The Edwardian Conquest and its Military Consolidation

The Edwardian Conquest and its Military Consolidation

Rowlands, Ifor

 Welsh History and Its Sources: Open University (2009)


The term ‘the Edwardian Conquest of Wales’ correctly identifies the central role of Edward I but obscures the fact that parts of Wales were under English rule before his accession and that the military subjugation of the remainder involved three campaigns of a different kind and order. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s refusal, as Edward saw it, to perform homage challenged royal overlordship in the most blatant fashion, and in 1276 a punitive expedition was launched to purge the contumacy of this disobedient vassal (B.1). In the event, Llywelyn’s principality was almost destroyed and the balance of power was decisively shifted in the Crown’s favour. Confronted in 1282 by a national rebellion against the new disposition in Wales, Edward determined upon the disinheritance of Llywelyn, his dynasty and confederates: a ‘just war’ against a faithless people was to become a war of conquest (B.2). Where the armies of B.2 1277 had halted, those of 1283 pressed on until the already fragile independence of the Welsh was finally extinguished. A third campaign to put down widespread revolts in 1294–5 demonstrated that any attempt to revive it was doomed to failure.

Edward’s Welsh wars, like most contemporary campaigns, were wars of manoeuvre and attrition in which the aim was not to bring the enemy to battle but to despoil his lands, terrorize his tenantry and methodically reduce his castles. While cavalry composed of household troops and magnate retinues were essential for swift raids, reconnaissance and for the protection of columns of foot on the march, a key role was now assigned to specialists such as garrison troops, crossbowmen and engineers. Moreover the pace of a campaign was, in large measure, determined by the slow-moving infantry and by the siege train, baggage and other impedimenta which often gave an army the appearance of a market town on the move. Above all, a sustained war of movement, in which troops were dispersed for raiding and concentrated for siege, required the establishment and protection of supply lines and entrepôts.

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