LEGENDS OF ST.DONAT'S CASTLE
The legends which follow have been selected from the numerous
traditional stories passed on by many generations of Stradlings,
some versions of these have already been published elsewhere,
others were told to me by my grandfather. Some of them are
recorded in old records still in existence, others may be purely
Prince of Glamorgan loses St.Donat's when attacked by the Normans
This legend is supported in many respects by historical records
still in existance, but historians can find nothing to confirm Sir
Edward Stradling's account written in the reign of Elizabeth Ist,
claiming that Sir William 1e Esterling was one of the twelve
Norman knights who took part in the attack on the Welsh, or that
he was given the castle in I090. His account of how the
Stradlings came into possession of St.Donat's is as follows:-
- " The original Stradlings (then called Le Esterlings) lived
on the shores of the Baltic and came to England with William
the Conqueror. In I090 Jestyn ap Gwrgant, Prince of
Glamorgan, appealed to William Rufus for military assistance
to repel an attack upon him at St.Donat's castle by Prince
Rhys. Twelve Norman knights and their followers, under Fitz-
Hamon, were sent to his aid, but hardly with the result he
had hoped for. They settled the affray by the complete
rout of the forces of both Welsh Princes, and Fitz-Hamon
divided up the castles of the contestants among his twelve
knights, giving Sir 'William 1e Esterling St.Donat's castle
for his gallant part in the battle."
There are no existing records of Stradlings living near the
Baltic, but there is mention in the Welsh National Chronicle of
Sir Morris 1e Esterling in 1106. Recent research makes it more
likely that this fami.ly originally came from a village named
Strattligen near Lake Thun, Switzerland and that they were related
to Sir Otto de Grandison and came with him to this country in the
I3th century. Earlier records mention long residence of the
Stradlings in the West Midlands of England.
An Unfortunate Encounter with Pirates
In the mid-15th century Sir Harry Stradling set sail from
Somerset (his permanent residence) to visit his castle at
St.Donats and en route his ship was captured by the Breton pirate
Colyn Dolphyn. His ransom of 2,000 marks was so high that he was
forced to sell his manors of Sutton (Glamorgan) and manors of
Bassalleg, Rogerston and Tregwillim (Monmouth).
A year or so later he received information that this same pirate
was approaching the Glamorgan coast, probably to revictual her in
one of the inlets near St.Donats. That night by the use of
false lights on the cliffs, Sir Harry lured this ship on to the
treacherous sandbank at Nash Point, where he and his followers
captured Colyn Dolphyn. After a summary trial, for which he was
afterwards severely reprimanded, the pirate was condemned to
death. The method of his execution was to bury him up to his
neck in the sand at the mouth of Tresillian Cave, leaving him to
drown when the tide came in. It is said that his screams still
The Occupation of St Donatís by the Stradlings ends in a duel.
In 1738 Sir Thomas Stradling, then 28 years old, went on a tour
of the Continent with a college friend John Tyrwhitt, who although
not a very desireable character, had some irresistable facination
for Sir Thomas. Before leaving he was persuaded by John
Tyrwhitt to sign a paper to the effect that if either died on the
tour the survivor would inherit the estates of the other.
On September 27th, I738, these two young men were drinking
together in an estimanet at Montpellier in the South of France,
and Tyrwhitt saw that Sir Thomas drank freely of the wine. When
he was sufficiently intoxicated, Tyrwhitt thinking of the piece of
paper in his pocket, provoked him into a duel and killed him.
The body was.brought home and laid in state in the Picture Gallery
at Sr.Donat's, the story being that he had been killed in a duel
by some unknown Frenchman.
His old nurse is alleged to have stolen down in the night and
felt the hands of the corpse, as in his early childhood he had
lost the first finger of his left hand. She afterwards declared
that there were five fingers on each hand of the corpse. That-
night the flambeaux which surrounded the coffin set fire to the
furnishings and the subsequent conflagration all but destroyed the
Gallery. In due time Tyrwhitt presented the paper, but he had
reckoned without the relatives and lawyers. For years the
tedious lawsuit dragged on before St.Donats and what was left from
the lawyers of the vast estate became his, in 1755.
If the legend of the old nurse is founded on fact, is the body
which is buried in the family chapel at St.Donatís, that of Sir
Thomas? It certainly was not that of John Tyrwhitt, as
there.are records of his existence after I755 and his familyís
possession of the castle until the end of the century.
What happened to Sir Thomas is another legend, which alleges that
he was afterwards seen on the Continent and lies buried in an
obscure grave under a nameless headstone, but on this is inscribed
the second line of the Stradling motto " HEB DDUW - HEB DIM " (
Without God - without anything )
Less well known legends.
Among those told to me by my grandfather are some for which I
have found no material support. These include ghostly
visitations at St:Donatís: A priest who roams the corridors, a
panther which is alleged to appear in some of the bedrooms and a
lady who is said to haunt the gallery; can this be a grief
stricken sweetheart of Sir Thomas? I think that these ghosts
of past ages must have been very well exorcised, because I have
heard nothing of them in my time, but no really ancient castle is
without a ghost.
Rumour rather than legend has it that one of the less reputable
sailors of the family was mate to the notorious pirate Captain
Blood and another mate on the ship on which the fictitious hero of
Robinson Crusoe was serving and cast him adrift in a small boat,
from which he landed on his famous island. This last doubtful
legend was told to me at Bristol, from where they are supposed to
have set sail; and it might have been more worthy of inclusion in
these legends if I had not failed to find any kind of record to
support this story.
I am greatly indebted to Mr.C.N.Johns, who has been surveying
St.Donatís Castle for the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments in
Wales and Monmouthshire, for his friendly co-operation and the
trouble he has taken, not only in reviewing and correcting my
original draft, but also for providing me with a wealth of
material on both St.Donat's Castle and the Stradling family.
I would also like to thank Major-General J.F.Hare (Secretary of
the Trust) and Rear Admiral D. J.Hoare (The Head of the Atlantic
College) for their courtesy and help on my last visit to
Return to Index Page
- Rev J M Traherne. "The Stradling Correspondence" (I840)
- Arthur Collins. "The Baronettage of England" (I722)
- English Historical Review (Oct.& Jan. I950 &I953)
- "Knights of Edward Ist " (Harleian Society)
- Rice Lewis. "A Breviat of Glamorgan" I596 to I600.
- E D.Jones. "Dictionary of Welsh Biography" (1959)
- Previte Orton. "The Early History of the House of Savoy"
- Francis Mugnier. "Les Savoyards en Angleterre au XIII Siecle
- G.T.Clark. "The Genealogies of Morgan and Glamorgan"
- David Powel.'Historie of Cambria" (I584)
- Sir John Edward Lloyd. "History of Wales" (I948)
- T.A.Archer. "Sir Otto de Grandison". Transactions of the Roya1
Historical Society,3rd Series.
- G Eland. 'The Shardeloes Papers" (I947)
- "Dictionary of National Biography". Articles on Sir Thomas, Sir
Edward and Sir John Stradling.