The Beginning of the Ragland Tree

For Raglands and those researching the roots of the Ragland clan, the farthest back I’ve heard of is to Adam of Usk. So who the heck is he?

County of Monmouthshire (Sir Fynwy in Welsh)

Adam of Usk was a Welsh priest, a canonist, late medieval historian, and chronicler. His writings were hostile towards King Richard II of England. Adam lived c. 1352–1430 and was born at Usk in what is now Monmouthshire (where so much Raglan history is centered), south-east Wales. 

Adam received the patronage of Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March, who inherited the Lordship of Usk through his wife, Philippa. Mortimer encouraged Adam to eventually study at Oxford, where he obtained his doctorate and became an expert in Canon law.

Adam settled at the University of Oxford (established in 1096) as a law teacher. Here he was involved in an armed struggle in 1388 and 1389 between the Northerners and the Southerners, including the Welsh.

Adam left Oxford and practiced his profession for seven years as an advocate in the archiepiscopal court of Canterbury, 1390–1397, and sitting on the Parliament of 1397. In 1399 he accompanied the Archbishop and Bolingbroke’s (Henry IV) army on the march from Bristol to Chester. These experiences and the connection with Thomas Arundel shaped Adam’s views. 

An Aside…Thomas Arundel

Thomas Arundel, Lord Chancellor under Henry IV

Thomas Arundel (1353 – 19 February 1414) was an English clergyman who served as Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of York during the reign of Richard II and Archbishop of Canterbury in 1397 and from 1399 until his death. Arundel was an outspoken opponent of the Lollards ( a story for another day). Thomas was instrumental in the usurpation of Richard by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV.

Back to Adam of Usk…

Adam was hostile in his chronicles of Richard II. Nevertheless, he was a member of the commission appointed to find secure legal grounds for his deposition. He met with the King during his captivity in the Tower of London.

Adam was rewarded generously for his part in Richard II’s surrender, imprisonment, and fall. These nicely supplemented his professional legal income and status. However, Adam and Walter Jakes disagreed on who should receive the wealth of Llandygwydd in Cardiganshire. The two were in a public brawl, in Westminster, in November 1400, which resulted in charges being brought against Adam and his company for highway robbery. The outcome is unknown. However, it did not immediately limit his legal activities, as he continued his work as a lawyer.

When in Rome

However, Adam forfeited the King’s favor and was either effectively banished or chose to leave England for Rome in February 1402. Adam begged for the King’s pardon for the Westminster misdeed and received the pardon in January 1403. There Adam realized he could impress other influential people. Once in Rome, he met Pope Boniface IX and Pope Innocent VII, both of whom were sufficiently impressed to make Adam an English bishop in 1404. 

King Henry IV

Events outside his influence or control took over. The rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr enveloped Wales and focused attention away from England. In 1405, riots drove the Pope from Rome, leaving Adam stranded far from home, separated from his patronage, and exacerbated by Adam’s own dangerous illness. Adam left Rome in 1406, making his way to Bruges, where he developed his legal work in France and Flanders this time. He listened to the plans of Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, to overthrow King Henry IV but adroitly avoided any implication, involvement, or commitment to either side.

In 1408 Adam was ready to return to Wales. He hoped to secure the Lordship of Powis in Barmouth, then held by Edward Cherleton – whose first wife’s dower had included the Lordship of Usk. Adam lived under Charleton’s protection for years as a poor Chaplain at Welshpool.

Adam’s Chronicle 

In March 1411, Adam was granted a royal pardon, which should have signaled his return to influence. However, in 1414 Thomas Arundel died, and a significant patron’s power was removed. Adam spent the rest of his life and career in relative obscurity. 

In 1423 he served at St Cybi’s Church, Llangybi, Monmouthshire, near his birthplace. He died in 1430 and was buried in the priory church at Usk, where his epitaph, composed in Welsh meter, can still be seen. In his will, he must have left the material that formed his Chronicle to 1421, which twenty years later was put in manuscript form.

This Chronicle provides contemporary detail on events in Wales, England, and abroad offering insight into the life of an educated man moving through essential spheres of influence at the time. He chronicled his meetings with Kings and Popes and their histories. 

Adams’ Chronicle survives in a single manuscript. At some point, the final quire of the manuscript became separated from the manuscript. The main manuscript is in the British Library. His Latin chronicle of English history from 1377 to 1421 was edited and translated by Edward Maunde Thompson for the Royal Society of Literature as Chronicon Adæ de Usk.

I hope this brings Adam to Usk to life in your family trees. I know it did mine.

Debora Buerk
Writer, Editor. and
sometimes family historian