There are at least ten pedigrees in the British Museum of different branches of the Kemeys family, but few of them, agree either in the names or the number of descents from the great ancestor of the family down to the year 1409. After that date, there is more agreement. However, they all say, that the progenitor of the family was an Anglo-Norman whose name Camois can be found on the Roll of Battle Abbey and whose arms are impaled with those of Kemeys in the early pedigrees in the British Museum. These arms also appear on an ancient window at Sherborne Abbey. Burke states that the Kemeys of Wales were a branch of the great Norman house of Camois.
The time of the founder of the family in Wales appears to have been A.D. 1234 approximately. The manor of Kemeys was a mesne fee held by the Lords of Caerleon by Knights’ Service, which was a description of tenure introduced by the Normans and totally unknown to the‘Welsh. Caerleon was in Welsh hands till 1217 when William Marshall the Elder expelled Morgan ap Howell, but neither the Earl nor his son was secure in the possession for some years.
William Marshall the Younger obtained a grant of it from Henry III in 1228 and his brother Gilbert a confirmatory charter in 1235. It was between these two dates that Kemeys was granted out by one of the Marshalls.
Among the retainers of Gilbert, who witnessed one of the Charters of Tintern Abbey, without date but necessarily between 1234 and 1241, was Stephen de Kemeys who, if not the original grantee, must have been his son and probably the founder of the family. Stephen married a Welsh woman, and the next recurring name is Jorwerth de Kemeys. He married Nest, or Elizabeth, the heiress of Andrew de Beauchamp, or de Began which was the Welsh pronunciation of the name. With her came the estate of Beganslegh or Began in St. Mellons. The son was styled later Meuric ab Jorwerth de Kemeys, Lord of Beganslegh in several documents still extant.
Beganslegh is a manor held of the Lord of Wentloog by the service of one fourth part of a Knight’s fee.
Robert de Kemeys was contemporary with Jorwerth, and he left a son with his name. Jorwerth left two sons Walter and Meuric, both of whom, with their cousin Robert, are mentioned in the “Extent of Striguil” in 1306 as fee tenants, Robert and Walter being on the jury. Walter served on other juries in 1296, 1307 and 1320 and died childless, his brother Meuric succeeding to all his estates. In 1322, he was tried by special commission with others for ravaging the estate of the Despensers, and the result is not known. In 1336 Meuric de Kemeys, Knight, appears as a witness to a charter of Hugh Audley and is the only one of the family termed a Knight.
Henry de Kemeys was a son of Meuric and he served on a jury on de Bohun’s Inquisition to Edward III 1337. He married a daughter of Howell Mely, who is an ancestor of Lewis of the Van, another famous local family with wide estates.
John ap Henry Kemeys attested two deeds of conveyance of lands in Wentloog in 1374 and 1384. He was one of the jury on Hugh Stafford’s Inquisition in Wentloog in 1386. His wife Margaret is mentioned in the fine rolls 1375 and 1392 and, in the latter year, was returned as holding Beganslegh by' quarter of a Knight’s fee of Thomas Earl of Stafford.
Morgan ap john was the eldest son and died without children; there were two other sons, William, who had the Manor of Kemeys, and Jenkin of Began. William was the father of Jenkin, father of another William or Gwilym who was Lord of Kemeys in 1425.
The period of the conquest of Upper Gwent, probably at the end of the eleventh century corresponds with the date settled for Andrew de Began in 1139. Burke states that the Began was the home of the family for centuries. It is thought that the original mansion was rebuilt as the later building did not appear to be the one first constructed. About half a mile from the present Began there is a place called Coed yr Hen ert, that is The Old Court Wood. Hewn stones with obliterated inscriptions were found underground at the place where the late Rowlands of Began Farm found stones, pieces of iron, glass and bones.
Coxe says that the later Began was built on the site of the old mansion and there is every probability that the house was erected in the fifteenth century. On the front wall of the Began house can be seen two armorial plates. The house is now Brook House owned by Allied Steel and Wire.
On the Began armorial plate, a female is placed standing at the left corner, and a mule at the right; between these are two hearts then a star at the bottom. The implication is that the parties are represented standing for their wedding, and the hearts are a representation of those on the Bardic chair of Cemes (Pembroke- shire) with the motto “Galon wrth galon” (Heart to heart). The star in heraldry denotes the third son.
The families of Bertholly, Var-uden or St. Mellons, and Llanvair were derived from younger sons of this house. The direct male line became extinct in the 18th century on the death of George Kemeys, who had previously sold the estate to Laurence Lord. Jenkyn apjohn Kemeys of Began was one of the jury on an inquisition in Magor in 1389 respecting certain outrages committed on the King’s tenants by officers of the Countess of Norfolk.
