For many people, Wales is the UK’s forgotten kingdom. Lying to the west of England, with its coast facing the Irish Sea, some foreigners even take it for a Western English county. It’s an easy mistake to make. Unlike Scotland, Wales is unrepresented on the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom. This absence is apparently because, by the time of Wales’ conquest by England in 1282, the country was not technically a Kingdom at all. Instead, it was a series of principalities, each with their own ruler, but dominated by the Princes of Gwynedd who took the title “Prince of Wales.”
After Wales’ conquest, the English split those Principalities between Edward and his Lords. As for the title, Prince of Wales, with the death of the last Welsh leader Llewellyn ap Gruffydd, the title was usurped by the eldest son of the English King. Until 1404, that is. For then, the Welsh reclaimed the title from the English and bestowed it for one last time on a Welsh prince. That prince was Owain Glyndwr, a Welsh Marcher lord, a descendant of Welsh royalty and a rebel against England. Glyndwr managed to free Wales from English rule for 12 years. While a liberated Wales did not last, Glyndwr’s memory remains as the stuff of history, myth, and hope for the Welsh.
A Lord of the Marches Turns Rebel.
Owain Glyndwr could trace his descent from two of the four great royal lines of Wales. Owain’s father, Gruffydd Fychan II was the hereditary Prince of Powys Fadog, a small subsection of the Principality of Powys that lay along the North Eastern Welsh border with England. Gruffydd was also Lord of Glyndyfrdwy. His family could trace their line back beyond the Norman conquest to the seventh-century King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd. Owain’s mother, Elen Ferch Tomas ap Llewellyn was equally royal. This made Owain, who was born in 1359 a hereditary Welsh Prince himself. But for most of his early life, he lived as a Marcher lord.
Owain’s ancestors had fought against the English on the side of Llewellyn ap Gruffydd. However, after the Welsh defeat, they managed to regain their lands in North East Wales by allying themselves with the English Lords of Chirk, Bromfield, and Yale. Thus, the former Princes established themselves amongst the Welsh official class of the Marchlands- the lands marking the border between England and Wales. Owain received the education of a young English noble. After his father died when he was 11, Sir David Hanmer, an Anglo-Welsh judge, fostered him. Owain then left the Marches to study law in the Inns of Court in London.
He did not remain in London for long. Instead, he returned to Wales as Lord of Glyn Dyfrdwy and Cynllaith Owain along the Marchland’s River Dee. Now, Owain ab Gruffydd became Owain Glyndwr- Owain of the Glen of Dee Water. He had a beautiful house at Sycharth and an income of 1200 a year. He married his guardian’s daughter, Margaret and raised a family of six children. Glyndwr was proudly Welsh. However, he kept faith with the English throne. He guarded the borderlands and even fought on the side of Richard II in the Scottish campaign of 1385.
The crown suddenly destroyed that faith. In 1399, Richard II was de-throned by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke was crowned Henry IV in Richard’s stead, and Owain’s cordial relationship with the English abruptly ceased. Owain found himself in dispute with his neighbor, Reginald de Grey, Lord of Ruthin in Denbighshire. Grey laid claim to some of Owain’s land- and Henry IV who was a friend of the English Lord refused to rule against him.
Insulted by this lack of regard for his service and the loss of his land- Owain began to have a change of heart about his position with England. After all, it was now clear that an English king would always side with an English Lord. So Owain began to seek out other disaffected Welshmen. Finally, on September 16, 1400, aged over forty, Owain Glyndwr took up arms against the English. He and his army of several hundred chose to make their stand on the lands of Lord Ruthin. The Marchland he had for so long policed for the English now became his battleground against them.