Welsh and English Princes of Wales
In this article, the complex relationship between England and the Principality is reflected, as D. Huw Owen traces the claimants of this title from 1245 to 1490, when Henry VII's son, Arthur, was proclaimed Prince of Wales.
Traditionally, the heir to the English throne is given the title, Prince of Wales. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the first and only constitutionally-recognised, native born Prince of Wales, was slain near Builth, in mid-Wales, seven hundreds years ago this month. A plaque marks the spot and Llywelyn's statue in Cardiff City Hall, his noble place in Welsh history.
Modern historians confirm the emphasis placed by contemporary writers on the significance of the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, at Cilmeri, near Builth in mid-Wales, on December 11th, 1282. This tragic event has been seen as 'one of those historical turning points (in the history of Wales) at which history really turned' and as the 'end of the only practical attempt ever made to solve the Welsh political problem'. The poet Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Goch, in one of the memorable elegies composed after the death of Llywelyn, vividly conveyed the bitterness and grief experienced and a chronicler lamented that 'Wales was cast to the ground'.
The complex pattern of commitment and allegiance, which characterised the period leading up to and immediately following the death of Llywelyn, has survived to the present day. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd's position as the first and only constitutionally recognised native Prince of Wales is unassailable. Other prominent Welshmen, with varying degrees of popular support, have claimed a title which for long periods has been reserved for the heir apparent to the English throne. Contrary attitudes, partly rooted in the dim memory of past events, surfaced during the preparations for, and the aftermath of, the investiture of the present Prince of Wales in 1969. Fervent and enthusiastic crowds acclaimed the Prince at Caernarfon on July 2nd, 1969 and on his ensuing tour of Wales. He was described as 'the figurehead of the pride of the Welsh nation' and as a 'champion for what is best for our nation'. On the preceding Saturday, a well-attended rally was held at Cilmeri to 'protest against the insult of investing an Englishman as Prince of Wales and to commemorate Llywelyn the Last'. Conflicting loyalties to a British or Welsh identity contribute to the evident tensions in modern Welsh society. Acrimonious exchanges characterised the recent devolution and Welsh television channel campaigns. Divergent sentiments, partly derived from a complex political and cultural inheritance, are regularly expressed in speech, print and action.
Despite a succession of valiant efforts, the political unification of Wales had not been achieved by the time of the Norman Conquest. The Welsh political system, based on several kingdoms, was undermined by the successful Norman incursions, which resulted in the establishment of Marcher Lordships in the borderlands and along the southern roast. The formulation of a stable relationship with the English monarchs occupied the attention of the Welsh rulers. Of royal descent and possessing regal privileges, they were henceforth designated as lords.
The supreme political figure in the late twelfth century was Rhys ap Gruffudd, the 'Lord Rhys', whose authority over extensive lands in south Wales was recognised by Henry II. The ruler of Gwynedd, however, enjoyed a distinctive status with the use of the title 'prince' (tywysog ). Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great), the most powerful Welsh ruler in the early thirteenth century, was recognised as 'Prince of North Wales': in I230 he adopted the title of 'Prince of Aberffraw and lord of Snowdon' (Aberffraw was the traditional residence of the rulers of Gwynedd). In 1212 Llywelyn formed an alliance with Philip II ('Augustus') of France, regarding himself as 'equal in dignity if not in power' with Philip who is described as 'the prince of the kings of the earth'. Llywelyn asserted his authority over the other Welsh lords and in 1216 at Aberdovey supervised the partition of the Lord Rhys's patrimony amongst the latter's sons. Llywelyn's supremacy within Wales was recognised by the Regency Council of Henry III at the Treaty of Worcester (1218). A series of military campaigns and propitious marriage alliances for his children extended and consolidated his influence in the Welsh March. Llywelyn was virtually a Prince of Wales but this title was never claimed by him. The weakness of his constitutional position was illustrated during the final years of his life with his failure to secure the smooth succession of his legitimate son, Dafydd.
