Rhisiart III of Wales
17th King of Wales

17. Rhisiart III.jpg
King of Wales - Painted shortly before his death
King of Wales
Reign 1st March 1849 - 2nd November 1870
Coronation 1st March 1849
Predecessor Cystennin
Successor Rhisiart IV
Principality of Morgannwg
Reign 31st August 1845 - 2nd November 1870
Predecessor Cystennin III of Morgannwg
Successor Rhisiart IV of Morgannwg
Spouse Princess Maria Sidonia-Wettin (Saxony)
Issue Prince Rhisiart of Morgannwg

Prince Dafydd of Wales

Full name
Rhisiart Siarl Odoardo Cystennin Morgannwg
Posthumous name
Rhisiart Goleuedig (the Enlightened)
House House of Morgannwg
Father Cystennin Arthur Louis Archibald Morgannwg
Mother The Lady Olivia of Aberystwyth
Born 28th June 1830
Palas Caerdydd
Died 2nd November 1870
Palas Caerdydd
Burial Royal Crypts, St Davids Cathedral
Religion Roman Catholic
Rhisiart was the headstrong elder son of the man not born to be king. As such, Rhisiart grew up knowing that he was the Edling, he was destined to be ordained by God as King of Wales. This sort of innate self belief is not something which can be taught, it can only be grown in the most fertile of soils, and Rhisiart possessed such soil. Arrogant, self centred, willful, supremely self confident. These were attributes which he held in full measure. However, he was also no dullard. As with several princes before him, his early primary education came from the Queen. Queen Olivia would forever be a limiting factor to her sons excesses out living her own son by almost a year. His true formative years, however, would be born in war and Rhisiart would forever be a warrior king and would be the last Welsh monarch to lead his troops in war.

Early Life

Rhisiart was born in Plas Caerdydd on the 28th June 1830 and his early life was dominated by his mother, Queen Olivia. With his father frequently ill or busy with matters of state, Rhisiart spent much of his time with his mother, his tutors and his sister, Heledd to whom he remained close to the rest of his life. When his youngest brother, Ieuan joined the Royal Nursery the family was complete, although Rhisiart would leave soon after the birth of Ieaun to start his formal education. This education was undertaken by Syr Pedr Iwan, though Rhisiart still remained at Plas Caerdydd. His education encompassed military training as well as the more formal scientific and literary subjects. With Court life a frequent swirl of activity Rhisiart was possibly more well acquainted with it than either his father or grandfather had ever been and as a result whilst his childhood was a happy one it was one interspersed with politics far earlier than was expected.

Rhisiart's life, however, changed forever on the 31st August 1845 with the death of his father in Aberteifi. Instantly acclaimed king, Rhisiart rejected the title. Knowing that Rhys had claimed the title with the killing of his father he knew that he would have to fight to earn the right to be called king. As a result a small ceremony was held in Llandaff Cathedral, both to mourn his father and to see the Esgob Llandaf (Bishop of Llandaff) crown him with the regalia of a Prince of Morgannwg.

The Civil War

This period of Rhisiarts life was a blur of war, battles, and struggle. Unable to maintain the loyalty of all the nobility Rhisiart was forced to earn his right to rule through blood. Suffering early defeat at the hands of Rhys at first dismayed him. After the Battle of Llanelli, Rhisiart enters into talks with the British Government. Looking for help against the rebels he is shocked to find that the British would seek material and territorial gain from Welsh suffering. The British Empire at this time was expansionist, growing easily and quickly across the globe and they felt no obligation to help the young Prince without extracting a price. He was shocked to discover that he was seen as no different to an Indian Prince, grovelling for British aid in return for power and privilege. With his reduced power base he knew that he could never sell such a betrayal to the nobility, not when the 2nd War of Independence was still fresh in men's memories. Despondent Rhisiart entered into the 1st Battle of Carmarthen only to see again his army defeated and retreating.

The lowest point of Rhisiart's early years as monarch was reached in July 1846. With Rhys' coronation in the Church of St Teilo in Llandeilo by the Esgob Bangor (Bishop of Bangor) more and more nobles either fled Rhisiart's cause or became aloof, not aiding either side. Having fallen back into his own territory of Morgannwg, Rhisiart now received advice from his mother, the Dowager Queen Olivia. "Morgannwg is the lifespring of the Kingdom, use it well" was the Queens advice and Rhisiart quickly realised how important her words were. Rhys held and controlled the traditional centres of Welsh power. He held Gwynedd, northern Powys, the West. Rhisiart however controlled Gwyr, Morgannwg, Gwent, Dean and Gwlad yr Haf, the power centres of modern Wales. The increasing industrialisation of Wales was occurring in the South Wales valleys. Valleys loyal to and controlled by Rhisiart. With new hope the remainder of 1846 was spent building his army for war, using the higher population and greater resources under his control.

