When the long-awaited revolt finally materialized, Owain Glyndwr was ready to lead it. His banner was the Red Dragon, the old symbol of victory of Briton over the Saxon. His revolt was not unforeseen; the way had been prepared not only by the men of literature, but also by earlier uprisings begun by Madog ap Llywelyn and by Owain Lawgoch.
Madog ap Llywelyn, calling himself Prince of Wales, had actually begun the revolt against English rule in 1294, only a dozen years after the death of Llywelyn Gruffudd. Though his efforts did not gain enough support to succeed, they brought a harsh response from King Edward in the form of humiliating and punitive ordinances further restricting the civil rights and economic and social opportunities of the Welsh.
It wasn't long before Llywelyn Bren, Lord of Senghenydd, led a second rebellion, aided by some of the more prominent Marcher Lords in 1316. Prior to the arrival of Glyndwr, it was Owain Lawgoch (Owain ap Thomas: Owain Red Hand ) who had the greatest and most lasting influence upon Welsh aspirations for independence from England.
Hailed as a brave and skillful soldier, Owain Lawgoch fought for the King of France against the English. He was hailed by Welsh poets as a deliverer, but he never arrived with his promised army to reclaim his native country despite his having taken the Isle of Guernsey on his way from Harfleur in France. He was betrayed and killed in 1378, but his legend lived on in the hearts of the Welsh whose prophetic poetry even compared his life to that of the legendary Arthur.
It was this popular prophetic tradition, uniting with the social unrest and racial tension that opened the door for Owain Glyndwr, Lord of Glyndyfrdwy (the Valley of the Dee). He seized his opportunity in 1400 after being crowned Prince of Wales by a small group of supporters and who subsequently felt confident enough to defy Henry IV's many attempts to dislodge him.
At first, it seemed that Owain was attempting more than he could handle; his raids upon the English boroughs were easily repulsed and his supporters scattered. Repressive measures undertaken by the new King Henry, however, and the penal legislation of 1401 that further restricted Welsh civil rights at the expense of English settlers gave Owain the support he had previously lacked. The ancient words of Geraldus Cambrensis could have served to inspire his followers:
The English fight for power; the Welsh for
liberty; the one to procure gain, the other
to avoid loss. The English hirelings for
money; the Welsh patriots for their country.
In addition, Owain, a direct descendant of the Princes of Powys, was linked by the Welsh bards to the old prophesies, including Iolo Goch. though he had praised the civility an order found at Owain's court at Sycharth. Iolo also expressed his patron's deep resentment at his disinheritance.
As a wealthy landowner at Sycharth, in the Valley of the Dee, overlooking the Cheshire Plain, Owain was well educated, well travelled, and greatly experienced in civil and military matters. His wife Margaret was the daughter of a Chief Justice of the King's Bench. Yet he was willing to leave the security and prosperity he enjoyed at Sycharth to risk everything in his desire to create a self-governing Welsh state.
One reason came from the usurpation of Richard II and the accession of Henry Bolingbroke as Henry IV in 1399, which had created feelings of great uncertainty among the Welsh concerning their future. Discontentment had fostered, but the revolt began with a dispute over land between Owain as Lord of Glyndyfrdwy, and Reginald de Grey, Lord of Ruthin, but a few miles distant. The English Parliament treated Owain's attempt at redress with contempt, referring to the Welsh as nothing less than "bare-footed rascals."
This was indeed an insult that called for action: Owain and his small band of warriors struck back, attacking some of the newly created English boroughs in Wales. They captured Lord Grey, seized Conwy, threatened Harlech and Caernarfon and managed to take a great deal of North Wales under their control. Their early successes released the long-suppressed feelings of thousands of Welshmen who eagerly flocked to his support from all parts of England and the Continent. At long last, they had a chance to fight back and a leader under whom they could fight.
By 1404, all had gone well with the Welsh rebellion. The English Parliament condemned the rebellion as a mere peasant's revolt, yet also stressed the importance of the prophetic element -- that part of "Glendower" characterized by Shakespeare as being influenced by divinations and magic. It was true that Owain received a great deal of his support from the peasantry, and the comet that appeared in 1402 was seen by the Welsh as a sign of their forthcoming deliverance from bondage as well as one that proclaimed the appearance of Owain.
Glyndwr must have possessed a magnetic personality, for he rallied the long-suffering people of Wales, strengthening their armies and inspired their confidence. In June, 1402, Henry IV's invading army was totally destroyed at Pilleth. Even the weather was favorable to the Welsh. An entry in "Annales Henrici Quarti" of 1402 reads as follows:
[Glyndwr] almost destroyed the King and
his armies, by magic as it was thought,
for from the time they entered Wales to
the time they left, never did a gentle air
breathe on them, but throughout whole
days and nights, rain mixed with snow
and hail afflicted them with cold beyond
It soon seemed as if the long-awaited dream of independence was fast becoming a reality. Three royal expeditions against Glyndwr had completely failed. He held Harlech and Aberystwyth in the West, had extended his influence as far as Glamorgan and Gwent in the South and East, and was receiving support from Ireland and Scotland. He had also formed an alliance with France, been recognized by the leading Welsh bishops, and had summoned parliaments at various towns in Wales including Machynlleth where he was crowned as Prince of Wales.
It didn't seem too ambitious for Owain to believe that with suitable allies, he could even help bring about the dethronement of the English king; thus he entered into a tripartite alliance with Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland and Edmund Mortimer to divide up England and Wales among them. Edmund had married Owain's daughter Caitrin after he had been captured at Pilleth and gone over to the Welsh side.
Chapter 7 Continued
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