Edward I and the War for Wales 1294-1295
Symbol of a New Enemy
A New Enemy for Edward
This time it took the Welsh a while to organise themselves and unite under one leader. In 1287, one of Edward’s former allies Rhys ap Moredudd tried to raise rebellion, but failed due to lack of public support. Despite this; anger, fury and discontent grew. It all came to a head in 1294, when the final payment for a particularly unpopular tax coincided with the raising of English and Welsh troops for Edward’s campaign in Gascony, France.
On the 30th September 1294 Welsh soldiers were due to assemble at Shrewsbury, ready for the march down to Portsmouth. Instead, quite unexpectedly, they mutinied, killing all of their English officers, and attacking English strongholds. This time, the Welsh uprisings weren’t just confined to the north, but the south also; even previously untouched areas such as Glamorgan were affected.
Initially this new rebellion was led by a variety of local rulers; eventually they rallied around a distant cousin of Llywelyn, Madog ap Llywelyn. In virtually no time at all every important Welsh castle was under siege. Fortunately for Edward, who had been taken by complete surprise, it was easy for him to redirect forces he already sent to Portsmouth.
In early October, Edward once again mustered an army at his customary base of Worcester. However, the situation that had developed was not like before, instead of the usual three pronged attack, north, central and south; Edward was forced to send reinforcements to a besieged Brecon Castle and also to the overrun southern area surrounding Cardiff.
The Welsh Counties
Looks Better in the Summer
A Bitter Winter
Edward’s dogged determination once again caused him to flout medieval tradition by carrying the fight to the Welsh even in the depths of winter. The Welsh had actually managed to push the English out of northern Wales into the city of Chester. Edward knew that the area surrounding the city needed to be cleared, so made the decision to divide his main army into two detachments. Edward himself led an army to Wrexham on the 5th December and then turned westwards towards the River Clwyd, to do battle with the rebels.
According to written sources from the time, some 10,000 rebels surrendered to the King. In an unusual act of mercy the King agreed to pardon them on the condition they serve with him in France. For the rebels, it was quite literally being spared the knife; in gratitude they pledged to hand Madog over to Edward. Madog however, tried to convince his followers that it was better to die defending their homes, than to do so in some foreign land. I can imagine him making some sort of stirring and inspiring speech, similar to the one given by William Wallace in ‘Braveheart’. Whatever Madog did, it worked, and thus the war continued...
On Christmas Eve, 1294 Edward was joined at his new castle on the Conway Estuary by Reginald de Gray’s force of 11,000 men who had travelled along the coast. On the 6th January Edward travelled down the north western coast of Snowdonia, the objective was to sack the town of Nefyn, which he did on the 12th. On the return journey, he and his men were slowed considerably by booty taken from the town, the Welsh soldiers who had been tracking them, saw their opportunity and ambushed them near the town of Bangor. The King and most of his force survived, but their booty was lost. To make matters worse, rough winter seas prevented any fresh supplies from reaching the castle.
Poor old King Edward was forced to resort to dining on salted fish and water flavoured with honey. God only knows what sort of plight the common soldiers suffered. For Edward the raid on Nefyn was a disaster in the sense that it had the opposite effect to what he had hoped for. The loss of his precious supplies helped to boost Welsh morale. Just like in the previous war, Edward was forced to postpone a proposed attack on Snowdonia.
Madog saw his chance and led his army eastwards to threaten Shrewsbury, the English town where his distant cousin Daffydd had met his end. He camped at a place called Maes Moydog, which lay north east of Montgomery. English spies raced to inform the commander of the central force, William de Beauchamp of his location. Beauchamp gathered together 2500 men from the nearby English town of Oswestry and led them back to his base in Montgomery. Under the cover of darkness, they approached the Welsh camp.
Maes Moydog Today
The Final Stamp of Power
Into Spring and the Final Battle
On the 5th March England and Wales did battle for the final time, the place, Maes Moydog. The early stages of the battle were encouraging for the Welsh, as they managed to repel the first English charge. In response Beauchamp placed archers, between his knights, so that their arrows could produce gaps in the lines of Welsh spear-men. The tactic worked spectacularly for the English, the knights smashed their way through the line and routed the army. The English lost just 90 men, in exchange for 700 Welsh nobles, the overall Welsh casualty list is unknown, but it have must been thousands.
Madog managed to escape, but the destruction of his army, crushed any rebellious spirit left in the Welsh ranks. As expected, Edward’s army experienced a spiritual upsurge and on the 10th March, Edward detailed a small force of archers and knights to make a midnight sortie against the remnants of the Welsh camp. The Welsh were literally caught napping and lost 500 men. What’s more, the English managed to retrieve some of the lost baggage stolen in January. On the 15th April Edward sent a force to occupy Anglesey, which was done with ease, the King decided to erect a permanent stamp of power on the Island and ordered the construction of Beaumaris Castle.
Final Resting Place
The defeat at Maes Moydog, the attack on Anglesey and the successful raid on the camp, finally brought an end to the Welsh War that had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Edward, as the triumphant King embarked on a victorious circuit around Wales, receiving surrenders and pledges of allegiance from bands of rebels. As for Madog, like his predecessors, he went on the run, becoming a fugitive. However, he was forced to surrender, after being caught trying to lead a raid into Shropshire. Oddly instead of forcing Madog to suffer the agony of a public execution, Edward elected to imprison him for life in the Tower of London.
The end of the war for Wales, brought with it a tinge of irony, whilst Wales itself, lost its status as an independent principality. The title ‘Prince of Wales’ endured; Edward decided to bestow the title on his eldest son, the future Edward II in February 1301. As of that moment, Wales became a principality of England. The title endures to this day, with the intended successor of the English throne, inheriting the title; Prince Charles is the current incumbent.
For the Welsh, despite effectively being under English rule for over 700 years, their culture and language has managed to survive. In the last 100 years particularly, the Welsh language has undergone a major revival, today over three quarters of the Welsh population either speak Welsh fluently or has some knowledge of it.
As for Edward, he had finally succeeded in the first phase in his ambition for total dominion over the British Isles. Now, he cast eye northwards to another great Celtic nation, Scotland. The Welsh had caused him more problems than he had expected, the Scots on the other hand would be an entirely different proposition. Nearly a thousand years earlier, the Roman Emperor Hadrian was forced to build a wall to deter the marauding Scots or Picts, as they were known then, so it would be a very tough challenge for him...
Edward's Next Target
Onto my Articles about the Struggle for Scotland
- The Scottish Wars of Independence: Background
The Scottish Wars of Independence was a bitter struggle between England and Scotland. This article tells of the background of the war, and how it came to be fought in the first place.
© 2012 James Kenny