Another important event in this year was the meeting of the Royal Parliament in Cardiff. Meeting at the same time as the Llandeilo Parliament of Rhys, the Royal Parliament had one important weapon. Taxation, long within the control of Parliament even if only nominally since the Restoration of Independence, was restored to Parliament who granted the young Prince sweeping payments to prosecute the war.

1847 opened for Rhisiart with trepidation. Defeat would at best mean exile, at worst death. His armies in the east fought well under Lord Pritchard his distant cousin, and Rhisiart himself felt more confident. He had tested Rhys in war and peace and found the Northern Prince lacking in courage and ambition two such failings could not be attributed to Rhisiart.

The 2nd Battle of Carmarthen was a tightly fought battle, with Rhys finally losing his nerve. The flight of Rhys towards Aberteifi convinced Rhisiart that the House of Morgannwg would continue and he would rule as king. Never losing that belief and more importantly not losing a battle to Rhys again, Rhisiart prosecuted the war with renewed vigour. With Rhys confined to Harlech, Rhisiart left the remainder of the war to his commanders. Holding only one aim for himself, the capture of Rhys. Marching on Harlech Rhisiart displayed the single-minded ruthlessness which was to characterise his reign. With the city finally falling on the 3rd December 1847 Rhisiart waited now for Rhys' capture, which duly followed on the 24th December. With Rhys now is his grasp, Rhisiart was strangely reticent to follow judgment on him and instead maintained the Prince as a prisoner in the Royal Palace of Castell Coch near Caerfilli.

King of Wales

Rhisiart's coronation was a dignified affair but not an expensive one, with the Welsh finances drained following the war. Indeed, apart from parading the captured Prince of Gywnedd and ensuring that his heir was held firmly in Royal hands, the coronation was almost a subdued event. The main reason being famine. The pressure of war had shown its toll at last. Men dislocated from the land, farmland itself ruined by fighting. This coupled with poor weather and the resulting poor yield resulted in full blown famine between 1848 and 1850. During this time the kingdom struggled to feed itself, relying on trade with its English neighbour to tide over the population.

One of the prizes of the war was soon to become the Kings Summer Palace as well. Plas Sycharth long the home of Welsh monarchs returned to the Crown as part of the peace settlement with Gwynedd, the other parts of the settlement being higher taxation, and the abdication of Rhys in favour of Gruffud (although he is not counted in Gwyneddian annals as becoming Prince until 1852 and his fathers death). Rhys himself was confined to Castell Coch until his attempt to escape in 1852. This escape attempt gave Rhisiart reason enough to finally sign the death warrant which Parliament had drawn up during the Civil War with the Prince finally being dispatched in the grounds of Cardiff Prison on the 30th June 1852.

It was also in this year that Rhisiart married. Choosing as his bride the daughter of the King of Saxony (Maria Sidonia Wettin), Rhisiart helped to re-engage the Welsh kingdom into continental politics and as a result of this, Rhisiart himself leads a contingent of Welsh troops as part of the Allied Forces in the Crimean War, suffering an injury in 1855 which saw him shipped back home to Wales.

Following his experiences in the Crimea and in an attempt to keep pace with the British, he instituted a new medal for military bravery, the Pendragon Star. He also re-established the ancient knightly order, the Order of the Golden Dragon and introduced new orders, such as the Royal Order of St Tewdrig.

Imperial Policies

During Rhisiart's reign the Welsh Empire reached its apogee (with the exception of the early province of Y Wladfa). During the 1860's rebellion seems to engulf the Welsh territories in Africa with some regularity, but with each one, the power of the Colonial Authorities grows with the defeat of the local chiefs. Finally in the summer of 1865 the entire province of Welsh West Africa erupts in rebellion and Rhisiart himself travels to the colony. An act that has two direct consequences. The first is that the local chiefs are cowed into submission by the arrival of the "Big Chief" the other is that Rhisiart himself is laid low with a tropical disease, something which would eventually shorten his life to only a matter of years. During this same period the Welsh Pacific Territory is slowly expanded to include Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and French New Caledonia.

Home Affairs

During Rhisiart's reign Wales would undergo some significant changes. The single most important of these was the rapid rise of political terrorism. Discontent at the Ricardian Political Settlement had always been present, but during the 1st Ricardian era it was suppressed by the need to drive the English from Wales, during the Ricardian Interlude Arthur was skilled enough to balance the competing desires and under Cystennin Wales had fomented with a different discontent. Under Rhisiart however there were no distractions.

