The Pacification of the Welsh 1

Many Welsh people are not aware of their own history, and how Wales became part of England. There are several books about the pacification of the Welsh, which I have condensed into a chapter in my book. So for those who don’t know, here is the first part:

As early as 1267 an attempt was made to reconcile England and Wales. Llewelyn ap Gruffudd was lord of Gwynedd (north Wales), but had the allegiance of the barons of Powys (mid Wales) and Dehaubarth (south west Wales), so he was the key figure in the negotiations. Eastern and southern Wales were already under the English rule of the Marcher lordships.

Llewelyn had originally inherited Gwynedd jointly with his brother Owain, but defeated him and kept him permanently imprisoned. By 1258 he declared himself ‘Prince of Wales’ and ruled from his stronghold in Snowdonia. His other two brothers were no threat. The youngest brother Rhodri seemed to present no challenge, and Dafydd accepted a lesser role.

As part of the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267 he agreed to pay homage to the king of England (Henry III)in return for virtual autonomy in Wales. His self-proclaimed title of ‘Prince of Wales’ was also formally recognised. The historian David Walker says in his book ‘Medieval Wales’ that the Treaty offered the most favourable terms ever extracted from the English crown. Llewelyn used the following decade to consolidate the great Welsh dynasties into a united country. Poets addressed him as ‘the true king of Wales’ (gwir frenin Cymru). He captured parts of the March at various times, particularly in mid Wales, and there were frequent skirmishes with Marcher lords defending or attempting to recover their lands.

By the end of 1276 the new king, Edward I, called a full council which agreed to call out the feudal host against Llewelyn. Edward was also encouraged by dissent in Wales. Following a failed conspiracy to assassinate Llewelyn, the two main conspirators, Llewelyn’s brother Dafydd and the lord of Powys, Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, had fled to England. Edward was unable to march directly on Snowdon, but had to fight battles all along the edge of the Marches for several months.

Three armies moved in from Chester, Montgomery and Carmarthen. Alina’s grandfather served with the Carmarthen army, and William served as squire to Reginald de Grey, lord of Ruthin. By April 1277 the Carmarthen army had subdued south Wales and much of Ceredigion. There were similar victories in the middle and north march. The northern army countered Llewelyn’s guerrilla tactics by using large numbers of men to cut wide paths through the forests to enable the army to move in force. They never came to battle, because when a separate force was sent to Anglesey, threatening Llewelyn’s summer crops, he came to terms, and the king withdrew.

The Treaty of Montgomery had restricted Llewelyn to Snowdonia and Anglesey, but although his political power was diminished, he became the focus for all the frustrations and aspirations of the Welsh. These were aggravated ten years later by the behaviour of the officials set in place by Edward over the newly-conquered territories and the resentment of the other Welsh lords at their heavy-handed treatment by the crown. Llewelyn also repeatedly failed to pay homage to the king. Despite granting him autonomy, the king was adamant that royal overlordship be recognised, just as Llewelyn was determined not to do so.

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