Monday, December 15, 2014

Owain Glyndŵr, The Last Native Welshman to Hold the Title "Prince of Wales"

by Regina Jeffers


Owain Glyndŵr (c. 1349 or 1359 to c. 1415) was the last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales (Tywysog Cymru). He led an unsuccessful revolt against Henry IV of England. Glyndŵr’s family was part of the Anglo-Welsh gentry of the Welsh Marches, the border between England and Wales, along the northeastern border of Wales. Like many of their class, the Glyndŵrs were fluent in both the Welsh and English languages, and they were accepted into Society on both sides of the border. They managed to know success as Marcher Lords, while keeping their position as uchelwyr, the nobility descending from the pre-conquest Welsh royals.

Glyndŵr’s paternal family came from the dynasty of northern Powys. His mother was descended from the Deheubarth power from the south. “The family fought for Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in the last war and regained their lands in north-east Wales only through a calculated association with the powerful Marcher lords of Chirk, Bromfield, and Yale and the lesser family of Lestrange." (The Castles of Wales)

Glyndŵr’s father, Gruffydd Fychan II, hereditary Tywsog of Powys Fadog and Lord of Glyn Dyfrdwy, died when Owain was but a youth. Most believe he was fostered out to live with David Hanmer, a man of the law and justice of the Kings Bench, and likely studied law at the Inns of Court. As such, Owain witnessed the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt in London. Later, Owain married Hanmer’s daughter Margaret and became the Squire of Sychart and Glyndyfrdwy. “He held the lordships of Glyn Dyfrdwy and Cynllaith Owain near the Dee directly of the king of Welsh Barony. He had an income of some L200 a year and a fine moated mansion at Sycharth with tiles and chimneyed roofs, a deer park, henory, fishpond, and mill.” (The Castles of Wales)

Glyndŵr served the English king for three years in the late 1300s. In 1384, he was in service to Sir Gregory Sais upon the English-Scottish border at Berwick-upon-Tweed. Next, he joined with John of Gaunt in Scotland in support of King Richard. This service brought Owain into the position of being part of the Scrope v. Grosvenor trial. This was one of the earliest heraldic law cases in England. When Richard II invaded Scotland, two of the king’s knights were found to be using the same coat of arms. Richard Scrope (1st Baron Scrope of Bolton in Yorkshire and Sir Robert Grosvenor from Cheshire were both bearing arms blazoned Azure a Bend Or. Owain had good company as a witness in the case: John of Gaunt, King of Castile, Duke of Lancaster, and Geoffrey Chaucer. The case was decided in Scrope’s favor. Finally, Glyndŵr joined Richard Fitzalan, 11th Earl of Arundel in the Channel at the defeat of the Franco-Spanish-Flemish fleet off Kent’s coast. In 1387, Owain returned home for his father in marriage had died. Therefore, he spent the next decade as a Welsh lord. Iolo Goch (“Red iolo”), a Welsh lord and poet, who wrote a number of odes to Owain, praising Glyndŵr’s liberal leanings, visited Owain throughout the 1390s.

In the later 1390s, Glyndŵr had several run-ins with his neighbor Baron Reginald de Grey, Lord of Ruthyn. The first was an argument over property. Unfortunately, the English Parliament ignored Glyndŵr’s appeal for redress. Also, Lord Grey supposedly informed Glyndŵr too late of a royal command to levy feudal troops for Scottish border service; therefore, Glyndŵr was labeled a “traitor” in his legal matters. Grey was reportedly a personal friend of King Henry IV. Brooding over the snub he had received from the English court, Glyndŵr contacted other disaffected Welshmen. This disaffection led to Glyndŵr’s raising his standard outside Ruthyn on September 16, 1400.

In January 1400, an officer serving deposed King Richard II was publicly executed in the English border town of Chester. Along with Glyndŵr, many in Wales were loyal to Richard. In addition, Wales was “strewn with the rubble of dynasties. Wales in the late 14th century was a turbulent place. The brutal savaging of Llywelyn the Last and Edward I’s stringent policies of subordinating Wales had left a discontented, cowed nation where any signs of rebellion were sure to attract attention.” (The Castles of Wales) When Glyndŵr turned against Henry IV’s “friend,” he wore his mantle as a live representatives of the old royal houses of Wales. His followers proclaimed him “Prince of Wales.”

