Alternate History

Rhys of Wales (Welsh History Post Glyndwr)

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12th King of Wales

11. Rhys of Wales.jpg
King Rhys of Wales, in the colours of his mothers House of Bourbon
House of Deheubarth
Reign 28th August 1718 - 15th July 1750
Coronation Was not crowned King
Predecessor Dafydd V
Successor Rhisiart I
Regent Prince of Powys 1718

Prince of Morgannwg 1718-26

Spouse Catherine de Rochechouart
Issue Nill
Full name
Rhys Louis Philip ap Dafydd MacGregor-Glyndwr
Posthumous name
Rhys Gwlad Diffyg (Lackland)
House House of Deheubarth
Father Dafydd ap Hywel ap Hywel MacGregor-Glyndwr
Mother Henrietta Bourbon De France
Born 15th July 1708
Harlech Palace
Died 15th July 1750
Battle of Milford Haven
Burial Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France
Religion Roman Catholic

Rhys was the last king from the House of Deheubarth, and the first of the kings in Exile (being Rhys, Rhisiart I and Rhisiart II). His reign began with the death of his father, Dafydd at the Battle of Cardiff (28th August 1718) and its beginings were bathed in blood and flight. Duke Owain of Dyfed is appointed the Kings Protector, and with the cream of the Kings Household Guard providing protection the young king flees into exile on the 2nd September 1718, landing in France some two weeks later.


Rhys's first ten years were spent in the company of his mother, the Queen Henrietta, living in Harlech Palace. As a result of his early education with his mother, he was fluent in French as well as Welsh and English. His early education however did not extend to military matters or statecraft as that was traditionally something introduced to Edling's after their 11th birthday, a milestone Rhys was not to achieve as heir to the throne.

Outbreak of War

With the declaration of war in February 1718, Rhys along with the Royal Court moved south first to Aberystwyth Castle, then to Cardigan Castle and then to the Ducal Court at Dinefwr. By late July with the English advance seemingly unstoppable the King (Dafydd) ordered his family to be moved to the Naval Base in Milford Haven ready to sail at a moments notice. The young Prince saw no fighting during the war, though he did see a lot of troops moving and mustering at the various Castles he stayed in during his move south from the only home he had known (Harlech Palace).

With the death of his father on the plains outside Cardiff City, Rhys found himself surrounded by the nobles of the court in Milford and with the Lord-Archbishop of St Davids in attendance he was acclaimed King of Wales (though not crowned).

Brenin Cymru

The first act of the new kings reign was to apply his fathers great seal to the writ declaring the Prince of Powys as legal Regent for the Crown. With the wax barely dry the document was taken to the Prince in Abertawe. Powys only lasts however until the 16th September before being killed in the Battle of Abertawe. With his death the Regency falls to the next senior Prince within Wales, with Cystennin of Morgannwg being elevated to the Regency. Realising that the war is lost the Regent slowly withdraws towards Milford, whilst the evacuation of Wales continues apace with treasure and artifacts being moved to the Court in Exile in France. The government of Louis XV granted Rhys the use of the Chateau de Marly, a Royal Chateaux used by Louis XIV during the construction of Versailles. It would be from here that Rhys would rule as king in exile of Wales.

The Invasions of Wales

Rhys was to attempt to invade Wales and reclaim his throne, country and titles six times during his reign. He was not successful during his lifetime, but the continued attempts helped to keep the dream alive within Wales that one day they would be liberated from the heavy hand of English rule.

The Invasion of '22

The first invasion attempt was made in 1722, when the king was still only 14 years old. Technically this attempt was led by the Duke of Dyfed (Owain) although Rhys accompanied the fleet. The attempt was made in March of 1722, with a fleet sailing from Brittany. Severe storms in the English Channel though wreaked havoc with the ships and the fleet limped tamely back into port. This attempt is linked with the Glamorgan-Gwent Rebellion of 1723.

The Invasion of '25

The second of Rhys' invasions took place in the summer of 1725. Again, the Welsh-French fleet sailed from France, however, this time, English spies had informed the Anglo-Scottish government who were able to prevent Rhys' attempted landings at Pembroke. English naval squadrons dogged the kings path back to France claiming several ships during running engagements.

The Invasion of '30

The Chief Minister of France, Andre Hercule de Fleury, was still a supporter of the Welsh King, even though Rhys' stock with the French Court had sunk following the first two failed invasion attempts. With this support Rhys was able to launch the invasion of 1730. This fleet saw battle in the 1730 Battle of Lands End. The English fleet engaged the Franco-Welsh fleet and whilst the battle was a close run affair, the end was the same. Battered and bruised, the Welsh king limped home to France, defeated again by the English.

