Assess the significance of Owain Glyndwr’s revolt

On Thursday 16 September 1400, Owain Glyndwr was proclaimed Prince of Wales by a small group of followers including his brother in law and son in a small village in the valley of the river Dee, North Wales. The following rebellion was a bloody affair but marked, arguably the most successful and the last major armed Welsh uprising against English rule. To fully assess the implications of the revolt I will divide the issue into three areas, looking at the impact on Welsh culture, politics and military.

The cultural significance of the revolt is the most discernable today and it is certain that the Glyndwr revolt sparked a renewed sense of nationalism in Wales both short and long-term. The usurpation of Richard II by King Henry IV did not sit well with the Welsh people and Glyndwr in particular, as he was a believer in the divine right of Kings, and much sympathy lay with Richard. A number of other incidents also added to Owain’s own dissatisfaction with England such as a land dispute with Lord Reginald Grey of Ruthin or the delayed summons by Grey for Glyndwr to accompany the King on an expedition to Scotland.

Glyndwr’s failure to send men was tantamount to treason and although the original decision concerning the land dispute under Richard II ruled in favour of Owain, Lord Grey used his close relationship with the usurper Henry IV to have it overturned at a later date. It can be argued that the short-term significance of these events is great as they stirred Owain into action and R. R Davies assumed them to be “the immediate trigger” for the following welsh “act of defiance”.

The long term causes for the rebellion however, appear to be of much greater significance to the feeling of nationalism that is still present in modern-day Wales. The one hundred years of English rule since the Edwardian conquest precipitated the overlooking of Welsh traditional rights and values which naturally spawned mounting bitterness towards England and the English overlords that ruled them.

Further sources of acrimony amongst the nation was the extensive programme of castle building undertaken by Edward I, Wales today has the most castles per square mile than any other area in Europe and although the country at this point was still a principality, continued life under English jurisdiction generated rising unity in the Welsh people. In addition to this, there was socio-economic discontent -which it could be argued is less significant than nationalist sentiments – due to the fact that foreign landlords demanded high revenues despite the fact the population had been devastated by the Black Death.

Nonetheless, it’s a factor that contributed to the resentment directed at the English. The nation’s mood was geared towards rebellion, all they needed was a leader, and this came in the form of Owain Glyndwr who acted as a mouthpiece for their restlessness. It seems that the long-term causes were the crucial factors in the revolt, a thought echoed by Davies who stated that the uprising was a “premeditated act based on festering grievances and an attachment to the ideology of independent Wales”. The effects of this are still visible today with many holding Glyndwr as an Arthurian figure.

Examples of this include Chris Barbers assertion that his “grave is in the heart of every true Cymro”, many in Wales consider Owain to be the father of welsh nationalism as said by the Cymru Fydd (young Welsh) movement. In 2000, celebrations were held all over Wales to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Glyndwr rising. Owain has since been voted in at 23rd in a poll of 100 Greatest Britons in 2002. Owain’s impact on welsh society is apparent in other areas such as his plans noted in a letter to the French King Charles VI in 1406.

In it he declared an aspiration to set up two Welsh universities. Although this wasn’t achieved until 1872, it still gives us evidence of Glyndwr’s forward thinking and yearning to bring Wales up to speed with the rest of Europe (he felt Wales were disadvantaged by not having universities like many of the leading powers at the time). In the same letter we see Owain’s want for an independent Welsh church and intention to change the country’s ecclesiastical allegiance from the Roman Pope to the Avignon Pope which was supported by the French.

It’s argued that an independent Welsh church was never achieved as the ‘Church of Wales’ was merely used to denote the Church of England within Welsh borders and the Presbyterian Church of Wales was a branch of the Church of England that separated from it during the Welsh Methodist revival in 1811. However, it was formally declared an independent church in 1823 so while some may argue that it holds little long-term cultural significance, Glyndwr set the wheels in motion for this action and therefore must hold a certain degree of importance. One thing that can’t be denied is the short-term magnitude of the transferral of papal allegiance.

It allowed Owain to cement the 1405 Franco-Welsh alliance which was the “lifeline to his future” as Davies puts it. Alliances were also the mainstay of Glyndwr’s attempts to gain independence for Wales. He formed coalitions with both Henry IV’s internal and external enemies which hold huge short-term worth in the context of his revolt. The first agreement he made was with Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March. It can be said that hold’s the most amount of significance in relation the revolt due both his superior claim to the throne and links to the Percy family.

After Mortimer was captured at the battle of Bryn Glas, Henry IV refused to pay the ransom demanded for his release. This was due to the fact that he had a greater claim to the throne than Henry and therefore, feeling resentful at this and the fact his nephew was also being held captive by Henry officially defected to the side of Glyndwr and married his daughter, Catherine. The real implications of this come in the form of family connections and partly military support. The few troops remaining after the battle of Bryn Glas stayed on the side of Mortimer and more importantly, he gained Owain the support of his brother in law, Harry Hotspur.

Hotspur’s Father (Earl of Northumberland) and Uncle (Earl of Worcester) also joined Glyndwr, all three of them partly due to dissatisfaction with Henry IV. Hotspur and the Percy’s wanted negotiated Peace in Wales and formed a brief truce so Owain could meet with Henry, however this was met with the King’s disapproval as he believed the rebellion should be crushed with force. The King established a new integrated command in Wales on the 1st April 1403, completely undermining the Percy’s who were originally charged with suppressing the rebellion.

It can be strongly argued that this is hugely important concerning the significance of the revolt as the family had pre-established power bases both in England and Wales and could offer thousands of troops to aid Owain. In addition to this, Henry actually considered the Percy’s a greater threat than the Welsh. While it cannot be denied that the alliance with Hotspur was a major development in the short-term, there is also substantial evidence to suggest that, on the whole, his involvement was nowhere near as significant as it should have been.

