Owain Glyndwr

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Owain Glyndŵr, sometimes anglicised as Owen Glendower (1359–c. 1416), was the last Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales, and was a descendant of the princes of Powys.

He instigated an ultimately unsuccessful revolt against English rule of Wales.



Early Life

Owain was born in the 1350s to a prosperous landed family in North-East Wales. They were part of the Anglo-Welsh gentry of the Marches (the border between England and Wales). This group moved easily between Welsh and English societies occupying important offices for the Marcher lords while maintaining their position as “uchelwyr” – nobles descended from the pre-conquest royal dynasties – in traditional Welsh society. His parents died some time before 1370 and he was fostered at the home of Sir David Hanmer. Sir David was a pillar of Marcher society; he was a judge and a Member of Parliament. Owain is thought to have been sent to London to study law at the Inns of Court. He probably studied as a legal apprentice for seven years; enough to get a good grasp of the law but not enough to be known as a “Man of Law”. He was probably in London to see the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.

By 1383 he had returned to Wales. He married Sir David’s daughter, Margaret, and established himself as the Squire of Strycath and Glyndyfrdwy. However, he seems to have been bored by the life of a Welsh gentleman. By 1385 he had enlisted under the Earl of Arundel in Richard II’s Scottish War. He took along his brother, Tudor, and Sir David’s son, John Hanmer.

In Scotland he spent some time in garrison duty along the border before being involved in Richard's failed invasion of Scotland. Military service was a common road to fame and fortune for Welshmen in the 14th Century. Owain’s military patron, Sir Gregory Sais (“English Gregory”) had found fame in the French wars. However, Owain’s military career was to be held back by circumstances beyond his control. The 1370s and 1380s were the time of French counterattack, offering few opportunities for an ambitious young Welshman.

In 1387 Owain was in the South East and saw action on the high-seas at the Battle of Cadzand. Then Sir David died and as his executor, Owain returned to Wales to deal with the estate. Furthermore, Arundel fell from power (as Richard II regained power) and was executed in 1388. Sir Gregory Sais’s death three years later further limited his opportunities.

The deaths of his patrons definitely reduced opportunities for Owain. Faced with these disappointments he returned to his estates in North Wales. For the next ten years he lived quietly. The bard Iolo Goch (“Red Iolo”) visited him throughout the 1390s and wrote a number of odes to Owain. He recorded a happy prosperous family. Owain and Margaret (“of all her sex his wife's the best”) living comfortably with a large brood of children (probably ten or eleven children). Some of these were certainly illegitimate. Owain was the descendant of two Welsh royal houses (Powys and Deheubarth) and, with some imaginative genealogy, could also show his descent from the royal house of Gwynedd. Bards like Iolo never stopped reminding him of his destiny and status. His seer and personal prophet, Crach Ffinnant (“Scabby from the boundary stream”), foretold greatness for him. Although he was a Welsh baron — an uchelwr — he was untitled in the eyes of the English. It must have gnawed at him that he, a talented, learned, energetic man of royal descent, seemed condemned to rot away as an unknown squire on his estates. He had tried the law but for some reason had not progressed. He had tried to achieve military glory but had been undermined by the incompetence of his leaders and the outbreak of peace. Finally, his patron, the Earl of Arundel, had fallen from power leaving him with no obvious sponsor to further his career.

The Fall of Richard II and the Welsh Revolt

In the late 1390s, a series of events arrived that began to push Owain towards rebellion. In the last decade of the 14th Century, Richard II had launched a bold plan to consolidate his hold on his kingdom and break the power of the magnates who constantly threatened his authority. As part of this plan, Richard began to shift his power base from the Southeast toward the West. He established a new principality around the County of Cheshire and systematically built up his power in Wales. Wales was ruled through a patchwork of semi-autonomous feudal states, bishoprics, shires, and territory under direct Royal rule. Richard eliminated his rivals and took their land or gave it to his favourites. As he did so, he raised an entire class of Welshmen to fill the new posts created in his new fiefdoms. For these men, the final days of the reign of Richard II were full of opportunities. In contrast, to the English magnates, it was a sign that Richard was dangerously out of control.