1848 Revolutions

With the end of the Civil War coinciding with a period of famine, local tempers within Wales were strained. In common with much of western Europe, Wales experienced a short period of civil unrest aimed at increasing political powers and ending age old practices associated with feudalism. The attempted revolutions were disparate in nature, lacking any common goal across all sections and lacking any charismatic leader unifying all elements together. Rhisiart countered the worst charges by increasing the empowerment of Parliament, and with judicious use of the army to maintain order. With the restoration of more normal harvests from 1850 onwards the rural pressure lessened.

One outcome of this period was a surge in Irish immigration to North Wales due to the severity of famine in Ireland itself. The Welsh famine looking less serious than the one they were escaping, also a friendly Catholic country with a culture more welcoming than that of the English.

Starting in 1857 with an assassination attempt by a student (Ieuan Jones) movements started to grow agitating for social and political change. Parliament itself had evolved further as well. Enriched by the Civil War period, Parliament had started to meet independently of the Crown in Parliament House in Caerdydd. It was still far from the power it had been under Hywel III, but was a far more vigorous institution than would have been recognised by Rhisiart II or even Arthur. Rhisiart himself was something of a radical, albeit more reactionary than progressive. In 1858 he abolished feudalism in Wales, something that whilst not being practiced was still technically legal, slavery within the Kingdom and the Empire was abolished the same year, although it had long ago ceased to be an important aspect of Welsh Imperial policy (mainly due to British pressure since their 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act). Welsh agriculture was also a feature of much political action, modernising to keep pace with Britain and also to avoid a repeat of the famine of 1848-50.

It is during this period as well that Wales' first secular universities are founded. Previously all of the Welsh Universities had been endowed as religious Colleges, and whilst they had embraced the full scope of studies their charters remained. In 1867 Aberystwyth University, Wales' first purely secular college opened its doors to students, it would be followed in 1869 by the secular University of Caernarfon.

Political Unrest

Following the first assassination attempt in 1857, political unrest simmered but did not boil over. This changed in 1864 with student protests at most of the universities. Whilst these were easily contained and put down the feelings they engendered were not so easily removed. They flared up again with open protests in Caerdydd, which required the use of troops to put down. 1867 would also see the second attempt on Rhisiart's life. For the remainder of Rhisiart's reign, political unrest would be a permanent undercurrent with ominous signs for his successor.


One aspect of Rhisiart's reign was the growth of the Druid Movement. In 1859, the first modern Eisteddfod was held at Plas Caerdydd, and the secular Druid Movement was accepted by the Welsh Catholic Church. Such acceptance was not to be found however in Rome, where the Pope could not understand the significance of the secular Druid movement. Issuing a Papal Bull of Excommunication on Rhisiart in 1860 it would only be rescinded in 1882 though it had been largely ignored by the Catholic Church in Wales.


During Rhisiart's reign the Welsh industrial economy continued to grow at a rapid pace. Feeding the English economy as much as exporting in its own right, the South Wales valleys and Gwlad yr Haf in particular saw rapid growth. During this period the rail network grew as did the canal network, with Welsh exports rising throughout the 1860's. Wealth poured into Welsh coffers during this period allowing for the building of grand municipal buildings throughout the Kingdom

Relations with the United Kingdom

Relations with the Anglo-Scottish kingdom were never close and throughout Rhisiart's reign they would remain cool until towards the end of his reign when the issue of Irish Home Rule again became an issue in London. Whilst Caerdydd had always maintained an interest in Cornwall and Ireland, Rhisiart was inclined towards more active support for both peoples, especially the Irish (as they were the more active of the two politically) This rising tension over catholic Ireland would continue through out the next three reigns.


Rhisiart's reign was brief, only 20 years, yet it was something of a milestone. Parliament again began to flex its muscles under a steady stream of competent Chancellors, equally competent House Members also began to be elected by the Commotes, attached by the acquisition of power. Ardal ap Padrig MacAntaine being one of the more prominent North Walians to prosper in spite of the Civil War, along with the Diamond family of Clunderwen.

During these 20 years, the Empire prospered, the economy flourished, the famine of the early years rapidly forgotten. Yet coupled with these advancements came disease, pollution, overcrowding, the building of slums and the change in landscape in the industrial areas. Political agitation also grew with more educated people wanting more radical change than the King was prepared to allow. This would be a greater problem for his son but one that was born in the 1860's. Overall Rhisiart's legacy is a good and strong one. Victorious in all his military endeavours, successful in his home life, successful in his governance. His death in 1870 was mourned across the kingdom and the elite waited with baited breath for the succession of his spoilt, indulged heir, Rhisiart IV

Preceded by:
King of Wales
Succeeded by:
Rhisiart IV

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.