When Edward came to the throne in 1272, he headed the least ‘conquering’ of British dynasties. Under the Treaty of Perth in 1266 King Alexander of Scotland had wrested Man and the Western Isles from the king of Norway. By the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of Gwynedd had gained dominion over the other native rulers and been recognized as prince of Wales (see above, p. 386). Meanwhile in England the king’s power remained at a discount after a destructive civil war. Edward changed all this. His restoration of royal authority in England gave him the means to transform the political shape of Britain. Within five years of his accession, he had destroyed Llywelyn’s principality. By 1284 he had eliminated nearly all the native rulers. Wales, unconquered by the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans, had finally succumbed to Edward I.
The ultimate disaster should not overshadow Llywelyn’s years of triumph. When, at the height of his power in 1274, he came to inspect his new castle at Dolforwyn (built above the Severn in a vital strategic area just west of Montgomery), the visit sent shock waves through the district. Did he, wondered one correspondent, intend to go on into the forest of Clun to plan a new castle there? Had he summoned the great men of England to come and meet him? ‘All the bailiffs of Wales’ were forwarding supplies and Dolforwyn was stocked for a stay of three weeks. Here indeed was a mighty prince.
In considering the structures which supported Gwynedd’s power in the thirteenth century, its three great rulers are best treated together: Llywelyn ab Iorwerth or Llywelyn the Great (died 1240), Dafydd (died 1246) and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. If all three in terms of status were below the kings of Scotland and England, they were above everyone else in Britain, for they alone bore the title prince and wore a coronet to prove it. Dafydd’s right to such an insignia as prince of North Wales had been recognized by Henry III. Perhaps Llywelyn ap Gruffudd adopted a grander version after he became prince of Wales. His coronet was made of gold and symbolic enough to be presented after his demise to the shrine of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey. At Aberffraw on Anglesey, ancient seat of the dynasty, the hall of the ‘palace’, as it was later described, had an elaborate roof in which were set great stone bosses decorated with the heads of coroneted princes. The rulers made sure that no one forgot their elevated status.
The Welsh law books, whether edited in Gwynedd or elsewhere, always began with a section on the king and his court. Although it is difficult to know how far the rights and duties of the officials listed corresponded with reality, there is enough evidence from other sources to show Gwynedd’s court was impressive, with some of the same kinds of ministers as found in England and in Scotland. It was headed by the steward (distain) who was also the prince’s leading councillor and quite possibly the commander of his military forces (discussed later). Another of his duties was to act as ‘justice’ in the law cases before the prince, while an earlier official, the ‘judge of the court’ mentioned in the law texts, disappeared from view. As the principality expanded so did these legal responsibilities and on one occasion the steward was styled the ‘justice of Wales’. By the early thirteenth century clerks at court almost certainly formed a writing office, its head being occasionally given the title chancellor or vice-chancellor. Passages in the law books suggest that this position was taken by the ‘household priest’, for he was to receive payment when charters or letters patent were sealed. The princes’ charters were very similar in style and appearance to those of the two British kings, the use of the princely title and the plural ‘we’ making them quite distinct from those of the other Welsh rulers. The clerks must also have written the princes’ administrative orders (now lost) and diplomatic correspondence. The latter was extensive: over twenty of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s letters to Edward I survive.
At court it was the chamberlain who was responsible for receiving, storing and spending the king’s money. Although (as in Scotland) there was nothing like a fixed exchequer, groups of ministers, including one of the prince’s clerks, were sent to hear and record the accounts of local officials, if we may judge from this happening to the castellan of Dolforwyn. The effectiveness of government depended very much on a small ministerial elite drawn throughout the thirteenth century from around six curial families. Ednyfed Fychan, for example, steward of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Dafydd, was followed in the same post by several of his sons. There is some anecdotal evidence that the size of the Gwynedd court was expanding. The abbot of Basingwerk complained that whereas he had entertained 300 men when Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Dafydd came to hunt, under Llywelyn ap Gruffudd the number had risen to 500. Another complaint was that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd gave robes each year to 140 members of his household, the implication being that this was at everyone else’s expense. In giving robes, Llywelyn’s practice paralleled that of the kings of England. If the beneficiaries really did number 140 this did not compare with the 570 who were dressed by Edward I in the 1280s, but it still reveals a household of considerable size.
All the princes in the thirteenth century strove to increase their authority in Gwynedd. They insisted (here supported by the law books) that they should consent to alienations of land by free men, for example to religious houses, and that they (not the immediate lords) should have the chattels of those who died intestate. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd also demanded reliefs and control over wardships. Another area of advance was in that of dispute settlement. The basic practices here were deeply communal. Disputes over land were resolved by the judgement, or more often the arbitration, of ‘law-worthy’ local men, not necessarily in a court. An important role in decisions and settlements could be played by a semi-professional judge-jurist, the ynad. Yet this communal system was becoming embraced by regular sessions of commote and cantref courts presided over by the prince himself or (in his absence) his bailiff (the rhaglaw). While there was no equivalent to the standard-form pleading of the English and Scottish common law, the prince and his deputies were hearing a growing number of civil actions. Their situation was perhaps most akin to that of the justices in eyre under Henry I, who presided over the pleas but left judgement and procedure to be determined, according to varying local rules, by the suitors to the county court.
Even more striking was the way the princes were asserting jurisdiction in cases of theft and homicide, thus coming to play a much greater role in the maintenance of law and order. Statements in the law books and evidence of actual practice show that the rulers were beginning to fine thieves and killers and profit from their chattels. They were also executing thieves if the punishment was not a fine. All this cut into the rights of lords like the bishop of St Asaph and into the custom where homicide either led to feud or was settled by compensation payments (gallanas was the name given to both), without any necessary involvement of the ruler. The princes of Gwynedd were moving towards asserting a monopoly over the trial and punishment of serious crime like that exercised by the kings of England and Scotland.
Justice was clearly profitable, but the main resources of the princes derived from their own lands and bondmen, and from a set of renders (including hospitality for the court) given from free land controlled by kin groups and the church. Some of these resources came from the areas intermittently ruled by the princes (in Southern Powys, between Wye and Severn, and in Builth and Brecon) but the great bulk derived from Gwynedd itself, where the cattle of Snowdon and corn of Anglesey and Llŷn were especially important. With the increase in commerce and the money supply, the cash proportion of the revenue was increasing, in part through the commutation into cash of renders once made in kind. Such commutations were worth on one estimate around £400 annually in the 1270s. There was also a tax levied at 3 d. a head on cattle. Whereas the tribute due under the 1211 treaty was entirely to be paid in animals, between 1267 and 1271, under the terms of the Treaty of Montgomery, Llywelyn paid the English crown certainly £9,166 and perhaps £12,500. Although little more than a guess from later evidence, Llywelyn’s revenue from Gwynedd, at the height of his power after 1267, may have been around £4,000 a year, and there would have been some additional income from his other territories. He was probably just as wealthy as the greatest of the marcher barons, Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester.
Central to Gwynedd’s power in the thirteenth century was its military might. At times this was clearly formidable, reflecting changes which had transformed the forces of Welsh rulers since the advent of the Normans. At the heart of Welsh armies had always been the teulu, the ruler’s warband of sworn followers. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd clearly had an equivalent body but it was now horsed, ‘elegantly armoured’ (in Matthew Paris’s words), and supported less by plunder than by grants of land and perhaps also of money. The teulu does not appear eo nomine after 1215, and conceivably the name seemed inappropriate to a body now in some ways equivalent to the household knights of the English and Scottish kings. For all the costs of its elegant armour, Llywelyn could raise a cavalry force of respectable size. In 1263, with his own household troops supplemented by contingents from much of Wales, he was able to put about 180 armoured horses into the field, as well as others unarmoured, this according to a convincing estimate made in a letter by a knight on the spot. The princes of Gwynedd could also muster large numbers of foot soldiers, exploiting the obligation mentioned in the law books on all freemen to serve the ruler for six weeks a year outside ‘the country’, and probably also using pay. Llywelyn the Great, according to record evidence, took 1,600 foot on John’s northern expedition of 1209. According to the 1263 letter, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s infantry numbered more than 10,000. If that is an exaggeration, it at least suggests the force was several thousand strong.
The power of the rulers of Gwynedd also rested on the stone castles which they built in the thirteenth century. Apart from that at Dolforwyn, these were all in Gwynedd itself. Their positioning was clearly strategic in intent because, sometimes supported by the establishment of new cattle farms, they were on sites unrelated to existing courts and centres. Ewloe by the Dee estuary could monitor the main land route into Gwynedd from the north-east. Castell y Bere was in Meirionydd, the cantref which formed Gwynedd’s south-western frontier. Two castles, at Dolbadarn and Dolwydellan, were placed within the heart of Snowdonia. The latter, with its square keep atop a rocky outcrop high in the hills, commanded the north–south route from Conwy through to Criccieth, where there was another castle. These buildings were certainly designed to bolster Gwynedd’s formidable natural defences against invasion (see above, p. 318), but that was not perhaps their main purpose for they lacked the size to withstand major sieges. Rather, the point was to display the dynasty’s power and enforce its rule within Gwynedd itself.
