The End of Welsh Independence


In the five years after the treaty of Aberconwy, Llywelyn sought to consolidate his diminished principality. Fully aware by then of the power of the English crown, he made his homage and paid his tribute.

Image: Conwy Suspension Bridge and Conwy Castle, 1974 (BBC)

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King Edward I deigned to be conciliatory and was present in Worcester Cathedral in 1278 when Llywelyn married Eleanor de Montfort, niece of a king of France, a king of England and a Holy Roman Emperor.

But beneath the surface civilities there was much tension. In the parts of Gwynedd seized by the king, royal officials proved oppressive. The Welsh lords of Deheubarth found themselves enmeshed by the royal administration at Carmarthen and Cardigan.

Welsh opinion was flouted when major issues in Wales were decided by English rather than Welsh law. Even the king's ally, Dafydd, in his stronghold at Denbigh, became disillusioned. Indeed, it was Dafydd - 'the chiefest firebrand in this fatal combustion' as John Speed put it - who set in motion the events which led to the virtual extinction of his dynasty.

On Palm Sunday in 1282 Dafydd attacked Hawarden Castle, an act which sparked off revolt in much of Wales. Llywelyn hesitated. Several months went by before he joined the revolt. He did so, perhaps significantly, shortly after Eleanor died giving birth to Gwenllian, their only child.

The last war of independence

In 1282 King Edward I was determined to achieve total victory, although the cost in time, effort and money undoubtedly caused him dismay. Edward attacked Llywelyn from the south, from the east and from the sea.

The king's supporters had some successes. They impeded Edward's advance across the north east; in the Tywi Valley, Llywelyn's southern allies proved effective; his opponents' attempt to cross the Menai Strait on a bridge of boats proved disastrous.

Late in 1282, Llywelyn decided to rouse the men of the middle March, a region always central to his strategy. It was there, at Cilmeri near Builth, that he was killed on 11 December 1282.

Yet the struggle continued. Dafydd assumed the title of Prince of Wales. He was captured at the foot of Cadair Idris on 25 April 1283 and was executed at Shrewsbury.

King Edward's settlement of Wales

By 1283, the Wales that had been under native rule was totally subject to the English king's authority. This was not true of the March. Its lords had been the king's closest allies in the war and therefore could not easily be deprived of their power. Indeed, Edward was obliged to reward his leading supporters by granting them new marcher lordships at Denbigh, Ruthin, Chirk and Yale.

Most of the conquered territory was divided into six counties: Flint, Anglesey, Caernarfon, Meirionnydd, Cardigan and Carmarthen. In 1301, these counties were granted to the king's heir, Edward, born at Caernarfon in 1283. He was made Prince of Wales; thus Llywelyn's dream of a Welsh principality survived as an adjunct of the crown of England.