Thursday, June 15, 2006

Cadfan's fields of blood

Part One
Cadfan’s fields of Blood by Bob Lock

Wales holds many secrets close to her bosom; this is one I discovered.

If you were to visit the idyllic farm of Cadfan near Carmarthen today, with its quiet dairy herd, and sheep grazing upon the lush green meadows, nothing would stop the tranquillity of the place from bewitching you.

However, the meadows and the medieval farmhouse would be hiding one of those secrets of which I spoke; a secret that is slowly becoming lost in the annals of time. For Cadfan was not always such a peaceful place, and evidence to the bloody history of this listed building and the surrounding land can be gleaned from a number of clues. Many of these clues are still available to the questioning mind, should you desire to look for them.

The very name, Cadfan, when translated into English invokes an entirely different feeling towards this tranquil corner of Wales, for in Welsh, Cadfan means, place of battle.

Delve a little deeper into the past and you will soon discover that the name was not always so; for Welsh topographical names are usually descriptive or historical, and very old; often handed down through the generations from father to son. Unless something extraordinary happens which necessitates a new place name to be adopted.

Such a thing occurred here. The original name, Cefn Melgoed has all but disappeared and in its place we find, Cadfan, place of battle.

As the name suggests, those lush green fields were once another colour, red; red with the blood of over two thousand soldiers. An elite army of mounted, armoured knights. Invaders, English, Norman and Flemish invaders; men of Henry the third, King of England.

According to a Welsh chronicler of that time, probably a monk, in 1257 a contingency of King Henry’s men were landed at Carmarthen after a sea voyage around the coast and up the Towy river. They disembarked at the market town of Carmarthen and journeyed up the beautiful Towy valley, following the meandering river. Their destination? -- Dynevor Castle.

It must have seemed a foregone conclusion to the invaders as their mighty steeds, heavily armoured, crushed the lightly armed and unprepared Welsh opposition, that upon reaching Dynevor, it too would fall to their superiority.

However, they were gravely mistaken. The English force’s destructive march, in which they laid waste to whomever or whatever lay in their path along the Towy valley, had not suppressed the Welsh but had instead inflamed them.

Although the English were mounted, wore mail armour and were confident of their invulnerability, the lightly armed Welsh were soon to show them the error of their ways.

The old Latin Chronicles, The Annales Cambria and The Annales Meneveneses , state that King Henry’s men were led by one Stephenus Bauson, or Stephen Bacon. He was assisted by the Lords, Nicholas, Patrig and Rhys Fychan, also known as Lord Rhys, or Rees the Little, Prince of South Wales who was an ally of the King. Lord Rhys had been ousted from Dynevor and Carreg Cennan castles by Prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, the last true, native Prince of Wales, also known as Llewelyn the Last.

Rhys’ defection to the enemy was thought to be temporary, and supposedly due to an act of injustice by his uncle, Rhys ab Mereydd. As the English, supremely confident, laid siege to Dynevor Castle, which was still under the jurisdiction of the Welsh Prince, Llewelyn, Lord Rhys arrived at Llandeilo which is a small village further up the Towy Valley.

The Welsh forces were led by Meredydd ab Owen and Meredydd ab Rhys Gryg, both were grandchildren of Lord Rhys himself. They were two men of renowned military ability and endowed with a deep love of their country.

Dynevor, was at that time, the focal point of administration for Prince Llewelyn in the south and a thorn in Henry’s side. Therefore it was imperative that his vassal, Lord Rhys, be reinstated.
However, it wasn’t long before the English realized that they had miscalculated. The castle remained unconquered and by nightfall their forces, which had laid siege to the fortress, became hemmed in themselves. Then at a critical moment in the battle they were aghast to see Prince Llewelyn himself appear with a relief force.

