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Rhisiart I of Wales (Welsh History Post Glyndwr)

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Rhisiart I
13th King of Wales

12. Rhisiart I.jpg
King of Wales
House of Morgannwg
Reign 10th March 1755 - 13th June 1773
Coronation 29th August 1760
Predecessor Rhys
Successor Rhisiart II
Spouse Maria Farenese
Issue Prince Cystenin of Wales

Rhisiart II

Prince Dafydd of Wales

Prince Iago, Earl of Pembroke

Full name
Rhisiart Archibald Hywel ap Cystenin Morgannwg
Posthumous name
Rhisiart Goresgynnwr (the Invader)
House House of Morgannwg
Father Cystenin II, Prince of Morgannwg
Mother Gwenllian ferch Hywel ap Hywel MacGregor-Glyndwr
Born 16th March 1732
Chateau de Marly, France
Died 13th June 1773 (Aged: 41)
Caerdydd
Burial Royal Crypt, Strata Florida
Religion Roman Catholic


Rhisiart was the first King of Wales from a family not of male descent from Owain Glyndwr. He was instead descended through his mother from Owain's line. He was also the first Welsh monarch not born in Wales. Born in exile on the 16th March 1732 to the Prince of Morgannwg (Cystenin) and his wife Gwenllian ferch Hywel IV ap Hywel III. His father would die soon afterward (25th October 1733) leaving the upbringing of his son and heir to first, Princess Gwenllian, and then various members of the French and Welsh courts. As a result, Rhisiart was fluent in both French and Welsh and moved easily from the Welsh court in Chateau de Marly and the French court in nearby Versailles.

Tywysog Morgannwg

Effectively from birth Rhisiart was the Prince of Glamorgan (Tywysog Morgannwg). Naturally being in exile resulted in little direct experience of governance, but the young prince knew from an early age his place in the Welsh Court, and that was of being the second senior Tripartite Prince (the senior at the time Dafydd of Powys). His mother encouraged a broad education, and as such when he became old enough he embarked on a pleasure tour of Europe. Such Grand Tours had become popular in recent years with members of the aristocracy and Rhisiart and other young Welsh nobles were no exception to this. In 1750, the year of Rhys' death, the 18 year old Prince left the Chateau de Marly, home to many of the Welsh exiles and travelled to Italy.

In Italy he would tour extensively. Meeting Pope Benedict XIV in September 1751 he stayed in Rome until early 1752 when he moved onto Palma. It was here that he met his wife, Maria Farnese, daughter of Odoardo Farnesse a son of Ranuccio II (6th Duke of Palma). Maria was an ambitious wife and following their marriage in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Rome the young couple travelled back toward France and the faltering Regency Council.

Following the advice of his wife, Rhisiart pushed for a Convocation of Nobles to decide who should inheirit Rhys' title as King of Wales. The political battle was long and bitter, but eventually, Rhisiart won, leaving Owain II of Gwynedd to long over the throne (something which would come back to haunt both families). With the title his, Rhisiart was acclaimed king of the Welsh on the 10th March 1755.

King in Exile

As Rhisiart was now king it fell to him to decide once and for all what would happen to the Welsh cause. Louis XV, king of France was concerned about hosting a court hostile to the British Court, as France was not at war with the British State at this time. Rhisiart however, held enough political clout to ward off the worst of the French attempts to offload the Welsh cause. The next four years would be spent by Rhisiart and the other senior Welsh nobles raising funds, men, and material for another invasion of Wales. All knew that this was the last roll of the dice, that Rhisiart, with no claim to a family bond with Louis would suffer if he came back defeated.

With a new King came a new direction. Rhys had been fixed on Pembrokeshire as the landing site. Rhisiart held no such attachments. Harlech was chosen as a landing site, and finally a date was set; August 1759 was to be the one last gamble of a bankrupt Welsh Crown.

The Invasion of '59

Wales end of 1759

Wales in December 1759

With the fleet sailing, Rhisiart had little to do but wait. As the fleet made landfall on the 16th August below Harlech Castle, Rhisiart ordered the unfurling of his two banners. The Golden Dragon standard and the Flag of Neith. The English were caught unawares and the castle quickly fell and by the end of the 17th August the city and palace were also firmly within the control of Rhisiart. The British were not slow to react. The Duke of Argyll moved forces from Amwythig toward the small Welsh beachhead at Harlech, and for three months from September to December of 1759 Rhisiart defends his new possessions from almost relentless Anglo-Scottish attacks. A severe winter sets in, halting the Anglo-Scottish attack, which had been slowly gaining greater success for the British. The lull afforded by the shield of Snowdonia and the Welsh weather allowed Rhisiart however to be bold. Striking out southward he struck along the west coast in a six month running campaign which saw him capture Aberystwyth, Cardigan and Fishguard.

