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Captain Morgan's Grave

It had clearly been a source of legend for some time, perhaps spoken of over pipe and ale in the local pubs until the mystery of it became too much to bear. Some time before Thomas Pennant’s writing of the grave at the end of the 18th century, it is said that a man by the name of Edward Booly entered the woods by Llyn Helyg on the road between Trelawnyd and Lloc, and clandestinely exhumed the grave that for some time had rested between two ancient standing stones. This, legend had it, was the resting place of one Captain Edward Morgan, Royalist hero of the English Civil Wars, heir to Golden Grove, of Gwlgre, of Goldgreave and dim memory.

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Within the woods of Llyn Helyg, the Lonely Grave of Captain Morgan rests - near forgotten.

Despite the apparent surreptitious nature of the exhumation, we have, incredibly, three accounts of Booly’s dig - Thomas Pennant’s is the earliest.

 

Some years ago a person of strange curiosity opened the grave and found the skeleton. On the head was a red cap, I think velvet, and round his neck a silk handkerchief. By his side lay his sword and helmet; and beneath the skeleton two bullets which had fallen out of the body on its dissolution; all of which verify the report of his having been slain in battle, or in some skirmish during the civil wars, and that he was interred, according to his wish, under the spot where he fell.

T. Pennant, The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell, p. 117

 

Edward Parry remembers the story in much the same vein, but suggests that it was a tale well told and still current when hearing it as a child, presumably at the beginning of the 19th century.

 

We recollect, when a boy hearing of an old man, of the name of Edward Booly, flushed with the hopes of finding treasure in the captain’s coffin (which is of oak and very entire), dug into the grave, but greatly to his disappointment, found only the skeleton and two nightcaps covering the cranium. The one was of silk and is now preserved by the family, the other was of cotton, and was formerly in the possession of Mrs Jones, better known as ‘Fanny of the Cross Keys Inn’ Newmarket.

E. Parry, Royal Visits and progresses (1850), p.373

 

Parry mentions no sword, helmet or bullets, but gives us a name of the ‘flushed’ person of ‘strange curiosity’ that dug up the grave. The last of the three accounts, by William Davies suggests that the exhumation was quite without the permission of the Morgan family and that the body was ‘dressed in the armour of the Cavaliers of the period’. Thus there are similarities between the stories, and some differences. It is, of course, quite possible that Parry and Davies are recollecting time fashioned variations of Pennant’s tale, which was likely well worn by the time of his telling. But then, there is the matter of the grave itself, or at least the silent standing stones that stand still within the woods of Llyn Helyg.

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Two of the three tales of grave diggery also mention a curious fact - that Captain Morgan was buried near the spot where he fell. Parry has it near the 17th century Plas Captain, which of course Llyn Helyg is, and Davies is clear that his grave is at the very spot upon which he was killed, ‘on the north side of Llyn Helig.’ Pennant is more mindful of the tale, having been informed by a Thomas Griffith, who had drawn up a pedigree of the Morgans, that the Captain had been ‘slain at Cheshire raise’ - which is almost certainly referring to Booth’s Uprising of August 1659. Pennant was curious as to the circumstances of Morgan being brought from Northwich to the lands of his Golden Grove estate and being buried within the woods. He supposes the tale of his death elsewhere could well be a mistake, and that in fact he died, ‘in some skirmish near to his own home.’ Importantly, Thomas Pennant is the only one of the three that gives us the Christian name of the Morgan within the woods - Edward.

 

Untangling the tale is made difficult by the preponderance of Edwards’ within the Morgan family, and more so by the records that invariably refer to a ‘Captain Morgan’, without identifying a Christian name. As said, Llyn Helyg is near Plas Captain, and is said to have been Edward Morgan’s home. In truth, this is unlikely, given that the Edward Morgan that we have so keen an interest in was the heir to Golden Grove. As such, he would have little business living at Plas Captain. Our Edward Morgan was the grandson of an elder Edward Morgan (1576-1640/41), nephew to his grandfather’s eldest son, Edward Morgan. Sometime before 1627, his uncle, whose initially promising prospects were curtailed by his killing in 1608 of John Egerton in a duel, turned over his estates to his brother, Robert and retired to Wepre. This, and the profundity of Edwards within the family, probably explains the confusion to be found amongst some sources assigning our Edward to Wepre.

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The 17th Century Plas Captain - home of Captain Morgan. But which captain?