The Welshmen fell upon the attackers in wave after wave, showering the soldiers with arrows and lances until they managed to drive the invaders back and away from the besieged castle.
The armoured knight was a formidable foe indeed, but in that time one of the weapons most feared by the knight was the crossbow. On the field of battle the mailed and mounted knight could feel relatively immune to all but the luckiest strike or blow from another knight. However, the crossbow allowed an inferior enemy to tip the scales in his benefit. The deadly crossbow bolt could easily penetrate the armour of the once invulnerable horseman.

The crossbow was not the perfect weapon though. Firstly, even in its simplest form it relied upon a complex winding mechanism to cock the bow. But on the other side of the coin, it did allow even the weakest man or perhaps youngster to use it. This did mean that the bow was extremely slow to operate with perhaps only two bolts per minute rate of fire. Secondly, if the weapon was allowed to get wet, which was quite feasible in Wales, it more or less rendered it useless, as the bowstring tended to stretch.

It was in Wales that the armoured knight learned to fear a new weapon; the Welsh longbow. This was a formidable weapon indeed and in the hands of a Welsh archer it could send an armour piercing arrow approximately two hundred and fifty yards with accuracy. The bowstring also had the advantage of being able to be quickly removed in bad weather and stored safely in the dry, under the archer’s hat or jerkin.

Whereas the crossbow could be fired by anyone who could lift it, the six foot longbow, made from unpolished wild elm, had a sixty to seventy pound pull. This meant that only a well trained and strong man could use it. That disadvantage was offset by its formidable rate of fire which on average would be around twelve arrows per minute.

This then was more than enough to make the King’s men dismount as the arrows could be fired in a blanket attack causing havoc amongst the panicking horses. It was then that the Welsh hatchet and dagger men attacked.

Where previously the knight’s armour had given him an overwhelming advantage, it now became his downfall, as the heavily weighted men struggled to keep their feet in the boggy ground that they had been forced into. Many of the thrown knights were trampled underfoot by their mounts. But others met another fate, as the unarmoured and mobile Welshmen dashed in. They cracked the knight’s armour with a hatchet or sharply bladed hammer and then finished off their enemy with a well placed and lethal dagger.

The fallen knight had little defence against this tactic and by morning, the vigil of Holy Trinity, the tenth of July, a disguised Lord Rhys, with a few men, fled the battle field. They claimed sanctuary in the castle. The remaining English knights vengefully surveyed their dead and then regrouped.

Still fearing nothing, the invaders set out to chase the Welsh from around Dynevor castle. They pushed them westward towards a heavily wooded ravine-filled countryside that was then known as Coed Llathen and Cymerau, it is know known as Broad Oak. The English, infused with anger had not learned their lesson well and now the Welsh were in their element, skirmishing in ravines and dense woods. They could hide and ambush the vengeful English pursuers; it was an ideal killing ground for an army of guerrilla fighters such as the Welsh.

A running battle ensued until finally the conflict arrived at Cadfan and on that day, nearly seven hundred and fifty years ago, one of the bloodiest battles ever recorded in the history of Wales reaped the lives of over two thousand of King Henry’s men. The battle lasted a full day, costing even one of the leaders. Stephen Bacon, his life. The fighting covered an area from as far north as Capel Isaac and Llanfyndd, to between Broad Oak and Llangathen.

Once again the knights fell prey to the accuracy of the Welsh bowman and the unsuitable terrain. It was only a matter of time before they were thrown or fell from their mounts and the hatchet men struck again.

Today only the names of the fields around the farm Cadfan bear silent witness to the terrible events that took place all those years ago. Only the older maps show the crossed swords icon which denotes the location of a battle field; the new ones do not. However, the names of the fields such as Cae Ffrainc — Field of Normans, Cae Tranc — Field of Death, Cae Dial — Field of Vengeance, Cae Ochain — Field of Groans and Congl y Waedd — The place of shouting, tell another story.

