This Month in Celtic History
by Stephen Paul DeVillo

September 2000

Owain Glyn Dwr Sextenary 1400-2000

16 September 1400: Owain Glyn Dwr raises standard of revolt against England, declaring Welsh independence.

September 2000 marks the 600th anniversary of the greatest armed uprising against English rule in Wales, one that would last for over fifteen years and which for a few brief shining moments would produce a united independent Wales ruled by its own prince and parliament. Though eventually suppressed by the English, the reverberations of this revolt are still heard in Wales today.

The causes of the revolt were varied. For one thing many Welsh refused to accept the English conquest of 1282 as final, and the songs and recitations of their native Celtic bards kept alive the memory of better times. The English had made efforts to colonize Wales with their own people, but even after a hundred years the English colonists remained largely aloof from the native Welsh, securing themselves inside walled towns and subjecting the natives to a variety of petty insults and legal disabilities.

There was still a body of native Welsh magnates and landowners, known by the Welsh term “uchelwyr.” For the most part they lived in reduced circumstances in the interior parts of the country, but there were enough of them to provide military expertise and a native leadership cadre to the Welsh in an age when social rank and family descent meant a lot.

One of these uchelwyr was a man by the name of Owain, who owned two modest estates at Sycharth and Glyndyfrdwy in North Wales, the last of which gave him the name of Glyn Dwr, or as the English (and Shakespeare) would have it, Glendower. Like other noblemen of his time Glyn Dwr was a military man, a loyal knight of King Richard II, and served with distinction in Richard’s campaign against the Scots. Under Richard’s reign many Welsh had found favor at the English royal court, but when Richard was overthrown by Henry Bolingbroke the Welsh suddenly found themselves out of favor and frozen out of opportunities for preferment.(/p>

In such a chilly atmosphere many Welsh landowners found themselves at the mercy of the legal manipulations and land-grabs of their English neighbors. A dispute with his neighbor Lord Grey led Glyn Dwr to go to the London Parliament in search of relief, only to have his suit abruptly dismissed with the sneer, “whate care wee for barefoote Welsh dogges?” Grey won that round, but then he sought to further improve his position against Owain when King Henry started to gather an army for a renewed war on the Scots. Grey saw to it that the royal summons for Owain to join the King was delayed long enough to make it look like Owain was ignoring the King’s command.

It only belittles the revolt that followed to view it as the result of one man’s aristocratic fit of pique. Discontent was widespread in Wales that summer, and with the governmental instability brought on by the usurpation of the throne by Henry IV, there were many who calculated that a reversal of the English conquest was doable. By September enough such men had gathered around Glyn Dwr to encourage him, on 16 September, to formally raise the standard of revolt against the English and to proclaim himself the Prince of an independent Wales. Owain had good grounds for making such a claim, as he was descended from the Welsh royal families of Gwynedd and Powys, and he would incorporate the heraldry of both territories into the symbols of his reign.

For starters, though, there was the personal score Owain had to settle with Lord Grey. On 18 September the Welsh rebels descended on the nearby town of Ruthin, part of Grey’s estates. The Welsh took great satisfaction from sacking the place, as it was one of the colonial gated communities from which native Welsh were barred, and into which they could not enter, except during daylight to transact business on English terms.

But one miscalculation nearly doomed the revolt at the outset. The King’s campaign against the Scots, the source of Glyn Dwr’s problem, had gone on, and by late summer Henry was wrapping things up and bringing his army home before autumn set in and the time limits on feudal service obligations ran out. He was thus coming down through northern England when the news of Glyn Dwr’s revolt reached him, and he was able to swing his forces west into North Wales. This sudden invasion was no doubt a much quicker show of force than the Welsh rebels had counted upon.

But with September nearly over, Henry had to work fast and get out of the mountains. A short brutal campaign ensued, and before the month was out Henry had succeeded in scattering the Welsh rebels, killing many and forcing submission from the rest. He hadn’t succeeded in capturing Glyn Dwr, but with the Welsh chief now a fugitive among the peaks of Snowdonia Henry left him to the mercies of the oncoming winter and retired to England satisfied that he had slapped down the disaffected “Welsh dogge.”

But Glyn Dwr, and the embers of his revolt, would survive the coming winter, and would burst forth in a renewed blaze in the spring.

Subsequent events of the revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr will be covered in future installments of This Month in Celtic History.

For more stories of Owain Glyn Dwr, click the links below:

Conway Castle taken
Owain’s Victory at Bryn Glas
The Battle of Shrewsbury
Owain Glyn Dwr Sexcentenary 1404-2004

For more information on Wales, see the Wales Nation Page.

The dates cited in This Month In Celtic History feature the events and people of the six Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of Mann drawn from the Celtic League American Branch’s annual Celtic Calendar, now available.

For more stories, click the links below:

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