For nearly six hundred years, the title of Prince of Wales has in the main been bestowed upon the eldest surviving son of the ruling English, and later British, monarch. It has become something of a convention. Yet prior to 1282, the lands in Wales were in the north and west of the modern geographical principality, ruled by native Welsh princes until Edward I overcame and defeated Llewelyn ap Gruffudd who was killed in a skirmish in December 1282. The execution of his brother Dafydd, briefly titular prince in 1283, brought to an end native Welsh rule and with it the title passed to the English crown, laying dormant for the next two decades.
The Welsh regalia, including the Y Groes Naid, a relic of the True Cross and a crown of ‘King Arthur’s’ were confiscated, a symbolic nod to the extermination of the native Welsh royal lines; Edward I made sure it was no longer possible in a spiritual sense for the Welsh to appoint their own ruler. The king also assumed direct control over the principality and the Statute of Wales issued at Rhuddlan in March 1284 set out the terms of English government that were applied for the next three hundred years. During this period of conquest, Eleanor of Castile gave birth to her thirteenth and fourteenth children in Wales, Elizabeth at Rhuddlan in 1282 and Edward, his father’s namesake, at Caernarfon castle in 1284. Here according to legend, Edward I presented his young son to the restless Welsh inhabitants as a prince who could not speak English and was born in the country and so by default was one of them which he had promised them. As much as this legend has stuck, it is fanciful, appearing for the first time in the Chronicle of London in the 1580’s by the antiquarian John Stowe. Nevertheless the birth of Edward at Caernarfon was most likely a political move and added weight to the English king’s conquest. The statement could not have been plainer. The English line continued whilst the Welsh royal line had been expunged. Edward of Caernarfon for the first eleven months of his young life was not heir to the throne having an elder brother, Alphonso. However, following Alphonso’s premature death, the baby Edward, who later became Edward II, was thrust into the lime light becoming heir to the English crown and to his father’s legacy of conquest.
By 1301, the Welsh had been bereft of a prince for nearly twenty years. In 1294-5 they had risen up in revolt against English rule whilst Edward I was preoccupied with war in Gascony in France and Scotland. Despite the challenge, the king was able to confidently subdue the revolt and English rule across Wales continued. It was however clear that a further rebellion, as war with Scotland and France remained ongoing, was best avoided. It may be for this reason that Edward I choose to act in 1301.
It was at the Lincoln parliament, on 7 February 1301, that Edward of Caernarfon who was then sixteen, was granted the earldom of Chester and all the royal lands in Wales formerly held by his father.(1) In both instances the land grants were extensive geographically. In the February charter, the lands in Wales were divided into two key areas. In the north, Edward received Anglesey, Hope and further east the Four Cantreds (Rhos, Englefield, Rhuvoniog and Duffryn Clwyd) as well as many smaller manors and vills, all known then as Snowdonia as the area was so extensive. In the west and south he was also granted Carmarthen and Cardigan, under English control since 1241, the castles and lordships of Haverford and Builth which were located in a heavily anglicised part of the principality. It was near Builth that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had lost his life in a bloody skirmish. Lands recovered from the rebel Rhys ap Meredudd who was defeated in 1287, including the Cantrev Mawr, were also passed to Edward at Lincoln.(2) The only area of land initially excluded from the grant was the castle and lordship of Montgomery, as these were then held in dower by the queen, Edward I’s second wife Marguerite of France. However, in the same year on the 10th May, the queen granted Montgomery to her stepson in return for lands elsewhere in England.(3) In short the various grants were expansive. In return Edward performed homage and fealty to his father becoming his sworn man. Overnight, he had been elevated both in terms of his status through his titles, but also financially through the vast rents and incomes he could command as a result of his new landholdings. For now Edward of Caernarfon could command an independent income of his own although he continued to be kept under a tight leash by his father.
However, even in the February charter, the title of ‘prince’ was omitted from the charter roll. Until 1301, the use of the title prince was not adopted in England. The sons of kings were simply addressed as ‘lord’ just the like the king was not called ‘your majesty’ but again ‘lord’ or ‘lord king’. Edward of Caernarvon himself, like his father before him had only ever been addressed in royal and legal correspondence or in person as ‘the lord Edward’ or ‘Edward, the king’s son’. Perhaps Edward I had not yet formulated his plan clearly enough, but this soon changed for on 1 March a second charter was issued, and for the first time in English history, the son and heir of the monarch received the formal title of principe Wallie, or ‘Prince of Wales’. Later, on 10 May Edward was formally addressed as ‘Pro Edward filio regis, principe Wallie et comite Cestrense’ (Edward, son of the king, Prince of Wales and earl of Chester). The use of the term prince was still only used in context of land holding and it did not follow that suddenly the children of kings became princes rather than lords. That evolution would take another century or more. Only the holder of the Principality could afford that privilege directly but nevertheless the Welsh now had an English ruler they could call their own.
