Wales under the rule of Edward I


Although ruled by the king of England, Wales did not become part of the kingdom of England, nor were its Welsh inhabitants considered to be on the same footing as its English inhabitants with regard to law, taxation and land tenure.

Image: Aberystwyth Castle (BBC)

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The Story of Wales
The Story of Wales

More information about: Wales under the rule of Edward I

The existence of the principality and the March perpetuated Wales's geographical division, and the king's legal settlement the Statute of Rhuddlan ensured that the country also continued to be divided on ethnic grounds.

The fate of the Welsh royal families

Llywelyn's daughter Gwenllian was sent to a nunnery, as was Dafydd's daughter Gwladus. Dafydd's sons spent the rest of their life in prison. Of Llywelyn's brothers, only Rhodri survived, and he opted for a quiet life in Surrey.

Remnants of the House of Deheubarth clung on as minor landowners. The same was true of a few of the branches of the ancient ruling families of Glamorgan and Powys Fadog. The most fortunate of the old dynasties was that of Powys Wenwynwyn which became indistinguishable from a family of marcher lords.

Consolidating the conquest

Following the war of 1277, Edward commissioned the building of four major castles in Wales. By 1283, however, his castle building ambitions were far greater. Caernarfon, Conway, Harlech and Beaumaris were the most elaborate strongholds to be built anywhere in 13th-century Europe. They are a tribute to Edward's administrative skills and to the genius of his advisor, James of St George.

They are also symbolic of the enormous effort which was necessary in order to uproot from Wales the rule of the Welsh. Associated with each castle was a borough - some, as at Conway and Caernarfon, magnificently walled. The trade of the surrounding countryside was controlled by town dwellers recruited from outside Wales, a situation fraught with tension.

Making the best of it

Resentment was apparent in Wales in the century after 1282. It is manifest in the literature of the period, particularly in the prophetic poetry (y canu brud) which speaks of the deliverer who is to come. It finds expression in the revolt of Rhys ap Maredudd in 1287, of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294 and of Llywelyn Bren in 1316.

Unrest was widespread in the 1340s and again in the 1370s, when Owain Lawgoch, the grandson of Llywelyn's brother, Rhodri, sought to obtain French assistance in asserting his ancestral rights in Wales. Yet the Welsh were aware they needed to make the best of the situation as it was.

With their long experience of war, they found lucrative opportunities by serving in the forces of the English king - or, as in the case of Owain Lawgoch and others, in the forces of the French king. Although the major officials of Wales were generally drawn from the ranks of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy, their deputies were frequently members of the Welsh gentry class who grasped every opportunity to increase their power and property.

Acceptance of things as they were, sometimes compliant, sometimes sullen, was perhaps the chief characteristic of the Welsh of the 14th century. Yet, at the beginning of the following century, Wales was engulfed by the revolt of Owain Glyndwr.

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