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 mythical.

Prince of Glamorgan loses St.Donat's when attacked by the Normans in 1090.

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 haunt Tresillian.

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.

Authorís Note.

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 St.Donat's.

A.H.Stradling: Parkway Ratton Ctanor Sussex.

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