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Owen Glendower

AKA Owain ab Gruffydd

Born: c. 1359
Birthplace: Merioneth, Montgomeryshire, Wales
Died: 20-Sep-1415
Location of death: Monnington, Wales
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Monington, Herefordshire

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Royalty, Military

Nationality: Wales
Executive summary: Self-proclaimed Prince of Wales

Owen Glendower, the last to claim the title of an independent prince of Wales, more correctly described as Owain ab Gruffydd, lord of Glyndyvrdwy in Merioneth, was a man of good family, with two great houses, Sycharth and Glyndyvrdwy in the north, besides smaller estates in south Wales. His father was called Gruffydd Vychan, and his mother Helen; on both sides he had pretensions to be descended from the old Welsh princes. Owen was probably born about 1359, studied law at Westminster, was squire to the earl of Arundel, and a witness for Grosvenor in the famous Scrope and Grosvenor lawsuit in 1386. Afterwards he was in the service of Henry of Bolingbroke, the future king, though by an error it has been commonly stated that he was squire to Richard II. Welsh sympathies were, however, on Richard's side, and combined with a personal quarrel to make Owen the leader of a national revolt.

The lords of Glyndyvrdwy had an ancient feud with their English neighbors, the Greys of Ruthin. Reginald Grey neglected to summon Owen, as was his duty, for the Scottish expedition of 1400, and then charged him with treason for failing to appear. Owen thereupon took up arms, and when Henry IV returned from Scotland in September he found north Wales ablaze. A hurried campaign under the king's personal command was ineffectual. Owen's estates were declared forfeit and vigorous measures threatened by the English government. Still the revolt gathered strength. In the spring of 1401 Owen was raiding in south Wales, and credited with the intention of invading England. A second campaign by the king in the autumn was defeated, like that of the previous year, through bad weather and the Fabian tactics of the Welsh. Owen had already been intriguing with Sir Henry Percy (Hotspur), who during 1401 held command in north Wales, and with Percy's brother-in-law, Sir Edmund Mortimer. During the winter of 1401-02 his plans were further extended to negotiations with the rebel Irish, the Scots and the French. In the spring he had grown so strong that he attacked Ruthin, and took Grey prisoner. In the summer he defeated the men of Hereford under Edmund Mortimer at Pilleth, near Brynglas, in Radnorshire. Mortimer was taken prisoner and treated with such friendliness as to make the English doubt his loyalty; within a few months he married Owen's daughter. In the autumn the English king was for the third time driven "bootless home and weatherbeaten back." The few English strongholds left in Wales were now hard pressed, and Owen boasted that he would meet his enemy in the field. Nevertheless, in May 1403 Henry of Monmouth was allowed to sack Sycharth and Glyndyvrdwy unopposed. Owen had a greater plot in hand. The Percies were to rise in arms, and meeting Owen at Shrewsbury, overwhelm the prince before help could arrive. But Owen's share in the undertaking miscarried through his own defeat near Carmarthen on the 12th of July, and Percy was crushed at Shrewsbury ten days later. Still the Welsh revolt was never so formidable. Owen styled himself openly prince of Wales, established a regular government, and called a parliament at Machynlleth. As a result of a formal alliance the French sent troops to his aid, and in the course of 1404 the great castles of Harlech and Aberystwith fell into his hands.

In the spring of 1405 Owen was at the height of his power; but the tide turned suddenly. Prince Henry defeated the Welsh at Grosmont in March, and twice again in May, when Owen's son Griffith and his chancellor were made prisoners. Scrope's rebellion in the North prevented the English from following up their success. The earl of Northumberland took refuge in Wales, and the tripartite alliance of Owen with Percy and Mortimer (transferred by Shakespeare to an earlier occasion) threatened a renewal of danger. But Northumberland's plots and the active help of the French proved ineffective. The English under Prince Henry gained ground steadily, and the recovery of Aberystwith after a long siege in the autumn of 1408 marked the end of serious warfare. In February 1409 Harlech was also recaptured, and Owen's wife, daughter and grandchildren were taken prisoners. Owen himself still held out and even continued to intrigue with the French. In July 1415 Gilbert Talbot had power to treat with Owen and his supporters and admit them to pardon. Owen's name does not occur in the document renewing Talbot's powers in February 1416; according to Adam of Usk he died in 1415. Later English writers allege that he died of starvation in the mountains; but Welsh legend represents him as spending a peaceful old age with his sons-in-law at Ewyas and Monington in Herefordshire, until his death and burial at the latter place. The dream of an independent and united Wales was never nearer realization than under Owen's leadership. The disturbed state of England helped him, but he was indeed a remarkable personality, and has not undeservedly become a national hero. Sentiment and tradition have magnified his achievements, and confused his career with tales of portents and magical powers. Owen left many bastard children; his legitimate representative in 1433 was his daughter Alice, wife of Sir John Scudamore of Ewyas.

The facts of Owen's life must be pieced together from scattered references in contemporary chronicles and documents; perhaps the most important are Adam of Usk's Chronicle and Ellis's Original Letters. On the Welsh side something is given by the bard's Iolo Goch and Lewis Glyn Cothi.

Father: (d. 1370)
Wife: (6 sons)
Daughter: Katherine Glendower

    Treason 1400



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