Welsh, The Eight Wonder|
Survival of the Welsh Language: Part III
In the year 1300, the situation seemed permanently established, when "King Edward of England made Lord Edward his son [born at Caernarfon Castle], Prince of Wales and Count of Chester," and ever since that date these titles have been automatically conferred upon the first-born son of the English monarch. The Welsh people were not consulted in the matter, although an obviously biased entry in Historia Anglicana for the year 1300 reads:
In this year King Edward of England made
Lord Edward, his son and heir, Prince of
Wales and Count of Chester. When the
Welsh heard this, they were overjoyed,
thinking him their lawful master, for he
was born in their lands.
Following his successes in Wales, signified by the Statute of Rhuddlan, sometimes referred to as The Statute of Wales, Edward embarked on yet another massive castle-building program, creating such world-heritage sites of today as Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech, and Beaumaris in addition to the earlier not so-well known (or well-visited) structures at Flint and Rhuddlan. Below their huge, forbidding castle walls, additional English boroughs were created, and English traders were invited to settle, often to the exclusion of the native Welsh, who must have looked on in awe and despair from their lonely hills at the site of so much building activity. Their ancestors must have felt the same sense of dismay as they watched the Roman invaders build their heavily defended forts in strategic points on their lands.
The Welsh were forbidden to inhabit such "boroughs" or to carry arms within their boundaries (even today, there are laws remaining on the statute books of Chester, a border town, that proscribe the activities of the Welsh within the city walls). With the help of the architect Master James of St. George, and with what must have seemed like limitless resources in manpower and materials, Edward showed his determination to place a stranglehold on the Welsh. Occasional rebellions were easily crushed; it was not until the death of Edward III and the arrival of Owain Glyndwr (Shakespeare's Owen Glendower), that the people of Wales felt confident enough to challenge their English overlords. One scribe expressed the situation this way:
The Welsh habit of revolt against the
English is a long-standing madness . . .
and this is the reason. The Welsh,
formerly called the Britons, were once
noble, crowned with the whole realm of
England; but they were expelled by the
Saxons and lost both name and a kingdom
. . . But from the sayings of the prophet
Merlin they still hope to recover England.
Hence it is they frequently rebel.
(Vita Edward Secundi I c. 1330)
Owain Glyndwr was Lord of Glyndyfrdwy (the Valley of the Dee). He seized his opportunity in 1400 after being crowned Prince of Wales by a small group of supporters and defying Henry IV's many attempts to dislodge him. The ancient words of Geraldus Cambrensis could have served to inspire his followers:
The English fight for power; the Welsh for
liberty; the one to procure gain, the other
to avoid loss. The English hirelings for
money; the Welsh patriots for their country
The comet that appeared in 1402 was seen by the Welsh as a sign of their forthcoming deliverance from bondage as well as one that proclaimed the appearance of Owain. His magnetic personality electrified and galvanized the people of Wales, strengthening their armies and inspiring their confidence. Even the weather was favorable. An entry in Annales Henrici Quarti of 1402 reads as follows:
[Glyndwr] almost destroyed the King and
his armies, by magic as it was thought,
for from the time they entered Wales to
the time they left, never did a gentle air
breathe on them, but throughout whole
days and nights, rain mixed with snow
and hail afflicted them with cold beyond
The Welsh leader's early successes released the long-suppressed feelings of thousands of Welshmen who eagerly flocked to his support from all parts of England and the Continent. Before long, it seemed as if the long-awaited dream of independence was fast becoming a reality: three royal expeditions against Glyndwr failed: he held Harlech and Aberystwyth, had extended his influence as far as Glamorgan and Gwent, was receiving support from Ireland and Scotland; and had formed an alliance with France. Following his recognition by the leading Welsh bishops, he summoned a parliament at Machynlleth, in mid-Wales, where he was crowned as Prince of Wales.
It didn't seem too ambitious for Owain to believe that with suitable allies, he could help bring about the dethronement of the English king; thus he entered into a tripartite alliance with the Earl of Northumberland and Henry Mortimer (who married Owain's daughter Caitrin) to divide up England and Wales between them. After all, Henry IV's crown was seen by many Englishmen as having been falsely obtained, and they welcomed armed rebellion against their ruler. Hoping that The Welsh Church be made completely independent from Canterbury, and that appointments to benefices in Wales be given only to those who could speak Welsh, Glyndwr was ready to implement his wish to set up two universities in Wales to train native civil servants and clergymen.
Then the dream died.
Owain's parliament was the very last to meet on Welsh soil; the last occasion that the Welsh people had the power of acting independently of English rule. From such a promising beginning to a national revolt came a disappointing conclusion, even more upsetting because of the speed at which Welsh hopes crumbled with the failure of the Tripartite Indenture. Henry Percy (Hotspur) was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury, and the increasing boldness and military skills of Henry's son, the English prince of Wales and later Henry V, began to turn the tide against Glyndwr. Like so many of his predecessors, Glyndwr was betrayed at home. It is not too comforting for Welsh people of today to read that one of the staunchest allies of the English king and enemy of Glyndwr was a man of Brecon, Dafydd Gam (later killed at Agincourt, fighting for the English).
A sixth expedition into Wales undertaken by Prince Henry retook much of the land captured by Owain, including many strategic castles. The boroughs with their large populations of "settlers," had remained thoroughly English in any case, and by the end of 1409, the Welsh rebellion had dwindled down to a series of guerilla raids led by the mysterious figure of Owain, whose wife and two daughters had been captured at Harlech and taken to London as prisoners. Owain himself went into the mountains, becoming an outlaw. He may have suffered an early death. for nothing is known of him either by the Welsh or the English. He simply vanished from sight. According to an anonymous writer in 1415," Very many say that he [Owain Glyndwr] died; the seers say that he did not" (Annals of Owain Glyndwr). There has been much speculation as to his fate and much guessing as to where he ended his final days and was laid to rest.
There is an expression coined in the nineteenth century that describes a Welshman who pretends to have forgotten his Welsh or who affects the loss of his national identity in order to succeed in English society or who wishes to be thought well of among his friends. Such a man is known as Dic Sion Dafydd, (a term used in a satirical 19th century poem). The term was unknown In fifteenth century Wales, but, owing to the harsh penal legislation imposed upon them, following the abortive rebellion, it became necessary for many Welshmmen to petition Parliament to be "made English" so that they could enjoy privileges restricted to Englishmen. These included the right to buy and hold land according to English law.
Such petitions may have been distasteful to the patriotic Welsh, but for the ambitious and socially mobile gentry rapidly emerging in Wales and on the Marches, they were a necessary step for any chance of advancement.In the military. At the same time, Welsh mercenaries, no longer fighting under Glyndwr for an independent Wales, were highly sought after by the new king Henry V for his campaigns in France. The skills of the Welsh archers in such battles as Crecy and Agincourt is legendary.
Such examples of allegiance to their commander, the English sovereign, went a long way in dispelling any latent thoughts of independence and helped paved the way for the overwhelming Welsh allegiance to the Tudors (themselves of Welsh descent) and to general acquiescence to the Acts of Union. The year 1536 produced no great trauma for the Welsh; all the ingredients for its acceptance had been put in place long before.