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Glyn Dwr's War


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by G J Brough

Open Book

Review by David John

In the BBC News Online survey, Owain Glyndwr was voted the most influential Welsh person of the last millennium. For an individual whose name is now barely known outside of Wales, it is a remarkable testament of character and leadership that over 500 years after his death the last independent national Welsh leader can still stir such passions amongst the general Welsh community.

For the non-Welsh readers amongst you, Owain Glyndwr was the leader of the last revolt against English rule in Wales. Lasting from 1400 to 1415, its immediate cause was English financial exploitation coupled with increasing institutional discrimination against the Welsh in their own homeland. Although Owain Glyndwr provided the leadership and focus for Welsh aspirations, what was remarkable was that, unlike previous Welsh revolts against English rule which were always bedevilled by factionalism, this was truly national in nature. Its leaders aimed to establish Wales as an independent country with its own parliament, its own church and its own overseas alliances.

Glyn Dwr's War, by G J Brough, gives a uniquely Welsh perspective on this turbulent period in Welsh history and provides the interested general reader with a comprehensive account of all the political and historic events.

The book sets the scene with an opening section called The Welsh in Battle. This section describes how the early occupants of Wales fought against a series of potential invaders. Starting with the fight against the Romans the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and finally the Normans, it charts how Wales changed from a tribal to a medieval society, but never achieving a level of national homogeneity that would protect it against predatory neighbours. In this section Brough shows how the Welsh fought, both against the English and later for the English and other overseas countries that could give them employment.

The second section, The Opposing Powers, describes the political and military context in which the revolt occurred, focussing on both characters and countries. The author casts his net widely, not only looking at France and Flanders but also Brittany, Castile and Ireland , successfully reminding us that the revolt did not take place in a vacuum.. Brough also reminds us that there were a significant number of experienced Welsh military commanders fighting in Europe at that time, certainly enough to provide Wales with a solid core of military experience and concern the English government.

The main part of the book lies in Section Three: a year by year narrative of all significant events, mainly military but also covering the important political events as they occur. Each yearly narrative is supported by a map highlighting the geographical location for each event with an icon that is keyed to a numbered paragraph in the supporting text. The author has clearly trawled far and wide to identify all the events he documents, and this section provides probably the most comprehensive coverage of the events that I have seen.

This approach has strengths and weaknesses. It is easy to see where events took place and identify how they were concentrated at any point in time; on the other hand it is sometimes difficult to determine the overall significance of the events that are documented as they are not then easily placed within a higher context. However, given the relative paucity of sources for the information provided, the author is to be applauded for the efforts he has made to document each identified event. I will certainly use this to support other narratives.

My main gripe with the book is the lack of references in the text. Although the book is clearly intended for the general reader, why couldn't the author reference the main points with the sources he used? Where, for example, did the author find his fascinating information about the French siege of Carmarthen?

Overall, an interesting account from an unusual perspective. This book collects together a lot of information on an area of history that cannot easily obtained elsewhere although perhaps a little uncritical at times. Use this book as a good introduction to the subject area.

glyndwr.jpg

ISBN 1 903 52906 9
Published by Wales Books, 2002
212pp, paperback
Retail price 13.99