It is 24 km (15 mi) west of Monmouth on both the A40 road and A465. Situated at the confluence of a tributary stream called the Gavenny and the River Usk, it is almost surrounded by two mountains - the Blorenge (559 m) and the Sugar Loaf (596 m) - and five hills - the Skirrid Fawr, the Skirrid Fach, the Deri, the Rholben and Mynydd Llanwenarth, known locally as 'Llanwenarth Breast'. The town is situated just south of the Black Mountains, Wales, part of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Formerly a medieval walled town for defence, it was originally a Roman fort called Gobannium. It contains the remains of a mediæval stone castle built soon after the Norman Conquest. It is in the Welsh Marches 9.83 kilometres (6.11 mi) from the English border. Offa's Dyke Path long distance footpath passes close by and the Marches Way, The Beacons Way and Usk Valley Walk all pass through the town. A sign on the Town Hall gives Abergavenny the title 'Gateway to Wales'.
Gobannium was a Roman fort guarding the road along the valley of the River Usk linking the legionary fortress of Usk or Burrium, and later Caerleon or Isca Augusta, in the south with Y Gaer, Brecon and Mid Wales and for keeping the peace among the local British Iron Age tribe, the Silures. Remains of the walls of this fort were discovered west of the castle when excavating the foundations for a new Post Office and telephone exchange building in the late 1960s.
The name derives from a Brythonic word Gobannia meaning "river of the blacksmiths", and relates to the town's pre-Roman importance in iron smelting. The name is related to the modern Welsh word gof (blacksmith), and so is also associated with the Welsh smith Gofannon from folklore. The river later became, in Welsh, Gafenni, and the town's name became Abergavenny, meaning "mouth of (Welsh: Aber) the Gavenny (Gafenni)". In Welsh, the shortened form Y Fenni came into use after about the 15th century, although the longer English version of the name is in general use.
Owing to its geographical location the town was frequently embroiled in the border warfare and power play of the 12th century and 13th century in the Welsh Marches. In 1175, Abergavenny Castle was the scene of a reputed massacre of local Welsh chieftains by the pious and ruthless William de Braose, 7th Baron Abergavenny. So the story goes, after a period of discord and conflict he invited the local leaders to a Christmas banquet under the pretext of resolving differences and building relations but his plan was to eliminate them. Accepting his supposed hospitality, at a traditional time for settling differences, the influential Welsh leaders of the surrounding areas nearly all arrived, proffered their swords as tokens of peaceful intent to servants and, unarmed, were ushered further into the castle where de Braose's armed soldiers hacked them down in cold blood. Giraldus Cambrensis relates how in 1182 the castle was seized back by the Welsh.
At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1541 the priory's endowment went towards the foundation of a free grammar school, King Henry VIII Grammar School, the site itself passing to the Gunter family.
During the Civil War, prior to the siege of Raglan Castle in 1645, Charles I visited Abergavenny and presided in person over the trial of Sir Trefor Williams of Llangibby, a Royalist who changed sides, and other Parliamentarians.
In 1639 Abergavenny received a charter of incorporation under the title of bailiff and burgesses. A charter with extended privileges was drafted in 1657, but appears never to have been enrolled or to have come into effect. Owing to the refusal of the chief officers of the corporation to take the oath of allegiance to William III in 1688, the charter was annulled, and the town subsequently declined in prosperity. Chapter 28 of the 1535 Act of Henry VIII, which provided that Monmouth, as county town, should return one burgess to Parliament, further stated that other ancient Monmouthshire boroughs were to contribute towards the payment of the member. In consequence of this clause Abergavenny on various occasions shared in the election, the last instance being in 1685.
Reference to a market at Abergavenny is found in a charter granted to the Prior by William de Braose (d. 1211). The right to hold two weekly markets and three yearly fairs, as held ever since, was confirmed in 1657. Abergavenny was celebrated for the production of Welsh flannel, and also for the manufacture, whilst the fashion prevailed, of goats' hair periwigs.
The title of Baron Abergavenny, in the Nevill family, dates from Edward Nevill, 3rd Baron Bergavenny (d. 1476), who was the youngest son of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmoreland by his second wife Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt. He married the heiress of Richard Beauchamp, 1st Earl of Worcester, whose father had inherited the castle and estate of Abergavenny, and was summoned in 1392 to parliament as Lord Bergavenny. Edward Nevill was summoned to parliament with this title in 1450. His direct male descendants ended in 1387 in Henry Nevill, 6th Baron Bergavenny, but a cousin, Edward Nevill, 8th Baron Bergavenny (d. 1622), was confirmed in the Barony in 1604. From him it has descended continuously, through fifteen individuals, the title being increased to an Earldom in 1784; and in 1876 William Nevill (sic) 5th Earl (b. 1826), (d.1915) an indefatigable and powerful supporter of the Tory party, was created 1st Marquess of Abergavenny in 1876.
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