The princes’ perambulations through Gwynedd were of vital importance in maintaining their authority. They could stay both in their new castles and also in the traditional court complexes which were at the centre of the commotes, the main administrative divisions in Anglesey and Gwynedd west of the Conwy. The sites of no less than twenty-one such courts have been identified, many rendered more impressive by being close to mottes, of which some had probably been built by Welsh rulers and others by the Normans during their brief hold of Gwynedd. At Rhosyr in Anglesey the court was impressive in another way: excavations have shown it had a walled enclosure, as well as a hall and chamber probably dating from the 1240s. The ‘palace’ nearby at Aberffraw we have already described.
With his string of new castles and web of old but refurbished courts, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was therefore well placed to govern Gwynedd and assert his wider authority as prince of Wales. Yet he also faced grave problems. The intensity with which Gwynedd had to be exploited in order to pay the sums due under the Treaty of Montgomery created considerable resentment. Although the complaints drawn up after the prince’s demise were designed to impress King Edward, they are too detailed and substantial to be dismissed. They show that Llywelyn had alienated both of Gwynedd’s bishops, Anian of Bangor and Anian of St Asaph, in part by developing his jurisdiction over theft and homicide. He had also offended a considerable number of the leading freemen, theuchelwyr or ‘nobles’ on whom his rule depended. Equally serious were tensions with some of the leading ministerial families, in part perhaps because he now had so little patronage to give. In 1276–7 Rhys ap Gruffudd and his brother, the prior of Bangor, grandsons of Ednyfed Fychan, both conspired against him. And worst of all were the fissures within the house of Gwynedd itself, which climaxed in 1274 with a plot which was probably designed to eliminate Llywelyn and put his brother Dafydd in his place.
Llywelyn’s problems were equally acute in his wider principality. Under the Treaty of Montgomery he had gained the homages of the other Welsh rulers, who now held their territories from him, not from the king. But Llywelyn still had to make a reality of the new relationships. He did not draw revenue or intervene directly within the domains of the other rulers, but they certainly owed him military service. He expected to confirm their land grants, and confirm too, if not control, the descent of the territories. Among the most striking indications of Llywelyn’s authority are his confirmations of family settlements made by rulers in both Ceredigion and Northern Powys. Likewise, all the Welsh ‘barons’ were justiceable in Llywelyn’s court and liable to forfeiture for disobedience.
Not everyone was happy with such a rule. The tensions apparent before 1267 (see above, p. 383) had not been banished by the Treaty. Indeed, Maredudd ap Rhys under its terms had gained exemption from Llywelyn’s overlordship and remained a vassal of King Henry. The Welsh had a common law, language and history, but the difficulties of moving from those to a Gwynedd-dominated principality were as great now as they had been under Llywelyn’s grandfather. While Llywelyn’s court poet, Llygad Gŵr, celebrated the unity from north to south brought by Llywelyn’s rule, ‘the true king of Wales’, he also indicated that it was unity through domination. It was in Llywelyn’s nature to ‘impose himself on other lands’. The fact was that Llywelyn’s rule often seemed based on intimidation and coercion. The other rulers, now no more than ‘barons’, even in Welsh sources (barwneit), were expected to address him as ‘serene’, ‘noble’, ‘most famous and honest’. Those no longer in his ‘unity’ were ‘unfaithful’, ‘disobedient’, ‘rebellious’, and very much in need of ‘mercy’. Allegiance was ensured by the exaction of hostages, and threats of trial, fine, forfeiture and imprisonment. No wonder Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, in one of his agreements with Llywelyn, sought to protect himself from trumped-up charges and excessive punishment. It was not merely great rivals like Gruffudd who were treated in this way. A similar regime seems to have enforced Llywelyn’s rule among the uchelwyr between Wye and Severn, as well as further south in Brecon. Welshmen too might well have agreed with the English poet who described Llywelyn as ‘a cruel leader, a plunderer of men’.
Yet initially Llywelyn triumphed over his difficulties. In October 1270 he beat off a challenge on the southern frontiers of his principality and destroyed the new castle Gilbert de Clare was building at Caerphilly in Glamorgan. When Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd and Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn of Southern Powys plotted against him in 1274, Gruffudd was sentenced to forfeiture and had to beg mercy on his knees. When later in the year he fled to England (along with Dafydd), Llywelyn seized Southern Powys and ruled it directly, an awesome demonstration of his authority. It was not his internal difficulties which destroyed Llywelyn’s principality. It was external attack.
The trail which ended in the war of 1277 began with disputes over the Treaty of Montgomery. It had given Llywelyn the homages ‘of all the Welsh barons of Wales’ without defining who they were. A conflict quickly arose over the allegiances of the native ‘barons’ of north Glamorgan, which Llywelyn claimed for his principality and Gilbert de Clare for his lordship. The Treaty had also allowed Llywelyn to keep his conquests in Brecon, but that left Humphrey de Bohun, earl of Hereford, retaining part of the district, and constantly encroaching on the prince’s portion, or so the latter alleged. If then the marcher barons and the king would not observe the Treaty, Llywelyn decided he would not observe it either: after Christmas 1271 he made no further payments towards the £2,000 a year he owed under its terms. As a result the dispute escalated. In 1274 Edward gave shelter to Dafydd and Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn after their failed conspiracy. Consequently Llywelyn refused to do homage to Edward, even when (in August 1275) the king came to Chester to receive it. In the same year Llywelyn defiantly married by proxy none other than Eleanor, daughter of the late Simon de Montfort, only for Edward to capture her on her way to Wales early in 1276. Eventually, in November 1276, after several more demands for homage had been ignored, Edward decided to make war on Llywelyn as a ‘rebel and disturber of the peace’.
In all this Llywelyn had seen the situation very clearly, or so he thought. As he told the pope in September 1275, he was faced with a king whose aim was to destroy the Treaty of Montgomery ‘totally’ (in totum). Nor did that seem surprising since it had deprived Edward himself of both the Four Cantrefs and the homages of the native rulers. If so, what was the point of conciliation? Better to make a stand now with power as yet unreduced. Nor did it seem entirely foolhardy to do so. Llywelyn could remember the disasters of the 1240s, but since then he had enjoyed unbroken success. He had defeated royal armies in 1257 and 1263; in 1274 he had scattered his domestic foes. Gilbert de Clare for one believed wholeheartedly in the prince’s might, hence the mammoth scale on which he recommenced his castle at Caerphilly after its destruction in 1270. Llywelyn could hope a firm stand would persuade Edward to back down. If it did not, war was not necessarily a fatal opinion.
In the event, Llywelyn capitulated almost without a fight. There was nothing very novel about Edward’s strategy, but it was implemented on a new scale and with a new thoroughness. Llywelyn’s unpopularity and financial difficulties may well have reduced his forces way below the levels of the 1250s and 1260s. Soon he faced internal collapse. Edward established three separate commands. That in the north, operating from Chester with Dafydd one of the captains, provided cover, while Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn re-established himself in Southern Powys. The rulers of Northern Powys then quickly submitted. In the Middle March, Roger de Mortimer captured Dolforwyn in only a week (in April 1277), while the uchelwr Hywel ap Meurig (whose son Llywelyn had held hostage) led 2,700 Welsh foot soldiers from Brecon and Radnor into Edward’s service. In the south, where the royal base was at Carmarthen, Rhys ap Maredudd, son of the Maredudd ap Rhys who had escaped homage to Llywelyn in 1267, entered Edward’s service in April. His rival in Ystrad Tywi, Rhys Wyndod, submitted soon afterwards, as did the rulers of southern Ceredigion.
In these circumstances Llywelyn could do nothing to prevent Edward’s southern force reaching Aberystwyth and then establishing control over northern Ceredigion. In Gwynedd itself he faced the defection of both the bishops and members of the ministerial elite. Edward’s army reached Chester on 15 July. By the end of August, when numbers were at their height, he had some 15,640 foot soldiers in pay, of whom some 9,000 were Welsh. The army, its way cleared by 1,800 woodmen, advanced inexorably to Deganwy. Even more devastating was the fleet. A fleet to seize Anglesey had been envisaged in 1257 but had never materialized. This time, nearly twenty-six ships and eight tenders were assembled, manned by 726 sailors. Anglesey was occupied by 2,000 foot soldiers, and labourers were ferried across to reap the harvest. Gwynedd faced starvation.
In this desperate situation, Llywelyn came to terms. In November 1277, he surrendered the Four Cantrefs to the English crown, so Gwynedd was once again cut back to the Conwy. In return he recovered Anglesey, but for an annual payment of £333 until the sums owed under the 1267 treaty had been cleared. If he had no heirs of his body, then the island was to escheat to the king on his death. Llywelyn was allowed to keep his title prince of Wales, but little was left of his wider dominion. All his territorial possessions outside Gwynedd, in the area between Wye and Severn and in Builth and Brecon, were confiscated. All the homages of the native rulers, with a few insignificant exceptions, were returned to the king. The principality of Wales was at an end.
