Alina de Mowbray lived through one of the most significant times in the history of the Lordship of Gower. The daughter of William de Breos (one of a long line of Williams), she was born in 1291, the same year that her father inherited the estates of Gower in South Wales and Bramber in West Sussex, on the death of his father.
The de Breoses (originally de Briouze and then de Braose) had fallen a long way by the time of Alina’s birth, and would fall even further in her lifetime. At their height they owned estates in France, England, Wales and Ireland. Some were lost when daughters married and took their inheritance to a new family, some were confiscated because of the king’s displeasure, some were sold to raise money.
When Alina’s father inherited what was left, he also inherited large debts, several law suits, and a profligate lifestyle. W H Jones, the historian of Swansea, summed up the de Breoses: “The de Breoses were a licentious clan of freebooters, who appear to have been so habituated to duplicity and chicanery as to render it impossible to be straightforward and honest in their dealings with their neighbours.”
William was often away fighting for the king, so it is possible that Alina saw little of him. She would have spent her time with her mother Agnes, her older brother William and sister Joan. Her father was given the valuable wardship of John de Mowbray in return for service in Flanders, which he immediately took advantage of by marrying John to Alina when she was only seven and he was twelve. He never paid the marriage fee.
The marriage took place in Swansea castle, but the family preferred to live at Oystermouth castle, which they improved. Indeed, so much of Swansea castle was damaged or sold off that, around 1300, William built the ‘New Castle’ by enclosing the south-east corner of the original castle. Once Edward 1 pacified the Welsh, Swansea was no longer important militarily, and became the administrative centre of the lordship of Gower. Alina had her first child, John, when she was nineteen, but in the next thirteen years she would lose her mother, brother, husband and then her sister. Although her father married Elizabeth de Sully, an heiress, they had no children, so there were no other heirs.
William had arranged for Alina and John to inherit his estates, but in a desperate search for money he also arranged to sell Gower to several people at once. One of these was Hugh le Despenser, King Edward II’s favourite, who, among other titles, was Lord of Glamorgan. Trying to protect their inheritance, in October 1320, John seized Gower by force. Despenser accused John of treason. The king declared Gower forfeit to Despenser and sent men to take Swansea castle. They were met by an armed mob in St Thomas who refused to allow them to cross the river.
Although Swansea castle was later surrendered without a fight, John’s resistance encouraged other barons to rise in revolt. They were already greatly dissatisfied with the king, particularly his behaviour with Despenser, not only sexually but in granting him so many favours against their interests as he grabbed for land. The revolt was initially successful and the king had to banish Despenser and his father.
In August 1321 John de Mowbray was pardoned for his part in the revolt, but in October the king launched a counter-attack. Due to a breakdown in communication, the barons were defeated and the leaders were executed. John was hanged at York, and the king was so incensed that he refused to allow his body to be taken down for three years. Alina fled with her son to Ilfracombe, but they were captured and sent to the Tower of London.
Alina spent three years in the Tower, during which time she was forced to sell her estates to Despenser’s father in order to provide living expenses. Her son John was only twelve when he went to the Tower. Gower had been confiscated by the king and given to Despenser, who had been reinstated. So Alina was left destitute.
At this point, Alina’s father William comes back into the picture. Despenser had cunningly exchanged Gower for Gwent, ordering Gower to be plundered before handing it over. William, desperate to gain his daughter’s freedom, submitted to Despenser’s schemes to regain Gower. William went to court and claimed that Gower had been illegally acquired, and regained it for himself. He immediately gave it to Despenser, who thus gained Gwent and Gower. William gave up almost everything he owned, and apparently went senile. He never saw Alina free, and died in 1326.
While Alina was in the Tower, Queen Isabella went to France to negotiate between Edward II and the French king, and managed to get her son Edward sent to France as well. There she joined forces with the exiled Roger Mortimer and they landed in England and began to raise an army against the king. The king called the barons to arms, but they deserted him and joined the queen. Edward was forced to flee and eventually abdicated. Despenser and his father were brutally executed and their lands confiscated. When Edward III came to the throne, the barons were pardoned and their estates returned to them. Unfortunately, Alina did not qualify however because her right to inherit Gower had not, originally, been completed correctly by her father.
But Alina’s story had a happy outcome in two ways. Firstly, the king showed mercy to her and gave her Gower. Secondly, she married a man she met in the Tower, Richard de Peschale, and went on to have four more children. Sadly, she didn’t live long to enjoy it, and died in 1331, only four years after her release from the Tower. Her eldest son John, however, had an illustrious career and became a close companion in arms of the king.