The 1760's

The summer months saw Rhisiart strike out toward Pembrokeshire and the duchy of Dyfed.
Wales end of 1760

Wales at the end of 1760

In running battles across both the Duchy and the Lord-Archbishopric of St Davids the rattled English soldiers were routed. The Duke of Argyll, based in Amwythig was unable to influence events and with Welsh citizens obstructing both his men and his communications he was unable to prevent the fall of St Davids, with its culturally important cathedral nor the more practical port of Milford to the Welsh king.

With a string of vital strategic castles under his control (Harlech, Aberystwyth, Cardigan) and the ports of Fishguard and Milford in addition to the city of St Davids and the monastery of Strata Florida back under Welsh rule (with the Archbishop of St Davids returning along with a retinue of Welsh monks), Rhisiart felt secure enough to arrange his coronation,

On the 29th August 1760, in front of the greatest assembly of Welsh nobles since the exile, Rhisiart was crowned King of Wales by the Lord-Archbishop of Wales. His official coronation coincided more or less with the passing of George II and the accession of his grandson, George III "King of Kingdoms of Great Britain". Like his grandfather before him, George laid claim to the title, King of Britain (also the lesser used title Emperor of Britain). Shortly before his grandfathers death, the Anglo-Scottish parliament in Westminster had also granted George the title "Prince of Wales" in an attempt to down play the young Welsh monarch. With new kings on both thrones there was a brief hope that further war would be avoided, especially with the dismissal of Argyll as Governor-General of Wales. However, such hope was short lived. In November 1760, Augustus Henry FitzRoy, 3rd Duke of Grafton, was created the 7th Governor-General of Wales following the dismissal of Argyll. Grafton organised the creation of a British Army in Gwent ready to march on Rhisiart, while in the west, Pembroke and Tenby remained in English hands.

1761 sees both sides play a waiting game. Grafton moves troops to both the Gower and Caernarfon, whilst Rhisiart settles onto a siege of both Tenby and Pembroke. By the end of the year both towns have fallen to Rhisiart.

In May of 1762 Rhisiart breaks east, marching across Ystrad Towy and Kidwelly striking at the British army based in Abertawe. The second Battle of Abertawe (29th-31st May) see's a reversal of the earlier result with the Anglo-Scotish forces broken. Securing the fortress and city news reaches Rhisiart of an Anglo-Scottish attack on Harlech. The kings cousin, Robert Morgannwg led the Welsh relief forces northward, where they narrowly beat the English attack. The defeat of the English outside Harlech helps to secure Rhisiart's position further.

With the seemingly unstopable Welsh advance, the Welsh territories still under Anglo-Scotish rule rise up in revolt. Rhisiart's attempts to aid the revolts are easily brushed aside during 1763 & 1764, with the Welsh king obviously overextended in terms of manpower and logistics. The revolts however deny the English the chance to strike back at the restored Welsh territory, giving Rhisiart time to consolidate his gains. 1763 also sees the French troops returning to France, something which Rhisiart is unable to prevent.

Another year of lulled action sees 1765 draw to its conclusion. British forces spend the year making raids into Welsh territory, burning crops, causing devastation, but not engaging the Welsh forces. Whilst this is hard for Rhisiart to face, his control over the main Welsh ports enables supplies to continue to arrive from France. Planning for the retaking of Wales continues during this time and in March of 1766 Rhisiart has sufficient naval strength to launch a raid on Anglesey which sees the island return to Welsh control. With Ynys Mon under his control and with the south secure for the moment, Rhisiart moves to secure the north.

Wales end of 1768

Wales at the end of 1768

1767 sees the return of the Llyn Peninsula to his control with the sieges of Caernarfon, Criccieth and Conwy occurring during this year. By the end of 1767 Rhisiart also controls North Wales west of the Conwy, with the castles all falling to his control by the end of 1768.

The war was going well for Rhisiart and during 1768 the remaining English fortress' in west Wales fall to his control (Carmarthen and Kidwelly). For the first time since 1718 an independent Wales exists with secure borders. Following this there is a lull in the fighting. Rhisiart takes the time to secure treaties with other Catholic nations, notably Spain and France, though treaties are also signed with the Ottoman Empire, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Russia.