In 1399 the exiled Henry Bolingbroke, heir to the Dukedom of Lancaster, returned to reclaim his lands. Henry raised an army and marched to meet the King. Richard hurried back from Ireland to deal with Henry. They met in Wales at Conwy Castle to discuss the restitution of Henry’s lands. Whatever was intended, the meeting ended when Richard was arrested, deposed and imprisoned, first at Chester, then at Pontefract Castle in West Yorkshire. Parliament quickly made Henry regent and then King. Richard died under mysterious circumstances in Pontefract, but his death was not generally known for some time. In Wales, men like Owain were asked for the first time in their life to decide their loyalties. The Welsh were traditionally supporters of Richard, who had succeeded his father as Prince of Wales. With Richard removed the opportunities for advancement for Welshmen were suddenly severely limited. Many Welshmen seem to have been uncertain where this left them.

The Dispute With De Grey

The revolt began as an argument with Owain's neighbour. The De Greys of Dyffryn Clwyd were Norman landowners with a reputation for being anti-Welsh. Owain was locked in a long-running land dispute with them. In 1399 he appealed to Parliament to resolve the issues. Reynold de Grey — a good friend of the new King Henry — used his influence to have Owain’s appeal rejected. Furthermore, he deliberately withheld a summons for Owain to join the King’s Scottish campaign. Technically, as a tennant-in-chief to the King, Owain was obliged to provide troops. By not responding to the summons Owain had committed treason.

The Revolt, 1400-15

On September 16, 1400, Owain acted, and was proclaimed Prince of Wales by a small band of followers. This was a revolutionary statement in itself. Owain’s men quickly spread through North-East Wales. By September 19, the de Grey stronghold of Ruthin was attacked and almost destroyed. Denbigh, Rhuddlan, Flint, Hawarden, and Holt followed quickly afterward. On September 22 the town of Oswestry was so badly damaged by Owain’s raid that it had to be rechartered. By the 24th, Owain was moving south and sacked Welshpool. Simultaneously, the Tudor brothers from Anglesey launched a guerrilla war against the English. The Tudors were a prominent Anglesey family who were closely associated with Richard. Gwilym and Rhys ap Tudor had been captains of archers in Richard’s campaigns in Ireland. They quickly switched allegiance to their cousin, Owain Glyndwr.

Henry IV, on his way north to invade Scotland, turned his army around and by September 26 he was in Shrewsbury ready to invade Wales. In a lightning campaign, Henry led his army around North Wales. He was harassed constantly by bad weather and the attacks of Welsh guerillas. By October 15 he was back in Shrewsbury with little to show for his efforts.

In 1401 the revolt began to spread. The whole of northern and central Wales went over to Owain. Multiple attacks were recorded on English towns, castles, and manors throughout the North. Even in the South in Brecon and Gwent reports began to come in of banditry and lawlessness by groups calling themselves the Plant Owain — the Children of Owain. In May Gwilym and Rhys ap Tudor easily took Conwy castle while the garrison was at church. They were to hold out for more than six months until they negotiated its return for a sizable payment and free passage. Owain also scored his first major victory in the field. In June, at Mynydd Hyddgen in West Wales, Owain and his army of four hundred were camped at the bottom of the Hyddgen valley when fifteen hundred English and Flemish settlers from Pembrokeshire charged down on them. Owain rallied his army and fought back, killing 200 and making prisoners of the rest.

The situation was sufficiently serious for the King to assemble another punitive expedition. This time he attacked through central Wales. From Shrewsbury and Hereford, Henry IV’s forces drove through Powys toward the Abbey of Strata Florida. The Cistercian house was known to be sympathetic towards Owain and Henry intended to remind them of their loyalties and prevent the revolt from spreading any further south. After terrible weather and constant harassment by the Plant Owain he reached Strata Florida. Henry was in no mode to be merciful. After a two-day drinking session, he partially destroyed the Abbey and executed monks suspected of pro-Owain loyalties. However, he failed to engage Owain’s forces in any large numbers. Plant Owain harassed him and engaged in hit-and-run tactics on his supply chain but refused to fight in the open. Henry was forced to retreat. As he did so the weather turned. The army was nearly washed away in floods and Henry almost died when his tent was blown down. Wet, starving, and dejected, they returned to Hereford with nothing to claim for their efforts.

