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Edward I and the War for Wales 1282

Updated on August 5, 2014

Rise of the Dragon

By 1282, the Welsh were ready to fight once more.
By 1282, the Welsh were ready to fight once more. | Source

Oswestry Castle

An Artists impression of Oswestry Castle
An Artists impression of Oswestry Castle | Source

Rebellion

The Treaty of Aberconway, had brought peace to Wales, but peaceful was hardly the word to describe the atmosphere in the Welsh nation. Life under Edward proved to be utterly intolerable, he imposed new laws, based on those already established in England, wiping out old Welsh laws in the process. He also imposed new taxes which made him ever wealthier, driving the Welsh peasants deeper into poverty. Very soon, the word passing many a lip in Wales was rebellion.

Ironically this new war against English oppression would be ignited by a former ally of Edward, none other than Llywelyn’s treacherous brother Daffydd. On the 21st March 1282, he managed to take Hawarden by surprise, before advancing further to capture Ruthin, and the former Welsh strongholds of Dinas Bran and Dolforwyn Castle. Upon the capture, of Dolforwyn, another former ally of Edward decided to defect over to the Welsh cause, the Prince of Northern Powys. The Prince then proceeded to raid the territory surrounding Oswestry Castle.

Llywelyn, who had remained quiet in the intervening years, watched the early stages of the rebellion with great interest. I wonder what went through his mind, when he learnt that his brother was the ringleader. He must have had misgivings and suspicions about him, but even so he elected to join in and take command in the north. By doing so, he allowed Daffydd to travel south and join up with a force that had seized two Castles in the Tywi Valley. I can envisage a tense meeting between the two brothers, just before they parted, perhaps where old grudges were laid to rest, for the good of Wales. Later, that same force smashed into Aberystwyth, committing acts of total destruction against the Town and its Castle.

The King's Base

Worcester, the English City where Edward assembled his army.
Worcester, the English City where Edward assembled his army. | Source

Now Ancient Ruins

The Remnants of Carregcennen Castle
The Remnants of Carregcennen Castle | Source

The Island of Anglesey

English Noble, Luke de Tany met his death while crossing the bridge that lay between Anglesey and the Welsh Coast.
English Noble, Luke de Tany met his death while crossing the bridge that lay between Anglesey and the Welsh Coast. | Source

Edward Strikes

Edward, as was his custom, being a warrior King, did not simply watch events proceed lazily. Instead, on the 25th March, he once again assembled a huge army at Worcester, determined once and for all to crush the Welsh. Once again, he appointed 3 Marcher Lords to command three forces that would once again attack from Chester, Montgomery and Carmarthen.

But things did not go as smoothly as before, the Northern Force marching out of Chester, failed to relieve the besieged northern castles. In the South, a force of 2000 men, led by Gilbert de Clare carrying stolen loot from Carregcennen Castle was ambushed at LLandelio. Clare fortuitously managed to escape, but the trauma of what he had experienced, caused him to panic and subsequently abandon his base at Carmarthen Castle, and also the surrounding area. When Edward learnt of this, he was absolutely furious and sacked Clare from his post. However, the damage was already done. An exuberant Llywelyn buoyed by the news of English panic, moved south to further bolster the morale of the Welsh army, but was quickly forced to move back north to counter the Central English forces advance into Maelienydd, who had already retaken Dolforwyn Castle.

With Llywelyn out of the picture, it was now the English Southern forces turn to experience a boost in morale, as they moved to regain virtually all of the Tywi Valley. The advance of the southerners coincided with Edward’s advance further north. On the 17th July he and a force of 5000 men reached Rhuddian Castle.

As July gave way to August, the wheels of fortune changed again. Edward commissioned 2500 men, under the command of Luke de Tany to assault the island of Anglesey. But unlike 1277, the objective was to conquer rather than starve the populace into submission. For Tany, conquering the Island was relatively easy, and he met very little resistance. A satisfied Edward then ordered a pontoon bridge to be constructed, stretching from the island, back to the mainland. His plan was that he and Tany would overwhelm Snowdonia, attacking from the north and the south. However, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear Tany was replaced as commander by Humphrey de Bohun, at Edward’s orders. Tany must have been livid at the decision, after leading a victorious assault. He took the brave, but foolhardy decision to disregard Edward’s orders and march his men over the bridge. His force was ambushed by the Welsh, who succeeded in destroying the bridge, as it collapsed Tany and 16 of his best knights plummeted to a watery grave.

Edward’s fury must have been at boiling point, he had already had to postpone his attack on Snowdonia, due to an ill timed engagement with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Now, the offensive had to be postponed indefinitely.

