The Defeat of Wales (1282) by Sarah Woodbury

Posted by on Nov 10, 2014 in Featured Book, Medieval Great Britain | 3 comments

Gwynedd-after-1277-ADAfter the Treaty of Aberconwy in 1277 AD, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was reduced to lordship over a small area of land in Gwynedd, mostly west of the Conwy River.  Over the course of the 1282 war, he took back much of what he’d lost.  He was killed, however, on 11 December 1282, and all of Wales ultimately fell the forces of Edward I.  The map at right shows:

Green:  Gwynedd, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s principality

Blue:  Territories of Dafydd ap Gruffydd

Pink:  Territories ceded forever to the English Crown

This defeat of the native Welsh forces led by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and then briefly after Llywelyn’s death by his brother, Dafydd, resulted in a much divided Wales.  On the top of the hierarchy, instead of native rulers, were English (mostly) absentee landowners.  Within the Marche and portions of southern Wales, the native rulers had sided with the English anyway, and thus retained their land.  Among the peasants, their lot in life didn’t change much.

In Gwynedd, however, which had been the seat of Welsh resistance for centuries, the English overlords directly intervened in the life of the local populace and attempted to root out and confiscate the lands of those who’d rebelled.  For example, of the 104 shares of land in the Denbigh area formerly under Welsh control, the English confiscated, through a variety of means, 96 of them, or 92.3% of the total (Given, James.  The Economic Consequences of the English Conquest of Gwynedd. Speculum. Vol. 64. No. 1 1989).

Given goes on to say: “The acquisition of sizable tracts of land allowed the English to work some changes in Denbigh’s ethnic and social composition.  The new rulers made a determined effort to establish an English colony . . . all the original inhabitants of the vill adjoining the head of the honor at Denbigh were removed, and a borough was created in the castle’s shadow.  Other Englishmen were settled nearby.  In the town of Lleweni, for example, only one Welshman, Iorwerth ap Llywarch, was allowed to retain land.  The rest of the village was divided among about 120 English colonists”  (p. 18).

Interestingly, except for confiscating Llywelyn’s own lands, and Edward’s extensive castle building program, Edward’s treatment of western Gwynedd appeared at first to be more lenient in that he deliberately kept the native system of land ownership intact.  Instead, he extracted money from those who owned land in a complete overhaul of the rent and taxation system.   In the past, rent consisted of a combination of food renders, labor services, and compulsory hospitality.  Under the new regime, it was all cash payment and the increases ranged from 78.5% for cash rent from free tenants to a 7-fold increase for bondmen (p. 25).

In order to establish his authority in the region, he built a series of castles across Gwynedd, among them Caernarfon, Beaumaris, Conwy, and Harlech.

The English also:  required individuals to “grind their grain at the lord’s mill, press their grapes at his wine press, bake their bread in his oven, etc.”  and pay for the privilege.  They also were compelled (according to a 1305 record) to attend the local market and to trade only within the (English) borough town walls, resulting in more taxes.  “In a period of twenty years, thanks to steady and determined application, the English administration had managed to increase its take from its Welsh territories almost three fold” (Given p. 25-31).

Other impacts included an overhaul (and rejection) of the long-standing Welsh system of laws set down by Hywel Dda and the impressment of Welshmen into the English miltary.  “Just as the Welsh may have had to bear a disproportionately heavier share of taxation than the English, so it appears that they made a relatively large contribution to royal armies . . . For example, of the 12,500 infantry raised for the 1298 Falkirk campaign, 10,500 (84%) were Welsh” (Given p. 35).

Given concludes that the result of the English occupation forced the Welsh to sell themselves, their property, and their possessions to placate an ever more avaricious English government.  “Sometime early in the fourteenth century, in a petition delivered to Edward II, [petitioners] informed the king that because of their poverty and impotence they had left their lands, unable to pay their rents reliefs, and other dues.  In 1324, the villeins of the commote of Eifionydd . . . were so vexed and impoverished by the demands of the men who were farming the king’s mill and fish weirs that they experienced great difficulty in holding their land . . . [others claimed] that the royal purveyors had so impoverished them that they could barely live”  (p. 43).

Given concludes that, contrary to previous scholarship and received wisdom, “the growth of political authority, generally saluted as one of the positive features of late-medieval  society, may in reality have been one of the primary causes of the crises that afflicted Europe in the late Middle Ages” (p. 44).

That’s possible, but given Edward’s intent to wipe out all memory of Llywelyn, his seat and family, along with Welsh nationalism, this attempt to conquer the Welsh financially makes perfect sense.  Coupled with his castle building program, it shows how successful Edward was not only at defeating the Welsh militarily, but ensuring their material defeat and continued (and continual) subjugation.

This history is the reason I rewrote history to create my After Cilmeri series. I asked the question, what would have happened had Llywelyn lived?” and went on from there. The ninth book in the series, Warden of Time, was released on 19 October 2015. Happy reading!

Sarah Woodbury, November 10, 2014

3 Comments

  1. Thanks, Sarah. great lesson! I enjoyed reading Uneasy Lies the Crown, which opened up the world of the subjugation of Wales to me. The church too, had very stringent rules about just what kind of mill one could use to grind grain. Wind or running water was considered a gift from God, so the church had to get a big cut of the profits! When somebody figured out how to harness the tide… all hell broke loose!

    • When we were in Wales last summer, we visited Carew Castle, which has a tidal mill. I’d never seen one before.

      I live for this kind of history lesson 🙂

  2. Sarah, I have enjoyed reading your After Cilmeri Series. I’m at this very time rereading from Daughter of Time all through the rest of the series ending with Warden of Time, which I’m reading like crazy to get to it!

    Your series awakened my mind to the turmoil that was going on between Wales and England. I was completely ignorant to this episode in Wales history, but after reading your books and the above article I feel I know a little more about the history of Wales now.

    As to your, After Cilmeri Series, I can now envision what Wales may have been if, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, had not been killed on December 11, 1282. Of course Wales still may have been defeated by England, but your series is so thrilling to read and think about if this had been real what it could have meant!

    Keep on writing your great books. BTW I love all your other books.