Did the Battle of Hyddgen even take place?

The Battle of Hyddgen is said to be the first victory of the Welsh leader Owain Glyndŵr and many historians believe it played a central role to his revolt in the early fifteenth-century. A historian is now questioning where the battle took place, and even if the encounter took place at all.

Memorial to the Battle of Hyddgen - Photo by Lyn Léwis Dafis

Michael Livingston, Associate Professor at at The Citadel, spoke at the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies. In his paper, ‘The Welshman who Went up a Mountain and Came down a Hero’, he takes a look at events surrounding the supposed battle, which is said to have taken place in the year 1401.

Owain Glyndŵr began his revolt the previous year, in what was caused the Glyndŵr Rising or the Last War of Independence. During the year 1400 he gathered his followers and raided against English targets. The situation became so serious that on May 26, 1401 King Henry IV began gathering an army to defend southern Wales from an invasion.

However, in June two reports arrived detailing the Welsh rebels had been defeated in skirmishes and were on the run. In September of that year, King Henry was again making preparations to send an army against Owain.

Only one source, the Annals of Owain Glyndwr (written sometime between 1420 and 1450), contains an account of the Battle of Hyddgen. It states:

The following summer Owain rose with 120 reckless men and robbers and he brought them in warlike fashion to the uplands of Ceredigion; and 1,500 men of the lowlands of Ceredigion and of Rhos and Penfro assembled there and came to the mountain with the intent to seize Owain. The encounter between them was on Hyddgen Mountain, and no sooner did the English troops turn their backs in flight than 200 of them were slain. Owain now won great fame, and a great number of youths and fighting men from every part of Wales rose and joined him, until he had a great host at his back.

Later traditions and historical accounts have offered various locations about the battle, and gave it a more heroic narrative – Owain and his men are surprised and surrounded by the force of English and Flemish troops, and are trapped on the mountain for a number of days. It is then they make a desperate charge that forces that sends his enemies to flee.

While Livingston believes that some sort of encounter took place between June and September, when Henry IV made his second call for troops to campaign in Wales, he believes that it is highly improbable that the battle as described in the Welsh sources took place. “Its simply unbelievable that the Welsh were surprised” by an English-Flemish force, considering how skilled Owain was a military leader and his knowledge of the mountainous terrain in northern Wales. Nor could have a force of 1500 men be able to surround Mount Hyddgen.

Also telling is that there are no other records, from either English or Welsh sources of such a battle taking place or for the mobilization of 1500 troops from southern Wales.

Instead, Livingston thinks that either that the description of the battle was entirely fictitious or that it was an exaggerated account of a much smaller skirmish between a force of a few hundred local English and Flemish men and Owain’s troops. He even offers an alternative location of where the battle could take place – a natural ridge along the lower southern slopes of Mount Hyddgen, which offered a strong defensive position for the Welsh.

Whatever happened in the summer of 1401, Owain Glyndŵr would go on in following years to gain followers and take control of much of Wales. By 1404 English control had been reduced to just a few castles, but gradually they were able to regain the territory. Owain was never captured, and died around the year 1415 – he remains today an important figure of Welsh nationalism.

Click here to visit Michael Livingston’s website

See also: Prince Hal’s Head-Wound: Cause and Effect

See also: The face of Owain Glyndŵr revealed

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