Thursday, March 3, 2011

March 3, 1284 – Statute of Rhuddlan Creates Welsh Kingdom

With the conquest of the castle at Rhuddlan after a long siege and the reuniting of northern Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd made his announcement atop its keep that Wales shall be heretofore joined under a king. The proclamation further outlined boundaries of the kingdom, expected loyalties, a legal base, and a summons of the princes and lords of Wales to meet at conference for the choosing of the king. The meeting was largely a diplomatic measure as Llywelyn’s victories over England at the head of his army, by far the largest in Wales, firmly established his position as the first king, as did his being the grandson of Llywelyn the Great, who had been king over Wales in all but name through his treaties and battles.

The announcement came after years of struggle in the second uprising of the Welsh people against England. Initially, the two nations had lived alongside one another in the general peace of feudal Britain. Treaties were established with the English King Henry III, who kept Welsh princes hostage in the Tower of London as part of typical medieval agreements. When the captive Dafydd ap Llywelyn died from a fall while trying to escape in 1244, the Welsh declared war to make a stronger stance. Henry agreed to it at the Treaty of Woodstock, and then Llywelyn went about confirming his supremacy and expanding his control. During the English Second Barons’ War in 1263, Llywelyn joined with Simon de Montefort, Earl of Leicester and Chester, against the king, taking advantage of the turmoil to establish his position.

For further establishment (as well as what is historically believed to be a true romance), Llywelyn married de Montefort’s daughter Eleanor. The marriage was done by proxy in 1275, the same year Llywelyn refused to attend a call to Chester from Edward, son of Henry and now king of England. Edward was also Eleanor’s cousin and took exception to the marriage. He kidnapped her by mercenary-pirates, went to war with Llywelyn as a rebel, and gained considerable control over Wales in the resulting Treaty of Aberconwy.

In the 1280s, however, the Welsh lords began to chafe under the foreign rule of Edward. He had built an “iron ring” of castles through Wales using the most advanced designs of the day and seized a great deal of land. Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Llywelyn’s brother, initiated the fighting with an attack at Hawarden and a siege of Rhuddlan in 1282, the same year Llywelyn’s wife would die while giving birth to their daughter Gwenllian. Revolt spread through Wales, and Llywelyn defeated the occupying English force at the Battle of Moel-y-don, again affirming his leadership.

Llywelyn then marched south, rounding up support from the southern Welsh who had once been his opponents and friends of the English king. Now, but for a few spies and traitors, they were for him. He was nearly killed while separated from the main force on December 11, 1282, but Llywelyn managed to escape capture and spread word about the brigands who had killed much of his party, including clergy. The south rallied to Llywelyn’s cause, and even the armies led by King Edward were beaten back from Wales in repeated campaigns during 1283.

Unified, the Welsh stood as a significant political force. Edward was forced to recognize peace by insistence of the Pope and turned his attention toward potential crusades and, in 1296, conquest of the Scots, which, too, he would lose. Llywelyn had no heirs other than Gwenllian, who married into southern Welsh nobility. The royal line passed to Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd, then to Dafydd’s eldest Llywelyn II. England would be weakened in the Thirty-Four Years’ War in France, while Scotland would grow powerful as Robert the Bruce became king and his brother Edward managed to unite Ireland. The ruling houses would grow intertwined with Wales until it was torn apart in wars during the Reformation.

As the Industrial Revolution took hold of Europe, England would again take precedence among the nations of the British Islands with its wealth of coal and iron. Gaining economic superiority, it would come to dominate the other nations, setting the stage for renewed revolts as the ideals of nationalism and socialism took root and flourished.

In reality, the Statute of Rhuddlan was Edward I’s edict establishing English sovereignty and legal order into Wales. Llywelyn was killed in the ambush on December 11, and his head was cut off and sent to London. Without Llywelyn’s leadership, the revolt lost much of its morale and faltered as Edward marched to conquer the Welsh himself. He firmly established English control and, in 1284, announced the Statute of Rhuddlan instilling English common law, creating a ranking judicial system to maintain control, and granting the king right to appoint officials. While there would be several more attempts at revolt in Wales in coming centuries, it continues to be a nation under the rule of England.

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