Owain Glyndwr was a traditional Welsh landowner, no youthful radical but a man in his forties when he rose in rebellion against the English in 1400. He was an unlikely freedom fighter. He had English ancestors and his wife was from an English marcher family, the Hanmers. He had even been educated in England, at the Inns of Court, and his military skill came from hard training and campaigning with the English army. However, he was also the descendant of the princely houses of Powys and Deheubarth, a generous patron of the bards, steeped in Welsh poetry and prophecy.
His rebellion may have been sparked by a local dispute with his neighbour Lord Grey of Ruthin, and probably had its roots in the political confusion after Henry IV’s seizure of the English throne. Glyndwr, who was naturally more of a conservative than a rebel, supported the legitimate king, Richard II; Grey of Ruthin, a politician with an eye to the main chance, supported Henry. However, Glyndwr’s protest began not with a campaign to recover his land and rights but with an essentially nationalist act, his proclamation as prince of Wales, on 16 September 1400. The revolt was suppressed but broke out again in 1401 when his allies, the Tudor brothers of Penmynydd, captured Conwy Castle.
Later that year, Glyndwr found himself with his small army in the Hyddgen valley, where they were surrounded and attacked by a much larger English force. After a lengthy fight, Glyndwr’s force cut their way through the English, who fled in disarray.
This was the beginning of Glyndwr’s triumph. English armies sent against him were forced to retreat by torrential rain, and it was rumoured that he could conjure up storms for his own purposes. By 1404 he had captured Harlech and Aberystwyth castles and taken the campaign to the English heartlands in the south. He could now afford to plan for his vision of a free, independent Greater Wales with its own archdiocese, a parliament and two universities. He had the solid support of the Welsh Cistercian houses, including Llantarnam in the far south-east.
But in 1405 the tide started to turn against him. He suffered a series of defeats in the south, and supporters started to edge away. The rising was never finally crushed; it simply petered out. Nor was Glyndwr ever captured. He may have fled to his daughter’s house in Kentchurch, near Hereford, but his death was never recorded. Some believed that, like Arthur, he was sleeping, waiting the call to return and save his nation; and when Henry Tudor, great-grandson of Glyndwr’s ally, landed at Milford Haven in 1485 he was welcomed by the poets as Owain reborn, Mab Darogan, the son of prophecy.