Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

This volume examines the main themes in Welsh history from the coming of the Normans in the eleventh century and their impact on Welsh society and politics to the fall of the Duke of Buckingham, the last great marcher magnate, in 1521. It also looks at the part played by the leaders of the native Welsh community in the years after the conquest of 1282-3. This is one of the less familiar aspects of the medieval history of the British Isles, but one in which there has been an increasing interest in recent years

Wales lost its independence in 1282. Owain Glyn Dwr led a revolt in the early fifteenth century. Henry Tudor was of Welsh descent and landed in Milford Haven in 1485. These are the most familiar facts about the History of Medieval Wales, and today this history is often presented as nothing more than a romantic story of princes and castles. But there is a great deal more to it. Like every other nation, Wales has a history and identity of its own, and Edward I did not bring that history to an end. Unlike England it was not conquered by the Normans. In the thirteenth century the native princess of Gwynedd tried to create a single Welsh principality, and for a short time came close to success. The fourteenth century was much a period of crisis for Wales as for every other part of Europe and the effect of the Black Death lasted a long time. The fifteenth century saw the leaders of the community move on to a wider political stage.
Why did conquest come in 1282? Who was Owain Glyn Dwr and why did he rebel? Why was Henry Tudor's bid for power based in Wales and what gave him credibility there? Dr Carr considers these questions and suggests some possible answers as he examines one of the less familiar areas of British History.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
For a long time, as one leading Welsh historian has said, the study of the history of Wales was ‘marginalized … even within Wales itself’.1 In some historical quarters its practitioners were often looked on with a kind of amused tolerance and a feeling that they ought to have been able to find something more useful to do. What awareness there was of Welsh history tended to be composed of stereotypes, ranging from fiercely-moustached medieval tribal chieftains to Mam scrubbing the doorstep in Llwynypia, while her menfolk sang hymns in four-part harmony as the cage descended the shaft. Various reasons can be suggested for this; the fact that political independence came to an end in 1282–3, so that the Welsh nation was never able to develop into a state, may have conditioned the view of some commentators, while British history has, until recently, been an essentially London-based history, its chronological bench-marks being largely associated with events in the history of England. This has been particularly true of the history of inedieval Wales, often relegated to a series of footnotes.
A. D. Carr

1. Of History and Historians

Abstract
Medieval Welshmen had a very clear perception of their history. Their understanding of it stemmed from one seminal work, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, completed about 1136, which forms the basis of the Matter of Britain, one of the three great collections of stories of heroes from medieval Europe. Geoffrey set out to write the history of the Britons from the arrival of Brutus, a refugee from the fall of Troy who gave his name to Britain, to the death of the Welsh king Cadwaladr in 688; he claimed that his History was a Latin translation of a ‘very old book in the British tongue’.1 In it is recounted the legendary history of Britain and its kings, above all of Arthur, and also of the magician and prophet Merlin; indeed, Geoffrey was the conduit through which the whole Arthurian corpus found its way to Europe to become a part of the western cultural tradition. But for the Welsh Geoffrey provided an explanation of who they were and whence they had come. The story of their Trojan descent gave them a link with the world of classical antiquity, especially Rome, since Brutus was said to have been a descendant of Aeneas.
A. D. Carr

2. The Norman Challenge

Abstract
By the eleventh century there were four main kingdoms in Wales, Gwynedd in the north, Powys in the centre, Deheubarth in the south-west and Morgannwg or Glamorgan in the southeast. The first two had a history going back to the departure of the Romans, if not earlier; Morgannwg was created in the eighth century and Deheubarth in the tenth by one of the most famous Welsh kings, Hywel Dda. There had in the past been various lesser kingdoms on the periphery of the large ones but most of these were gradually absorbed by their powerful neighbours. Political boundaries were, to a large extent, dictated by physical geography; internal natural frontiers always played a significant part in the history of Wales and they are still obvious today. Internal communications have never been easy and there was no central region which could serve as a focus for unity. Loyalties were to local rulers and there was no compelling reason to look beyond the borders of the individual kingdom. Gwynedd, with its central defensive core of Snowdonia, was always potentially the most powerful element in Welsh politics but, like the other kingdoms, it was often riven by dynastic in-fighting.
A. D. Carr

