Marks of Respect: Prince Charles, Prince William, and the last prince of Wales
16th September 1400 marks the beginning of what is now called Rhyfel Owain, the Owain Glyndŵr revolt. At a ceremony attended by family members and relatives of his wife, and by the Dean of St. Asaph he was declared the true prince of Wales by descent from the royal houses of Gwynedd and Powys, and led a marauding army against the towns of Rhuthun, Denbigh, Rhuddlan and Fflint. During the war that followed, he captured Reginald de Grey, a powerful ally of the king, burned Cardiff, captured Aberystwyth and Harlech, which became his court, and entered an alliance with the Percy family, to whose son, Henry Hotspur, he gave his daughter in marriage, which reached its climax when he sent a thousand men to fight alongside Hotspur against the king in the Battle of Shrewsbury.
His political achievements include the cynulleidfa or parliament which he held in Machynlleth and Harlech in 1305, defying the parliaments of the English king, from which Welshmen were excluded, but based on the model established by Hywel Dda, with four representatives from every commote under his sway. They reached their fulfilment in the treaty which he signed with King Charles VI of France, who sent envoys to his parliament in Machynlleth, and an army of 2,600 men. Under pressure from the French, Glyndŵr acknowledged the Avignon papacy, in return for which he demanded the recognition of St David’s as a metropolitan church, the maintenance of a Welsh-speaking clergy, and the establishment of two universities in Wales, one in the north and one in the south. It is on the grounds of these demands that the historian, J. E. Lloyd, calls Glyndŵr ‘the father of modern Welsh nationalism,’ whose demands predict the work of nation-builders in the 19th and 20th centuries, and who fought for the Welsh nation in the modern sense of the word.(1)
The laws with which the English parliament responded to the secession amounted to a race code and a collective punishment of the Welsh people. No Welshman could bear arms for fortify his home, and no Welshman could hold public office without the approval of the crown. No Welshman could sit on a jury when an Englishman was the defendant; neither could the Welsh assemble freely, even for cultural purposes, without the lord’s chief officers present. And it is noteworthy that any Englishman who married into a Welsh family became a Welshman subject to these same vindictive laws.
The secession failed when Henry Hotspur was defeated at Shrewsbury, when the young king of Scotland was captured by English forces, when a new rapprochement between England and France required the withdrawal of French support, and during the winter of 1407, one of the harshest on record. R. R. Davies’s brief history of Glyndŵr describes the loss of his strongholds in Aberystwyth and Harlech, the scattering of his supporters, the hunger and cold,(2) in terms that recall that rendition of absolute defeat in Gildas on the ruin and conquest of Britain. Nevertheless, the rebellion was not without humour. A group of Cardiff friars appealed to Glyndŵr, because even though the friary had been spared, they had placed their books and valuables in the castle for safekeeping, and the castle had been captured and ransacked by his troops. Glyndŵr replied that if they took as little care of their property as that, he had no sympathy with them. Another friar, rallying the Welsh soldiers before the battle of Usk, promised that those who fell during the day would dine in heaven that night. During the battle, he took to his heels, and when the soldiers mocked him, he excused himself from the heavenly feast, which he could not attend because he was fasting.
While his remaining supporters were pardoned by the new king, Glyndŵr went into hiding, where he remained until his death in 1417. Lands confiscated from Glyndŵr and his allies were bestowed, among others, on the Penrhyn family, whose greed and cruelty towards their slaves in the sugar plantations and their workers in the slate quarries are remembered to this day.
In September 2022, following his accession to the throne of England, Charles III, whose own investiture as Princes of Wales in 1969 caused so much offence and protest, bestowed the same title on his own son, William, despite a petition against the renewal of the title which garnered 25,000 signatures in a matter of days,(3) and without consultation with the Welsh government.(4) He also scheduled his first state visit to Wales as king on 16th September, the date of Glyndŵr’s coronation.(5) In Harlech, a celebration of Glyndŵr’s life was cancelled by Cadw,(6) the Welsh government’s agency for the preservation of historical sites. However, the annual memorial in Corwen, in Glyndŵr’s heartlands, continued in an attenuated form(7) – a reminder that much of the task of perpetuating Welsh national life is done in spite of, not because of, the state.
- Owain Glyndŵr. Cockatrice: 2020.
- Owain Glyndŵr: Prince of Wales. Trans. by Gerald Morgan. Talybont: Y Lolfa, 2009.
- ‘Petition against new Prince of Wales hits 25,000 signatures as King prepares to visit Cardiff.’ Nation Cymru, 15th September 2022. ‘End “Prince of Wales” title out of respect for Wales.’ Change.org, 8th September 2022.
- ‘First Minister not told of new Prince of Wales before King’s announcement, says there’s “no rush” to investiture.’ Nation Cymru, 12th September 2022.
- ‘King and Queen to visit Wales on Friday as part of tour of nations before Queen’s funeral.’ Nation Cymru, 10th September 2022.
- ‘“Incredibly ironic”: Cadw cancel Owain Glyndŵr Day after Queen’s death.’ Nation Cymru, 9th September 2022.
- Branwen Jones, ‘Glyndŵr Day parade cancelled following the Queen’s death but some are determined to carry on.’ Wales Online, 14th September 2022. ‘Owain Glyndŵr Day celebrations to continue despite new King’s visit.’ Nation Cymru, 16th December 2022.