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The Protestant Uprising (Welsh History Post Glyndwr)

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The Protestant Uprising
Battle of Sycharth Manor
Beginning:

November 1598

End:

February 1600

Place:

Wales

Outcome:

Roman Catholic and House of Dehubarth Victory
Establishment of the Dehubarth Dynasty

Major battles:

Machynlleth, Sycharth Manor, Caernarfon, Strata Florida

Combatants

Coat of Arms of Wales
House of MacGregor-Glyndwr & The Lutheran/Calvinist Communions of Wales

Flag of dyfed
Roman Catholic Nobility led by Duke of Dyfed

Commanders

Marc
Prince of Powys

Prince Rhys, the Duke of Dyfed until October 1599
Prince Dafydd, the Duke of Dyfed

Strength

4000 Troops estimated

5500 Troops estimated

Casualties and Losses

500 Troops

300 Troops

Background

The background to the Uprising occurs during the reign of King Hywel II (1512-45). Hywel ascends to the throne at the tender age of 12 years old after the reign of his father Hywel the Unifier, so called because under him all of the historic country of Wales was unified under his rule in addition to the March and Gwlad yr Haf (the Bristol region) being added to the country. During his grandfathers reign (Owain) the tripartite Principality was formed, with the King as Prince of Gwynedd and surviving members of the old princely house being raised to the rank of Prince of Powys and Prince of Glamorgan.

As part of the Regency, Prince Rhys ap Maredudd of Powys rises to dominate both the young king and council and begins to accumulate honours for himself and his house. In 1514 he creates and raises himself to the position of Chancellor of the Royal Court and in 1517 creates the Dukedom of Gwent for his brother (though in the process Gruffyd Mortimer is elevated from the Earldom of the March to Duke of the March)

In 1518 the king enters his majority, but he is a deeply religious king and leaves the daily work of kingship to his chancellor. As the 1530's start and England is convulsed by the marriage trials of King Henry, Powys begins to see political advantages both in the English state of confusion and in the rapidly developing Lutheran ideas.

By 1537 Hywel's Catholic sensibilities and Powys' behind the scenes manipulations sees the outbreak of the 1st Anglo-Welsh War. Welsh armies led by Powys break out from the Fortress of Bristol and strike out along the North Somerset coast, eventually capturing Minehead and advancing several miles inland. English pressure and lack of resources prevent Powys from striking deeper and the resultant Treaty of Somerset sees Wales cede Bath back to England (granted to Wales in the Treaty of Bath 1491) but allows Wales to retain what it calls the "North Coast" or "Dyfnaint Glan Hafren".

By 1545 the king is ill and retires to the Palace of Sycharth Manor where he dies on the 1st of December 1545. The king died with no natural heir of his body and Powys makes a grab for power using his status as Chancellor. The dead kings brother, the Prince Rhodri, outmaneuvers Powys however and secures the crown for himself.

One of Rhodri's first acts is to remove Powys from the position of Chief Advisor, though he retains the position of Chancellor, however, in 1547 Rhodri also replaces him in this role.

1547 also sees the start of the 2nd Anglo-Welsh war as Catholic Wales goes to war with Protestant England. The war is mainly a limited affair with neither side prosecuting it with much vigour, but in 1549 Powys attempts to have Rhodri assassinated whilst with the army in Gwald yr Haf. Powys has also by now converted to Lutheranism and is agitating for religious reform in Wales.

During 1550-51, Powys starts to try to convert his lands to the Lutheran faith, betrayed by his own knights he is turned over to Rhodri in late 1550 and he is tried by Parliament in '51 and found guilty of treason and heresy and is promptly executed. In an act of generosity Powys' eldest son, Morgan ap Rhys ap Maredudd is allowed to succeed to the title Prince of Powys.

The Reign of Elen

Elen succeeds her father Rhodri in 1555 aged 17 and at first her reign is settled as Mary is Queen of England and seems set to return to the Catholic faith. Powys however, in secret is still practising the Lutheran faith and there are growing numbers of converts especially in the Marches where contact with England was strongest.

In 1559 popular support for Powys spills over into civil unrest, prompting Powys to try to form an independent Lutheran Principality. The Prince Consort (Lennox of Kildare) defeats Powys in the Battle of Montgomery and the prince formally declares his allegiance to the Catholic faith in order to retain his titles and privileges.

Allowed to return to court Powys begins grooming the heir, Prince Marc, with the intent of producing a Lutheran king all the while professing his Catholicism. A period of peace allows Wales the time to grow, with trade increasing both with England and the Continent.

By 1596 however the first waves of Calvinst preachers begin to arrive in Wales and by 1598 have succeeded in converting the Crown Prince.

The Protestant Uprising

The death in November 1598 of the Queen threw the political establishment into chaos. The Nobility were almost entirely Catholic and with the exception of Powys disinclined to swear allegiance to Marc. In response Marc has himself crowned king in St Davids Cathedral within a week of his mother’s death. Without the consent of the Archbishop he has himself crowned by the leading Calvinist minister Heinrich of Swabia within the Cathedral cloisters.


1599

Resistance, however, arises in the form of the kings’ brother, the Duke of Deuheubarth. In the February of 1599 as both camps circle each other nervously, Rhys, Duke of Deuheubarth and brother to the king, calls together a Parliament in Machynlleth to discuss both the new kings’ religious beliefs but also the coronation. Outraged at this break in protocol, and urged by Prince 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


During this period both sides circle each other cautiously. The Catholic Nobility because Marc is the rightful heir, Marc because he is unsure of both their strength at arms and strength of will.


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 Deuheubarth, 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. 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 Deuheubarth 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.


During this period, the Prince of Powys, acting behind the scenes is busy building political ties, calling in favours, bullying, cajoling and harassing the nobility into supporting the King. Powys however with one eye on the future has the foresight to tie these men to himself and through him to the king. One by one many of the minor nobles fall into line until only the most obdurate of the Southern Lords remains set against the king.


The winter lull however proves to be ultimately Marc's undoing. The Duke of Deuheubarth left an heir, the precocious Dafydd, Duke of Dyfed. 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.


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.


With the death of his protégé Powys begins to muster support and moves towards St Davids, confident that with only the isolated and unsupported Edling he can seize the throne. The Crown Prince (Gruffudd ap Marc) though is also marching on St Davids in the same hope. In the Battle of Strata Florida (9th February 1600), the Crown Prince is killed in combat by Powys With the death of the Edling and the de jure king, Gruffudd, Powys moves to tighten his grip on power. With Gwynedd, Mon, 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 Davids on the brink of surrender to him, he is killed by bandits south of Builth Wells. With Morgan’s 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.

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