The Conquest of Wales, 1274-1295

Here are a few bits and pieces relating to the conquest of Wales. Below is:

  • A fine 12th C poem that about the Welsh nation
  • An extract from a fine 12th C poem that gives you an idea of the feelings of the Welsh for their fight against the English
  • A quotes that give you an idea of what the English thought of the Welsh


Clearly this poem has zip to do with English history. But I thought it’s be useful as a kind of emotional introduction to the conquest of wales in the late 13th Century.

The poem was written by Hywel ap Owain Gwynedd, the great-great Grandfather of Llewellyn ap Iorworth, Llewellyn the Last. Hywel was killed in battle in 1170, which fits entirely with his poetry. It tells us a bit about what Wales …not really sure why it’s relevant but it’s rather lovely isn’t it?

A foaming white wave rushes over a grave,
the tomb of Rhufawn Pebyr, regal chieftan.
I love today what the English hate, the open land of the North,
and the varied growth that borders the Lliw.
I love those who gave me my fill of mead
where the seas reach in long contention.
I love its household and its strong buildings
and at its lord’s wish to go to war.
I love its strand and mountains,
its castle near the woods and its fine lands,
its water meadows and its valleys,
its white gulls and its lovely women.
I love its soldiers, its trained stallions,
its woods, its brave men and its homes.
I love its fields under the little clover,
where honour was granted a secure joy.
I love its regions, to which valour entitles,
its wide waste lands and its wealth.
O, Son of God, how great a wonder,
how splendid the stags, great their possessions!
With the thrust of a spear I did splendid work
between the host of Powys and lovely Gwyned.
On a pale white horse, a rash adventure,
may I now win freedom from my exile.
I’ll never hold out till my people come;
a dream says so and God wills so.
A foaming white wave washes over a grave.
A white wave, near the homesteads, foams over,
coloured like hoar-frost in the hour of its advance.
I love the sea-coast of Meirionnydd,
where a white arm was my pillow.
I love the nightingale in the wildwood,
where two waters meet in that sweet valley.
Lord of heaven and earth, ruler of Gwynedd,
how far Kerry is from Caer Lliwelydd!
In Maelienydd I mounted on a bay
and rode night and day to Rheged.
May I have, before my grave, a new conquest,
the land of Tegeingl, fairest in the world.
Though I be a lover of Ovid’s way,
may God be mindful of me at my end.
A white wave, near the homesteads, foams over.

An extract from Exultation by Gwalchmai

Gwalchmai (1130-1180) was a court poet, son of a poet and father of a poet. This is a short extract below, which gives a bit of a flavour of why, had I been English in the 12th century, I’d have kept well away from Gwalchmai.

My sword flashes, its nature is lightening in battle

There’s shining gold on my shield

Many of the girls of Gwent praise me

Who have never seen me, they are eager to mention me

I saw before Owain the Angles in their ruin

And near Rhibyll a lord in battle.

I am called Gwalchmai, foe to the Saxons,

At the call of Mon’s lord I plunged into battle.

And to win favour of my pretty one, like snow on the trees,

When they fought before the fort I shed blood.


Bloody is my sword and fierce in battle

In conflict with England a hero doesn’t hide.

I saw from the onslaught of the warrior son of Gruffudd

Champions cut down and a broken rout;

Owain’s raging battle at Aber Teifi

 Anglo Saxon Attitudes

The attitude of the English towards the Welsh was very different to that which they held towards the Scots. The Scots and the English were in fact year by year coming closer together. The English and Welsh were still leagues apart. As far as the English were concerned, the Welsh were wild barbarians with deviant Christian practices.

Among our Welshmen, the fear of God is seldom ‘according to knowledge.’ With Lord William de Braose, a man well skilled in arms, was, as he himself told me, a Welshman of noble race, with such zest for goodness that every night at the first cockcrow he rose from his bed and, kneeling naked upon the naked ground, persisted in prayer until morning light. Moreover, he was so temperate and kept such a strict guard over himself that any one who knew him would think him above men and little lower than the angels. But if you saw how senseless he was in hostile encounters, how thirsty for blood, how careless of his own safety, how greedy for the death of others, how glad at the doing of any crime or murder, you would never doubt that he was inwardly given up to iniquity. So constant and characteristic is this lack of finer feeling in Welshmen, that if in one respect they seem temperate, in many they appear tempestuous and savage.

Walter Map

Leave a Reply