The revolt spread from Glyndŵr’s initial attack upon Ruthyn to a national wave of unrest. Owain scored his first major victory in June 1401 at Mynydd Hyddgen on Pumlumon, but that victory was followed by Henry IV’s attack on the Strata Florida Abbey. In 1402, the English Parliament issued the Penal Laws against Wales, an act that turned many Welshmen toward rebellion.

The capture of Lord Ruthyn cost Henry IV a large ransom, but the King chose not to ransom Sir Edmund Mortimer, who was captured at the Battle of Bryn Glas. Mortimer finally negotiated an alliance with Owain and married one of Owain’s daughters.


In 1402, the French and Bretons joined the Welsh fight against England. By 1404, Owain set up court at Harlech, which was followed by the calling of his first Parliament (Cynulliad) at Machynlieth. At this gathering, Glyndŵr was crowned Prince of Wales. He quickly announced his national programme, which included the promise of a Welsh independent state and a separate Welsh church, as well as two national universities and a return to the traditional law of Hywel Dda. English influence was quickly reduced to a few isolated castles and protected manors.

Glyndŵr negotiated the "Tripartite Indenture" with Edmund Mortimer and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. The trio planned to divide England and Wales among them. Wales would extend as far east as the rivers Severn and Mersey and include what is now Cheshire, Shropshire, and Herefordshire. Mortimer would claim southern and western England and Percy the north. The French officially joined the fight as an ally of Wales in 1405. However, the French withdrew in 1406 after politics in Paris leaned toward peace.

When young Prince Henry took over the military strategy, the pendulum swung once again in England's favor. The Prince set up a series of economic blockades, which weakened the Welsh efforts. By 1407, Owain's Aberystwyth Castle surrendered while he was away fighting. Harlech Castle fell in 1409. Mortimer died in the final battle, and Owain's wife, daughters, and granddaughters were imprisoned in the Tower of London, where they met their deaths in 1415. Owain became a hunted man; however, was hardly silent - for he still led raids against the English.

In an ambush in Brecon, Owain captured Dafydd Gam ("Crooked David"), a Welsh support of King Henry. This was the last time Glyndŵr was seen alive by his enemies. What is more remarkable than the civil war the revolt inevitably became, is the passion, loyalty and vision which came to sustain it. Glyndwr's men put an end to payments to the lords and the crown; they could raise enough money to carry on from the parliaments they called, attended by delegates from all over Wales - the first and last Welsh parliaments in Welsh history. From ordinary people by the thousands came a loyalty through times often unspeakably harsh which enabled this old man to lead a divided people one-twelfth the size of the English against two kings and a dozen armies. Owain Glyndwr was one Welsh prince who was never betrayed by his own people, not even in the darkest days when many of them could have saved their skins by doing so. There is no parallel in the history of the Welsh. (The Castles of Wales) Henry IV died in 1413, and his son Henry V established a more conciliatory attitude toward Wales. Royal pardons were offered to many of the Welsh leaders.

"The draconian anti-Welsh laws stayed in place until the accession to the English throne of Henry VII, a Welshman, in 1485. Wales became subsumed into English custom law, and Glyndwr's uprising became an increasingly powerful symbol of frustrated Welsh independence. Even today, the shadowy organization that surfaced in the early 1980s to burn holiday homes of English people and English estate agents dealing in Welsh property has taken the name Meibion Glyndwr, the Sons of Glyndwr. Since 1410 most Welsh people most of the time have abandoned any idea of independence as unthinkable. But since 1410 most Welsh people, at some time or another, if only in some secret corner of the mind, have been 'out with Owain and his barefoot scrubs.' For the Welsh mind is still haunted by it's lightning-flash vision of a people that was free." (The Castles of Wales)

"Nothing certain is known of Owain after 1412. Despite enormous rewards being offered, he was never captured nor betrayed. He ignored royal pardons. Tradition has it that he died and was buried possibly in the church of Saints Mael and Sulien at Corwen close to his home, or possibly on his estate in Sycharth or on the estates of his daughters' husbands — Kentchurch in south Herefordshire or Monnington in west Herefordshire." (The Castles of Wales)