A reference to the battle can be found in The Black Book of Carmarthen, a book of poems and dirges from St. John’s Priory. A piece from the grave poem called “The Ohs of Myrddin (Merlin)” goes as follows:

The Ohs of Myrddin
Oh little piglet,
don’t be coy.
when a force sets out
from Carmarthen
led by two whelps,
kings together,
of the line of Rhys
the battle-buffer-
battle-sawing troop,
When the English as slaughtered
in the fight
at Cymerau
great will be my Welshmen’s glee
steadfast crew.

Now no signposts mark this place of battle, no crossed swords on maps, and no monuments; but perhaps if you listen carefully you will hear the whinny of a terrified horse or the shout of a wounded knight.

Perhaps locals will tell you of the two tons of round stones discovered in Cae Cerrig — The Field of Stones. They are unlike anything remotely similar to the natural rock of the area and are thought to be have been brought by the invaders to destroy the walls of Dynevor castle.

The tales from father to son, these strangely named fields, the small river named Nant Stephanau, where Stephen Bacon was thrown from his horse and died in that little tributary, the poems found in ancient manuscripts, all of these things will stay in the minds of Welshmen until the end of time. They are an example of how even the most feared and well equipped oppressor can be defeated by the tactics and chosen killing ground of a guerrilla fighter, fighting for the love of his country and its liberation.

Part Two

Prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd

The first, last, true Prince of Wales. By Bob Lock

What, you may ask happened to the protagonists of this conflict?

As we have seen, of the invaders there were pitifully few survivors. Stephen Bacon died at Cadfan. The other barons are documented in a Welsh book “Bruts “ as all being killed, and in fact, after the battle no more is ever heard of them.
As to the Welsh? After giving thanks to God for their victory, most of them melted back into the countryside and their homes. Nearly all probably laden down with the spoils of battle, the weapons and horses of the invaders. And Prince Llewelyn? The last true Prince of Wales? Well, King Henry who was now crippled by lack of money and the renewal of a dispute with the barons, under the leadership of Simon de Montfort, agreed to a truce with Llewelyn. It lasted from 1258 to 1262.

During this time of peace however Llewelyn raided many of the royalist supporters amongst the Marcher lords. Until finally, Henry, concerned to restore peace to his realm, agreed to a settlement with Llewelyn. It was arranged with the help of the Papal Legate. And so on 29th September 1267, King Henry confirmed the treaty with Prince Llewelyn at Montgomery, and it was called The Treaty of Montgomery.

Until then, Llewelyn, whose title Prince, had only been accorded him by the Welsh rulers, was now accepted by King Henry himself, and therefore was given the official recognition as being the first true Prince of Wales.

In 1272, Henry was succeeded by his son, Edward 1st or Edward Longshanks as he was known. Upon returning from the crusades in 1274 he summoned Prince Llewelyn and others to London for his coronation and to pay him homage as the new King of England. Llewelyn refused and in doing so made his relationship with the new king a very dangerous one. He tempted fate even further by arranging to marry Eleanor, daughter of rebel baron Simon de Montfort. It was an act destined to strain Edward's patience to the very limit.

He even began strengthening his grandfather's castles at Criccieth, Ewloe, and Dolwyddelan. Moreover, and in 1273 he started to build a new castle at Dolforwyn, high above the Severn valley. This was an obvious challenge to the royal frontier post at Montgomery. Llewelyn’s refusal to abandon this project was just another piece in the jigsaw of disagreements with the new king.

Finally, after further rebuffs by Llewelyn and raids by him on the Marcher lords, Edward had been insulted enough and invaded Wales in the first of the Welsh Wars of Independence, 1276 — 1277.

Edward himself took the field at Chester in July 1277, and by August he had some 15,600 troops in his pay. Against these odds, Llewelyn had no choice but to sue for peace. Eventually the royal forces recaptured and occupied many of the lands that had been for so long denied them.

Edward 1st would have obviously preferred to bring Llewelyn to his knees, but the campaign was proving costly and therefore the king was more than willing to draw up yet another peace plan which was agreed upon by both sides. This meant Prince Llewelyn retained his title as a courtesy only and lost the territories that had been seized once more by the crown. That was to be known as The Treaty of Aberconway and was signed in 1277.

