The Welsh soldier: 1283-1422

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The Welsh soldier: 1283-1422

By Adam John Chapman

PhD Dissertation, University of Southampton, 2009

Abstract: The present thesis is a study of the reality – and the myth – of the ‘Welsh soldier’ in the later middle ages. The final defeat of the Princes of Gwynedd in 1283 was formalised by the division of the principality of Gwynedd and the ‘feudalisation’ of its territory set out in the statute of Wales proclaimed at Rhuddlan in 1284. As Morris long ago demonstrated, and as Davies and others have since reaffirmed the ‘wars of independence’ – at least in the thirteenth century – were conducted as much between Welshmen as between ‘the Welsh’, the Marchers and the English crown. The picture of Edward I’s pragmatism driven by ‘imperial’ principle – ironically achieving Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s aim of taking Wales into the ambit of the feudal and political structure of England – without Llywelyn painted by Glyn Roberts is appropriate. The integration of Welshmen into Edward I’s military machine was swift, but required innovations of military organisation, chiefly, the Commission of Array. Most Welshmen served at a low level in English armies, as archers, and consequently, are far harder to trace as individuals before the regular survival of full muster accounts in the years after 1369.though global figures can be deduced more readily for the armies of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, more precise detail cannot. Despite this, patterns of the service of Welshmen, both from the Shires of the principality of Wales and the Welsh March can be generally described over the period covered by this thesis.




The concentration of military historians on the formation of royal armies has downplayed the role of military lordship and its importance in the March of Wales. Similarly, while the events of the Glyn Dŵr rebellion (1400-1410) are well understood, and the consequences of the rebellion on Welsh society have excited some interest, the immediate impact on the Welsh as soldiers has not been fully explored. The place of the Welsh at the battle of Agincourt provides a bridge between the chronological spine of this thesis and the consideration of what might be termed the cultural impression of the medieval Welsh soldier. Thanks largely to Shakespeare’s depiction of Captain Fluellen in Henry V (1599) the Welsh are inextricably linked with this battle, though contemporary evidence suggests the sum of their involvement was extremely limited. Ironically perhaps, in fifteenth century Welsh culture, Agincourt is the silent battle; uniquely there are no poetic references to this battle in a culture where war against France and the earlier battles of Crécy and Poitiers were staple metaphors for the prowess of individuals and as a source of patronage to the bards themselves. The image of Welshmen at war, and particularly, their skill with the longbow, appears to owe much to Gerald of Wales whose accounts of the men of Gwent as archers in the twelfth century has become the province of folklore rather than a reflection of historical reality. There is a striking difference between the Welsh account of their experience at war and the perspective of outsiders. Fundamentally this was because most external commentators saw the Welsh as an undifferentiated mass. Our evidence for the corresponding Welsh view is based upon literature praising the actions of individuals. The majority of their opponents, in Scotland and in France, but also in much of England, the only Welshmen who would ordinarily be encountered were soldiers. The difference in impression was preserved by later observers and the staple depiction of the Welsh as primitive and backward, ‘Wild men from the woods’ in the words of the author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi would have been recognisable to the pamphleteers of the seventeenth century who were themselves describing soldiers. The aim of this thesis therefore is to bring together these views of the ‘Welsh Soldier’ to give a better understanding of his role in later medieval warfare, and the place of war in fourteenth and early fifteenth century Welsh society.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Southampton

Sharan Newman