Open main menu

OWEN of Wales (d. 1378), soldier in the French service, claimed to be the rightful heir of the princes of Wales, and, according to the statement attributed to him by Froissart (viii. 48-9, ed. Luce), was son of Aymon or Edmund, a Welsh prince, who had been wrongfully put to death by the English king. Many years afterwards Owen Glendower excused his petition for French help on the ground that he was the right heir by consanguinity of Owen of Wales, who had died in the service of France (Chron. des Re- ligieux de S. Denys, iii. 164, Collection des Documents Inédits). It would therefore seem that Owen's pretensions were not altogether groundless. Lettenhove thinks that he belonged to the family from which the house of Tudor sprang.

Owen went to France as a boy after his father's death, and was kindly received by Philip of Valois, who made him one of his pages. He continued in the service of John II, and fought under him at Poitiers on 19 Sept. 1356, but had the good fortune to escape from the battle. After the peace of Bretigny in 1360 he went to Lombardy, and there won much distinction as a soldier (Froissart, ix. 77, ed. Raynaud). On the renewal of the war with England Owen returned to France, and in 1369 Charles V conceived the idea of creating a diversion by a rebellion in Wales. With this purpose an armament was collected at Harfleur under the direction of Owen and a Welsh squire, whom Owen had won over, named John Win or Wynn. On putting to sea in December, they returned on account of bad weather (Froissart, vii. lxxxiv, n. 1, xcv, n. 2; Paris, Grandes Chroniques, vi. 320, 322). Two years afterwards, on 8 May 1372, the French king gave directions for the preparation of a fleet at Harfleur, and two days later Owen issued a proclamation, in which he asserted his hereditary rights as prince of Wales, and acknowledged his indebtedness to the French king for three hundred thousand francs for the cost of the expedition (Delisle, Mandements de Charles V, p. 457; Lettenhove's Notes to Froissart, viii. 435–6). It was intended that the French armament should co-operate with a fleet from Spain; but the non-arrival of the latter force caused a diversion of the expedition against the Channel Islands. The Guernsey legends fix the date of Owen's invasion on 5 Jan., and say that he landed on a Tuesday; but it is clear that it took place in the early summer, and perhaps Tuesday, 15 June, was the true date. Owen landed his troops at Vazon Bay, on the west coast of Guernsey, and, taking the natives by surprise, marched across the island, while his ships sailed round and landed another force near St. Peter Port. A fierce fight took place on the high ground above the port, at a spot now covered by the modern town. Despite the timely arrival of an English reinforcement from St. Sauveur le Vicomte, the men of Guernsey were routed with great loss, and forced to take refuge in Castle Cornet. Owen laid siege to the castle without success; but, according to the Guernsey legend, was, through the treachery of Bregard, a French monk of Vale Abbey, more successful at St. Sampson's and Vale Castle. One version of Froissart (viii. 301, ed. Luce) alleges that Owen also made a descent on Jersey. While Owen was still before Castle Cornet he was recalled by a message from the French king. On 23 June John Hastings, second earl of Pembroke [q. v.], had been defeated and taken prisoner by a French and Spanish fleet, and Owen was now ordered to go to Santander and arrange for a joint attack on La Rochelle.

After refitting at Harfleur, Owen sailed for Spain, and reached Santander on the morning of the very day when the Spanish fleet, under Don Ruy Diaz de Rojas, arrived with Pembroke and the other prisoners. (This was not later than 19 July; see Luce's notes ap. Froissart, vol. viii. p. xxx.) The news of their arrival was brought to Owen at his hostelry. As he came out he met Pembroke, whom he recognised and reproached with the robbery of his Welsh lands. One of the earl's squires promptly challenged Owen, who, however, refused to fight with a prisoner. Owen was favourably received by Henry of Trastamare, and Ruy Diaz de Rojas was ordered to join in an attack on La Rochelle (Froissart, viii. 64, ed. Luce); another account represents Owen as seeking aid for his Welsh expedition, and makes the Spaniards declare that they would go beyond the Straits of Morocco, or anywhere but Wales (Chron. des Quatre premiers Valois, p. 235; perhaps this incident really belongs to some other occasion). The combined fleet under Owen and Ruy Diaz de Rojas appeared before La Rochelle early in August 1372. While they were there engaged, Jean de Grailly, the Captal de Buch, surprised and defeated a French force at Soubise. Owen had disembarked, and now in his turn surprised the Captal de Buch as he lay before Soubise, and took him and Sir Thomas Percy [q. v.] prisoners. According to Froissart, Percy's captor was Owen's Welsh chaplain, David House; the man was a Welshman, but his true name was Honvel Flinc (Luce's notes to Froissart, viii. p. xxxviii). Next day (23 Aug.) Owen made an attack on the castle of Soubise, which was promptly surrendered by its defenders in return for a safe-conduct. Owen then went back to La Rochelle, where he was already in treaty with the townsmen, who on 8 Sept. rose against the English garrison and delivered the city to Owen. After an interval Owen went with his prisoner, the Captal de Buch, to Paris, where he arrived on 11 Dec. In the following spring (1373) he was serving under Bertrand du Guesclin, and was present at the battle of Chizé on 23 March. On 9 June he was retained with a hundred men under the Duke of Burgundy (Delisle, Mandements de Charles V, p.965), and on 22 July occurs as captain of La Tour de Broue. It seems hardly likely that during this time Owen should have taken part in a descent on the English coast, as stated by Froissart (viii. pp. lxix, 122). On 28 Jan. 1374 he was engaged in Saintonge with a hundred men at arms, and in the autumn was serving in the fleet under Jean de Vienne at the siege of St. Sauveur le Vicomte, which fortress surrendered on 3 July 1375. In the autumn Owen took part in the expedition of Enguerrand de Coucy to Alsace against the latter's cousin Leopold of Austria (Froissart, ed. Luce, viii. p. cxxxvi, n. 1 ; cf. Chron. Angliæ, 1328–88, p. 135, Rolls Ser.)

