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Owain Glyndŵr's Wales

Bryn Glas battlefield, Pilleth


The Battle of Bryn Glas, was fought on 22 June 1402, near the towns of Knighton and Presteigne in Powys. It was a great victory for the Welsh rebels under Owain Glyndŵr, and it resulted in the prolongation of the Welsh rebellion and the destabilisation of English politics for several years afterwards.

Although the precise site of the battle is uncertain, the Welsh Battlefields Project Pilot Study of 2009 concludes that the principal conflict, where Mortimer’s forces advanced against Glyndŵr’s position, took place on the slopes of Bryn Glas, an extensive area lying to the E, W, and S of St Mary’s church, its southern edge approximately defined by the present B4356 and its eastern boundary represented by the manorial complex of Pilleth Court. However, subsequent fighting could have spread out over a much broader area (particularly following the rout of the English forces) and consequently could have covered much of the floodplain area to the S and SW of Pilleth, extending along the northern bank of the River Lugg.

Another possible site is suggested by a statement in the early 15th century English prose Brut, which locates the battle at ‘Black Hill’, which might possibly be identified with the eponymous hill lying to the NW of Bryn Glas. While there appears to be no other documentary or place name evidence to associate ‘Black Hill’ with the battle of Pilleth, it is certainly not impossible that the fighting could have extended northwards into this area.

The battle is described in several contemporary and near-contemporary sources which differ in content and level of detail, although they appear to agree broadly on the principal details of the engagement and its aftermath. Accounts describe how when Mortimer’s men and the tenants of Maelienydd met with Mortimer, they advanced on Glyndwr’s forces occupying a hilltop position, but that the contingent of troops from Maelienydd suddenly defected to Glyndwr’s cause, which immediately turned the tide of the battle, and Mortimer was captured. The chroniclers describe how ‘the corpses were left lying under the horses’ hooves, weltering in their own blood, as burial was forbidden for a long time afterwards’, and how Welsh women mutilated the corpses, perhaps from the testimony of survivors of the English army. Estimates of the English slain vary from 200 to 1100, and it is difficult to estimate the respective size of the Welsh and English armies, since sources speak variously of ‘a small force’ of Welshmen (cum paucis) or of a ‘horde’ or ‘rabble’ (turba) and also of ‘a great host from Gwynedd, Powys and the South’, and that Mortimer’s force consisted of ‘almost all the militia of the adjacent counties (to Wales).’

The Church of St Mary’s Pilleth and what is believed to be the main battlefield on the slopes of Bryn Glas is accessed via a relatively short stretch of decent track from the B4356 between Presteigne and Monaughty to the south-west of Knighton - an easy road to drive. There is a good sized car park with a robust surface near the Church together with a relatively recent full-colour panel interpreting the battle. The battlefield is signed from the main road along the track with brand new brown signs displaying an i for information. The church is open all the time and contains some articles and papers about the battle arranged in an informal way for visitors to read there. Substantial sections of the church stood at the time of the battle (majority of the tower) and the building probably played a role during the battle prior to being burnt by Glyndŵr!

Bryn Glas from Offa\'s Dyke
Image © Copyright Graham Horn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The churchyard contains a recent memorial to the fallen of the battle and a memorial service is held each year on the anniversary of the battle. The square of land containing a group of Wellingtonia Trees, which marks the location of piles of bones believed to be the remains of many of those killed in the battle, can be easily seen from a distance as people travel from Pembridge to the east. The steep slopes of Bryn Glas itself, where much of the fighting happened, can be accessed via a footpath leading from the car park through the churchyard.
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