wyn had fallen out with the residents of Llangadog and moved the seminary to Ammanford, taking all the pupils with him. Incensed at losing the rent from their lodgers, the residents made a life sized effigy of Wyn and burned it in Queen’s Square.​

goatinnRhys Prichard the vicar of  Llandingat was a habitual drunkard. One afternoon the inebriated cleric plied a goat with ale for some amusement. He did the same the following day but this time the goat refused the alcohol. The startled vicar, realising that the goat was more intelligent than himself, promptly signed the pledge and, according to legend, never drank again.

According to the Carmarthen Journal, an aircraft called the ‘Lady Peace’ landed unexpectedly in a field near Llangadog in 1936. The plane, travelling from New York to London, was lost and the pilot landed, thinking he was in Scotland. His passenger was Harry Reichman, an entertainer famous for the hit song ‘Putting on the Ritz.’ The two aviators stayed overnight in the Cawdor Arms, Llandeilo and the following morning a large crowd gathered to watch them take off. Before they departed, the intrepid pair signed autographs and, as the plane taxied before lifting into the air, the people sang hymns finishing with the Welsh National Anthem as the plane disappeared. What the audience did not know was that Reichman had been worried that the plane might come down in the sea and sink. To allay his concerns, the aircrafts wings had been filled with table tennis balls.


When a fire started in the kitchen of Glanrhyd Meilock, a Gwynfe farmhouse, the rooms quickly filled with smoke. Upstairs, Mr and Mrs Williams and their two children reacted by feeling their way down the narrow staircase to make their escape. Mrs Williams’ mother, a blind 80 year old invalid, was asleep in a downstairs room, beyond the kitchen. Opening the kitchen door, Mrs Williams was faced with an inferno. The fire had spread across much of the kitchen. She crawled across the floor and, despite being badly burned, managed to drag her mother from the house. Both women survived but Mrs Williams remained in hospital for some time with serious burns to her back. The farmhouse was completely destroyed by the fire. Learning that the family was homeless, villagers started a fund and money was collected to build a new home for them. Thanks to the generosity of surrounding communities, the new house was completed the following year. Elizabeth Eunice Williams’ bravery was recognised with a British Empire Medal and an account of her heroism was reported in the London Gazette on the 21st July 1953.

In 1971, the October 3rd edition of the Sunday Express reported a gangland killing in Gwynfe. Malcolm Heaysman, 46, had recently bought Godrewaun Cottage in the village. He was restoring the property when two strangers arrived looking for the cottage. They approached Godrewaun on foot across the fields and beat Heaysman to death. According to the paper, police were looking for Frederick Sewell and one other suspect whom they believed to be the killers. In August, Sewell had shot a police superintendent dead during a botched jewellery heist in Blackpool. Heaysman had moved from Islington and the murderers were said to be old London associates of the dead man, settling a grudge. Sewell was captured and convicted in 1972 of the policeman’s murder. The judge recommended he serve a minimum term of 30 years. Sewell has since been released and the retired gangster now lives near Gravesend, Kent.

When the Minister of Agriculture, Michael Jopling visited Llangadog’s dairy in 1984, 2000 angry farmers arrived with tractors to protest against a cut in milk quotas. Farm machinery blocked all the surrounding roads for four hours. Police officers were unable to stop slurry tankers releasing hundreds of gallons of milk into the road. Mr Jopling eventually escaped from the confrontation. The dairy closed in 2005 with the loss of 200 jobs. The closure was a bolt from the blue and a serious setback for the farming community. Many farmers gave up dairy farming and sold herds that had taken generations to develop.

In 1987, following a weekend of continuous rain, the railway bridge at Glanrhydsaeson, near Llangadog, collapsed as the early morning train crossed. The driver and three passengers drowned in the River Towy as a result of the accident.

