Welsh and English rule

Last updated: 26 August 2008

While the marcher lords were consolidating their hold over much of the southern lowlands and the borders, the Welsh rulers sought to strengthen their power.

Madog ap Maredudd (died 1160) was master of Powys; Owain ap Gruffudd (died 1170) ruled Gwynedd; and Rhys ap Gruffudd (the Lord Rhys, died 1197) of Deheubarth. Rhys also exercised protection over the smaller Welsh dynasties of northern Glamorgan and the uplands between the Wye and Severn valleys.

The rulers sought to learn from the methods of the Normans. They began to build castles and have mounted knights. In particular, they saw virtue in the new monastic orders.

By 1200 all the major Welsh rulers had a monastery of the order of Cîteaux. Cistercian abbeys like Strata Florida and Vale Crucis provided meeting places and burial grounds for the rulers and it is their stone buildings which have preserved most of what has survived of the literature of medieval Wales.

All the Welsh rulers were obliged to recognise the overlordship of the King of England. This allowed energetic sovereigns like Henry I and Henry II to interfere extensively in the politics of Wales. Thus, side by side with the growing confidence of the Welsh rulers, was the growing power of the English king.

These two aspects were explored by Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), himself of both Norman and Welsh descent. In his Description Of Wales (1193), he devoted a chapter to the ways in which the English king may achieve the total conquest of Wales. In another, he tells the Welsh how they should set about resisting such a conquest.

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