By J. Eric Moore
Seniors Honors Thesis, Duke University, 2007
Introduction: The sun on December 11, 1282 dawned bright and crisp over the green Snowdonian morning. Rising just before light first broke over his mountain encampment, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd began donning the leather jerkin, boots, and sword that his young squire had feverishly worked to assemble the night before. Supple from heavy use over the past few years, his meager cover slid effortlessly over his frame as his mind worked through the events of the past week. Only a few short days ago, it seemed, he had made the drastic decision to set out southward from his stronghold in Gwynedd in hopes that he and the small army that formed his retinue would receive succor from some of his supporters in the Powys territory. He had had no choice. The strategizing King of England had once before conducted this campaign against the Welsh Prince, but was hindered solely by a lack of provisions from taking the heartland of his native opponent, a deficiency that Edward would certainly not repeat during this incursion. Faced with his own lack of resources as the English python drew its coils tighter and tighter around northern Wales, Llywelyn chose to venture out of his fortress at great risk to himself from the many pro-Edward factions that called Powys and the Marches home.
Alas, there was a tiny glimmer of hope on the dark horizon. Just two nights ago, he had received an emissary from two of his marcher enemies, Edmund de Mortimer and Hugo Le Strange, expressing their desire to join forces with the Welsh Prince. Coming as something of a surprise, the messenger entreated Llywelyn to travel only a little further into Powys and receive their homage at a small village called Cilmeri. Too desperate to allow his suspicions to get the best of him, the Prince placed his hope in the notion that Edward’s own land-greed might have soured this whole affair even for his loyal supporters on the buffer between England and Wales. So, on the morning of December 11, Llywelyn and his army embarked on the small trip to the rickety bridge over the River Wye, all the while praying that their endeavors would not go unrewarded.
Though short, the march was a fearsome, one even for the stoutest of Welsh warriors. Every creaking branch became an English knight drawing his sword, every rustling leaf an archer fitting his bow. More than once Llywelyn halted his company to check in with the scouts that he had ordered to flank the army a quarter-mile to either side. No one had seen so much as a deer. The entire forest had quieted in anticipation. It came as something of a relief when the army drew within sight of the river crossing and cast its collective gaze on the Marcher lords that would, hopefully, become their saviors. Working to shield a slight smile, Llywelyn advanced to greet the English nobles and to thank them graciously for their support in his struggle. As he reached the apex of the wooden bridge, the soft padding of his boots quickly gave way to the clamor and clash of metal on metal and the ominous twang of a bowstring being loosed. Turning to ascertain the source of this noise, Llywelyn was greeted with a sight that had haunted his imagination: his army was under ambush.