History of the Cymry: Second Millennium to 1400AD

1067-1400AD – These are without doubt the most turbulent centuries of medieval history for all the countries of Europe. In Cymru, the enemy was no longer the Saxon but the Norman. Descended from the Vikings, the Normans conquered in significant ways swathes of the known world from the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean to the coasts of Ireland. Cymru was spared some of the bloodshed that afflicted its neighbors, partly because the terrain of the country was difficult and partly because the Cymry did not fight according to any rules of engagement. Many of the greatest heroes in the history of Cymru appeared in this period: Rhys ap Tewdwr, Llewelyn Fawr, Owain Gwynedd, Arglwydd (Lord) Rhys, and as many remarkable women – more about them in the second part of this course.

1081-1098AD – After his pilgrimage to Ty Ddewi (St. David’s Cathedral), William recognized Rhys ap Tewdwr as king of Deheubarth (Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and part of Morgannwg), but Powys and Gwynedd seemed doomed to be subsumed by the English. The power of the Cymry could not be overcome by a single battle as England had fallen. The Cymry battled one lordship at a time and were wise enough to lie low when the English king was strong, taking full advantage of those who were weak.

1100-1282AD – During these years, battles raged between the Normans/English and the Cymry. The Cistercians were a popular and powerful monastic entity. Gruffudd ap Cynan fought for decades to ensure the recovery of the kingdom of Gwynedd, spending a full decade in prison in Chester. His son, Owain Gwynedd, fought with Gruffudd ap Rhys to destroy the Normans near Aberteifi in 1136. Owain, his sons and Gruffudd’s son Rhys (Lord Rhys) defeated Henry II in 1164.  The Normans soon found that intermarrying was a better tactic. Rhys and Henry II became close friends. Llewelyn Fawr (Owain’s grandson) married Siwan (Joan) but that did not prevent him from waging war against John, her father. Their son, Dafydd, married the daughter of William de Braose, the man Llewelyn hanged for his affair with Siwan. Dafydd was not a strong leader but Llewelyn’s grandson, Llewelyn ap Gruffudd (d. 1282), forged alliances and enemies throughout his life. He was ambushed at Cilmeri, Powys. He left no heir to the throne, but his two-year-old daughter, Gwenllian, paid for his rebellion against the English crown. His brother, Dafydd was captured and brutally executed the following year.

1301-1316AD – Edward I came to power and resurrected the title ‘Prince of Wales’ by imposing his son on the Cymry. They didn’t take kindly to Edward II, any more than they took to his father. Ed II liked his parties better than his politics and was soon despised, captured, deposed and murdered.

1348-1391AD – The Black Death killed a third of the population of Cymru and the entire economic system was changed. Too many land-poor sons meant ready recruits to the English king’s army, with many joining the Black Prince at Agincourt. The Cymry were the famous ‘Angels of Agincourt’, as Arthur Machen dubbed them, whose bowmanship caused the French to remove the two drawing fingers of any bowmen they caught, hence the infamous two-fingered salute the Cymry showed their enemies.

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Filed under Cymreig/Welsh, Cymru/Wales, Hanes Cymru/Welsh History, Y Cymry/Welsh People

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