Arthur I
15th King of Wales

15. Arthur I.png
King of Wales
King of Wales
Reign 17th January 1795 - 1st March 1831
Coronation 20th July 1797, St Davids Cathedral
Predecessor Rhisiart II
Successor Cystennin I
Principality of Morgannwg
Reign 17th January 1795 - 1st March 1831
Predecessor Rhisiart II of Morgannwg
Successor Cystennin III of Morgannwg
Spouse Alexandra de Gramont
Issue Prince Rhisiart of Wales, Edling Cymru

Cystennin I

Princess Angharad of Wales

Prince Iestyn of Wales

Prince Ieuan of Wales

Prince Dafydd of Wales

Full name
Arthur Cystennin Charles Emmanuel ap Rhisiart Morgannwg
Posthumous name
Arthur Brenin Milwr (the Soldier King)
House House of Morgannwg
Father Rhisiart Odoardo Cystenin Amadeus ap Rhisiart Morgannwg
Mother Maria Vittoria Margherita
Born 29th September 1769
Chateau de Marly
Died 1st March 1831 (aged 61)
Cardiff Castle
Burial Royal Crypts, Strata Florida
Religion Roman Catholic
Arthur is the first monarch of Wales to reign post the 2nd War of Independence. He played a full part in the last few years of the war, often aiding his father during planning sessions, whilst his uncle conducted talks in London aimed at ending the war. His and his son's reigns are often called the Early Imperial Period or the Ricardian Interlude and Arthur's reign would set the tone for the rest of the 19th Century.

Early Life

Born in France at the Chateau de Marly on the 29th September 1769, Arthur was brought up in a truly European court. His mother and grandmother were both Italians and Arthur would grow up fluent in that language. The Court also resided still in France during his early years and therefore French was also prevalent. Where Arthur differed from his father is that he owned a gift for languages and quickly picked up the Welsh language when Princess Maria Vittoria brought Arthur to the Royal Court (Arthur would come to Wales in 1777 aged 8, although his mother joined Rhisiart in 1770). Throughout his life Arthur would speak with a slight Italian accent. Once reunited with his mother and father, his education as a future King of Wales began. Firstly under the aegis of his father and later his uncle, the Earl of Pembroke. Arthur would also commence training as an officer of his father's army following his 18th birthday in 1787. It was this training that prompted his father to include him in the command tent for the final years of the war. With the final advance on Amwythig, Arthur travelled with his father, whilst Iago toiled in London with George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham (the last Governor-General of Wales). With his fathers death on the plains outside the city of Amwythig, Arthur stepped into the command breach, easily slipping from the role of son to that of King. His first act was to refuse the attempt to lower the Royal Standard to half mast, arguing that it would "only give heart to the Sais".

Treaty of Shrewsbury and the End of the War

The most important early actions of Arthur's reign concern the Treaty of Amwythig. The fall of Amwythig in the February of 1795 all but secured total victory for the Welsh. Although the Anglo-Scottish Kingdom still retained Gwynedd Is-Conwy, Arthur could now concentrate forces on it from three directions, with almost continuous civil unrest in the area. The fall of Amwythig was quickly communicated to London, and the result was the sweeping Treaty which emerged.

George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, along with Iago, Earl of Pembroke agreed a treaty which would officially end the 2nd War of Independence. The treaty contained several key points.

  • The British Kingdom would renounce all claims to the title "Emperor of the British Isles" and "King of the Britons", though it would retain the title "King of Britain" as an alternative title to "King of England & Scotland". In addition, all Welsh territory as of the 1717 borders would be restored to the Welsh Crown and Welsh Government.
  • The Welsh Crown would cease to use the title "king of the Britons" however the Anglo-Scottish crown recognised the title "King of Wales" and the Welsh Crown would cease in any claim on land outside the 1717 borders.
  • The Welsh State would recognise and protect the rights of the minority Protestant population.
  • The Anglo-Scottish State would make reparations to the landholders disinherited during the occupation.
  • Wales would enter into alliance with the Anglo-Scottish State and make common cause in foreign affairs.
  • The Welsh Crown would also recognise that it has no legal claim to the Anglo-Scottish Crown (ending the claim dating from the reign of Dafydd the Rash.

