databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Wales and the Wars

The effigy of Sir Rhys ap Tomas in St Peter's Church, Carmarthen.
Sir Rhys ap Tomas
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Wales played a prominent role in the Wars of the Roses. A number of well-known figures who were involved in the civil wars had Welsh blood, the most important among them, perhaps, being Henry Tudor, grandson of Owen Tudor of Penmynydd in Anglesey.[1] Moreover, some owned lands and estates in Wales and mustered Welsh soldiers for their forces throughout the wars. Several poets sang about the battles, including Guto’r Glyn, Dafydd Llwyd of Mathafarn and Lewys Glyn Cothi. Some poets, such as Dafydd Llwyd, composed prophetic verses suggesting that Henry Tudor was the next Son of Prophecy who would redeem the hopes of the Welsh nation.[2] The Welsh Yorkists, however, had similar hopes for Edward IV, who, like Henry Tudor, could also claim descent from Welsh princes.

Wales and the House of York
Anne Mortimer, the mother of Richard, duke of York and grandmother of Edward IV and Richard III, was a descendant of Gwladus Ddu, the daughter of Llywelyn the Great, prince of Gwynedd, who had married Ralph Mortimer (d. 1246). Guto refers to this several times in his poem ‘To urge Edward IV to restore order in Wales’ (poem 29), calling the king ‘the great bull of the Mortimers’ (line 1) and mentioning his descent from Gwladus Ddu:

Tarw fydd, llid torfoedd llydain, 
Tro dy nerth at ryw dy nain! 
O frenin costwin Castil 
A Gwladus Du galw dy stil. 
Bydd yn darw, ffyrnigrwydd lluoedd helaeth,
tro dy nerth at hil dy nain!
O frenin Castîl a ddyrannai win
a Gwladus Ddu cymer dy deitl.

(poem 29.9-12)

Edward’s lineage helped to recruit support for his cause in Wales, and also to legitimize his rule, since his descent from the Welsh princes allowed him to claim descent from Cadwaladr, supposedly the last king of the Britons. It was also remembered in Wales that some of the Mortimers had supported Owain Glyndŵr’s revolt.

The Mortimers were one of the most powerful families in the Welsh Marches during the fourteenth century and had many of the Marcher lordships in their possession. As Edward IV was the heir to the earldom of the Marcher lordships, half of them came into his possession and thus to the Crown when he became king in 1461. These lordships, along with Glamorgan, which was in the hands of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, were the main Welsh centres of support for the Yorkists before 1470.

Amongst the foremost uchelwyr who supported the house of York in Wales were the Vaughans of Tretower and in particular the Herberts of Raglan. [3]Sir William Herbert I, who became earl of Pembroke, was a patron of Guto’r Glyn, as were his father, Sir William ap Thomas of Raglan, his brother, Sir Richard Herbert of Coldbrook, and his three sons, namely William Herbert II, second earl of Pembroke, Sir Walter Herbert and an illegitimate son, William Herbert of Pembroke.[4]

Bearing in mind that Guto served in the army of Richard, duke of York, in his youth, it is no wonder that he should have sung to many patrons who were loyal to Richard and his son Edward, earl of March (who became Edward IV). As well as the Herberts, these patrons also included Henry Griffith of Newcourt (who fought for Edward at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross), Sir Roger Kynaston ap Gruffudd of Knockin and possibly Robert Trefor ab Edward of Bryncunallt.[5]

Wales and the House of Lancaster
The Lancaster Dynasty had particularly close ties with Wales. Henry V died in 1422, leaving a widow, Katherine of Valois. A few years later Katherine married a Welsh gentleman named Owen Tudor, grandson of Tudur ap Goronwy of Anglesey, and they had several children, including Edmund Tudor and Jasper Tudor. In 1452 both Edmund and Jasper became powerful Lancastrian noblemen when they were created earls by their half-brother Henry VI.

In 1455 Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond, married Margaret Beaufort, daughter of John, duke of Somerset, who was the grandson of John of Gaunt (the third son of Edward III) and his third wife, Katherine Swynford. Edmund died from the plague in 1456, after having been captured and imprisoned by the Yorkists, but in January 1457 Margaret bore him a son, Henry Tudor. Edmund’s father, Owen Tudor, died a few years later, executed on February 7, 1461 in Hereford following the Lancastrians’ defeat at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross.