Caroline Evans, who was 27 and six months pregnant, was a barmaid in the Red Lion in Llangadog in 2004. William Davies, a local farmer, was a regular drinker at the inn and became infatuated with Caroline. He was 59 and mentally unstable. According to witnesses, he would sit in the bar starring at her for hours. When Caroline refused his advances, Davies produced a shotgun in the public bar and told her she would not live to see her 28th birthday adding, ‘I’ll blow your brains out. We’ll go together.’


The Red Lion

Charges of threatening to kill were dropped and Davies was convicted of a more minor offence by Ammanford Magistrates. Later Davies returned to the Red Lion and carried out the threat with a stolen shotgun, shooting Caroline Evans first then he turned the gun on himself. A barmaid found both bodies when she came to work.
Before the killing, psychiatrists’ reports stated that Davies need not be detained and, although he was suffering from depression, he was no danger to anyone else.

To the casual observer, Llangadog may appear to be quiet and sleepy but, beneath the rustic calm, life is never dull. Sadly, since writing, the old labrador sleeping in the road outside the Red Lion has passed away and, in case you are wondering, no, it wasn’t run over.

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Western Mail shares the secret tricks of selling a business.

‘If choosing to start your own business is one of the most important decisions you will ever make, so is deciding how to pass it on’, says business writer Graham Watkins.

There are over 2 million privately owned companies in the UK employing nearly half the workforce and more than 17 million in the USA. Business owners have spent years learning how to run and grow their company but virtually none have any idea about how they will sell up when the time comes.

It was no different for us. After 11 years of running a thriving business it was time to let someone else take over. My wife and I decided to cash in and sell. Three years of stress followed before we completed a deal and walked away. During that time we went through a meteoric learning curve. There were false starts, dashed hopes and tears on several occasions. Planning, preparation, employing intermediaries, finding a quality buyer, negotiating a good price and avoiding traps laid by buyers were issues we knew nothing about.

There were textbooks written by ‘experts’. They dealt with the mechanics of selling a business but did not provide the heart of the information we needed, how to do it better, for a higher price and in a way that protected our workforce.

We realised that our exit plan should have began years earlier. Like an endowment policy, starting sooner gives bigger rewards. Thinking about selling focused our attention on issues that strengthened the company and produced superior performance. We built a team that could operate when we had gone. The team took responsibility, and sharing leadership with them energised our operation. The business grew and our jobs got easier.

We took a hard look at the company. What would make it more attractive to a buyer? Smart premises, literature and staff uniforms were a start but there was more to be done. The business needed structure, a strong business plan and a clear vision for the future.

Smartening up the business included settling disputes, making sure the business was legal, software licensed, taxes paid, contracts of employment updated and returns properly file
d. All potential minefields when the lawyers start probing.

We learned early that good advisors pay for themselves. Ours added credibility and experience. They opened doors to buyers we didn’t even know exist. For us, selling up was the biggest deal we had ever done and no time for DIY.

A properly prepared valuation was essential. It’s the tool needed to establish a realistic price for selling the company. A buyer also values the business and uses his figure, usually lower, as a negotiating tool. Our valuation added confidence and the realism that we needed to do a deal.

Finding our buyer was a problem. Advertising in the press would make the business look like a lame duck. Protecting our identity behind a box number would not get the right response. Quality buyers don’t find their target companies in the paper. Our advisors started to identify prospects and approaching them, while at the same time, protecting our confidentiality. It was time consuming but the transaction justified it.

A company sale is like any other, only bigger. It needs to be planned and prepared for, if you want to win your objectives and strike a good deal. Negotiating tactics should be flexible and realistic or you will overplay your position. Use your advisors and do your homework on the buyer before you negotiate. We did and it paid off handsomely.

After we struck the deal all hell broke loose. Auditors and lawyers descended on our company dissecting it for any weaknesses or flaws. We were glad we put our house in order beforehand. We had to keep calm during due diligence and answer all questions through the lawyer. He protected our positions and reduced our exposure to potential claims from the buyer.

The hardest part for us was the ‘Completion Meeting’ when we signed away our company. A traumatic last act, but finally we were free to ride into the sunset.

Article reproduced courtesy of the Western Mail.