Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Medieval document reveals new insights into a 13th century Welsh uprising

A recent article has shed new light into a Welsh rebellion against English king Edward I in 1294-5. It reveals the only surviving document issued by one of the Welsh leaders during the revolt.

"The Penmachno Letter Patent and the Welsh Uprising of 1294-95" by G. Rex Smith appeared in the most recent issue of Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies. The article details a letter patent signed by Madog ap Llywelyn, one of the main leaders of the revolt, in December 1294. Smith provides the text and translation of the document, in which Madog reasserts a land grant to a minor noble named Bleddyn Fychan of property in northern Wales.

Smith believes that while Fychan and his family had remained loyal to Edward I during the conflict, they also wanted to make sure their property was protected in case the Welsh proved victorious in the conflict.

The letter patent is also interesting in that Madog ap Llywelyn refers to himself as "prince of Wales, lord of Snowdonia", the latter of which refers to the Welsh tradition that Snowdonia was once the seat of power for previous Welsh princes. Smith writes that "Madog, willingly or unwillingly, had become the leader of the rebellion in the north and why not call himself prince of Wales and lord of Snowdonia to boost his position there, not to mention his morale."

The article also details the revolt, which Smith believes was a popular uprising caused by harsh treatment by Edward's officials in Wales. In September and October of 1294 Welsh forces overran several castles and took control of large parts of the territory - this forced Edward to abandon a planned campaign in Gascony and send his troops to Wales. In what Smith called "more of a show of strength, a flag-waving exercise, than a military campaign," Edward was able to regain most of his castles and territory, although at a cost of about £55 000. Madog ap Llywelyn either surrendered or was captured in the summer of 1295, and spent the rest of his life in the Tower of London.

"The Penmachno Letter Patent and the Welsh Uprising of 1294-95" by G. Rex Smith, can be found in Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, Vol.58 (Winter 2009).