Alternate History

Marc of Wales (Welsh History Post Glyndwr)

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7th King of Wales

Marc of Wales.jpg
King of Wales
House of MacGregor-Glyndwr
Reign 4th November 1598 - 13th January 1600
Coronation 8th November 1598 St David’s Cathedral
Predecessor Elen
Successor Dafydd IV
Spouse Mary Hapsburg, Princess of Spain
Issue Gruffudd ap Marc ap Elen, Edling Cymru
Full name
Marc ap Elen ferch Rhodri
Posthumous name
Marc Gwrthgiliwr (the Apostate)
House House of MacGregor-Glyndwr
Father Lennox MacGregor Earl of East Kildare
Mother Elen ferch Rhodri ap Hywel
Born 15th August 1556
Harlech Castle
Died 13th January 1600 (Aged: 44)
Caernarfon Town
Burial Tintern Abbey
Religion Calvinism
Marc acceded to the throne at the already old age of 42. An experienced Edling, he had ruled the Principality of Gwynedd on behalf of his mother, he had married and he had an heir, Gruffudd. He was also a Calvinist in a still staunchly Roman Catholic Wales and the frictions that that engendered would rapidly plunge the kingdom into civil war.

Marc, Edling Gymraeg & Tywysog Gwynedd

As the eldest son of Lennox and Elen, Marc was groomed early for his position as Edling. The best tutors, weapons training, rhetoric, the young Prince wanted for nothing. The library in Caernarfon was rapidly built up as the Prince showed a voracious appetite for books, both in Latin, Welsh and French. His early childhood was balanced by the standards of the time. Living with his mother in the court at Caernarfon he was introduced early to courtly intrigue. On his 21st birthday his mother, Queen Elen, created him Prince of Gwynedd, granting him power over the north of Wales, he also married Mary of the House of Hapsburg in the September of that year, marking the beginnings of greater involvement with the Spanish policy in Europe. As Prince of Gwynedd, Marc took over Harlech as his seat, though his wife, having read up on her prospective Welsh husband patronaged the rebuilding of the Palace of Garth Celyn as her home as Princess of Gwynedd. This Palace would later become the seat of the Princes of Gwynedd after the Welsh Restoration, with the Marian Chapel of Princess Mary and the rebuilt Tower of Llywelyn features from this period.

Although Marc was only four when Prince Morgan led the Protestant Uprising of 1559, the Prince of Powys was to have a lasting influence on the young Edling. Morgan, by the Parliament of 1560 had to renounce Lutheranism to protect his throne, but he never lost his protestant leanings. With the young Edling being raised to the Princedom of Gywnedd on the 15th August 1577 he entered Morgan's orbit. The elder statesman began his grooming of the heir almost immediately. Long years are spent working on the Edling and Tywysog Gwynedd, but the fruits are visible. As the 1580's draw on Morgan is more open in his Lutheran ideals again in Powys and in Gwynedd Lutheran and Calvinist preachers are made welcome (though the Calvinists would not appear in court till the late 1590's). Long arguments are held in the Royal Court between the fiercely Catholic Prince Consort and Queen and the increasingly hot headed Edling. Marc chaffs under the scrutiny of his father and it is not until the later's death in 1589 that open Protestantism begins again to surface in Wales.

Both Powys and Gwynedd are open to Protestants with Morgan the more welcoming of the two. The Tywysoges Gwynedd, Mary, remains also a staunchly loyal Catholic so Protestant infiltration is limited to the far eastern fringes of the principality.

Conversion of the Edling

With the 1590's dawning, the Prince of Powys, in view of the waning power of the Queen again allows an openly Lutheran court to reside in Montgomery. In Harlech the Edling is less open, allowing those who practice Protestantism to do so in peace, but not advocating it yet. That would change in 1596 with the arrival in Harlech of the Calvinist preacher, Heinrich of Swabia. Under his influence, the already half convinced protestant Prince would become a fully fledged convert, being re-baptised into his new fath in 1598. It was this act almost more than any other which causes the old Queen to lose the will to live, dying in the November of 1598.

