Many years ago there lived a man. A simple man of modest noble stock whom resided and toiled away on his North Welsh fields after a career as a soldier in the army of the English King. When a minor dispute erupted over land with his wealthy and more influential neighbour it set in motion events that would consequently end in the name of this man reverberating around his homeland for centuries to come and even named Welshman of the Millennium.
Owain ap Gruffydd (popularly known as Glyndwr) remains a patriotic hero to the people of Wales on par with William Wallace of Scotland or Richard the Lionheart of England. It may be pondered however, how does this man remain so relevant and revered within the nation he so valiantly fought for when ultimately his uprising was eventually crushed and left nothing more than exuberant tales that have passed down generation to generation?
To understand the celebration of Glyndwr is to understand Wales herself. The mentality and attitude of the man remains rooted in his nation’s soul many centuries after the noble statesman and warrior vanished. The Welsh have stereotypically been portrayed as a romantic, passionate people learned in the arts of poetry, prose and song. Myths, mysteries and legends have regularly been a part of Welsh culture for as long as man has put ink to parchment and even longer via word of mouth. One only needs to point to the enduring legacy and popularity of stories such as Y Mab Darogan and King Arthur to further this point.
With this penchant for glorious reliving of past events it is of no surprise to see Owain’s bloody, barbaric wars resurrected in the minds of his people as the tale of a private man pushed to the brink in the face of an overwhelmingly oppressive English crown has a Robin Hood-like appeal. When you also consider Owain’s descendancy from the venerated and historic Welsh royal families it is of no wonder that he has been transformed into a medieval action hero.
But what does any of this have to do with Wales today? The feeling of ‘Welshness’ and ever-increasing nationalism has been growing as each new generation recovers from the eradication of the language, culture and identity by the Victorians. The Welsh language, once under serious threat of extinction, is enjoying a resurgence and more school children than ever are learning the lapsed language of their forefathers.
Support for Welsh home rule and even independence is continuously rising throughout the nation although still a long way from a viable reality. One major step was taken towards the possibility of realising Owain’s vision in 1999 when the Welsh Assembly was opened just one year before the 600th Anniversary of Glyndwr’s rebellion. In a nod towards the man who gallantly campaigned for a similar establishment in tougher times the new building that houses the Assembly is officially named the “Senedd” in an echo of the moniker given to the court that Glyndwr himself held when he proclaimed himself Prince of Wales in 1404.
Naturally, the 600th anniversary of this occasion once again helped thrust the warrior back into Welsh minds, a plethora of events, statues and memorabilia being unravelled across the nation. The Welsh have always adorned glorious failure particularly in sporting terms, as long as that failure is accompanied by pride and dignity, as encapsulated by the integrity and bravery shown by Glyndwr in his unsuccessful Wars of Independence.
English ‘oppression’ has also been an issue particularly for the rural nationalistic Welsh during the 20th century. Slighted by English immigration, underfunding and even what many term the “raping” of Welsh coal and water, Owain Glyndwr’s fight has led to him again being catapulted to the forefront of Welsh resistance and considered a leader whom took the fight physically to the aggressors rather than weakly submit via the courts and politicians.
It simply appears that everything Wales and her people are known for, namely passion; arts; ferocity; community; love; heart; dignity; modesty and even the negative connotations of glorious failure are all the characteristics that can be attributed to one man who sought to better the lives of his compatriots. Owain ap Gruffydd. Owain VI. Owain Glyndwr.