Many of the legends of King Arthur have Welsh associations. The tales of the legendary king of the Britons and his defeat of the Anglo-Saxon invaders who sought to overrun Britain from the east are stepped in Welsh folklore, and doubtless draw on many pre-existing Welsh folktales.
But, centuries after Arthur was supposed to have lived and died, another Welsh leader rose in his stead, sharing his bravery in battle, his inspirational leadership and his noble purpose. As with Arthur, so with Owain ap Gruffydd.
This charismatic and legendary leader, also known as Owain Glyndwr, instigated the longest and fiercest war of independence in his bid to end the English rule in Wales. This is the story of Owain Glyndwr, the last native “Prince of Wales”.
Early Life of Owain Glyndwr
Owain Glyndwr was believed to have been born around 1354. However, his exact date of birth is not known. He was the son of Gruffydd Fychan II, hereditary prince of Powys Fadog and lord of Glyndyfrdwy. His mother was Elen ferch Tomas ap Llywelyn of Deheubarth.
He was the legal heir to two of the great princely houses of Wales, and he was brought up as a prince. After the death of his father in 1370, he continued to receive best education available to him, even studying law at the Inns of Court in London.
After he returned to Wales in around 1383, Owain Glyndwr married Margaret, the daughter of David Hanmer, an Anglo-Welsh judge. His marriage appeared to be a happy one and when he came into his maturity he inherited his lands in Glyndyfrdwy, in the Welsh Marches, and at Sycharth.
The Beginning of the Rebellion
In the late 1390s, a number of disputes and disagreements with the Parliament and the English crown took place. These clashes, generally over matters such as honors and loss of lands, sowed the seeds of rebellion.
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In September 1400, in his late 40s, Owain Glyndwr finally organized a rebellion against Henry IV, the usurping English king who had replaced Richard II, and claimed the “Prince of Wales” title. He and his small group of followers rebelled against the crown on the 16th of September 1400.
For daring to oppose the king of the hated English, Owain Glyndwr became a Welsh hero almost overnight. The Welsh students in particular saw in him the leader that they always wanted, leaving their studies in order to join him. The Welsh laborers also abandoned their equipment and became a part of the national uprising.
Moreover, hundreds of experienced Welsh soldiers as well as archers, fresh from campaigns in Scotland and France, also abandoned their English service in order to join the rebellion. With the support of the people, the influence of Owain Glyndwr spread very quickly across Wales.
The inciting incident for the revolt was a dispute with Lord Grey de Ruthin, and by the 19th of September, 1400, Grey’s castle was attacked, and the surrounding town burned down. Only the castle was left standing.
By the 24th of September, Owain Glyndwr moved towards the South and attacked Welshpool and Powys castle. The Tudor brothers, who were the cousins of Owain Glyndwr, also launched a guerrilla war at the same time against the English rule.
The strategy of launching guerrilla warfare proved to be very effective during the rebellion. After a series of initial confrontations between the followers of Owain and Henry IV in September and October, the revolt started to spread rapidly.
The English Strike Back
As a response to the events, King Henry IV, declared war against the Welsh rebel. Along with a large army, he marched towards North Wales, and finally, in early October, he arrived at Bangor on the north west coast.
In response, Owain Glyndwr launched a number of surprise guerrilla attacks on the English army, and after some time, the King was forced to return to London. Infuriated by his defeat, Henry introduced draconian legislation.
Under the new laws, the Welsh people were not to be allowed to acquire a public office position. Moreover, the legislation also imposed restrictions on the English and Welsh intermarrying. This led to the revolt spreading even faster.
In June 1401, Owain Glyndwr was successful in achieving his first major military victory at Mynydd Hyddgenon, near the highest point in the Cambrian Welsh mountains at Pumlumon. In response to this event, another army was launched by King Henry IV towards Strata Florida Abbey in the heart of Wales.
The monks present there were executed, and the Abbey was destroyed. However, owing to the guerrilla attacks and bad weather conditions, the English army was again forced to retreat, returning to Hereford in England.
In June of the next year, the forces of Owain Glyndwr met an army troop that was led by Sir Edmund Mortimer, who was the cousin of Henry IV, at Bryn Glas. Again Owain was victorious, Edmund Mortimer was captured, and his army was defeated.
A ransom was offered in order to release Edmund Mortimer. But Henry IV was faced with a dynastic wrinkle as Mortimer’s claim to the English crown was stronger than his, so he refused to pay. This backfired spectacularly as Edmund Mortimer negotiated an alliance with Owain instead, marrying his daughter Catherine.
From Victor to Vanquished
By the end of 1403, Owain Glyndwr had most of Wales under his control. He continued to strengthen his position through the establishment of a number of alliances with foreign powers. He wrote a letter to the Charles VI of France, known popularly as the “Penal” letter.
His petitions and the military success he had against the English gained him a lot of military and financial support, and in 1404, Owain Glyndwr had reached the peak of his power. A French force also joined hands with the Welsh army in order to attack Worcester, a key English city, from where he captured a number of important castles.
However, despite these victories the tide was turning, and the much larger English army was starting to regain control over Wales. The support of Owain was also fading. In 1410, Owain launched a raid on the border of Shropshire. However, here he was not so lucky: three of his main supporters were captured and later executed. Owain Glyndwr himself barely escaped.
Fleeing his final battle, Owain Glyndwr was defeated but lived on. However, his final years are unknown. He vanished in 1412 and it was said that he lived his last years at Kentchurch, Herefordshire.
He is believed to have died in 1416, but that is just one story. The tales of what he had achieved against the English oppressors refused to die and he lived on as a Welsh folk hero. People even believe that just like the Welsh King Arthur, Owain Glyndwr would return someday and claim his position as the “Prince of Wales.”
Top Image: For a brief moment, Owain Glyndwr freed Wales from English tyranny. Source: Fotokvadrat / Adobe Stock.
By Bipin Dimri
Engllishmonarchs.co.uk, 2022. Owain Glyndwr. Available at: https://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/owain_glyndwr.html
Johnson, B, 2022. Owen Glendower (Owain Glyndwr). Available at: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofWales/Owen-Glendower-Owain-Glyndwr/
Murray, A, 2022. OWAIN GLYNDŴR: THE LAST WELSH PRINCE OF WALES. Available at: https://www.history.co.uk/shows/al-murray-why-does-everyone-hate-the-english/articles/owain-glynd%25C5%25B5r-the-last-welsh-prince-of