If Llywelyn believed he could sustain a war against Edward he had been grievously mistaken. Was he also mistaken about the threat he faced? Certainly even in 1277 Edward had no overwhelming desire to destroy Llywelyn and Gwynedd absolutely, otherwise he would have continued the war and done so. As it was, he did not implement an earlier plan to partition Gwynedd west of Conwy between himself and Dafydd. Instead he accommodated Dafydd at his own expense within the Four Cantrefs, stabilizing what remained of Llywelyn’s state. The reduction of the payments from the £2,000 a year owed under the Treaty of Montgomery to £333 under the new treaty had the same effect. Nor is it clear that Edward had set out from the first to cut Llywelyn’s principality down to size. In 1270 he actually made it more complete by selling Llywelyn the homage of Maredudd ap Rhys for £3,333; this sale was to raise money for his crusade, a telling indication of his priorities. Later he humbled himself (as he complained) and came to Chester in the hope of receiving the prince’s homage. If he also harboured Dafydd and Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, and held Eleanor de Montfort captive, that was retaliation for Llywelyn’s refusal both of homage and the Treaty payments. It is a striking fact that Edward neither challenged Llywelyn’s right to treat Dafydd and Gwenwynwyn as he had, nor allowed them to appeal to him for justice. It would be hard to conclude that Edward had intended to provoke a war to destroy the Treaty.
If, however, Llywelyn was wrong in the short term, in a longer perspective was he not entirely right? Was there not a fundamental incompatibility between Llywelyn’s claim that the ‘rights of our principality are wholly separate from the rights of your kingdom, although we hold our principality under your royal power’ and Edward’s view of Llywelyn as ‘one of the greatest amongst the magnates of our kingdom’, ‘doing and receiving right in the court of the king of England’? If Llywelyn had done homage, would not Edwardian law and officialdom soon have squeezed all life from the principality, just as they later made life intolerable for the Edwardian loyalist Rhys ap Maredudd, who was provoked into revolt in 1287 by the royal bailiffs of Carmarthen? Yet Llywelyn’s territorial gains under the Treaty of Montgomery meant his situation was very different from that of Rhys, for he had pushed the king’s bailiffs far away from Gwynedd’s heart. Their activities had nothing to do with the stand which led to the war of 1277. The disputes with the earls of Hereford and Gloucester were themselves over land and allegiances in Brecon and north Glamorgan on the southern fringes of the principality. The fact was that under the Treaty, the opportunity for Edwardian officials to challenge Llywelyn was actually quite limited. There were none above all in the Four Cantrefs, where the risings of 1255 and of 1282 were set off by their tyrannies.
In the end, it is hard not to conclude that almost any course would have been better than the one Llywelyn took. It involved immediate execution. The other way might have brought a slow death, but the process had hardly begun and was far from certain. What was needed in the 1270s was the kind of flexibility shown by Llywelyn the Great, or earlier by the Lord Rhys: an awareness of when to concede and an ability to do so without losing face. That, however, was not so easy for someone who was now prince of Wales. Perhaps in 1267 Llywelyn should have followed the precedent of the Treaty of Worcester in 1218, making territorial gains but accepting a looser form of rule over the native rulers, thereby also escaping some of the financial burdens imposed by the Treaty of Montgomery. Perhaps too the pattern of a unified Wales sketched in the prologues to the law books, with Hywel the Good ruling in a spirit of consensus, suggested a better way forward than that adopted. Llywelyn would have treated such suggestions with contempt. The vision of Wales as a homage-based, Gwynedd-dominated principality had been Llywelyn the Great’s. Given the intense particularism of the other rulers there was no way it could have been constructed through conferences and consensus. And with the collapse of English royal power in the 1260s, it was clearly now or never for bringing it about. Such a principality could have offered benefits to the native rulers. If it subjected them to the domination of Gwynedd, at least it protected them from potentially the far worse domination of English officialdom. The real misfortune was that Llywelyn’s abrasive rule, however necessary given his objectives, prevented this vital point ever getting across.
The events of 1277 were a disaster for Llywelyn, yet he had been there before in the 1240s, and had subsequently pushed the king back. His grandfather had done the same after 1211. This time nothing like that happened. The next war, in 1282, was terminal. Llywelyn himself, however, did not set off the revolt that produced it, although he quickly joined in. After 1277 this proud man faced a series of petty humiliations: the king’s officials at Chester impounded his horses and honey; those at Aberystwyth imprisoned his huntsmen. And then there was the legal action which Llywelyn brought in 1279 against Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn for the recovery of the cantref of Arwystli in Southern Powys. The 1277 treaty had allowed for such actions and had stipulated that they should be conducted according to ‘the custom of the parts’ where the land was situated. Llywelyn claimed that Arwystli was in Wales and that therefore Welsh law should apply, while Gruffudd, in possession and doing all he could to delay matters, said that the case should proceed by the common law of England. This and other issues meant that the case dragged on from year to year so that in February 1282 Llywelyn told Edward that he was ‘altogether in despair’, being more concerned ‘about the disgrace to himself than about the profit he could ever derive from the land’. Yet Llywelyn with a pained dignity, as impressive in its own way as anything in the panoply of his power, persevered. He kept up the payments due under the 1277 treaty, and adopted a suitable tone in his letters to Edward: ‘your devoted vassal’.
For all this there were some returns, which suggest – like the settlement of 1277 – that Edward had no wish to undermine Llywelyn further. In 1278 the prince achieved his marriage to Eleanor de Montfort. This union to the king’s cousin was by far the most exalted marriage ever made by a Welsh ruler, a marriage fit for a prince. It outshone Llywelyn the Great’s marriage to John’s daughter, for she had been illegitimate. The marriage now showed deference to Edward rather than defiance, for the celebration took place under his auspices on St Edward’s Day in Worcester cathedral. But Llywelyn could hope to profit from the new relationship with the king, to whom Eleanor was soon writing letters of petition. The prince was indeed slowly rebuilding his power: he recovered homages of native nobles in Brecon, re-established relations with the rulers of Deheubarth, and, most striking of all, reached an agreement in October 1281 with his old enemy Roger de Mortimer. It was not Llywelyn who was to begin the coming war, but his brother Dafydd.
Dafydd was a disappointed man. He had fought for Edward in 1277 and had been promised – or so he thought – a share of Anglesey and Snowdonia. He had ended up simply with the part of the Four Cantrefs Edward had granted him back in 1263, together with the lordship of Hope. And his title to the latter was now challenged by a marcher baron, William de Venables, in the county court of Chester. Dafydd had entered the court and cried aloud that the land was Welsh and that he should answer according to Welsh law. He was not alone in his anger. The Four Cantrefs, held down by a new royal castle at Rhuddlan, were now administered by the justiciar of Chester, Reginald de Grey, appointed in November 1281, who dismissed the popular Welsh bailiff Gronw ap Heilyn, and threatened the inhabitants with imprisonment and decapitation if they complained of their burdens. Dafydd’s fear that Reginald was planning his arrest may well have been the immediate cause of the uprising.
This began on Palm Sunday, 22 March 1282, when Dafydd suddenly attacked Hawarden castle, seized its commander the oppressive Roger of Clifford, and slaughtered many of the garrison. Dafydd had plotted the uprising, not with his brother but with the rulers of Northern Powys and Deheubarth. On the same day as the attack, the former (the brothers Llywelyn and Gruffudd, sons of Gruffudd Maelor) had descended on Oswestry. Both had been on Edward’s side in 1277, and both (like many others) had been alienated by the exactions of the constables of Oswestry and Whitchurch. In the south the grievances were of much the same order. Its rulers (apart from Rhys ap Maredudd) had saved less than they hoped by their early submissions in 1277. Rhys Wyndod had not recovered his castle of Dinefwr, the traditional heart of Deheubarth. He had also (so he said) been forced to plead in legal cases not according to Welsh law at Carmarthen but according to common law before the king’s judges. The sons of Maredudd ab Owain, clinging to commotes in southern Ceredigion and denied those in the north despite promises, complained that the king’s judges at Cardigan had deprived them of their own courts over their men. So on 24 March, two days after the attacks on Hawarden and Oswestry, these southern rulers, in alliance with Rhys Ieuanc whom Edward had driven from northern Ceredigion in 1277, fell on the new royal castle at Aberystwyth.
Llywelyn hesitated, but only for a moment. If he stayed out he might save the rump of Gwynedd, but at the cost of seeing his brother becoming the true prince of Wales. For the war of 1282 was very different from that of 1277. The latter had in part been a Welsh revolt against Llywelyn. The former, with only Rhys ap Maredudd and Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn supporting the king, was a war of liberation against the English. Or certainly that was how it was presented to Archbishop Pecham during his attempt to broker a settlement, presented in schedules too numerous and too eloquent to be dismissed as simply the cloak for a few disappointed rulers: indeed the complaints included those from the ‘men’ of both the Four Cantrefs and commotes in Northern Powys.
At the heart of English oppression seemed the threat to Welsh law. Llywelyn himself, Dafydd, Rhys Wyndod and his brothers, and the sons of Maredudd ab Owain all complained about its denial. In part this was mistaken, or disingenuous. In the 1277 Treaty, Edward had actually agreed that disputes in Wales should be decided by Welsh law. True, he later added qualifications: he had a duty, he said, under his Coronation Oath, to root out evil customs and uphold the practices of his predecessors. Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, in the course of the Arwystli case, converted this into the hopeful claim (as far as he was concerned) that Edward intended to abolish Welsh law altogether, but this the judges firmly denied. In fact Edward, placed in an impossible position between Llywelyn and Gruffudd, hesitated to make any decision in the case, and hoped the whole thing would go away. It is equally clear that the Welsh themselves were changing Welsh law and indeed setting it aside, often preferring that land disputes should be decided through the verdicts of sworn juries rather than the judgement of the ynad or iudex, the traditional judge-jurist learned in native law. One reason why Gronw ap Heilyn (before his dismissal by Reginald de Grey) had been so popular in the Four Cantrefs was that he allowed just that.
