An Interview with author Charles Parry
"Owain Glyn Dwr (Shakespeare's Owen Glendower) is one of the most iconic characters in all of Welsh history. Descended from native princely stock, when an increasingly intolerable English hegemony coincided with the advent of an unpopular English king, he was the natural choice of many of his nation to lead them out of oppressive English rule. Such a leader had been foreseen by Welsh prophets for centuries as Y Mab Darogan or The Son of Prophecy."
Buy the book here:- The Last Mab Darogan
AmeriCymru: Hi Charles and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. When did you first become interested in Owain Glyn Dŵr?
Charles: Thanks for inviting me to discuss the book and Glyn Dŵr. It's always a pleasure for me to do so but especially so for Americymru because I know that many of your members have a love of Welsh history and so will have at least some awareness of the Glyn Dŵr legend.
It's hard to say exactly when I became interested in him as he seeped into my soul from a young age. I was born not far from where he had lived so he’d be mentioned occasionally at school and, of course, there were hotels, streets and even railway locomotives named after him. Sometimes on days out with my family to Rhuddlan, Conway and Caernarfon castles his attacks on them were mentioned by guides – not always in complimentary terms! I remember Welsh nationalists invoking his name: I suppose it lent their campaigns a militant, anti-English air. A little later there was even a nationalist group calling themselves Y Meibion Glyn Dŵr who took to attacking English interests in Wales – mostly setting fire to holiday homes. So Glyn Dŵr wasn’t exactly seen in a good light by everyone! I have to admit that I forgot about him for a while whilst I pursued my university studies.
AmeriCymru: Many books have been written about Owain: novels, scholarly accounts etc. How does your book differ from the rest? What approach did you adopt in tackling his story?
Charles: The first book I read that seriously addressed Glyn Dŵr as an historical subject was Rees Davies’s excellent ‘The Age of Conquest’, which I read in the early 90’s. In that was a whole chapter on Owain’s revolt. It was the first balanced account that I’d read and one that saw him in a relatively positive light when shown against the oppression that the Welsh were suffering at the time. Professor Davies went on to write his classic ‘The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dŵr’, which I read in about 1996 and I was completely entranced once again by this amazing Welsh hero. I then read dozens of other books and articles – some good, some bad – about Glyn Dŵr before deciding I should write my own.
Firstly, I wanted to write a book about him that placed his story in a wider context than all the other books I’d read. I wanted it to include, for example: how the tumultuous events in England influenced the revolt; how the situation in France affected its cause, progress and demise; how the schism in the church at the time colored it; how the Scots helped (or hindered) their Celtic cousins’ bid for freedom. It’s why the book is subtitled ‘The Life and Times of Owain Glyn Dŵr’. Secondly, I wanted it to read chronologically, rather than have chapters dedicated to particular aspects, so that the story of Glyn Dŵr unfolds in a continuous stream that takes the reader on a journey through the timeline of his revolt. Finally, I wanted it to be historically accurate and include new research that had come to light since Professor Rees’s book. Many books and articles on Glyn Dŵr unfortunately peddle myths about him and his revolt: anything written in my book as a fact is backed up with a reference supporting it. The hardback book has over a thousand footnotes and several appendices for the keener reader to explore some relevant aspects of the time in more detail, like castle warfare, arms and armor, and the anti-Welsh statutes – some of which were still in the statute books in Victorian times! It also has over 80 illustrations, including maps, almost all of which are in color. It makes for a large book (although the ebook is shorter) but to me its level of detail is a bonus. There are shorter books on Glyn Dŵr but they don’t give the whole picture and frankly many of them are under-researched and rely on hearsay.
Monument to Owain Glyndwr's Victory at Hyddgen
AmeriCymru: How important a figure is Owain Glyn Dŵr in the history of Wales?
Charles: Glyn Dŵr is an immensely important figure in the history of Wales. The revolt he led was a watershed in Welsh history. It so devastated Wales that no serious attempt to throw off the ‘Saxon Yoke’ by violent means was ever again attempted. After it many Welsh adopted English customs at home, worked in administering the country for the English, sought their fortunes in England or went fighting for the English abroad. Even the architecture of Wales, its vernacular at least, can be considered pre- and post- Glyn Dŵr as so much of it was destroyed or damaged beyond repair in the revolt – by both sides it has to be said. For much of the time after the revolt he became a symbol of the unruly Welshman: despised by the English and quietly revered by the Welsh. Since Victorian times he has become a lot more rounded as an historical figure – even the English have come to appreciate his finer qualities. I have heard people, especially Welsh people, say that Nye Bevan or Lloyd George was the greatest Welshman ever but they do not come close to having the same effect on Wales as did Glyn Dŵr: their achievements were great but they only marginally impacted on Wales; Glyn Dŵr was a Welsh leader of Welsh people in Wales and at that he was one of the greatest if not THE greatest.
AmeriCymru: Owain is famous for disappearing from history around 1410. What do you think became of him in his later years?
Charles: The greatest Glyn Dŵr conundrum is what happened to him when, as the bards said, he disappeared. After Harlech fell to Prince Hal, I believe he lived in or around his old patrimonial lands in Powys Fadog and Edeirnion where his retinue would have been most loyal. Living with one or more of his daughters on the English borders, as later local legends suggest, would have been too risky even if he were cunningly disguised as a friar or a shepherd. An interesting story in Welsh I unearthed suggested that he sailed to France to persuade Charles VI to give him some more support and died on the way but there is no other evidence for that. He most probably died around 20th September 1415. No one knows where he died or was buried but if I had to guess I would say that he died near Glyndyfrdwy and was buried in sacred ground somewhere not too far away.
AmeriCymru: What's next for Charles Parry?
Charles: I have been researching a book on John Oldcastle who as Lord Cobham became one of the first Lollard martyrs. I came across him whilst researching my book on Glyn Dŵr as he has strong ties with Wales and fought with Prince Hal. I hope to complete it this year and with luck have it published in 2016. I am also researching the death of my younger brother Ian in the 1989 Romanian revolution. As a recent S4C documentary ‘Pwy Laddodd Ian Parry?’ has discovered, it looks like it wasn’t the accident it was made out to be at the time. There might be some further developments in that this year too.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
Charles: AmeriCymru is a great forum for Welsh culture and history. It’s 600 years this year since the death of Owain so I hope that AmeriCymru members commemorate him and the anniversary of his death in some small way, if only by thinking of his legacy and his contributions to Wales. Keep up the good works! Blwyddyn newydd dda i bawb.