OF THE Cymry - Part 7

200BC-0 AD

0 AD-200

2-400

4-600

6-800

8-1000

10-1200

12-1400

14-1600

16-1800

18-2000

2000 on

OWAIN GLYNDWR

1. From now on imperialism would be the passion which was to possess the English for centuries to come. Their obsession would be to confer on the conquered the blessings of English civilisation, and the English language in particular and to uproot the conquered people from their own language and customs; to turn Celtic people into Englishmen.

The Welsh were not hankering after such a change however. High taxes and oppression were not to their liking. When the people rose on the side of Glyndwr, their clear desire was to be allowed to be themselves: to desire to be a free nation was burning in their breasts. This alone explains the remarkable success of Glyndwr.

Owain Glyndwr was a nobleman of royal descent and represented in his blood line almost every region of Wales. He received the best education of Wales and England but he was a Welsh-speaking Welshman and happiest amongst his own kind. It was this third Owain who, in the opinion of the bards, was now their Mab Darogan.

On September 16, 1400   Owain Glyndwr was proclaimed Prince of Wales before a small company of noblemen at Glyndyfrdwy.

From there they marched out and attacked the English boroughs of Denbigh, Rhuddlan, Flint, Hawarden and Holt and then on to Oswestry and Welshpool.

After this the armies of the nearby English counties met and defeated them, but not until Henry IV had commanded the armies of the ten counties to assemble at Shrewsbury.

In Anglesey Gwilym and Rhys, the sons of Tudur ap Gronw of Penmynydd, had entered the fight, forcing the king to lead his armies  through the northern counties to Anglesey. Rhys Ddu had attacked the English army there, who then burnt down the Franciscan monastery of Llanfaes in retaliation for the monks' support of Glyndwr. The English then proceeded to Caernarfon, and back to Shrewsbury through the deep valleys of Dinas Mawddwy.

Seal of Owain Glyndwr

2. The experienced Gwilym and Rhys of Penmynydd and brother Maredudd,  Glyndwr's cousins; played a prominent part in this war from the beginning. They were typical of the powerful experienced noblemen, ready to venture everything for Owain and Wales.  On the next level down, there was total support from the commotal officials and churchmen too lent their support. So also  many of the gwerin were quick to show their support and Welsh students being threatened in English colleges returned home to join the swelling ranks. Labourers and soldiers followed suit. It was a people's war and so was more cruel than the wars that had been fought by the small professional armies.

In London the English parliament legislated severely against the Welsh, and Henry, the English Prince of Wales settled into Chester with his council under the directorship of Percy, Earl of Northumberland (Hotspur). In Wales, meanwhile, Gwilym and Rhys Tudur captured Conwy castle, and the Welsh of the surrounding area attacked the town. Percy had to come to terms with them. Glyndwr moved to Deheubarth, to the land of Rhys ap Tewdwr, his grandfather. In May it was reported in parliament that:

`Owain Glyndwr and other have newly made insurrection and have gathered together in the marches of Carmarthenshire. They conspire to invade the realm and destroy the English.'

Henry Dwn in Dyfed had fought beside John of Gaunt and Richard II. A powerful man and Steward of Cydweli castle he supported Owain. In the summer a great host of English were defeated by Owain with a small army on the banks of the Hyddgen in one of the valleys of Pumlumon. The king called the levies of 14 counties to meet him in Worcester, but he did not march until October. He plundered the south and took children prisoners before returning to England.

When Edward returned executions followed and he punished the monks support of Owain by burning the Cistercian monastery of Strata Florida and filling the church with his soldiers.

Owain was, however, gaining control of the counties of Caernarfon and Anglesey; he attacked Welshpool, and requested help from Ireland and Scotland, to rid themselves of their common foe, the English.

In April 1402 he took Reginald de Grey, lord of Rhuthun prisoner and two months later he took Edmund Mortimer prisoner at Bryn Glas, Maeliennydd, where Welsh archers of the English army joined their Welsh brethren.

Now, with his army swelling Glyndwr was master of Gwynedd and Powys, and appearing in Gwent and Morgannwg, he led the Welsh of the valleys and attacked the English towns of Abergavenny, Usk, Caerleon, Newport and Cardiff.

The king came back to Wales with three armies and inflicted severe damage on the people and  countryside but to no avail.

Glyndwr received ten thousand for the release of Grey and made an ally of Edmund Mortimer who married his daughter Catrin.  Mortimer was the brother-in-law of Hotspur  so Glyndwr made an important connection to this powerful Englishman.

3. In 1403 the Welsh of Brycheiniog attacked Brecon castle, and the men of Ystrad Tywi recognised Owain as Prince of Wales and rose with him under the leadership of Rhys ap Gruffydd (the constable of Dryslwyn) and Henry Dwn.

In July Glyndwr came to Llandeilo with eight thousand men and was joined by men from the Conwy valley, Ceredigion, and Cydweli. He captured Castell Newydd Emlyn; Dryslwyn, Carreg Cennen and Llansteffan and finally Carmarthen surrendered to him. He suffered heavy losses at Lacharn (Laugharne) yet still remained strong.