By this time, however, it was Jasper Tudor, earl of Pembroke, who was the main Lancastrian leader in Wales and, in later years, his zealous and loyal support would help his nephew Henry Tudor to gain the Crown of England. Following their victory at Bosworth, Jasper was rewarded by being created duke of Bedford and also appointed to several high offices before dying, as an old man, in 1495.

Guto’r Glyn sang in praise of Sir Rhys ap Tomas of Abermarlais, who had an important role in the fighting at Bosworth. A number of his other patrons also supported the Lancastrians, including Rhosier ap Siôn Puleston of Emral, Siôn Hanmer ap Siôn Hanmer of Halghton and Llai, Gruffudd Fychan ap Gruffudd of Corsygedol and, probably, Siôn Eutun ap Siâms Eutun of Parc Eutun.

The fighting and Wales
Following the early troubles between the houses of York and Lancaster in the 1450s there was much disorder in Wales. Many English lords and knights held lands in Wales, some being prominent figures during the campaigns, and they came to Wales to seek support. However, many Welsh families were pulled in both directions and this is reflected in the poetry of the period.[6]

Aberystwyth castle
Aberystwyth castle
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South and mid Wales were central to the uprisings in the first decade of the Wars. Edmund Tudor gained the support of one of the foremost uchelwyr in the south, Gruffudd ap Nicolas, whose family would remain loyal to the Tudors in the years to come.[7] Edmund took Carmarthen castle in 1456 but lost it soon afterwards to Sir William Herbert I and Sir Walter Devereux, before Herbert and Devereux also took Aberystwyth castle. Following the death of Edmund Tudor and the birth of his son, Henry Tudor, at Pembroke castle in 1457, Henry VI’s power increased once more and the duke of York was forced to surrender the castles of Carmarthen and Aberystwyth as Jasper Tudor was appointed constable of both. By 1459 Jasper Tudor had reinforced the garrisons in the castles of Kidwelly and Carreg Cennen, which had suffered attacks by the supporters of York. But a great setback for the Lancastrians in Wales was the loss of Pembroke castle when it was captured by Sir William Herbert I on September 30, 1461.[8]

A few weeks later, William Herbert and Jasper Tudor came face to face again at the Battle of Twthill near Caernarfon but it proved to be another victory for the Yorkists and Jasper had to flee to Ireland. By January 1462, the Lancastrians had to surrender Denbigh castle, as well, to the Yorkists. And, by May 1, 1462, Carreg Cennen castle, which had been held by Thomas and Owain, sons of Gruffudd ap Nicolas, had surrendered to William Herbert. [9] Guto refers to the capture of both Pembroke and Carreg Cennen in a later poem to William Herbert:

Ba well castell rhag cysteg 
Ban friwyd wal Benfro deg? 
Bwriaist – ergydiaist godwm – 
Ben Carreg Cennen i’r cwm. 
Of what use is any castle to stave off suffering
when fair Pembroke’s walls have been smashed?
You cast – you encompassed a fall –
the top of Carreg Cennen down into the valley.

(poem 21.19-22)

Harlech castle
Harlech castle
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In October 1464, Sir William Herbert was commissioned to capture the Lancastrian rebels in Merionethshire as well as the ones within Harlech castle. But Jasper Tudor hid in the homes of his friends in north Wales, possibly in Corsygedol, home of Gruffudd Fychan ap Gruffudd. [10] During these years, also, there were many attempts to dislodge the garrison at Harlech castle, the only castle in Wales that remained the hands of the Lancastrians (the garrison was led by Dafydd ab Ieuan, son of one of Guto’s patrons, Ieuan ab Einion of Cryniarth, Llandrillo).
One last attempt took place, led by Sir William Herbert I, and Guto records this event in his poem, ‘In praise of William Herbert of Raglan, first earl of Pembroke, after the capture of Harlech castle, 1468’ (poem 21). The poem opens by describing the army’s march to the north of Wales:

Tair ffordd – clawdd tir Offa hen, 
Siwrnai Wiliam, Sarn Elen – 
Arglwydd Herbert a’th gerti 
A’th lu, Duw a’th lywio di! 
Glaw gynt a gâi lu ac ost; 
Hindda weithian pan ddoethost! 
Dewiniais y caud Wynedd 
A dwyn Môn i’r dyn a’i medd. 
Berw Lloegr, pawb a rôi’u llygaid, 
Pe ceisiech Harddlech, o chaid. 
Three ways – the dyke of ancient Offa’s land,
William’s journey, Sarn Helen –
Lord Herbert and your carts
and your host, may God guide your way!
Host and army once suffered rain;
sunshine now that you have come!
I foretold that you would take Gwynedd
and restore Anglesey to the one who rightfully possesses it.
England is in a ferment, every man would give his eyes,
if you attempted Harlech, if it might be taken.

(poem 21.5-14)

Guto also describes how Herbert overcame the castle’s defences:

 Naid hydd yw y nod heddiw, 
24Natur hydd neitio i’r rhiw. 
the target today is a stag’s leap,
the stag’s instinct is to leap up to the high ground.

(poem 12.23-4)

We do not know how much opposition Herbert’s army actually faced, since the contemporary evidence is scarce. It seems that the castle yielded after Jasper Tudor had been defeated, following his burning of the town of Denbigh, by William Herbert’s brother Richard.[11] It is likely that Richard led one of the divisions of the great army described in Guto’s poem and, indeed, that the king had authorized this campaign in response to Jasper Tudor’s plan to land in Merionethshire early in 1468. [12]

By 1468 Sir William Herbert I’s influence was widespread and Edward IV placed great trust in him. He led an army from Wales in response to the rebellion of 'Robin of Redesdale' (a conspiracy hatched by the earl of Warwick and George, duke of Clarence), but the Welsh were ferociously attacked at the battle of Banbury, on July 24, 1469, and many were killed. Both William Herbert and his brother Richard were executed soon afterwards on Warwick’s orders. The defeat at Banbury was much lamented in Wales, and the casualties commemorated by Guto and other poets. [13], 9 (2011), 97-117.]

After the restoration of Henry VI to the throne in October 1470, Jasper Tudor returned to Wales and acknowledged his gratitude towards some of his supporters, including Siôn Puleston, the father of Rhosier ap Siôn Puleston of Emral.[14] Jasper went to Pembroke to see his young nephew, Henry Tudor, who was imprisoned there. However, it seems that Henry had been well educated by Ann Herbert and raised along with her own sons.

The victory for the Lancastrians proved short-lived - they lost once more at Barnet and at Tewkesbury, battles where many Welsh soldiers died fighting on both sides. After the deaths of Henry VI and his son Edward, Henry Tudor was the foremost heir of the House of Lancaster, and Jasper Tudor ensured that his nephew was kept safe and far away from England during the peaceful, latter part of Edward IV’s reign, from 1471 to 1483.

During these years, also, Edward IV’s eldest son was given the title ‘Prince of Wales’ and a council was arranged for him at Ludlow, close to the border with Wales, because the majority of the Marcher lordships were in the possession of the Crown (see Wales and the House of York). But this came to an end when Richard, duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III) became the guardian of the young prince after the death of Edward IV on April 9, 1483. Richard III tried to maintain the same control over Wales as had his brother Edward IV, but support for him was weak. His officers in Wales lacked the regional focus of the previous regime, and as Jasper Tudor’s influence grew, the relationship between the new king and the Welsh was rapidly deteriorating.[15] In 1485 Jasper Tudor arranged a march across Wales led by Henry Tudor, using the banner of the red dragon, as a reminder of Henry’s descent from the old kings of the Britons, to attract additional Welsh support. [16]

By the time of the battle of Bosworth, August 22, 1485, Jasper and Henry Tudor had collected a large number of Welshmen to fight against Richard III. Amongst them was Rhys ap Tomas of Abermarlais, and Guto’r Glyn sang a poem which celebrates his role in Henry’s victory:
Cwncwerodd y Cing Harri 
Y maes drwy nerth ein meistr ni: 
Lladd Eingl, llaw ddiangen, 
Lladd y baedd, eilliodd ei ben, 
A Syr Rys mal sŷr aesawr 
Â’r gwayw ’n eu mysg ar gnyw mawr. 
King Henry won the day
through the strength of our master:
killing Englishmen, capable hand,
killing the boar, he shaved his head,
and Sir Rhys like the stars of a shield
with the spear in their midst on a great steed.