The Invasions of '36 and '39

With funds and political support in low supply, Rhys attempted to invade Wales again in 1736. This attempt was again defeated by the weather, with Atlantic storms wrecking the fleet. This time however, enough of the ships and men returned safely to port that Rhys was able to launch the fifth attempt just three years later in 1739. This was the closest Rhys would get to regaining his crown. Close planning with the Welsh Partisan's results in the Rebellion of St Davids. The Lord-Archbishop of St Davids (allowed to remain in post at the sufferance of the "British" Crown, raised his County-Palatinate in rebellion in the July of 1739. Expecting the king and the invasion fleet to soon arrive the Rebellion was ill equipped for a protracted conflict with the Anglo-Scottish occupying forces. The fleet however is delayed, not being able to make landfall until the December of '39. By this point, the Anglo-Scottish forces have captured the Lord-Archbishop and defeated the rebels. Rhys does however manage to land at Pembroke, raising the Dragon Standard there in defiance of the Anglo-Scottish occupation. The Battle of Pembroke (18th December 1739) however saw Rhys defeated and forced to abandon his beachhead and again sail for France.

The Last Invasion 1750

Following the debacle of the '39, Rhys becomes a political embarrassment to the French Court. Support and funds dry up. However, in Wales events are unfurling towards the Rebellion of 44-49, a period when the local nobility who had remained in Wales very nearly succeeded in regaining independence for Wales without Rhys. Desperate to aid his countrymen, Rhys is unable to raise the funds to bring a fleet to Wales until the very end of the Rebellion. In the November of '49, the last remaining Rebel stronghold (Caerodor) falls to the English, and then with that, Rhys secures the funds for another shot at regaining his throne. The fleet sails in late June 1750 and engages an English fleet in July off the coast of Milford Haven. On the 15th July 1750 at the Battle of Milford Haven, the king is killed whilst directing the battle from his flagship HBMS Celeste.

Personal Life

Rhys' home in exile was the Chateau de Marly, on the outskirts of Versailles. Rhys would live there his entire adult life. On the 22nd May 1728, Rhys married a French Countess, the Countess Catherine of the House of Limoges-Rochechouart. It was a happy if barren marriage with both parties enjoying each others company (a rare occurrence during this period of royal marriages).

The issues of the Royal Succession were much agonised over during Rhys' lifetime, with the king himself refusing to declare an heir as his childless marriage progressed.

Such was the trouble with the potential succession that an attempted assassination in 1730 was a poorly supported affair with the King easily able to regain authority within the Court in Exile.

In 1743, with the continuing political embarrassment of the Welsh king living on French soil an offer was made to raise Rhys to the Dukedom of Brittany, therefore allowing him to rule over "Britons". It was a tempting offer, Rhys had been in exile since his tenth year, and whilst the Chateau de Marly had become home, the long affair with trying to regain Wales had aged the still young monarch. Accepting the Duchy would mean formally renouncing the Welsh throne though, irrevocably ceeding the Welsh state to the "British" state (George II had been styling himself King of Great Britain and Emperor of the British Isles since his coronation in 1727). It was this fact alone that stayed Rhys' hand. By rejecting the generous French offer he reduced France's support for both him and his position, though they did not remove their recognition of him as Welsh King.

Wales During Rhys' Reign

Wales suffered greatly during Rhys' reign. During the first two years the English forces were still taking over the towns and cities of Wales, with Pembroke, Tenby, Aberystwyth and Harlech falling in 1719. Ceredigions countryside was also pacified during 1719. The Duke of Newcastle now took over as overall commander in Wales with the Duke of Cornwall returning to Court. By February 1720 only the Earldom of Anglesey remained outside direct English control, and the Earl (one of only a small number of senior noblemen not to have fled to France) was quietly conceding to English demands. The Lord of Caerleon (Gruffydd ap Goronwy) led the Gwent Rebellion in the March of 1720, but this was easily put down by the Earl of Cadogan who was governing Southern Wales for the Duke of Newcastle.

By the end of 1720 (November 21st), the Treaty of Manchester was signed. This treaty allowed the annexation of the Welsh state to the United Kingdom of England and Scotland. It was signed by 100 of the most senior Welsh nobles remaining in Wales (including the Lord-Archbishop of St Davids and the Earl of Anglesey) The Duke of Newcastle was confirmed as Governor-General of Wales and he moved the government of Wales from Harlech and Caernarfon to Ludlow where he had taken over the Dukes of March's home in Ludlow Castle.

The first major uprising against the Dukes rule was the Glamorgan-Gwent Rebellion in 1723. This lasted from March to May and pitched the Welsh Border Regiment (formed in September 1720) in guerrilla warfare against the English garrison forces in South Wales. The Rebellion is crushed in the May of 1723 when the English forces sack Cardiff, although the Regiment continues to attack English columns until it is caught in battle in the November of 1723. The Duke orders the execution of the officers and the soldiers caught are sent to the English colonies in America.