Hotspur proclaimed war on the king in Chester but Henry, the English Prince of Wales, moved quickly and defeated and killed him at the Battle of Shrewsbury.

The king assembled his forces in Worcester to move once again against the Welsh who were threatening England. His goal was Carmarthen and then returned to Hereford. Henry Dwn, with Frenchmen and Bretons in his army, arrived in force beside Cydweli castle.

The French gave added strength to the Welsh in Gwynedd too, helping them to gain more than one small victory. Caernarfon was in great danger:

Aber and Harlech were similarly threatened. English reinforcements from Bristol were sent for but the two castles fell. Owain was master of Wales from Caernarfon to Cardigan establishing his court and home in Harlech.

He was powerful enough to convene his first parliament in Machynlleth.

Owain summoned representatives from each commote in Wales. Wales was an   independent nation. It had a Prince and a government, armed forces, a civil and diplomatic service, a treasury, a legal system and a parliament. Owain had two immediate objectives: first, to strengthen his position by acquiring powerful and reliable allies; and secondly, to develop a national policy. There was little hope of help from the Irish. He had already appealed to their leaders, and to the Scots, where the king of France too tried to find help in 1401 when he sent a Welsh knight, Dafydd ab Man Goch, to the king of Scotland. To the court of France, therefore, Glyndwr sent his ambassadors, John Hanmer, his brother-in-law, and Gruffudd Young, his chancellor who was probably the main architect of the Welsh state. In a document which is kept in Paris and which was andwritten in Dolgellau in May 1404, Glyndwr - `Owynus dei gratia princeps Wallie' - attempted to secure a formal alliance. He succeeded. The agreement was signed in France on July 14. 

A second parliament was called in Harlech in August 1405; but it was in the Pennal Parliament, in March 1406, when it was decided to transfer the homage of the Welsh to the Pope in Avignon, that the nature of the policy he developed began to emerge.

 

4. In 1406 the French soldiers returned to their own country, and although others were sent to replace them, the English succeeded in capturing part of their navy. This was one of a series of misfortunes for Glyndwr. The power of the English crown was growing; the power of the great barons was waning. Northumberland, who had been hiding in Wales, was defeated. The heir of the King of Scotland was taken prisoner by the English and kept as a hostage, so that Scotland could not give any aid. The Welsh lost a battle, in which one of Glyndwr’s sons was killed. Maredudd alone of his six sons survived the war.

 

5. Then the English recaptured the borderland. But so long as Aberystwyth and Harlech were standing firm there was hope of saving the situation. The English concentrated on these two castles. The English armies with their great guns were under the direction of their prince who, bearing the name of Wales, was to lead in a years time a great army of Welshmen to victory on the field of Agincourt. Henry succeeded in occupying Aberystwyth by September I408, and Harlech early in 1409, after Mortimer had starved to death there. But although his family were taken into captivity Owain himself escaped, and the govern­ment continued to worry about the situation; a number of Scots and Frenchmen, together with some of his chief captains and counsellors, remained loyal to Glyndwr, and marcher lords continued to make agreements with him. His last considerable effort was an attack in 1410 on the outskirts of Shrewsbury from the north.of Powys where he remained strong. He lost the battle; Rhys Ddu, Philip Scudalnore and Rhys ap Tudur were taken prisoner and executed as traitors. The government continued to station substantial troops in Wales, and even in June 1412 Owain was powerful enough to capture Dafydd Gam of Brycheiniog, a well-known quisling.

The followers of Glyndwr remained faithful to the end. In 1415 Gruffudd Young was still working for him in 1415 in France; it was he who maintained in the Council of Constance, the assembly which ended the scandal of papal schism, that the Welsh were a nation and that they should have a vote there. There was not one attempt to supplant Owain as leader throughout his career, nor one attempt to betray him at the end of his life. Not one Welsh word of criticism of him has survived from that century. It is known that he was not alive in 1417, but no one knows where he died. He disappeared in dignified silence. The poets refused to believe that he was dead; so not one of them composed an elegy to his memory. To them, and to a host of Welsh people, he will never die. His spirit lives on like an unquenchable flame, a symbol of the determination of the Welsh to live as a free nation.

 

`Throughout Wales,' says J. E. Lloyd, 'his name is the symbol for the vigorous resistance of the Welsh spirit to tyranny and alien rule and the assertion of a national character which finds its fitting expression in the Welsh language ...'

For the Welshman of all subsequent ages, Glyndwr has been a national hero, the first, indeed, in the country's history to command the willing support alike of north and south, east and west, Gwynedd and Powys, Deheubarth and Morgannwg. He may with propriety be called the father of modern Welsh nationalism.'

The Welsh believed he would return when needed by his people. His spirit is needed today. As the nation matures in loyalty towards its own country, it can echo the words used by Dafydd Iwan in his great song: 

"Myn Duw, mi wn y daw."           

"By God, I know he will come."

 

THE WELSH LONG BOW

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.