A curious superstition precipitated an outbreak . . . the so-called prophecies of Merlin, which were designed to reconcile the Welsh to the Norman Conquest . . . were easily interpreted to mean that a Welsh prince should be crowned at London, and retrieve what its natives regarded as the lost dominion of the principality.
Edward I Conquers Wales, featuring a series of excerpts selected from History of England During the Early and Middle Ages by Charles H. Pearson published in 1876.
Previously in Edward I Conquers Wales.
Moreover, Llewelyn thought, perhaps unreasonably, that he had been betrayed by Edward. He said that on the day of his marriage the English King had forced him to subscribe a document to the effect that he would never harbor an English exile or maintain forces against Edward’s will. There was little in all this that was not implied in Llewelyn’s position as vassal, and he himself did not complain that the conditions had ever been offensively pressed. A king who had granted such liberal terms as Edward might perhaps claim, with reason, that his conquered vassal should never threaten him with hostilities. But the offence was none the less deadly, that it was justified by the relations of subject and sovereign.
A curious superstition precipitated an outbreak, In the time of Henry I some Norman had fabricated the so-called prophecies of Merlin, which were designed to reconcile the Welsh to the Norman Conquest. Henry was designated in them as the lion of justice, and it was given as a sign of his reign that the symbol of commerce would be split and the half be round. The prophecy had already been fulfilled by the regulation for breaking coin at the mint, and making the half-penny a round piece by itself. In 1279 Edward issued the farthing as an entire coin. The change recalled the memory of Merlin’s prophecy; and the vague oracles, that had been compiled to describe Henry’s dominion over the Saxons, were easily interpreted to mean that a Welsh prince should be crowned at London, and retrieve what its natives regarded as the lost dominion of the principality.
Llewelyn, it is said, consulted a witch, who assured him that he should ride crowned through Westcheap. But the Prince of Wales also relied on less visionary assurances. The “quo-warranto” commission was prosecuting its labors vigorously, and had produced a widespread discontent in England, where men said openly that the King would not suffer them to reap their own corn or mow their grass. Llewelyn was in correspondence with the malcontents, and received promises of support. His brother David was easily induced to join the rebellion, and began it on Palm Sunday, 1282, by storming the castle of Hawarden, and making Roger de Clifford, its lord and Edward’s sheriff, his prisoner. Flint and Rhuddlan were next reduced, and the Welsh spread over the marches, waging a war of singular ferocity, slaying, and even burning, young and old women and sick people in the villages. The rebellion found Edward unprepared, but he met it with equal vigor and efficiency. Making Shrewsbury his head-quarters, and moving the exchequer and king’s bench to it, he summoned troops not only from all England, but from Gascony.
It is possible that the foreign recruits were intended to strengthen the King’s hands against subjects of doubtful fidelity, but no real embarrassment from the disaffected was sustained. The troops mustered operated in two armies, which started from Rhuddlan and Worcester, and enclosed Llewelyn, as before, from north and south. Meanwhile the ships of the Cinque Ports reduced Anglesey, “the noblest feather in Llewelyn’s wing,” as Edward joyfully observed. But the King was faithful to his old policy of a blockade. A bridge of ships was thrown across the Menai Straits, and the forests between Wales proper and the English border were hewn down by an army of pioneers. The King’s banner, the golden dragon, showed that quarter would be given.
As the war lasted on, negotiations were attempted; and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had threatened the last sentence of the Church against Llewelyn and his adherents, was sent over to Snowdon to hold a conference. Llewelyn had already been warned that it was idle to expect assistance from Rome. He was now summoned to submit at discretion, with a hope–so expressed as to be a promise–that he and the natives of the revolted districts would have mercy shown them. In private he was informed that, on condition of surrendering Wales, he should receive a county in England and a pension of one thousand pounds a year. David was to go to the Holy Land, and not return except by the King’s permission. These terms were undoubtedly hard, but could not be called unreasonable, as, by the subjugation of Anglesey, the principality was reduced to the two modern counties of Merionethshire and Carnarvonshire. Llewelyn and his barons preferred to die fighting sword in hand for position and liberty. The Primate excommunicated them and withdrew.
About the time of this interview, November 6th, there was a sharp skirmish at Bangor. Some of the Earl of Gloucester’s troops crossed over before the bridge was completed, except for low-water mark, and were surprised and routed, with the loss of their leader and fourteen bannerets, by the Welsh. This encouraged Llewelyn to resume offensive operations, and he poured troops into Cardigan to ravage the lands of a Welshman in the English interest. The English forces in Radnor marched up along the left bank of the Wye, and came in sight of the enemy at Buelth, December 10th. Llewelyn was surprised during a reconnaissance and killed by an English knight, Stephen de Frankton. After a short but brilliant encounter, in which the English charged up the brow of a hill and routed the enemy with loss, they examined the dead bodies, and for the first time knew that Llewelyn was among the slain. A letter was found on his person giving a list, in false names, of the English nobles with whom he was in correspondence, but either the cipher was undiscoverable or the matter was hushed up by the King’s discretion.
Continued on Wednesday, August 5th.