The Normans in Wales - Sarah Woodbury

The Normans in Wales

The leader of the Normans, William the Bastard (William the Conquerer, William the Norman), won his first battle for the conquest of England at Hastings in October of 1066.  He defeated the army of King Harold Godwinson, who’d force-marched his men from Stamford Bridge after defeating an invasion by King Hardrada of Norway.  Harold’s forces almost held, but in the end, his discipline did not and he himself died on the battlefield.

That was only the beginning, however, and it would be another six years before England was truly conquered.

Wales, however, took a bit longer.  The Welsh fought what amounted to a guerilla war for over 150 years against the Norman/French aggressors.  Although the documentation of this war is mostly on the English side, it is interesting reading from the perspective of the Welsh.

In the Chroncile of the Princes (from the Red Book of Hergest), it becomes clear that there is a form of schizophrenia  at work when the authors discuss the coming of William the Bastard in 1066, his claiming of the kingship, and then his subsequent reign.  On one hand, the Chronicle states:

“And that William defended the kingdom of England in a great battle, with an invincible hand, and his most noble army.” (1066)

“And then, the Bastard, prince of the Normans, and king of the Saxons, the Britons, and the Albanians, after a sufficiency of the glory and fame of this transient world, and after glorious victories, and the honour acquired by riches, died; and after him William Rufus, his son reigned.” (1085)

In between these entries, the Chronicle states:  “the French ravaged Ceredigion and Dyfed” (1071); “a second time the French devestated Ceredigion” (1072) These notes indicate the conquering of south Wales by that same king.  Things start to really get bad, however, in the years after William of Normandy’s death.

“One year and one thousand and ninety was the year of Christ, when Rhys, son of Tewdwr, king South Wales, was killed by the French, who inhabited Brecheiniog; and then fell the kingdom of the Britons.  . . . two months after that, about the calends of July, the French came into Dyved and Ceredigion, which they have still retained, and fortified the castles, and seized upon all the land of the Britons.”

Even at this point, I was still wondering ‘did the French (meaning other than the Normans) sail from France and conquer Wales? How did I miss that?’ And then I realized that by ‘French’ the authors did mean ‘Normans’, who’d conquered England–the same group whose king they’d eulogized three pages before.

For in 1095, the Chronicle states: “And then, the second time, William, king of England, assembled innumerable hosts, with immense means and power, against the Britons. And then the Britons avoided their impulse, not confiding in themselves, but placing their hope in God, the Creator of all things, by a fasting and praying and giving alms, and undergoing severe bodily penance. For the French dared not penetrate the rocks and the woods, but hovered about the level plains. At length they returned home empty, without having gained anything; and the Britons, happy and unintimidated, defended their country.”

Thus begins the long, unhappy saga of the ‘French’ conquest of Wales.

2 Replies to “The Normans in Wales”

  1. Throughout the books of the Brut y Tywysogyon and the Brenhinedd y Saesson the Welsh consistently distinguish between “English/Saxon” and “Norman/French”. So interesting.

    1. It took me a bit while reading this to realize that the ‘French’ hadn’t invaded Wales from France 🙂

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