Brilliana Conway was born in 1598 at Brill, near Rotterdam, the daughter of Edward Conway and Dorothy Tracy Conway. Her father, Sir Edward Conway (later Viscount Conway), was Governor of Brill. Brilliana was the sister of Edwin Conway and Dorothy Conway Rawdon.
Brillianna was a proliferate letter writer and thus found her way into British history. Approximately 375 letters written from 1623 until her death in October 1643 have survived to give a detailed picture of her married life, the outbreak of the Civil War in Herefordshire and the life of a family at odds with local political sentiment. With her husband at war, Brillianna was the senior representative of the Harley family in the county during the early 1640s. Her letters are a window into that experience and it was not a pleasant one.
Brampton Bryan Castle is in the small village of Brampton Bryan in north-western Herefordshire, England, 50m south of the River Teme. The castle guarded an important route from Ludlow along the Teme Valley to Knighton and on into Central Wales.
The castle is mentioned in the Domesday Book ... In 1294, the owner Bryan de Brampton had died and Robert Harley inherited the castle through marriage to his daughter Margaret. For almost 700 years since the castle has remained in the Harley family.
The castle was almost entirely destroyed during the Civil War. Robert Harley d. 1656, a prominent Marcher Lord, was a dedicated Puritan and served as a Member of Parliament. Situated in a predominantly Royalist county, the estate and castle were vulnerable to attack. Robert Harley left the defense of the castle in the hands of his wife, Lady Brilliana Harley. Brilliana was the daughter of Sir Edward and Dorothy Conway, of Ragley in Warwickshire, and she had become Robert Harley's third wife ...
Perhaps due to her reputation in the area the castle was not attacked until 26 July 1643, eleven months after King Charles I raised his Royal Standard in Nottingham. On that date, Sir William Vavasour, the newly appointed governor of Hereford, surrounded Brampton Bryan with a mixed force of cavalry and infantrymen of about 700 soldiers.
Brilliana and three of her children together with about 50 civilians and 50 soldiers held the castle. Conditions inside rapidly deteriorated. Cattle, sheep and horses were plundered, all the buildings in the village were burnt to the ground and the castle was attacked with cannon and shot. Fortunately for the defenders however inside the castle, although the bombardment left the castle roofless, the casualties were low and only one death and a few injuries are recorded. The attackers fared less well and nearly a tenth of the company were either killed or injured. The siege was lifted on 9 September when the Royalists left to join the attack on Gloucester.
For some months afterwards, an uneasy truce prevailed, although it is suggested this did not stop Brilliana from dispatching 40 troops to raid a Royalist camp at Knighton in Wales ... however, Brillianna wrote her last letter on October 9 1643. Her castle was surrendered the following year but she did not live to suffer that indignity. Brilliana's health worsened and she died 29 October 1643.
Brillianna married Sir Robert Harley of Brampton Bryan Castle in March of 1624 . They had seven children living at the time of her death:
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