11: The Last Llywelyn
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David II., a mild and well-meaning prince, was too weak to carry his
father's policy out. He tried to maintain peace, and did homage to
his uncle, the King of England. But, as the head of the patriotic
party, his more energetic brother, Griffith, opposed him. By guile
he caught Griffith, and shut him in a castle on the rock of
Criccieth. The other princes shook off the yoke of Gwynedd, and
Henry III. tried to play the brothers against each other. David sent
Griffith to Henry, who put him in the Tower of London. In trying to
escape, his rope broke, and he fell to the ground dead. Soon
afterwards, in 1246, in the middle of a war with Henry, David died of
a broken heart.
The sons of Griffith—Owen, Llywelyn, and David—at once took their
uncle's place; and by 1255 Llywelyn ap Griffith was sole ruler. By
that year Henry III. had given his young son Edward the earldom of
Chester, which had fallen to the crown, and the lands between the Dee
and the Conway, which he claimed by a treaty with the dead Griffith.
Thus Edward and Llywelyn began their long struggle.
Between 1255 and 1267 Llywelyn tries to recover his grandfather's
position in Wales. In 1255 his power extended over Gwynedd only. He
found it easy to extend it over most of Wales, because the rule of
the English officials made the Welsh chiefs long for the protection
of Gwynedd. The Barons' War paralysed the power of the King, and
Llywelyn made an alliance with Simon de Montfort and the barons.
Even after Montfort's fall in 1265 the barons were so powerful that
the King was still at their mercy. In 1267 Llywelyn's position as
Prince of Wales was recognised in the Treaty of Montgomery. His sway
extended from Snowdon to the Dee on the east, and to the Teivy and
the Beacons on the south—practically the whole of modern Wales,
except the southern seaboard. Within these wide bounds all the Welsh
barons were to swear fealty to Llywelyn, the only exception being
Meredith ap Rees of Deheubarth.
The second struggle of Llywelyn's reign took place between 1267 and
1277. He tried to weld his land into a closer union, and many of the
chiefs of the south and east became willing to call in the English
King. Two of them, his own brother David and Griffith of Powys, fled
to England, and were received by Edward, who had been king since
1272. Llywelyn and Edward distrusted each other. Edward wished to
unite Britain in a feudal unity, and to crush all opponents.
Llywelyn thought of helping the barons; he might become their leader.
Eleanor, the daughter of Simon de Montfort, the old leader of the
barons, was betrothed to him. War broke out. The barons—Clares and
Mortimers, and all—joined the King. Llywelyn's dominions were
invaded at all points, his barons had to yield, one after the other;
and finally, in 1277, Llywelyn had to accept the Treaty of Rhuddlan.
His dominions shrunk to the old limits of Snowdon, his sway over the
rest of Wales was taken from him, and the title of Prince of Wales
was to cease with his life.
The third struggle was between 1277 and 1282. The rule of the new
officials drove the Welsh to revolt; and the chiefs who had opposed
Llywelyn, especially his brother David, begged for Llywelyn's
protection. Eleanor, Llywelyn's wife and Edward's cousin, tried to
keep the peace, but she died while they were arming for the last
bitter war of 1282.
It was comparatively easy for Edward to overrun Powys or Deheubarth,
if he had an army strong enough. But at that time Gwynedd was almost
impregnable. From Conway to Harlech lies the vast mass of Snowdon, a
great natural rampart running from sea to sea. Its steep side is
towards the east, and the invader found before him heights which he
could not climb, and round which he could not pass. If you stand in
the Vale of Conway, look at the hills on the Arvon side—the great
natural wall of inmost Gwynedd, with its last tower, the Penmaen
Mawr, rising right from the sea. The gentle slopes are to the west,
and there the corn and flocks were safe.
Edward had to put a large army into the field, and it cost him much.
In the war with Llywelyn he had to change the English army entirely;
and, in order to get money, he had to allow the Parliament to get
life and power. To carry supplies, and to land men in Anglesey to
turn the flank of the Welsh, he wanted a fleet. But there was no
royal navy then, and the fishermen of the east coast and the south
coast—who had no quarrel with the Welsh, but were very anxious to
fight each other—were not willing to lose their fish harvest in
order to fight so far away.
In 1282, Edward's great army closed round Snowdon. The chiefs still
faithful to Llywelyn had to yield or flee. But winter was coming on,
and could Edward keep his army in the field? An attempt had been
made to enter Snowdon from Anglesey, but the English force was
destroyed at Moel y Don. It looked as if Edward would have to
retire. Llywelyn left Snowdon, and went to Ceredigion and the Vale
of Towy to put new heart in his allies, and from there he passed on
to the valley of the Wye. He meant, without a doubt, to get the
barons of the border, Welsh and English, to unite against Edward.
But in some chance skirmish a soldier slew him, not knowing who he
was. When they heard that their Prince was fallen, his men in
Snowdon entirely lost heart. They had no faith in David, and in a
few months the whole of Wales was at Edward's feet.
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