Gwent was, between about the 6th and 11th centuries, one of the kingdoms or principalities of the Welsh, traditionally lying between the rivers Wye and Usk in what later became known as the Welsh Marches.
Emergence of the kingdom
The kingdom of Gwent in the Middle Ages was traditionally the area between the rivers Usk, Wye and Severn. To the north, the area adjoined Ewyas and Ergyng (Archenfield). Gwent came into being after the Romans had fled Britain, and was a successor state drawing on the culture of the pre-Roman Silures tribe and ultimately a large part of their Iron Age territories. Its name echos that of the Silurian capital, Uenta Silurum, perhaps meaning "Market of the Silures". The name Gwent or Uenta is of the ancient British language from which Welsh has developed and is found elsewhere in Britain, most famously in Winchester, known to the Romans as Uenta Belgarum.
The Kingdom coalesced in this territory between the Wye and the hills. The town of Uenta became Caerwent; Gwent fort.
According to one Old Welsh genealogy, the founder of the kingdom was Caradoc Freichfras. The earliest centre of the kingdom may have been at Caerwent, the Roman administrative centre, or perhaps Caerleon, formerly a major Roman military base. Welsh saints like Dubricius, Tatheus and Cadoc Christianized the area from the 5th century onwards. According to tradition, in about the 6th century Caradoc moved his court from Caerwent to Portskewett, perhaps meaning nearby Sudbrook. Other suggestions are that Gwent was founded by Erb, possibly a descendant of Caradoc, who may have been a ruler of Ergyng east of the Black Mountains who won control of a wider area to the south.
A later monarch was the Christian King Tewdrig who was mortally wounded repelling a pagan Anglo-Saxon invasion. His son Meurig may have been responsible for uniting Gwent with Glywysing to the west in the 7th century, through marriage. It has been suggested that Meurig's son, Athrwys ap Meurig, may be the origin for King Arthur, although others consider this unlikely.
At times in the 8th century, Gwent and Glywysing appear to have formed a single kingdom. Gwent may also have extended east of the River Wye into areas known as Cantref Coch, which later became the Forest of Dean. Its eastern boundary later became established as the Wye, perhaps first determined by Offa of Mercia in the late 8th century, and certainly by Athelstan of England in 927. The area west of the River Usk was Gwynllŵg, which formed part of Glywysing.
In 931, Morgan ab Owain of Gwent, later known as Morgan Hen (Morgan the Old), was one of the Welsh rulers who submitted to Athelstan's overlordship, and attended him at court in Hereford. In about 942, Gwent and Glywysing were again temporarily united under the name of Morgannŵg by Morgan Hen, but they were broken up again after his death. In 1034 Gwent was invaded by Canute, King of the Danes and the English.
Gwent's existence as a separate kingdom again temporarily ended when Gruffydd ap Llywelyn won control of the area and Morgannŵg in 1055, so extending his rule over the whole of Wales. However, after Gruffydd's death in 1063, Caradog ap Gruffudd re-established an independent kingdom in Gwent. In 1065 the area was invaded by Earl Harold Godwinson, who attempted to establish a base at Portskewett, but it was razed to the ground by Caradog, and the next year, 1066, Harold was crowned King of the English and then slain at the Battle of Hastings.
Norman invasion and partition
With the Norman invasion of Britain extending westwards after 1067, Caradog's area of control moved into Deheubarth to the west, until his death in 1081. By that time most of Gwent had become firmly under Norman control. However, conflict with unquiet locals continued intermittently until 1217, when William Marshal sent troops to retake the castle at Caerleon.
The Normans divided the area, including those areas which they controlled beyond the River Usk, into the Marcher Lordships of Abergavenny, Caerleon, Monmouth, Striguil (Chepstow) and Usk. They built permanent stone castles, many originating from a network of earlier motte and bailey castles. The density of castles of this type and age is amongst the highest in Britain and certainly the rest of the Welsh Marches, with at least 25 castle sites remaining in Monmouthshire alone today.
Despite the extinction of the kingdom by 1091, the name Gwent remained in use for the area by the Welsh throughout this period and later centuries. It was traditionally divided by the forested hills of Wentwood (Welsh: Coed Gwent) into Gwent Uwch-coed ("beyond the wood") and Gwent Is-coed ("below the wood"). These terms were transliterated into English as Overwent and Netherwent, the entire area sometimes being known as "Wentland" or "Gwentland".
The name was not forgotten in later years however. This land, more cut about into lordships than any other, was collectively known as Gwent or Gwenta in Welsh and in English as Wentsland or Wentset, which name indicated its essential unity. The Laws in Wales Act 1535 transformed Wentset into Monmouthshire. In the Victorian period the name "Gwent" re-emerged as an occasional poetic name for Monmouthshire.
Wentset was governed throughout the Middle Ages as a series of Marcher Lordships, a situation which continued for some 450 years, until the days of King Henry VIII.
Under King Henry VIII, Parliament passed the Laws in Wales Act 1535. The Act abolished the Marcher Lordships and new counties, amongst them the County or Shire of Monmouth, which combining the lordships east of the Usk with Newport (Wentloog) and Caerleon to the west of it.
The arms attributed to the Kingdom of Gwent have become the pattern of the Flag of Monmouthshire.
- Raymond Howell, A History of Gwent, 1988, ISBN 0-86383-338-1
- The Early Welsh Kingdoms, Gwent & Glywysing
- 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica
- R. J. Mansfield, Forest Story, 1965
- Ralph A. Griffiths, Tony Hopkins and Ray Howell (eds.), The Gwent County History Vol.2: The Age of the Marcher Lords, c.1070-1536, University of Wales Press, 2008,ISBN 978-0-7083-2072-3
- Camden's Britannia at Caerleon.net
- William Camden's Britannia, 1586/1607 (Monmouthshire)