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WALES, 1066 TO 1485


The Norman invasion of 1066 caught Wales, no less than England, at a disadvantage. She was in the trough of the reaction which followed the downfall in 1063 of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the strong ruler who, in spite of weak hereditary claims, had made himself master of all Wales and the terror of the English border. The country fell once more into its four ancient divisions of Gwynedd, Powys, Deheubarth, and Morgannwg; a new dynasty arose in Powys, founded by Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, while in the other three realms the ancient ruling stocks, submerged during the usurper’s reign, came once more to the surface. These were conditions which made the way easy for foreign conquest: though the enemy had still to contend with the physical difficulties of the country, the crags of Eryri, the marshes of Rhuddlan and Aber Glaslyn, the universal forest, and with a people well used to the business of national defence, he was not faced with a united resistance; rather, he found means to pit Welsh­man against Welshman, as when Caradog ap Gruffydd of Wentloog in 1072 received Norman help in his attack on Maredudd ab Owain of South Wales. The situation was somewhat improved by the decisive victory won in 1081 by Gruffydd ap Cynan and Rhys ap Tewdwr at Mynydd Cam in the Precelly Mountains; the former was the representative of the ancient line of Gwynedd, the latter that of the stock of Hywel the Good in South Wales, and their triumph finally established the two houses in their respective dominions. But neither of them, nor yet the house of Bleddyn in Powys, was strong enough to oppose an effective barrier to the progress of the all-conquering Norman.

The first menace to the independence of Wales was the setting up along the border of three powerful earldoms. Hereford was given to William Fitz Osbern, Shrewsbury to Roger Montgomery, Chester to Hugh of Avranches. Thus in Mercia the house of Leofric, whose alliance with the Welsh had survived the change of dynasty in England, was replaced by three hostile wardens of the march, whose task was not merely defensive but included, as far as practicable, the subjugation of the Welsh. At the time of the compilation of Domesday, much of the work of conquest had been achieved. Earl Hugh of Chester had carried his border to the Clwyd, where his relative, Robert of Rhuddlan, was installed in the stronghold which had once been held by the formidable Gruffydd. Robert himself, with a commission to conquer Gwynedd, was making his way westward and was already firmly seated at Degannwy on the estuary of the Conway. Farther south, Earl Roger of Shrewsbury had won the valley of the Dee as far as Corwen; his lieutenant held Oswestry and he himself had built a new Montgomery on the Severn, in the midst of the waste country left by Gruffydd’s ravages; from this point he had pushed on to the skirts of Plynlimon. In South Wales the tide had not flowed so rapidly; the earldom of Hereford, which under William Fitz Osbern had subdued Gwent, proved dangerous in the hands of his son and was suppressed in 1075. Moreover, the king seems, as the result of a visit to St David’s in 1081, to have recognised the title of Rhys ap Tewdwr and to have protected his lands from attack. Yet even here the onslaught was merely delayed; Normans at Caerleon were ready for the conquest of Glamorgan, others at Clifford had their eyes upon the Wye valley and the acquisition of Brecknock.

It was in the reign of Rufus that the most determined and vigorous attempt was made to reduce the Welsh. The king’s own expeditions in 1095 and 1097 were little more than demonstrations of might; the type was one with which Wales grew very familiar and learnt not unduly to dread. Mountain ramparts, such as faced William at Tomen y Mur (near Festiniog), the mobility of the Welsh, who in their retreat carried off with them all their belongings, and commissariat difficulties usually set a limit to what could be accomplished in these summer campaigns; they were costly and yielded little result. But the raids of the barons of the march were in a different category, and seemed likely at this time to bring the whole of Wales under foreign rule. The Earl of Chester, in no wise daunted by the vengeance taken by the Welsh upon Robert of Rhuddlan in 1088, had gained a footing in Anglesey and built castles at Bangor and Carnarvon; Gruffydd ap Cynan, the rightful lord of the district, was his prisoner. In the south, the death of Rhys ap Tewdwr in 1093 opened the floodgates of invasion; no claims were now recognised in that region and the country was rapidly parcelled out among soldiers of fortune. Builth and Radnor went to the Braiose family, Brecknock to Bernard of Neufmarche, Glamorgan to Robert Fitz Hamon. The men of the Earl of Shrewsbury poured into West Wales and erected there the first castles of Cardigan and Pembroke. Even the ancient peace of St David’s was rudely disturbed, as one may read in the “Lament” of Rhigyfarch, son of the learned Bishop Sulien; his tale of horrors vividly brings before us what the “gens Britanna” suffered at the hands of the “Francigenae” in the way of extortion, imprisonment, mutilation, and death. The noble were set to menial tasks, the heir had nothing to live for, the courts of princes were deserted, music had lost its charm—heaven was the only hope and consolation of the Britons.

Rhigyfarch suggests that the British race had lost its ancient valour. The chronicles speak, on the other hand, of fierce resistance and some measure of success under the escaped Gruffydd ap Cynan and under Cadwgan ap Bleddyn. From 1094 to 1100 Wales was in active revolt and many of the newly built castles were destroyed. But Welsh independence was preserved from total extinction rather by natural advantages than by the courage of its defenders. Earl Hugh of Chester, with the aid of Earl Hugh of Shrewsbury, had conquered Anglesey in 1098, when the sudden appearance in “Anglesey Sound” of King Magnus of Norway with a pirate fleet revealed to him the essential insecurity of his position. Desirable as were the cornlands of Mon and Arfon, they could not be controlled from Chester except by way of the sea, and the want of naval power induced the Normans at this stage, when the battle appeared to be won, to abandon North and Mid Wales to the foe and to make the best of their substantial gains in the south. Gruffydd ap Cynan regained his power in the region to the west of the Conway; Cadwgan ap Bleddyn was recognised as chief ruler of Powys. But along the shores of the Bristol Channel there was no turning back; Glamorgan never again passed into the hands of a Welsh overlord, and Pembroke Castle, amid all the tumults of the next two hundred years, remained inviolably Norman.