The treaty therefore secured two key aims of the Welsh Crown. Official recognition from England that the Welsh Crown was that of a King and not a Prince and it secured recognition of the border. This meant that England renounced all claims to Shrewsbury, Hereford, Welsh Worcester (Worcester however remained a divided town with an English Worcester on the opposite bank of the Severn), Bristol and the North Somerset coast. Although Wales renounced all claims to the English South West (primarily Cornwall).

The other key element of the treaty is that it engaged Wales into the English sphere in terms of European alliances. This was made easier by the fall of the French Kingdom and the emergence of the French Republic. Welsh ties of loyalty were to the Louis and the House of Bourbon, not to the Revolutionary Council, but it does mark a departure from traditional Welsh foreign policy which was to engage with the traditional enemies of England (Spain and France) in that Wales now acted alongside the English in their wars against France and Spain. The most telling sign of the new entente was the presence of George III at Arthur's coronation in 1797, a ceremony full of pomp and regalia.

The European Wars

As part of the Alliance with the Anglo-Scottish Kingdom, Wales supplied troops to the Second Coalition. Under the command of Prince Iorwerth of Wales (Arthur's brother) Wales supplied troops as part of the Coalition, fighting in Austria under the command of the Austrian Archduke. It would be the start of an almost 15 year military career for Iorwerth in Europe. Whilst the Prince and the Welsh troops languished in Austria, the Welsh Navy, took part in its first offensive attack since the Fall of Caerodor, when as part of the Allied Fleet it takes part in the Battle of Copenhagen. The Navy would again see action in 1805 with the Battle of Trafalgar, and whilst Welsh troops did not figure highly in this period, Prince Iorwerth would continue to take part with small contingents of Welsh troops right up to 1809, when he would die commanding the Welsh Regiment during Austria's war in the Duchy of Warsaw (dying during the Battle of Raszyn). Following this, Wales committed greater numbers to the fight for Spain, long a traditional ally of the Welsh Kingdom, sending troops there under the command of Prince Maredudd of Gwynedd.

For the next five years, Maredudd would act as the Welsh Commander acting under the overall command of Wellington firstly in Spain and then later in Waterloo campaigns. Wales would commit more men to this period of warfare than any other foreign engagement until the Great War of 1939-45. The end result though rebellion at home when disenchanted troops returned to Wales.

Welsh ships were also sent to the Mediterranean Sea where they took part in the battles for Greece. Ships from the Welsh fleet took part in the 1827 Battle of Navarino.

The Birth of an Empire

Y Wladfa Colony

Y Wladfa

It is during this period that the Welsh Empire would also see its birth. While the stakes in Europe were high, Arthur saw a chance to capitalise with an expansionist agenda. The Navy engaged Spanish shipping in the South Atlantic. Fighting began in 1799 with Welsh ships targeting Spanish shipping, with Arthur taking a gamble and shipping a large army contingent south. Landing on the Argentinian coast, the Welsh troops began to set up a local camp. The Viceroy of Rio de la Plata (modern Argentina and Uruguay) led an army south to deal with the Welsh troops. The Battle of Trerawlson was fought in Patagonia with the Welsh army victorious. The result of the battle was that the Welsh army ranged northwards until it reached the border of modern day Rio Negro province. Securing the border against Spanish attacks, the Treaty of Trerawlson was signed in 1800 establishing the Welsh Colony of Y Wladfa. The treaty also established the rights of the Spanish settlers as well as making way for considerable emigration from Wales to the new lands in the next 20 years, something which Cystennin would later have to deal with in terms of a population crisis in Wales.

1803 would see the Welsh imperial ambitions extend to Africa with the army clawing some territory there.

