Henry II’s Campaign Against the Welsh in 1165

Henry II’s Campaign Against the Welsh in 1165

By Paul Latimer

The Welsh Historical Review, Vol. 14:4 (1989)

Introduction: On 1 July 1163 the leading Welsh princes joined Malcolm, king of Scotland in doing formal homage to Henry II and his son. It seemed that Henry’s problems with the Welsh were settled, at least for some considerable time to come. Yet within two years Henry found it necessary to launch a new campaign against the Welsh, a campaign notable for its elaborate and extensive preparations, for the methods used to finance it, and for the cohesion shown by the Welsh in the face of the might of the Angevin Empire. Henry’s campaign was a total failure, damaging to his own prestige and to the position of the Normans in Wales. The disaster had important consequences for Henry’s policy towards Wales.

The late-twelfth and early-thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman chronicle accounts of the events surrounding the 1165 campaign are brief. Roger of Howden, William of Newburgh, Robert of Torigny, the Melrose Chronicle and Gervase of Canterbury provide accounts of the campaign that vary in length from a few lines to a modest paragraph. Gerald of Wales, despite his personal interest in Welsh affairs, contributes only relatively brief comments on the campaign itself, though his writings provide much interesting background information. The fullest chronicle record of the events of 1165 is contained in a group of chronicles emanating from Wales. The Latin Annales Cambriae and the Welsh Brut y Tywysogyon and Brenhinedd y Saesson are derived from a common, lost set of Latin annals completed in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century. The late date of these accounts necessitates cautious treatment, but the story they tell is generally consistent, both internally and with the earlier Anglo-Norman chronicles. The Pipe Rolls supply contemporary evidence on the financing and the logistics of Henry II’s campaign. Letters written around the time of the campaign by John of Salisbury, Gilbert Foliot and correspondents of Thomas Becket provide an interesting sidelight.

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