Owain’s Revolt? Glyn Dŵr’s role in the outbreak of the rebellion

Owain’s Revolt? Glyn Dŵr’s role in the outbreak of the rebellion

By Gideon Brough

SHARE: Studies in History, Archaeology, Religion and Conservation, Vol.2:1 (2015)

Owain Glyn Dwr statue at Corwen-  photo by Lyn Dafis / Flickr

Abstract: This article asserts that Owain Glyn Dŵr was neither the instigator nor, initially, the sole leader of the revolt for which he has become well known. It also challenges the idea that there was just one rebellion and casts doubt on the notion that he proclaimed himself Prince of Wales on 16 September 1400.

The familiar version of the outbreak of the revolt was popularised by John Lloyd in 1931 and then furthered by certain of Rees Davies’s later works. Their influential writings have provided a compelling illustration of the events in question and no secondary analyses notably disagree. However, their works primarily focus on the deeds of Glyn Dŵr and so largely ignore or dismiss the other acts of violence in Wales between 1399 and 1401, which were unconnected to Owain. In contrast, consideration of the other revolts described by contemporary sources enables a different understanding of the beginning of the revolt. Owain did eventually become the head of the rebel movement in Wales but, in the early years of the conflict, the situation was more complex than has previously been presented. This article details those other acts of rebellion and contextualises Glyn Dŵr’s actions within contemporary events.

In 1931, J. E. Lloyd described the outbreak of the revolt in his landmark work, Owen Glendower (Owain Glyndwr). Although he noted that there was some ambiguity over the causes of the conflict, Owain’s motives and the reasons others had to follow him, Lloyd painted a clear picture stating that ‘Owen took up arms’ and that others ‘ranged themselves under his banner’. Lloyd identified that the primary causes for Owain’s actions were disputes with Lord Grey of Ruthin. He revealed that Grey had seized part of Owain’s lands and had deliberately withheld a royal summons to campaign in Scotland with the new king, Henry IV. Consequently, Owain was declared a traitor and his lands were forfeit.

When Owain’s efforts for a mediated solution to the dispute failed, Lloyd wrote that ‘Owen resolved, in midSeptember … to wait no longer for the peaceable redress of his grievances, but to strike a resounding blow which would make it impossible henceforth to ignore him.’ He then outlined the meeting of the main characters charged with gathering with Owain on 16 September 1400, who ‘as their first step’ allegedly proclaimed Owain prince of Wales and then conducted a string of attacks on Ruthin, Denbigh, Rhuddlan, Flint, Hawarden, Holt, Oswestry and Welshpool. Lloyd noted that the Tudors were also in revolt at the time ‘in distant Anglesey’ and that their actions at Conwy the following year were self-motivated. However, his description of the outbreak of the revolt unequivocally portrayed Owain as its leader, who proactively took up arms, assumed the title of prince and commenced hostilities in September 1400. It was also Owain who took the campaign south in 1401, according to Lloyd, ‘Owen now transferred his activities to South Wales.’ There, he won a victory at Hyddgen after which ‘great numbers rallied to him’. Lloyd also wrote that Henry Don, a notable figure in south Wales, would come to wherever ‘his leader’, as their relationship was defined, summoned him. Therefore, Lloyd unambiguously depicted Owain as the leader of the many who rebelled and the one to whom the strongmen of Wales would come when called.

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