Edward I and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
The first blow was struck by a man who had been hitherto a conspicuous adherent of the English, the arch-traitor in the eyes of patriotic Welshmen, David the brother of Llewelyn, who had been rewarded by a lordship in North Wales. David attacked and captured Hawarden, surprising it. His stroke was the signal for a general rising.
Llewelyn flung himself on the English district bordering his principality on the north; David sped south to raise southern Wales. For the moment it seemed as if the English would be swept out of the territories of which not five years ago they had taken possession. No preparation had been made for an emergency so wholly unexpected. The Marcher levies, hastily raised, could make no immediate headway. The summer passed in a series of isolated operations, in which the English gained very little advantage. In the autumn Edward had succeeded in getting a considerable force in motion on the line of his previous northern campaign; but the troops, inefficiently commanded, met with a disaster in early winter, close to the Menai Strait. Edward resolved on the unprecedented course of a winter campaign.
But five weeks after the Menai disaster a battle and an accident decided the results of the struggle. Llewelyn himself had moved down to the middle Marches. His forces were posted in a strong position at Orewyn Bridge, and he himself was absent, when the English effected a surprise attack.
Orewyn Bridge is noted as the first occasion when an English army employed the method of distributing archers among the men-at-arms and opening the battle with artillery to prepare the way for a cavalry charge; an adaptation, of the tactics employed by the Conqueror at Hastings, and apparently by the English at Northallerton, Orewyn Bridge was improved upon some years later by the Earl of Warwick, again in the course of the suppression of a Welsh insurrection, at the battle of Maes Madog; where we have a more detailed account of the way in which the archers were distributed among the soldiery.
To the student of the art of war, at least as practised by the English, it is interesting to observe that the long-bow did not become conspicuous until after the Welsh campaigns. The cross-bow was still accounted the superior weapon. There is reason to suppose that although the English archers acquired a unique proficiency in the use of the long-bow, they derived the use of the weapon itself in war, not from, the outlaws of Merry Sherwood, but from the Welshmen.
At Orewyn Bridge the Welsh were scattered or slaughtered. The accident which made the battle practically decisive was the almost simultaneous capture and death of Llewelyn, not on the field of battle; his slayers being unconscious of the prize which had fallen into their hands.
These events took place in December. For six months more Llewelyn's brother David held out in North Wales, while Edward was seriously hampered by the defection of the feudal levies which had served their time and by the difficulty of obtaining supplies for the payment of troops. In June, however, David was captured, and three months afterwards was put to death as a traitor. The conquest was completed.
The practical effect was that so much of Wales as had hitherto remained under Welsh princes, owning not much more than a nominal overlordship of the King of England, was now annexed to the direct domains of the Crown, the Marcher earldoms and baronies under the great Norman feudatories not being immediately or directly affected.
Statute of Wales
The new domain formed the Crown principality of Wales, which it presently became customary to bestow upon the heir-apparent of the English throne. In the principality Edward established the regular shire system, raised castles to keep the country in subjection, and continued the Anglicising process by the plantation 1 of English colonies under the castle walls. For some centuries to come the principality was governed under the Statute of Wales of 1284 as a Crown domain standing outside the general political system of England.
But indirectly also the Marcher earldoms were affected, because the establishment of the king's government in Wales did away with the reasons which had necessitated the bestowal of exceptional power and authority in districts where a state of war had been practically chronic. Ten years after the Statute of Wales there was another insurrection, headed by Madog, a son of Llewelyn; but this was crushed at the battle of Maes Madog, to which reference has already been made.
After this, though the Welsh preserved their sense of nationality, Wales did not again attempt to break away from England, and the contingents of light Welsh soldiery habitually formed an element in the armies of the Plantagenet kings both on their Scottish and their French campaigns.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.