OWAIN Glyndwr was a Merioneth man, and it was in Merioneth, at Caer Drewyn, that the Red Dragon, the standard of national revolt, was unfurled in the year 1401.
In June of that year the famous Hotspur, who was Governor of North Wales for the King, paid a flying visit to Dolgelley with a movable column, probably invited by Hywel Sele of Nannau, who, like many other landlords, disliked the peasant revolt at the head of which Glyndwr stood.
Dolgelley was in the heart of a country devoted to Glyndwr, and Hotspur hoped to crush the national cause by a single blow at its very centre. A battle was fought outside Dolgelley between Hotspur's column, in which the Earl of Arundel took part, and some of Glyndwr's adherents on the 4th June, and Hotspur sent a flamboyant report of how he had crushed his foe. The boast, however, was an empty one; for the encounter was followed by Hotspur's precipitate retreat to Denbigh, where, soon after, pleading lack of support, he resigned all his offices, and deserted the King's cause.
In November, Glyndwr's arch-enemy, Lord Grey, was taken prisoner; and, as on the 29th November Glyndwr was in Dolgelley, it is possible that his illustrious captive was with him. It was on that date that Glyndwr despatched letters from Dolgelley to the King of Scotland and various chiefs ill Ireland, bidding for support from those countries against the common foe. Again referring to the tyranny and bondage under which his people had suffered, he appealed for help in the name of common ties of blood, and because from this tyranny and bondage the " prophecy saith that I shall be delivered by the aid and succour of your royal Majesty”. In the Irish letters he points out that he is fighting their war as much as his own, and that his success means " welcome peace and calm reposefor them.
Unfortunately, the letters went astray; the messengers bearing them were seized in Ireland, as they were trying to find their way to Scotland, and they were beheaded.
In the meantime, Glyndwr was dealing with Hywel Sele. As he was a dangerous man to be at liberty, Glyndwr determined on capturing him; and in the beginning of 1402 he collected a few men together, attacked Nannau suddenly, and made Hywel Sele a prisoner. Returning to Dolgelley by the road north of Moel Cynwch, and down the Ganllwyd valley, Glyndwr found his way blocked at Llanelltyd bridge by Griffith ap Gwyn, the son-in-law of Hywel Sele, who had come down by a short cut with 200 men to rescue the captive. A terrible fight took place on the bridge, Owain Glyndwr eventually cutting his way through his interceptors, of whom some 60 were left dead on the field.
The worthy Abbot of Cymmer, whose sympathies were entirely with Glyndwr, appears to have intervened then, and to have patched up an arrangement under which Hywel Sele agreed to support Glyndwr, or, at any rate, not to oppose him, and he was set at liberty in consequence.
A short while after Glyndwr visited Nannau probably to discuss terms of support, and he and his former captive went out into the woods together. While out walking, a deer was espied, and Hywel Sele, pretending to draw upon it, wheeled round suddenly and shot his arrow at Glyndwr. Thanks to his coat of mail, the latter escaped injury, and, in revenge for the treacherous assault, he slew Hywel Sele on the spot, and, carrying the corpse a little distance, he thrust it into the hollow trunk of an old tree, inside which it remained for something like 40 years.
For centuries after the tree was looked upon as haunted, and was known as Ceubren yr Ellyll, the Hollow Tree of the Ghost. and no one would go near it at night.
It was blown down at last in a terrible storm on the night of the 13th July, 1813, when its trunk, three feet from the ground, was found to measure 27 feet in circumference. Its site, in the kitchen garden of Nannau, is still marked by a sundial and a brass plate, on which is engraved a sketch of the tree, made the very day it fell.
The years that followed up to 1404 saw Glyndwr's Power extending, and no doubt prisoners like Edmund Mortimer and David Gam passed through Dolgelley. Harlech fell to his arms in January, 1404, and in May, Glyndwr held a council in Dolgelley of some of the chiefs adherent to his cause.
Popular tradition used to designate an old house, which formerly stood in Dolgelley, his Parliament house, a quaint and rather handsome house made of undressed stone and wood, with some very fine carving in the interior. It was never a " parliament house; for nothing, which could be called a parliament, ever sat in Dolgelley, but it is quite possible that Glyndwr's council of chiefs assembled there.
