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The Marcher Lords

The area along the border between England and Wales was called the Marches. During the Middle Ages this area was ruled by the Marcher Barons, who held more power than lords anywhere else in England. The four most powerful families were the Mortimers, the Clares, the Marshalls (Goodrich Castle, for example, was held by William Marshall) and the Bohuns. They were allowed to build castles without the king's permission and to wage war against the Welsh. In fact they got to keep any land they managed to conquer from the Welsh for themselves.

The Marcher Lords became very wealthy. The Bohuns, for example, hired an Austin Friar (a type of monk) to copy and work on manuscripts for them (Janet Backhouse, Medieval Rural Life in the Luttrell Psalter, The British Library, 2000, p. 15). Status was very important, which is why families spent great amounts of money on surrounding themselves with the trappings of power: castles, retainers, beautiful clothes, horses and fancy armour for tournaments.

One Herefordshire family, the Mortimers, knew how to play the power game and carved out an important role for themselves during the Middle Ages. To read more about the powerful Mortimer family and their base at Wigmore Castle, click here.

Throughout the Middle Ages, whenever there were troubles in England - as, for example, when Stephen and Matilda were fighting for the throne - the Welsh rulers took advantage of this and attacked Herefordshire and the Marches. This is why many of the castles in Herefordshire are built in the area of the border with Wales.

[Original author: Toria Forsyth-Moser, 2002]