The Last Prince of Wales: How this Major Revolt Freed Wales from English Rule for 12 Years

The Last Prince of Wales: How this Major Revolt Freed Wales from English Rule for 12 Years

Natasha sheldon - July 24, 2018

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.

The Last Prince of Wales: How this Major Revolt Freed Wales from English Rule for 12 Years
William Blake’s “visionary Head” of Owain Glyndwr. C 1819. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

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 Last Prince of Wales: How this Major Revolt Freed Wales from English Rule for 12 Years
The remains of the motte and bailey castle at Sycharth. Picture credit: Tyssil. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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.

The Last Prince of Wales: How this Major Revolt Freed Wales from English Rule for 12 Years
Monmouth ceramic table commemorating Glyndwr. Picture Credit: Jambamkin. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

An Independent Wales

Glyndwr and his forces began by attacking the towns of the Welsh Marches. Ruthin, Denbigh, Rhuddlan, Flint, Hawarden, Oswestry, and Welshpool all fell to his troops. As news of his victories spread, more and more of the Welsh flocked to his cause. Welsh scholars in Oxford abandoned their books and Welsh laborers laid down their tools. Crucially, Welsh soldiers and archers who had until recently been fighting for the English joined the rebellion. The English reacted furiously. Parliament passed retaliatory legislation, and Henry IV himself led a vast army into Wales that left a trail of destruction.

Faced with this vast army and blocked from the rebels, many of the Welsh sued for peace. Starved of recruits, it looked like Glyndwr’s rebellion was over before it began. Then in Spring of 1401, the Welsh cause made a comeback. Glyndwr’s cousins, the Tudors launched a guerrilla attack on the English. They took Conway castle- and so allowed Glyndwr’s army access to the center and south of Wales. This event swelled the rebel’s ranks with the general populace and Welsh nobles alike. All were inflamed with a desire for freedom- and inspired by Glyndwr.

As the army swelled, so too did its victories. At the Battle of Brynglas near the village of Pilleth, Glyndwr’s forces defeated the English and captured Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of the March. However, Mortimer was also the great-nephew of Richard II and had been his uncle’s heir before Bolingbroke took the throne. Amazingly, Glyndwr managed to win Mortimer over to his cause and married him to his daughter, Catrin. Glyndwr now had the potential heir to the English throne in his camp. Spurred on by success, Glyndwr began to reach out to the French and to the Scots to secure alliances against their shared enemy.

The Last Prince of Wales: How this Major Revolt Freed Wales from English Rule for 12 Years
Glyndwr’s Parliament House at Machynlleth. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

In 1404, with the English firmly on the run, Glyndwr called a parliament at Machynlleth in Powys. Glyndwr used a document from the time of Hywel Dda, a tenth-century king of Wales as the basis for its organization. Four men from every division of land in Wales were summoned to attend. The parliament was the first time the Welsh had had any say over their government since 1282. The parliament began by ratifying treaties of recognition with France and Scotland. Then it declared Glyndwr the de facto King of Wales when it recognized him as Prince of Wales.

A second parliament was convened at Harlech the following year was even more dramatic. For it was here that Owain signed the Tripartite Indenture, with his son-in-law Mortimer and Thomas Percy, the Earl of Northumberland. The Indenture was an agreement to divide England and Wales into three parts. Mortimer was to take the south and west of England, Percy, the Midlands and the north while Glyndwr would control Wales and the Marches. At the same time, Glyndwr began to plan for an Independent Welsh church and two new universities- one in South Wales and one in the north.

Sadly, however, none of these grand plans were to reach fruition.

The Last Prince of Wales: How this Major Revolt Freed Wales from English Rule for 12 Years
Statue of Owain Glyndwr in Cardiff’s City Hall. Picture Credit Seth Whales. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

What Happened to Owain Glyndwr?

Initially, Glyndwr’s forces continued to repulse English attempts to infiltrate Wales. However, slowly the years of war began to take their toll on the Principality. The people were tired and commerce broke. The Welsh simply lost the will and resources to keep up the seemingly relentless fight. Finally, in 1408, the English made a breakthrough. They retook Aberystwyth and Harlech castles, capturing Glyndwr’s family into the bargain. While his wife and children languished in the Tower of London, Owain Glyndwr once again took to the Welsh hills, this time with his son Meredudd, his remaining leaders and his Scottish and French allies.

For the next four years, the fight continued, finally deteriorating into a form of guerrilla warfare on the part of the Welsh rather than organized military fights. Then in 1412 came Glyndwr’s last battle. The Welsh forces were defeated, and Glyndwr completely disappeared. No bribery or threats could induce anyone to give him up even though his rebellion had failed and “brought all things to waste.” It took Wales and the Welsh a generation to recover from the devastation of over a decade of constant war. Despite the destruction and the English reprisals, the name of Glyndwr continued to command loyalty and respect.

In 1413, Henry IV died, with the last vestiges of resistance in Wales still not entirely stamped out. His successor, his son, Henry of Monmouth took a more conciliatory approach to the Welsh problem. He began to offer the rebels pardons. Glyndwr was included. However, not even the prospect of a peaceful old age could draw Owain out. His son, Meredudd also refused the Pardon- until suddenly in 1421, he relented and accepted. Some historians believe this sudden change of heart to be a sign that Owain was finally dead and the rebellion with him. Others, however, think the Last Prince of Wales had died in 1415.

The Last Prince of Wales: How this Major Revolt Freed Wales from English Rule for 12 Years
Celebrations for Owain Glyndwr in Wales, 2013. Picture Credit: Llewellyn2000. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

So where did Owain Glyndwr go? After all, by this time he was an elderly man and the hills of Wales would have offered him little comfort. Some historians believe his daughter Alys and her husband Sir Henry Scudmore, the Sheriff of Herefordshire, sheltered him. However, wherever he was, Glyndwr’s complete disappearance only added to his mystique.

Glyndwr became “that great magician, damned Glendower” of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. In the nineteenth century, when his statesmanship was rediscovered, he became a symbol of burgeoning Welsh national pride- and a focus for resurging nationalism. Today, Glyndwr is a cultural hero, commemorated in monuments and street names across Wales. His rebellion may have failed. But the Welsh still hold Owain Glyndwr as dear today as they did the day he was declared the last Prince of Wales by their ancestors.


Where Do We get this Stuff? Here are our sources:

Owain Glyndwr, BBC: Wale’s History

When Was Wales, Gwyn A. Williams, Penguin Books, London, 1985.

Wales – The Rough Guide, Mike Parker and Paul Whitfield, Rough Guides Ltd, London, 1997.

Glyndwr History, Owain Glyn Dŵr Society

Owen Glendower (Owain Glyndwr), Ben Johnson, Historic UK