Marc, Brenin Gymraeg

Political Map of Wales

Map showing the territories of Wales

Marc moved swiftly. His mothers death within his own Principality allowing him a degree of freedom he might otherwise have lacked. Traveling without his queen, but with a small retinue of loyal soldiers and Heinrich of Swabia, Marc rides to St David's. There without the consent of the Archbishop he has himself crowned by Heinrich within the Cathedral cloisters. With only Powys as his ally, Marc realises the importance of striking quickly to keep the conservative nobility on the defensive.

Resistance, however, arises in the form of the king's brother, the Duke of Deheubarth. In the February of 1599 as both camps circle each other nervously, Rhys, Duke of Deheubarth and brother to the king, calls together a Parliament in Machynlleth to discuss both the new kings religions beliefs but also the coronation. Outraged at this break in protocol, and urged by Morgan, Marc leads a contingent of soldiers to Parliament, forcibly ending the session. The Royal brothers having a public argument, ending only when Rhys walks away, unable as yet, even in anger to raise a hand to his brother the king.

Spring and early summer are nervous months. Both camps are unsure of the others move. No one denies that Marc is the king, nor that he has the right to the throne, but his newly Calvinist leanings alienate most of the nobility and all of the clergy. A rival camp grows centered on the still Catholic, Prince Rhys, with Prince Morgan hovering in the wings.
Wales loyal to Marc 1599

Map showing the area controlled by Marc

May and June 1599 see the only Parliament of Marc's reign, where the religious tolerances acts are passed in addition to some regulatory laws for the penal and tax system. Tensions however continue to rise and finally spill into violence in late June, with the Duke of Deheubarth the Prince Rhys, launching an attack on Machynlleth, defeating his brothers forces and making the King retreat northwards to the fortress of Harlech. The breaking of Royal ranks by the Duke opens Wales to civil war based on religious grounds and sees Marc reduce him from the title of Deheubarth to the rump of Dyfed. The Prince of Powys rallies to the Kings cause while the Catholic southern lords, including the Prince of Glamorgan rally to the Duke. The most important other noble however remains staunchly neutral, the Duke of March, Henri Grey, refuses at first to be drawn into either camp.

August and September see two armed camps sniping at each other without much in the way of pitched battles. Skirmishes are the order of the day, with both sides scoring victories. This pattern continues into October with the Duke of Dyfed leading a column in north east Wales. He is ambushed by Marc in the Battle of Sycharth. During the battle the old Manor House of Owain Glyndwr catches fire and burns to the ground, whilst Dyfed dies during the battle. With the death of the Duke, the Catholic forces appear to be defeated, the Duke of March comes out in support of his king and Marc feels confident to retire to Caernarfon to see out the winter, hopeful that with the spring his remaining enemies in the south can be brought to heel. His son, the Crown Prince has garrisoned both Kidwelly and Abertawe Castles (Kidwelly against the wishes of the Earl) and Wales appears to be quiet if not peaceful.

The winter lull however proves to be Marc's undoing. The Duke of Dyfed left an heir, the precocious Dafydd, now Duke of Dyfed in his own right. This 12 year old is not seen as a threat, certainly not by Marc, Powys or March. He is however seen as successor to the Catholic cause by Prince Gwillym of Glamorgan and his heir Meurig and the other Southern Lords.

Wales loyal to Marc January 1600

Area controlled January 1600

January 1600 opens in a favourable fashion for the King. England is sympathetic to his cause and sends both money and troops to his aid. Marc still controls large parts of Wales, with Gwynedd, Powys, March, Dehubarth, Kidwelly, Gower and Henfford firmly under his control. However, Dyfed, aided and advised by Glamorgan and more notably his son, the Lord Meurig, advanced on Caernarfon. Surprising Marc, the Skirmish of Caernarfon carried a heavy price. Marc himself fell, as did the Duke of March and with Marc fell the Protestant Uprising's figurehead, though the Uprising did not fall at the same time.