‘Truth is worth more than law,’ ran the Welsh proverb. So, one might add, was victory. Fundamentally both Welsh ruler and marcher baron appealed to whichever law they thought would bring it. But here was the rub; the Welsh seemed now always losers, not victors, and losers not merely in lawsuits but in suffering what seemed the general oppression and wrongdoing of Edwardian officialdom. Just as the war of the 1250s was provoked by the exactions of Geoffrey de Langley in the Four Cantrefs, so this one was described at the time as the war of Reginald de Grey. Before 1277 Llywelyn had pushed such men back. Now the game was played deep in the Welsh half. Royal officials were at Rhuddlan and in the Four Cantrefs, at Builth and Aberystwyth. Those at Cardigan and Carmarthen seemed far more intrusive than before. And with reason: whereas until 1277 the Welsh rulers did their homage to Llywelyn and were justiciable in his courts, now they did homage to Edward and were subject to royal courts and officials. The Welsh found too late that in swapping Llywelyn’s principality for the Edwardian state, they had jumped from the frying-pan into the fire. They could appeal to Edward and make the long journey to London, but the best they found there was flannel and delay. As Llywelyn put it to Pecham:
For we and all the Welsh were oppressed, and trampled down and despoiled and reduced to servitude by royal judges and bailiffs against the form of peace and all justice, more than if we had been Saracens or Jews… and often we complained to the king and had no remedy. But always justices and bailiffs more ferocious and cruel were sent; and when they had been sated by their unjust exactions, others again were sent to excoriate the people, so much so that the people preferred to die rather than to live.
In this situation, the stand on Welsh law expressed a truth much greater than any argument over legal procedures, because the law seemed to define the Welsh as a people. ‘Let the laws of Wales be immutable like the laws of other peoples,’ Pecham was told. To attack the law was to attack the people’s very existence, and against that one must fight to the end. As Dafydd put it, ‘although it is hard to live one’s life in war and ambushes, it is harder still for a Christian people to be destroyed and reduced to nothing, who seek nothing other than to preserve its rights.’
The Welsh were well aware of the odds in 1282. They themselves, in the discussions with Pecham, contrasted their sterile and uncultivated country with the fertile and abundant lands of England. They were, however, far more united than in 1277 and would a people perish who traced its descent back to the Trojans? The people indeed survived but not the ruling dynasties. These now faced a threat of altogether novel dimensions: a king both utterly determined to destroy them and absolutely capable of mobilizing the resources to do so. The war of 1282 was conceived from the start as a war of conquest.
Edward pursued the same three-pronged strategy which had worked so well in 1277, yet initially with less success. In June some of his forces in the south were ambushed in the Tywi valley and the eldest son of William de Valence, lord of Pembroke, was slain. In August and September Valence himself penetrated as far as Aberystwyth but was unable to hold it. The crucial events, however, were in the north. Here Reginald de Grey occupied Dafydd’s castle at Hope and placed 2,600 archers there, blocking off any further Welsh activity in the Harwarden area. Edward himself advanced from Chester to Rhuddlan (where he was based from 8 July to 27 August), stationing 1,000 archers in the great new castle. Llywelyn, as we have seen, could perhaps field a few hundred cavalry and several thousand foot soldiers: a considerable army. But in 1282 Edward had in pay some 800 cavalry and 8,600 infantry, as well as other unpaid horse brought by his barons. Aided by a fleet, Edward had ample troops for what (as in 1277) was the key operation, namely the occupation of Anglesey. Moreover, this time the island was not be a bargaining counter in negotiations but quite literally a bridge to conquest. By the end of September, 200 carpenters, working flat out, had constructed a bridge of boats across to the mainland, opening up Snowdonia. Archbishop Pecham’s attempted mediation in November only served to clarify the issue: Edward’s best offer was to set Llywelyn up in an English earldom and pay for Dafydd’s departure on crusade.
No need for that, the Welsh would have thought, when on 6 November they drove Luke de Tany, the commander in Anglesey, and sixteen knights off the bridge of boats into the sea. On the back of this success, Llywelyn headed for his old stamping-grounds in the south. There on 11 December, in the valley of the Irfon near Builth, with ‘the flower of his people killed’, he was cornered while fleeing through woods and run through the body by a man at arms, Stephen of Frankton. His head was cut off and sent to Edward, who ordered it to be put up on the Tower of London, crowned with mocking ivy. It was a pathetic and tragic end to so glorious a career.
The death of Llywelyn did not end the war, for Dafydd at once assumed the title of prince of Wales which he had coveted for so long. But he was now faced by Edward’s unprecedented decision to continue the war through the winter. In January 1283 William de Valence at last reoccupied Aberystwyth, ending resistance in Ceredigion. In the same month Edward, having mobilized over 400 cavalry and 5,000 foot, set off from Rhuddlan and soon occupied the princely castle of Dolwyddelan in the heart of Snowdonia. Dafydd fled to Castle y Bere in Meirionydd, where the stone statues of spearmen stood ironic guard over his diminished state. He could not stay, because William de Valence advanced from the south and laid siege to the castle with over 3,000 foot. So Dafydd fled back to Snowdonia and for a few last days in May held court at Dolbadarn, his final castle. With Edward swamping Snowdonia with 7,000 foot and dispatching search parties, he was soon on the run again. On 21 June he was captured and handed over by men of his own tongue.
Having won the war, Edward was in no mood to lose the peace. Of the major rulers all were swept away apart from the loyalists Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn of Southern Powys and Rhys ap Maredudd of Ystrad Tywi, the latter that is until his rebellion in 1287. To the extinction of ‘the last survivor of the race of traitors’, as he called Dafydd, Edward gave maximum publicity. At Shrewsbury in October 1283 he was ceremonially drawn, hanged, disembowelled and quartered, his head being sent to join Llywelyn’s at the Tower. Eleanor de Montfort, meanwhile, had died (in June 1282) in giving birth to a daughter, who lived out her long life as a nun at Sempringham. The House of Gwynedd in its main line was at an end. With some exceptions, the rulers of Northern Powys were likewise disappropriated, as were those of Deheubarth: Rhys Wyndod, the sons of Maredudd ab Owain, and Rhys Ieuanc (who had been with Dafydd almost to the last) spent the rest of their days in prison, writing pathetic letters asking for more clothes and the regular payment of the few pence a day on which they lived.
With the native dynasties dispossessed, Edward could do with Wales as he wished. He gave out some rewards. In the north John de Warenne, earl of Surrey received Bromfield and Iâl in Northern Powys (shades of his ancestor’s rewards after 1066); most of the Four Cantrefs were divided between Reginald de Grey and the earl of Lincoln. In the south, John Giffard gained most of Rhys Wyndod’s lands in Cantref Bychan. But Edward kept the lion’s share of Wales for himself. In 1284 the Statute of Wales, a document of breathtaking mastery and precision, set out the laws and governmental structures for his new territories. Wales was now a ‘land annexed and united to the crown of England’. Its administration was to be on English lines. In Gwynedd west of the Conwy, Anglesey, Caernarfon and Meirionydd each became counties under English-type sheriffs and coroners, with the commotes treated much like hundreds. These officials were answerable not to the king and the London exchequer, but to a provincial governor, ‘the justiciar of Snowdon’, and to an exchequer based at Caernarfon. The same pattern was followed east of the Conwy, where the areas remaining to the king (which included the cantref of Tegeingl and the lands attached to Rhuddlan) were brought under the sheriff of Flint, who was answerable to the justiciar and exchequer at Chester. In the south (where the pattern had been developing since the 1240s) the ‘shires’ of Cardigan and Carmarthen were likewise to have sheriffs and coroners, the areas under their jurisdiction being greatly increased with the confiscation of Rhys ap Maredudd’s lands in 1287. Here the local officials were answerable to the justiciar of west Wales and the exchequer at Carmarthen.
This colonial type of administration, similar in its autonomy to that in force in Gascony and Ireland, had a clear purpose: to establish governors with sufficient local power to hold down the conquered people. To that end, Edward retained them in office for long periods of time. Reginald de Grey, who had provoked the rebellion of 1282, was justiciar of Chester and Snowdon from 1281 to 1299. Robert Tibetot, who provoked the rebellion of Rhys ap Maredudd in 1287, was justiciar of west Wales from 1281 to 1298.
Behind his officials stood Edward’s castles. These above all stamped down the conquest of Gwynedd: the war of 1277 brought Flint and Rhuddlan; that of 1282–3, Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech; while after the rebellion of 1295 came Beaumaris on Anglesey. The great architect responsible for these works was Master James of St George whom Edward brought from Savoy. There was nothing particularly novel in either the individual features or the overall plans he adopted: Conwy bears a striking resemblance to Louis IX’s castle at Angers. Yet it still took tremendous intellectual energy to plan six castles from scratch, all with features in common yet all quite different according to site, and all terribly formidable. Edward’s contribution was as important. He doubtless made the fundamental decision to place all the castles down by the sea, having witnessed the starving-out of his hilltop fortresses of Deganwy and Diserth. He also supplied the drive and resources to get the castles built. To clear the site at Conwy he uprooted the Cistercian abbey (where Llywelyn the Great was buried) and moved it eight miles up the valley. To link Rhuddlan with the sea he built a canal two to three miles long. The castles were built at breathless speed, most being completed in their fundamentals within five years, so that during the summer a thousand or more labourers and several hundred masons drawn from all parts of England might be working on each one. The total cost between 1277 and 1304 was just under £80,000, roughly double what Henry III spent on Westminster Abbey. This was the most co-ordinated and impressive campaign of castle-building in medieval history.