During the long reign of Henry I, the process of conquest was continued by less violent, though equally effective methods. The king’s two Welsh expeditions (1114, 1121) were not of much account, conforming as they did to the usual pattern. But in other ways Henry shewed himself the undisputed master of Wales, “the man,” to quote the Welsh chronicler of Llanbadarn Fawr, “with whom none may strive, save God Himself, who hath given him the lordship.” Early in his reign, the revolt and ruin of the great Montgomery family destroyed the second of the Conqueror’s border earldoms. Instead of an earl, Henry placed a cleric in charge of the middle march; at the same time, he brought Pembroke under the direct rule of the Crown. Not many years afterwards Carmarthen began its long career as a royal stronghold; the ancient church of Lian Deulyddog which had marked this spot was given to the monks of Battle, and a new castle was built hard by, at the head of the Towy estuary. A feature of this period is the temporary importance of Powys, which Henry increased by the grant of Ceredigion to Cadwgan ap Bleddyn in 1102. It was, however, a greatness of brief duration; the rivalries of the sons and grandsons of Bleddyn led to continual intrigues and conspiracies, which were carefully fostered by Bishop Richard of London, the royal representative at Shrewsbury, and which ultimately reduced the house to a single member, Maredudd ap Bleddyn, prince of all Powys at his death in 1132. Ceredigion was taken from Cadwgan in 1110 and bestowed upon Gilbert Fitz Richard, of the house of Clare, under whose sway it was tilled by English and Flemish settlers and guarded by many castles. Cantref Bychan, with its castle of Llandovery, also became at this time a Norman lordship and an appurtenance of the house of Clifford. Only in Cantref Mawr, the rough forest land to the north of the Towy, did Henry allow the Welsh a limited degree of independence; its windswept moorlands, its valleys choked with scrub, offered few temptations to the invader, and it was here that Gruffydd, heir to the claims of his father Rhys ap Tewdwr, is found at the end of the reign, after more than one fruitless attempt to assert his hereditary rights, in possession of nothing more than the little commote of Caeo.

In one remote comer of Wales the even pressure of Henry’s rule does not seem to have been felt. Yet it was a capital error to neglect Gwynedd, for it was here that Welsh independence, driven back into its last refuge, always rallied, to furnish liberators for the rest of Wales. Gruffydd ap Cynan, after many vicissitudes, had at last found a firm foothold; while Henry was holding the chieftains of Powys and Deheubarth in check, the northern prince was slowly pushing eastward and southward, across the Conway and the Mawddach, and re-establishing the larger Gwynedd. Hence, when the opportunity came with the death of the great king, the Snowdonian State was able at once to assume the leadership. It is true that by that time Gruffydd, a blind old man of eighty, was nearing his end (he died in 1137), but he left able and energetic successors in his two sons, Owain and Cadwaladr. Immediately the news arrived of the death of Henry, there was a general uprising throughout South Wales; Owain and Cadwaladr came south with a very large force, and in three successive expeditions (1136-37) so ravaged Ceredigion as to leave the Clare family nothing in that region save the strong castle of Cardigan. The death of Gruffydd ap Rhys in 1137 was a further advantage for Gwynedd; his four young sons were no match for the northern leaders, who established themselves securely in Ceredigion. Meanwhile, Stephen’s efforts to restore the authority of the Crown in Wales were intermittent and futile, and when the civil war began the Welsh had a free course, for the barons of the march, led by the Lord of Glamorgan, Earl Robert of Gloucester, were active supporters of Matilda and, for the most part, allowed their zeal as partisans to outweigh their interests in Wales. It is not too much to say that during the nominal reign of Stephen a large part of the work of the preceding seventy years was undone, and that, while the whole country was not recovered from the Normans, enough achieved its liberty to form henceforth a solid block of independent territory.

This was the problem which faced Henry II in 1154. He found Owain Gwynedd holding Tegeingl (North Flintshire) and the border fortress of Mold, both included in Cheshire under the earlier Norman kings. Madog ap Maredudd, sole ruler of Powys, had made himself master of Oswestry. Rhys ap Gruffydd, the only survivor of the stock of South Wales, held, in addition to Cantref Mawr, the Clare lordship of Ceredigion and the Clifford lordship of Cantref Bychan. The successes of the Welsh had filled them with a new daring and confidence; they had learnt from their Norman rulers the arts of horsemanship and castle-building; a martial order of minstrels inspired them to valiant deeds. In this situation, the king’s earlier policy was to deal with each local problem separately: in 1157 he had the help of Powys against Gwynedd and, after marching as far as the Clwyd, induced Owain to give up Tegeingl and Mold; in 1163 he penetrated South Wales as far as Pencader, and reduced the power of the Lord Rhys within very narrow limits. But his plans were ruined by the quarrel with Archbishop Thomas; in this conflict he lost prestige so heavily that the Welsh were emboldened to unite in a national revolt against his power. In 1165 the forces of Gwynedd, Powys, and Deheubarth combined to meet him at Corwen; though the main armies never met, he suffered a decisive repulse, for wind and rain drove him back from the Berwyn moorlands to his base at Oswestry, and he had to abandon the campaign in high dudgeon. Soon afterwards, the Welsh took the castles of Cardigan, Cilgerran, and Rhuddlan; it was clear that Henry’s schemes of reconquest had failed and that the resistance of the Welsh was not to be overcome.

A new element now entered into the question of the attitude of the Crown towards Wales. The Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland entirely transformed the relations between the Lord Rhys and Henry II. Largely brought about by the foreign colony in West Wales, it relieved the prince of persistent and dangerous enemies and created for the king the menace of an independent Norman State across the channel. Henry lost no time in asserting his own authority in Ireland over the Earl of Pembroke and his followers, and at the same time (1171-72) he concluded, with the same end in view, an alliance with the South Wales chief which lasted during the rest of the reign. By the death of Owain Gwynedd in 1170, followed by that of Cadwaladr in 1172, Rhys had become the foremost man in Wales; Gwynedd was once more divided (as Powys had been since the death of Madog ap Maredudd in 1160), and for a quarter of a century the unusual spectacle was witnessed of a southern leadership of the Welsh people. The alliance with Rhys and the minor Welsh chieftains stood Henry in very good stead, for they remained faithful to him in the great upheaval of 1173—74 and gave him substantial military aid. In spite of border affrays, such as arose in Gwent after the massacre of Welsh notables in Abergavenny Castle by William de Braiose in 1175, the normal relations between England and Wales were at this time peaceful. The king was well content to allow Rhys to dominate Wales, so long as he kept the lesser princes in order and brought them from time to time, as at Gloucester in 1175 and at Oxford in 1177, to the royal presence to pay their humble duty.

