English Conquest of Wales

English Conquest of Wales
English Conquest of Wales
By 1276 and prior to the invasion undertaken under the reign of Edward I, Wales was divided into three separate zones. Despite the opposition of the Welsh to the presence of the Angevin kings (those who had entered Wales during the Norman Conquest of England), they remained powerful in central Wales, while the Welsh monarchy, which had been in place since the 10th century, remained the powerful force in rural areas.

The Angevin kings were Norman, although the settlers were Saxon English. This inevitably led to settlers bringing the English language with them into Wales, but this brought a negligible threat to the survival of the Welsh language.

The first zone applied to the areas located nearest the English border, belonging to the Marcher lords, who were the descendants of the first advancing Norman lords who accompanied William the Conqueror in the early 11th century.

Furthermore these were considered as the first line of defense against the counterinvasion of England by Wales. However, they managed to establish their own authority and exercised their own legal system for numerous generations.

The two remaining zones were divided between those who remained politically independent and those under the rule of the Welsh princes. The only hope for the resurgence of the Welsh princes’ power largely rested with the possibility that a weak monarch would once again lead Britain.

However the prevailing power of the monarch meant that the princes were largely confined to their traditional sphere of infl uence in the small area of Gwynedd, and in the northern section of the country, in areas such as Anglesey and Snowdonia, and it was in these areas that the traditional Welsh laws and customs prevailed.

A prominent Welsh prince, Llywelyn, planned a revolt against their dominance. Through the support of his followers, he gained more land, defeated the incumbent royal armies, established links with Scotland, and declared himself the first and last native prince of Wales.

Llywelyn’s alliance began with Simon de Montfort, the last baron who stood against King Henry III. De Montfort had defeated the king at the Battle of Lewes in 1264, which consequently gave official recognition to Llywelyn’s title of prince of Wales.

This was still subject to a payment of £20,000 to the king. The Treaty of Montgomery, signed in 1267 by the restored Henry III, signaled the peak of Llywelyn’s power and gave Wales its status as a principality. Wales now had a constitutional right to possess its own characteristics as a state.

However Llywelyn was faced with the problem of having no heir to his throne. Furthermore his rival brothers were lodging a claim for the inheritance of his estate, to which they were entitled to an equal share.

Llywelyn lacked the funds to settle a debt he owed to Henry III. Consequently Llywelyn imposed higher taxes on the people, which created considerable resentment but was considered an essential to establish Wales as a nation independent of English rule.

He took practical steps to facilitate this aim, attacked the Marchers’ fortresses built in South Wales as a preventative measure against the native Welsh reaching the English border, and in turn claimed power over three-quarters of Wales.

By 1282 the Welsh had become increasingly unhappy at the powers exerted over them by English lordship, and consequently rebelled. Llywelyn led the rebellion, captured castles, and defeated the royal army.

The king’s response was to lead a large army into Wales, which further antagonized the population. Intervention came from the archbishop of Canterbury, John Peckham, who tried to bring agreement to the both sides.

Peckham suggested that Llywelyn would be offered land and titles in England if he abdicated his position as prince of Wales. This provoked outrage, with the Welsh council arguing that Edward I ruled over Wales by tyranny, and further solidified the campaign for Welsh independence.

Llywelyn branded the English invasion of Wales and their fight against it as a “war of national liberation.” The Welsh attacked the English knights and made use of the varied Welsh terrain, with which the English were unfamiliar.

However their optimism was quickly extinguished by the death of Llywelyn in a fight with an English soldier. Llywelyn’s head was dismembered and sent to London and carried through the streets as proof of the prince’s death. Despite Llywelyn’s death, the revolt continued for a short time and eventually ended in 1284, with the Welsh conceding defeat.

In victory King Edward established towns in Wales, constructed more castles, encouraged movement into Wales from England, and established and preserved English-run institutions in Wales.

This position received statutory recognition through the Royal Assent provided to the Statute of Rhuddlan, passed in 1284, which ultimately led to the imposition of the English common law in Wales and covered all matters, except land claims.

The Welsh language remained in Wales, although the daily business in the country was now conducted through the medium of English. The tax system imposed on the country hit the poorest the hardest and drove them further into destitution.