by Judith Arnopp
Edward I’s defeat of Llewellyn the Last in 1282 and his subsequent subjugation of the Welsh people caused seething discontent among the Welsh. After a hundred years of continuing discontent, things finally reached boiling point when the English crown refused to settle a land dispute between Baron Grey de Ruthyn and the forty-something, grey-haired and law abiding Owain Glyn Dŵr. It is difficult to access the details of this matter but we do know that events quickly spiraled out of control and ultimately, Glyn Dŵr took up arms against King Henry IV.
Glyn Dŵr himself, on calling for Welsh assistance, is likely to have been surprised at the alacrity of response. In September 1400 when he raised his banner at Ruthin, supporters came from far and wide and, due to his descent from the Welsh Princes, they dubbed him, Prince of Wales.
In response, the English king marched his army through North Wales burning and looting without mercy. The population were easily quelled and sought peace with Henry, leaving Glyn Dŵr and a few remaining supporters to take to the hills.
But things weren't over yet and the rebellion took off again when Conway Castle was taken by the Welsh, allowing Glyn Dŵr access to mid and south Wales. Consequently, the rebellion picked up momentum and Welshmen living and working in England laid down their tools and returned home to join his ranks.
It was around this time that Henry IV, following Glyn Dŵr into the wilds of Wales, called at the home of Llewellyn ap Gruffydd Fychan who lived in Caeo in Carmarthenshire.
According to the chronicle of Adam of Usk, Llewellyn was a ‘bountiful’ member of the Carmarthenshire gentry, a country squire whose household used ‘fifteen pipes of wine’ annually. This is not to imply that the man was a drunk but shows him to be a wealthy and generous host.
At the time in question Llewellyn was around sixty years of age, too old to fight perhaps, but it is believed two of his sons were at Glyn Dŵr’s side. Henry IV forced Llewellyn to lead him to Glyn Dŵr’s base camp, and for several weeks the old man led the King on a goose chase through the wild uplands of Deheubarth, allowing Glyn Dŵr time to escape into Gwynedd and gain a position of greater strength.
King Henry, cold, tired and frustrated, realising somewhat belatedly what was afoot, forced Llewellyn to admit his stratagem. Knowing full well what punishment lay in store, the Welshman spoke out bravely as a loyal follower of Glyn Dŵr and supporter of Wales.
On October 9th 1401 Llewellyn was dragged to the gallows at Llandovery Castle where he was publicly disembowelled and dismembered in front of his eldest son. (Documentation does not make clear whether this refers to Llewellyn’s eldest son or Henry’s.) As a deterrent to future rebels Llewellyn’s remains were displayed in towns across Wales and his lands were granted to Henry’s supporter Gruffydd ap Rhys. But the rebels weren't done with Henry yet and unrest continued for more than a decade.
It seems that Llewellyn ap Gruffydd was not alone in his loyalty to the last Welsh Prince of Wales for, although Henry IV led one of the largest, most feared armies in Europe (remember Agincourt a few years later in 1415), Owain Glyn Dŵr, who had re-united the Welsh nation, was never captured, mostly because his countrymen refused to betray him. His final end remains a mystery today.
Six hundred years later, in 1998, a campaign was started by residents of Llandovery to construct some sort of a monument to their local hero, Llewelyn, and after an exhibition of proposed designs in the year 2000, a statue by Toby and Gideon Peterson of St Clears was chosen.
The effigy stands sixteen feet tall and is fashioned of stainless steel, standing on a base of stone brought from near Llewellyn’s home in Caeo. The figure of Llewellyn, clothed in cloak, armour and wearing an empty helmet, stands proudly on the skyline, looking out across the town of Llandovery as a mark of Welsh solidarity.
Judith Arnopp writes historical novels set in the medieval and Tudor period. for more information please visit her website: www.juditharnopp.com
Photos from wikimediacommons.