One of the men used by Henry to weave the threads of this alliance deserves something more than a passing mention. Gerald de Barry, to give the true family name of “Giraldus Cambrensis,” was primarily a student and scholar, the author of works which mirror the age in which he lived, a keen and resourceful controversialist. But he also has his place in the history of Wales, notably as the dauntless champion of the independence of the see of St David’s. He belonged to the Anglo-Norman colony in Dyfed, where the Barry family held the castle of Manorbier in the earldom of Pembroke, and in him the power of adaptation of the Norman type, its intellectual vigour, and its devotion to the Church are vividly illustrated. But he was also, through his mother, a descendant of Rhys ap Tewdwr, and he never forgot the connexion. Sometimes, as in his ambition to be Bishop of St David’s, he sought to turn his Welsh origin to profitable account; sometimes it was used by others, as when Henry II made him his envoy to the Lord Rhys; sometimes it was an unconscious influence, as when it gives a sympathetic tone and outlook to his account of Wales and the Welsh in the “Itinerary” (1191) and the “Description” (1194). Gerald had a long and busy life (1146-1223); he studied at Oxford, Paris, and Lincoln, twice visited Ireland (1183,1185), where his Pembrokeshire kinsmen were much in evidence, and for some ten or more years was in the service of the Crown. But he is best remembered in Wales as the companion of Archbishop Baldwin in 1188, when the crusade was preached from end to end of the country, and as the hero of the great fight in the reign of John for the metropolitan rights of St David’s. Gerald was an unsuccessful candidate for the see in 1176, when he hoped to succeed his uncle David Fitz Gerald, but it was in 1198, on the death of Peter of Lee, his successful rival, that he secured election by the chapter in defiance of the Crown and of Archbishop Hubert, and took up zealously, as part of his own cause, that of the independence of St David’s. Three times did he visit Rome, hoping to enlist the powerful aid of Innocent III, but, although the great Pope heard him with courtesy and, indeed, if we may believe Gerald, with some sympathy, he did not win his case; in 1203 he was obliged to acquiesce in the election of Geoffrey, prior of Llanthony, who made the usual profession of obedience to Canterbury. It cannot be doubted that the struggle, in spite of its unfavourable issue, appealed strongly to the imagination of the Welsh people; well might Llywelyn ap Iorwerth say it would be remembered “as long as Wales should stand.”

Rise of Llywelyn the Great

The death of Henry II produced almost as great a turmoil in Wales as that of his grandfather; no attempt was made under Richard I to continue the policy of conciliation, and the last years of the Lord Rhys were spent in fierce attacks upon Norman strongholds which recalled the stormy days of his youth. He died in 1197, the last great ruler of South Wales; though his descendants were princes in that region until the end of the thirteenth century, none arose to compare with him in statesmanship and power. The primacy of Wales passed to its customary seat in Gwynedd, with the rise at this juncture of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. Llywelyn, a grand­son of Owain Gwynedd, had been early left ail orphan, but at the age of twenty-one had swept aside his uncles, David and Rhodri, and had become prince of Eastern Gwynedd (1194). Turning towards the English border, he had in 1199 proved his mettle by the conquest of Mold, an outpost of Cheshire from which he ejected the barons of Montalt. Shortly afterwards, he was able to annex Western Gwynedd; here he made Aber, near Bangor, one of his chief residences, and liberally endowed the adjacent Cistercian abbey of Aberconwy. In Gwynedd he had now no serious rival; Powys, however, for a few years furnished him with a formidable competitor in the person of Gwenwynwyn, prince of the land south of the Tanat, who had some of the gifts of a national leader. It was John who, after some attempts to play the two leaders against each other, finally cleared the way for the triumph of Llywelyn by giving him his natural daughter Joanna in marriage, and by striking down his two chief opponents, Gwenwynwyn and William de Braiose (1208). The prince of Gwynedd had still to pass through one testing experience: in 1211 John invaded Wales, got as far as Aber, and reduced his son-in-law to complete submis­sion. But, through the influence of Joanna, the terms imposed on him were not hard; the fabric of Llywelyn’s power was shaken but not overthrown, and in 1212 the lesser princes, whom jealousy had driven into the enemy camp, rallied round him once more, as they realised that he alone could secure their independence. Llywelyn, with the whole of North Wales under his control, now took an active part in the English movement against John and entered into a working alliance with the barons of the march, in virtue of which he occupied Shrewsbury. Certain articles in the Great Charter show that his services were appreciated; their stipulations had no effect, however, upon the course of the war in Wales, which was only brought to an end by the Peace of Worcester, concluded with Llywelyn by the government of the young Henry III in 1218.

By this peace, won from an exhausted and still troubled England, Llywelyn secured recognition of all his conquests and was allowed to retain the lands of Gwenwynwyn, who had died in exile in 1216, and the royal castles of Cardigan, Carmarthen, and Montgomery. He had during the war won for himself a strong position in South Wales; the sons and grandsons of the Lord Rhys had willingly accepted him as their leader and, at Aberdovey in 1216, he divided among them, as their feudal superior, the liberated lands in the south. This was a new position for the lord of Gwynedd; contemporary manuscripts of the Welsh laws assert it to be the undoubted right of the lord of Aberffraw (in Anglesey), and from 1230 onwards Llywelyn emphasised the claim by styling himself “prince of Aberffraw and lord of Snowdon”, but, historically, the ascendancy of Gwynedd over the rest of Wales was the result of the events which have just been described.

