What does 2015 have to say to Owain Glendwyr or Agincourt? Join the anniversary celebrations.
2015, just outside Oswestry on the Welsh-English border. There is a hill and an oak tree, a tiny coat of arms nailed to its trunk. It’s a place that once was home to a host of storytellers and bards, a place – or so some say- that was the home of Owain Glyndwr, Prince of Powys. Until the land grabbers moved in some 600 years ago and Owain kicked off a Welsh rebellion. 2015, the anniversary year of Owain’s death – and, by chance, the anniversary of Agincourt taken by Henry of Monmouth, the future king Henry V, and Owain’s nemesis: 1415 – Henry torches Owain’s homestead here in this tiny hamlet near Sycarth and with it extinguishes the flames of a huge Welsh uprising. Owain, defiant to the last, rejects Henry’s offers of amnesty and slips away into the valleys. To this day no-one knows where he’s buried.
2015 sees the launch of the Glyndwr Trail and Tour, a guided journey in the steps of Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion against the English. Back to the oak tree of my beginning: this is where some say we will find the grave Owain didn’t want us to discover. It’s almost certainly the place from which Owain launched his defiance to march into a series of battles that took him to what are today some of the most stunning locations in Wales.
The Glyndwr Tour shifts north up to the now ruined castle Ruthin, former home to Owain’s arch enemy the English Lord de Grey, one of the men who tried to seize land in 1400 and so sparked Glyndwr’s anger. It heads back, south to Corwen where, on 16 September 1400, Owain raised his standard as Prince of Powys. Hundreds of Welsh fighters – men like himself who had been mercenaries in English armies, or who would later number 500 Welsh archers famed for helping Henry conquer at Agincourt – rushed to join him. Here too in Corwen’s churchyard is the imprint of a medieval sword said to belong to Owain. The town’s High Street has a statue of Owain; he’s a fierce-looking warrior, face alight with victorious anger. And here in 1942 John Cowper Powys wrote his novel about Wales’s most famous rebel Owen Glendower.
Next is Conwy where, in March 1401, Owain’s men faced mighty resistance in the shape of the castle’s fortified walls. At least they managed to seize the fort and strike terror into the heart of Henry IV. And from there to Harlech, the last of Edward I’s infamous iron ring of castles designed to fortify the English and subdue the Welsh. Gyndwr’s army succeeds in capturing Harlech. But the rebellion still whimpers and shrinks without trace.
Today, while we all remember the glory of Agincourt, Glyndwr’s Tour, tracking all the way from the borders to the sea, celebrates its own quieter triumph, a story of an heroic almost-was. What might have been had he succeeded 600 years ago?