(poem 14.35-40)

A number of Guto’s other patrons also supported Henry at Bosworth, namely Sir Walter Herbert, Wiliam ap Gruffudd of Cochwillan, Rhys ap Llywelyn ap Hwlcyn of Anglesey and even, perhaps, Abbot Dafydd ab Owain of Strata Marcella. It seems Siôn Edward of Plasnewydd was also there, in the army of Sir William Stanley, as Guto refers to the concern over him when he had travelled to England in ‘the boar’s hour of need’ (for the boar as Richard III’s emblem, see Noblemen’s interests: Status and heraldry: Badges):

Yn rhaid y baedd rhodiaw bu 
Yn Lloegr, ninnau’n llewygu; 
A Duw a’r saint a’i rhoes ef 
O’r frwydr, ef a’i wŷr, adref 
At the boar’s hour of need he travelled
in England, while we were fainting;
and God and the saints allowed him
with his men to return home from the battle

(poem 107.51-4)

Following his victory at Bosworth, Henry Tudor was crowned formally as king of England on October 30, 1485. He rewarded many of his Welsh supporters, including Jasper Tudor, who was made duke of Bedford, and Rhys ap Tomas who, having been knighted soon after the battle of Bosworth, went on to hold a number of prominent offices in the government of Wales.


[1]: For a discussion of Owen Tudor see H.T. Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses, (second ed., Stroud, 1995), 41-53.
[2]: H.T. Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses, (second ed., Stroud, 1995), 1-10; H. Fulton, ‘Guto'r Glyn and the Wars of the Roses’, in B.J. Lewis, A. Parry Owen and D.F. Evans (eds.), ‘Gwalch Cywyddau Gwŷr’: Essays on Guto’r Glyn and Fifteenth-century Wales (Aberystwyth, 2013), chapter 2.
[3]: For the history of the Vaughans of Tretower see Y Bywgraffiadur Cymreig hyd 1940 (Llundain, 1953), 940-1; D.S. Davies, ‘Vaughan of Tretower’, Transactions of the Radnorshire Society, v (1935), 50; E.D. Jones, ‘The Parentage of Sir Thomas Vaughan (d. 1483)’, Cylchgrawn Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, viii (1953-4), 349.
[4]: D.F. Evans, ‘William Herbert of Raglan (d. 1469): Family History and Personal Identity’, in B.J. Lewis, A. Parry Owen and D.F. Evans (eds.), ‘Gwalch Cywyddau Gwŷr’: Essays on Guto’r Glyn and Fifteenth-century Wales (Aberystwyth, 2013), chapter 4.
[5]: Fulton, ‘Guto'r Glyn and the Wars of the Roses’, 57-60.
[6]: Rh. Griffiths, ‘Mwy o Gymro na Iorciad’ in B.J. Lewis, A. Parry Owen and D.F. Evans (eds.), ‘Gwalch Cywyddau Gwŷr’: Essays on Guto’r Glyn and Fifteenth-century Wales (Aberystwyth, 2013).
[7]: H.T. Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses (second ed., Stroud, 1995), 55.
[8]: H.T. Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses (second ed., Stroud, 1995), 85.
[9]: R.A. Griffiths, Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family: A Study in the Wars of the Roses and Early Tudor Politics (Cardiff, 1993), 28.
[10]: H.T. Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses (second ed., Stroud, 1995), 91-2.
[11]: (C. Ross, Edward IV (Berkeley, 1974), 114.
[12]: See B.J. Lewis, background note for poem 21.
[13]: Ymhellach gw. B. Lewis, ‘The Battle of Edgecote or Banbury Through the Eyes of Contemporary Welsh Poets’, [footnote:Journal of Medieval Military History
[14]: H.T. Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses (second ed., Stroud, 1995), 113.
[15]: R. Horrox, Richard III: A Study of Service (Cambridge, 1989) 212.
[16]: H.T. Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses (second ed., Stroud, 1995), 113.
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