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Edward I and the English Conquest of Wales, 1282-1283

Edward I, king of England from 1272 until 1307, is most famously known as the ‘Hammer of the Scots’, and many peoples understanding of his kingship may stem from the wildly inaccurate Hollywood film Braveheart.  Yet whilst the main focus has been upon Anglo-Scottish relations during his kingship, another extremely important conquest took place early on in his reign that is vital to the understanding of the United Kingdom as we see it today.
The relationship between Edward I and the rulers of Wales stemmed back to the period of the  Baron’s Wars (1258-1265), during the reign of his father, Henry III (1216-1272).  Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, Lord of Snowdonia in the north of Wales, took the opportunities presented to him by the struggles in England during the baron’s war to extend his influence.  His support of Simon de Montford led to his elevation to the title of Prince of Wales in 1265, and the recognition of his lordship over the whole of Wales by the English government of de Montford.  After the re-establishment of the power of Henry III, Llewelyn’s status was recognised by the King of England in return for a payment of tribute to the king and the paying of homage under the terms of the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267.  The extent of Llewelyn’s lordship over the Welsh magnates by the Treaty of 1267 is shown in Map 1.

Map 1

The recognition of Llewelyn’s hegemony over the Welsh lands by Henry III caused much friction on the part of many English barons, who stood to lose lands by the Treaty of Montgomery, including the then Prince Edward.  This already present hostility toward Llewelyn, as well as hostility remaining from Llewelyn’s role in the barons’ war, left him in a precarious position upon the ascension of Edward I to the throne of England in 1272.  Edward was away on crusade at the time of the death of his father, and Llewelyn, required to pay homage to his new feudal overlord, refused to do so.  His opportunism within Wales during Edward’s absence from the British Isles, which included encroaching upon the land of a marcher lord as well as overthrowing his southern neighbour Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, led to a plea for help to Edward from Gruffydd.  Llewelyn’s continued refusal to pay homage to Edward led to the First Anglo-Welsh War of 1277.

This first war was over within three months, with the Treaty of Aberconwy in November 1277 ending hostilities.  The Treaty reduced Llewelyn’s landholdings from huge swathes of the territory of modern Wales down to an enclave of territory encompassing Snowdonia and the island of Anglesey (shown in Map 2) and forced him to pay homage to Edward, but maintained his title of Prince of Wales.

Map 2Source: AlexD, Wikipedia,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

File:Gwynedd_after_the_Treaty_of_Aberconwy_1277.svg

Although relations between Edward and Llewelyn improved during the half decade between Aberconwy and the Second Anglo-Welsh War of 1282/83, they were never particularly cordial.  However, it was neither Llewelyn nor Edward who initiated the second war, but rather Daffydd, brother of the Prince of Wales.  He attacked Hawarden Castle on the night of March 21st, 1282, whilst other Welsh forces captured the castles of Carreg Cennen, Llanymddyfri and Aberystwyth over the following days.  Llewelyn did not partake, nor instigate, any of these attacks on English possessions, yet he ‘had little option but to join the revolt and…assume its leadership’ as his position was threatened, regardless of his involvement, by the expected English response.

Edward planned to advance on Snowdonia from three directions, whilst also using his fleet to cut Anglesey off from the mainland.  Initial progress was limited, for an English force of 1600 infantry and 50 cavalry, led by the Earl of Gloucester, were ambushed and heavily bloodied at the Battle of Llandeilo Fawr, forcing a retreat and paralysing the southern prong of the attack for the next six weeks.  Things continued to go poorly for Edward when on November 6th, part of his force in Anglesey under the command of Luke de Tany crossed the Menai Strait, were ambushed, and consequently annihilated.  Negotiations to end the hostilities were instigated during November, yet neither leader would back down.  Llewelyn then took the fight southward toward the forces under the Earl of Gloucester, and on December 11th 1282, Llewelyn, the last prince of an independent Wales, was killed near Builth.

Although the war continued after the death of Llewelyn, and was not ended until the capture of his brother Daffydd in June 1283, Llewelyn’s death demoralised the Welsh, and effectively gave Edward control of all Wales.  Edward subsequently enforced his dominance through political manipulation, royal legislation, and the use of ecclesiastical methods such as excommunicating those who had ‘rebelled against his overlordship’.

1282 marks a watershed moment in the history of Britain.  It stands as the year in which Welsh independence ended, and in which Wales was effectively incorporated into the English kingdom, and remains an integral part of the United Kingdom more than 700 years later.  Wales’ total incorporation into the domains of Edward I was further enforced in 1301, when the conquered Welsh lands were granted to his eldest son, who would be known thereof as the Prince of Wales.  The relevance of this is still seen today, for the heir to the British throne is still known as the Prince of Wales.

Important points from this blog entry:

  • There were two major wars between the Welsh princedom and English kingdom during the thirteenth century – these were in 1277 and 1282/1283
  • An independent Wales has not existed since 1283
  • The Welsh flag is not present in the national flag of the United Kingdom as Wales was officially considered a part of the English Kingdom in 1536
  • The reason that the heir to the British throne today is known as the Prince of Wales stems from Edward I’s conquest of Wales

Ross Lane, 2012

Further Reading:

Carr, A. D., Medieval Wales, (London; Macmillan Press Ltd, 1995)
Clanchy, M. T., England and its rulers, 1066-1307, 3rd Ed, (Oxford; Blackwell Publishing, 2006)
Davies, R. R., The Age of Conquest: Wales 1063 – 1415, (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1991)
Douglas Simpson, W., Castles in England and Wales, (London; B. T. Batsford Ltd, 1969)
Harding, A., England in the Thirteenth Century, (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1993)
Herbert, T. and Jones, G. E., Edward I and Wales, (Cardiff; University of Wales Press, 1988)
Holmes, G., The Later Middle Ages 1272-1485, (London; Sphere Books Ltd, 1974)
Morris, J. E., The Welsh Wars of Edward the First, (Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1901)
Powicke, Maurice., The Thirteenth Century; 1216-1307, (Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1962), 2nd Ed
Prestwich, M., English Monarchs: Edward I, (London; Methuen London Ltd, 1988)
Prestwich, M., War, Politics and Finance under Edward I, (Aldershot; Gregg Revivals, 1991)
Salzman, L. F., Edward I, (London; Constable & Company Ltd, 1968)
Simpson, W. D., Castles in England and Wales, (Aberdeen; Aberdeen University Press, 1969)
Smith, J. B., Llywelyn ap Gruffudd Prince of Wales, (Cardiff; University of Wales Press, 1998)
Taylor, A., The Welsh Castles of Edward I, (London; The Hambledon Press, 1986)
Tuck, A., Crown and Nobility: 1272-1461, (London; Fontana Press, 1985)
Turvey, R., The Welsh Princes 1063-1283, (Cardiff; University of Wales Press, 1998)
Williams, G. A., When was Wales? The History, People and Culture of an Ancient Country, (London; Penguin Books, 1991)

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