Chapter 5


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Edwardian Conquest

After Llywelyn's death, the struggle continued fitfully under his brother Dafydd, now calling himself Prince of Wales. Despite their being united by multiple grievances, however, lack of the needed resources to conduct a long campaign brought the stubborn resistance of the Welsh to an inevitable end. Edward, euphoric at the death of Llywelyn, was determined to "check the impetuous rashness of the Welsh, to punish their presumption and to wage war against them to their extermination." Unable to command more than a remnant of those who had flocked to the banner of his elder brother, Dafydd was quickly captured, executed as a traitor in London, and the King of England was now free to do with Wales as he wished.

In 1294, the Statute of Rhuddlan confirmed Edward's plans regarding the governing of Wales (apart from the Marches, left more or less as quasi-independent earldoms as rewards for their help in disposing of the Welsh problem). The statute created the counties of Anglesey, Caernarfon and Merioneth, to be governed by the Justice of North Wales; Flint, to be placed under the Justice of Chester and the counties of Carmarthen and Cardigan to be left under the Justice of South Wales.

In the new counties the English pattern of courts was firmly set in place though some Welsh Law was retained in a few civil actions, mainly concerning minor land disputes. The Welsh counties did not elect representatives to Parliament; they remained outside the jurisdiction of the central courts of Westminster. Edward was more than jubilant; for all practical purposes, his troubles with the Welsh were at an end.

From that time forward, Wales was to live under an alien political system, playing a subordinate role as an integral part of the kingdom of England. It was as if a nation or a people never existed. The situation was summed up in 1284 by an anonymous scribe:
The Divine Providence...has now...wholly and entirely transferred the land of Wales with its inhabitants...and has annexed and united the same into the Crown... as a member of the said body.
The status of the conquered nation seemed permanently confirmed when, in 1301, King Edward of England made Lord Edward his son (who had been born at Caernarfon Castle), Prince of Wales and Count of Chester. 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, though an 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.
Suffice it to say, the above was written by an English scribe, most probably in the service of the King.

Following his successes in Wales, signified by the Statute of Rhuddlan, sometimes referred to as The Statute of Wales, Edward embarked on his second massive castle-building program. He created such world-heritage sites as Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech, and Beaumaris (below) in addition to the not so-well known (or visited) earlier structures at Flint and Rhuddlan. No expense was spared to construct these enormous fortresses.

Below the huge, forbidding castle walls, new 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 first, they watched the Roman invaders build their heavily defended forts in strategic points on their lands and next, they saw the huge, forbidding Norman castles built to straddle important river crossings.

By rule of their new invaders, the Welsh were forbidden to inhabit such "boroughs" or to carry arms within their walls (some English border cities such as Chester and Hereford still have laws on the books proscribing the activities of the Welsh). 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 people of Wales, who were hemmed on all sides: the struggle seemed lost forever.

The struggle did not die out completely, but 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 any Welsh leader felt confident enough to challenge their English overlords. In the meantime, conditions settled down somewhat under the status quo, and a whole new era of Welsh literature was to develop and flourish.

Chapter 6: The Flowering of Literature
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