In St Mary’s Church is a 13th century sepulchral slab dedicated to William de Freney. Originally, he was buried in the Dominican Friary in the town, but presumably on its dissolution, it was removed to the church. It remains a mystery as to why de Freney found himself buried in the town at all, since ostensibly there is little that connects him to Rhuddlan with any certainty.
As far as can be told, he was an Englishman, probably born somewhere in East Anglia at the beginning of the 13th century, and a Dominican friar. It has been supposed that he was a relative, perhaps a son or nephew of Gilbert de Fresnoy (Fresney), who founded the Dominican Order in the British Isles. He was the archbishop of Edessa in Upper Mesopotamia from around 1266 until his death, and was possibly resident there for some of the time in that position. We know also that he spoke several languages, which was probably why he spent much of his time as a diplomat and negotiator for the kings of England and various popes. Indeed, he is described by William Rishanger as being, ‘a man of discretion and praiseworthy eloquence’.
In 1254 de Freney was in Rome in an effort to negotiate with the papacy to have the crusader vow of Henry III commuted. By 1263, William had been consecrated to a diocese in the East, and apparently chose Edessa, perhaps as the foundation of missionary work in the Islamic east. We know that William was sent on an ultimately successful mission to Armenia to stabilize relations with that nation and the papacy, to the extent that Hethum I of Armenia asked to found a Dominican monastery in the country.
Despite being Archbishop of Edessa, William was in England during the 2nd Baron’s War (1264-67), and worked closely with Henry III. He held a variety of positions during this time, but seems to have fallen out with several of his tenants over the collecting of levies. We are unclear as to his whereabouts during the years 1267 and 1273, but it is possible, given his knowledge of the east that he was on crusade with Henry’s son, Edward, whose connections with Rhuddlan were not inconsiderable. From 1273, he seems to have been back in England and involving himself in religious matters in East Anglia, especially in the Norwich area.
William disappears from written record in around 1286, probably through his death. His burial in a Dominican Priory in Rhuddlan is curious to say the least. However, given his close connections to the English crown, it is possible he followed Edward I on his campaigns, and given that Edward enacted the Statute of Rhuddlan in the town in 1284, it is not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that in travelling with Edward, he established a close connection with the Dominican Priory in the town, and was subsequently buried there. It is possible that while at Rhuddlan he was helping his fellow Dominican, Anian II, Bishop of St Asaph
The sepulchral slab is inscribed thus:
PRIEZ: PVR: LALME: FRERE: WILLIAM: DE: FRENEY: ERCHEVESHE: DE: RAGES
Which translates as:
‘Pray for the soul of Brother William de Freney Archbishop of Rages.’
At some point, Rages seems to have become confused with Edessa. The inscription is apparently the only one in Norman French in North East Wales.
W. Gumbley, William Freaney OP Archbishop of Rages (Edessa) 1263-1290, Flintshire Historical Society Publications Vol. 5 1914-15
Howard M. R. Williams, The Archbishop’s Tomb at Rhuddlan, Archaeodeath