From this time until his death Llywelyn’s power suffered no serious eclipse; he was the one man in Wales with whom the English government had to reckon. He was faced, first by the regents of England during Henry’s minority, and afterwards by the feeble king himself, so that he may be regarded as fortunate in the enemies he had to encounter; yet a close study of his career reveals statesmanship which fully justifies his title of Llywelyn the Great. A characteristic example of his skill is the alliance he formed in 1220 with Earl Ranulf of Chester, like himself a territorial magnate with wide interests who looked with distrust upon the growth of the central authority; the bond was drawn tighter by the marriage of the earl’s nephew and heir, John the Scot, to Llywelyn’s daughter Helen, and it protected North Wales from attack until the death of Earl John in 1237. In South Wales Llywelyn had more ado to maintain his supremacy; in 1223 the Earl Marshal brought over an army from Ireland and recaptured Cardigan and Carmarthen; the castle of Montgomery was at the same time rebuilt by Hubert de Burgh on a new site. Five years later, there was war again on the border; Hubert attempted to build another great sentinel fortress at Kerry, but this time he was decisively repulsed (1228). After a brief interval of peace, Llywelyn again took the field in 1231 and succeeded in winning back Cardigan about the same time he received Builth from the Braiose family as the dowry of Isabella, the wife of his son David. He was actively concerned in the war of 1233-34 between Earl Richard and the king’s foreign advisers, but thereafter kept the peace until his death on 11 April 1240. Llywelyn was an enlightened ruler, whose activities were far from being confined to the sphere of politics and war. He secured the election of Welshmen as Bishops of St David’s (1215) and Bangor (1215), issued charters to the Cistercian abbeys of Aberconwy (1198?) and Cymer (1209), and founded a house of Franciscan friars at Llanfaes near Beaumaris (1237). He was a liberal patron of the bards, and it is probably to him that we are to attribute the North Wales recension of the Law of Hywel, commonly known as the Venedotian Code.

The one difficulty which harassed the closing years of Llywelyn was that of the succession. He had by Joanna a son David, whose royal connexions and marriage alliance with the house of Braiose made him the natural heir to his father’s greatness. But Welsh custom gave an equal place to his elder (though not legitimate) brother Gruffydd, and on his father’s death David only secured the undivided principality by keeping Gruffydd in close confinement. He won without difficulty the recognition of the king, but soon found that it was not intended to leave him in possession of all that his father had held; a royal campaign in 1241 reduced him to the confines of Gwynedd and forced him to give up his prisoner Gruffydd. With this hostage in his hands Henry for a time had peace, but the death of Gruffydd, who broke his neck while trying to escape from the Tower of London (1244), left David without a rival and free to engage in a war, the issue of which was still in doubt when he died at Aber in 1246.

A period of ten years now follows in which Wales is paralysed by internal divisions and English authority is pressed to its farthest limits. Eastern Gwynedd, in particular, is annexed by the Crown, with its castles of Diserth and Degannwy, and becomes, with the county of Chester and much of South Wales, a part of the inheritance of the young Edward (1254). Western Gwynedd is divided between Owain and Llywelyn, two sons of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn. At last, in 1255, a quarrel between the latter disturbs the equilibrium of forces in Wales; the decisive victory of Bryn Derwin (near Clynnog) brings to the front in the person of Llywelyn the man who is to repeat the achievements of his grandfather and for a brief space to unite the Welsh nation once again. For a quarter of a century Llywelyn ap Gruffydd dominates Wales; he keeps his elder brother, Owain the Red, a prisoner, and in spite of the wayward attitude of his younger brother David, who is sometimes his enemy and sometimes his ally, maintains a firm hold upon power.

Llywelyn’s opportunity was furnished by the baronial quarrel with Henry III, now ripening for the open breach of 1258. In 1256 the men of Eastern Gwynedd appealed to him to rescue them from the clutches of Edward’s officials; he won the district in a week and thus restored the Gwynedd of his grandfather. No help was afforded to the Crown by the dissident barons, who heard of the victories of the Welsh with equanimity. Llywelyn lost no time in pushing home his advantage; crossing the Mawddach, he occupied Meirionydd and thence advanced to the conquest of Builth and Aberystwyth. In 1257 he drove Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn from Southern Powys, and in a very short time had won complete ascendancy in South Wales, the princes of which became his vassals. At the Parliament of Oxford, the idea of opposing the Welsh was, in view of the constitutional crisis, set aside in favour of a truce, and Llywelyn was emboldened to take two further steps of importance: he created for himself the title of “Prince of Wales” and concluded a formal alliance with the barons of Scotland (1258). The reality of his power as overlord was shewn in 1259, when Maredudd ap Rhys, holder of Dinefwr, the South Wales “caput,” was tried for treason by his fellow-princes and suffered imprisonment in Criccieth Castle. In three years Llywelyn had made himself a power in the realm and his truce with the Crown became a virtual peace.

With the outbreak of civil war in England new prospects offered them­selves. Llywelyn, having captured the long-besieged castles of Diserth and Degannwy, entered in 1263 into an alliance with Earl Simon—an immediate advantage for the earl, but perhaps the key to his ultimate overthrow. For the marcher lords, hitherto solid for reform, now deserted in their anger to the royalist side; in spite of the victory of Lewes, the earl was not able to break up their opposition and it eventually bore ample fruit in the catastrophe of Evesham. Had the fortunes of battle been reversed on that day, Llywelyn would have been a large gainer, in virtue of his treaty with the earl, concluded at Pipton, near Hay (1265); the disaster, on the other hand, entailed little loss, for he had taken care to risk as little as possible. When, in the course of the general settlement, the Crown was ready for peace with Wales, Llywelyn obtained in the Peace of Montgomery (1267) the confirmation of his title of Prince of Wales, the suzerainty of the other Welsh princes, and the recognition of all his conquests. No Welsh prince since the Norman Conquest held a prouder position than he did at the death of Henry III.

