Welsh War of Edward I, 1277-1282

Previous kings of England had made repeated attempts to invade the Welsh stronghold of Snowdonia. However, the feudal army was not suited to campaigning in mountainous country, where the Welsh simply disappeared into the high mountains, and after the feudal army disbanded at the end of its forty day period of service, the Welsh would come back down from the mountains and reoccupy their lands. Edward I responded to this in three ways. First, he altered the nature of his army. Many nobles appeared with a fraction of their full quota, and stayed on after the forty days in return for a wage, while he also paid for a large number of infantry, amongst whom there were a large number of south Welsh troops. Second, Edward embarged on a largescale road building program throughout Snowdonia, clearing forests to avoid ambush and allowing his troops much easier access to the Welsh heartland. Thirdly, he embarked on a huge program of castle building, by far the biggest undertaken by any English king - indeed, Wales was truly pacified before all of the castles were completed,. and were not tested until Glendowers revolt, over a century later.

Criccieth Castle
Criccieth Castle

Trouble started soon after Edward I returned from crusade to assume his throne. As was tradition, he summoned Llewellyn-ap-Graffyd, prince of Gwynedd, to do homage to him as his superior. However, Llewellyn regarded himself as an equal of Edward, as ruler of his own Principality, and refused to appear. Edward responded by raising one of the largest armies any English king had then created, with 1,000 Knights, and up to 15,000 footsoldiers, raised from the areas bordering Wales, properly supported and capable of staying in the field until the war was won. The campaign started with two thrusts into south and mid Wales by the marcher lords, which stripped much of Llewellyns support from him. In July 1277, Edward and the main army left Worcester to march towards the North Welsh coast. The army moved along the coast from Chester, to Flint (26 July 1277), then Rhuddlan, and then to the mouth of the River Conway (29 July 1277), cutting a wide road along the coast, and beginning the construction of Edwards great castles. At the same time, a fleet raised from the Cinque Ports isolated Anglesey, from where the Welsh gained most of their grain. Once Edward reached Conway, a detachment from his army captured Anglesey, and the grain supplies, leaving Llewellyn without food and surrounded, forcing his surrender. On 9 November 1277, the Treaty of Conway marked his defeat. He agreed to withdraw into Gwynedd, abandoning earlier conquests, while also abandoning his claims to authority in the Welsh Marches, and acknowledging Edward as his superior.

Five years later, the war flared up again. David ap Gruffyd, Llewellyn's brother, who had allied with Edward, suddenly abandoned his alliance, and launched an attack on the English, forcing Llewellyn to join him. At first, the Welsh achieved great success, besieging Flint and Rhuddlan, and reaching as far as Chester and the Bristol Channel. Edward used the same approach as in 1277, although this time he also had to reconquer large areas of South Wales as well as Gwynedd. From July 1282, events largely mirrored those of 1277. Edward fought his was along the north Welsh coast, while the fleet captured Anglesey. Another army advanced through the vale of Clwyd. Threatened by both armys, David withdrew, forcing Llewellyn to abandon his conquests in south Wales and return to Gwynedd. At this point, Edward was poised to launch a three pronged attack on Gwynedd, while Llewellyn was ready for a final defense of his homeland, when Luke de Tany, in charge of the army on Anglesey, tried to cross the Menai Strait to the mainland unsupported, and waiting Welsh forces annihilated his force, forcing Edward to cancel his attack and plan for a long winter campaign. At this point, luck played its part. On 11 December, Llewellyn was caught and killed by a marcher force under John Giffard at the battle of Orewen Bridge. After Llewellyns death, Welsh resistence was effectively over. This time, Edward ended the independence of the Princes of Gwynedd, which became the core of the lands of the English Princes of Wales.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (6 January 2001), Welsh War of Edward I, 1277-1282, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/wars_welsh.html

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