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History Illustrations: Welsh Rebels

Another beautiful drawing from Swansea Miracle

Wales was not conquered when William the Conqueror became king of England. It took over 200 years until King Edward I led a campaign that finally made Wales bow the knee. In the intervening time various kings gave their barons land along the Welsh border – the Marches – and told them they could have any Welsh land they could take and keep.

Keeping Welsh land was no easy task, as the rebels and princes continually fought to remove the interlopers. The biggest inroads were along the north and south coasts, as the mountains in between provided great cover for the Welsh to use guerrilla tactics, launching sudden raids and retreating to hiding places among the crags.

Swansea Miracle illustration Welsh RebelsGower, on the South Wales coast, was first annexed by Henry de Newburg in 1107 and he built a castle at Swansea, near the mouth of the River Tawe [pronounced Ta-we]. Other castles were built by lesser lords as they took over the prime farmland around the Gower coast, pushing the Welsh to the uplands, which were fit only for grazing sheep.

The Welsh did not give up their land gracefully. Swansea was attacked by armies led by Gruffudd ap Rhys in 1176, Rhys Grug in 1217, Llewelyn ap Gruffudd (Llewelyn the Last) in 1257, and Rhys ap Maredudd in 1287. These were major attacks causing much devastation, and the early wooden castle was burnt to the ground more than once. It was later built in stone, but even stone castles have wood that will burn, like the roof trusses and floor joists. In between the major attacks there was constant trouble from Welsh rebels.

One of these was William ap Rhys, known as William Crach, which means ‘scabby’. He was probably not a pretty sight. The son of Rhys ap William and Swanith, he grew up in the Gower countryside in Llanrhidian and spoke only Welsh. Crach’s whole family were known to be troublemakers who hated the Norman and English invaders. On the other hand from the Welsh point of view, Crach was a freedom fighter against the Welsh oppressors.

Ann Marie Thomas authorAnn Marie Thomas is the author of five medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel, Intruders, Alien Secrets & Crisis of Conscience are out now Follow her at