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Conquest and Aftermath


In 1277 Edward I imposed the humiliating Treaty of Aberconwy on Llywelyn. He lost most of his lands, while his turncoat brother, Dafydd, gained. Llywelyn also had to pay a £50,000 fine for his rebellious behaviour. On an income of some £650 a year, this was an eternal debt sentence. Llywelyn tried to keep to the new rules and bide his time till, perhaps, Edward would be distracted. Instead in 1282, his brother Dafydd, harassed by royal officials and rival Marcher lords, attacked Hawarden castle and started a Wales wide revolt.

Death in battle of Llywelyn
"Sachez, sire, ke vos bones gens se combatirent av Leweln le finz Griffin en le paes de Buelt le vendredy pchain après le feste eint Nhoilas, issi ke Leweln est mrot et tote la flour de se gent morz."
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Illustration from mediaeval manuscript Cotton Nero II, f.182.
© British Library

The result was inevitable. With more soldiers and resources to call upon, a dominant Edward I crushed all opposition. Llywelyn himself was killed in a minor skirmish near Builth in December 1282. Within a year, Dafydd was betrayed and executed in Shrewsbury.

The Welsh princes had brought defeat upon themselves by pursuing their own agendas. The people of Wales, however, felt the loss as a nation more emotionally. Gruffudd ab Yr Ynad Coch summed up their feelings in his long lament:

".Perfect the lad killed by hostile men's hands,
Perfect his forebears' honour in him.
Candle of kings, strong lion of Gwynedd,
Throne of honour, there was need of him.
.What is left us that we should linger?
No place to flee from terror's prison,
No place to live, wretched is living."

Gruffudd ab Yr Ynad Coch

The Welsh princes responded in different ways. The pragmatic like Gruffudd, the lord of Powys Wenwynwyn accepted the new status quo. The reckless like Llywelyn's cousin, Madog, rebelled in desperation and were defeated. The adventurous like Owain Lawgoch found fame on the fields of battle abroad. Finally one of the princely line, Owain ap Gruffudd Fychan, a minor baron in Powys Fadog, rose from obscurity and made his mark on Welsh history. He is still celebrated to this day. We know him by his more famous name, Owain Glyndwr.

Edward I was quick to impose his rule upon Wales. The Statute of Rhuddlan carved up the Welsh heartlands and created a new system of government directly answerable to the king. New castles were built at Harlech, Beaumaris, Conwy and Caernarvon to prove Edward's power. At Caernarvon, Edward's castle was designed to exploit the legend of Macsen Wledig of the Mabinogion and to show Edward as the builder of a new Rome in Wales. In 1301 Edward I made his son Prince of Wales. Edward I as always was making a point. This title would not be hereditary, but would always remain in the gift of the monarch.

Edward I making his son, Edward of Caernarvon, Prince of Wales

Illustration from a mediaeval manuscript Cotton Nero DII, f.191v. © British Library

Reconstruction drawing of Conwy Castle and borough in the 14th century. Conwy Castle and borough was a military and economic weapon in the subjection of Wales to royal rule.

Ivan Lapper, Cadw. Crown Copyright.

Reconstruction drawing of Caernarfon Castle under attack. The castles proved their worth in the revolt of Madog in 1294. They ensured that the king had bases from which to make his counterattack.

Ivan Lapper, Cadw. Crown Copyright.