Battle of Orewin Bridge


Battle of Orewin Bridge

The Battle of Orewin Bridge was fought between Norman led English and Welsh armies on December 11, 1282 near Builth Wells in mid-Wales. It was a decisive defeat for the Welsh because their leader, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was killed, and this effectively ended the independence of Wales.

Background to the war

Llywelyn had already fought a war against Edward I of England in 1277. Edward had organised a large full-time army with which he overran all North Wales as far west as the Conwy River, and a fleet with which he captured Anglesey, depriving the Welsh of much of their grain. Llywelyn was forced to come to humiliating terms, and ceded large areas of Wales to England.

Over the five years which followed, there was continued tension between Llywelyn and Edward over various lawsuits, and increasing unrest between the Welsh people and their English administrators in the newly transferred areas. The revolt was actually begun in 1282 by Llywelyn's treacherous brother Dafydd, who had sided with Edward five years earlier but now captured Hawarden Castle and slaughtered its garrison. This was followed by uprisings in many parts of Wales, and Llywelyn declared war on Edward on behalf of all Welsh.

Campaign up to December

Edward repeated his tactics of the previous war, laboriously occupying North Wales as far as the Vale of Conwy and occupying Anglesey. On November 6, Edward's lieutenant in Anglesey, Luke de Tany, launched a premature attack across a bridge of boats which spanned the Menai Straits. His force was ambushed, cut off and slaughtered.

This unexpected reverse undoubtedly set Edward back several months. He was forced to pause to raise fresh armies and supplies. Llywelyn took advantage of the respite by making an expedition into mid-Wales, to inspire and rally support. This was the territory nominally ruled by Marcher Lords, who enjoyed considerable independence from Edward. Some were wavering and prepared to support Llywelyn. However, two of them, John Giffard and Edmund Mortimer were staunch supporters of Edward, and were in the field in mid-Wales with an army consisting mainly of archers from Shropshire.

The battle

On December 11, Llywelyn's army occupied a hillside north of the Irfon River near the village of Cilmeri, placed to repel any attack from the south across Orewin Bridge. The army consisted of probably a few hundred spearmen from North Wales, with some men-at-arms from Llywelyn's own "teulu" (household), and some local archers from Brecon. Llywelyn himself was not present, having gone to speak with local leaders (possibly at Builth Castle).

A local inhabitant had told the Marchers about a ford across the Irfon two miles downstream near its confluence with the Wye River, and they sent most of their archers across it to attack the Welsh in the flank. The Welsh army turned to face them, and the English mounted men-at-arms charged across the now undefended bridge.

As the Welsh army fled, Llywelyn returned in haste. On the outskirts of the fighting, he was attacked and cut down by an English man-at-arms named Stephen de Frankton, an English cenentar from Ellesmere, Shropshire.

The aftermath

Llywelyn's body was not recognised until the next day. (He had probably gone in secret or incognito to his meeting, and would therefore not have worn any surcoat or other heraldic device.) His head was cut off, and taken to London to be exhibited. He left only an infant daughter, and leadership of the Welsh fell on Dafydd, who led a guerrilla resistance for some months but was soon betrayed, captured and executed as a traitor. Edward was able to formally end the existence of Wales as an independent country.

Whatever Llywelyn's own faults, Edward could not deny his claims as a legitimate ruler of Wales. Had Llywelyn lived and Edward suffered further reverses, it is theoretically possible that the war might have ended with Edward leaving at least part of an independent Wales (though it is unlikely that Wales could have resisted English encroachment indefinitely).

ources

*"Famous Welsh Battles", Philip Warner, Fontana, 1977, ISBN 0-00-634151-9


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