Jeuan ap Jenkyn’s son served on many juries in Wentloog in 1387, 1392 and 1393. From his six sons, the families of Began, Newport, Rogerstone, Bedminster, Cefn Mably‘, Caldicot and Llanrumney descended. The six brothers were named Morgan, William, John, David, Henry and Howel.
Morgan ap Jeuan was the eldest son and is called “of Began”. He appears in the Wentloog Exchequer rolls as the tenant of the Manor of Pencarn and Davelas in 144-7. Six generations of Morgan ap Jeuan are recorded. His great-grandson James Kemeys and John the son of James had lands in Michaelstone-y- Vedw in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. William ap Jeuan ap Jenkyn Kemeys, the second son, was appointed on December 1446 by Humphry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, as constable of his castle at Newport, and Approver and Receiver General of his Lordships of Wentloog and Machen'. He was fortunate to marry an heiress, Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir William de la Bere. In 1447, he was Mayor of Newport. He acquired a large fortune and bought the Manors of Rogerstone and Sutton from Sir Henry Stradling. Rogerstone included the town and mansion, which is now the Westgate Inn, and this was the principal seat of his descendants until it was sold by Roger Kemeys in 1611 to Morgans of Penllwyn. The direct male line of the family ended with Roger.
John apJeuan Kemeys, the third son, in 1422 married Agnes, daughter of William Stradling of St. Donats. John Kemeys his son married Margaret, the daughter of Thomas Russell and moved to Siston, Glos. He was ancestor of the Kemeys of Bed- minster and Caerwent. The male line of the Bedminster branch became extinct on the death of William Kemeys early in the seventeenth century. The Caerwent family ended in female heirs at about the same time.
David ap Jeuan Kemeys of Cefn Mably was the fourth son. He is mentioned in the Wentloog rolls in 1447 as their tenant of part of the demesne of Machen, and he attested conveyance of lands in Machen in 1483. He married the heiress of Llewelyn ap Jeuan of Cefn Mably and had two sons, Lewis and Jenkin, ancestors respectively of the families of Cefn Mably and the Vaindre at St. Mellons. He also had a daughter, Anne.
Lewis Kemeys of Cefn Mably married Jenet, daughter of Phylip ap Thomas ab Gwilym, of Llansanffraid. Her brother, Lewis ap Phylip, married Anne Kemeys. These marriages connected the family with the Herberts, Mrs. Lewis Kemeys being first cousin of William, Earl of Pembroke. John, the only son of Lewis Kemeys, married Catherine, daughter of Lewis ap Richard Wyn of the Van and had a son David and four daughters.
David Kemeys, the son of john, married Catherine, the daughter of Sir William Bawdrip of Penmark, Glamorgan and had two sons, Edward and Rhys, and three daughters.
Edward first married Elizabeth, the daughter of Rowland Morgan of Machen, and secondly Margaret, the daughter of David Kemeys of Llanrumney. He witnessed one of the Tredegar deeds in 1571, was High SheriffofGlamorgan in 1577. He died in 1608.
Concerning Rhys ap Rhys Kemeys of Llanfair, the whole account of Coxe that Llanfair came by marriage to the Kemeys is erroneous. In 1567, John Williams of Mathern .was lessee of Llanfair, and in 1568 Rhys Kemeys boughtjohn Williams’ lease. In 1610, the castle, manor and estate were sold to Edward Woodward, who resold to Rhys Kemeys. Rhys married Wilgiford, the daughter of Wm. Aubrey LL.D., Master of the Court of Requests in the reign of Elizabeth. He had six sons and two daughters, Edward, David, Nicholas, Charles, Edmund, Harry, Anne and Cecily. Nicholas and Charles have already been mentioned in an earlier chapter.
Edward Kemeys, the eldest son, died young. David married Rachel, the daughter ofSir Robert Hopton and sister and co-heir of Ralph, Lord Hopton. Her mother was Jenet, the daughter and co-heir of Rowland Kemeys of the Vaindre. Sir Robert Hopton conveyed the Vaindre to trustees on the 24th April 1608 for the use of his daughter Rachel and her husband for life, then to the longer lived and after that to their children and, if they had no children, to Edward Kemeys the elder, the brother of Rhys Kemeys.
David Kemeys had an only son, Edward, who had a child Elizabeth by Theodosia, the daughter of Sir Henry Capel. He died on the 12thJanuary 1637 and his daughter on the 3lst of the same month. The uncle Nicholas was ruled next of kin by an Inquisition held on the 24th April 1608. David Kemeys, the father, died before 1628 and his widow was then the wife of Sir Thomas Morgan of Tredegar.