The 1770's

The lull was broken however in 1771. With the opening of the summer season, the English stormed the Conwy river, the army racing for Harlech, again a Royal Residence and home of Rhisiart and the Royal Court. The Battle of Harlech (71) lasted 4 days (5th-8th August) and was the most crucial battle of the entire War of Independence. Defeat would have seen Rhisiart killed or captured and the extinction of an independent Wales. The loss of life on both sides was massive. Rhisiart and his generals (Generals Diamond, Morgannwg and Talbot) organised a massive defence of the city, whilst the court retired to the safety of the castle. Over 2000 welsh soldiers lost their lives during the 4 day battle with unregistered numbers of injured. The Anglo-Scotish army suffered equally appalling losses, and eventually it was the Anglo-Scottish losses which told (3000 men dead with another 1000 injured). With defeat the English were chased back to the Conwy, but Rhisiart lacked the men to force an advance into Gwynedd Is-Conwy.

The Welsh victory however was largely Pyrrhic. The losses sustained meant that Rhisiart lacked the strength to force the issue. As a result Rhisiart looked to the Navy to give him some victories against the British. As a result, Welsh squadrons started moving further and further up the Channel. In 1773, the naval Battle of Cardiff occurred with the king present on one of the ships. Caught by shrapnel the king was rushed back to Milford Haven, but he was dead long before the ship cleared the lines outside Cardiff.

Wales and the United Kingdom of Great Britain During the early 1st Ricardian Period

Wales during the 1st half of the 1st Ricardian Period is one which sheds light on the independence struggle. Rhisiart (and therefore Wales) was allied with France, who along with other powers (including Spain) were engaged in the Seven-Years War with the British state. .The Seven Years War broke out before the invasion of 1759, and it was this war which finally succeeded in gaining for Rhisiart the important French support needed to mount the invasion. The British State had now existed for 41 years and Wales had been slowly but surely integrated within the unitary state. However, the British state had also invested heavily in supplying troops to help keep the peace within the former kingdom. With the outbreak of war in 1756 such a heavy presence was no longer an option. It was this reduced troop presence which enabled the early Welsh success' in 1759 & 1760.

The next major event was the peace treaty of 1763 (The Treaty of Paris). This treaty both ended the Seven Years War and ended France's support for the Welsh war. The treaty demanded the removal of French troops from Wales and they soon departed following the February treaty. This gave the Anglo-Scottish (British) state the extra wherewithal to prosecute the war although the momentum remained with Rhisiart and his Generals. Political unrest in England aided Rhisiart in the 1760's with unrest in Cornwall and Ireland also draining the English of the necessary strength to act against the Welsh. The 1770's opened with Anglo-Scottish controlled Wales in turmoil. Already large parts of central Wales were now no go areas to the English. Brecon and parts of Powys were lawless places, ruled by bandits. The same was true of the Welsh however as Rhisiart was not able to lay claim to these areas either. With American tensions rising London's gaze was not always on the Welsh issue and it would be the American's who would come, inadvertently, to Wales' rescue.

Death and Legacy

The death of Rhisiart on the 13th June 1773 brought to an end the 1st half of the 2nd War of Independence as well as the end of the 1st half of the 1st Ricardian Era. The Ricardian era saw the rebirth of Wales as an independent nation. With the victories of 1759 and most notably those of the early 1760's gave both Wales and Rhisiart the space with which to both fight the Anglo-Scots but also space with which to declare a vibrant functioning state.

Rhisiart acted quickly following his coronation, with Parliament being recalled to Harlech Palace. However, the main legacy of this action was the nature of the parliament called. Parliamentary authority, eroded under the last kings of the previous dynasty, ended further by over 40 years of direct English rule resulted in a noble led Parliament. One which acquiesced to the monarchs demands and desires. It was this legacy which was to dominate both Ricardian periods. The King was restored to his full majesty, the Senedd split into the Ty Uchaf (Upper House) which was given greater powers as it held only nobles as members, and the Ty Isod (Lower House) which served as Parliament, but was restored only to limited tax raising powers.

Rhisiart did leave however two sons who could (and would) continue his dynasty's fight for full freedom for Wales, with his eldest surviving son, Rhisiart succeeding to the throne.

Preceded by:
Rhys
King of Wales
1759-1773
Succeeded by:
Rhisiart II


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