FINAL DAYS OF OWAIN GLYNDŴR
A review by the Owain Glyndŵr Society
'His grave is
beside no church, neither under the shadow of any ancient yew. It is in a spot safer
and more sacred still. Rain does not fall on it, hail nor sleet chill no sere
sod above it. It is forever green with the green of eternal spring. Sunny the
light on it; close and warm and dear it lies, sheltered from all storms, from
all cold or grey oblivion. Time shall not touch it; decay shall not dishonour
it; for that grave is in the heart of every true Cymro. There, for ever, from
generation unto generation, grey Owen's heart lies dreaming on, dreaming on,
safe for ever and for ever.'
This year (2015) we commemorate the six-hundredth anniversary of the
death of the most iconic figure in Welsh history, Owain Glyndŵr. Little is known with any degree of certainty about Glyndŵr's
final years; even less is known about the circumstances surrounding his death.
By 1412 he had lost control of most of the territory he had previously held.
Although some areas were still defiant, these were not substantial or
co-ordinated sufficiently to provide effective resistance. An exception to this
general pattern was Meirionydd, where the English crown had difficulty in
exerting its control, and resistance continued until Glyndŵr's death. The
capture of Dafydd Gam by Glyndŵr's supporters in 1412 was the last major
event of his campaign (he was Glyndŵr’s enemy and had organised an
assassination attempt). Dafydd was eventually released after a substantial
ransom had been paid. Henry V ascended the English throne in 1413 and offered
Owain a pardon which was rejected, but Owain's only surviving son, Maredudd,
did accept a pardon after Glyndŵr's death.
As with much of his late
history, there are conflicting accounts of the year in which Owain died.
Professor Glanmor Williams' view was that he died between 1415 and 1417 and the
other records agree with his assessment. Some sources give the year 1416 but
the majority opt for 1415.
A chronicle written only a
few years after his death (Peniarth MS135) states:
went into disappearance on St. Mathew's Day in harvest time and thereafter [his
place of] disappearance was not known. A great many say that he died; the seers
maintain he did not.'
Adam of Usk, Glyndŵr's
contemporary, also records in his Chronicle for 1415:
years in hiding from the king and the realm, Owain Glyndŵr died, and was
buried by his supporters in the darkness of night. His grave was discovered by
his enemies, however, so he had to be re-buried, though it is impossible to
discover where he was laid.'
Although Adam was a contemporary, reputable
historians regard his records with some suspicion. It seems strange, for
example, that his body was not disinterred by his enemies and displayed to
confirm his death and, by doing so, potentially bring the uprising to an end.
(1726 - 98) concluded that Owain died on September 20th, 1415 but other sources
opt for September 21st. (St. Matthew's Day). A Welsh chronicle for the year
1415 published within a generation of his death however suggests a later date:
disappeared on the feast of St. Matthew in the autumn. No one knows after that
where he hid. Many say that he died, but the prophets say that he did not die.'
A wide range of sources suggests the likely date/s
for Owain's death to be 20/21 September
Glyndŵr's final years were shrouded in
mystery. Some reports portray his existence as that of a miserable vagrant
seeking shelter wherever he could, occasionally in caves. A number of locations
for Owain's grave have been suggested including a claim, based on a manuscript
of 1513, that Owain died on top of Lawton's Hope Hill, between Leominster and
Hereford. Iolo Morgannwg's vision was of Owain, the nation's redeemer, asleep
with his warriors in a cave waiting for the call to save Wales in its hour of
Most accounts, however, select the Golden Valley in Herefordshire as the
area where he spent his last days. Two of his daughters lived in the area after
marrying Herefordshire men (remarkably, three of Glyndŵr's daughters
married men from Herefordshire). In those times, however, the residents of the
Marches had divided loyalties with some supporting the Welsh, others the
Alice, Glyndŵr's eldest surviving daughter,
married Sir John Scudamore of Kentchurch
Court in the Golden Valley. The manor house has an impressive tower known
as the Glyndŵr Tower. It has a
room that is associated with Glyndŵr which is said to be haunted. When a
camera crew from HTV accompanied officers of the Society to record a programme,
a member of the camera crew refused to enter the room claiming to have detected
a 'presence' there. Enquiries locally convinced us that there was still a
strong tradition linking Glyndŵr with Kentchurch. An officer of the
Society was told that the local tradition is that Glyndŵr spent his last
days in Kentchurch and always had a saddled horse immediately below his window
to ensure a quick escape should the military appear. Adrien Jones, President of
the Owain Glyndŵr Society, was told by John Scudamore of Kentchurch Court
(a direct descendant of the aforementioned Sir John Scudamore) that the family
tradition was that Owain spent his final days in the Golden Valley, but was
buried at Monnington Straddel some 7 miles away.
Hanging to this day in Kentchurch Court is a
striking oil portrait of an old man. The subject's gaunt features and
challenging stare have an immediate impact on the viewer. Some have claimed
this to be a portrait of Glyndŵr in old age (see paragraph on Alex Gibbon
below) but the family claim it to be a portrait of Siôn Cent, a poet who had a
close association with the Scudamore family for some years. The Flemish style
of the portrait has suggested to some that the portrait may be by Jan van Eyck
but van Eyck's first appearance in the records is in 1422 and all the works
confidently attributed to him are from the period 1432 - 39. These dates are
too late to fit in with what is known of Owain's final years.
