By Mary John

John Leland, poet and antiquary, noted for his Itinerary, included Wales in his six year tour of Britain and at some time during the years 1536 to 1539 visited Pembrokeshire.

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Leland was born around the year1506 and was educated at St Paul’s in London, Christ College, Cambridge and All Souls, Oxford. He took holy orders and later served as tutor to the son of the Duke of Norfolk. Having spent much of his time writing poetry in Latin, often in praise of the monarch and his court, he was appointed Royal Librarian by Henry VIII.

By 1533 he had become the king’s Antiquary. This was at a time when the effects of the break with Rome were beginning to be felt, with the ensuing destruction in cathedrals, churches and monasteries throughout the land. The Valor Ecclesiasticus  was made in 1534-5, followed by the acts for suppression of the monasteries 1536 to1539. In addition to this, under a new Act (27 Hen. VII, cap.26), Wales found itself united to England ‘for lawes and justice to be ministred in Wales in like fourme as it is in this realme’.

Leland may have been in Pembrokeshire when St Dogmaels Abbey and its dependent priory on Caldey Island were dissolved in 1536. Notorious Bishop Barlow abandoned St Davids Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace around this time. He had a hand in the closure of both Haverfordwest Priory and Friary in1538 and Pembroke Priory was dissolved in 1539. Within a few years the bishop’s episcopal residences at Llawhaden and Lamphey and the Hospitaller’s Commandery at Slebech were no longer required by the church.

With the dissolution of the monasteries Leland became most concerned about the removal and dispersal of their precious archives and books. He received authorisation from King Henry to conduct a survey of the libraries of all the religious houses and made extended excursions into Wales, detailing where hr went in a series of notebooks.

These notes contribute considerably to our understanding of Tudor times and as Roger Turvey reminds us, ‘Leland’s legacy was in introducing the notion of the county or shire as an appropriate unit for studying the history of Britain…’

Unfortunately, within less than ten years after his visits to Pembrokeshire we learn from his friend, John Bale, that Leland ‘…fell besides his wits’ and by 1550 he was certified insane. We are told that in April 1552 he was buried in the church of St Michael Querne, Cheapside in London, which was later destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

Leland left a vast quantity of manuscripts which were subsequently used by other antiquarians who were not always prepared to acknowledge him; one being William Camden who was accused of ‘feathering his nest with Leland’s plumes’, when writing Britannia. The manuscripts, including those which would make up The Itinerary, passed through numerous hands until finally arriving in the Bodleian Library.

Historians have been left speculating on Leland’s route into Wales, whether from Gloucester, Shropshire or possibly Chester and North Wales. Because of the scattered nature of his notes one cannot tell how many times he came into west Wales or whether he gleaned information from other people rather than it being from material gained first hand. There are a host of questions one could ask regarding Leland’s tour of Pembrokeshire, not least, how did he travel?  Was he on horseback? Did he go from place to place in a carriage and what were the roads like? Perhaps he travelled round the county by boat. Did he have company? A clerk? A scribe? A man servant?  Where did he stay? Was he welcomed in any of the threatened church properties? Was he entertained in any of the big houses? Did he spend nights in rural hostelries? We will probably never know.

The Itinerary, as it was to become known, was not published in Leland’s lifetime. John Stow was noted for his transcriptions in the 16th century but it was not until 1710 that the first edition, edited by Thomas Hearne, appeared in several volumes in Oxford.

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Further editions of this work appeared in the 18th century and in 1906 a new version, the first of five volumes, of The Itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535- 1543, edited by Lucy Toulmin Smith, was published.






It is extracts from her version that are used here to describe Leland’s time in the county of Pembrokeshire which he claims to approach from ‘Wormes Hedde’ in ‘Gower Land’, mentioning Caldey on the way.Mary Fig 3

‘Tinby ys a walled towne hard on the Severn Se yn Penbrookeshire. Ther is a sinus and a peere made for shyppes. The towne is very welthe by marchaundyce…One thinge is to be marveled at. There is no welle yn the towne, as yt is saide, wherby they be forced to fech theyr water at S, Johns withowte the towne.’  

He is next in Mainopir…a towne of howsbondry…The ruines of Pirrhus Castel there, many walles yet standynge hole, do openly appere.’

‘A good deale upward above Milforde Haven lyith Great Scalmey and Lytle Scalmey, one almost joyning to a nother, longing booth to the king, but not inhabited propter pirates et celi inclemantium. Great Scalmey hath no howse in yt, as I remember M Hogan said that therein is a chapel. The fermers bring over thither shepe and coltes of horses the which feede very wildly there, but the coltes taken fro thens be larger and better fed then be harted or apt for war.’

After mentioning  the islands of Schoukhold, Gresse Holme and Ramesey Leland finds himself in Narbarthe, ‘ a little preati pile of old Syr Rheses given onto hym by King Henri the VIII. There is a poore village….’

Dueglevi lordship is conteynid bytwixt the ii river of Glevi. In this lordship or grounde be few or none notable buildinges…Lannhadein lordship is on the est side Gledi wher is a castel buildid on a roke longgng to the Bisshop of S, David…Therby is also a forest of redde deere caullid Lloydarth.’

Leland moves on erratically through the county-

‘Slebyche  comaundry of the Rodes liith apon the Est Glevy even adjoining to the west parte of Narbarth lordship.’

‘Roche Castel longing to the Lorde Ferres an old Langeville knight of Bukinghamshire bytwyxt Harford West and S.Davids.’

‘Haverford West lordship hath the waullid toun of Haverford and castel… thre paroch chirches, one of them withowt the toune in suburbe. Blak-Freres within the toune.Chanons without suppressed.’

‘Gualwin castel and lordship is pertaining to Harford West. It longgid to the lord of Northumbreland, now to Perot.’

‘Rose Market. The market is lost, and is now a poore village.’

‘In the extreme part of Penbrokeshire after the old limite is a pore village caulid Angle touching hard upon Milford Haven.’

Now he is back in the north-

‘There appere in dyvers partes of Pebidiauc hilles and dikes with bulwarkes of yerth as campes of men of warre or closures for catelle. The soil of Pebidiauc is stony, yet there is meatly good corne, there is plenty of fisch bycause of the crekes.’

Finally Leland is in S. Davidislande where, due to his attention to the various crekittes and havens one is left with the feeling he must have spent more time, perhaps in the company of the anxious clerics.