Episode Four: An Enemy Tamed
The next stage of Edward’s advance involved pushing North West from Flint through the tangled interior of the Four Cantrefs. These were areas of land division that had formed part of Edward’s territory as Earl of Chester before they were ceded to Llywelyn. But this was perilous ground for a marching army because it was covered in dense woodland, an ideal hideout for those enemy guerrilla soldiers. Determined to avoid attack, Edward sent ahead a hoard of workmen, protected by crossbowmen, to literally cut a swathe through the woods, creating a substantially wide road along which the troops could pass with enough open ground around them to expose any approaching attackers.
In another shrewdly-devised tactic he sent some 2000 soldiers across Conwy Bay and the Menai Straits with the help of ships from the Cinque Ports summoned from the south coast of England, to capture Anglesey. Home to the best arable land in an otherwise unforgiving territory, the island of Anglesey was known as the ‘bread basket of Wales’. We can tell just how vital this fertile land was to the rest of the country from a medieval chronicler, Gerald of Wales, who wrote: “it could supply the whole of Wales with corn over a long period”. And so within days, Llywelyn had lost Anglesey and his food supply for the coming winter, whilst Edward reaped what the island had sown and supplied his army with a veritable feast.
This crippling setback, together with the loss of support from many Welshmen who had quickly surrendered to the vastly superior English army, meant that Llywelyn’s power simply imploded. He was forced to submit and to pay the homage to Edward that he’d so steadfastly avoided. The harsh terms of surrender meant that his principality was depleted, confined to his heartlands in Gwynedd and a few minor lordships, the rest reclaimed for the crown with some reassigned to the treacherous Dafydd. Although he was allowed to retain his prized title of Prince of Wales, the words suddenly took on a hollow ring. Llywelyn had been severely brought to heel. For a while, at least.
And to set his victory in stone, Edward wasted no time in building another new castle…
Quest Update: A Coastal Wander
The last two days have been spent walking between the sites of Edward’s first two castles of the Iron Ring, and it was fascinating to see the landscape and seascape change in both look and character as the miles fell away behind us. And we discovered a few interesting points on the way.
Yesterday we struck out from Flint and headed along the coast towards the Point of Ayr near the mouth of the Dee estuary. It was a scorcher of a day, so the going was harder than usual, but luckily there was a fair bit of shade en route and a cooling coastal breeze which helped enormously. Besides, you can’t have a real Quest without a bit of hardship. After a few miles we came across a rather beautiful Welsh dragon looking out across the water at a place called Bettisfield. Apparently he was built as a one of a series of three coastal beacons to ward off any would-be invaders. Rather ironic, I couldn’t help thinking, given the purpose of my Quest – they’re a bit late for Edward.
Further along we came across a gigantic retired passenger-ship that appears to have been abandoned in dry dock, which made quite an impact, before we continued along the coastal path to our end point at Talacre beach. At this wild and sandy Point of Ayr, the purple walking boots finally came off and my aching feet recovered in the shallows of the cool sea beside a rather imposing old lighthouse.
And today we set off again, mercifully in much cooler conditions this time, leaving the lighthouse behind and walking for miles along the sandy coastline towards Rhyl and the mouth of the river. We even managed to cram in a welcome wine stop at a hotel we passed beside the sea. Then it was on to Rhyl, where the sea opened up before us and mountains loomed in the distant mist.
So come along with me tomorrow as I walk the short remaining distance to the next stop on Edward’s journey of invasion, where we can lose ourselves in the grand and beautiful landmark that is Rhuddlan Castle…