The Dragon’s Son
The fading fire of a dream
It would seem could blaze anew
In the hearts of beaten men.
Prophets again spoke words true
Of a son of the dragon
Who would gladden and inspire
And rouse the people from sleep,
No longer sheep. Filled with ire
They sharpened sword axe and spear,
For ’twas clear the hour had come
Of the once and future king.
Bards would sing and beat the drum,
Pluck the harp and trumpet sound,
Declare found the anointed,
The one who would wear the crown,
Bringing down disappointed
The servant of the false king.
They would bring the captive lord
Before his throne. ’Hail Owain!
For ’tis plain steel’s in thy sword
My warriors thou didst route:
Without doubt you are the One
Whom God has blessed. Noble heir
Of Arthur’s chair, thou hast won!’
Thus Mortimer bent the knee
That all might see foe made friend.
Bolingbroke quaked, and fear felt:
This friendship spelt his near end.
Unless…Was hope to be found
In one who clowned with Sir John?
Could Hal a soldier become
And find wisdom yet, newborn?
Mortimer, Lord Percy too,
Henry knew, could spell his doom.
If with the Welsh they joined arms,
With what charms could England bloom?
So Shrewsbury, it was to be
Where Destiny played His part.
Hal met Hotspur, won the day,
And thus the play found its heart.
Not Cymru’s bards, but Avon’s:
The ravens, alas, are black,
And bleak the outcome for Wales,
Though the tales will e’er come back
To keep the fire of a dream
Alive. A gleam of maybe
Of a once and future king
Still we sing, yearn: to be free.
A slice of history… In the 13th century, Welsh independence came to an end, with the conquests of Edward I of England. Over a century later, in 1399, Henry Bolingbroke became King of England, overthrowing Richard II, and reigning as Henry IV. Bolingbroke’s claim to the throne was tenuous; and many of the English and Welsh lords regarded him, with some justification, as a usurper. In 1400, Owain Glyndŵr, a Welsh lord, a descendant of several Welsh royal dynasties, and a supporter of Richard II, quarrelled with a Bolingbroke loyalist, his neighbour Baron Grey of Ruthin. Glyndŵr’s grievances were ignored by the English parliament, and led him into open revolt, declaring himself the true Prince of Wales. The revolt spread quickly, and Welsh bards viewed him as heir to the legacy of King Arthur (the Once and Future King of prophecy) and the pre-Conquest princes of Wales.
Early Welsh successes included the Battle of Pilleth in mid-Wales in 1402, at which the English lord Edward Mortimer, one of the most powerful of the English barons, was captured. Mortimer changed allegiance, and entered into an alliance with Glyndŵr, as did Lord Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, the most powerful northern English Lord. The three allies agreed to divide England and Wales between them (the so-called Tripartite Alliance): Percy would rule in the North, Mortimer in the South, and Glyndŵr in Wales and the Welsh Marches. The political situation was grim for Henry IV. However, his son Prince Hal (the future Henry V), despite having spent his younger years as an impressionable and dissolute wastrel under the influence of Sir John Falstaff, turned out to be an excellent field commander. He defeated and killed Henry Hotspur (the son of Lord Percy) at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1405, preventing the three opposing armies from joining up, and turning the tide against the rebellion.
Despite having lost his English allies, and having seen with the support he’d garnered from the French also coming to naught, Glyndŵr continued the rebellion for more than a decade, establishing a Welsh parliament, and making plans for the first Welsh university: but eventually the English crown regained control of Wales. An outlaw and a fugitive, Glyndŵr refused the offer of a royal pardon after the rebellion had finally collapsed. His date of death and exact burial place remained unknown: like Arthur before him, Owain Glyndŵr became a figure of legend. Yet the dream of Welsh independence he had rekindled never entirely died. Welsh nationhood, and the survival of Welsh culture and language to the present time, owes more to him than perhaps any other individual.
As for ‘the Bard of Avon’: William Shakespeare gives Glyndŵr a small role in his Henry IV: Part One. Together with Richard II, Henry IV: Part Two and Henry V, these history plays tell (from the English perspective, almost two centuries later) the story of the events leading up to and in consequence of Henry Bolingbrook’s usurpation of the English throne.