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1284-1409 AD

The Statute of Rhuddlan (The Statute of Wales), confirmed Edward's ruthless plans for the subjugation of Wales "once and for all." New counties were created, and English law was firmly set in place. In 1300, Edward made his son Lord Edward "Prince of Wales and Count of Chester," at Caernarfon Castle, one of his magnificent strongholds built around the perimeter of Wales, and ever since that time these titles have been automatically conferred upon the first-born son of the English monarch. The Welsh people had no say in the matter.

The Preamble to the infamous statute shows fully its intent to bring Wales to order. It reads:

Edward, by the grace of God, king of England, lord of Ireland and duke of Aquitaine, to all his subjects of his land of Snowdon, greeting in the Lord. The Divine Providence, which is unerring in its own government, among the gifts of its dispensation, wherewith it hath vouchsafed to distinguish us and our realm of England, hath now of its favour, wholly and entirely transferred under our proper dominion, the land of Wales, with its inhabitants, heretofore subject unto us, in feudal right, all obstacles whatsoever ceasing; and hath annexed and united the same unto the crown of the aforesaid realm, as a member of the same body. We therefore . . . being desirous that our aforesaid land of Snowdon and our other lands in those parts . . . should be governed with due order . . . and that the people or inhabitants of those lands who have submitted themselves absolutely unto our will . . . have cause to be rehearsed before us and the nobles or our realm, the law and customs of those parts hitherto in use; which being diligently heard and fully understood, we have . . . abolished certain of them, some thereof we have allowed, and some we have corrected; and we have likewise commanded certain others to be ordained and added thereto . . ."
Thus it was that many of the ancient Welsh laws, codified by Hywel Dda were now superseded by English ones. Welsh law had equally divided property among male children, the system of "gavel-kind." The English law honored "primogeniture" by which property went to the first-born male. The Statute of 1284 allowed the Welsh system to continue (perhaps an English measure to prevent the building up of large Welsh-owned landed estates?). Changes from Welsh law included the rule that bastard sons were not to share in the inheritance, and that the inheritance was to pass to females upon failure of male heirs. Females could also have the right to a dowry in Wales for the first time.

Mid-14th Century: LITERARY REVIVAL

1. "The Mabinogion"
In "The White Book of Rhydderch" and "The Red Book of Hergest," composed sometime in mid-14th century, are preserved the anonymous texts we now call "The Mabinogion", Wales's greatest contribution to European literature. Though not translated into English until mid-19th century by Lady Charlotte Guest, these masterpieces of dialogue and emotional story telling may date back to the 11th century, using material from a much earlier period involving figures from Celtic mythology.

2. The Poets of the Gentry
The decline of the Welsh aristocracy and the growth of the native Welsh gentry brought about a new class of mid-14th century poets. A new form of poetry developed, the Cywydd, a much more flexible form than the awdl. To this was added the ornamentation known as cynghanedd (harmony) that still plays a major part in the production of Welsh poetry.

3. Dafydd ap Gwilym
At the time of Chaucer in England, and just following that of Dante in Italy, Wales produced its own world-class master of the art of poetry, Dafydd ap Gwilym. Utilizing his knowledge of many Anglo-Norman themes and literary practices, and much influenced by the poems of Ovid (which had just been made available in Britain), Dafydd entertained his wealthy patrons with stories of love, beautiful if unattainable women and the wonders of nature. It is a task well worth while to master the Welsh language if only to grasp the beauty and delicacy of Dafydd's language and his imaginative use of metaphor. Dafydd's contemporaries were Llywelyn Goch, whose "Death of Lleucu Llwyd" is one of the finest of all Welsh love poems; and Iolo Goch, whose finest work is perhaps "Y Llafurwr" (The Labourer).

It wasn't long after the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd that other Welsh leaders raised the flag of rebellion. Prominent among these were Madog ap Llywelyn (who called himself Prince of Wales); Llywelyn Bren, Lord of Senghenydd; and Owain Lawgoch (Owen of the Red Hand). Before the latter was betrayed and killed, he had raised the hopes of the Welsh people of fulfilling the old prophesies of restoring his people's rule over Britain, a tradition that was also seen as part of the destiny of the greatest of all the Welsh rebel leaders, Owain Glyndwr.

Glyndwr's rebellion began in 1400 and for the first four years everything seemed to be going his way. Even the comet of 1402 was seen as a herald of Welsh successes against the English, whose armies Owain "almost destroyed by magic."


Due to the astonishing success of Glyndwr's rebellion, and the frustration of the English authorities in their failures to apprehend the Welsh leader, Parliament passed the infamous Penal Laws. These laws prohibited the Welsh from gathering together, gaining access to office, carrying arms and living in the fortified towns (Englishmen who had the temerity to marry Welsh women were also denied the same privileges).

At Machynlleth, where he had summoned a Parliament, Owain had himself declared "Prince of Wales." Tradition has it that he was crowned by his followers in a ceremony attended by envoys from France, Scotland and Castile, all of which promised to help the Welsh independence movement.

The tide of victory turned against the Welsh armies when young Prince Henry (later Henry V) retook most of the lands captured by Glyndwr. King Henry IV enacted "the usual" punitive measures against the Welsh, who were forced to pay large subsidies, were prohibited from acquiring land east of Offas's Dyke or even within "English" boroughs in Wales. The harsh conditions are exemplified in the Charter of Brecon, which stated "The liberties of Brecon shall be restricted to those whom we deem to be Englishmen and to such of their heirs as are English on both their mother's and their father's side."


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