His relations with Edward I form something of an enigma. He began by persistently refusing fealty and homage, as though he hoped to revive the Barons’ War and shake off finally the English overlordship, a scheme shadowed forth in his proposed marriage to Eleanor, daughter of Earl Simon. Edward countered this design by securing the lady and hemming Llywelyn in his natural stronghold of Snowdonia, until he was forced to submit and agree to the Peace of Conway (1277), which reduced him to Western Gwynedd and threw down the house of cards erected by the Peace of Montgomery. The Prince of Wales (he still kept that title) had made two serious miscalculations: he had not reckoned on the unity of an England weary of civil strife, and he had underestimated the military skill of the first English monarch who applied naval resources to the problem of the conquest of Wales. What is remarkable is that he fell twice into the same errors. Edward, believing that he had fully learnt the lesson of 1277, gave him his affianced bride (1278) and otherwise treated him with consideration, in the hope that he would accept his now diminished, but still far from despicable, place in the realm. The outbreak of 1282, due in the first instance to the restless David but soon involving Llywelyn also, shewed that he was wrong, and Edward entered on the campaign with the conviction that an end must be put to the Welsh trouble once for all. He brought all the resources of the realm, including a fleet from the Cinque Ports, to bear upon the situation, easily subdued Llywelyn’s allies in Powys and South Wales, and beset the prince himself in his rocky citadel. Realising that the blockade of Snowdonia must be broken, Llywelyn slipped south, to organise a counter-movement in the Wye valley. But here, on 11 December 1282, not far from the town of Builth, he was killed in a chance encounter with a border force, and with him fell the fabric of Welsh independence. By his wife Eleanor he left an infant daughter only, who was captured and spent her days as a nun; his brothers were without his hold upon the loyalty of the Welsh people, and David, after prolonging the struggle for a few months, was seized, tried as a traitor, and executed (1283).

The Edwardian settlement

Edward had now on his hands the problem of the settlement of the conquered country. He had been well supported by the marcher lords, with the result that there was no diminution of the extent of Wales occupied by them; marcher ground was, in fact, considerably extended. Denbighland was given to Henry, Earl of Lincoln, Ruthin to Reginald de Grey, Bromfield and Yale to the Earl of Surrey, Chirkland to Roger Mortimer. The princes who had sided with the king against Llywelyn were not disturbed, and thus the house of Powys continued to rule over Welshpool and the north of our Montgomeryshire, while the house of South Wales was represented at Dryslwyn in the Towy valley by Rhys ap Maredudd, son and successor of the rebel of 1259. The Crown did indeed take possession of the domains of the house of Gwynedd, but, as these had been much reduced in 1277, the political status of Wales was less altered than might be imagined; it still remained a land of small, inde­pendent areas, collectively outside the English shire and parliamentary system, each one with its own customs and traditional organisation, a source of revenue and a reservoir of troops for its usually non-resident lord. The barons of the march kept a tight hold upon their ample privileges, as was seen when Edward in 1290 endeavoured to prevent Gilbert de Clare, lord of Glamorgan, and Humphrey de Bohun, lord of Brecknock, from fighting out a local quarrel on the border of their lordships; the king obtained a temporary victory, but in the long run the “custom of the march”, the right of private war, was effectively asserted. These conditions were favourable to the maintenance of the Welsh language and Welsh traditions; Welsh literature flourished, the old Welsh law was administered in the local courts. The conquest of Wales by Edward, in short, produced no social revolution or change of culture; its chief result was to deprive the Welsh of a national head and a centre of national life.

In the area of Llywelyn’s principality a new system of administration was set up. By the Statute of Rhuddlan (19 March 1284) it was annexed to the Crown, divided into the three shires of Anglesey, Carnarvon, and Merioneth, and provided with a justice, sheriffs, coroners, and commote bailiffs. A new system of justice was introduced, which may be broadly described as a combination of English criminal and Welsh civil law. Five castles were built to control the district, at Carnarvon, Harlech, Criccieth, Conway, and (after the rising of 1294) Beaumaris, and in each case a borough of the English type, a colony of English traders, was established at the castle gates, to serve the needs of the garrison and to be, through its fairs and markets, an economic centre of English influence. At Criccieth (and also at Bere, near Towyn, which disappeared after 1294), a Welsh stronghold was made use of; the other four castles were new and elaborate structures of the “concentric” type. Beaumaris (Fair Marsh) was laid out on an entirely fresh site; at Conway, the Cistercian abbey was removed to Maenan to make room for the new settlement; Carnarvon, a seat of the Welsh princes, becomes the capital of the whole district, with its inde­pendent chancery and exchequer. Minor results of the Statute of Rhuddlan were the grouping of Tegeingl and Maelor Saesneg as the county of Flint, in dependence on the administrative centre of Chester, and the formal organisation, in “West Wales,” of the two ancient shires of Cardigan and Carmarthen.

The first settlement of Wales was followed by two considerable revolts. In June 1287 Rhys ap Maredudd, lord of Dryslwyn and Newcastle Emlyn, broke into rebellion and seized castles in the vale of Towy. His motive would seem to have been jealousy of the power exercised in the district by Robert de Tibetot (ob. 1298), justice of Carmarthen, whose commission made him virtual viceroy of South Wales. Not without diffi­culty, the rising was suppressed and Rhys himself, after long wandering in the forests of Cantref Mawr, captured and put to death. The second upheaval was of a more general character; it was a concerted outbreak at the end of September 1294, throughout all Wales, due to no special grievance of a Welsh magnate, but to widespread popular discontent at the levy of troops and taxes in Wales to defend English interests in Gascony. New leaders appeared: Madog ap Llywelyn in North Wales, who claimed to be hereditary prince in succession to Llywelyn and was probably of the line of Meirionydd, Cynan ap Maredudd and Maelgwn ap Rhys in West Wales, representing the old stock of that region, and Morgan ap Maredudd, of the line of Caerleon, in Glamorgan. So serious was the situa­tion that the king abandoned the French expedition and appeared at the end of the year in Gwynedd, to face once more the task of the subjugation of Wales. January saw him in serious difficulties in Conway Castle, but with the advent of spring matters improved; on 5 March 1295 the Earl of Warwick defeated Madog in a pitched battle at Maes Moydog, in Caer Einion, and thereafter resistance gradually died down, enabling the king to finish the campaign in July. He convinced himself that the Welsh had not risen without provocation, for he treated most of the captured chief­tains with leniency and in September authorised an enquiry into the grievances of the men of North Wales. It was a further concession to the Welsh that in February 1301 he revived the title of Prince of Wales, dormant since 1282, in favour of his eldest son, Edward, who had been born at Carnarvon in April 12842. The lords marchers were required to do homage to the new prince instead of to the king, and with them great numbers of Welsh gentlemen tendered their obedience; the event may be said to signalise the complete settlement of Wales as a dependency of the Crown.