The 2nd Rebellion of the March

The 2nd rebellion or Uprising of March occured during the year 1820. The origins of the uprising lay in the English Occupation. Being the part of Wales closet to England the March was heavily re-angliscised during the occupation. As a result in 1796 there was a sizable minority of English speaking, protestant subjects living in the province. The returning Duke, Madog Grey had to contend with such a changed local demographic. His decision was to work with the new members of the local population. The result of this however was a return to the days of old, with a semi-separate state evolving centred on Ludlow and the Ducal court. Madog himself was loyal to both Rhisiart I and Rhisiart II and during his rule the province (which was still largely in English hands until the 1790's) remained tied to the Welsh Crown. This changed however with his death in 1805. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Edmund VIII of March, a man already 39 years old, but an man of poor health and even worse judge of character. Under his brief rule (three years) more Anglo-March advisors gained positions within the Ducal Court and the region began to slip slowly out of the orbit of the Royal Court in Caerfilli. Arthur recognised these problems and tried hard to head them off before they could grow. In this he was foiled by the early death of Edmund. Edmund was succeeded by his son, the bombastic Anglophile, Meurig I of March. Meurig was young enough and headstrong enough to try to challenge the King in Caerfilli. Succeeding in 1808 he tread carefully at first. Serving with the Army both in Europe and in Africa, his estates were managed by Dowager Duchess Caroline, who understood the vagaries of Welsh politics better than her only son. Meurig however returned to Wales
Mortimer Coat of Arms

Ducal Arms of Y Mers (Ancient Arms of Mortimer)

in 1816 taking over control of the Duchy from his mother, who retired to her own estates outside Amwythig. Meurig, unlike his English born mother, was quickly seduced by the pourings into his ears of Ducal separation from the Welsh State. Although Meurig was staunchly Welsh, he was subject to desires to be the supreme authority within his own lands. Such tensions could not be left unchallenged for long by the strong, centralising tendencies of Arthur. Matters came to a head in March of 1820 with Meurig trying to claim control of all troops raised within the borders of Y Mers (the March). Arthur refused. Having already ridden out an Army Rebellion just five years previously Arthur was not about to hand over to Meurig the control of what amounted to private militias. The Duke of March though, misreading Arthur, (who had only recently returned from Y Wladfa) raised the ancient Ducal Banner of the House of Mortimer. Here though Arthur showed his military expertise. Raising troops from Morgannwg, Gwent, Dean and most importantly of all, Henffordd, he raced northwards towards Ludlow. His eldest son, Rhisiart the Crown Prince (Edling) went ahead of his father, commanding the Royal Household Guard units. Engaging Meurig 10 miles north of Ludlow, Meurig took the victory, scattering Rhisiart and the Royal Troops. Re-grouping and not waiting for his father to arrive with re-inforcements, Rhisiart attacked again on the 12th July 1820, this time Meurig ordered that no prisoners were to be taken. Unable to retreat, Rhisiart died in the encounter. Enraged by the death of his son, Arthur raced forwards, engaging Meurig again outside Ludlow on the 31st July. The vastly superior Royal Forces crushed the rebel army, taking Ludlow Castle and with it the Duke. In a fit of temper and pique, Arthur ordered Meurig executed as a traitor to the Crown, and using Rhisiart's own sword, the executor promptly dispatched the Duke in the evening of the 1st August.

Briefly, the Dukes cousin, Henry Grey maintained the rebellion, mainly in the name of his three year old son, Edmund, who he proclaimed as Edmund IX of March. Arthur, in no mood for reconcilliation, defeated Henry and had him executed also.

Following this, the Dowager Duchess pleaded on behalf of her Grand-Nephew for him to be allowed to retain his rank and title. By now Arthur had calmed, and following the sage advice of his new heir, Cystennin, allowed the three-year old to retain rank and dignity. Although he removed the infant to the Royal Court and charged the Dowager Duchess to rule Y Mers in his absence and that she would be held responsible for the loyalty of the English and Protestant population of the area. The successful pleading of Cystennin, Caroline and the light hand visited on the minority population would later come back to save the House of Morgannwg during the Welsh Civil War.