Gruffud, Edling Gymraeg

With the death of his father in battle on the 13th January, Gruffudd now technically became king of Wales, though in his month long tenure he himself never uses the title. Gruffud was holding the South for his father when he died in Caernarfon and instantly he knew that he was in a race for the throne. With the death of Marc, Prince Morgan of Powys senses a chance to claim the throne, and the young Duke of Dyfed also has a claim. Young Gruffudd, only 21, had the best claim obviously as the Crown Prince, but his Protestant upbringing and the death of his father diminished his star. Gruffudd realises that his biggest rival is the Prince of Powys and he moves to face him. Meeting at Strata Florida, the monks powerless to prevent battle, the young Prince is killed by Powys on the 9th Feb 1600 in the Battle of Strata Florida. With the death of the Edling and the de jure king, Gruffudd, Powys moves to tighten his grip on power. With Gwynedd, Angelsey, Powys, March, Henfford, Gwlad yr Haf, Northern Territories, Kidwelly and Gower under his control and the Earls of Brycheiniog, Dean and Ergyng under his influence it is only the Lords of Gwent, Glamorgan, Deheubarth and St Davids that are free to resist him. Then in a comedy of errors, Prince Morgan falls at the last hurdle. With the country increasingly under his control and with the Lords of St David's on the brink of surrender to him, he is killed by bandits south of Builth Wells. With Morgans death the way is open for Dafydd, grandson of Queen Elen to climb over the bodies to claim the throne of Wales and usher in a new dynasty, the House of Dyfed alternatively called the House of Deheubarth.

Dowager Princess Mari of Gwynedd

Mary of Spain married Marc on the 17th September 1577 in Bangor Cathedral. Born on the 20th July 1555 in the Imperial City of Regansburg, daughter to the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian II and his Spanish wife Maria Hapsburg. Mary herself was brought up in Spain for part of her childhood and always considered herself to be Spanish. As part of Queen Elen's policy of engagement with European politics, the Welsh ambassador engaged in a marriage contract with the Imperial court looking for a favourable match for the Welsh Crown Prince. Eventually in 1575 it was agreed that the Archduchess Mary would become Marc's bride. After the usual political horse trading, the marriage itself was finally accomplished on the 17th September 1577, the bride having arrived in Wales two months previously. The young Archduchess had some problems adjusting to life in Wales to start off with. Fluent in German, French and Spanish she struggled to learn the Welsh language. Marc for his part could speak French well, but his German was poor and his Spanish non-exisitant and Mary's accent made for difficult conversations. Originally the young couple resided in the Royal Palace of Caernarfon, with Marc traveling between Harlech and Caernarfon. The young princess however was determined to make herself both useful and relevant and so in combination with learning the Welsh tongue she also decided to patronage the re-building of Garth Celyn along the coast from Caernarfon. She was responsible for the rebuilding of the Tower of Llewelyn as well as supervising what would in time become known as the Marian Chapel. The princess moved into the new palace in the spring of 1578 whilst the building work was going on around her, giving birth to Prince Gruffud in the November of 1578.

The young princess quickly became popular with the local lords of North Wales. Her husband, Marc was prickly and under the spell of the Prince of Powys and had therefore never gained the hearts of the Gwyneddian nobility. Mary, or Mari as she became known, had no allies, no friends when she arrived and knew that if she were to survive what was already becoming a loveless marriage would need to cultivate contacts in her social class. The constable of Caernarfon, Lord Rhys Gwillym and his wife quickly became life long confidants of the princess and through them her access to the social circle of North Wales developed at pace.

The Palace of Garth Celyn was finished in the summer of 1580 and with it Princess Mari held regular balls but she also started to intrude on the Welsh Court. Marc held court himself at Harlech as Prince of Gwynedd, but the Queen held court mainly in Caernarfon. Both palaces were in easy reach of the princess though as the 1580's progressed and her husbands flirtation with protestantism grew deeper then the pair grew ever more estranged. Princess Mari would find herself defending the Pope and the Catholic faith at a Court increasingly divided as the protestant reformation swept Europe.

