OF THE Cymry - Part 5

200BC-0 AD

0 AD-200










2000 on


1. The death of Llywelyn II and Dafydd III, which ended the 100 year war against the Norman-English, marked the end of a heroic chapter in the history of Wales.

What Edward did, by means of the Rhuddlan Statute of 1284 was to turn the whole nation of Wales into a March (Counties under Norman rulers). Wales remained, for all this, a country of small states as it had always been, quite distinct from the civil, county and legal system of England; and almost completely independent of London.

The administrative system was quite similar to that under the princes. The Laws of Hywel were retained in every civil action though not in criminal cases.

Goronwy Edwards says of the Norman lordships:

`..... the Norman lords of the March were the ghosts of Welsh princes, sitting crowned upon the graves thereof.'

The English had the monopoly of business in the boroughs which arose around the costly great castles built by Edward to safeguard the order with force. Every town was a little England. For the uncowed  Cymry however it was totally unacceptable.

These English were a foreign and inflammatory element in the body of Wales. They quickly became very unpopular and their unpopularity tended to increase rather than diminish.

Lle bu'r Brython Saeson sydd A'r boen ar Gymru beunydd.

Where once were Britons, English now give the Welsh daily pain.

2. Edward's idea was to make Welshmen Englishmen as soon as possible. The Cymry, however, had other ideas:

Rhys ap Maredudd had been the only Welsh prince in the south to remain subservient to Edward.

But he was the first to rise in rebellion. Inin 1287 he recaptured his old home in Dinefwr, retook  Carreg Cennen and Llandovery. He attacked Carmarthen, and Llanbadarn fifty miles to the North. The English came, their armies numbering twenty thousand and for six weeks the two sides fought in Dryslwyn,  Newcastle Emlyn and Cardigan. Rhys was caught four years later and cruelly executed.

3. Three years later, a carefully planned national rebellion broke out.

Whilst Edward was in France the Cymry took to arms. Madog in Gwynedd, Maelgwn in Ceredigion, Cynan in Brycheiniog and Morgan in Morgannwg. Caernarfon, Denbigh, Castell y Bere, Cardigan and Builth castles were attacked and Caernarfon was captured.

Unfortunately Edward was still in Portsmouth with his army waiting to sail for France. Before a wind rose to take him news came that the Welsh had taken to arms.

Madog took control of a large part Clwyd and declared himself Prince of Wales. Similarly in Morganwg, Brycheiniog and Ceredigion castles were attacked  and Cardigan was taken.

Edward and his army headed straight for Wales and attacked the Cymry at Conwy. He was pinned for weeks caught between the tides of Conwy and the fury of the Cymry.

The Cymry numbers were too few, however, so Madog had to look to Powys for support however and Edward was reprieved. On route Madog was attacked and defeated with heavy losses by Warwick at Caereinion in Montgomeryshire. English money  lured men from Gwent and Morganwg to break the rebellion allowing Edward to eventually to take the lost lands.

Cynan and Morgan were caught and executed - the war was over.

`No one can surmise what would have happened had the king reached France before the Cymry had started their rebellion'.

Within six years, to attempt to sway the Welsh Edward accepted and recognised the separateness of Wales by bestowing the title of Prince of Wales to his son.

4. Still the Cymry had not lost their self-respect even where the Normans were most powerful.

In Morgannwg,Llywelyn Bren, a cultured, dignified nobleman, showed that much of the higher lands and valleys of Morgannwg were still under the control of Welsh lords.

Llywelyn and his five sons rebelled and thousands of the Welsh of the Blaenau joined him. He plundered the vale of Glamorgan and attacked Cardiff, Caerleon, Kenfig and Llantrisant but failed to capture the enormous castle of Caerffili, in spite of besieging it for nine weeks.

This was his undoing. Edward II sent two armies against him. Llywelyn Bren saw that he could not hope to withstand them. He spoke with great dignity when forced at Ystradfellte to surrender unconditionally: `It is better for one man to die than for a whole population to be killed by the sword.'

He too was cruelly executed, in 1318.

These powerful rebellions led to the continuation of the castle-building which Edward I had started in the previous century.   Built to subjugte the Cymry they now deepen the sense of the long continuity of life in Wales.


