Although the concept of the nation that is now the United Kingdom is so embedded in the contemporary consciousness as to motivate little consideration as to how such an unusual circumstance came into being, it requires little thought to realise that there can be no process by which such a political union can be wrought without much strife and bloodshed, for the very term ‘kingdom’ denotes singular interest. Perhaps the one man who did more than any other to bring about a unified Great Britain was Edward I. Naturally, he was a single minded and utterly ruthless monarch barely mindful of the loss of life, misery or destruction that was required to achieve his objectives. Edward had a substantial list of political objectives, including the subjugation of the Scots, the recovery of lost dominions on the continent, the return of powers signed away in Magna Carta and, high among them, the bringing to account and control of the Welsh. In Wales were a people who stood apart in every way from those who held power in England. Yet these troublesome people lived behind a long border which looked towards the nearby English heartland. The border-land was ever in turmoil and the situation could not be allowed to endure. Edward posted his most resilient men to a string of fortifications to hold the Welsh at bay, and also began a systematic campaign to subjugate them. Edward was, of course, singularly successful in his strategy and tactics and the history of these 13th century wars of domination makes fascinating reading for all those interested in mediaeval history. Frowde’s book is a well regarded classic on the subject and is recommended.
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In the north was the greatest danger. The Earl of Surrey, we saw, was sent up to Chester on October 18, and his grandson, Henry Percy, serving as his banneret, and twenty followers had letters of protection dated October 15. The Welsh were under Madoc, son of the late Prince Llewelyn, and the first among them to rise were doubtless those who had been raised for service in Gascony. They ravaged the king’s manor of Overton in Flintshire.34 But their chief exploit after the first explosion was the seizure of Carnarvon, Roger de Pulesdon being off his guard and suffering for it with his life; the date must be quite early, and there is nothing to show whether Madoc was concerned in the surprise or put himself at the head of the movement afterwards. Carnarvon was of course destroyed, lest the Welsh, being entrapped, should be besieged in their turn and thus caught. Simultaneously the Earl of Lincoln’s tenants of Denbigh had risen.<br>
To stem the revolt the earl had apparently too slender a force. If he relied on his presence and authority to overawe his tenants he was soon undeceived, for they encountered him near Denbigh on November 11, and drove him out with serious loss.35 Nothing more could be done until the king arrived. Meanwhile Rhuddlan and Conway were safe, even if they were cut off from England by land, and Reginald de Grey had raised a considerable force to protect Flintshire, though his 5,000 foot did not serve for very long. Criccieth and Harlech were threatened the next year, but we do not hear of their being attacked now. In all these cases we see the enormous importance of sea power. The castles held out as long as provisions could be brought up by ship, and John de Havering and his comrades, backed by the authorities of Bristol and Ireland, did their work in revictualling them.<br>
The king concentrated at Worcester towards the end of November some 350 lances, new levies, or the men from Portsmouth. Henry de Greneford, a royal trooper and now chief leader of crossbows, had about sixty or seventy of that corps, if we judge by the evidence of the next year. John de Berwick brought in foot from Shropshire, and Osbert de Spaldington from Gloucestershire; and if, as is extremely likely, the eight men entered as having letters of protection with the former were his centenars, the Shropshire contingent was 800 strong. Then moving by way of Shrewsbury, and probably hearing that Bere was not in danger, so that he did not need to divert his march into Merioneth, Edward arrived at Chester before December 5. He picked up the contingents of the Earls of Surrey and Lincoln, and some reinforcements which increased other retinues, Edmund’s and Tateshale’s for instance, making his cavalry total about 600 or rather more, but I cannot trace where the foot of Chester joined him.<br>
Then instead of following the coast-line to Flint and Rhuddlan, he struck inland, obviously with the design of first crushing the insurgents of Denbigh, who had routed the Earl of Lincoln. He marched south to Wrexham, where he had his headquarters for a few days from December 11, and where Hugh de Cressingham joined with foot from Lancashire and the more distant counties. On December 15 he turned westwards to cross the watershed between the Dee and the Clwyd by way of Llandegla, struck the head waters of the Clwyd at Derwen on December 18, and pushed down stream by Llech in Kenmerch, past Denbigh to Henllan.<br>
A few more troops joined him now, notably a body under Reginald de Grey, who we may suppose had been on duty at Rhuddlan, and came up stream to meet him. It would seem that he was satisfied that he had overawed the Welsh of Denbigh, for he arrived in person at Conway about Christmas. Hemingburgh and Trivet, the latter giving most details of the campaign, tell us that the army was scattered. We can imagine Edward established at Conway at the end of the year with the leading division, while the rest were still spread over the valley of the Clwyd and the coast-line under the Earl of Warwick.<br>
The chroniclers continue the story. After Edward had welcomed at Conway the Archbishop of Canterbury, he proceeded further to the west. The Welsh roll enables us to fix the date; he was at Bangor on January 7 and 8, 1295. He had still with him only the van of his army, and had too rashly penetrated into a difficult piece of country which the Welsh knew only too well how to defend. The spurs of Snowdonia running northwards from Carnedd Llewelyn, and forming between Conway and Bangor that Penmaenmawr position which was the centre of the operations of 1282 and 1283, gave the Welsh an admirable cover from which to attack his flanks and rear. They rushed down and captured the whole of his commissariat train, presumably on January 9 or 10. He was forced to retire on Conway, and there submit to the indignity of a siege.<br>
It was not a very serious matter in itself, for walls could always defy the Welsh when there was no chance of effecting a surprise, but supplies ran short to a dangerous extent, the whole of the commissariat train having been lost. Floods and a high tide added to Edward’s anxiety, and prevented him from getting in touch with the Earl of Warwick and others who were to the rear. While he was resolutely holding out, but feared starvation, he refused to appropriate to his private use the one small cask of wine which was in the castle. Water mixed with honey had to take the place of wine for the king, as well as for his men. The chroniclers were particularly struck with this circumstance, as though it was the chief feature of the blockade of Conway, and of course in the Middle Ages and right down to quite recent times, in the absence of a scientific process of filtering water, an army was quite dependent on an adequate supply of wine or beer. Throughout Edward’s reign the documents frequently contain entries concerning the arrival of casks from Gascony.