Rhisiart IV of Wales
18th King of Wales

18. Rhisiart IV.jpg
King of Wales
King of Wales
Reign 2nd November 1870 - 3rd May 1904
Coronation 20th June 1871
Predecessor Rhisiart III
Successor Iorwerth
Principality of Morgannwg
Reign 2nd November 1870 - 3rd May 1904
Predecessor Rhisiart III of Morgannwg
Successor Iorwerth of Morgannwg
Spouse Grand Duchess Catherine Romanov of Russia
Issue Prince Iorwerth of Morgannwg

Princess Alexandra of Wales

Princess Gwenllian of Wales

Princess Catherine of Wales

Full name
Rhisiart Ioan Auguste Cystennin Morgannwg
Posthumous name
Rhisiart Cloff (the Lame)
House House of Morgannwg
Father Rhisiart Siarl Odoardo Cystennin Morgannwg
Mother Maria Sidonia Wettin
Born 20th July 1853
Palas Sycharth
Died 3rd May 1904
Palas Cwm Hyfryd
Burial Royal Crypts, St Davids Cathedral
Religion Roman Catholic

Rhisiart was the last of the Ricardian monarchs and the last monarch of the pre-modern era, his reign encompasing the last of the 19th Century and ushering in the birth of the 20th Century. Rhisiart was a different monarch from his father. Hated by Rhisiart III, excluded from Privy Council duties until almost the last months of his father's life, Rhisiart IV was a lover of Byzantine politics, the murky underbelly of life in court. Easily swayed, easily dominated (first by the Prince of Gwynedd and later by his wife) Rhisiart, nonetheless, held strong views and many subjects and as king was prone to outbursts which led to major state upsets (such as the attempt to go to war over Ireland). Lame as a result of a childhood accident he loved none of the pursuits his father enjoyed, and indeed, such was the poisonous relationship with his father that he struggled to form an attachment with his own children, leaving his heir, Iorwerth to find father figures elsewhere. A complicated man living in an increasingly complicated era, his reign would see the height of political violence, the assassination of his Queen and finally the birth of a modern Parliament (although its birth was perilous)

Early Life

Born on the 20th July 1853 to an absent father and doting mother, the young prince was brought up as was traditional in his mother's court. What was more unusual is that his parents unlike previous monarchs had a distant cold relationship with each other and his father was more distant than was the norm for parenting standards of the day. Brought up in a decadent garish court Rhisiart loved the colour and pageantry of monarchy. His early education was hampered by his mothers disinclination to formal education and then following a childhood accident which saw him lamed his military education was then also put back. As Rhisiart entered his teenage years he discovered his fathers dislike of him. The young Prince of Gwynedd was often given the seats of honour at formal meals. 1865 was a formative year for the young Rhisiart, with his father's illness following his visit to Africa and the apparent favouritism of the young and highly ambitious Prince Gruffud of Gwynedd (born 1839 and 14 years the Edling's senior) started the backroom politics which would dominate the final five years of Rhisiart III's brief reign. Calls to elevate the 13 year old Prince to the Privy Council however fell on deaf ears and the young Edling was instead to be influenced by more corupt ministers and junior nobility who frequented his mothers court. At this court he was treated as the Edling and fawned over by the more sycophantic courtiers. His mother in contrast to his father indulged his every desire. The young man grew into his teenage years as an indulged scion to an older more deadlier House. The rest of the nobility watched warily unsure if he would be able to step up to the throne when his ailing father died.

King of Wales

On the 2nd November 1870 the moment many had been dreading happened. The King, Rhisiart III died. Across the capital Church bells rang out in a continuous peal for an hour before falling silent. The man stood at the kings hand as he died, the hand that removed the ring of Cystennin (symbol of the Princes of Morgannwg since 1519) and then checked that the king had indeed stopped breathing was by custom the Edling, heir to the dying King. Rhisiart III however was attended to by the Prince of Gwynedd, his heir in all but law. The new Rhisiart IV was in the Palas Sycharth holding a ball in honour of his mother Queen Maria. When the news reached him the following day of his fathers death he made no immediate moves to return to Caerdydd, instead allowing Gruffud time to enact Rhisiart's will. That will endowed the son of his enemy Gruffud with considerable land and money in South Wales as well as returning to him the full honour of his father's House. Left to him were several artifacts that had until now been passed father to son by the Princes of Morgannwg. Also stipulated in the will was the position of the President of the Privy Council. This was now endowed onto Gruffud as we the title of Lord Protector (as Rhisiart IV was still technically underage at 17).