It is not known with any certainty when Edward was born. One account suggests 1622, but this cannot be confirmed as yet. However, we do have a record of his marriage to Elizabeth Whitley on 19th July 1641. At the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, Edward is described as being still in his minority - not yet 21. Still, what we can be reasonably certain of, is his presence in Chester at the time of the siege of the City between 1644-1646 , along with his uncle, William Morgan, his father’s younger brother. By this time, Edward was in his majority, a father (a son being born to him and Elizabeth in February 1644) and in possession of Golden Grove, his father having died sometime in 1641.

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The marriage notice of Edward Morgan & Elizabeth Whitely - of the Hawarden Whitely's.

It is at the Siege of Chester that Edward first comes to bright light. It is here that we begin to see just how committed the Morgans were to the Royalist cause. There is some confusion as to whether Edward was at this point a captain. In references to Captain Morgan, we may be learning of the actions of his uncle, William. It is possible, if not probable that Edward had the rank of Lieutenant. Indeed, we may be on surer ground to accept that in historical references to Morgans, at the Siege of Chester, captain or otherwise, we are in truth dealing with an merging of William and Edward. It is almost impossible to find the stitched seam between them.

 

One of the Morgans, perhaps both, would seem to have been part of the force, Sir Gamull’s troop of foot, that was released from Chester to support the successful capture of Hawarden Castle in December 1643 - as an outlier to the City, it was deemed critical to deny it to the enemy. But, both Morgans were back in Chester by the time of the siege, since they were known to be present at the hottest part of the gruelling conflict. It is likely that both uncle and nephew were in charge of the artillery positions on the northern wall of the city, from where cannon was directed towards the Parliamentarian line. It is an indication of the quality of their command and their undoubted bravery that they have given their name to the famous landmark there - Morgan’s Mount.

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Morgan's Mount on Water Tower Street, Chester - an artillery position on the North Wall.

Nothing more is known of Edward Morgan, or indeed his uncle, during the torturous and brutal Siege, which continued until January 1646, when with much of the City in burnt ruins and thousands dead, terms of surrender were agreed. Edward, we can be certain, survived, and likely too, his uncle. As part of the agreement, it would seem that the Welsh soldiery (at least those that could prove they had no Irish heritage), were allowed to return to their homes over the border. Lord Byron, the Royalist Commander and some few others were allowed to march under arms to Conwy Castle, which was still occupied by Royalist forces. It would have been in Edward Morgan’s character to have made himself available to Byron and Conwy. It was always unlikely that he would meekly return to Golden Grove, even as the father of a young child. In the event, he did neither - Conwy, it seems, was just too far from the fight.

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The civil war cannon below Morgan's Mount by Colin Spofforth remembers the Siege of Chester and the Fighting Morgans.

It was to Denbigh Castle that at least one of the Morgans ventured, and likely both. The castle was held for the King by the indomitable Colonel William Salesbury, known as Hen Hosannau Gleison (Old Blue Stockings), of the ancient and noble Salesburys. In October 1645, Sir William Vaughan had gathered a Royalist force at Denbigh with the express purpose of moving on Chester and lifting the siege. The force was attacked and scattered by Parliamentarian forces, with many of the remnants of the Royalist force retreating to the castle, swelling its numbers. It’s tempting to think of one or both of the Morgans leaving Chester in 1645 to join with Vaughan, but we have no firm evidence of this.

 

However, we do know that before the dawn of the 7th April 1646, the morning before the surrender of nearby Ruthin Castle, held for the Royalists, a 150 strong force out of Denbigh attempted to raise the siege of its near neighbour. Some 120 cavalry and 30 mounted firelocks made their way south, but were spotted as they approached what was likely the village of Rhewl.

 

And thereupon, Colonel Carter, with a standing horse guard, which we are fain to keep in the field constantly to secure our out-quarters, and Captain Simkies, with my own troop, which was then upon the guard in this town, drew out, and fell between them and Denbigh, and within half a mile of their garrison met with them, and charged them so gallantly they they broke in upon them, killed seven of them (as is said) upon the place, and in the pursuit took four captains, one lieutenant, and two cornets, divers troopers &c, above forty horse with the loss of one man of our side.

