Friday, April 26, 2013

Rebellion in Wales ~ Owain Glyn Dŵr and Cydweli Castle - Carmarthenshire


by Judith Arnopp


Standing proud above a small village, over-looking the River Gwendraeth near Carmarthen in West Wales, is Cydweli Castle. Of Norman origin, the fortress is testament to the years of Anglo/Welsh conflict, its dominant position in the landscape making it quite clear who was in control of whom.

The earliest castle was a Norman earth and timber construction built shortly after the conquest, the village growing up around it. During the 12th century the castle fell several times into Welsh hands and by the 13th century it had been rebuilt in stone with the latest in defensive design.

Today, we see most phases of building; a square inner bailey defended by four round towers, a semi-circular outer curtain wall to protect the landward side and the massive gatehouse and jutting tower defending the riverside walls.

Cydweli (or the anglicised Kidwelly) is of concentric design with defensive walls set one within the other providing the best defence possible at the time of building. The gate house was still under construction when Owain Glyn Dŵr held it under siege during his campaign against the English.


Owain Glyn Dŵr was born around 1359 and through his parents, Gruffydd Fychan II and Elen ferch Tomas ap Llywelyn,  descended from the Welsh princes of Powys and Deheubarth.  His early life is quite unremarkable and law abiding. He was educated in London and served as a squire and a soldier, fighting for the English king in campaigns in Scotland. By the year 1400 he had become a well-respected Welsh gentlemen but events over the next few years pushed Glyn Dŵr further into rebellion.

Baron Grey de Ruthyn, a neighbour of Glyn Dŵr’s, had seized control of some land, forcing him to appeal to the English Parliament.  In 1400, Lord Grey failed to inform Glyn Dŵr in time of a royal command to levy feudal troops for service on the Scottish border. This apparent dereliction of duty enabled the Welshman to be named a traitor in London court circles

Possibly due to Lord Grey’s  personal friendship with King Henry IV, Glyn Dŵr lost the case and when, in January 1400, civil disorder broke out in Chester in support of the deposed king, Richard II, Glyn Dŵr’s relationship with Henry IV broke down completely.


In September 1400 Owain Glyn Dŵr was created Prince of Wales by the dissenting Welsh.


By 1401, after a series of confrontations between Owain’s followers and Henry IV the revolt began to spread. Welshmen studying at Oxford abandoned their studies, labourers lay down their tools, returned to Wales and flocked to Owain’s  banner. Welsh troops who had fought for the king in France and Scotland also joined the cause, Welsh archers and men-at-arms abandoned the English king to join the Welsh rebellion.

Early in the campaign the Welsh skill at guerrilla warfare gained them some notable success. They were victorious at the battle of Bryn Glas in Powys in 1402; inflicted much damage on many towns (including Cardiff) and took control of several of the strongest castles in Wales, notably Aberystwyth and Harlech.

During the fourth year of the revolt Owain Glyn Dŵr and his armies turned up in the Tywi Valley and captured a number of castles, including Dyslwyn and Carmarthen and persuaded Henry Don, a former steward of the Duchy of Lancaster and a fellow of considerable standing and power, to throw in his lot with the rebels. It was Henry Don who led the attack on Cydweli Town and castle.

However, around 1405 the rebels began to lose ground, they were defeated at Usk and sometime between 1408-9 the castles at Aberystwyth, Harlech were retaken by the crown. Owain himself was never captured but faded from history, believed to be dead by 1416. Many tales are told about the circumstances of his death.

A supporter of Glyn Dŵr,  Adam of Usk, wrote  in his Chronicle in the year 1415 that, ‘After four years in hiding, from the king and the realm, Owain Glyndŵr died, and was buried by his followers in the darkness of night. His grave was discovered by his enemies, however, so he had to be re-buried, though it is impossible to discover where he was laid.’

Adrien Jones, the president of the Owain Glyn Dŵr Society, as late as 2006 visited Sir John Scudamore who is a direct descendant of Glyndŵr and lives  near Abergavenny. He told him that Glyn Dŵr spent his last years with  his daughter Alys at Monnington Straddel in Herefordshire and eventually died there. The family kept the secret for six hundred years but Sir John claimed that Glyn Dŵr is buried beneath a mound nearby at Monnington Straddel.

Whatever the truth of the matter may be Owain Glyn Dŵr is gone but never forgotten and remains a hero in Wales, a household name and icon of Welsh nationalism.

 By AlexD (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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Castle photos property of Judith Arnopp.
You can find out more about Judith and her historical novels on her website: www.juditharnopp.com
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