Sir Nicholas Kemeys was the nephew of David Kemeys, a man of great strength, as is shown by the story of the donkey told in the last chapter. He was elected MP. for the County of Monmouth in 1628. In 1632 he was High Sheriff.
He and his son, Charles, were parties to a deed in 1638. He married first Jane, the daughter of Rowland Williams of Llangibby and had two sons, Charles and, William, and four daughters. Secondly, he married Jane Herbert, the widow of William Herbert of Cogan Pill, Penarth, and daughter of Sir Rawley Bussey. He was knighted and created a baronet in the following year, 1642.
On the outbreak of the Civil War, he raised a Regiment of Cavaliers for Charles I to defend Chepstow Castle against Cromwell’s siege. Sir Nicholas with his 160 men held out until they were overtaken by starvation, even though a breach had been made in the curtain wall of the castle and they had been promised quarter. They decided to escape by boat from the water gate, but their plans were foiled when a Parliamentary soldier appeared, who had swum across the river with a knife gripped in his teeth. This man cut the rope of the boat and towed the craft away.
Sir Nicholas still refused to come out of the castle upon the enemy’s terms, and his own soldiers deserted him and went running out of the breach in the wall. The enemy soldiers then rushed in to take the castle and killed Sir Nicholas Kemeys. He is said to have fought until he was disarmed and was then slaughtered in cold blood. His body was dismembered and pieces of it cut up and worn in the hats of his killers as emblems. The prisoners who were 120 gentry, officers and soldiers, were shut up in the Church to await Cromwell’s instructions.
In 1935 descendants of Sir Nicholas put up a tablet on the wall of the First Court in his memory. At the end of this chapter a poem written about this defence of Chepstow is quoted with several extracts.
To continue our family tree of the Kemeys family: Harry ap Edmund ap Rhys Kemeys married Blanche, the daughter of Thomas Morgan of Llanrumney, and left a daughter Blanche. She married first Howell Games of Breconshire, who died in 1567, then her first cousin William Morgan, the second son of William Morgan of Llanrumney, a Colonel in the Army and Clerk to the King’s stables. Their only daughter lived in Cardiff and died at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
The Vaindre, St. Mellons, was for generations the seat of the ap Adam jenkyn branch. The second son of the first David Kemeys of Cefn Mably married juliana, daughter and heiress of Jorwerth ap Roger ap Adam, and with her had the estate. He had two sons John and james.
John Kemeys (Vaindre) called Marshall, married Margaret, the daughter of Thomas Morgan of Machen. He left a son, Rowland Kemeys and two daughters Margaret and Lucy. The pedigree omits the daughters, but they were legatees under the will of Wm. Morgan of Tredegar. Rowland Kemeys was High Sheriff of Monmouth in 1576, and is mentioned in a document dated 1621 as having died. He married firstly Mary, the daughter of Edward Lewis of the Van, secondly Mary, the daughter of Anthony Welsh of Llanwern, thirdly Florence, the daughter of Sir George Matthew of Radyr. He left two daughters, jenet and Margaret, but by which of his wives is uncertain. The former married, firstly, Sir Henry Jones, by whom she had no children and, secondly, Sir Richard Hopton, who had the Vaindre with her, and gave it to his daughter Rachel. Margaret married Morgan John of Coedkernew, one of the Gwern y Cleppa family.
Llanrumney was a grange belonging to the Abbey of Keynsham, of which the Kemeys were lessees and stewards of the Manor.
Howel ap Jeuan ap jenkyn Kemeys, the sixth son, was living in 1447 and married a daughter of Thomas ap Llewelyn ab Llewelyn and a niece of Sir David Gam, by whom he had four sons, Morgan, Philip, Llwyd and John. These names appear in many deeds in 1485, 1486 and 1512. Morgan Kemeys had three sons David, Morgan and Henry, and a daughter Maud.
David Kemeys married a daughter ofJohn Hir ap Morgan and secondly Elenor, the daughter and heiress of Robert Raglan and widow of Sir William Thomas of Wenvoe. Several of his and his brothers’ deeds are extant. By his first wife he had a son, William, and two daughters; by the second two sons Thomas and Reginald and a daughter Margaret, who married, firstly, John David and, secondly, Edward Kemeys of Cefn Mably. .
William, the eldest son of David, married Margaret, the daughter of Stephen Perrott and left an only daughter, the wife of Henry, second son of Rowland Morgan of Machen.
After the Dissolution, the grange of Llanrumney remained in the Crown until the second Elizabeth, when it was granted to Edward Harris and John Williams, and was sold by William Williams, the son of John, to Thomas Morgan, son of the Henry who married Catherine Kemeys.
Extract from The Story of St. Mellons by Alison Bielski (publish 1975 by Alun ISBN 0907117406, 9780907117407)