Letter from Major-General Mytton to the Speaker of the House of Commons, 8th April 1646

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One of the captains present and captured in that desperate endeavour was Morgan. Again, there is no mention of a christian name, and we are left with the wonder as to whether this was Edward or William. Still, it would seem entirely in keeping with what we know, to find either of the Morgans as present. We know nothing of the circumstances of the captivity of Morgan, or indeed the events surrounding his release, likely as not at the end of the First Civil War in May 1646. One imagines, however, his returning to Golden Grove, perhaps embittered and angry at the surrender of the King. Whether his uncle was with him is unknown. What is likely, however, is that William, and not Edward, began his residence at Plas Captain on the edge of Llyn Helyg.

 

While the First Civil War was over, the tensions flared again and again, resulting in two further conflicts (1648-1651), directly related to the first. It is not known what, if any, role the Fighting Morgans played in these wars, but one is tempted to suggest that they remained at Golden Grove and Plas Captain. As officers, and I would suggest that Edward would have been made a captain at some point before 1646, both would have had to give oaths not to involve themselves in any armed conflict against the Commonwealth. Certainly, those that broke their oath during the Second Civil War (1648-49) were summarily shot or beheaded on capture. At the Battle of Y Dalar Hir on the outskirts of Llandegai, the Royalist, Sir John Owen mustered some 300 Crown loyalists to confront the forces of Parliament under Sir George Twistleton (based at Denbigh Castle). The Royalist forces were defeated, with Owen captured, along with a Morgan. There has been some suggestion that this was Edward (or William, of course), but in fact, in the list of captives sent to the Commons after the battle, the Morgan identified was a trooper out of Gloucestershire. It would seem the Morgans of Golden Grove had kept to their oath.

 

The period between the end of the First Civil War and the Booth Uprising of 1659 is dark - we know nothing of the Morgans, Edward, William or their families. It seems unlikely, however, that they were comfortable under the Commonwealth. Given that they had, however, declined any involvement in the many uprisings and insurrections raised by various Royalist groupings or gatherings, it may then come as a surprise to find Edward wholeheartedly throwing himself into the Booth Uprising of August 1659 - tragically, as it transpired.

 

The reason for this may have something to do with the involvement of his brother-in-law, Roger Whitely, brother to his wife, Elizabeth. Roger Whitely was of that notable Hawarden family, remembered in the Whitely Chancel at St Deiniol’s. Roger was an ardent Royalist and had held Aberystwyth for the King until its surrender in 1646, before accompanying the young Charles II into exile. There is no doubt that he played a full and active part in the shenanigans of 1659, possibly instrumental in the plot to coordinate a series of regional uprisings, of which the Booth Uprising was the only one which essentially went any further than brief bravado. He was a direct link between Charles II and the efforts to restore the Stuart monarchy. It may well have been that Edward felt compelled to involve himself in the Uprising. It would also be true to say that matters within the British Isles were changing rapidly to a state more favourable to Charles II, and perhaps Edward felt that the Booth Uprising was more likely to succeed where other attempts had not.

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The memorial plague remembering the Battle of Winnington Bridge - Northwich, August 19th 1659

In the end, it was probably unfettered and fundamental loyalty to the Crown that saw Captain Morgan at Barnton in Cheshire on 19th August 1659. The Battle of Winnington Bridge went the way of all the other military attempts to oust the Commonwealth. It was nothing less than a disaster. As a military force, George Booth’s force of some 4000 were clearly lacking credible leadership and experience - even with the presence of the battle hardened Edward Morgan and Roger Whitely. The latter had prevented the Royalists from being annihilated in Delamere Forest some two days before the battle by ordering a retreat in the face of the surprise appearance of a Parliamentarian force under the experienced and highly capable General John Lambert.

 

By the morning of the 19th, Booth’s forces held the land north of the River Weaver at Barnton near Northwich and controlled the Winnington Bridge. Lambert’s force attacked aggressively, and pushed Booth’s forces aside, scattering the rest of the Royalist force and capturing the bridge. Moving across the River Weaver, Lambert’s forces made to attack the retreating remnants of Booth’s army. It was, according to some contemporary witnesses, a rout in the making.

 

The fact that Booth’s losses were significantly less than appalling, is largely down to Edward Morgan. Seeing the threat to the retreating Royalists, Morgan refused to flee. He turned and stood his ground. He delayed Lambert’s forces sufficiently to allow his comrades time to flee. And he was killed where he stood. At Winnington Bridge - 19th August 1659. Having spent nearly half of his life in the service of the Stuarts, through battle, siege and skirmish, Edward Morgan finally fell.

