Owain Glyndŵr lived over 600 years ago and yet today remains one of the most heroic figures in Welsh history. Owain was a natural leader and an astute statesman who united and led the Welsh against English rule. However, in some senses Owain was the spark that ignited the Welsh discontent about specific issues in Wales, many dating from the death of Llywelyn the Last, who was killed in 1282.
Iolo Goch, in many respects Glyndŵr’s household poet, provides us with an indication of Glyndŵr’s respect for the labouring class in his poem to the ploughman. Iolo praises his fundamental role in society – ‘Nid bywyd, nid byd heb ef’ / ‘there is no life, no world without him.’ The fact that Welsh labourers left their livings and returned from England to support Owain Glyndŵr is evidence both of his charismatic influence as the leader of a Wales free from the yoke of English rule.
It is not certain when or where Owain Glyndŵr was born - possible dates are 1349, 1354 or 1359 and the two most likely places are the family home at Sycharth, near Oswestry, or in Trefgarn, Pembrokeshire where one story says that his mother was visiting at the time of his birth. Owain’s family had estates at Sycharth, Iscoed in the Teifi Valley, and Glyndyfrdwy, in the Dee Valley. Iscoed was inherited by his mother, Elen, whilst Glyndyfrdwy was described as a ‘fine lodge in the park.’ He probably spent much of his childhood at the family home of Sycharth.
His lineage, a vitally important factor to Welsh people in the fourteenth century, was impeccable. When Owain Lawgoch was killed by an English assassin in 1378, the male line of the Gwynedd dynasty, which had led the resistance against the Anglo Norman invaders since the 11th century, ended. Owain claimed direct descent from the two other major Welsh dynasties, the princes of Powys in Mid Wales and Deheubarth in South-West Wales. On his father’s side, he could trace his ancestry back to Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, ruler of Powys in the eleventh century, while his mother’s lineage stretched back to Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of Deheubarth in the late eleventh century.
Owain Glyndŵr’s military career began in 1384, when he served under the renowned military leader, Sir Gregory Sais, on garrison duty on the English-Scottish border. Following this, in 1385 he fought in Richard II's Scottish War, probably under Richard Fitzalan the Earl of Arundel. He also took part in Battle of Cadzand of 1387 when a Franco-Flemish fleet was routed. Following the battle, a number of Arundel's squires were knighted; noticeably Glyndwr was not one of them.
In the 1380s and 1390s Glyndŵr studied law at the Inns of Court in London. This decision was almost certainly prompted by his father in law, Sir David Hanmer, an English judge who settled in Wales following his marriage to Angharad, the daughter of Llywelyn Ddu ap Gruffudd ab Iorwerth Foel, one of the most prominent Welshmen in nearby Chirkland. One of their holdings was the village of Hanmer, which they took as the family name, and Owain was married in the village church to David's daughter Marred.
Sycharth was a substantial house - timber built, moated and with a tiled roof. It was also surrounded by all of the necessary outbuildings required to support a major house.
Iolo Goch the poet gave a description of Sycharth.... 'There dwells the chief we all extol; In timber house on lightsome knoll; Upon four wooden columns proud; Each column thick and firmly bas'd; And upon each a loft is placed;.........;Tiled is the roof, on each house top; Rise smoke ejecting chimneys up; All of one form there are nine halls; Each with nine wardrobes within its walls;......
His home farm was at Rhuddallt and had a mill, pasture, sheep runs, and holdings further up the valley near Corwen. It was from here that Glyndŵr took his name and where he was to declare himself Prince of Wales in September 1400. This estate was held by the family by an arrangement which was contrary to Welsh custom. This may be explained by the fact that in the early C14, Owain’s grandfather had married a L’Estrange, a minor English baronial family from Knockin in Shropshire. The arrangement allowed the land to be in the title of the wife during her lifetime and it would be passed on through the custom of primogeniture (eldest son) rather than the Welsh custom of equal shares between male heirs. This is not the only example of Owain’s close links with English laws and customs.
The Glyndŵr Rebellion
In September 1400, Owain Glyndŵr embarked on a course of action that would become one of the most dramatic episodes in Welsh history. His longstanding quarrel with Reginald de Grey of Ruthin over some common land took a surprising turn when, after being proclaimed Prince of Wales by his followers, Owain marched on Ruthin.
After destroying the town, Owain went on to attack towns all over north-east Wales as the revolt turned into a full scale war with the English crown. Welshmen from all walks of life flocked to join Owain's cause, and by 1403 nearly the whole of Wales was united behind Glyndŵr. For a while, it seemed that the vision of an independent Wales had not died with Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282 after all.
However, despite these astounding early victories and the formal coronation of Glyndŵr as Prince of Wales at the parliament of 1404, the rebellion would ultimately fail. By 1408, the revolt was dwindling as swiftly as it had swept into being; by 1410, its inspirational leader had become a fugitive, his career and his reputation shattered, his home and his family destroyed.
He is believed to have spent his last years in Herefordshire near the manor of his son-in-law, Sir John Scudamore, possibly dying around 1416. The location of his grave is unknown.