3. The Age of the Princes

Abstract
By 1200 Gwynedd was finally emerging as the undisputed leader in Wales. Powys had enjoyed a period of strength in the mid-twelfth century under Madog ap Maredudd but Madog had died in 1160 and his son and designated heir Llywelyn had been killed soon afterwards. The kingdom was divided, the north going to another of Madog’s sons and the south to his nephew Owain Cyfeiliog; the division was permanent and Powys ceased to be one of the major powers in Wales. It had never been easy for it to pursue an independent policy, sandwiched as it was between Gwynedd and England, and its rulers had generally seen the English crown as a bulwark against the expansionist ambitions of Gwynedd. On the death of Owain Gwynedd in 1170 the Lord Rhys had taken his place as the dominant ruler in Wales, but the supremacy of Deheubarth was short-lived. The kingdom had not been created until the early tenth century and loyalties therefore tended to be to its component parts. Rhys seems to have striven to create a distinct Deheubarth identity, involving the encouragement of a cult of Hywel Dda as the founder of the kingdom, but it was probably only his personality that held it together.
A. D. Carr

4. Settlement and Crisis

Abstract
In the Statute of Wales, promulgated at Rhuddlan on 19 March 1284, Edward I set out his new arrangements for the government of the principality of north Wales.1 The statute created three new counties in Gwynedd west of the Conwy: Anglesey, Caernarfon and Merioneth; a fourth county, Flint, was created in the northeast, but this was not part of the principality, being a Welsh extension of the earldom of Chester. In south-west Wales the counties of Carmarthen and Cardigan had been in existence since 1241.2 In each county the crown was represented by a sheriff: At the head of the principality’s administration was a new officer, the justiciar, a combination of governor, chief judge and military commander; the justiciar of north Wales or Snowdon was based at Caernarfon and that of south Wales at Carmarthen. In each principality the chief financial officer was the chamberlain, who presided over the Exchequer. A hierarchy of courts was established; the justiciar held his sessions in each county several times a year to deal with the pleas of the crown and the county court, presided over by the sheriff, met monthly. The commote became the hundred and the existing commote court became the hundred court, meeting every three weeks.
A. D. Carr

5. Rebellion and Revenge

Abstract
On 16 September 1400, at Glyndyfrdwy in Merioneth, Owain ap Gruffydd Fychan or Owain Glyn Dŵr, lord of Glyndyfrdwy and Cynllaith Owain, was proclaimed prince of Wales and thus began a revolt which was to last for some ten years and which stands at the centre of the history of late medieval Wales. Owain himself was a descendant of the dynasty of northern Powys and was one of the surviving handful of native Welsh lords of royal descent who had retained a small portion of what was left of their patrimony. His ancestors appear from time to time in the records; they seem to have had close relations with their powerful neighbour the earl of Arundel, lord of Chirk and Oswestry and later of Bromfield and Yale, and his father had been steward of the lordship of Oswestry and keeper of the lordship of Ellesmere.1 His grandmother had been a member of a leading marcher family, the Lestranges, and his own wife was a daughter of Sir David Hanmer, an eminent lawyer and judge. He was the wealthiest member of what was left of the native Welsh aristocracy, with an annual income of about £200; in a poem in his praise Iolo Goch described his main residence at Sycharth.2
A. D. Carr

Conclusion

Abstract
In the late summer of 1064 Earl Harold Godwinson brought a gift to King Edward the Confessor; it consisted of the figurehead of the ship of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, king of Gwynedd, who had brought most of Wales under his rule, and the head of Gruffydd himself.1 This macabre offering symbolised the end of a major threat to Harold’s ambition to succeed to the English throne on the death of the childless king. Gruffydd’s alliance with Earl Aelfgar of Mercia had imperilled the precarious balance of power in England and this had necessitated his destruction. On his death Welsh politics reverted to their usual pattern; Gwynedd and Powys passed to his half-brothers Bleddyn and Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn, while Deheubarth and Morgannwg were restored to their own dynasties and this was the situation when the Normans arrived. In 1297 a London goldsmith, Master John Pater Noster, in a petition to the king, referred to himself being in his forge, looking at the head of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, still, after fifteen years, exposed on the Tower of London.2 And on 17 May 1521 Edward Stafford, duke of Buckingham, the last great marcher magnate, met his end at the hands of the headsman.
A. D. Carr
Additional information