Llewelyn Bren

Llewelyn Bren, or Llewelyn ap Gruffudd ap Rhys, was a Welsh nobleman of Senghenydd who led a revolt in Wales against King Edward II, in 1316. This was one of the last serious revolts of the Welsh against their English (Norman) rulers. His seven sons took part in the revolt too.

When Gilbert de Clare, Lord of Glamorgan, died at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, it left a power vacuum. The various people who took over treated the Welsh very badly, at a time when they were already suffering with a famine. Llewelyn appealed to the king, but the king accused him of treason, and he rose in revolt, attacking Caerphilly Castle.

Unable to capture the castle, Llewelyn and his men started a seige. They burned the town and slaughtered some of the inhabitants. As the revolt spread, Kenfig and Llantrisant castles were sacked and many other castles attacked. Towns like Cardiff were raided and buildings burned throughout Glamorgan and Gwent. The king called on Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Lord of Brecon, to put down the uprising. He gathered troops from a wide area, and the support of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and Roger Mortimer. (These three figure large in the story of Alina and the rebellion of her husband in 1320 in my book Alina: The White Lady of Oystermouth).

The forces were so overwhelming that Llewelyn surrendered to Hereford and begged that his followers not be punished, taking all the blame on himself. This earned the respect of Hereford and Mortimer, who pleaded his case with the king. Most of his followers were indeed pardoned, and Hereford and Mortimer promised to intercede with the king on his behalf.

He was sent with his family to the Tower of London, but then became a prisoner of Hugh le Despenser the Younger, the king’s favourite and rapacious land-grabber. In 1317 he had become the Lord of Glamorgan and the largest land owner in the Welsh Marches. Without consulting the king, Despenser moved Llewelyn to Cardiff Castle and had him hung, drawn and quartered without trial. He also imprisoned Llewelyn’s wife Lleucu and some of her sons in Cardiff Castle.

Despenser’s treatment of Llewelyn enraged both the Welsh and Marcher Lords, who joined together to petition the king against Despenser. When the heir to the Lordship of Gower rebelled against the king, the other Lords joined him. The rebellion which followed managed to free Llewelyn’s family and get Despenser and his father exiled, until the king was able to raise a large enough force to counter-attack and put the rebellion down.

However, when the queen and Roger Mortimer landed in 1326 with an army of mercenaries the king, unable to command the loyalty of the barons, fled to Despenser’s lands in Wales. There they were understandably unable to raise any forces and were captured. Despenser suffered the same fate he had inflicted on Llewelyn and was hung, drawn and quartered. One of the charges against him at his trial was the murder of Llewelyn Bren. Lleucu and her sons had their estates restored to them.



It has been a big job, adding endnotes to something already written, and it’s not finished yet. I have been through all my research notes and the books I bought, and even got some new ones out of the library, but I have not been able to find everything yet.

Strangely enough, it is the basic history which eludes me. Unfortunately when I began this project it was going to be a historical novel or historical fantasy novel, so I didn’t bother to note down where I found my information. Once it turned into popular history I thought a bibliography would be enough. But I have come to see that although it is not destined to be an academic work, it is still important to establish my sources.

The trouble is that I want it to be more than dry historical facts, and have managed to ferret out all sorts of interesting details to bring the story to life. But they came from many different books, and I have to retrace my steps. So many books only tell the bare bones of the story.

I also have a problem that I have written two general chapters on daily life and marriage in medieval times, and relied for a lot of it on internet research. Academics don’t approve. Sometimes I have looked at one web site and assumed it was accurate, whereas I should have cross checked the information.

The academics from the Historical Association who kindly read the draft pointed out some valid things and made some very good suggestions. I am rather pleased though that one person disagreed with one of my statements and I have managed to find the source and corroborate it!

In addition to doing the endnotes I have listened to advice and thought about the structure of the book, and as a result have moved a lot of chapters around and reworked things into a more logical order. I must remember that having decided to base the story around Alina’s life, it has to always relate to her. I have a habit of going off into an interesting bit of history that doesn’t actually have anything to do with her. For example, I did a lot of work on a chapter on the pacification of the Welsh, which I am very proud of (posted in three parts on this blog in Dec 09 and Jan 10). Unfortunately it happened before she was born.

Every time I don’t think I can do any more to the story I get some advice that lifts it to a new level, so I am certain it is worth the effort. I may never get it published, but I have certainly enjoyed it, and learned a lot.