Edward also received the earldom of Chester, an important earldom that had palatine status, meaning it was granted a significant degree of autonomy from English royal government. Chester was a strategic gateway into Wales and until the conquest in 1282 was fiercely protected by the English, its strategic value well understood. Along with the earldom Edward inherited the manors of Macclesfield to the east of Chester and Overton in the west near Wrexham, both of which had formerly belonged to his mother, the late Eleanor of Castile who had died prematurely in 1290, when Edward was only six years old.
As with any grant of this kind there was due ceremony. The records of proceedings do not survive, except in 1343 when Edward III commissioned an enquiry to look back to 1301 to understand how he ought to go about investing his own son with the principality. It is from this that we can glean a sense of what took place in 1301. In a ceremony overseen by his father, Edward of Caernarfon was likely invested with a ring placed on his finger, a silver rod was granted to him symbolising his titles and requirement to dispense justice, and a golden circlet was then placed upon his head. In 1283 when Edward I confiscated the Welsh regalia, he had taken a gold circlet belonging to Llewelyn ap Gruffudd. It is most likely that this gold circlet was the very same one used in the latter’s investiture.(4) In age old tradition Edward was also girt with a sword and belt for the earldom of Chester. (5)
By granting his son the principality, Edward I was achieving something symbolic. Not only did it add another layer to the conquest, but conversely it also allowed the Welsh inhabitants the opportunity to bind themselves in service to their lord who was not in 1301 the king of England, thereby having an avenue to seek justice and political readdress, to hear their grievances and offer them safety in return for loyalty. Once Edward gained the title, he quickly set out on 6 April for Wales to receive the homages of his tenants, which were many. On 12 April he appointed William Trussell as Justice of Chester and on 17th William Melton as chamberlain, both of whom would administer all his estates in England and Wales.(6) It is poignant that both men would become key players in Edward’s reign, the former a member of the delegation sent to Kenilworth in 1327 to renounce the country’s homage to the king during his deposition.
On 21 April Edward set foot in Wales, the first time since the year of his birth in 1284. At Flint, he received the homages of over 200 people. At Conway over 140 people came forward, whilst 60 appeared Rhuddlan. At some point during proceedings he may have been presented with a manuscript of Welsh religious and secular poetry that was later kept in his wardrobe. The numbers continued throughout the first week of May as did the various locations Edward visited, but by middle of the month it was all done. Edward had bound himself to his Welsh tenants and they to him. He appointed many men from Wales to the sheriffdom and into his own household. The relationship seems to be one that worked well for all parties, for the Welsh remained loyal to Edward, especially in 1322, never revolting during his reign. In 1326, many Welsh notables including Sir Gruffudd Llwyd, Rhys ap Gruffudd and Hywel ap Gruffudd, supported their overlord during the invasion crisis and continued to plot his escape and rescue during and after 1327.(7) It is also poignant that Edward’s last days of freedom in 1326 were also spent in Wales.
Despite the innovation in 1301, it did not automatically follow that the eldest son and heir of the ruling monarch would then go on to receive the title. Edward III, eldest son of Edward II and Isabella of France was never made Prince of Wales although he did become earl of Chester shortly after his birth in 1312. Things may have been different had Edward and his mother not invaded England in 1326, deposing Edward II in January 1327, but even in 1325 when Edward III received the duchy of Aquitaine and the county of Ponthieu from his father, he did not receive the principality. This may have changed in subsequent years but we will of course never know. The precedent did not follow until 1343 when Edward III bestowed the principality on his son the Black Prince and from hereon in the tradition begins to take hold.
Lastly, it is also interesting to note that when Edward was deposed in January 1327, the Principality of Wales was omitted from the articles of deposition, so although Edward simply reverted to the name Edward of Caernarfon, the place of his birth, he technically kept the title Prince of Wales. This oversight may account for why a man named William le Galeys, or ‘William the Welshman’ presented himself in Cologne purporting to be the surviving Edward II in 1338. It most likely was Edward II, which is a whole other story, but nevertheless it is fitting that he played on his Welsh connection.
‘Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance’ written by Stephen Spinks is available for pre-order on Amazon (click here) and will be released in hardback on 15 November 2017.
(1) CChR, 1300-26, 6.
(2) Johnstone, Hilda. Edward of Carnarvon, 55-57.
(3) CPR, 1292-1301, 592.
(4) Davies, R.R. The Age of Conquest, 386. Phillips, S. Edward II, 85.
(5) Johnstone, 60.
(6) Phillips, 86-7.
(7) Davies, Conquest, 86-7.
Feature & One: Caernarfon Castle, built in the latter thirteenth century creates an intended indelible mark over the conquered people of Wales. To this day the castle still dominates the skyline.
Two: Edward I grants the principality of Wales to his son Edward of Caernarfon. MS Cotton Nero, D.II f.191v
Three: Miniature from the Archives Départementales at Perpignan