Monday, 14 December 2015

The Conquering of the Welsh (Welsh History)

In 1277 Llewelyn ap Gruffudd (the last Prince of Wales) was defeated by Edward I. He was forced to pay homage and come to terms in the Treaty of Aberconwy; but the peace did not last long. His brother Dafydd had made peace with Llewelyn and been settled on territory in North Wales. They both became unhappy with the officials of the king, who overreached their authority and caused much hardship.

Llywelyn the Last at Cardiff City Hall

In March 1282 Dafydd attacked Hawarden castle and captured its English commander. This provoked other rebellions along the border of Gwynedd, and Llewelyn was forced to mobilise or lose his authority. This time when Edward assembled his armies he was determined not merely to bring Llewelyn to heel, but to completely disinherit him. What began as a 'just war' against a people unfaithful to the king, became a war of conquest.

Once again Edward mobilised three armies, but on a much larger scale than in the previous war. Ships from Swansea were used to bring supplies to the north. As Edward's armies closed in on Snowdonia, Llewelyn broke out southwards towards Builth in an attempt to rally support from the south. It was a tragic move, as he met a small band of soldiers outside Builth and was killed on 11th December 1282.

Edward I (Wikimedia)
The war continued for several months, until Llewelyn's brother Dafydd was betrayed by his own people and handed over to the English, who executed him in 1283. Edward linked the advance of his armies with castle building to secure the territory he captured and provide for containment of the Welsh once peace was restored. Some castles had been built or remodelled after the first conquest in 1277, but many more were built from 1283.

The cost was enormous - £90,000, and the total cost of the two wars and the castles was almost £175,000, a sum equivalent to over one billion pounds today. New boroughs were laid out around each castle, and the best land given to faithful Englishmen. The creation of these castles totally changed the balance of power and allowed Edward to control north Wales in particular.
Llewelyn had no heir and his daughter was sent by Edward to a nunnery. Without leadership, the internal rivalries of the Welsh lords rose to the surface, and they were easily conquered individually. The Statute of Rhuddlan [pronounced Rhithlan]was issued by Edward on 19th March 1284, to lay out the governance of Wales. Welsh territories were converted to English shires, the main ones being Flint, Anglesey, Caernarfonshire, Merionethshire, Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire. Several new Marcher lordships were also created, such as Chirk, Denbigh and Ruthun [pronounced Rithin]. The process of introducing the English justice system was begun by appointing a justiciar for Wales, Robert de Tibotot.

To emphasise the end of Welsh independence, Edward went on a triumphal progress through Wales, from Chester to Chepstow. In addition, he took to himself the symbols of Welsh princely power - Llewelyn's coronet and seal, the jewel or crown of Arthur, and the most cherished relic in Wales, the piece of the True Cross known as Y Groes Naid. Edward did the same to Scotland when he removed the Stone of Scone.

Newcastle Emlyn Castle (

Rhys ap Meredudd, in the south west, had defected to the king during the early fighting, but was unhappy with the settlement and rose in rebellion in 1287. It was put down, in part, with the help of a great siege engine owned by William de Braose, Lord of Gower. It was used to capture Dryslwyn and was then instrumental in winning the siege of [Newcastle] Emlyn without any loss of life. The whole bill for the engine, the men to maintain and man it, and the siege works, came to over £18 (£10,000 today). In addition to the siege engine, William had seven mounted knights and sixty three foot soldiers in his personal following and raised an additional twenty one horse, twenty one crossbowmen and four hundred foot. In total, an army of over 25,000 men was mobilised to crush this rebellion.

The last great Welsh rebellion, in 1294, was more serious because it was more widespread. In addition to the oppression and exploitation by Edward's officials in administering Wales, the whole country was called to provide men and funds for Edward to fight in Gascony for his land there. Those Welsh leaders who did raise bands of knights and foot soldiers gave them arms which they then used against the English, while many of the lords were already away preparing to sail for France.

Once again Edward was forced to march armies into Wales, and by March 1295 the Welsh resistance was exhausted. Edward's castles had proved their worth, and sucked up the Welsh assaults and drained their strength. Ifor Rowlands in the book Edward I and Wales summed it up well:

"Three campaigns within twenty years had deprived the Welsh of their natural leaders, drained them of resources and destroyed their capacity for resistance. An economically under-resourced, militarily backward and politically divided people - ever a volatile element within the Plantagenet dominions - had been ground to submission by an infinitely more powerful neighbour."

Caernarfon Castle

To cap it all, Edward's son (also called Edward), born in Caernarfon in 1284, was invested as Prince of Wales in 1301.

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