With the death of the Prince-Consort Lennox (Lenocs, Tywysog Ngwr) in 1589 the marriage of Marc and Mari almost completely fell apart. By now the two were religiously polar opposites, with Marc revolutionary in his increasingly Calvinist beliefs whilst Mari's Roman Catholic faith had been strengthened during her married life in Wales, even as first her marriage failed and then as her son was removed from her by his father, she clung to her faith as as rock. During the late 1580's and early 1590's she donated greatly to the religious houses in North Wales as well as contracting works at Bangor Cathedral.

With the reign of Elen in its twilight years Mari found new allies within the Royal Family, Prince Rhys, Duke of Deheubarth came of age in 1587 and he was from an early age clearly not his brother. Like Mari, even as the wave of Protestantism swept Europe and threatened to sweep Wales, the young Dug was staunchly Catholic and a Catholic circle began to form around him as the 1590's progressed with Mari acting as his facilitator in North Wales.

In 1598, the old Queen died, many saying of a broken heart with Marc now an openly declared Calvinist. Mari, by fact of her marriage was now Queen Mari. However, continuing to act as he had done for the majority of their marriage, Marc proceed to steal from her the honour of being crowned Queen. In November, in an act of indecent haste, he was crowned by his private Calvinist preacher in St Davids. Mari was still in Caernarfon, acting in her new capacity as Queen when the news reached the northern Court. Mari herself was consecrated as Queen in Bangor Cathedral in the January of 1599, but by now events were moving swiftly with the realm teetering on the brink of religious civil war. The remainder of 1599 would be a nightmare year for Mari. She would see both her estranged husband and son for the last time in the January when both were present for her consecration. Following that, Marc would continue to reside at Caernarfon, Harlech and Machynlleth, whilst Gruffud was sent to Deheubarth to bolster his fathers control in the south. Mari would continue to reside in Garth Celyn, the palace which had truly become her home.

When her husband and son died in the winter of 1600, the forty-four year old princess feared the worst. The new monarch Dafydd was a precocious twelve year old, mercurial in temperament and having also climbed to the throne over the dead bodies of both her husband and son. Mari did not know how he would receive her. She traveled to his court attired according to her rank, that of a Queen Dowager. Dafydd received her well enough but the Queen Dowager knew well enough when her presence was unwanted. Although Dafydd was not an illegitimate king, he gained the throne through war and ultimately through treason and having the Queen of his dead rival at Court was more than his sensibilities could accommodate.

Mari retired to Garth Celyn and awaited her fate. The new king visited her in September 1600. The Palace staff had been prepped and Mari this time met him dressed as the princess of Gwynedd rather than the queen of Wales. Mari feared that Dafydd's claiming of the title would mean exile and at forty-four with no child left living and too old to considered for a new marriage by her Austrian family she rightly feared for her future. However, prior to his meeting her, Dafydd had been lobbied by most of the senior nobility of both Gwynedd and Powys, with the Duke of March leading the delegation. Mari had become over the years beloved of her subjects in Gwynedd and more than her husband had come to represent the Crown of Gwynedd. Acting on this petition, Dafydd agreed to leave Mari as Dowager Princess of Gwynedd on condition that she not remarry without the consent of the Welsh Crown and that all titles to Gwynedd reverted to the Crown upon her death. With no child to inherit from her Mari agreed to those terms and spent the next sixteen years ruling as the princess of Gwynedd. True to his part of the deal, Dafydd did not use any of the Gwynedd titles until her death, meaning that for the first sixteen years the Welsh kings most senior title after the Crown was that of the Dukedom of Dyfed.

With her death, Mari was buried in Bangor Cathedral as princess of Gwynedd in her own right and not that of a spouse, a unique honour.

Preceded by:
King of Wales
Succeeded by:
Dafydd IV


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