The Pacification of the Welsh 3

To emphasise the end of Welsh independence, Edward went on a triumphal progress through Wales, from Chester to Chepstow. On the way he stayed at Oystermouth Castle (we assume that Swansea Castle was still in disrepair). In addition, he took to himself the symbols of Welsh princely power – Llewelyn’s coronet and seal, the jewel or crown of Arthur, and the most cherished relic in Wales, the piece of the True Cross known as Y Groes Naid. Edward did the same to Scotland when he removed the Stone of Scone.

Rhys ap Meredudd, in the south west, had defected to the king during the early fighting, but was unhappy with the settlement and rose in rebellion in 1287. It was put down, in part, with the help of the great siege engine owned by William de Breos mentioned in chapter 2. It was used to capture Dryslwyn and was then instrumental in winning the siege of [Newcastle] Emlyn without any loss of life. The whole bill for the engine, the men to maintain and man it, and the siege works, came to over £18. In addition to the siege engine, William had seven mounted knights and sixty three foot soldiers in his personal following and raised an additional twenty one horse, twenty one crossbowmen and four hundred foot. In total, an army of over 25,000 men was mobilised to crush this rebellion.

The last great Welsh rebellion, in 1294, was more serious because it was more widespread. In addition to the oppression and exploitation by Edward’s officials in administering Wales, the whole country was called to provide men and funds for Edward to fight in Gascony for his land there. Those Welsh leaders who did raise bands of knights and foot soldiers gave them arms which they then used against the English, and many of the lords were already away preparing to sail for France.

Once again Edward was forced to march armies into Wales, and by March 1295 the Welsh resistance was exhausted. Edward’s castles had proved their worth, and sucked up the Welsh assaults and drained their strength. Ifor Rowlands in the book ‘Edward I and Wales’ summed it up well: “Three campaigns within twenty years had deprived the Welsh of their natural leaders, drained them of resources and destroyed their capacity for resistance. An economically under-resourced, militarily backward and politically divided people – ever a volatile element within the Plantagenet dominions – had been ground to submission by an infinitely more powerful neighbour.”

To cap it all, Edward’s son (also called Edward), born in Caernarfon in 1284, was invested as Prince of Wales in 1301.

The Pacification of the Welsh 2

In 1277 Llewelyn was forced to come to terms in the treaty of Aberconwy and pay homage after Edward I defeated him, but the peace did not last long. Dafydd had been settled on territory in North Wales, and made peace with Llewelyn, and became just as unhappy with the officials of the king. In March 1282 he attacked Hawarden castle and captured its English commander. This provoked other rebellions along the border of Gwynedd, and Llewelyn was forced to mobilise or lose his authority. This time when Edward assembled his armies he was determined not merely to bring Llewelyn to heel, but to completely disinherit him. What began as a ‘just war’ against a people unfaithful to the king, became a war of conquest.

Once again Edward mobilised three armies, but on a much larger scale than in the previous war, and men from Gower served again in the south. Possibly while they were away, Rhys ap Maredudd launched a surprise attack on Gower, burned and sacked Swansea, and laid siege to Oystermouth Castle. When the castle fell, it and village were also burned and the church looted. Ships from Swansea were also used to bring supplies to the north. As Edward’s armies closed in on Snowdonia, Llewelyn broke out southwards towards Builth in an attempt to rally support from the south. It was a tragic move, as he met a small band of soldiers outside Builth and was killed on 11th December 1282.

The war continued for several months, until Llewelyn’s brother Dafydd was betrayed by his own people and handed over to the English, who executed him in 1283. Edward linked the advance of his armies with castle building to secure the territory he captured and provide for containment of the Welsh once peace was restored. Some castles had been built or remodelled in 1277, but many more were built from 1283. The cost was enormous – £90,000, and the total cost of the two wars and the castles was almost £175,000, a sum equivalent to over one billion pounds today. New boroughs were laid out around each castle, and the best land given to faithful Englishmen. The creation of these castles totally changed the balance of power and allowed Edward to control north Wales in particular.

Llewelyn had no heir and his daughter was sent by Edward to a nunnery. Without leadership, the internal rivalries of the Welsh lords rose to the surface, and they were easily conquered individually. The Statute of Rhuddlan was issued by Edward on 19th March 1284, to lay out the governance of Wales. Welsh territories were converted to English shires, the main ones being Flint, Anglesey, Caernarfonshire, Merionethshire, Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire. Several new Marcher lordships were also created, such as Chirk, Denbigh and Ruthun. The process of introducing the English justice system was begun by appointing a justiciar for Wales, Robert de Tibotot.

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.