In August 1377 Owen was serving under Louis of Anjou at the siege of Bergerac. In the following month he defeated an English detachment, and, after the capture of Duras in October, was ordered to undertake the siege of Mortagne in Poitou. After recruiting for a time at Saintes he marched against Mortagne about the end of 1377 (Cuvelier, ii. 314–16 ; Froissart, ix. 4, 19, 25–7). He was still engaged on the siege when in July 1378 there came to him a squire from the Welsh marches named John Lambe, who, by giving out that he was on his way to take service with his countryman, had made his way unharmed through Brittany. Lambe assured Owen that all Wales was eager for his coming, and, by thus working on his credulity, was taken into his service and confidence. He then waited for a favourable opportunity, and one morning, when Owen had gone out unarmed to view the castle with no other companion, treacherously slew him. Owen was buried at the church of St. Leger, about four miles from Mortagne. His assassin took refuge in Mortagne, where, according to Froissart, he was somewhat coldly received. However, on 18 Sept., when John de Neville, fifth Baron Neville of Raby [q. v.], raised the siege, Lambe and two companions were rewarded for accomplishing Owen's death. The murder of Owen is alleged to have been done in revenge for his treatment of the Captal de Buch (ib. ix. 74–9, p. Ii. ; Kervyn's notes to Froissart, ix. 508, xxii. 25–6).

Owen's invasion of Guernsey fills a large place in the island legend, and a ballad in the Guernsey patois has survived under various forms. According to this ballad, Owen had married, at La Greville in France, a Princess Eleanor, with whom he obtained great wealth, and who had come with him to Guernsey. In its fullest form the ballad relates that after his attack on the island Owen was taken prisoner by an English ship off the coast of Brittany, and carried to Southampton. There he was put to death, and his wife was consigned to beggary. This, of course, is pure fiction ; but it looks like a hazy recollection of the capture of Eleanor de Montfort [q. v.], the intended wife of Llywelyn ab Gruffydd [[q. v.], in 1275. In the Guernsey account Owen's soldiers are called Sarragousies, which may mean Aragonese ; but the whole narrative is mixed up with legends, and perhaps confused with other invasions. The Guernsey legend says that Owen landed in the early morning, and that the alarm was given by a peasant called Jean Letocq ; so to be 'stirring early like Jean Letocq' has become proverbial in the island.

[Except for the possible reference in the Chronicon Anglire, 1328–88, there is no allusion to Owen in English chronicles or records yet published. Froissart, ed. Luce and Raynaud, viii. 44–9, 64–84, 122, 190, ix. 4, 19, 25–7, 74–9, and Luce and Raynaud's notes, and ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove, ix. 72–5, and notes, viii. 435-8, ix. 507-8, xxii. 25-6 ; Chronique des Quatre premiers Valois (Soc. de l'Hist. de France) ; Cuvelier's Chron. de B. du Guesclin, ii. 186-7 273, 293, 314-16; Delisle's Mandements de Charles V (both these in Collection des Documents inédits sur l'Hist. de France) ; Lopez de Ayala's Cronica del Rey Enrique Segundo, in Cronicas de los Reyes de Castilla, ii. 34, 1779 ; Guernsey Magazine, vol. vii. June, October, November, December, with notes by Sir Edgar MacCulloch (the original ballad is given in the June number, and a translation in the October number; there is an English verse translation in the Guernsey and Jersey Magazine, vol. ii.) ; Dupont's Histoire du Cotentin et de ses Iles, pp. 415–18 (Owen can hardly be a son of Llywelyn ab Rhys [q. v.] as here suggested); Woodward's History of Wales, p. 564 (inaccurate) ; Arcere's Hist. de la Rochelle, i. 252.]

C. L. K.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.211
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
398 i 18 Owen of Wales: before In August insert Owen is doubtless the person claiming to be 'heir of Wales' with whom Sir John Menstreworth was intriguing in 1377 (Chron. Angliæ, p. 135).