Two years ater  Madog's war the Scots   rose in rebellion under William Wallace. Wallace was probably descended from the British of the Welsh-speaking kingdom of Ystrad Clud (Strathclyde). His name, which was sometimes spelt Walays or Walyes, was the term usually used by Englishmen for a Welshman or a Celt.


Wallace and the Scots were finally subdued by Edward and in 1305 Wallace was betrayed and taken prisoner and cruelly executed. Though seemingly subdued the Scots rose again, this time under the leadership of Robert Bruce.

He wo a great battle at Bannockburn in 1314 in which a considerable number of the Norman aristocracy were killed.

The Scots made a noble statement in 1320 which would be just as applicable to Welsh patriots:

`We are fighting, not for glory or riches or honour, but completely and only for freedom, which no true man will yield without surrendering his life as well. We wish for no more than that which is ours already, nor any territory beyond our own borders, and we are ready to do everything within our power to secure peace.'

6.   After the fall of the princes Welsh tradition continued firmly through the uchelwyr or noblemen.

Totally Welsh in speech and character they were the upper layer of a community composed mainly of freemen who were close to them in status.

`Nearly the whole population came of old native families', says J. E. Lloyd, `with the roots of their culture reaching far back into the past'.

Membership of this big class depended entirely on descent and not in any way on wealth. Three centuries later many of this class would be among the gwerin (folk),   enriching its quality.

The uchelwyr also supported poetry, Cerdd Dafod, and music, Cerdd Dant and the bards, whose influence continued to grow until the success the Tudors.

Indeed, it was from among the noble families t some of the greatest poets came: Dafydd ap Edmwnd, Tudur Aled and the greatest of them all; Dafydd ap Gwilym.

7. Most of the bards gave valiant guidance to the nation. They kept the old ideals in front of the noblemen; they deepened the feeling of national purpose; they announced that the Mab Darogan (Son of prophecy) was about to come to save Wales.



There were Welsh soldiers fighting on both sides in France. The captain of one of these companies was  a military genius Owain ap Thomas ap Rhodri, known in Wales as Owain Lawgoch and on the continent as Yevain de Galles, the grandson of Llywelyn II's brother and the sole heir of the princes of Gwynedd.  In 1372, with help from the French King Carles V he claimed Wales: `Through the power of succession, through my lineage, and through my right as the descendant of my fore-fathers, the kings of that country.'

Owain's fleet captured the island of Guernsey from the English. But while the free Wales navy was at sea, the king of France told Owain to turn back to help the Spanish to attack La Rochelle, held by the English. He had lost his chance and the bards lost their Mab Darogan when he was  by an Englishman, John Lamb, who was in the pay of the English government;murdered him - so died the last of Rhodri Fawr's line.

8. Up till now French was the language the Normans spoke and the language of their culture. The English came only in the wake of the Normans as burghers and small officials.  But in the heat of the French wars this changed. The Normans became English; they gave a new prestige to the English language. The language of the law in England became English, which thus achieved the status which Welsh had enjoyed in Wales for a thousand years. They turned their backs on French.


After the fall of the princes' order many more Welsh people left the country as pilgrims, students, and most particularly as mercenaries. Many Welshmen found fame in France during the Hundred Years War, using the long-bow described by Giraldus as `made of wild elm, unpolished and uncouth,' but which had terrible power. Edward III took about five thousand Welshmen with him to France in 1346. It was Welsh long-bow archers who killed most of the fifteen thousand Frenchmen who fell at Crecy. In this battle the English side lost only a hundred men, and most of those were Welsh. Even greater success was achieved in the battle of Poitiers, and, in the second part of the war in the battle of Agincourt, where the French had five times as many men as the English and Welsh force.

The long-bow like the knight on the battlefield before caused great social changes. The bow of the gwerinwr (the common archer) weakened the coats of arms and castles of the lord. It helped to hasten social changes which had already begun in the time of the princes. The returning soldiers too had an influence on the thought, the customs and the literature of Wales. Although ten thousand is a small number in our terms, it meant in a population of only two hundred thousand that a quarter of all the families of the land had a member in the armed forces. These soldiers widened horizons, bringing in influences from other countries, whilst holding to their own culture with renewed confidence, just as the saints had done eight hundred years earlier.