We ride at dawn! Well, not quite. But my Welsh Castle Quest got off to a great start today, and knowing that I left Chester Castle at exactly the same time, and walked in the same direction as Edward 1st and his army did in 1277 made it all the more special.
We departed the castle and, just as Edward did (as you’ll see tomorrow) advanced out of the city towards the Dee estuary. Our walk took us along the tidal River Dee on the charming Wales Coastal Path, and as we left Chester behind and progressed towards Wales the cries of seagulls and the salty air became stronger with the rising call of the sea.
Soon we reached the Welsh/English border, marked by two tall stones straddling the path, and so we made our own incursion into Llywelyn’s territory. It felt almost surreal to finally be retracing Edward’s journey on a Castle Quest, and in total we clocked up 15 miles until we arrived at the same destination as the king and his army reached exactly 742 years ago. Stage one was complete…
Episode Two: A Fatal Mistake
Losing land to the Welsh prince would have rankled Edward. He held the title of Earl of Chester which included these same territorial lands, but Henry had given them to Llywelyn instead in order to keep the peace. But Llywelyn also got annoyed by what he regarded as an infringement of his lands by an English baron, Gilbert de Clare, the Earl of Gloucester, who was constructing a new castle at Caerphilly as part of his lordship of Glamorgan. For a while there had been uneasy relations between the formidable English Marcher lords who held lands on the England/Wales border and the Welsh prince, but this big, unwelcome new castle and its statement of English authority took the biscuit.
The two tussled over the territory by pushing into each other’s patches, but after Llywelyn trashed the new castle, Gilbert abandoned plans to go on Crusade with Edward in 1270 and set about constructing the mighty fortress we see today. This vast new edifice, built to the very latest castle design, gave out a strong message to Llywelyn, and to anyone else who might consider picking a fight with him: this was de Clare land, so keep out. Llywelyn’s complaints to the English government had fallen on deaf ears, so he began to question why he should pay the king the ridiculous sum of money specified in the Treaty of Montgomery if his territorial claims weren’t going to be upheld.
While Edward was on his way back from the Holy Land in 1272, he received the news that his father had died and that he was now King Edward 1st of England. By this time, Llywelyn was strapped for cash and missing payments to the Crown. Edward was surprisingly patient on the issue, but the Welsh leader now had the Caerphilly grievance, made worse by the new king also neglecting to intervene. Feeling so aggrieved, Llywelyn declined an invitation to Edward’s official coronation in 1274. This wouldn’t have gone unnoticed at court. So shortly afterwards Edward decided it was time the Prince of Wales paid homage to him as his new king, just as he had done to his father, and as tradition held. And this is where the problems really started.
When the summons came to travel to England and pay homage to Edward, Llywelyn made an excuse. But this didn’t just happen once. On four separate occasions Llywelyn wriggled out of the formal ceremony. Each time he was either away, busy, washing his hair or simply not available for the all-important ritual that would acknowledge Edward as his overlord and proclaim his allegiance. But the fifth attempt would be the final nail in the coffin of their relationship.
Edward considered he’d been more than patient with the irksome Prince of Wales, so in the end, he decided to force the issue and take the matter to Llywelyn’s doorstep. If the king went to him, cornering him on his own territory, there would be nowhere to hide. And this time, Edward meant business. So he told the prince to meet him in Chester and took his whole court to the city for what was to be a large-scale public event. In the medieval equivalent of a media frenzy, Llywelyn was to go down on his knees before Edward in front of an extensive gathering. It was at this point that Llywelyn made his fatal mistake.
He didn’t turn up. His no-show left the king humiliated in front of everyone present, and this was something you just didn’t do to Edward 1st. Having seen his father dishonoured by rebellious barons who’d stripped him of most of his power, he was determined that no-one would mess with his royal dignity, and anyone who tried to would regret it.
And so the king left Chester, raging in a veil of red mist. After writing to the pope complaining that “we so demeaned our royal dignity as to travel to the confines of his lands”, only to be stood up, the furious king declared Llywelyn to be “a rebel and a disturber of the peace”. The situation could now have only one outcome: War.