In terms of their ground plan, none of the castles rivalled the area which, say, the Tower of London came to embrace in the thirteenth century. Rather they were like pocket battleships, packing immense power for their size. That power came principally from the number and strength of the great towers which flanked the walls (the eight at Conwy had stonework over ten feet thick), from the deadly precision of the details (like the arrow slits at Caernarfon from which fire could be directed in three different directions), and from the way all the castles were planned in conjunction with new towns which formed supportive English enclaves. There was also the arrogant panache with which the castles were finished, with watch turrets spiralling up above the four massive towers of the inner court at Conwy, and walls decorated by bands of different coloured stone at Caernarfon, a feature imitated from the Theodosian walls at Constantinople and thus a reference to the town’s supposedly Roman past. In the late 1280s from Llywelyn’s timber hall and chamber at Rhosyr on Anglesey one could gaze across the Menai Straits to Caernarfon rising in the distance. Rhosyr had been impressive in its way but the two structures reflected regimes in different leagues of power.
That there were only two risings against English rule after 1283 was a measure of the castles’ strength and the reserve power of English government behind them. The revolt of Rhys ap Maredudd in 1287, denied Dinefwr despite his loyalty in the 1282–3 war and forced to plead according to English law in the county court of Carmarthen, was put down by the regency government (Edward was in Gascony). Rhys himself was finally captured and executed in 1292. The rising of 1294–5 was more formidable. Edward had eliminated the main line of the Gwynedd dynasty, but there remained a sprig of the Meirionydd branch, Madog ap Llywelyn, living on a small estate in Anglesey. In 1294 he proclaimed himself prince of Wales and led a revolt which drew on widespread resentments against the privileges of the new towns, the exactions of the sheriffs and the attempted levy (for the first time) of a general tax in Wales. Edward, with no less than £54,500 being sent from Westminster in the first year of the war, recruited the largest infantry forces ever seen in Wales, at their height some 31,000 men being in pay. Having based himself at Conwy through the winter, he put down the revolt by leading an army on a great march around the perimeters of native Wales, and then finished off by building the most symmetrical of all his castles, Beaumaris on Anglesey.
The Edwardian conquest was grim but there was another side to it, which helps to explain its success: there were attempts at rapprochement between the peoples. A lead here was taken by Archbishop Pecham, who toured Wales in the summer of 1284. His aim was partly to reassert Canterbury’s authority and his attitude was patronizing. The Welsh, he said, should send their children to England for education. But he was genuinely shocked by the destruction of churches caused by the war and secured over £1,730 from Edward to repair the damage, the money going to over a hundred beneficiaries. Pecham urged the church to preach reconciliation between the English and the Welsh. The people should put their trust in Christ ‘who in his blood made all races of men one’. There was also a measure of accommodation in the settlement Edward himself imposed. Under the Statute of Wales, the laws of England were certainly now to be used in criminal matters, abolishing (not always effectively) compensation payments for homicide, and making serious crime an offence against the state. This, however, was something the rulers of Gwynedd had themselves been trying to achieve. It was the Welsh themselves, so the Statute said, who petitioned for the truth in land cases to be inquired into by ‘good and law-worthy men of the neighbourhood’, and that may indeed have been the case, given the evidence already cited for the preference for juries. Balancing these changes, the Statute retained Welsh laws for disputes over movables, as it did the custom practised ‘from time out of mind’ by which inheritances were partible among all heirs male. Edward could fairly claim to have taken a careful and constructive look at Welsh laws, combining abolition with modification and retention. His attitude to the Welsh was not simply one of stern inflexibility. After the revolt of 1294 he mounted inquiries into the grievances which had produced it.
Rhys ap Maredudd’s fate was not altogether typical of the Welsh rulers who tried to reach an accommodation with the crown. His own problems were compounded by quarrels with some of his leading native subjects who actually helped suppress his revolt. Of the lesser rulers, to the north of Rhys, in Ceredigion, Llywelyn ab Owain ap Maredudd retained the commote of Is Coed and half that of Gwinionydd. In Northern Powys, the descendants of Owain Brogyntyn held the commotes of Edeirnion and Dinmale, ruling them with minimal interference from the crown. Likewise the descendants of Gruffudd Maelor, despite involvement in 1282, retained Cynllaith and were the forebears of Owain Glyn Dŵr. And then, in Southern Powys, there was Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn. In the 1280s, married to a Lestrange and with his son married to a Corbet of Caus, with the sheriff of Shropshire his ‘special friend’ and with a direct line to the king’s chief minister Robert Burnell, he might well reflect on the swing of fortune’s wheel since the day he had grovelled at Llywelyn’s feet after the unmasking of the 1274 conspiracy. Although Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn’s male descendants died out in the early fourteenth century, Southern Powys survived as ‘one of the most Royallest, greatest, lardgest and best seignories and Lordship Marcher of Wales’, as it was put in the sixteenth century. Of course, it survived precisely as a marcher barony, not a Welsh princedom. Gruffudd had to fight his corner against both royal administrators and marcher barons, winning some cases, losing others (including one against Roger de Mortimer). It was precisely such struggles which his fellow rulers found intolerable. But Gruffudd’s perspective was understandable. After all, a Welsh princedom was not on offer to the ‘Welsh barons of Wales’ (as they were called in the Treaty of Montgomery) in a Gwynedd-dominated principality either.
The real beneficiaries of the English conquest were the uchelwyr, the leading men below the level of the old ruling families, precisely those who had become disaffected with Rhys ap Maredudd’s rule in Ystrad Tywi and with Llywelyn’s in Gwynedd and further south. They now thrived in English administrative service, with which indeed many had long been connected. Although nearly all the early sheriffs and castellans were English, the bailiffs of the commotes remained Welsh. Later the Welsh reached more exalted positions. Goronwy Goch, Rhys ap Maredudd’s constable at Drywslwyn, fought against him in 1287 and later became steward of Cantref Mawr. Gruffudd Llwyd, a descendant of Ednyfed Fychan, Llywelyn the Great’s steward, entered royal service in 1283 and spent fifty years there, becoming sheriff of Caernarfon, Anglesey and Meirionydd and gaining a knighthood. The view of William Marshal II, earl of Pembroke (died 1231), that the Welsh were best controlled and subdued by men ‘of their own race’ had been forgotten with disastrous results in the 1250s and 1270s. Yet in the end it was that wisdom which ultimately prevailed after the Edwardian conquest. It was, of course, a wisdom precisely designed to facilitate the rule of conquerors.
The Edwardian conquest had required no new theory. Both John and Henry III had stressed that Gwynedd was liable to forfeiture if its rulers broke faith (just as it would also escheat if they failed of heirs). That was became its rulers had done homage to the king and held their land from him. After 1277 the other Welsh rulers were in the same position, hence Edward’s statement in the 1284 Statute that Wales had become subject to him ‘by feudal right’. The near universal rebellion meant a near universal forfeiture. It was as simple as that.
Or was it? For there was now something radically new, namely a king with the determination to put such theory into practice. In doing so, Edward knew very well what he was bringing about and positively willed it. There was nothing accidental about the conquest of Wales. In this Edward was quite different from his father who had allowed Gwynedd to survive in the 1240s although he had every ‘right’ to take it for himself. The contrast was not simply because of the different personalities of the two kings. It was also because of the different levels of provocation. In 1282 the Welsh declared war on Edward suddenly and brutally, through the seizure of Hawarden and the slaughter of its garrison. And the arch-insurgent was none other than Dafydd whom, as Edward raged, he had sheltered, enriched and trusted as one of his own. So it seemed better, as Edward announced in November 1282, to endure labour and expense now so that ‘the malice [of the Welsh] can be totally destroyed’ than to suffer the fate of his ancestors and be continually crucified by their disturbances. The intention to conquer, its novelty and its reasons could not have been more clearly set out.
It was one thing to have the intention. Edward also had the ability to put it into effect. The knowledge that he could do so was an important reason for the decision in the first place. One critical factor here, and a new one, was his lack of continental distractions. The loss of Normandy in 1204 had destroyed the Angevin empire for good, but it was a long time before the dynasty recognized the fact. After the Treaty of Paris, the conquest of Wales. Certainly the first in 1259, under which Henry III at last accepted the loss of his continental possessions, made possible the second, for it initiated a quarter century of peace with the Capetians. In 1279 Edward had gone to Amiens and resolved disputes arising from the implementation of the Treaty, thus finally acquiring the Agenais. He also succeeded to the county of Ponthieu (the eventual inheritance of his wife) without difficulty, although the Capetians had blocked its acquisition by Henry III (through a marriage) in the 1230s. Edward was determined to retain and increase his authority in Gascony. He was there in 1272–4 and again in 1286–9. He played a major part in international diplomacy, going to endless trouble and expense to secure the release of Charles of Salerno. But the crucial and novel fact remained. Down to 1294 he was at peace with the Capetians. In 1174 a Welsh seer had prophesied correctly that Henry II’s descent on Wales would be prevented by the king of France’s siege of Rouen. There was no possibility of anything like that happening in 1282. Likewise there was no prospect of Llywelyn imitating his grandfather’s alliance with the Capetians in 1212 or that of Owain Gwynedd in 1165. To conquer Wales, Gerald of Wales had affirmed, would need ‘diligent and constant attention for a year at least’. It was that which Edward was able to give.