Army Reforms

Arthur is also known as the King who reformed and established the Army as a modern force within Wales. At the time of his coronation, the army he inherited from his father was battle hardened, a small core of men who had fought for decades for king and country. It was also a hobbled together affair. Men were not grouped by feudal overlord, or geographical basis. This core of men continued to serve Arthur in his early wars, Y Wladfa and Europe. However as the Napoleonic wars progressed those men inherited by Arthur died or left, leaving an increasingly mercenary army, men serving under the colours for money, not patriotism. Between 1800 and 1815 these Welsh troops were increasingly exposed to the Anglo-Scottish armies of Wellington. These men whilst still the dregs of Anglo-Scottish society were better paid and generally better equipped than their Welsh counterparts. The French and Spanish soldiers also seemed better off than the Welshmen. Such exposure developed into radical thinking amongst the soldiers. Following the end of the Napoleonic wars and the troops return home trouble was to emerge. Troops returning home found Wales as backward as Spain, as poorly paid as ever with the nobles sitting atop a seemingly increasing financial summit. The result was open revolt. Barracks across Wales erupted as men seized weapons and fortified their camps. Their demands were simple, better pay and better conditions. Arthur, however, came from a family not used to being dictated to. His response was equally brutal. Recruiting mercenaries from Ireland and England he systematically attacked and destroyed each army camp. Capturing the men and their leaders however provided Arthur with a new headache. What to do with the men? His answer was to send them to Y Wladfa, where they formed the new regiment, the Royal Regiment of Patagonia (Catrawd Frenhiniol Y Wladfa). This however did not solve the basic problem. His answer was a Royal Commission headed by his distant cousin, Fychan Pritchard (heir to the Lordship of Abergaveny). This commission was to last five years. Its conclusion led to the 1821 Arthurian Charter. This Charter established a standing Army for the first time. It also established the army as an organ of the State under Senedd approval and control. This is an important point considering the lowly status of the Senedd under the Morgannwg Kings. Even more important, was the location of the first Army Headquarters. Ludlow was chosen (although the army moved in 1822 to Caerfilli) as the headquarters of the Army and the location of an Officers College. The position of head of the army was given to the traditional head of the Navy. The Prince of Powys, Iorwerth, commanded the Army until his death in 1836.

Home Affairs

At home Arthur proved to be a popular and capable monarch. Easily the best of the Morgannwg kings, but he still struggled to work with the political settlement created by Rhisiart I. The Senedd was still relatively powerless. The Ty Uchaf held all the power along with the Royal Council headed by the King. The 1821 Arthurian Charter altered this slightly giving as it did control of the Army (though not the Navy) to the Senedd, primarily the Ty Isod (Lower House). This fillip however was not enough to satisfy the growing political appetite of the emerging classes. Throughout the English Occupation the border regions had seen increased trade with England and some signs of industrialisation. This had continued throughout the reign of Rhisiart II and into Arthur's reign. This resulted in a new class emerging. Before Wales had been governed by noble families with the merchant classes owning some power in the Senedd but little weight of their own. The disruption of English rule however resulted in a new middle class of land owning men. These men were increasingly disinclined to bow the head to Barons and Earls retaining sole political control. The March Rebellion highlighted this fact and from then on and for the rest of the 19th Century a battle of wills and sometimes force, would rage in Wales over political rights. Arthur did little to dampen this, believing as he did in his right to rule Wales. The rise in industrialisation of Wales however was reflected in two treaties with England-Scotland. In 1815 Wales was excluded from the Corn Laws allowing Welsh trade to still enter England, and in 1826 the Treaty of Y Trallwng (Welshpool) was signed. This treaty allowed for greater trade freedoms between the two kingdoms.

Death and Legacy

Arthur's death on the 1st March 1831 saw an end to the first half of the early Imperial Period. His reign was a long one, spanning the 2nd War of Independence to the birth of the Welsh Empire. His legacy, though, was a mixed one. In his son, Cystennin, he left a new Monarch ill suited to the throne. In politics he left an unfinished settlement. The early Ricardian settlement left power almost entirely in the hands of the King and the Royal Council with the Nobility controlled Ty Uchaf retaining what power remained. The Arthurian Charter pointed towards some restoration of the Ty Isod to its former powers and glory but fell short. Wales was still a country ill at ease with itself in 1831. Disenchanted men abounded across the nation.

Yet for all that Arthur is feted as one of Wales most successful and popular monarchs. The Treaties of Amwythig, Y Trallwng, the Corn Laws Accord, all point to a progressive relationship with Wales' more powerful neighbour the United Kingdom. Entry into the UK-ES's European wars had helped gain Wales an overseas empire with territory spanning South America, Africa and the Pacific. The Army holds the 1821 Charter up as one of the most important acts of the reign, and indeed the granting of Army control to the Senedd would be something that would come back to help the monarchy in the next reign. Overall, Arthur can be seen as a powerful and successful Welsh monarch, dying in his sleep, something denied to both his father, the grandfather and his two sons.

Preceded by:
Rhisiart II
King of Wales
Succeeded by: