Princes & Bishops

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St David's Cathedral

The Church became a pawn in the struggle between the native Princes and the Marcher lords. Edward I ended Welsh independence in 1282, although the Glyndwr uprising threatened Canterbury's supremacy.

Following the death of Henry I in 1135 England entered a period of disorder. This provided an opportunity for the native Welsh princes such as Rhys ap Gruffudd of Deheubarth to regain lost ground. Later known as The Lord Rhys, military success and political ability saw Rhys acknowledged as the pre-eminent native ruler of the twelfth century. His support of the Cistercians was an important development in the secular and religious life of medieval Wales.

The Cistercians came alongside other monastic orders to Wales as part of the development of Norman rule. As well as providing spiritual backup for Norman authority, they were also a means of developing the economy in Wales - indeed, they are credited with pioneering the Welsh woollen industry.

However, following the patronage of The Lord Rhys they were soon taken up by other Welsh rulers. By the end of the twelfth century they had gone 'native' and were very supportive of the aims of the Welsh rulers and Welsh culture.

The leading Welsh cleric of the age was Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis), who shared descent with The Lord Rhys from the ancient kings of Deheubarth. Gerald more closely identified with Norman rule, although he was sympathetic to some aspects of Welsh independence, particularly in church matters. In the late 12th century his campaign to elevate St David's to an archbishopric was frustrated by Canterbury, yet he remains an important figure thanks to his writings about religion and politics in Wales and Ireland.

By the 13th century only the rulers of Gwynedd were called Princes. Under the leadership of Llywelyn I and his grandson Llywelyn II, the campaign to establish an independent Welsh principality was dealt a fatal blow by the death of Llywelyn II at Cilmeri in mid Wales in December 1282. His headless body was buried by Cistercian monks at Abbey Cwm-hir in mid Wales.

The end of political independence brought the church in Wales firmly under the rule of Canterbury. During the 14th century Welsh clerics were to complain bitterly that the best jobs in the Welsh church were given to English clerics, and that much of its revenue went east of Offa's Dyke.

This clerical frustration fed into the Glyndwruprising of 1400 to 1410. Amongst Glyndwr's supporters were prominent churchmen like John Trefor, bishop of St Asaph. Dynastic disputes over the English crown and a schism in the Papacy were the background to the war.

The campaign was to acquire an international dimension thanks to the efforts of such supporters, yet, despite heroic efforts, hopes for Welsh independence were to be dashed and Canterbury's dominance reasserted.

Within a hundred years the Tudor dynasty would possess the English throne. Boasting Welsh ancestry (and a Glyndwr connection), their reign saw the end of the Roman Catholic Church in Wales as well as fundamental changes in the way the country was governed.


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