Edward was ‘able’ in another way. The conquest of Wales was facilitated by a military revolution. There was the masterful execution of radical strategies, some of them old like the occupation of Anglesey and the march round Wales (anticipated by Nicholas Molis in the 1240s), some new like the bridge of boats and the decision to fight on through the winter. Then there was the extraordinary campaign of castle-building, new in its scale, speed and concentration. And there was the size of the armies and how they were recruited. The changes were less marked on the cavalry side. If Edward had, say, 1,000 cavalry involved in the 1282–3 campaign, that was not much larger than the 800 John took with him to Ireland in 1210, nor were there significant differences in how they were recruited. Edward, like earlier kings, relied on his household forces (they provided a third of the cavalry in 1282–3), on ‘feudal’ contingents supplied by his barons, and on further bodies of paid knights. There was nothing new in a high proportion of the army being supported with royal cash, John in effect had done that through the ‘loans’ doled out to the knights in 1210. The Norman and Angevin kings had always employed large numbers of Flemish and Brabantine mercenaries. Where Edward did make a new departure was in the size of his infantry, culminating in a colossal 31,000 across the armies in 1294. These foot soldiers were supported by royal pay and many had been recruited in a new fashion, namely by the ‘commissions of array’ (in 1282 staffed by household knights) who were sent into selected counties to raise troops from the towns and villages, forcing the local communities to produce contingents and then to support them until they reached the muster. Admittedly numbers do not always make for efficiency and the high levels were not sustained for very long. But these may well have been the largest armies ever seen in Wales.
Behind Edward’s military power lay one outstanding factor: money, money to build the castles and pay the troops. And his reform of the realm had given him this in abundance. Between 1276 and 1279 the Riccardi tripled their payments into the wardrobe and met nearly all the costs of the first Welsh war. For the second war between 1282 and 1284 Edward spent £120,000, including the initial costs of the castle-building. If that was the price of conquering Wales, it was beyond Henry III. Of the £120,000 (much of it channelled again through the Riccardi), £23,000 derived from the new customs duties agreed by parliament in 1275, and £37,500 came from a tax conceded by knights and burgesses in January 1283 during the actual course of the campaign. No wonder they were summoned later to Shrewsbury to witness Dafydd’s execution. The new Edwardian state and the conquest of Wales were thus intimately connected. That was as true in the area of political stability as it was of financial resources. John, after all, had a treasure of around £130,000 at the time of the Welsh revolt in 1212. The reason he did not deploy it against Wales was only partly because it was destined for the continent. It was also because his hand was stayed by the baronial plot against his life, a plot in which Llywelyn was complicit. There was no chance of anything like that happening in 1277 or 1282.
* * *
As king, Edward’s conduct in Ireland was very different from what it became in Wales. He wished to exploit the province but he did not drive forward a major expansion in the area under his direct control, an expansion from which the losers would have been the colonial lords and the native rulers. He certainly never dreamt of completing Ireland’s conquest by eliminating the latter. Like his father, Edward never went to Ireland. Both his decision not to intervene and the general stability of English politics allowed the struggles between the native rulers and the colonial lords to follow their own patterns, as did the struggles within each camp, that between the de Burghs and the fitz Geralds continuing until a settlement in 1298. Edward had, of course, been lord of Ireland since 1254, since when his position had deteriorated badly. The crisis in England during the 1260s had forced him to concede Ulster to Walter de Burgh. There had also been a sharp decline in the revenues from the lordships. In 1271 the year’s receipts at the Dublin exchequer were some £2,000, half those of twenty years earlier. The major achievement of Edward’s governors in the first decade of the reign was to restore the situation so that in the 1280s the receipts recovered to between £5,000 and £6,000 a year. Eventually Ireland contributed some £30,000 towards the cost of Edward’s castles in Wales, roughly 35 per cent of the total bill. The conquest of Wales and English rule in Ireland were thus intimately related.
* * *
In the 1270s and 1280s Edward’s relations with Scotland were close and harmonious. Instead of exploiting the Manxmen’s revolt in 1275, he helped King Alexander crush it. True, in 1278 when Alexander did homage for the lands he held in England, Edward reserved his claims to overlordship over the Scottish kingdom. Henry III had entered a similar reservation in 1251 and then forgotten all about it. Edward was tougher. He made an official record of his démarche, and omitted to mention Alexander’s spirited response: ‘Nobody but God himself has the right to the homage for my realm of Scotland.’ Edward’s conduct was part and parcel of his determination to preserve royal rights much more effectively than his father, but that did not mean he was planning to pursue them in an aggressive fashion. Up to a point both kings were going through the motions, neither really expecting the question of homage to come up and damage their cordial family relations.
Queen Margaret, Alexander’s wife and Edward’s sister, had died in 1275, leaving two sons and a daughter. By January 1284 all were dead. ‘After the many kindnesses we have received from you,’ Alexander wrote to Edward, ‘you have now at this time of intolerable despair at the death of our dear son, your beloved nephew, offered much solace by saying that although death has borne away your kindred in these parts, we are united together perpetually, God willing, by the tie of indissoluble affection.’ There was nothing the least bit false about these sentiments, and Alexander went on to imply that the union between the dynasties might still be maintained, this presumably through the marriage of his infant granddaughter and heir apparent (the daughter of the King of Norway) to Edward’s son, the future Edward II. It would clearly be better, however, if Alexander could produce another son. To that end, in October 1285 Alexander married again, this time to Yolanda, the daughter of the count of Dreux. On a stormy night in March 1286, anxious to join his new queen, he left Edinburgh late in the evening, crossed the Forth by ferry, and then in the wind and rain became separated from his escort. Next day he was found dead on the seashore, having broken his neck in a fall from his horse.
The reign had been a great one for the monarchy both in terms of the conquest of the west and the political stability which made that possible. Behind both successes stood the resources of Alexander’s kingship, resources which he enhanced in one important area. Following Edward’s example in 1275, Alexander introduced exactly the same customs duty on wool exports as that in force in England, thereby raising perhaps £2,000 a year. There seems little doubt that Alexander’s revenues were increasing more generally. His reign saw a stupendous expansion of the money supply, helped in part by his re-coinage in 1250, with a new ‘long-cross penny’ modelled on that introduced into England three years before (see above, p. 47). Apart from the substantial amounts of money coming direct from the burghs, the bulk of royal revenue (some of it still in kind) was collected by the sheriffs and derived from crown lands. Revenue from wardships was also important, although intermittent. Alexander kept the earldom of Fife (worth £500 a year) in hand from 1270 to 1284 to provide for his son and heir. In 1293 the revenue from the sheriffdoms was valued at £8,100 a year, and since this excluded the customs and other resources, Alexander’s annual income was well over £10,000. In terms of resources, in the British league table he was roughly three times more wealthy than the princes of Gwynedd, even when their revenues were at their height, and three times less wealthy than kings of England, even before their income was expanded by general taxation.
The king’s finances were essentially run from within the king’s household by the chamber, the equivalent of Edward I’s wardrobe. It was the chamberlain who received all the revenues collected by the sheriffs, apart from those the sheriffs themselves spent on royal orders. The chamberlain, the chancellor and other household officials audited the accounts of the sheriffs at various places as they travelled the country. There was no separate exchequer on the English model, although the board of audit was sometimes given the name. The board’s accounts, which survive from the 1260s and 1280s in truncated seventeenth-century copies, prove that it was extremely proactive, ordering investigations, judging whether sheriffs should answer for particular debts, and commanding payments to be enforced by distraint. More than anything else, these fragments show that Scotland had a fully formed document-driven, record-based monarchy.
The chamberlain’s own account, for an imprecise period but including the year 1264, provides a glimpse of the royal household, and its expenditure on horses, silks, spices, wine, gifts, messengers, wages of servants, fees of knights, expenses of the queen, and the king’s gambling debts. The cost of what was probably the household’s food and drink was £2,220, of which £590 was still owed ‘the country’, which suggests a right of prise (compulsory purchase) much as in England. If the £2,220 was for one year and not for longer it was much the same as Henry III’s expenditure in the late 1220s, although Edward I’s in the 1280s was to be five or six times as great. The chamberlain’s total receipts were £5,300, roughly a third of the receipts of Edward’s wardrobe for one year at the start of his reign, though later, of course, these too became much larger. A description of Scottish government written around 1292 describes in detail the role of the household officials – the steward, constable, marshal, almoner, and the clerks of liverance,provender, wardrobe and kitchen. Its discussion of the office of the chancellor suggests the same pressures of business as in England, hence its mention of routine writs ‘of course’, its acknowledgement that the chancellor might not always follow the king, and its observation that the king might issue orders to him through writs sealed with the privy seal.