Unlike his father, and possibly because of his fate, Gruffud held no ambitions to be king. Brought up and treated as a son by Rhisiart III he held no grudge against the old king and had no strong feelings towards the new king, but the 31 year old Prince had strong views on duty. This inherited from his adoptive father and as such he was moved to follow through on the old kings will. Summoning the Privy Council he revealed the old Kings will to them. The Council supported Gruffud to his claim both as Protector and President. Such acquiesence made things easier. By the time that Queen Maria and Rhisiart IV had returned to Caerdydd Gruffud was firmly in control of the political apparatus.

Luckily for Gruffud, the new king was easily swayed and with a sweet word and much flattery the new King happily gave his blessing to the political settlement (much to the disappointment of his mother)

The populace at large however were less sanguine. Riots in the capital met the news of the new king and an assassination attempt followed as the king moved about the city. Using troops to crush the riots did little to endear Gruffud to the population of Caerdydd and did less to endear the new king to political liberals.

With a new unmarried king, Gruffud as the Lord President looked to find a suitable bride for the king. Following the grandiose coronation held on the 20th June 1871 (the budget for which exceeded the previous three coronations combined) Rhisiart commissioned the building of a new palace. Palas Cwm Hyfryd. Located on the outskirts of the capital it was far enough away from the smog and pollution of the capital. Prince Gruffud occupied the former Royal Palace of Caerdydd utilizing it as the Court of the Lord President (in the modern era the palace would become the official residence of the Chancellor of Wales). The same year would see modernisation works started on the Palaces of Caerdydd, Caerfilli, Harlech and Caernarfon (with Garth Celyn and Sycharth being modernised as the reign progressed). Under the steady hand of Gruffud, Welsh politics continued to move along much at the same pace as that under Rhisiart III. The Senedd continued to develop more confidence, if not powers, and under the guiding hand of a series of competent noble Chancellors (Lord Meirionnydd, the Earl of Dean and the Duke of March - Chancellors between 1865-1889). The Executive (in effect Gruffud) and the Legislature (Senedd) therefore got along far better than expected. Two highlights of the early years was the establishment of two more secular universities (Caerdydd and Abertawe) and the introduction of compulsory vaccinations for children. Disquiet at the reign of such a disinterested monarch continued however and in 1875 more riots broke out across Wales, with riots in Amywthig, Ludlow, Caernarfon, Abertawe and more in Caerdydd. That year would also see another assassination attempt on Rhisiart.

Marriage and the Dynastic Standings

Worry at the continued marriage-less state of the monarch and his lack of heirs (his declared heir at this time was his younger brother Prince Dafydd) Gruffudd entered into talks with both the German Kaiser and the Russian Tsar. After almost five years of indirect and some on/off matches the dynastic situation in Wales had changed. Prince Dafydd had died in 1878 in Caerodor which had made Rhisiart's niece, Princess Elen de Boubon of Spain (Cystennin's granddaughter) the direct line heir although many preferred the Welsh raised son of Prince Dafydd (King Arthur's youngest son 68 years old in 1878) Prince Iwan Xavier Morgannwg (whose mother had been an Infanta of Portugal). Such a tangled dynastic succession rapidly caused the creation of the "Spanish" and "Portuguese" camps in the Welsh court as supporters of both claims jockeyed for position. Gruffud seeing the potential for conflict should Rhisiart die childless sought an end to this. Eventually the Tsarina Catherine was chosen. Granddaughter of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia and niece to Tsar Alexander II she was brought up in the strict autocratic world of the Russian court. Bringing her to Court and introducing her to the King had the desired results. Queen-Dowager Maria approved of the match and Rhisiart was prepared to marry on that basis alone. Married on the 12th June 1880 the new Queen moved into the Kings Residence in the grounds of the Palas Cwm Hyfryd (not yet complete). Submissive at first to the will of her husband and his chief minister, the young Queen would soon grow to be a formidable member of the Welsh Royal Court.

