On 16 September 1400 Owain Glyndwr reclaimed his hereditary title of Prince of Powys Fadog and within four years he would be crowned the last Tywysog Cymru – the Prince of Wales – and would lead the Welsh in a final uprising against the English in a bid for national independence.
The Welsh were never very happy with English rule, and it became untenable in the last years of the 14th century. The Welsh rather liked Richard II (or at least disliked him less than most Anglo monarchs) and thus were not pleased when Henry IV took the throne from his cousin. Making matters worse, one of the new king’s friends, Baron Grey de Ruthyn, stole some land from Owain Glyndwr and went on to talk smack about him in London. Glyndwr appealed to the king for justice, but Henry played favorites and let Baron Grey get away with the shenanigans.
This was not a smart move on the part of the king.
The scion of Welsh princes, Glyndwr wasn’t going to quietly put up with injustice and insult. Glyndwr took back his title of Tywysog Powys Fadog and launched an attack on Baron Grey, and by proxy on the Baron’s overlord Henry. Glyndwr captured Grey in short order, and Henry had to pay out of the nose to ransom his humiliated vassal. Henry could have used this as an opportunity to appease Glyndwr and buy his way to peace on his Western front, but the king didn’t consider the Welsh to be as worrisome and rebellious as the Scottish.
Big mistake on Henry’s part.
Wales was already a powder keg of nationalistic feeling and Glyndwr’s rebellion was the spark needed to ignite popular revolution. Welshmen and women working in England, including the seasoned Welsh warriors and bowmen in Henry’s army, returned home to fight under Glyndwr’s banner. By the summer of 1401 the Welsh had the English on the ropes, including a major victory at at Mynydd Hyddgen on Pumlumon.
Henry hoped that the Marcher Lords, notably the Earl of Northumberland Henry “Hotspur” Percy and the 3rd Earl of March Edmund Mortimer, would take care of Glyndwr for him, but none of the local bigwigs could stem the rebellion. In 1402 Henry IV had Parliament pass a series of laws known as the Penal Laws against Wales, which were supposed to punish the Welsh and scare them into submission but just irked them and fanned the flames of the revolt.
In June of that same year Glyndwr defeated and captured Edmund Mortimer at the Battle of Bryn Glas, and Henry made the tactical error of refusing to pay ransom for Mortimer. Probably Henry was hoping Glyndwr would kill Mortimer for him, since the Earl of March was the grandson of Lionel of Antwerp, the ELDER brother of the Henry’s father John of Gaunt, and had a better claim to the throne of England. Henry’s refusal to pay the ransom vexed both Mortimer and Percy, since Percy was married to Mortimer’s sister.
Now things were hot indeed. Glyndwr, not wanting to rule beyond traditional Welsh territories, offered a “Tripartite Indenture” between himself, Mortimer, and Percy:
Glyndŵr was to be given Wales, and a substantial part of the west of England, including the English portions of the Welsh Marches. Northumberland was to have received the north, as well as Northamptonshire, Norfolk, Warwickshire, and Leicestershire. The Mortimers were to have received the rest of southern England.
Mortimer married Catrin, who was likely the eldest legitimate daughter of Owain Glyndwr, and deal was sealed and the battle lines drawn. This coalition was formidable, and had a decent chance of unseating Henry IV. Adding to King Henry’s woes, the French, Bretons, and Scottish all offered support of the Welsh/Marcher rebellion. In 1403 the king managed to kill Henry Hotspur in battle, but that same year fighting ships from Breton defeated the English in the Channel and laid waste to Jersey, Guernsey and Plymouth. By 1404, French ships filled with Welsh troops were raiding the coast of England willy-nilly, setting Dartmouth ablaze and wrecking havoc along the coast of Devon.
Things were going so well for the Welsh and his remaining allies that in 1404 Owain Glyndwr:
held court at Harlech and appointed Gruffydd Young as his Chancellor. Soon afterwards, he called his first Parliament (or Cynulliad or “gathering”) of all Wales at Machynlleth, where he was crowned Prince of Wales and announced his national programme. He declared his vision of an independent Welsh state with a parliament and separate Welsh church. There would be two national universities (one in the south and one in the north) and a return to the traditional law of Hywel Dda. Senior churchmen and important members of society flocked to his banner. English resistance was reduced to a few isolated castles, walled towns and fortified manor houses.
Sadly for the Welsh this was the high point of the rebellion. The future Henry V had begun to assume a larger role in his father’s government and the canny heir began to negotiate with the French to stop aiding Glyndwr’s forces and started to wage an economic war on the Welsh that turned the tide of victory back toward the English throne. Although Glyndwr was still winning most of the battles the English started winning the war. Then, in 1409, the English were able to capture Harlech Castle. Glyndwr’s son-in-law Edmund Mortimer died in the final battle, and many of the women of Glyndwr’s family were captured and dragged off to the Tower of London. Glyndwr’s wife Margaret, his daughter Catrin, and Catrin’s three daughters by her husband Edmund Mortimer all died while imprisoned by the English.
Glyndwr fought on but the back of the revolution was broken. When Henry IV died in 1413 the new King Henry V wisely offered peace and pardons to the remaining rebels. However, no one ever betrayed the whereabouts of Owain Glyndwr and the valiant prince was never captured. His date of death is uncertain, and his burial place unverified.
Moreover, Glyndwr’s cousin, Owen Tudor, who like many other former rebels were employed by English lords after the loss of the Welsh revolt, married Henry V’s widow Catherine of Valois and their grandson, Henry Tudor, became King Henry VII … for the win.