However, the Welsh were discontented with this treaty and after various injustices and acts of victimization by crown officials on 21 March 1282, Llewelyn’s brother, Dafydd, attacked Hawarden Castle and sparked off yet another war. Llewelyn was faced with an almost impossible dilemma. Torn between his enforced fealty to the king and his loyalty to his brother Dafydd and his people, Llewelyn sided with his brother. He led the Welsh resistance and in 1282 the second and last war of Welsh Independence began.

The strategy followed by the English army was along the familiar lines of their previous invasions, in that the royalists took the same three lines of approach. North through Rhuddlan which became their main base of operations in that area. Montgomery in Mid Wales and finally, once again, Carmarthen in West Wales.

The Welsh fought back, as they had always done, mobile and lightly armed. They harried the attacking forces and then withdrew. Once more the Welsh managed to hold the advancing invaders as history repeated itself and the English army drove up the Towy valley from Carmarthen towards Llandeilo. But in North Wales it was a different story as the English over-ran and occupied the Welsh island of Anglesey.

Prince Llewelyn, aware of this occupation, left his forces in west and central Wales to join his men in the north. Finally, Welsh resistance in the north succeeded. In November 1282, the forces on Anglesey, having crossed the sea of the Menai Straits by means of a bridge of tethered boats, met a strong Welsh force and were slaughtered. All retreat was cut off by the incoming tide and it is said that only one knight survived as his horse managed to swim the expanse of water across the straits.

The diminished danger in the north allowed Llewelyn to return to rally his forces in central and west Wales and it was at this point in history that Llewelyn, the first and last true Prince of Wales met his death during a battle at Irfon Bridge in 1282.

It is rumoured that whilst reconnoitring the English positions with a very small number of men he was chased and killed by a party of knights led by a noble named Stephen de Frankton. It was not until sometime later that his body was identified as the Prince of Wales. Then his head was severed from his body and sent to King Edward who had it impaled on the battlements of the Tower of London as a symbol and lesson for all to see.

As so, with the death of Prince Llewelyn, died all the hopes of Welsh Independence. A memorial marks the site of his death at a village called Cilmeri.

Edward Longshanks then turned a covetous eye towards Scotland and in 1296 invaded the highlands, only to be met with yet another thorn, in the shape of one, William Wallace or "Braveheart" as he was also known. A name resurrected by Mel Gibson in a film of that title.

But to return to the beginning, and the little farm of Cadfan. We must surely recognize it had to have been a pivotal point in Welsh history. It must have raised a hope in all Welshmen, as it demonstrated unequivocally that the invaders were not invincible. In the years between the

Cadfan battle in 1254 and Prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd’s death at Cilmeri in 1282, the Welsh were a nation united, and were given a brief, sweet taste of independence.

That ephemeral taste of freedom, although soured by Llewelyn’s death, has always stayed with the Welsh people. It was resurrected by another great Welsh leader of his time, Owain Glyndwr in 1400, but that, as they say, is another story…

Llewelyn’s Monument in the village of Cilmeri


Neal Asher said...

Very enjoyable. These isles are steeped such history (and gore). Not far from where I live the Battle of Maldon (or Battle of the Blackwater) was fought and Brythnoth, Earl of Essex, died. It was one of the many attempts to repel the vikings (in 991).

Anonymous said...

i though it was very good
but i have one question. how did lord rhys find sanctuary in dynevor castle if he was fighting the welsh there.

Bob Lock said...

Hi Neal,
Thanks for the comments, glad you enjoyed it. It was fun researching the history.

As far as I have been able to discover Lord Rhys seemed the sort of guy who tended to side with whomver he thought was going to win. That's why he allied himself to the English throne. However when all seemed lost he somehow persuaded the Welsh to re-accept him into their fold.
I think Llewelyn was supported by him and his three sons when he became the first true Prince of Wales.