In 1240, following the death of Llywelyn, Henry III was able to exploit the support of many Welshmen for the excluded illegitimate son, Gryffudd. After a brief military campaign in 1241 Dafydd submitted to the King. Dafydd's position was strengthened however after the death of Gruffudd, in 1244, whilst attempting to escape from the Tower of London. Dafydd agreed to hold his lands as a papal vassal and Pope Innocent IV recognised him as 'Prince of North Wales'. Dafydd was granted papal protection for about nine months (until April 9th, 1245) and it was during this time, probably in January 1245, that he also claimed the title of Prince of Wales.
The abrogation of this agreement resulted from the necessity of securing English support for the Papacy at the Council of Lyons. Dafydd successfully resisted attacks launched by Henry III, but he died in February, 1246. The brief association with the Papacy emphasised Dafydd's ambitions of securing sovereignty and independence from the English realm. The later recognition of his nephew, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, in 1267 as Prince of Wales by Henry III was on a different basis: Llywelyn agreed to pay a substantial sum of money to Henry in return for the King's acceptance of Llywelyn as suzerain of the Welsh lords, but also as Henry's vassal.
Llywelyn and his elder brother Owain, the sons of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn had succeeded their uncle Dafydd in 1246, and their control over a confined Gwynedd was formalised in the Treaty of Woodstock (1247). Llywelyn became the sole ruler of Gwynedd in 1255 and, following a series of brilliantly-executed military thrusts, acquired territory previously held by the King's son Edward and by Marcher Lords, and he also asserted his authority over the Welsh lords. He first claimed the title of 'Prince of Wales' in 1258 and his predominance within Wales was confirmed in the Treaty of Pipton (1265). Following the defeat and death of his ally, Simon de Montfort, at Evesham in August 1265 negotiations conducted by the papal legate, Cardinal Ottobon, led to the Treaty of Montgomery (1267). Lands in north-west, north-east and mid-Wales were placed directly under his authority and the Welsh lords were to hold their lands as his tenants-in-chief. With the single exception of Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg, grandson of the Lord Rhys (and his homage was later purchased by Llywelyn), all the Welsh lords were to perform homage and fealty to Llywelyn and he would then render the feudal obligations to the king.
Within ten years this feudal principality had collapsed and Edward I, who had succeeded his father in 1272, was able to take advantage of the problems encountered by Llywelyn in Wales. The war of 1276-7, and the ensuing Treaty of Aberconwy, deprived Llywelyn's principality of both territory and influence. His title survived, but henceforth only five Welsh lords were subject to him. Attacks on royal castles resulted in a resumption of hostilities in the spring of 1282. The royal armies encountered far greater resistance than they had experienced in 1276-7. Edward's determination to succeed led to a full-scale mobilisation with loans from Italian merchant-banking companies used to finance the Welsh campaigns and construction of castles. The royal armies' failure to cross the Menai Straits in November 1282 prompted Llywelyn to leave his base in Snowdonia and journey to mid-Wales. On December 11th, 1282 he was killed at Cilmeri in a chance encounter whilst he was separated from his army. Later identified as the Welsh leader his head was removed from the stricken body and sent first to north Wales, to be displayed before Edward's forces, and then to London where it was exhibited as conclusive proof of Llywelyn's death.
The struggle was continued by Llywelyn's younger brother Dafydd, who now assumed the title of Prince of Wales. He had frequently opposed Llywelyn but, enraged by the behaviour of royal officials, he led the attack on Hawarden castle, the first action of the 1282 war. Llywelyn's death, however, led to defections from the Welsh cause, and increased royal pressure: Dafydd was captured in June, 1283 and executed at Shrewsbury in October. Edward's immediate reaction to the acquisition of conquered lands was to reward his military commanders by the grant of newly constituted Marcher Lordships: these included Denbigh, Ruthin, Bromfield and Yale and Chirk in north-east Wales. The remainder, however, was kept in his own hands and an administrative framework, including the establishment of shires, was formulated in the Statute of Rhuddlan (1284). The excessive zeal I of royal officials and the harsh economic, legal and social consequences of the thorough reorganisation which accompanied military conquest, aroused resentment and the authorities were confronted with rebellions in 1287 and again in 1294-5: the leader of the latter, Madog ap Llywelyn, a distant kinsman of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, claimed the title of 'Prince of Wales'. Edward, however, also secured the support of influential sections within the Welsh community. Llywelyn's own brother, Dafydd, had plotted against Llywelyn in 1274 and, with several other Welsh lords, had supported the King in the war of 1276-7. Welshmen had fought against Llywelyn in 1282 and had contributed to his final downfall.