There is considerable confusion in the records
between Monnington Straddel in the Golden Valley and Monnington-on-Wye (they
are 9 miles apart by road). Glyndŵr's daughter Margaret was married to Sir
Richard Monnington who owned Lawton's Hope and Sarnesfield. A third daughter,
Janet, was married to Sir John Croft of Croft Castle. It is possible that Owain
could have moved between his daughters' homes in his last years, but Kentchurch
Court would be the most secure of the three. As Lawton's Hope Hill lies between
Croft Castle and Kentchurch Court it is possible that Owain died there while
travelling between the two.
Near Monnington Court in Monnington Straddel is a
mound which is often referred to as the likeliest location for Owain's grave.
This motte is scheduled and under English Heritage's protection. They describe
it as follows:
'The motte is
3.4 metres high, oval in shape with its longer axis of 40 metres orientated
north to south. A ditch remains on the west and north sides but elsewhere has
been filled in. The motte lies on the east side of an almost square bailey
surrounded by a now shallow ditch which has a stream running through it. It is
possible that this supposed bailey is a natural feature created by the stream
course and that if a bailey was constructed as part of the castle complex, it
is more likely to be west of the motte below the standing buildings of Monnington Court. There is evidence for ridge
and furrow in surrounding fields. Scheduled.'
John Scudamore took the Society's President, Adrien
Jones, to the site. A visit by the Society's officers accompanied by the
journalist and historian Collette Hume followed shortly and was given prominent
coverage in the Western Mail. The
Society commissioned a geophysical survey of the site in 2000 over a 400 square
metre area, which was undertaken by TerraDat
of Cardiff, who have made similar surveys for BBC archaeological programmes
and for Channel 4. This survey was non-intrusive and did not involve any
excavation. This revealed the remains of a stone rectangular building with
metre-thick walls measuring10m. x 6m. in a north-south alignment just under the
surface of the top of the motte. Some have speculated that this could be the
foundation of a tower whose aboveground stonework was pillaged many years ago
for use elsewhere. The survey revealed many metallic objects within the mound
but could not identify these objects. The alignment of the building tells us
that it would not have been a church. The Society is indebted to Tony Carter,
who led this phase of our work.
Thomas Pennant wrote that: 'It is said that he
(Owain Glyndŵr) was buried in the churchyard of Monnington [Monnington-on-Wye],
but there is no monument, nor any memorial of the spot that contains his
The historian and cleric Thomas Thomas, writing
about Monnington Church, Monnington-on-Wye in 1822 quoted document
Harl.M.S.S.6832 as follows:
'About 1680, the church was rebuilt. In the church-yard
stood the trunk of a sycamore, in height about nine foot, diameter two foot and
a half; which being in the workmen's way was cut down. Directly under it, about
a foot below the surface of the ground was laid a large grave-stone without any
inscription; and that being removed, there was discovered at the bottom of a
well-stoned grave the body (as 'tis supposed) of Owen Glyndŵr; which was
whole and entire, and of goodly stature. But there were no tokens or remains of
any coffin. Where any part of it was touched, it fell to ashes. After it had
been exposed two days, Mr Tomkins ordered the stone to be placed over it again,
and the earth to be cast upon it.'
Chris Barber, author of In Search of Owain Glyndŵr, refers to a local tradition that
Owain died in Chapel Cottage, near Monnington Court. The name suggests that
there was once a chapel nearby, and Barber speculates that this may have been a
chapel of ease linked to the nearest Church at Vowchurch about two miles away.
Dore Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1147 and located in the heart of the
Golden Valley, must also be a strong candidate, especially as the Abbey held
extensive lands, including the land where the present Monnington Court stands.
The chapel would, therefore, be more likely to be linked to Dore Abbey. Dr John
Hughes, Treasurer/Membership Secretary of the Society, who has written a novel
about Glyndŵr's daughter Gwenllian (Glyndŵr's
Daughter) believes the location is probably near Cwmhir Abbey.
In his book The
Mystery of Jack of Kent and the Fate of Owain Glyndŵr Alex Gibbon
claims that Owain's body was taken from Herefordshire and buried at St.
Cwrdaf's Church, Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire. He also claims, as others have
done, that the oil painting hanging in Kentchurch Court is a portrait of Owain
Glyndŵr rather than Siôn Cent and that Owain disguised himself as a
Franciscan friar acting as family chaplain to the Scudamore family. Indeed, he
suggests that Owain and Siôn Cent are the same person, arguing that
impersonation would have protected Glyndŵr from his enemies in his final
The Society was privileged to commission a lecture
on Glyndŵr from the late Professor Sir Rees Davies (then Chichelle
Professor of Medieval History at All Souls College, Oxford) at the Bala
National Eisteddfod. Following his lecture Professor Davies (the leading
authority on Glyndŵr's history) told us that little was known of his final
days, but his view was that he was probably buried somewhere in north Wales
where his support was strongest. We know that Meirionydd resisted the
domination of the English crown until (at least) the time of Owain's death, and
it is reasonable to assume that he would have sought support amongst his most
Dr Keith Ray, County Archaeologist of
Herefordshire, met officers of the Society and expressed the view that Owain
would almost certainly have been buried in consecrated ground and that there
were at least four possible sites in Herefordshire that might be considered. He
confirmed that some excavations had been undertaken in the past on the motte at
Monnington Straddel but these had been by amateur archaeologists who were not
scrupulous in recording their results.
Remains exhumed from below a car park in Leicester
recently have been declared by forensic scientist to have a 99+% certainty to
be those of Richard III (1452 - 1485). This has revealed the power of modern
genetic analysis (especially of mitochondrial DNA) and suggests that, should remains
claimed to be those of Glyndŵr be found, the analytical tools to resolve
the mystery may be at hand. The
controversial question we must all address, of course, is whether we should
even attempt to solve the riddle.