Hotspur had the reputation of being hot-headed and rash (hence the nickname) and angry with the King after his proposal of negotiated peace being rebuffed, he Marched on Shrewsbury with 15,000 men less than two weeks after. The Percy’s held power bases in both nations and were a formidable military force but the extremely short preparation time for the battle of Shrewsbury provides strong evidence that their involvement was not as significant as it could have been.

With a well co-ordinated attack, the Welsh may well have gained independence but Hotspur was killed by an arrow to the face and his uncle captured and publically executed two days after the battle. So despite the great potential, the involvement of Henry’s internal enemies is restricted to fleeting significance rather than any meaningful contribution. The same fate befalls the Involvement of Henry’s external enemies too it seems. Evidence suggests that the Scottish only formed an alliance out of self-preservation after the battle of Homildon hill where 80 leading Earls and Noblemen were killed.

The alliance was formed in September 1402 but the facts indicate that no real significance to the rebellion came about as a result of it, especially as when King Richard III of Scotland died 1406, his heir was captured by the English on his way to France. The 1404 Franco-Welsh alliance however holds much more sway as during their involvement they were able to provide substantial support for the Welsh against their common enemy. The importance of their participation is unquestionably high in the context of Anglo-French conflict as it allowed tensions caused by Scottish controlled, French boats attacking England to be resolved.

However there are two main arguments that question the significance of France’s contribution, the alliance against Henry IV was not strongly supported by King Charles VI and was actually pushed through by the Duke of Orleans, so it could be argued that French involvement was unwilling. As well as this, although in 1405, 3,000 troops and 140 ships were sent by the French to England, when they reached Worcester the only result was a stand-off so the military support has to be concluded as inconsequential.

A pattern emerges when looking at Owain’s allies; they all acted for their own interests and not for the good of the actual Welsh rebellion and Davies notes that “Wales were used as junior expendable partners by their allies”. An example of this acting for self gain is the plan drawn up in 1405 known as the Tripartite Indenture. It was signed in Bangor North Wales and the agreement was between Owain Glyndwr, the Earl of Northumberland and Edmund Mortimer. They undertook to divide Britain into three parts.

Glyndwr would take Wales and the West of England as far as the rivers Severn and Mersey including most of Cheshire, Herefordshire, and Shropshire, the Mortimer’s would take all of Southern and eastern England and the Earl of Northumberland, would take the North of England and as far South as Leicester, Northampton, Warwick and Norfolk. This plan fell apart when Percy was killed and although it gives us an insight into Owain’s plans for England and Wales, it can be argued that it holds no real significance as it was never achieved.

Owain held his first Parliament in 1404 which holds particular importance as it suggests that he really had united Wales under one leader and he was in fact crowned Prince of Wales there. At this same parliament he signed recognition treaties with the French and Scottish so this certainly suggests that Owain did become the single ruler of Wales, no matter for how short a period. On the other hand, although he was recognised by foreign nations, he was never officially recognised by Henry IV so it’s argued that these recognition treaties are worthless without the acknowledgement of the English King.

One thing that is clear from studying the events of Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion is that it paved the way for Lancastrian dominance. As his alliance with France broke down in 1407 due to domestic political issues, he was lacking in support in all areas seeing as Hotspur and Thomas Percy had also both been killed. Various setbacks meant that the rebellion started to lose steam after 1405, therefore after Anglesey was taken, Mortimer and Henry Percy killed and the loss of Harlech castle in 1409, the rebellion had all but failed.

Lancastrian rule survived and lasted until 1471. Owain Glyndwr’s revolt also held particular military significance. Early attacks on English castles and strongholds resulted in the capture of Newport and Cardiff castles and almost the taking of Caernarfon castle which held huge short-term significance. Early impetus in the uprising gave the Welsh a belief that an “independent Wales” was achievable. The battle of Bryn Glas holds huge short and long-term significance as it was the first pitched battle that the Welsh had won against the English.

Before this they had been using guerrilla tactics but after Mortimer’s archers mutinied on him, they were able to win the battle which gave them great confidence for the rest of the rebellion. This battle showed a progression from the early defeat by Henry Burnell at Monmouth and the ambushes at Hyddgen and Ruthin. It also resulted in the capture of Edmund Mortimer whose own significance was stated earlier. Although the battle of Bryn Glas holds its own significance, it cannot be denied that the most important battle was that of Shrewsbury, the largest of the revolt.

The battle provided the future King Henry V (the then Prince ‘Hal’) with a training ground which would prepare him for future foreign campaigns such as the 1415 siege on Harfleur and battles at Agincourt. He fought at the battle alongside his father where Hotspur was killed and his uncle captured. This battle was in many ways a lost opportunity for Glyndwr, with a little more planning and deliberation over how to implement the Percy’s military force, Henry could have been toppled but the significance however lies in the fact that it was a waste of a great chance and resulted in the loss of two powerful allies.

The Glyndwr rebellion had several areas of long and short-term significance as well as many aims and endeavours that had mixed success. Things such as a re-enforced sense of nationalism survive today as well as the resulting Lancastrian dominance and the evolution of military tactics being other important areas of Long-term significance.

The revolt arguably achieved the recognition of one single ruler of Wales and the capture of Key castles such as Cardiff and Newport, however after weighing up the significance of the rebellion, the many objectives that were not achieved such as the Tripartite Indenture, ultimate military victory over England, meaningful support from external allies and Owain’s overall plans for Wales means that Glyndwr’s revolt is confined to being of purely short-term significance. The only meaningful significance he holds in Wales today is the “father of nationalism” and an icon rather than the man who brought independence to Wales as he would have hoped.

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