The English saw that if the revolt prospered it would inevitably attract disaffected supporters of the deposed King. They were concerned about the potential for disaffection in Cheshire and were increasingly worried about the complaints of the military governor of North Wales, Harry “Hotspur” Percy. The legendary warrior – son of the powerful Earl of Northumberland – complained that he was not receiving sufficient support from the King and that the repressive policy of Henry was only encouraging revolt. He argued that negotiation and compromise could persuade Owain to end his revolt. In fact, as early as 1401, Hotspur may have been in secret negotiations with Owain and other leaders of the revolt to attempt to negotiate a settlement. The core Lancastrian supporters would have none of this. They struck back with anti-Welsh legislation designed to establish English dominance in Wales. The laws actually codified common practices that had been at work in Wales and along the Marches for many years. However, they sent a message to many of those who were wavering that the English viewed all the Welsh with equal suspicion. Many Welshmen who had tried to further their careers in English service now felt pushed into the rebellion as the middle ground between Owain and Henry disappeared.

In the same year, Owain captured his arch enemy, Reynald de Grey in an ambush at Ruthin. He was to hold him for a year until he received a substantial ransom from Henry. In June Owain’s forces encountered an army led by Sir Edmund Mortimer, the uncle of the the Lord of the March, at Bryn Glas in central Wales. Mortimer's army was badly defeated and Mortimer was captured. It is reported that the Welsh women following Owain’s army killed the wounded English and mutilated the bodies of the dead, supposedly in revenge for plundering and rape by the English the previous year. Glyndwr offered to release Mortimer for a large ransom but, in sharp contrast to his attitude to de Grey, Henry IV refused to pay. In response, Sir Edmund negotiated an alliance with Owain and married one of Owain’s daughters, Catrin.

It is also in 1402 that we first start to hear mentions of French and Bretons helping Owain. The French were certainly hoping to use Wales as they had used Scotland as a base from which to fight the English. French privateers began to attack English ships in the Irish sea and provide weapons to the Welsh. French and Breton freebooters were also active in Owain’s attacks.

1403 marks the year when the revolt became truly national. Owain struck out to the West and the South. Recreating Llywelyn the Great's campaign in the West, Owain marched down the Tywi Valley. Village after village rose to join him. English manors and castles fell or their inhabitants surrendered. Finally, Carmarthen, one of the main English power-bases in the West, fell and was occupied by Owain. Owain then turned around and attacked Glamorgan and Gwent. The castle at Abergavenny in Gwent was attacked and burnt. Owain pushed on down to the coast and took Cardiff and Newport. Royal officials report that Welsh students at Oxford were leaving their studies for Owain and Welsh labourers and craftsmen were abandoning their employers and returning to Wales in droves. Owain could also draw on the seasoned troops from the English campaigns in France. Hundreds of Welsh archers and men-at-arms left English service to join the rebellion.

In the North, Owain’s supporters launched a second attack on Caernarfon Castle (this time with French support) and almost captured it. In response, Henry of Monmouth (the son of Henry IV and the future Henry V) attacked and burnt Owain’s homes at Glyndyfrdwy and Sycharth. The situation became much worse – Hotspur defected to Owain. Raising his standard of revolt in Cheshire – a bastion of support for Richard II – he challenged his cousin Henry’s right to the throne. His young protégé, Henry of Monmouth, then only sixteen, turned to the North to meet Hotspur. On July 21, Henry arrived in Shrewsbury just before Hotspur forcing the rebel army to camp outside the town. Henry forced the battle before the Earl of Northumberland had managed to reach Shrewsbury. Thus, Henry was able to fight before the full strength of the rebels was present and on ground of his own choosing. The battle lasted all day. When the cry went out that Hotspur had fallen, the rebels' resistance began to falter and crumble. By the end of the day, Hotspur’s rebellion was over. Over 300 knights had died and up to 20,000 men were killed or injured.

