It’s said that if a publisher wants to guarantee good sales for a Welsh historical book they’ll include the name Owain Glyndwr in the title. Maybe this is why one or two decidedly eccentric publications have seen the light of day; an accusation that certainly can’t be levelled at Lolfa’s latest effort Dyddiau Olaf Owain Glyndwr.
This is an investigation of the various stories surrounding the death and burial of our National Hero from the pen of Professor Gruffydd Aled Williams. As befit’s the author’s academic background it is a work that comes complete with footnotes and an extensive bibliography. At the same time the prose is clear and readable, for which anyone with as shaky second language skills as myself will be grateful.
The author examines the various stories associated with the death and burial of Owain in Herefordshire. A new candidate being Kimbolton or Capel Kimbell. Unlike some of the candidates south of the Wye this was in a thoroughly English-speaking district and might be thought an unsuitable location for a Welsh rebel on the run. But then who would have thought that Bin Laden would turn up in Abbottabad rather than the caves of Tora Bora?
It says something that this is the first book I’ve read about Glyndwr which makes as much of his Radnorshire based (and base) daughter Gwenllian - she lived in the parish of St Harmon - as it does of her half-sisters married into the Herefordshire families, the Mortimers, Crofts, Monningtons and Scudamores. Unlike them Gwenllian left no castle or fine house or any privileged descendants, yet for the bards of the 15C she and her family were of far greater importance: a source of patronage, a centre of resistance and a house of learning.
Gwenllian’s husband Philip ap Rhys was a nephew of Rhydderch ab Ieuan Llwyd - owner of one of the treasures of world literature, the White Book of Rhydderch. Philip was also a first-cousin of such leading supporters of the rebellion such as Rhys Ddu and Rhys ap Gruffudd ap Llywelyn Foethus. Like them he was also a kinsman of the great Rhys Gethin himself. There is some evidence to suggest that Philip continued to fight on after the collapse of the main rebellion, certainly it was to him that Owain’s youngest son Siancyn y Glyn turned for a sword.
The author believes that Gwenllian and Philip have the strongest Welsh claim to have protected Owain in his old age, with nearby Cwm Hir as a possible burial site. Mr Williams also turns to the prophetic literature of the 15C to show how the myth of Owain’s return was linked to the cantref of Maelienydd, his possible burial site. On one aspect of this excursion into vaticination we can help the author to make a better case than he does in the book. Mr Williams quotes Lewis Glyn Cothi’s prophetic poem to Dafydd Goch ap Maredudd, who he describes as being from Presteigne, which the author believes to be part of the commote of Llwythyfnwg and hence linked to Maelienydd:
Fo gyfyd i’r byd o’r bedd
Cnawd Owain cyn y diwedd.
(The flesh of Owain will rise up from the grave into the world before the day of judgement.)
In reality Dafydd Goch was only briefly Lord of Stapleton Castle in the Lordship of Lugharness rather than nearby Presteigne. It’s doubtful if Presteigne itself was in Llwythyfnwg which in any case was connected with the cantref of Elfael rather than Maelienydd.
Dafydd Goch’s links with Maelienydd were far stronger than this attempt to link him with the cantref. His home, apart from the brief sojourn at Stapleton in the aftermath of the battle of Mortimer’s Criss, was in the parish of Llanbadarn Fawr in the heart of the cantref, hardly a mile from another location famed in the prophetic poetry, the red ford on the Ieithon.
Of course there is hardly a place in Wales without some legend connecting the locality with Owain Glyndwr. In this sense the authors of the prophetic poetry were correct in saying that he did not die. Attempts to tie Owain down to a single burial place deprive him of his last unassailable power, the power of myth. For the early 20C poet A G Prys-Jones the hero’s resting place was on Radnor Forest. It’s as good a location as any:
And here men say he vanished in the dawn
Leaving no sign save a half-opened door,
His baldric and his naked sword forlorn
In some lone shepherd’s hut below the moor.
And so he passed, but Radnor Forest still
Hides in her wind swept acres, secret lore
Of him whose heart beat one with moor and ghyll,
The hero-heart of Wales that beats no more.