The house was built, so some accounts say, some 40 or 50 years earlier; but others assert it did not come into existence until some 150 years after Glyndwr died. It was generally known as Cwrt Plas yn dre, and it was a kind of town-house of thefamily to which Baron Owen belonged.
However, it was a charming old building; but the good folk of Dolgelley destroyed it ruthlessly in1881 or 1882, and its place has been taken since by an up-to-date ironmongery stores.
It was, probably enough, at this demolished house that Glyndwr wrote his despatch on the 10th day of May, 1404, to the King of France, recommending to that King, Dr. Griffith Yonge, who was Archdeacon of Merioneth, and John Hanmer, his own son-in-law, as his ambassadors to enter into negotiations and a treaty with France.
These two, together with a priest named Benedict Cornme of St. Asaph, journeyed to Paris from Dolgelley, and on the 14th July concluded a treaty with the French King's representatives to wage war together against Henry of Lancaster. They returned home, bearing with them a suit of armour for Glyndwr from the King, with a message that the latter knew that " Owain loved arms above all things," and the treaty which they brought with them was ratified by Glyndwr at Llanbadarn in the following January.
This was the hey-day of Glyndwr's success, and thereafter, little by little, his cause declined.
One would have liked to associate Dolgelley with the famous outline of policy which Glyndwr drafted in 1406, and sent to the King of France; but the evidence is overwhelming that Pennal, on the other side of Cader, can claim that honour.
Nevertheless, we are probably right in assuming that the cardinal points of it had been cogitated upon in Dolgelley itself, and that it was there that Glyndwr determined on an alliance with Charles of France, adhesion to the cause of the French-supported Avignon Pope, a severance of the Welsh Church from Canterbury, the creation of an archbishopric at St. David's, and the foundation of two universities in Wales, one for the North, and one for the South, so that Wales might be spiritually and intellectually empowered to work out her own salvation.
From his love towards Dolgelley, it is quite possible that the great Welsh hero contemplated that the northern University should be located here, and that he hoped to see arising, at the foot of Cader 3 spires and pinnacles like those which grace his own beloved University of Oxford. What a charming setting it would have been to realise the dream in; and had just this one part of his objects alone been brought to fruition, what a change there might have been in the future of the land he loved.
He was not destined. however, to find an opportunity of carrying out his glorious ideas, and the last years of his life were spent as a fugitive, largely among the hills around Dolgelley.
He passed away like a mist on his own mountains, with his mission unfulfilled. No man knows when he died, no man knows where he was laid to rest. There is no monument to him, save the memory of him enshrined in his people's hearts. May it live there for ever; a greater soul, a nobler spirit, never dwelt among these mountains. He gave all he had for them and his people-life, fame, case, wealth and possessions, and counted not the cost.
Nevertheless, though he failed to outward appearance, he did not actually fail. Some of his dreams were realized under the Tudors, who, in many ways, were directly inspired by him; others have been realized in our own days; others await realization.
It is a true enough instinct of the Welsh people to hark back to him as their embodiment of national hero-worship; and Dolgelley's greatest claim to fame is that Glyndwr regarded it with affection.
Glyndwr is sometimes called a " rebel." So he was; but he rebelled not against a lawful king; he alone was true to the memory of the murdered king, Richard II. He rebelled against tyranny, oppression, economic exploitation, and against that outlook, common enough even to-day, which would make his land and the welfare of his people of little account. He rebelled against the extinction of the church of his people, and, herein, he was supported by the best of his day in that church. He rebelled against that deprivation of the means of learning, which, until our own day, was the settled policy adopted towards Wales. Requiescat in pace. Memoria ejus floreat in aeternum.
With his passing, the hand of oppression fell, heavily, again on Wales, and the name of Dolgelley does not emerge for another 50 years or so.
Then only does it burst for a moment out of obscurity, to herald the passing through of Jasper Tudor from Barmouth to Denbigh, when he tried once more to rally Merioneth and North Wales for the tottering Lancastrian cause. We may, if we will, picture the troubled figure of Queen Margaret hastening by to find refuge in Harlech, the last home of her defeated cause. Merioneth played an heroic enough part in the Wars of the Roses, to be forgotten, save for a song, as other doings have been forgotten; but no event of importance occurred in the immediate neighbourhood of Dolgelley.