On the Grim and Humiliating History of the Prince of Wales Title.
Diwrnod Owain Glyndŵr Hapus! / Happy Owain Glyndŵr day!
On the 16th September Wales celebrates the last native Prince of Wales – possibly known as one of the greatest Welshman in our history. Our Welsh Braveheart, his name has become a symbol of pride and freedom for the people of Wales – our beautiful nation, the land of our fathers’ with the stunning historical castles that were originally built to fortify our nation against the presence of our invader; now where the people fortify together to sing our hymns and arias even in the pouring rain with the flame of our red dragon within us. Yma o Hyd, “still here”, despite our rich history showing how our odds were stacked against us. Owain Glyndŵr embodies so much of our Welsh history and pride – he is a vital figure for us. With his death, Glyndŵr attained an almost mythical status as a folk hero awaiting the call to return and liberate his people, "Y Mab Darogan" (The Foretold Son).
But this year our day to celebrate him and our history has pretty much been cancelled. Why? Because the new King, of who’s monarchy and ancestors took over Wales, of who’s monarchy and ancestors Owain Glyndŵr and the previous true native Prince of Wales’ fought against and were killed, is visiting our nation for the first time since ascending the throne. Ironic, don’t you think?
Now, a new Prince of Wales has been named. There has been much controversy online amidst the Welsh with the hashtag Not My Prince trending on Twitter and a petition to remove the title. I don’t think anyone expected a new Prince of Wales to be named so quickly – we all know the first son of the monarch is given the title, but many people in Wales hoped to have a conversation around the title and the history before a new Prince of Wales was named.
So, why do the people of Wales want this conversation? Allow me to dive into a small section of our brilliant history…
Llewelyn ap Gruffydd
Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, initially Prince of Gwynedd in North Wales, was the penultimate true native prince of Wales when we were independent. He fought against the English for the rights of Wales and her people, aiming to drive the English out of Welsh territory. Taking advantage of King Henry III of England and his Barrons, he proclaimed himself the Prince of Wales – the only native Prince of Wales to be officially acknowledged by the English. Upon the death of Henry III an the accession of Edward I, Gruffydd defied the English. In 1276 Edward declared Llywelyn a rebel and the following year amassed an army to march on Conwy.
Gruffydd was killed in 1282 during the Battle of Orewin Bridge, essentially ending Wales' independence. His head was taken to the tower of London & displayed on a stake.
Gruffydd’s successor and brother, Dafydd, was captured and convicted of treason. He was sentences to death by a special parliamentary session. On the 3rd October 1283, he was dragged through the streets of Shrewsbury. He was then hanged and disembowelled before his body was chopped into four pieces.
Edward appropriated the historic, religious and regal artefacts of Gwynedd and took delight in annexing Wales to the English crown. The majority of Llywelyn's relatives ended their days in captivity.
Following this, in 1301, Edward I of England gave his son the title "Prince of Wales" - to put the Welsh in their place - a "humiliation" as Michael Sheen rightly said.
This title rightfully belonged to Owain Glyndŵr who continued to campaign for independence & the rights of the Welsh. In 1400, Glyndŵr instigated a Welsh revolt against King Henry IV of England. He rapidly gained control back over Wales, and in 1404 he solidified control over the nation, being crowned Prince of Wales by the nation. He held a parliament at Machynlleth where he outlined his national programme for an independent Wales, which included plans such as building two national universities (one in the south and one in the north), re-introducing the traditional Welsh laws of Hywel Dda, and establishing an independent Welsh church.
In 1407 the superior numbers, resources and wealth that England had at its disposal eventually began to turn the tide of the war to England’s favour, and the much larger and better equipped English forces gradually began to overwhelm the Welsh. By 1409 they had reconquered most of Wales.
Glyndŵr continued to fight on and rebel, escaping capture through disguises and sneaking past the English in the darkness of night. Glyndŵr was never betrayed to the English. In 1415 his death was reported.
This rebellion was thought to have had many negative impacts on Wales and the relationship between their neighbours. There had been a great loss of life, many towns and villages destroyed, agricultural land went to waste. Furthermore, politically the Welsh had been knocked back, it being around 150 years until the Welsh were allowed to become more prominent in society.
In fact, Wales is not even represented on the Union Jack – the flag of the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales – because England forcibly took control of Wales and assimilated Wales into England. The Union Jack that is flown everywhere – that represents our Union in the Olympic Games, Eurovision, State Visits – is the greatest reminder of the inequality of our Union; how Wales is still considered a part of England when we are a country, a nation, ourselves.
But Owain Glyndŵr has never been forgotten, and to this day he remains a strong figure in our history and present – he is a symbol of Wales’ resilience, passion and dreams.
So, the fact that a new English-born Prince has been named as the Prince of Wales so quickly, in the day and age where we acknowledge our history, came as a shock to many. The fact that the new Kind of the monarchy that overthrew Wales, took its independence and humiliated the Welsh and put them in their place, is visiting Wales on Owain Glyndŵr day, forcing many places in our nation to cancel celebrations, is ironic at the least….and to be kind.
There are still parts of our grim history that continues in some form. “Welsh Not” was a horrific and immensely disrespectful moment during the 19th Century that was a powerful symbol – and attempt – of the oppression of Welsh culture, where people – particularly children – were shamed in speaking Welsh. I know from experience that one can often be shamed still by displaying Welsh language and sentiment online...
The argument of the Prince of Wales title is not personal to Prince William and his wife Kate – by all accounts, they’re lovely people. But we live in an age where we acknowledge and right the wrongs of history. We are a passionate nation, where hymns and arias are heard singing through the mountains and valleys; where, despite "Welsh Not" and all the barriers we have faced, our beautiful language is beginning to thrive again. We are told to forget our history - forget that our country has been taken from - the spoils of our nation - without any putting back; forget that we were humiliated and our culture dismissed; forget that our language has been smothered; forget that our beautiful castles were built to fortify our nation against intrusion, but are simply ancient monuments of our beautiful country... If I may paraphrase Shakespeare (a quote I often use for myself), though we may be small, we are fierce - which is why we are still here. Yma o Hyd.
Why should we simply forget our history and create a new meaning to erase our past? The best thing Prince William and Kate can now do as Prince and Princess of Wales is immerse themselves in our history and language. When they do so, they should realise why the titles continue to be so disrespectful for us – especially when celebrations of Owain Glyndŵr have had to be cancelled for the head of the monarchy.