Under Edward II, whose title of Prince of Wales was merged in the dignity of the kingship, the power of the Crown notably declined, and Wales shared to the full in the disorder of the reign. It was at this time that the only surviving Welsh principality of consequence became an English marcher lordship. Gruffydd ab Owain of Southern Powys died in June 1309, while still a minor; the succession, in accordance with English (though not Welsh) law, was presumed to have passed to his sister Hawise the Strong, who was forthwith married to John Charlton, a Shropshire knight in high favour with the king. Thenceforward, the lordship of Powysland, with its centre at Welshpool, was held by the Charltons, despite the opposition of Hawise’s uncle, Gruffydd “de la Pole,” who took his stand on the Welsh rules of inheritance. Another marcher lordship was thrown into confusion in 1314 by the death of the Earl of Gloucester on the field of Bannockburn; Gilbert left no children and his possessions were divided in 1317 among three co-heiresses, his sisters, with the result that Glamorgan fell to the lot of the younger Hugh Despenser, who had married Eleanor de Clare. There was serious trouble even before the partition: the measures of Payn Turberville, keeper of the lordship at the beginning of 1316, drove the Welsh into revolt under Llywelyn ap Rhys of Senghenydd, commonly known as Llywelyn Bren, and, though the movement was soon put down and Llywelyn captured, Despenser succeeded to a heritage of discontent, which his methods did nothing to appease. His execution of Llywelyn in 1317 alienated his Welsh subjects; his attempt to secure for himself the reversion of the lordship of Gower led to a coalition against him of the barons of the march, who in May 1321 overran Glamorgan and captured Cardiff and Newport. Despenser secured a respite as the result of Boroughbridge and the fall of Lancaster (1322), but he never recovered the good will of his men of Glamorgan, and he was captured in their midst, not far from Neath, on 16 November 1326. His companion, the king, was taken with him; Edward was not unpopular in Wales and took pride on occasion, as in the remedial Ordinances of 1316, in the fact that he was a native of the country; but the Welsh were not ready to rally in his defence, notwithstanding that he had some loyal Welsh supporters, such as Sir Gruffydd Llwyd of Tregarnedd in Anglesey, who gave him substantial help in the struggles of 1322 and was imprisoned after his fall as a dangerous adherent to the royal cause.

Another great border lord, Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, who became Earl of March in 1328, now succeeded to the commanding position of the younger Despenser and, like him, set himself to dominate England from the vantage-ground of an absolute control of Wales. But the second attempt had no greater success than the first; Mortimer’s Welsh troops could not protect him from the blow which fell upon him in 1330. What was needed to safeguard the interests of the Crown in the west was the re­establishment of the principality, and in May 1343 this was brought about; Edward Ill’s twelve-year-old son, known to history as the Black Prince, was raised to the dignity of Prince of Wales and invested with the symbols of that office, the gold diadem or chaplet, the gold ring, and the silver rod. The diadem or “talaith” had been worn by princes of Wales since the middle of the thirteenth century, if not earlier; the silver rod was a very ancient token of sovereignty among the Welsh. In one respect, the dignity of the Black Prince fell short of that held by his grandfather: the great marcher lords were not required to hold their lands of him, but continued to be tenants in chief of the Crown; any doubt which might be entertained on this point was set at rest by an Act of Parliament of 1354 (28 Edward III, c. 2), which stipulated that all the lords of the Marches of Wales should be “perpetually attending and annexed to the crown of England... and not to the principality of Wales.” Edward does not seem to have visited his principality, but the country was efficiently governed by his ministers, who have left one valuable memorial of their activity in the “Record of Carnarvon,” an extent of the counties of Anglesey and Carnarvon taken by the deputy of Richard, Earl of Arundel, justice of North Wales, in the summer of 1352.

The fourteenth century was an epoch of slow social and economic change in a country hitherto hardly touched by movements of the kind. A first impression of the extents and other records would no doubt suggest that the old institutions had great vitality. The commote was still the effective local area; dues were still paid to the prince and other lords under the old names; land was divided equally among sons, under the old Welsh rules; marcher privileges were jealously guarded. True, the native princes had gone; but their place as leaders of Welsh society and patrons of Welsh culture was taken by gentlemen not greatly inferior to them in wealth and influence. Such were Sir Howel ap Gruffydd ap Iorwerth, known as “Sir Howel of the Horseshoes,” who came of the noble Anglesey stock of Hwfa ap Cynddelw; Sir Howel ap Gruffydd ap Hywel of Eifionydd, who fought at Poitiers and was known as “Sir Howel of the Battleaxe”; Llywelyn ap Gwilym of Emlyn, uncle of the poet Dafydd ap Gwilym and deputy for Gilbert Talbot in his native district; Ifor the Generous of Gwynllwg, whose mother was of the line of Caerleon; the Tudurs and Gronws of the line of Ednyfed Fychan, who were seated at Penmynydd and Trecastell in Anglesey; Sir Rhys ap Gruffydd ap Hywel, of the same stock, who was a leading figure in South Wales during the first half of the fourteenth century. But, if in many respects Wales was little altered, the life of the countryside was nevertheless passing through a silent revolution. The establishment everywhere of castles and towns produced its inevitable effect; the self-contained rural communities began to find in borough and market town, alien colonies though they were, the natural centre for the sale of farm produce and the purchase of luxuries. Town and country still stood apart in all conflicts between the two races, as well as in law and administration, but economically they had become mutually dependent.