But Glyndwr was not being forgotten in the misery. In his play, Henry IV, Shakespeare portrays Owain Glyndwr as a wild, exotic, magical and spiritual man, playing up the romantic 'Celtic' traits. (BBC/Wales History)

"In his book The Mystery of Jack of Kent and the Fate of Owain Glyndŵr, Alex Gibbon argues that the folk hero Jack of Kent, also known as Siôn Cent – the family chaplain of the Scudamore family – was in fact Owain Glyndŵr himself. Gibbon points out a number of similarities between Siôn Cent and Glyndŵr (including physical appearance, age, education, character) and claims that Owain spent his last years living with Alys passing himself off as an aging Franciscan friar and family tutor. There are many folk tales of Glyndŵr donning disguises to gain advantage over opponents during the rebellion."(Wikipedia)


It was not until the late 19th century that Owain's reputation was revived. The "Young Wales" movement recreated him as the father of Welsh nationalism. The discovery of Owain's Great Seal and his letters to the French in the Bibliothèque Nationale helped revise historical images of him as a purely local leader. In the First World War, the Welsh Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, unveiled a statue to him in Cardiff City Hall and a postcard showing Owain at the Battle of Mynydd Hyddgen was sold to raise money for wounded Welsh soldiers. Folk memory in Wales had always held him in high regard and almost every parish has some landmark or story about Owain. However, there is no road sign indicating the scene of one of his greatest battles at Bryn Glas in 1415.

For additional information on Owain, see Judith Arnopp's post from November 6, 2014, on "The Men of Harlech."

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Regina Jeffers is the author of Austen-inspired novels, including Darcy’s Passions, Darcy’s Temptation, Vampire Darcy’s Desire, Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, The Phantom of Pemberley, Christmas at Pemberley, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, Honor and Hope and The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy. She also writes Regency romances: The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, A Touch of Velvet, A Touch of Cashémere, A Touch of Grace, and The First Wives’ Club. A Time Warner Star Teacher and Martha Holden Jennings Scholar, Jeffers serves as a consultant in media literacy. Currently living outside Charlotte, North Carolina, she spends her time with her writing, gardening, and her adorable grand joys.  Visit Regina's website at www.rjeffers.com for excerpts, book releases, and personal appearances. 

8 comments:

  1. It's fair to say that Shakespeare doesn't only portray Glyndwr as 'a wild, exotic, magical and spiritual man; - he also has a good deal of fun at the Welsh leader's expense:-

    'I can call spirits from the vasty deep -'
    'Why, so can I, or so can any man;/ But will they come when you do call for them?'

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    1. I have seen the lines you quote in a variety of books. I must admit when I first encountered them, I had no idea of their significance. It was several years before I learned of the legend of Glyndwr. Glad I did, though.

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  2. Fascinating life! Love the mystery of his disappearance. Great post, Regina!

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    1. Thanks, Sophia. It is good to hear from you. Happy Holidays!

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  3. My OED has never heard of "henory". What is that?

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  4. I checked the source to confirm I had not mistyped the quote, and it does say "henory." However, I found the same quote used in another source and the word was "heronry." A heronry, sometimes called a heron rookery, is a breeding ground for herons.

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  5. When I first read translations of Homers IIiad & Odyssey I had all sorts of trouble trying to get my tongue around the names, I managed in the end, but this is ridiculous, I'm not even going to try, but a fascinationg post.

    I've always been led to believe that the Welsh were the last and true surviving English people who after being defeated at Glastonbury moved north and west into Wales where it was too difficult for the invading hordes to follow, and the English settled there and learned to sing beautifully, and that the Welsh language is actually the true English language. Now Regina there's a big job for you to do, ascertain the truth of this theory for want of a better word. I have every confidence in you; good luck :)

    December 16, 2014 at 1:23 PM

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    1. Brian, you love challenge me, do you not? I am from West Virginia, and many of Welsh descent settled in WV to work in the coal mines and the timber business. Some of the pronunciations of the towns still ring of the Welsh tongue. When all the old ballads were no longer sung in England, they were still quite prominent in the hills of Appalachia.

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