In 1404, Owain captured and garrisoned the great western castles of Harlech and Aberystwyth. Anxious to demonstrate his seriousness as a ruler, he held court at Harlech and appointed the devious and brilliant Gruffydd Yonge as his chancellor. Soon afterwards he called his first Parliament (or more properly a “Cynulliad” or “gathering”) of all Wales at Machynlleth and announced his national programme. He declared his vision of an independent Welsh state with a parliament and separate Welsh church. There would be two national universities (one in the South and one in the North) and return to the traditional law of Hywel Dda. Senior Churchmen and important members of society flowed to his banner. English resistance was reduced to a few isolated castles, walled towns, and fortified manors.

Owain demonstrated his new status by negotiating the "Tripartite Indenture" with Edmund Mortimer and the Earl of Northumberland. The Indenture agreed to divide England and Wales between them. Wales would extend as far as the rivers Severn and Mersey including most of Cheshire, Shropshire, and Herefordshire. The Mortimer Lords of March would take all of southern and western England and Thomas Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, would take the north of England. Most historians have dismissed the Indenture as a flight of fantasy. However, it must be remembered that in early 1404 things still looked positive for Owain. Local English communities in Shropshire, Herefordshire and Montgomeryshire had ceased active resistance and were making their own treaties with the rebels. It was rumoured that old allies of Richard II were sending money and arms to the Welsh and the Cistercians and Franciscans were funneling funds to support the rebellion. Furthermore, the Percy rebellion was still viable; even after the defeat of the Percy Archbishop Scope in May. In fact the Percy rebellion was not to end until 1408 when the Sheriff of Yorkshire defeated Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland at Bramham Moor. Thus, far from a flight of fantasy, Owain was capitalizing on the political situation to make the best deal he possibly could.

Things were improving on the international front too. Although negotiations with the Scots and the Lords of Ireland were unsuccessful, Owain had reasons to hope that the French and Bretons might be more welcoming. Quickly Owain dispatched Yonge and his brother-in-law, John Hanmer, to France to negotiate a treaty with the French. The result was a formal treaty that promised French aid to Owain and the Welsh. The immediate effect seems to have been that joint Welsh and Franco-Breton forces attacked and laid siege to Kidwelly Castle. The Welsh could also count on semi-official fraternal aid from their fellow Celts in the then independent Brittany and Scotland. Scots and French privateers were operating around Wales throughout Owain’s war. Scots ships had raided English settlements on the Llyn Peninsula in 1400 and 1401. In 1403 a Breton squadron defeated the English in the Channel and devastated Jersey, Guernsey and Plymouth while the French made a landing on the Isle of Wight. By 1404 they were raiding the coast of England, with Welsh troops on board, setting fire to Dartmouth and devastating the coasts of Devonshire.

1405 was the “Year of the French” in Wales. On the continent the French pressed the English as the French army invaded English Aquitaine. Simultaneously, the French landed in force at Milford Haven in West Wales. They had left Brest in July with more than twenty-eight hundred knights and men-at-arms led by Jean de Rieux, the Marshall of France. Unfortunately, they had not been provided with sufficient fresh water and many horses had died. They also brought modern siege equipment. Joined by Owain’s forces they marched inland and took the town of Haverfordwest but failed to take the castle. They then moved on and retook Carmarthen and laid siege to Tenby. What happened next is something of a mystery. The Franco-Welsh force marched across South Wales (according to local tradition) and invaded England. They marched through Herefordshire and into the Midlands. They finally met the English outside Worcester at the ancient British hill fort of Woodbury Hill. The armies viewed each other without any action for eight days. Then, for reasons that have never been clear, both sides withdrew. The Welsh and French withdrew back through Wales into the West. More French were to arrive as the year went on but the high-point of French involvement had passed. By 1406 most French forces had withdrawn after politics shifted in Paris toward the peace party. Even Owain's so-called “Pennal Letter”, in which he promised the French King and the Avignon Pope to shift the allegiance of the Welsh Church from Rome to Avignon, produced no effect.