The Duke would continue to rule Wales firmly until 1727 when he decided in the January to close down the Ecclesiastical Colleges and had implemented stricter anti-Welsh laws. The new laws soon faced a test as Welsh Worcester rose up in rebellion. The Duke had no hesitation however in ordering the Army into Worcester, cruelly putting down the rebellion in a matter of days.

The Worcester Uprising was his last act as Governor-General, recalled to London, his replacement, Thomas Howard, 8th Duke of Norfolk, being chosen because of his Roman Catholic faith, the thinking being that he would be more sympathetic to the Welsh and so remove some of the impetus for rebellion.

The years of Norfolk's government were a mixture of peaceful co-existence and a brutal crushing of descent. Following the Uprising of Caerwrangon (Worcester) Wales was at peace for two years. The Duke, building on his Roman Catholic faith engaged the Welsh nobility in a way that Newcastle was unable to, however, the Duke's natural English arrogance led him to alienate many of those same lords. The first test to his rule was in 1729 with the Rising of Builth Wells. This was another revolt crushed using the mailed fist of the British Army, with the Army burning the town to the ground late in July 1729. The remainder of Norfolk's rule was reasonably quiet, however, with his life ebbing away, his grip on the rule of Wales slipped. In 1732 the biggest threat to the Anglo-Scottish (British) rule in Wales occurred with the Lord of Cricceith (Hywel Fychan-Tudur) leading the Rebellion of Gwynedd. Between January and April 1732 Hywel managed to secure control of Gwynedd west of the Conwy, a matching revolt led by the Lords of Ceredigion in support of the northern revolt was quickly suppressed by the garrison forces in Aberteifi and Aberystwyth (with the first mention of the Diamond family of Hendy-Gwyn occurring at this time). By April however, Hywel and the main leaders of the Gwynedd Revolt are captured, with Hywel being executed in Amwythig without trial. With his death the revolt collapsed and the Anglo-Scottish response was cruel. Throughout Wales, the first born sons of all the major noble families remaining in Wales were seized and sent to London, some never to return. This was to be Norfolk's last act as Governor-General of Wales, and with his death the Duke of Rutland was sent to replace him.

The Duke of Rutland (John Manners) was to rule Wales as Governor-General for most of the 1730's with his being the most peaceful of all the Governor-General's reigns. He was himself replaced in 1738, following six years of creeping standardisation of Anglo-Scottish control. Taxes were being raised in Wales for the British Crown for the first time. Welshmen served in the armies of George II. It looked like the English were on their way to successfully annexing the Welsh state to the British Crown.

In August 1738 George Cholmondeley, 3rd Earl of Cholmondeley became the 4th Governor-General of Wales. The first few months of the Earl's rule were quiet enough, but in the July of 1739 the Lord-Archbishop of St Davids and the spiritual leader of the Welsh Roman Catholic's rose up in rebellion. The Pembrokeshire Rebellion was to aid King Rhys in his invasion attempt but luck was against the Archbishop with the king delayed. The Cardinal's Guard (so called as the Archbishop at this time had also been granted the rank and privilege of a Cardinalate) date from this time. The Rebellion was put down, lacking as it was the support of the exiled Welsh King, with the Cardinal-Archbishop being exiled from Wales.

The next four years are again quiet, but the Earl was building up to a raft of strict Anti-Welsh laws. Then in 1743, almost 200 heads of minor noble or gentry families are executed. The Anglo-Scotish reasoning for it was that by getting rid of men chaffing under British rule their sons who had been held in London and who had been indoctrinated could succeed to family titles and ease the British grip on Wales. The result however was the Five Year Revolt.

Five Year Revolt

1744 saw the whole of Wales rise up in revolt against the Anglo-Scotish control of their country. In the March, the city and fortress of Caerodor falls to the Welsh. It would remain in Welsh hands until 1749 and the end of the Rebellion. Slowly chunks of the Welsh countryside become no go area's for the occupying British forces. First west Wales, then the valleys of Morgannwg and Gwent. Then the mountains of Powys and Brycheiniog followed. Utilising the Welsh countryside and guerrilla tactics the Rebellion Leaders managed to keep the fighting going for almost five years until 1749. The Earl of Cholmondeley was replaced amid accusations of incompetence to be replaced with Robert Montagu, 3rd Duke of Manchester who with the aid of the British Army retook the countryside and finally in November 1749 retook first the city and then the fortress of Caerodor.

Death of King Rhys and his legacy

With the Five Year Revolt crushed in 1749 Rhys tried one more time to invade Wales, dying in the Battle of Milford Haven ironically on his own birthday of July 15th. His legacy was mixed. His rule had not seen the restoration of Welsh Independence, and he had squandered much of Wales' overseas capital, both financial and political, but he also kept the cause of Welsh independence alive and with his blood connection to the French throne ensured that his successor would be able to make at least one shot at regaining the Welsh Throne.

Preceded by:
Dafydd V
King of Wales
Succeeded by:
Regency Council

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