Alexander’s death brought to an end more than three centuries of royal success. The original core of the Scottish kingdom had been between the firths of Forth and Moray and the central Highlands. It was there that the great bulk of the king’s lands lay, organized into thanages that were later subsumed into sheriffdoms. In some usages as late as the twelfth century it was this or indeed an even smaller area (thanks to the fissure with Moray) which was thought of as constituting Scotland (see above, p. 117). The essential achievement of the Scottish kings was to expand beyond this narrow base. In the tenth century they established their hold over Lothian. Thereafter persistent attempts down to 1217 to advance south of the Solway and the Tweed came to nothing. But instead the kingdom expanded north and west: north to recover hold over Moray and ultimately establish sheriffdoms at Cromarty and Dingwall; west with sheriffdoms at Lanark, Dumfries, Wigtown, Ayr, Dumbarton and (in 1293) in Argyll and the Western Isles (see Map 4). The financial accounts of the 1260s and 1280s show that there were twelve sheriffdoms south of the Forth, seven between the Forth and Kincardine and eight between Aberdeen and Cromarty and Dingwall, although the last had no revenues to speak of. This Scotland of the sheriffdoms was the area within which the kings had asserted, in the twelfth century, control over royal pleas (including cases of serious crime) and in the thirteenth had made available common law legal procedures similar to those in England. In Alexander’s reign the three justiciars, of Lothian, Scotland north of Forth, and Galloway (the last reappears in the sources from 1258), were probably travelling their jurisdictions twice a year to hear both types of plea. The expansion of the kingdom was also reflected, if belatedly, in the spread of mints. The short-cross penny which ran between 1195 and 1250 was only struck at Berwick, Roxburgh, Edinburgh and Perth. The long-cross penny was minted (in its initial phase) in the north at Inverness and in the west at Dumfries, Ayr, Lanark, Glasgow and Renfrew. The burghs themselves, proliferating throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, were dependent on the king for their privileges and supplied him with important cash revenues. They were potent instruments in the expansion and consolidation of royal power.
Beyond the Scotland of the sheriffdoms, the kings had tied the northern earldom of Caithness more firmly to the kingdom, in part through controlling its bishopric. Indeed with a proper diocesan structure coming into place, the control of episcopal appointments allowed the king to place his men in key positions throughout Scotland. The most essential method, however, of binding doubtful areas on the periphery to the realm’s inner core was through the establishment of provincial lordships for the king’s closest associates, most of them of Anglo-Norman descent. In the west the Bruces were placed in Annandale, the Morevilles in Cunningham, and the Stewarts in Kyle and Strathgryf and then in Bute, Cowal, Arran and Knapdale. The same pattern was repeated in the north with the Murrys in Sutherland and the Comyns in Badenoch and Lochaber. By 1286, five of the thirteen native earldoms had also passed to families of Anglo-Norman descent. The establishment of such families, fundamental to the ‘Europeanization’ of Scotland, had created tensions which spawned a series of political revolts, associated particularly with the MacWilliams and the MacHeths. The revolts were brutally suppressed, as were those in Galloway and Man, but the new edifice’s stability depended as much on accommodation as on conquest. Native nobles continued to hold eight of the thirteen earldoms and also to rule in Argyll. They adopted much of the culture of the incoming nobility, while the latter, on its part, came to respect native history and traditions. Harmony between kings and nobles, whatever their background, was also helped by the basic structures of the kingdom, where there were significant contrasts as well as parallels with those south of the border. In England, while great nobles were often leading councillors of the king, they did not in the thirteenth century generally hold formal office either at the centre or in the localities. In Scotland they did both. Alexander Comyn was one of the Alexander III’s justiciars and the earl of Mar his chamberlain. Nobles were equally appointed to sheriffdoms. Those who were unemployed were at least left alone. There remained a fundamental contrast between the Scotland of the sheriffs and the justiciars, on the one hand, and the Scotland of the ‘outer ring’ earldoms and provincial lordships on the other. How far crown pleas and the common law ran in these earldoms and lordships is unclear. Certainly their lords enjoyed very considerable independence. Their position was comparable to that of the Welsh marcher barons within the English realm, except that the territories they ruled were far more extensive. As James Campbell has observed, it is at least symbolic of the power of the Scottish nobility that the Gough Map of Britain in 1360 notes in Scotland not the administrative counties, as it sometimes does in England, but the territories of the earls.
Nobles were also less pressured than in England, even within the core of the kingdom. Private jurisdiction probably remained more important; certainly the common law bulked less large (see above, pp. 334–5). Royal revenue also came with far less strain, largely because so much of it derived from land. The surviving records of account lack the long lists of individual debts which are such a feature of the English pipe rolls. The customs introduced by Alexander were relatively painless. Painful general taxation was one area in which he did not imitate his brother-in-law. For that reason while Alexander frequently convoked great assemblies of the realm he had no need to summon local representatives to them in any formal way, as he did not need consent to taxation. Yet Alexander’s kingship was still widely based. The 1,500 to 2,000 Scots, most middling freeholders, whose allegiance Edward took in 1296 may well have been the kind of men who were making increasing use of the new common law legal procedures. As in England, royal justice was in demand.
All this put Scottish kings in a very different political position from either the rulers of Gwynedd or the kings of England. There was no equivalent, after Alexander’s death, to the long list of complaints made against Llywelyn. There was no need for a Scottish Magna Carta, Provisions of Oxford, or Edwardian-style reform of the realm. While the Scottish state was in some ways like the English state in miniature, in others it more closely resembled twelfth-century Capetian France, where revenue was ‘easy’ and political protest muted. As a result, in Scotland (as in France) a sense of national identity could centre upon the crown, indeed be created by it. If Wales was united in its language and people yet divided by its rulers, Scotland was divided in its language and people but united by its king. Indeed initially a common kingship was all that did unite it. The achievement of a universal Scottishness, against all the odds, is the supreme example of the power of ‘regnal unity’. It was because the king was ‘king of Scots’ that all the diverse peoples in his realm came ultimately to regard themselves as just that. And as the kings pushed their authority outwards, the narrower usages of ‘Scotland’ were lost and ‘Scotland’ came universally to mean the whole land north of the Solway and the Tweed, essentially the area of modern Scotland. A lament for Alexander, written soon after his death, captured both his popularity and centrality to Scotland:
When Alexander our king was dead
That Scotland led in love and law
Away was sons [abundance] of ale and bread
Of wine and wax, of gaming and glee
Our gold was changed into lead.
After Alexander’s death, when the guardians put on their seal the motto ‘St Andrew be the leader of the compatriot Scots’, they expressed a common identity and also the need for help now that they had lost the leadership which had created it, the leadership of the king.
* * *
Where does one stop the clock in history? In 1272 the king of England seemed the least conquering of the British rulers. Twelve years later Edward had conquered Wales. In the 1290s he was virtually to conquer Scotland. The way there had been prepared by the death of Alexander III’s granddaughter, ‘the Maid of Norway’, in September 1290, which ended plans for her marriage to Edward’s heir. Edward had then insisted that his overlordship of Scotland be recognized – this before judging between the numerous candidates for the Scottish throne, all descendants of the sisters of Earl David of Huntingdon (died 1219), King William the Lion’s younger brother. Edward thus enforced ‘rights’ which no Scottish king had acknowledged since Richard I had abandoned them in 1189. Edward’s next forward move came after John Balliol had become king and done homage. Edward enforced his overlordship by demanding military service for his French war in 1294 and by hearing legal cases from Scotland on appeal. When this provoked resistance, Edward in 1296 invaded, forced Balliol’s abdication and reduced Scotland to a ‘land’ annexed to the English crown, an awesome decision which simply extinguished a kingship which had existed for over four hundred years. Yet it was a decision exactly paralleled in the way he had enforced the forfeitures of the Welsh rulers in 1283–4. To defeat rebellion and hold down his conquest, Edward did not build castles, as in Wales, but his armies were of immense size. The 25,700 foot soldiers and at least 3,000 cavalry mustered for the Falkirk campaign in 1297 was certainly the largest single force raised in Britain since 1066 and one unsurpassed on a regular basis before the armies of the seventeenth century. Edward’s gigantic revenues between 1294 and 1297 enabled him to fight wars in France as well as in Britain, something not required of him in 1277 and 1284. Yet he contained the resulting political protests in England. The conquest of Scotland, like that of Wales, was intimately linked to the stability of the Edwardian state. In 1305 Edward issued an Ordinance for the government of Scotland which paralleled in many ways the 1284 Statute of Wales. With his parliament in England hearing petitions from Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, with his exchequer inspecting accounts from subordinate exchequers at Caernarfon, Berwick and Dublin, the British Isles seemed, in the words of Robin Frame, to be ‘in the grip of an irresistible organizing force’. In fact, of course, it did not work out like that. In 1306 Robert Bruce was crowned king at Scone and he went on to free Scotland from English rule.
That Wales succumbed and Scotland survived was not surprising, for the Scottish kings, as we have seen, had created a powerful and harmonious state whereas the Welsh rulers had not. Scotland was also far better protected geographically, with a single narrow frontier to England, no equivalent of the marcher baronies, and a much more extensive seaboard. Scotland, however, was also lucky in coming onto the agenda late in Edward’s reign, when at times he was also fighting in Wales and France. Had the chronology been different, or had Edward not been followed by Edward II (1307–27), the most hopeless king to sit on the English throne, Scotland might well have gone under. Indeed, given the disparity in resources, there must have been many occasions after 1066 when kings of England could have conquered Wales and Scotland had they concentrated on doing so.
This is not to say such a conquest was necessarily inevitable. There was nothing uniform about English power. It collapsed under Stephen, and was weak, both in terms of direction and resources, for much of the time between 1212 and 1272. Nor did English kings have much concept of ‘Britain’ as an entity which should be united under their rule with the Welsh dynasties and the king of Scotland swept away. True, that vision was given powerful expression after Edward’s victories, notably by Peter Langtoft (an Augustinian canon of Bridlington):
Now are the islanders all joined together
And Albany [Scotland] united to the royalties
of which King Edward is proclaimed lord.