Edward's success was also welcomed by ambitious and enterprising Welshmen anxious to further their own interests. Edward's intention to adopt a more conciliatory stance possibly explains his decision to confer upon his only surviving son, Edward of Caernarvon, in 1301 at the parliament meeting at Lincoln, the conquered lands in north-west and south-west Wales: the shire of Flint in the north-east came into his son's possession by virtue of his simultaneous creation as Earl of Chester. This action followed the precedent of 1254 when Edward, as heir apparent at the age of fifteen, had received the palatinate county of Chester and the Crown lands in Wales. Edward of Caernarfon, born on April 25th, 1284, had become heir apparent after the death of the King's third-born son, Alfonso, on August 19th, 1284. One must therefore view with scepticism the tradition enshrined in David Powel's Historie of Cambria (1584) that Edward I, in response to an appeal from Welshmen that one of their own nation should be prince, had presented his child Edward as 'one that was borne in Wales, and could speake never a word of English, whose life and conversation no man was able to staine'.
The Principality constituted a focus for the loyalty of prominent Welshmen. A Welsh official class, characterised by an intense allegiance to the Crown, emerged in the reigns of Edward I and Edward II. Leaders of this class, with Sir Gruffudd Llwyd and Sir Rhys ap Gruffudd proving to be outstanding representatives, served the royal interest faithfully, and this was particularly noticeable in the period leading up to the imprisonment and death of Edward II.
Similar trends may be observed throughout the fourteenth century. In 1343 Edward (the Black Prince), the eldest son of Edward III, was created Prince of Wales. Offices in the Principality were held by prominent Welshmen and troops were recruited by them for service in the continental wars. Sir Hywel ap Gruffudd, known as 'Sir Hywel of the Axe' (Syr Hywel y Fwyall ) distinguished himself at Poitiers, and the Black Prince is reputed to have ordered that his battle-axe be placed in the Royal hall and a ration of food served before it daily. There was also an identification of interest between some Welsh families, especially the Tudors of Penmynydd, Anglesey, and the Black Prince's son, Richard of Bordeaux, created Prince of Wales in 1376: in the following year he succeeded his grandfather, Edward III as Richard II.
By this time complaints had been made against the exclusion of Welshmen from the highest ranks of the administrative hierarchy and the granting of offices as rewards for royal servants. Conflicts of allegiance had also surfaced during the Hundred Years War and some Welshmen fought on the French side: the most notable example being Owain Lawgoch (Owen of Wales), the grandson of Rhodri, Llywelyn the Last's brother. Owain's renown as a military leader and his royal descent induced many Welshmen to accept his claim that he was the rightful Prince of Wales. Poetry composed at this time, belonging to a tradition which had previously influenced the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth, emphasised the unfairness of the loss of the island of Britain to the English and appealed to a messianic leader, the 'son of prophesy', (y mab darogan) to restore national freedom to the Welsh people. This prophetic poetry circulated widely at a time of social dislocation and widespread distress, and the royal authorities adopted careful measures to prevent Owain's threatened invasion of Wales.
Owain was killed in Poitou in 1378 and in 1400 another Owain emerged to fulfil the expectations of the bards. On September 16th, 1400 Owain Glyndwr (Owen Glendower), claiming descent from the rulers of the kingdoms of Powys and Deheubarth, proclaimed himself Prince of Wales. A successful military leader, he also convened parliaments and promulgated a carefully-prepared political programme which involved a treaty with Charles VI of France, the establishment of an independent Welsh Church and the creation of two universities. The superior resources of the Crown again accounted for the successes of royal armies, led by another able and astute military commander, Henry of Monmouth, a rival Prince of Wales. Henry of Monmouth had been created Prince of Wales soon after the deposition of Richard II and the accession of his father Henry IV. Owain had attracted widespread support from within Wales but some Welshmen had opposed him. Following the collapse of the rebellion Welsh troops rendered conspicuous service in the French wars which were resumed after the accession of Henry V in 1413.
