‘Great magician, damned Glendower'(Part 3.)

Owain‘s service to Arundel included taking part in the naval victory over the French in 1387 in which a wine fleet was captured. Such was the booty that the price of wine in England fell through the floor. He may well also have been involved in Arundel’s attack on the French coast a few months later.

Domestic trouble was, however, already brewing between Richard II and his baronial opponents, who may conveniently be called the Lords Appellant. Arundel was one of the prime movers of this group and arguably the most vocal of the King’s critics.

Some sources claim that Owain fought for the Appellants at Radcot Bridge (December 1387) and even that he did so as part of the retinue of Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby. If he did so, this would be historical irony on an epic scale given that Bolingbroke was to become, as king, Owain’s most deadly enemy.

It is important to note that Owain was not some obscure Welsh backwoodsman. He would have known, and been known to, many of the most powerful men in the kingdom.

The Appellant triumph, although complete, did not last long. Richard II soon regained his power, but at first ruled moderately, under the influence of, among others, his uncle, Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. The political settlement imposed by the Appellants was largely left in place, but Richard itched to overthrow it and take his revenge, not least against Arundel – a man with whom Lancaster also had his quarrels.

By 1397, Richard was at last strong enough to impose his will. He had a new cohort of powerful aristocratic supporters around him. Arundel was arrested (along with the King’s youngest uncle, Gloucester and the Earl of Warwick.) Arundel, after a trial in Parliament, was beheaded in London. Gloucester was (probably) murdered. Warwick was sentenced to life imprisonment. All their lands were forfeited.

The lordship of Bromfield and Yale was merged with Cheshire to form King Richard’s Principality of Chester. This cannot but have caused local turbulence, not least because for many years the men of the two entities had been in the habit of raiding each other across their border. (A feature of Marcher lordships was that extradition between them was all-but-impossible, so cross-border crime was commonplace.)

Uncertainty was to continue. The King’s heir, given that he was childless, was Roger Mortimer, Earl of March. Mortimer was the great hope of Wales, for he was deemed sympathetic to the Welsh. Another descendant of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, he was, pretty much uniquely for an English lord, praised in bardic poetry and hailed as a potential Son of Prophecy – a future king of Welsh blood. However, Roger was killed in Ireland in 1398, and King Richard’s intentions for the succession became rather opaque.

In the same year, Bolingbroke and Norfolk, having accused one another of treason, were banished. In 1399, Bolingbroke’s inheritance was forfeited following Gaunt’s death, and his banishment extended to life. King Richard then blithely departed to Ireland, taking with him all his most powerful supporters and much of their military potential.

As is well-known, Bolingbroke returned from exile and before long had deposed Richard II and installed himself as King Henry IV. This caused further turbulence. Bromfield and Yale and Chirkland reverted to Arundel’s son. Yet if there was anywhere in the kingdom where Richard was popular it was in Cheshire and Wales. An abortive rising against Henry flamed in Chester itself in January 1400, no doubt in connection with the Epiphany Rising.

What Owain thought of all these changes we cannot know. They can only have filled his life with uncertainty, that’s for sure. Perhaps, like Brer Rabbit, he ‘lay low and said nuffin.’ This would have been the obvious course for a middle-aged man of moderate prosperity who lacked a powerful patron to protect him.

Unfortunately, his quarrel with Reginald, Lord Grey de Ruthin, now flared. The details are elusive, but it seems to Grey disputed the ownership of part of Owain’s land. Mutual threats and legal action followed, but Grey had the advantage of being an English lord, and the further advantage of being one of Henry IV’s supporters. If Owain could get no satisfaction from the royal law courts, it is perhaps not surprising. The surprise might have been if he had.

In September 1400, at Corwen, Owain gathered together a small band of followers, including his sons, his brothers-in-law, and John Trevor, the Bishop of St. Asaph. They descended on the town of Ruthin and sacked it. Owain declared himself Prince of Powys. The great rising had begun.



  1. Richard II did not disinherit Henry for life or seize his Lancaster patrimony according to historians Ann Curry and Christopher Fletcher. The Lancaster estates were put in the same kind of holding as estates for minors, until the time Henry could legally reclaim them; not parceled out permanently to Richard’s supporters. Henry’s 2000 pounds annual allowance during his exile came from the royal treasury, not his “forfeited” estates, just as his son, Henry of Monmouth (future King Henry V) received 500 pounds from the king, not from the Duchy of Lancaster.

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    1. Indeed. The line in the post (which is really about Owain, not Henry) is shorthand. I have often made this very point myself and it is *very* interesting. I don’t know why mainstream historians have not picked up on it more. Richard’s intentions are in fact rather opaque. Richard’s Council sent Henry a large sum (£1,500 I think) more or less on the eve of the invasion. Henry certainly was not treated as Somerset and Exeter were in the 1460s (for example) and unlike them was not left penniless or anything like it. The farming out of the Lancastrian estates had the saving clause ‘until Henry, Duke of Lancaster shall sue for the same.’. Which also demonstrates that Richard recognised his cousin’s title. What Richard’s *exact* intentions were, I should love to know.


      1. Yes, it would be helpful to know Richard’s intentions! I have wondered if Henry was rather grateful that Richard eliminated Gloucester in 1397, thus sparing Henry from fights with him over the Bohun inheritance. I’ve always thought that was a rather dirty trick for Gaunt to play on Gloucester to split the inheritance by taking little Mary Bohun from the convent and marrying her to his son, Henry, while Gloucester was out of the country. If Mary and her mother were agreeable it was certainly acceptable but if Gloucester was counting on the full inheritance from his marriage to Eleanor Bohun it must have been a real shock when he found out.
        That leads me to another puzzle: the death of Gloucester’s 18-year-old son, Humphrey, in 1399. The chronicles are rather vague about it since one claims he was poisoned in Ireland, and others say he drowned. I don’t recall it his drowning death was said to be in Ireland or upon his return to England/Wales.I can’t help thinking that his death may also have been convenient to Henry since there was no longer a direct male heir to the Bohun estate, but who know? Scholarly authors say that Richard took Humphrey and young Henry of Monmouth to Ireland “as hostages” but I wonder about that too. Richard spent a lot of money on Henry for a hostage and surely a 12-year-old could have as easily been kept watch on in England. That he was knighted “with many others” (possibly Humphrey too?) suggests Richard was not utterly hostile to him. Unless the kid’s military gifts were already so spectacularly obvious even then?

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