Despite being offered a pardon from King Henry V of England more than once and large rewards being offered for his whereabouts, Glyndŵr never surrendered to the English and was never betrayed by his followers even when it became clear the Welsh Revolt, instigated by Glyndŵr on 16 September 1400, was going to fail. Then he disappeared. In the 19th century he became the symbol for Welsh nationalism, but how much do we really know about Owain Glyndŵr?
Owain Glyndŵr’s mother, Elen ferch Tomas, had a sister, Marged ferch Tomas, who married Tudur ap Goronwy. Marged and Tudur’s son, Maredudd ap Tudur, was the father of Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur who later anglicised his name as Sir Owen Tudor. After the death of Henry V, Owen Tudor married Henry’s widow, Catherine of Valois, and their grandson would later take the throne as Henry VII, beginning the Tudor dynasty. As Glyndŵr’s cousin, Maredudd ap Tudur even played a prominent role in the Welsh revolt against English rule and, like his cousin, disappeared from history in 1405, making his fate unclear.
Families across Wales were divided when Glyndŵr initiated the Welsh Revolt. Glyndŵr’s claim was that the Welsh had been discriminated against by the English for generations, but his rebellion sadly led to anti-Welsh feeling becoming institutionalised. An English person accused of a crime by a Welsh person could only be tried by English judges and an English jury, whereas all convicted Welsh felons were to be summarily executed; any Welshman found within Chester’s city walls after dark was liable to be decapitated; an Englishman was forced to forfeit his rights should he marry a Welsh woman; and any Welshman who wanted to progress and elevate his position in society was required by law to deny that he was Welsh.
Many supported Glyndŵr, but others feared the consequences should they revolt against the English and Henry IV when their lives had already become so much more difficult. Glyndŵr’s own cousin Hywel Sele of Nannau tried to kill him, and while Robert ap Maredudd ap Ieuan fought for Glyndŵr, his brother Ieuan died fighting for the king.
Sir Edmund Mortimer IV was an English nobleman and a great-grandson of Edward III who initially fought for Henry IV against the Welsh until he and his brother-in-law, Henry Percy, were defeated and taken prisoner at the Battle of Bryn Glas. It is believed Mortimer lost the battle because a number of his forces were Welsh, and many of them defected to join Glyndŵr’s rebellion.
When rumours reached Henry IV that Mortimer himself had defected to fight alongside the Welsh, the king began to seize Mortimer’s estates and belongings – and if Mortimer hadn’t already transferred his allegiance to Glyndŵr, he certainly did then. Rather than ransom him, Glyndŵr married Mortimer to his daughter, Catrin ferch Owain Glyndŵr, on 30 November 1402. Soon after, Mortimer proclaimed in writing that he had betrayed Henry IV to restore Richard II to the throne. Some historians have speculated that Glyndŵr might have been looking ahead and securing a connection with the English royal family should his campaign against Henry IV be successful and England find itself without a king.
Mortimer eventually died during the siege of Harlech Castle, led by the future Henry V, in 1409. Catrin and their three daughters were captured by the English and held in the Tower of London, and their deaths, as well as their burial in St Swithin’s Church, are recorded. A memorial to Catrin now stands where the church formerly stood.
The fates of both of Catrin’s parents are unknown. Nothing certain is known about Glyndŵr after 1412, though it is believed he died in 1415 after spending his final years in hiding, perhaps posing as a friar, living with his daughter, Alys.