The long tenure of the principality of Wales by the Black Prince had established the principle that the Prince of Wales was the heir apparent to the English throne. The creation of Richard of Bordeaux as Prince of Wales in 1376, and then of Henry of Monmouth in 1399, were designed to forestall a possible attempt to threaten the succession. The other four Princes of Wales in the fifteenth century were critically involved in dynastic struggles and rivalries. Edward, the son of Henry VI, who was created Prince of Wales in 1454, was slain at the battle of Tewkesbury (1471). A new Prince of Wales was immediately created: Edward of York, son of Edward IV: and he was also provided with a council to manage his lands in Wales and the borderlands. This council, which came to be established at Ludlow, was responsible within a few years for supervising the administration of justice in Wales, the Marches and the English border shires. Edward succeeded his father in 1483 but was soon deposed by his uncle who, as Richard III, immediately conferred the title of Prince of Wales upon his son, Edward of Middleham. He died the following year and in 1485 Richard was slain at Bosworth.
Welsh aspirations in the Wars of the Roses had centred on the Yorkist supporter Sir William Herbert and his royal patron, Edward IV, acclaimed as the descendant of Gwladus Ddu, the daughter of Llywelyn the Great. At the time of his successful assault on Harlech castle Herbert was reminded by the poet Guto'r Glyn of his responsibilities to his fellow Welshmen. After his execution at Northampton, following his defeat at the battle of Banbury (1469), attention was focused on the Lancastrian claimant, Henry Tudor, who was now regarded as 'the son of prophecy'. In a letter appealing for the support of the Welsh gentry Henry promised to deliver the Welsh people from 'such miserable servitudes as they have pyteously longe stood in'. His success at Bosworth was seen as the long awaited national victory, and a Venetian emissary commented that the Welsh 'may now be said to have recovered their former independence, for the most wise and fortunate Henry VII is a Welshman'. The Red Dragon, the standard of the seventh-century Cadwaladr, was unfurled at Bosworth and Henry's descent was traced back to Brutus 'which first inherited this land, and after his name was called Britain'. The choice of Arthur as the name of his eldest son, born on September 19th, 1486 was described as being 'in honour of the British race of which himself was'. On February 27th, 1490 he was invested with the Principality of Wales and the counties of Chester and Flint.
The popularity of a mythical British history, with the legendary King Arthur occupying a central position, contributed to the growing awareness of a British identity and imperialism in the sixteenth century. Various facets of the political, social and economic history of Wales in succeeding centuries have confirmed the 'British' allegiance of many Welshmen. By the present day this established 'British' identity, together with a renewed 'Welsh' consciousness, combine to focus attention on the objectives and achievements of the medieval princes, both Welsh and English, legitimate and spurious.
D. Huw Owen is a lecturer in Welsh history at University College, Cardiff.
- A.D. Carr, Llywelwyn ap Grufudd .?-1282 , (University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1982)
- J. Goronwy Edwards, The Principality of Wales, 1267-1967 , Caernarvonshire Historical Society (Denbigh 1969)
- A.O.H. Jarman and G.R. Hughes, eds.A Guide to Welsh Literature , vol. 2, Christopher Davies (Swansea, 1979)
- Francis Jones, The Princes and Principality of Wales , (University of Wales Press, Cardiff 1969)
- L.G. Pine, Princes of Wales , Charles E. Tuttle (Rutland, Vermont 1970)
- Glyn Roberts, Aspects of Welsh History , (University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1969)
- J. Bevereley Smith, 'Edward II and the allegiance of' Wales', Welsh History Review , 8 (December 1976)
- Glanmor Williams, Religion, Language and Nationality in Wales (University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1979).
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