I have always been fascinated by the various legends about that most unpopular of Kings of England; Edward II. Hated by the English for losing Scotland at the battle of Bannockburn, hated by the Welsh for being the first English man appointed to the office of Prince of Wales. Hated by the French for the treatment of his wife Isabella (the she wolf of France) and hated by the Barons for pretty much everything.
Recently the legend about him being murdered by having a red hot poker shoved up his bottom reached a whole new audience when the actor Danny Dyer (of Eastenders fame) appeared on BBC TV’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ and discovered he was descended from one of the King’s illegitimate children. But there are loads more legends about him and many of them are set in our little corner of Wales, here in Glamorgan as this is where he hid, with his lover/favourite Hugh Le Despenser (Earl of Glamorgan) from the army of his vengeful wife.
So I have made a film about them.
With the help of some experts in their field we unpick the truth from the stories to piece together Edwards final months of freedom in 1326 and his probable murder in 1327.
You can watch it here 👇
Despite the fact that the king himself kept a journal we have very little accurate, contemporary account of the events leading up to his capture in Llantrisant. But we do have a couple of spectacular legends that fill in some of the gaps.
The one we focus on was published in full in the South Wales Daily News on 29th August 1899 by a man from the hilltop village of Llangynwyd near Maesetg who called himself Ap Cadrawd. He claimed that he had uncovered a genuine historical account written by a bard called Morien which told the full story.
The narrative of the article was that Edward II and his lover Hugh Le Despenser had fled London and sought refuge in Neath Abbey. There they persuaded the Abbot of Neath to plea on their behalf but in doing so, he inadvertently gave away where they were hiding. So, they fled again and attempted to find their way to Despenser’s Castle in Caerphilly but knowing there were soldiers looking for them everywhere they had to stay away from busy roads and big towns where they could easily be spotted. Thus, they ended up in Llangynwyd as it lies on the Glamorgan Ridgeway (which you may remember me writing about previously). The ancient road that runs from Margam to Caerphilly through that very parish.
Ap Cadrawd writes “while in hiding from his enemies at Gaily Lenor Fawr… in order to keep up his character as a Welsh peasant, Edward accepted employment as a thresher of corn at the farm where he was afforded temporary shelter from the fury of Isabella and Mortimer, the farmer meanwhile keeping watch for suspicious characters in the locality- should any such characters appear the fugitive King hid himself in the branches of an oak tree near by, after- wards known as “Cadair Edward”, whence he saw on several occasions bauds of soldiers in search of him…”
The legend then concludes with something of a bombshell;
“in Bridgend a contemporary brought to light another interesting find. This find places beyond a shadow of doubt the truth of one at least of Morien’s statements. An inscribed stone is said to be the find which sets forth the fact that Edward II did really and actually come to the farm of Gelly Lenor Fawr. After centuries we are told that the stone has been revealed by the hand of Nature herself by the blowing down of the old tree”
Obviously, this story has a lot of over tones of the one about Charles I hiding in the Royal Oak. However, there is one inescapable fact in all of this. There genuinely is a stone. You need to work quite hard to find it these days, but here is a picture of it.
Does the presence of this stone actually prove anything? And what of the one at Pant-Y-Brad in Llantrisant which comes to us courtesy of the same legend?
We take a look at both of them in depth and talk about the likely truth in the film. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but don’t hold your breath…
If you are interested in the legends and folklore of Glamorgan then how can I not promote any of my many books on the subject. They are available from my website at discounted prices you won’t find in the bookshops or on Amazon. For more information pop along to my online bookshop on this link.
I am indebted to the various history societies who supported me with making of this film and especially the co-operation of The Berkeley Castle Estate.