The date - 16th of September 2000. The place - Machynlleth the ancient capital of Wales.
For what seemed to be a few short hours, Machynlleth was seemingly the capital of Wales once again, as Welsh men, women and children from every corner of Wales and the World could be seen converging on the ancient place.
What was the reason for their convergence, Could it be that once again they were answering a rallying call to arms from arguably the most famous Welshman of all time; Owain Glyndwr. Surely it could not be so, for it was over 600 years to the very day, at his mansion of Sycarth in north east Wales that Owain had first declared his intentions of going to war. But perhaps this mystical figure of Welsh history was to reappear once again and, as he had previously, lead the Nation in one more bid for independence
No dear visitor, despite the fact that nearly all there would have answered the call, that was not to be the case. Under the fluttering battle flags used by Owain's army: the Golden Lion and me: the Red Dragon, those that had gathered there were this time on a more peaceful mission. That was to dedicate a monument to Owain's memory.
So this time, as there had been in previous times, there was to be none of the depravities of war, no blood of the nation's manhood to again mix with the soil of the land, none to grieve the loss of their loved ones.
Now I hear you ask why erect a monument to Owain anyway? Well having being hoisted aloft by his men on the 18 September 1400, I the Red Dragon of Wales, shall attempt to tell you of the man: this Owain Glyndwr.
The muddy waters of time seem to have clouded my actual recollections of Owain's birth, but I do remember that he was born at Trefgarn Owain near St. Davids in Pembrokeshire. On two accounts could he claim the right to the "Royal" Crown of Wales, His mother, a small framed woman, was a direct descendent of the Royal house of Deheubarth: while his father was of a direct line to those Princes of northern Powys who had once lived at the castle of Dinas Bran, high above the present town of Llangollen.
Owain returned home to Sycarth from the Scottish war, there towards the end of 1386 he married the daughter of Sir David Hanmer: a judge in the Court of the King's bench. Owain was Lord of the fertile rich lands of both Cynllaith Owain and Glyn Dyfrdwy and his mansion on the banks of the river Cynllaith, was something to behold. The door of the mansion was always open to anyone who cared to call, for there was always a welcome at his table. The house itself built with oak, stood on high ground and had an unheard of feature for those days, chimneys which carried away the smoke from the central room. There were spacious sleeping quarters for both the family and servants, for Owain rarely treated his servants as such, they were more family friends. Outside was a very large pigeon-house and a fishpond which contained many a fine fish.
To the right and rear of the mansion stood a large copse which contained a Heronry who's birds, despite causing havoc with the fish in the pond, were allowed to reside in the tree's for they often as not provided meat for the table. Down by the riverside, giving shelter from the sun on a warm lazy summers day, alder and willow overhung the river; underneath which on a late afternoon large trout could be seen as they rose to take a fly. However, among this tranquil scene things were not as they first seemed, for there was treachery and deceit in the air. By the time the rigor's of winter in year of 1400 had set in, there had been both a bloody campaign and heavy defeat.
Nevertheless when the year 1401 arrived in Wales the tide changed for it heralded victory after victory for a few years and may have continued, had it not been for the tide of change occurring once more. Then as always there was, down through the centuries in this small nation of ours, defeat; always that final bitter and utter bloody defeat that cost so many lives.
As a young man Owain was an adventurous and would roam the countryside, much to the consternation of his parents. Many times his father's servants undertook the task of searching for him in a bid to return him to his home. When Owain the young Lord of Glyn Dyfrdwy reached adulthood he was taken to London by his father, there installed in the "Inns of Court" where his father hoped he would learn the profession of law. It was not to be, for he soon became disillusioned with the task he took up the force of arms. He was esquire to Fitzalan the Earl of Arundal, indeed when English forces invaded Scotland in the August of 1385 he fought alongside Fitzalan in the army of Richard II king of England; earning himself a much envied reputation with his tenacity and skill of arms.
Prior to 1400 Owain had been having an ongoing dispute with the Lord Reginald Grey of Ruthin, there had even been several representations to parliament in 1399 regarding the situation. However, they had been to no avail, as the lord Reginald was a close confidant of the king; Henry of Lancaster. The situation came to head at Evesham where the king had summoned a general muster before beginning his campaign against the Scot's. Owain's summons to attend the muster was entrusted to Lord Grey, which he withheld until it was to late for Owain to obey. When Owain heard that Henry had marched north for Scotland, so the fires of war had been prepared.
September 1400, as the king marches home from Scotland, Owain knowing he faced the possibility of death for treason; resolves to put and end to his dispute with Grey with an act of war. Having called for his family to meet at Sycarth, he sat in council prepared to hear their views. Among those gathered that fateful day of September 16th 1400 were his sons, his wife's brothers and the Dean of St. Asaph cathedral. From early dawn that morning the pro's and con's of declaring war were debated, then as a cock crowed heralding the noon of the day so a cousin of Owain's drew forth his sword, swearing fealty he called out for the Lord of Glyn Dyfrdwy to become Prince of Wales. All that were there that day so proclaimed, so the die was cast and the fires of war were lit. Within hours the assembled host had armed themselves and then set out to right what Owain considered to be the wrong doings of Lord Grey.
September 18th, Owain and his men attack Grey's castle of Ruthin, but find that the castle is well defended: he and his men are repelled. In frustration the little town lying in the lee of the castle's walls is fired. It was while marching north, down the vale of the Clwydd, away from the castle and town, that I became the rallying point for the men of Wales.
One of Owain's men, on turning to look back up the vale, saw the smoke from the fires of Ruthin forming the shape of a dragon in the late afternoon sky. His shout of Look a dragon for Owain and Owain is for Wales quickly produced a rather sketchy Red Dragon on a motley background of green and white. Tied to a willow cut from a tree near the water's edge, I was hoisted aloft there to fly alongside Owain's battle flag of a golden lion on a white back ground. They say it was a fine sight the Lion and the Dragon fluttering in the wind that late Autumn day.
As to the campaign itself, well it was a complete disaster. Having rampaged around northeast Wales for eight days, during which time the English settlements of Ruthin, Denbigh, Rhuddlan, Flint, Harwarden and Holt were attacked and destroyed, there was very little else achieved, for the castles at all the places were left in intact. On the 24th of September Owain suffered a devastating blow.
Having left the town of Oswestry aflame on the 22nd Owain had advanced south with the the intention of doing the same to Welshpool. However, to the west of his intended target he decided to camp on the banks of the river Vyrnwy for a short while before advancing on the town. It was while he and his men lay at rest that the encampment was attacked by armour clad forces forces from Shropshire, Staffordshire and Warickshire, under the command of Hugh Burell. It was a bloody conflict with the river running red with blood, much of it the blood of Owain's men. Soon his men ran and scattered to the four corners of Wales. As for Owain, he and a small band took to the hills. It seemed to everyone that the rebellion was over, The king however, was not so sure. Whilst continuing to march south, he sent a message to the citizens of Shrewsbury warning them of the Welsh that lived in their midst.