Owain of the Red Hand

In the French wars which fill so large a space in the reign of Edward III, Welshmen played an active part. The origin of the tactics which won the battle of Crecy may, indeed, be found in the adaptation to general warfare of the long-bow which, as we learn from Giraldus Cambrensis, was the traditional and most effective weapon of the men of South Wales. But, apart from this, large numbers of Welshmen fought in the cam­paigns, such as the men raised from time to time by Sir Rhys ap Gruflydd as royal agent in the Towy district. It was at Crecy, according to Welsh tradition, that Welshmen first wore the leek as a distinctive national symbol. But more remarkable than any native of Wales who served in the English ranks was Owain ap Thomas ap Rhodri, known to the French as Yeuain of Wales and to his fellow-countrymen as Owain Lawgoch (of the Red Hand), who at the end of this reign fought with conspicuous success on the French side. His grandfather, a brother of the last Llywelyn, had accepted the reverses of 1282 and settled down as an English landowner. Thomas occupied the same position and, on his death in 1363, left to Owain land in Surrey and the manor of Plas yn Dinas (a part of the ancient Mechain) on the Vymwy. Owain, however, had no mind for the quiet life of his father and grandfather; he broke out into rebellion against the English government, assumed the title of Prince of Wales, and from 1370 until his death in 1378 fought with distinction as a soldier of fortune in the forces of Charles V. An attempt was made to use him as an instrument to raise Wales in favour of the French; this proved futile, for storms broke up the expedition which he led from Rouen; but he nevertheless rendered great service to the French cause, seizing Guernsey in 1372, capturing Sir Thomas Percy and the Captal de Buch, and aiding Du Guesclin in the struggle which drove the English from Brittany. The English government determined to use the assassin’s dagger against so dangerous a foe; he was murdered at Mortagne on the Gironde by a squire named John Lamb, who was in due course rewarded for the deed. Needless to say, his memory lived long in Wales, and the tradition of his achievements was one of the sources of inspiration of the rising of Glyn Dwr.

Upon the death of the Black Prince, Richard of Bordeaux succeeded to the principality, but it was not long ere his accession to the throne once more merged the lower in the higher title. Father and son were not unpopular among their Welsh subjects, and there was in Wales no more than the usual disorder of the marches during their time. Iolo Goch, a well-known bard of the period, tells how the two bonny fighters of the Conway valley, Hywel Coetmor of Gwydir and his brother Rhys Gethin, kept the peace under Richard, but made open war upon the English under his successor. During the fatal weeks at the end of the reign, when Richard’s power was slowly slipping from him and Henry of Lancaster was daily winning supporters, the king having returned from Ireland spent some time in Wales, where he had hopes of a general movement in his favour. But, as in the case of Edward H, these hopes proved delusive; Welsh acquiescence in his rule did not rise to the height of enthusiasm on his behalf or willingness to die in his defence. Left to fight his own battle, he accepted at Conway the terms of his antagonist, found himself a prisoner on Penmaen Rhos, and at Flint was confronted with Lancaster.

Rising of Glyn Dwr

The reign of Henry IV is made memorable in Welsh history by the rising of Owain Glyn Dwr (“Glendower”), the recollection of which has never died out in Wales and which was, in fact, at one point nearer success than is generally imagined. It had its origin in a personal quarrel between Owain ap Gruffydd, lord of Glyn Dyfrdwy and Cynllaith Owain in the Berwyn region, and Reginald de Grey, lord of Ruthin. That this private difference grew to the dimensions of a national revolt was due to the high character and the exceptional claims of the Welsh protagonist. Owain was one of the few Welsh landowners who had a princely pedigree and a hold upon the territories once ruled by their ancestors; he was the direct heir of the princes of Northern Powys and had lands in Cardiganshire also, which he inherited, through his mother, from the ancient dynasty of South Wales. Add to this that he had been trained to the law at Westminster, was married to the daughter of an English judge (Sir David Hanmer), and had fought with gallantry in the armies of Richard, notably in the Scottish campaign of 1385, and it will be realised that Henry could not, by a refusal of justice, have driven into rebellion any more dangerous representative of the Welsh national spirit. He was no mere lawless bandit, but in character, talents, and popular estimation well fitted to grace the dignity of Prince of Wales.

The original outbreak took place on 16 September 1400, when Glyn Dwr, his relatives, and friends raised the banner of revolt in Glyn Dyfrdwy. They first attacked and burnt Grey’s town of Ruthin and then ravaged in succession Denbigh, Rhuddlan, Flint, Hawarden, Holt, Oswestry, and Welshpool. On 24 September they were defeated near the last-mentioned town by Hugh Burnell with the forces of the nearest English counties, and the movement was for the time being checked. But it was far from being crushed: Glyn Dwr’s estates were forfeited and given to John, Earl of Somerset; the king shewed his power by inarching through North Wales with an army; but the Welsh leader was not captured and, with hosts of sympathisers in every part of the country, he was still able to hold out in the mountainous west. Offers of pardon (which did not, of course, extend to the prime mover in the rebellion) had little effect, and Parliament, in February 1401, shewed serious concern, pointing out that great numbers of Welsh scholars at Oxford and Cambridge and of Welsh labourers in England had all of a sudden given up work and gone home, arming themselves for battle. A series of penal statutes (2 Hen. IV, cc. 12,16-20) was enacted which vividly reflects the alarm felt at the position in Wales, where Welshmen, who might be presumed friendly to Glyn Dwr, were burgesses, officers, and landholders in the various boroughs of the principality and the march. In the spring, two cousins of Glyn Dwr, William and Rhys ap Tudur of Anglesey, of the stock of Ednyfed Fychan, effected a surprising coup in the capture of Conway Castle (1 April), which they seized by stratagem when the garrison were all at church. Hotspur, who was the royal lieutenant in the district, regained the fortress in a few months and the affair had no immediate sequel. But it was typical of the daring and enterprise of the followers of the Welsh chief, who in the summer appears in a new region, winning at Hyddgen in Plynlimon a decisive victory over a royalist force drawn from south-west Wales. The king again led an army into Wales (September 1401), but with little real success, and in August Percy had relinquished his ungrateful task, which he had been left to prosecute largely with his own resources. It would seem that Glyn Dwr might at this point have been placated with the redress of his personal grievances; he had not yet burnt his boats or formally claimed the principality of Wales. But Grey was a close friend of the king, and Henry would hear of no negotiations.

In 1402 the fortunes of Glyn Dwr visibly improved. In April a raid upon Ruthin delivered his arch-enemy, Reginald de Grey, into his hands; he was far too shrewd to treat him otherwise than as a very valuable prisoner and, after much bargaining, finally set him free in November in return for a ransom of 10,000 marks. On 22 June he met the Herefordshire levies under Sir Edmund Mortimer, uncle of the fifth Earl of March, at Pilleth in Maelienydd, and won a signal victory; Robert Whitney and Kinard de la Bere were slain, and Edmund was taken prisoner. The Mortimers could advance a clearer title than Henry to the English crown; hence there was no such haste to ransom Edmund as had been shown in the case of Grey, and Glyn Dwr had an opportunity for diplomacy, of which he was not slow to make use. Before the end of the year, Mortimer had married his captor s daughter and was deeply committed to his cause. The king led another fruitless expedition, much hampered by bad weather, into Wales in September, while Glyn Dwr appeared on the Severn estuary and ravaged Newport and Caerleon.

