Bodwell Beginnings in Wales

By Geoffrey L. Bodwell

The Bodwell line has been traced back to Beli Mawr who was the British King who opposed Ceaser about 100 BC. From there the line can be traced down for 47 generations to Henry Bodvel who died in 1656. His son, Henry was born in April 1651 at Bodvel, Carnarvon, Wales.

After the death of Henry's father, his mother remarried. Her new husband, who was of rather high station - one source says he was a brother of Lord Newbury - may have adopted the name Bodvel. While Henry was still a schoolboy - the same source says he was 13 - and presumably after the death of his mother, his stepfather shipped him to America with the intention of gaining possession of the estate to which Henry was heir. According to the same source the ship was owned by Lord Newbury. The sea-captain to who Henry was entrusted - possibly Alexander Bodvel - robbed him of what money he had with him and on their arrival at Newburyport, Massachusetts, indentured him to a farmer until he came of age.

Bodvel Hall

Bodvel is located on the Lleyn peninsula in the former county of Carnarvonshire, now part of the new county of Gwynedd. Bodvel Hall is shown on sheet 123, Lleyn of the British Ordnance Survey map. Nearby is Bovel Bridge. Bod which means dwelling place, occurs in many Welsh names. Bovel may originally have been Bodvael.

In its heyday the Bodvel estate comprised many parcels of land scattered across Carnarvonshire and Anglesey in addition to the home farm around Bodvel itself. This part of Wales is less mountainous and has a lower rainfall than most of the rest of the country and so lent itself to a comparatively rich and productive agriculture. In the Middle Ages and early modern times, Bodvel even produced wine from its own grapes. Surplus wine, cattle and farm produce found a ready and profitable market in Chester, where they were conveyed in coastal vessels.

Bardsey (Bards' Island), which had been a place of pilgrimage until the dissolution of the monasteries, together with Cwrtwith, the former demesne house of the Abbott of Bardsy, had been awarded to Sir John Wynn of Bodvel in recognition of his services in the battle against the rebels of Norfolk and Suffolk in Jul 1549, and formed part of the Bodvel estate. Cwrtwith was where the Abbott used to hold his leet court where tithes and rents were collected from tenants. No doubt the estate continued to collect rents if not tithes.

Sir John was later accused of using Bardsey as the headquarters of a well-organized band of pirates. Though he was never brought to trail the charge may well have been true. Although the gentry of Carnarvonshire in general were not much given to active piracy, there were exceptions, and certainly they were not above trading with the pirates that infested the coast, both buying the cargos they had looted and selling them supplies.

The Bodvel estate even developed a small port near Cwrtwith for the shipment of produce to Chester. Later the port was also used to import rum, sugar and other tropical products from the West Indies where the family had acquired land.

Bodvel was on the road from Pwllheli on Cardigan Bay to Nefyn on Carnarvon Bay. This route was much used by merchants to convey goods overland by pack animal, thereby avoiding the dangerous sea voyage through the treacherous and pirate-infested waters around Bardsey at the tip of the Lleyn peninsula. The Bodvel estate controlled part of the route and doubtless extracted tolls for the use of road and bridges.

All in all, Bodvel was a very rich estate by the standards of its time and place and Bodvels were a wealthy and influential family. Sir John Bodvel (1582-1631) planned to replace the existing mansion at Bodvel (no trace of which now remains) by a stately home more in keeping with his rank and wealth, but had completed only the gate house (now Bodvel Hall) when he died at the comparatively young age of 48. His heirs did not proceed with the project and the upheavals connected with the Civil War, the Protectorate, and the Restoration finally put an end to any such grandiose idea. Even so, Bodvel and its associated estates were a prize well worth having. It is not surprising that the emigrant Henry's step-father went to such nefarious lengths to get rid of an unwanted heir, and gain possession of his inheritance for himself.

Additional information supplied by Charlie Bodwell

The Bodfel (later Bodvel) family first came to prominence with John Wyn ap Hugh who as Northumberland's standard bearer at the crushing of the Ket's rebellion was rewarded with land and offices. Given the lands of Bardsey Abbey, he used the island to run a major piracy and smuggling operation while holding the office of county commissioner for the suppression of piracy and smuggling. In the reign of Elizabeth, the family's loyalty to the Old Faith led to an eclipse in its fortunes.

In the 1660s Col John Bodvel, a Royalist, who had been was a member of both the Long and Short Parliaments, died and the estate passed to Charles Bodvel Robartes (2nd Earl of Radnor). The house, once the centre of Catholic recusance in this part of Llyn was then licensed for Dissenting worship and the house occupied by the controversial Presbyterian divine James Owen. His congregation was not particularly numerous - three genuine worshippers and two government spies.

In the 18thC Bodfel passed to the Salusburys of Bachygraig in Flintshire and was the birthplace and, later, marital home of the precocious Hester Lynch Salusbury, (later Mrs Thrale and later still Mrs Piozzi), a friend of Samuel Johnson. In the 19thC, the house, by then occupied by tenant farmers, was much modernised.

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Contact: March 14, 1997
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