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Winnington Bridge - scene of Edward Morgan's last stand.

Thus, we return to Captain Morgan’s lonely grave within the woods by Llyn Helyg. Norman Tucker, writing in 1953, ponders poignant.

 

Comrades of the dead warrior, fearing his corpse might be hanged with ignominy, placed his body across the back of a horse and bore it by stealth to his native place, burying it where the grave was unlikely to be discovered by the enemy.

N. Tucker, ‘Captain Morgan’s Lonely Grave’, p.41

 

Poignant but not likely. Is this, as Thomas Pennant believed, really the last resting place of Edward Morgan of Golden Grove, of Gwlgre, of Goldgreave and dim memory? Almost certainly not. Edward’s notice of burial would suggest he was returned from Barnton and buried within the parish of Nannerch on the 24th August. Edward’s body lies in consecrated ground somewhere in Nannerch parish. This was highly unlikely to be within the woods by Plas Captain.

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The burial of Edward Morgan - 'Slain at Barnton dying 1659'. Dated 24th August 1659.

And what of the legend, that the Morgan here was buried where he fell? That, of course, was most certainly not our Edward. Writers and wonderers have spent long hours trying to square this particular circle, and the theories are often wild and wonderful. There have been fanciful tales of murder and robbery, of fighting on the stumps of his legs. Parry would have us believe that Morgan, ‘fought and fell near his house, called, to this day, Plas Captain’. The obvious suggestion is that this was during some Civil War skirmish, but in truth Parry does not make clear the context of the fight.

 

However, William Davies, writing in 1857, is more detailed in the circumstances of Morgan’s death. It is not known from what source he gained this story, but it is dramatic and… there is something rather intriguing about it. There is an air of credibility to it. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

 

The family during the time of the Commonwealth, were staunch Royalists, and Captain Morgan, having met near his house, a large party of Parliamentarians, a fight took place, wherein the Royalist captain was slain, he being accompanied only by a few followers, and the Parliament force being much larger.

W. Davies, Hand Book of the Vale of Clwyd (quoted in Tucker, Captain Morgan’s Lonely Grave, p. 38)

 

If this was not Edward, who was it? Well, the obvious answer is that it was in fact, his uncle, William, who fought with his nephew at Chester, and was probably with him at Denbigh. William was likely the Morgan who lived at Plas Captain, and thus was the Morgan so closely identified with the grave at Llyn Helyg. Why William would not be removed from the spot where he died is unknown, and cannot be known, but it is interesting that as far as we know, there is no burial certificate for William. This is telling, and lends credibility to the legend of a Morgan being buried where he fell. Nor is there a date for this sharp, brutal skirmish by Plas Captain, though Davies’ suggestion that it was during the Commonwealth, would place it between 1646 - 1660, rather than the actual war of 1642-46. Given the febrile nature of those intervening years, it is absolutely possible that there was some violent spasm of an action at Llyn Helyg - a Parliamentarian presence by his home that William Morgan could not bear, would not bear, did not bear.

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One of the prehistoric standing stones marking the grave of Captain Morgan - William Morgan, in all likelihood.

If indeed there is a body within the earth there, between the two prehistoric standing stones, removed from elsewhere to mark the grave of this Fighting Morgan, it is of William Morgan of Plas Captain. Royalist hero of the English Civil War - uncle to Edward Morgan, whose last stand at Winnington Bridge, fighting for the son of his executed King, was a testament to the character of the Morgans of Golden Grove, of Gwlgre, of Goldgreave, of Plas Captain and dim memory.

 

 

 

 

Further Reading

 

 

J. Barrett, The Great Siege of Chester, Tempus, Stroud, (2003)

 

W. Davies, Hand-book of the Vale of Clwyd, (1857)

 

R. H. Morris, The Siege of Chester during the Civil War 1643-46, Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society, Vol 25 (1923)

 

E. Parry, Royal Visits and Progresses to Wales and the border counties, London (1850)

 

T. Pennant, The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell, London (1796)

 

J. R. Phillips, Memoirs of The Civil War in Wales and the Marches 1642-1649 Vol II, London (1874)

 

N. Tucker, Captain Morgan’s Lonely Grave, Proceedings of the Llandudno, Colwyn Bay and District Field Club, Vol. XXVI (1953)

 

N. Tucker, North Wales & Chester in the Civil War, Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, (2003)

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