There were other signs the revolt was encountering problems. Early in the year Owain’s forces suffered defeats at Grosmont and Usk (Pwll Melyn). Although it is very difficult to understand what happened at these two battles, it appears that Henry of Monmouth or possibly Sir John Talbot defeated substantial Welsh raiding parties led by Rhys Gethin (“Swarthy Rhys”) and Owain’s eldest son, Gruffudd. The exact date and order of these battles is subject to dispute. However, they may have resulted in the death of Rhys Gethin and Owain's brother, Tudur, and the capture of Gruffudd. Henry also showed that the English were engaged in more and more desperate tactics. Adam of Usk says that after the battle of Pwll Melyn, Henry had three hundred prisoners beheaded in front of Usk Castle. John ap Hywel, abbot of the Llantarnam Cistercian monastery, was killed during the battle of Usk as he ministered to the dying and wounded on both sides. More serious for the rebellion, English forces landed in Anglesey from Ireland. Over the next year they would gradually push the Welsh back until the resistance in Anglesey formally ended toward the end of 1406.

At the same time, the English were adopting a different strategy. Rather than focusing on punitive expeditions favoured by Henry IV, the young Henry of Monmouth adopted a strategy of economic blockade. Using the castles that remained in English control he gradually began to retake Wales while cutting off trade and the supply of weapons. By 1407 this strategy was beginning to bear fruit. In March, 1,000 men from all over Flintshire appeared before the Chief Justice of the county and agreed to pay a communal fine for their adherence to Glyndwr. Gradually the same pattern was repeated throughout the country. In July the Earl of Arundel’s north-east lordship submitted. One by one the lordships began to surrender. By midsummer, Owain’s castle at Aberystwyth was under siege. That autumn the castle surrendered. In 1409 it was the turn of Harlech. Last minute desperate envoys were sent to the French for help. There was no response. Gruffudd Yonge was sent to Scotland to attempt to coordinate action but nothing was to come. The castle fell. Edmund Mortimer died in the final battle and Owain’s wife Margaret along with two of his daughters (including Catrin) and three of his Mortimer granddaughters were taken prisoner and incarcerated in the Tower of London. They were all to die in the Tower of London before 1415.

Owain remained at large but now he was a hunted guerilla leader. The revolt continued to splutter on. In 1409 or 1410, Owain readied his supporters for a last raid deep into Shropshire. Many of his most loyal commanders were present. It may have been a last desperate suicide raid. Whatever was intended, the raid went terribly wrong and many of the leading figures still at large were captured. Rhys Ddu (“Black Rhys”) of Cardigan, one of Owain’s most faithful commanders, was captured and taken to London for execution. A chronicle of the time states that Rhys Ddu was: “..laid on a hurdle and so drawn forth to Tyburn through the city and was there hanged and let down again. His head was smitten off and his body quartered and sent to four towns and his head set on London Bridge.” Philip Scudamore and Rhys ap Tudur were also beheaded and their heads displayed at Shrewsbury and Chester (no doubt to discourage any further thoughts of rebellion).

In 1412 Owain captured and later ransomed a leading Welsh supporter of Henry’s, Dafydd Gam (“Crooked David”), in an ambush in Brecon. These were the last flashes of the revolt. This was the last time that Owain was seen alive. As late at 1414 there were rumors that the Lollard leader, Sir John Oldcastle, was communicating with Owain and reinforcements were sent to the major castles in the North and South. Outlaws and bandits left over from the rebellion were still active in Snowdonia.

But by then things were changing. Henry IV died in 1413 and his son began to adopt a conciliatory attitude to the Welsh. Pardons were offered to the major leaders of the revolt and other opponents of his father's regime. In a symbolic gesture, the body of Richard II was interred in Westminster Abbey. In 1415 Henry offered a pardon to Owain as he prepared for war with France. There is evidence that Henry was in negotiations with Owain’s son, Maredydd, but nothing was to come of it. In 1416 Maredydd was offered a pardon but refused. Perhaps his father was still alive and he was unwilling to accept the pardon while he lived. He finally accepted a pardon in 1421, suggesting that Owain was dead.

The Death of Owain

Nothing is known of Owain after 1412. Despite enormous rewards offered he was never captured. Tradition has that he either died and was buried at his estate in Sycharth or on the estates of his daughters' husbands — Kentchurch in Herefordshire or Monnington. Owain’s daughter, Alys, had married Sir Henry Scudamore, the Sheriff of Hereforshire. Somehow he had weathered the war and remained in office. It was rumoured that Owain finally retreated to their home at Kentchurch. In his book "The Mystery of Jack of Kent and the Fate of Owain Glyndwr", Alex Gibon argues that the folk hero Jack of Kent – the family chaplain of the Scudamore family – was Owain Glyndwr. Gibbon points out a number of similarities between Kent and Glyndwr (including physical appearance) and claims that Owain spent his last years living with Alys passing himself off as an aging Franciscan friar.