It was intended in 1403 to renew the attack upon Owain, but in the summer all plans were upset by the rising of the Percies, culminating in the battle of Shrewsbury (21 July). That an understanding had been reached between the English and the Welsh insurgents is most probable, but there is nothing to shew that Glyn Dwr was expected to effect a junction with the Percies, and the story that he watched the battle from the branches of the great oak at Shelton is a baseless myth. He was, in fact, busily engaged about this time in South Wales, where he had raised the Welsh of the Towy valley and captured Carmarthen. The overthrow of Hotspur and his uncle the Earl of Worcester, no doubt, destroyed some hopes, but it did not seriously injure the position of the Welsh leader, who advanced in 1404 to still more important successes. He now had the whole of Wales in his grip: the town and castle of Cardiff were at his mercy, Beaumaris and Carnarvon were closely beset and, more im­portant than all, Harlech and Aberystwyth fell into his hands, enabling him to establish himself strongly in Central Wales. It was at this point that he assumed the title of Prince of Wales and, therewith, the status of an independent ruler, with a great and a privy seal, a chancellor, and envoys accredited to foreign courts. He summoned to Machynlleth a parliament representative of the area of his obedience, and received, there is reason to think, formal investiture of his office. In May he sent his chancellor and John Hanmer, his brother-in-law, to France to conclude an alliance with Charles VI. They were well received and a treaty was concluded in July which provided for military help for the Welsh in­surrection. It came in August 1405, somewhat belated, but substantial in character, a force of about 2500 men which landed in Milford Haven. Glyn Dwr had suffered some reverses earlier in the year, notably at Pwll Melyn near Usk (5 May), but he was now on the crest of the wave, and he summoned a second parliament to Harlech, hoping with its aid and that of the French army to secure his recognition by the English govern­ment. But the results of the French alliance were disappointing; though the troops remained for some months in the country and on one occasion penetrated into England as far as Woodbury Hill in Worcestershire, no solid victory was won, and their withdrawal marks the beginning of Glyn Dwr’s decline. He was still looking for further assistance from the same quarter and agreed, with this object in view, to transfer his allegiance from the Roman to the Avignon pontiff; the letter (Pennal, 31 March 1406) is well known for its proposal to make St David’s an archbishopric and to establish two universities in Wales. But the king was now extricating himself from his other difficulties; the war in Wales was, moreover, passing into the capable hands of his heir, now twenty years of age, and the operations of the young Henry in a short time deprived Glyn Dwr of his foothold as a ruling prince by the successful siege of Aberystwyth and Harlech (1408). The death of Mortimer and the capture of Owain’s family at the latter place marked the final ruin of the Welshman’s more ambitious designs; he now reverts to his former status of outlaw, with friends in abundance and considerable powers of resistance, but none of the outward show of sovereignty. After many years of this existence, he died in some obscure hiding-place on the Herefordshire border at the beginning of 1416, just after Henry V had offered him a free pardon.

While the courage and the statesmanship of Glyn Dwr will always command admiration, it is beyond doubt that the failure of his rising left Wales in a worse plight than it had been for many years. Economically, the country had suffered heavily; the fifteen years of pillage and disorder left upon it an indelible mark. Relations between the two races were much embittered; it had been a common cry during the rebellion that Owain aimed at the extirpation from Wales of the English tongue, and Adam of Usk was equally certain that the destruction of Welsh was intended on the other side. Thus, on the one hand, a rigorous series of statutes, passed in 1401 and 1402, excluded Welshmen from all positions of power and authority and closely limited their activities; and that it was no dead letter is proved by the cases of David Holbach of Oswestry and Gruffydd ap Nicholas of Dynevor (Dinefwr), in which exemption was granted from its restrictions. On the other hand, hostility to the English grew deeper among the Welsh, and found fierce expression in the bardic poetry of the period, notably that of Lewis Glyn Cothi. One link there was between the two races in the French wars of Henry V and Henry VI, in which Welshmen took an honourable part; David Gam of Brecknock, an old enemy of Glyn Dwr, was killed at Agincourt, and Matthew Gough (i.e. Goch, the Red) of Maelor (ob. 1450) fought with great honour in the last stages of the struggle in Normandy.

The Wars of the Roses inevitably weakened the hold of the Crown upon Wales and opened the door for a revival of activity among the native Welsh. Yorkist and Lancastrian alike relied on the warriors they were able to draw from the Welsh highlands, and the battle of Mortimer’s Cross (2 February 1461), though fought on English soil, was largely an encounter between rival Welsh armies. The Duke of York and Edward IV, inheriting the Mortimer estates, could command the allegiance of Central Wales, while in the west, from Anglesey to Pembroke, the name of Tudor was powerful. Owen Tudor (ob. 1461), a nephew of the captors of Conway Castle, had by a secret marriage with the widow of Henry V two sons: the elder, Edmund, died young (1456), but left, by Margaret Beaufort, a posthumous son, the future Henry VII. The younger, Jasper, became the protagonist of the Lancastrian cause in Wales, where he was Earl of Pembroke, and carefully watched over the fortunes of his nephew. During the reign of Edward IV, the Lancastrian cause was reduced to great straits, though Harlech Castle held out for seven years (1461-68). The ultimate escape of the young Henry, Earl of Richmond, was for Wales the decisive event which ensured that, when the time was ripe, the house of Lancaster should recover the crown in the person of a scion of Ednyfed Fychan, born in Pembroke and nursed by a Welsh foster­mother. Welsh sentiment has always persisted in regarding Bosworth as a Welsh victory, placing a genuine Welshman on the English throne and thus ending happily the long quarrel between the two races; nor is this view a mere patriotic flourish, for an Italian, writing about 1500, makes the remark that “the Welsh may be said to have recovered their independence, for Henry VII is a Welshman.”