Welsh March

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd - The road to War

Diplomatic relations with the English monarchs began to break down and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was pushed into all-out war with Edward I.

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.

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

On Palm Sunday in 1282 Dafydd attacked Hawarden Castle, an act which sparked off revolt in much of Wales

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 they were enmeshed by the royal administration at Carmarthen and Cardigan.

Welsh opinion was flouted when major issues in Wales are 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 Elinor died giving birth to Gwenllian, their only child.

In 1282 Edward, King of England 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' attempts to cross the Menai Strait on a bridge of boats were 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.

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

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.

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

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 is 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.

The Normans


The Norman Invasion

How the invasion changed the course of Welsh history.

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