Relations with the United Kingdom - The Irish Question

During the reign of Rhisiart III relations with Victoria and the British State had been cordial and almost friendly. The bad relationship which Rhisiart had inherited due to the Civil War soon evaporated. This relationship would not continue into his sons reign. The Queen-Dowager, no influence on her husband had more than enough on her son. Although Gruffud fought to continue the close relationship with the British, the King would endeavour to damage it as often as he could (something which made the bankers and businessmen side more and more with the political liberals and advocate greater powers for the Senedd)

Throughout the 1880's however the Anglo-Welsh relationship soured more and more. The reason? The Irish Question. Ireland, Roman Catholic like Wales, conquered by the English (like Wales). Ireland was the romantic "what if" of Welsh politics. What if an independent Catholic power was to exist on the other side of the Irish Sea? What if the two Catholic nations combined to deal the Sais a bloody nose. As the 19th Century grew the Irish Question loomed large in both Great Britain and in Wales. Gruffud as Lord President of the Privy Council exercised his considerable powers to keep at the very least the status quo in existence. He knew it was not in Wales' interest to engage the English in war over Ireland. He knew the needs of the Welsh economy depended on a market for its goods and the English market, hungry for steel, coal and coke was financing the Welsh economy. With his death in 1887 however that calming controlling hand was removed. The Queen Catherine, emboldened by her husbands weakness moved in where the dead Prince of Gwynedd had stood, and the old Queen-Dowager was pushed to the political sidelines. The result was the with the failure of the 1893 Irish Home Rule bill in the Anglo-Scottish state Rhisiart was encouraged to fight for his "Irish cousins". The declaration of war was delivered and the Welsh fleet steamed into the Irish Sea, preventing British ships from landing in the Southern Irish ports (though unable to prevent landings in Belfast). Victoria returned the declaration of war and the British fleet sent ships to the Irish Sea. With two fleets circling each other nervously, both states waited nervously for hostilities to break out.

Peace - For Now

Luckily both fleets were commanded by men more sensible than their monarchs and parliaments. Neither fleet engaged the other and after two months of standoffs the Welsh fleet returned to port. The Chancellor during this period had been the weak and ineffective Earl of Henffordd, now with the threat of war, the more steady Duke of March took back the reigns of power. The position of Chancellor had grown with importance since the death of the Lord President as Rhisiart had taken on that role for himself leaving effective political control in the hands of the Senedd and the Chancellor. The Peace Conference was held on the Isle of Man in 1895 with Rhisiart attending in person. The Treaty of Man declared peace between the two Kingdoms, but failed to address the single vital point. Wales had been prepared to go to war over the sake of Ireland. A precedent had been set which future generations took note of.

Political Turmoil - Death of a Queen

During Rhisiart's reign Wales was regularly engulfed in political violence. Under Gruffud the kingdom was governed much as it had been under Rhisiart III, and the more politically astute had begun to chaff under that regime even if they had endured it out of loyalty to a more fair minded monarch. Under Rhisiart IV this system frequently broke down. Riots in 1870, 75, 81, 87, 96, and almost continually from 1898 onwards were symptoms of his reign. Under guidance from his wife Rhisiart instituted in 1881 the UDC or the Secret Police (an idea borrowed from Russia). The UDC or the Undeb Deuddeg Cleddyfau (Union of 12 Swords) soon grew to be hated. Throughout this period the role of the Senedd was frequently highlighted. Its position in controlling the Army and Navy was vital in it not being discounted (as would have been the case under Rhisiart I or II) but even so it still lacked the dignity or authority of for example the Westminster Parliament. During Rhisiart's reign however it would develop and grow into a more potent force.

Two things however undermined this progress. In 1887 during another round of riots in the capital, the Welsh Republican movement tried to kill the king. The bomb however only succeeded in killing the Lord President. His death was a crushing blow to political liberal trends in Wales. Reactionary, controlling, he was nonetheless the most liberal political figure in Wales. Prepared to meet and discuss with any political wing. With his death the king was free to make policy judgments without the Lord President vetoing them. Also into the breach left by the Prince's death moved the Queen. With her Russian upbringing she was no fan of democracy and encouraged her husband to defend his autocratic rights. The other event was the Anglophile Plot. In 1897 a small group of Anglophile nobles, bankers, businessmen and politicians attempted to replace the King with his 12 year old son, the Edling Iorwerth. Though the plot itself failed the event poisoned the Kings relationship with the Senedd. The final straw was the assassination of the Queen. 1901 saw another attack on the position of the monarchy and this time the Republican's managed a coup. Riding in her carriage to the Royal Sports Ground on the outskirts of the city (for the Ladies Day Horse Racing) two men raced out in front of the carriage as it approached the Royal Entrance to the race track. Causing the carriage to halt a third man threw a small bomb into the carriage which exploded killing the Queen and her two youngest daughters, the princess' Gwenllian and Catherine. With their deaths and with the republican movement seemingly gathering strength Rhisiart dismisses Parliament. Ruling through the Privy Council and via the Civil Service Rhisiart rules directly for the next three years.