Cornwall and Wales are in his power,
And Ireland the great at his will.
There is neither king nor prince of all the countries
Except King Edward who has thus united them.
Such unificatory rhetoric might seem to have had a long pedigree. Gerald of Wales after all had lauded Henry II for ‘including by his powerful hand in one monarchy the whole island of Britain’. But in reality what Henry II actually sought, much like his grandfather Henry I, was overlordship over the other rulers, not unification through their elimination. In the first instance Edward sought exactly the same. His view of Britain was very much one of separate rulers owing allegiance to the king of England. In 1301, in a letter to the pope, he showed how the king of England’s overlordship over the king of Scotland had arisen from the original division of Albion between the sons of Brutus and how that overlordship had subsequently been maintained. For Edward, the eventual reduction of Scotland to a ‘land’ annexed by the English crown was not the realization of some Langtoftian blueprint. It was simply the result, as Edward explained, of the king of Scotland having breached his oath of loyalty to his overlord. The forfeitures of the Welsh rulers, as we have seen, had worked in exactly the same way. In this perspective, the unification of Britain had been produced by the disloyalty of the subject rulers.
Kings had long been aware of the prospects of forfeiture (Welsh rulers had suffered it under Henry I) but they had hardly striven to create situations which might bring it about. Indeed the pressures they placed on Wales and Scotland were often relaxed rather than intensified. One reason for that, of course, lay in the activities of the Welsh and Scottish rulers themselves. But another, even more important, was simply that English kings had higher priorities elsewhere. Again and again, overseas necessities took Henry I and Henry II away when they might otherwise have campaigned in Wales. Even after 1204 the recovery of the continental empire and retention of its remnants had the highest priority, at least until the 1240s. Nor was that surprising given the relative value and prestige of Normandy, Anjou and Gascony, compared with Wales, Ireland and even Scotland.
In Wales the main advances of the Normans after 1066 had been the work of marcher barons rather than the king, but once these lost momentum the king showed little inclination to step in and finish the job. Both the marcher barons and the Welsh rulers could be allies or enemies depending on circumstances. Henry I condoned the growing power of Gruffudd ap Cynan in part as a counterweight to the earl of Chester, thereby helping to lay the foundations of a resurgent Gwynedd. Likewise Henry II made the Lord Rhys his lieutenant in the south, so gaining freedom to deal with Ireland. Later, Henry III in practice accepted the dominance of Llywelyn the Great for the whole period from 1216 to 1240. The next decade saw him pass up golden opportunities to conquer Gwynedd. In 1267, he and his son even surrendered longstanding royal claims to the homages of the Welsh rulers. Three years later, placing money for his crusade above recovery of power in Wales, Edward helped Llywelyn to consolidate his principality by selling him the homage of Maredudd ap Rhys. The crown’s attitude to its own gains was scarcely desperately retentive. The Four Cantrefs in the north, and Pembroke, Cardigan and Carmarthen in the south, were allowed to pass back and forth between marcher baron, Welsh ruler and the king as it suited the needs of wider policy.
Over Scotland the nature of the overlordship asserted by the English kings fluctuated. William I had made King Malcolm his ‘man’. Both Rufus and Henry I placed protégés on the Scottish throne and expected their obedience. Thereafter, however, the overlordship of Scotland (largely thanks to the enfeeblement of royal authority under Stephen) lapsed until Henry II renewed it in 1174, at the same time taking possession of several castles within the kingdom. Henry certainly sought to make a reality of his position, but that he saw the Scottish castles as a security measure designed to prevent invasions of England, rather than as a base for further advance, was amply shown by the way he resigned Edinburgh, the most important, once he was confident of King William’s good behaviour. Henry’s successor, Richard I, placed money for his crusade far above maintaining the overlordship over Scotland and achieved the one by sacrificing the other. Although later kings kept the idea of overlordship alive, in practice they accepted Scotland’s independence. As a result, after 1217 relations became increasingly cordial. Henry III conspicuously refused to push claims to overlordship during Alexander III’s minority. Edward I, more determined, formally registered his claims in 1278 but did nothing to prosecute them. In the Treaty of Birgham of 1290, under which his son was to marry the Maid of Norway, he accepted that Scotland was to remain ‘separate and free in itself without subjection’. It was only in the extraordinary circumstances produced by the failure of the direct Scottish line with the Maid of Norway’s death that he revived his claims. Meanwhile kings of England put little effort into increasing their power in Ireland. After John’s expedition of 1210 they never went there, regarding the lordship simply as a source of revenue and a place where they could find patronage for their supporters.
All this, therefore, left plenty of room for the expansive strategies of the Scottish kings and the Welsh rulers. The picture of Britain in 1272 is not a momentary illusion. It was often the reality. Indeed in the thirteenth century the English kings had far less clear-cut plans for mastery than either the king of Scots or the princes of Gwynedd, the former with a blueprint for taking over Man and the Western Isles, the latter with one for dominion over the other native rulers.
Edward’s elimination of the Welsh rulers and termination of the Scottish kingdom was not, therefore, the culmination of a long and consistent drive by the English crown to intensify its overlordship over Britain, let alone unify it under a single ruler. This statement, however, while true, needs to be counterbalanced by another: if circumstances did arise in which English overlordship was exercised, then it was likely to be progressively more demanding and intrusive the later one moves in our period. The reason for this was the development of the English state. Written records, a common law and a professional judiciary made royal government increasingly detailed, uniform and all-embracing. Inevitably that had an impact on those in Wales and Scotland who came into contact with it. While Welsh and Scottish rulers from the Conqueror’s time onwards may at times have done homage to the kings of England, thus acknowledging that they held their territories as fiefs which were liable to forfeiture, the written definition of such relationships by Henry II in his 1174 treaty with Scotland, and by John in the charters he granted to the Welsh rulers, gave those relationships a new sharpness. While the overlordship exercised by Henry I over the Welsh rulers was real enough, it was not a matter of law cases and legal records. In the next century the Welsh assize rolls, recording Welsh cases heard by English judges between 1277 and 1284, run to 350 modern printed pages. Merely an abbreviated English calendar of the special chancery rolls Edward opened in 1277 to record his Welsh letters runs to a 100 pages down to 1282. It was such law and bureaucracy which seemed to threaten Scotland after 1292. William the Lion had found Henry II’s overlordship vexatious, especially the attendance at his courts, the loss of castles, and the interference in Galloway, but he put up with it. A hundred years later Edwardian overlordship, especially in the hearing of judicial appeals, threatened to be far more interventionist, and thus far more intolerable.
Of course, what made this worse were the equal pretensions of the rulers of Wales and Scotland. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was himself trying to pin the Welsh rulers down to a precise set of rules, and was imbued with his status as prince of Wales. The kings of Scotland had created an English state in miniature, and were keen to round it off by getting papal sanction for a coronation. Faced by heavier demands with a lower level of toleration, it was highly likely that the result would be resistance, as indeed it was. Meeting resistance, a king like Edward, masterful and martial, was always likely to conclude that confiscation and conquest were the only solutions. The loss of Normandy, in confining the king largely to England, meant he could concentrate as never before on executing such a programme; and the new tax-based state Edward was creating gave him the resources to bring it about.
In thirteenth-century conditions, therefore, overlordship meant domination, domination led to resistance, and resistance was ended by conquest. But was it really as straightforward as that? The circumstances in which the full weight of English law and officialdom came to bear on both Wales and Scotland were surely avoidable, if in different ways. In Wales, if Llywelyn had maintained the 1267 settlement he and the other rulers would certainly have had far less English interference to cope with than they had after 1277. In Scotland, the events of the 1290s came like a bolt from a clear blue sky. In the long years of Anglo-Scottish peace, when Carlisle castle fell into disrepair, unfortified houses proliferated across the border, and a common currency united the realms, a union of the kingdoms by marriage seemed far more likely than one by conquest. Indeed had dynastic death stalked south of the border rather than north, a son of Alexander III (his mother the daughter of Henry III) could well have ended up as king of England; a single monarch for the two countries not after Elizabeth’s death in 1603 but after Edward I’s.
The transformation in their national identities and economies (discussed in earlier chapters) meant that the English, the Welsh and the Scots never had more in common than when politics at the end of the thirteenth century cast them apart. If the coming together had been largely (though not entirely) on English and by extension western European terms, there was no reason why political hegemony should have come in its wake. Indeed, one result of the changes was that the English no longer regarded the Welsh and the Scots as inferior, barbaric races. Nor did the remodelling of national identities and the developing powers of the state destroy aristocratic nexuses which crossed political boundaries. Indeed, these were more pronounced than ever. Henry I had prevented cross-border landholding in the north on the grounds that one could not serve two masters. In the thirteenth century, with the masters living in peace, it was extensive. For the numerous AngloScottish landholders the Edwardian wars were unexpected and unnatural disasters. In Wales, Matilda Longespee was the daughter of one marcher baron, and the wife of another. She was also a cousin of Llywelyn, for both were grandchildren of Llywelyn the Great. As soon as she heard of Llywelyn’s death she begged Archbishop Pecham to absolve him from his sins. Such sympathies, founded on family and humanity, and transcending race, class and gender, gave hope for the future.