September 16, 2020 13 min read
The name of Owain Glyndŵr (often written in anglicised versions as Owen Glyndower or even Glendower) has, over the years, become a symbol of pride and freedom not only in history but also in modern times. He sacrificed everything for a dream of Wales as a nation, governing itself with its own church, parliament and universities. None less than The Sunday Times itself, in its list of the most influential world figures of the last millennium in all fields, chose to rank Owain Glyndŵr seventh
The nationalist movement in Wales has always held Owain Glyndŵr in high regard, but he is now a figure of mass culture in Wales, with statues and monuments alongside pub and street names commemorating him. Wales has recently established a Glyndwr University and a semi-rugby team in north Wales is known as Rygbi Gogledd Cymru (RGC or North Wales Rugby) 1404 - the 1404 referring to the date that Glyndwr was proclaimed Prince of Wales in Machynlleth. Owain Glyndŵr's Day, 16th September, commemorates the last native Welsh person to hold the title Prince of Wales.
September 16th is the anniversary of the proclamation in 1400, of Owain Glyndŵr as Prince of Wales and is now celebrated annually as Owain Glyndŵr Day. In more recent times, the 16th September has become an unofficial holiday in Wales. It celebrates a national hero of Wales who was the last Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales. Many considered him an unofficial king of Wales.
Owain Glyndŵr lived over 600 years ago and yet today remains one of the most heroic figures in Welsh history. In the 19th century his life and legacy was beginning to be re-evaluated as the Welsh 'nation' began to find its voice once more. The discovery of his seal and letters were proof that he was a national leader of some importance - a learned head of a country with diplomatic ties as any other head of state might. His vision and leadership of Wales is celebrated on 16th September each year and it is the anniversary of Glyndŵr being named the Prince of Wales in 1400, which sparked his stand against the English crown.
The Owain Glyndwr flag is a popular flag in Wales and is flown, often side by side with the Welsh Dragon Flag all over Wales. There is a life-size bronze Owain Glyndwr statue in the square at Corwen. Created in 2007 by Colin Spofforth and standing on an eight ton plinth, it shows the great leader on his horse in battle uniform.
Owain was a natural leader but he also became an astute statesman who united many warring Welsh factions and then led in to battle against the English rulers. However, in some senses Owain was the spark that ignited the Welsh discontent about specific issues in Wales, many dating from the death of Llywelyn the Last, who was killed in 1282. The son of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn Fawr and grandson of Llywelyn the Great, he was the last sovereign Prince of Wales before its conquest by Edward I of England.
He was born into a powerful family of the Anglo-Welsh nobility, during a time of relative peace between the tribes of Wales and the English aristocracy. There are no definitive records of the birthplace of Owain Glyndŵr and there is some uncertainty on when he was born. However, it is likely that his birth was about 1350, maybe plus or minus a few years! The two most likely birthplaces are the family home at Sycharth, near Oswestry, or in Trefgarn, Pembrokeshire where one story says that his mother was visiting at the time of his birth. Owain’s family had estates at Sycharth, Iscoed in the Teifi Valley, and Glyndyfrdwy, in the Dee Valley. Iscoed was inherited by his mother, Elen, whilst Glyndyfrdwy was described as a ‘fine lodge in the park.’ He probably spent much of his childhood at the family home of Sycharth.
His lineage, a vitally important factor to Welsh people in the fourteenth century, was impeccable. When Owain Lawgoch was killed by an English assassin in 1378, the male line of the Gwynedd dynasty, which had led the resistance against the Anglo-Norman invaders since the 11th century, ended. Owain claimed direct descent from the two other major Welsh dynasties, the princes of Powys in Mid Wales and Deheubarth in South-West Wales. On his father’s side, he could trace his ancestry back to Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, ruler of Powys in the eleventh century, while his mother’s lineage stretched back to Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of Deheubarth in the late eleventh century.
Owain Glyndŵr’s military career began in 1384, when he served under the renowned military leader, Sir Gregory Sais, on garrison duty on the English-Scottish border. Following this, in 1385 he fought in Richard II's Scottish War, probably under Richard Fitzalan the Earl of Arundel. He also took part in Battle of Cadzand of 1387 when a Franco-Flemish fleet was routed. Following the battle, a number of Arundel's squires were knighted; noticeably Glyndŵr was not one of them.
In the 1380s and 1390s Glyndŵr studied law at the Inns of Court in London. This decision was almost certainly prompted by his father in law, Sir David Hammer, an English judge who settled in Wales following his marriage to Angharad, the daughter of Llywelyn Ddu ap Gruffudd ab Iorwerth Foel, one of the most prominent Welshmen in nearby Chirkland. One of their holdings was the village of Hammer, which they took as the family name, and Owain was married in the village church to David's daughter Marred.
In September 1400, Owain Glyndŵr embarked on a course of action that would become one of the most dramatic episodes in Welsh history. His longstanding quarrel with Reginald de Grey of Ruthin over some common land took a surprising turn when, after being proclaimed Prince of Wales by his followers, Owain marched on Ruthin.
After destroying the town, Owain went on to attack towns all over north-east Wales as the revolt turned into a full-scale war with the English crown. Welshmen from all walks of life flocked to join Owain's cause, and by 1403 nearly the whole of Wales was united behind Glyndŵr. For a while, it seemed that the vision of an independent Wales had not died with Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282 after all.
However, despite these astounding early victories and the formal coronation of Owain Glyndŵr as Prince of Wales at the parliament of 1404, the rebellion would ultimately fail. By 1408, the revolt was dwindling as swiftly as it had swept into being; by 1410, its inspirational leader had become a fugitive, his career and his reputation shattered, his home and his family destroyed. His wife and children were captured, and by 1410 he had become a hunted outlaw.
He is believed to have spent his last years in Herefordshire near the manor of his son-in-law, Sir John Scudamore, the high sheriff of Herefordshire. Despite the substantial rewards being offered, Owen was never captured or betrayed and his place of hiding remains a mystery to this day. He died in or around 1416, ironically in England. The location of his grave is unknown.
The Pennal Letter was originally written in Latin in 1406 and was Owain's attempt to strenthen his cause by allying himself with the French King, Charles VI. In exchange, Owain pledged his allegience to Pope Benedict XIII of Avignon. At this time, the Papacy was divided; Charles VI sided with Avignon, while Henry IV of England remained allied to the Pope in Rome. Thus Owain was making clear both his rejection of English rule and his position as Prince of Wales. In the letter, he lays out his plans for establishing a Welsh Church and two Welsh universities, thus portraying a vision of a strong and autonomous Wales.
The Pennal letter, held in the National Archives of France and is in two parts: in the first, Owain declares his intention to give obedience to the pope of Avignon; the second is a formal document, endorsed with his great seal, setting out the terms of that allegiance and detailing the schism in the papacy.
This English translation is taken from Matthews 1910.
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Last update 20th September 2020
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