By 1902 the chaos in the capital forces the king to retire from Palas Cwm Hyfryd to the greater security offered by the Royal Fortress Caerfilli, armed as it was with the elite units of the Welsh Army. In 1903 the leading Parliamentarians, including Catwg ap Ardal MacAntaine (Ty Isod Member for Llyn), Lord Fyrsil ap Eseia Diamond (Ty Isod member for Hendy Gwyn) and Lord Pritchard of Abergaveny met together to discuss the growing chaos in Wales (which had spread to all the major cities). Taking their grievances to the King, they forced him to recognise the need for the Senedd. Reluctantly, the King agreed. Shortly after this Lord Pritchard died, leaving the Chancellor (Tomos Vaughan the first political appointment to the post) to dominate the new parliament called "at the Kings Liberty" in 1904.
Ty Senedd Caerdydd

Ty Senedd - Caerdydd

The New Political Settlement

The new Senedd met for the first time on the 23rd June 1904 in the Lord Presidents Palace (Palas Caerdydd). New ground was also cut in the city centre to build a new Civic Centre, a building complex to house the new parliament.

Under the terms imposed on the King by the politicians the new Senedd met to discuss Wales' first written constitution. Under the terms of this several new innovations were introduced.

  • Bicameral Legislature; The Senedd was to be split into an Upper and Lower House. Political control would remain with the Lower House which would also hold the rank and title of Chancellor. The Upper House would hold the title Lord Chamberlaine and would act as a revising chamber.
  • Enfranchisment of all males over the age of 21 regardless of land owning capacity.
  • Control of the Civil Service transfers from the Privy Council to the Senedd
  • The King remains head of the Government and Privy Council giving him right of veto over moves made by Senedd, but there are limits to this power. The right to veto over tax or economic policy is removed from the Kings prerogative.

Turn of the Century and the Way Forward

With the birth of the 20th Century Wales was moving forward although at a slower pace than her British neighbours. Ideas had been trickling across the border and by the end of the 19th Century major changes had started to occur in Welsh cities. Sewers, sanitation, clean drinking water, the expansion of the railways, greater access to medical treatments. Wales was moving forward, and this was seen in its highest point by the Constitution of 1904. For the first time Wales had a written constitution detailing the rights and powers of the king (which remained impressive) against the powers of the elected legislature (which had grown considerably since the time of Arthur)


Rhisiart's legacy was a mixed one. Deeply unpopular with most levels of society his death was not mourned as his fathers was. However, he left a Wales greatly changed from that of his father. The country had modernised, its armed forces were keeping up with the advancements of the British, French and Germans, its Empire whilst not large was enough to give Wales a modicum of respect around the negotiating table. Her industry helped feed the needs of the neighbouring British Empire. Yet the deep political turmoil that started under Arthur and had bubbled under the surface during the reigns of Cystennin and Rhisiart III erupted under Rhisiart IV. Republican movements, liberal movements, anarchists, these all made their mark during his reign. Whilst the Lord President, Gruffud was alive a lid was maintained on the worst of the political pressures. The Lord President whilst a deeply conservative politician had seen the death of this biological father to what was effectively political violence and therefore he strove to avoid more of that. With his death to Republican terrorists the Queen moved into the political vacuum left. Russian both by birth and by thought, Queen Catherine encouraged Rhisiart's autocratic tendencies. Weak-willed himself this meant often that the Kings views were more likely to be the Queens and this led to greater control of the Civil Service and the political machine. The plot to replace Rhisiart with Iorwerth and then the death of the Queen removed all trust in the Senedd from the Kings point of view. However without the Queen the King no longer had a taste for life. His final three years of life were spend in the Palas Cwm Hyfryd disinterested in affairs outside the Palace walls. His death in 1904 just before the opening of the first of a new type of Welsh Parliament was seen as auspicious though it would remain to be seen how his son, the new king, would react to the political settlement left to him by his father. The birth of a new Wales hung in the balance no one quite knowing if the whole endeavour would be stillborn.

Preceded by:
Rhisiart III
King of Wales
Succeeded by:

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