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Battlefields of Wales

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 15:20 UK time, Monday, 26 April 2010

Over the years Wales has been a real "melting pot" of warfare and strife, so much so that when the English kings tried to conquer the land, they could only achieve it by building gigantic stone castles. Indeed, it has been said that, in Wales, there are more castles per square mile than in any other country in the world.

For the historian, and for the casual history lover, Wales has a huge array of battle sites, many of them dating back hundreds of years. The location of the battles fought by the invading Roman legions are not easy to identify but the shores of the Menai Straits, on the Anglesey side, to the west of Bangor, were the site of the final destruction of the Druids by Suetonius Paulinus in AD 49.


According to the writer Tacitus, the waters of the Menai Straits ran red with blood on the day of the battle as the Romans massacred every man, woman and child they could find.

Historical locations like Caerwent and Caerleon also undoubtedly saw many battles and skirmishes before the Romans finally abandoned Britain in the fifth century.

Almost any of Wales' castles - apart from Manorbier in Pembrokeshire, which seems to have been by-passed by history - saw violent military action. But it is in the wars between Edward I and Llywelyn, the Last Prince of Wales, that we find some of the most interesting and atmospheric battlefields.

In December 1282, Llywelyn left his traditional homelands in Gwynedd and went south to Builth Wells to recruit more soldiers for his desperate defence of Wales.

On December 11 1282, shortly after crossing the River Irfon outside the town, he and a small band of followers were surprised by a party of mounted English knights. Stephen de Francton plunged his lance into the body of an un-armoured Welsh soldier - only later did he realise that he had killed the last Prince of Wales.

During the English Civil War many battles fought on Welsh soil, none bloodier than the Battle of St Fagans which took place on May 8 1648 - the site of the battle can be seen when visiting the National Museum of Wales, St Fagans.

The siege of Pembroke Castle, following on the heels of the St Fagans battle, lasted for eight weeks, part of the siege being conducted by none other than Oliver Cromwell himself.

The Napoleonic Wars saw something of a "non-battle" when the French Legion Noire landed at Fishguard in February 1797. For three days they rolled in a drunken melee around north Pembrokeshire, out of control and with no idea of what they were supposed to do, before finally surrendering to Lord Cawdor.

There was no battle but several skirmishes took place and visitors can still visit the site of the French encampment and the farmhouse where the French leader, General Tate, had his headquarters.

The Royal Oak, the public house where the surrender was signed, lies in the middle of the town.

There is hardly a place in Wales that does not have some connection with the country's violent past. And whether it be a major battle or an event like the Rebecca Riots of the 1840s when workhouses and turnpikes across Wales were burned by men dressed in women's clothes, it remains a fascinating part of Welsh history.


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