The Aftermath

By 1415 peace could be said to have returned to Wales. The leading rebels were dead, imprisoned, or impoverished through massive fines. Scarcely a parish or family in Wales, English or Welsh, had not been affected in some way. The cost in loss of life, physical destruction, and ruined lives was enormous. Wales, already a poor country, was further impoverished by pillage, economic blockade and communal fines. Reports by travellers talk of ruined castles and abbeys. Grass grew in the market squares of many towns and commerce had almost ground to a halt. Land that had previously been productive was now empty wasteland with no tenants to work the land. As late as 1492 a Royal Official in lowland Glamorgan was still citing the devastation caused by the revolt as the reason why he was unable to deliver promised revenues to the King.

Many prominent families were ruined. In 1411, John Hanmer pleaded poverty as a reason why he could not pay the fines imposed on him. The Tudurs no longer lorded it over Anglesey and North-West Wales as they had done throughout the late 14th century. The family seemed finished until the third Tudur brother, Maredudd, went to London and established a new destiny for the family. Others eventually surrendered and made peace with the new order. The redoubtable Henry Dwn who with the French and Bretons had laid siege to Kidwelly Castle in 1403 and 1404 made his peace and accepted a fine. Somehow he avoided paying a penny. For many years after his surrender and despite official proscriptions, he sheltered rebels on the run, levied fines on 200 individuals that had not supported him, rode around the county with his retinue, and even plotted the murder of the King’s justice. Nevertheless, his grandson fought with Henry V in 1415 at Agincourt. Others could not fit into the new order. An unknown number of Owain’s supporters went into exile. Henry Gwyn (“White Henry”) heir to the substantial Lordship of Llansteffan left Wales forever and was to die in the service of the King of France facing his old comrades at Agincourt. Gruffydd Yonge was another permanent exile. By 1415 he was in Paris. He was to live another 20 years being first Bishop of Ross in Scotland and later Bishop of Hippo in North Africa.


After Owain's death, there was little resistance to English rule until, in the 16th century, the Tudor dynasty, whilst allowing Welshmen to become more prominent in English society, saw Owain's revolt as a catastrophe for Wales. In “Henry IV” Shakespeare portrays him as wild and exotic; a man ruled by magic and emotion in sharp contrast to the logical and reasonable Hotspur. It was not until the late 19th century that Owain's reputation was to be revived. The “Young Wales” movement recreated him as the father of Welsh nationalism. The discovery of Owain's Great Seal and his letters to the French in the Bibliotheque Nationale helped revise historical images of him as a purely local leader. In the First World War, the Welsh Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, unveiled a statue to him in Cardiff town hall and a postcard showing Owain at the Battle of Mynydd Hyddgen was sold to raise money for wounded Welsh soldiers. Folk memory in Wales had always held him in high regard. Almost every parish has some landmark or story about Owain. He joined the long list of failed resistance to English rule and was remembered as a national hero on a par with King Arthur. During the 1980s, a group calling themselves "Meibion Glyndwr" claimed responsibility for the burning of holiday homes in Wales. The creation of the National Assembly for Wales brought him back into the spotlight. In 2000 celebrations were held all over Wales to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the rising. Stamps were issued with his likeness and streets, parks, and public squares were named after him throughout Wales. Owain’s personal standard – the four lions of Gwynedd rampant – began to be seen all over Wales, especially at rugby matches against the English. An energetic campaign exists to make September 16th, the date Owain raised his standard, a national holiday in Wales.


Glyndwr is the subject of several historical novels, including:

He is also a character in Shakespeare's Henry IV, part 1.


  • J.E. Lloyd, Owen Glendower. Although written in 1931, this book is still considered a classic.
  • Rees R. Davies, The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr. Oxford: University Press, 1995. ISBN 0192853368
  • Geoffrey Hodge, Owain Glyn Dwr: The War of Independence in the Welsh Borders, Logaston Press, 1995. ISBN 1873827245

External link

de:Owain Glyndwr pl:Owen Glendower


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