A Shadow of its Former Self

Brecon Castle, the scene of a Welsh offensive in December 1282.
Brecon Castle, the scene of a Welsh offensive in December 1282. | Source

The King's Castle

Rhuddian Castle, one of many Castles constructed by order of Edward.
Rhuddian Castle, one of many Castles constructed by order of Edward. | Source

The End in Sight

In early December, Llywelyn led his army into Maelienydd, making camp at Llanganten, at the confluence of the Rivers Irfen and Wye. From there he sent a force to attack Brecon Castle, the commander of the Castle, was one Humphrey de Bohun. Recognising the danger, Edward replaced Humphrey as commander, in order that he could return to Maelienydd to defend his lands.

On a cold December morning, John Gifford, the new commander of the English Central Force rode in disguise, south from Montgomery to Llanganten, but was prevented from crossing the Irfen River, by Welsh soldiers guarding the bridge. However, a chance encounter with a local resident would change Gifford’s fortunes; the resident showed him a ford downstream, which offered a better crossing opportunity. Later, using this new information, Gifford sent a detachment of men over the ford. On the 11th December Gifford and his men were able to conduct a surprise attack on the Welsh at the bridge; the attack was a complete success, thus allowing the rest of his army to cross.

Meanwhile, on the top of hill, overlooking the bridge were 7000 Welshmen, preparing to engage the English. But there was a problem, their commander Llywelyn was missing; apparently he had left earlier on some unspecified errand. The Welsh probably could have easily scattered the English forces, but without their leader at the helm, they retained a defensive formation. Gifford was able to charge uphill with his army of 2000 and subsequently defeat the Welsh.

Unbeknownst to either side, Llywelyn had actually been slain in a minor skirmish with English forces at Orewin Bridge. In the aftermath, English soldiers identified his body among the 3000 dead Welshmen. They decided to remove his head and send it onto Edward at Rhuddian Castle; who would in turn dispatch it to London, where it would be displayed on top of one of the gates leading to the Tower of London, as an example.

Monument to a Fallen Warrior

The Monument at Orewin Bridge, marking where Llywelyn met his end.
The Monument at Orewin Bridge, marking where Llywelyn met his end. | Source

Beautiful Today, But With a Gruesome Past

The English Town of Shrewsbury is a Beautiful place to visit today. But in the summer of 1283 it served as the scene for a violent death.
The English Town of Shrewsbury is a Beautiful place to visit today. But in the summer of 1283 it served as the scene for a violent death. | Source

Symbol of a Welsh Hero

The Coat of Arms of Daffydd
The Coat of Arms of Daffydd | Source

The Roof of Snowdonia

Mount Snowdon, the tallest Mountain in Wales, standing at 3560 Feet.
Mount Snowdon, the tallest Mountain in Wales, standing at 3560 Feet. | Source

What Next?

In the aftermath of Llywelyn’s death, Daffydd and his advisors were left with a tough decision, surrender or continue the fight. They resolved to fight to the bitter end; Daffydd was convinced that the tough Welsh winter would force Edward to abandon the struggle. But he clearly wasn’t a good judge of character. Even before learning of Llywelyn’s death, he remained totally single minded and determined to pursue his campaign through the foul weather. At the time such a thing was virtually unheard of, winter was always the worst time of year to wage war.

Edward attacked with renewed vigour, advancing into Snowdonia, destroying each castle one by one. Daffydd and his army were totally broken and destroyed. Daffydd himself managed to escape and went on the run, as a fugitive. On the 21st June 1283, Daffydd was captured by Welshmen, under the service of Edward, after being bound and shackled, he was transported to Shrewsbury. Daffydd was forced to endure a fate that would later befall a famous Scottish hero. In a public ceremony, he was hung, drawn and quartered, his head was also sent to London to join his brothers at the Tower of London. It’s hard to imagine what Daffydd must have been thinking as he would led up to the execution platform, the English mob shouting abuse at him. I can imagine the magistrate asking him to plead mercy, but the defiant Daffydd refusing, maybe he cried out some sort of defiant proclamation, ‘Rhyddid (Freedom)’ or ‘Cymru (Wales)’.

This time, there was no treaty or settlement, Edward proclaimed himself as King of Wales, and quickly set to work in further pacifying the Welsh people. He poured an enormous amount of money and effort into the construction of monstrous new castles, as a symbol of his permanent power, the most impressive of these was Harlech, on the northern Welsh coast. Edward also set to work in totally Anglicising Wales, by introducing the English county system, known as Shires, and implementing more English laws, at the expense of old Welsh and even some old Marcher laws. This tightfisted approach from Edward was a mistake, and only served to anger and further irritate the Welsh. Once again, talk of rebellion was in the air...

The Daddy of Them All

The Ultimate Symbol of Edward's power in Wales, Harlech Castle.
The Ultimate Symbol of Edward's power in Wales, Harlech Castle. | Source

© 2012 James Kenny

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