Born: c. 1359
Died: c. 1416 (Age c. 57)
Glendower in History
Owen Glendower, to this day, is considered to be one of the most mysterious figures in British history, to the point where is almost as legendary as the great King Arthur. It is safe to say that a majority of the information known about Glendower is based upon the events of his rebellion against Henry IV of England rather on facts of his actual life. Certain historians will claim that he was descended by prestigious Welsh families on both sides of his parentage. In his early life, it is believed that he engaged in military activity within Scotland and France and was well-educated, particularly in law. But, events of Glendower's activities do not truly begin to unfold until he became the leader of the most serious Welsh rebellion since the region had been conquered by King Edward I in 1283, which officially began in 1400. It by no means clear as to what exactly caused the rebellion, but several historical sources claim it was started by a mere property dispute between Glendower and an English nobleman named Reginald Grey. The argument between the two men resulted in the Welsh attacking, on several occasions, Grey's hometown of Ruthin. Soon after, the attacks became more widespread, and the Welsh protested English rule in general, especially under a usurper such as Henry IV (Henry had deposed his cousin, Richard II, the year prior). Glendower and his family may very well have had some sort of connection to Richard II that caused them to show such animosity towards the man who deposed him and, most likely, had him murdered, but to this day, one can only speculate.
Henry IV sent troops in an attempt to put down the rebellion, but it could not prevent it from continuing to gather momentum. By 1402, Glendower (who by this point had been declared Prince of Wales and even had his own currency made) was achieving significant victories and taking a number of important castles and towns. In addition, he was able to capture his old nemesis, Reginald Grey, and ransom him for the large sum of 10,000 marks, providing more funding for the rebellion. An even bigger victory was won when Glendower was able to capture Edmund Mortimer, uncle of the young Earl of March, the boy who Richard II had, apparently, named as his heir, and who was therefore a hefty bargaining tool. Mortimer made peace with the Welsh rebels and even went so far as to marry Glendower's daughter.
In 1403, the Percies, under the command of Henry "Hotspur" Percy, rebelled against Henry IV, causing more trouble than the king needed at this point. It is widely believed that Hotspur had been secretly meeting with Glendower for quite some time and that the two were planning on jointly attacking the king's forces. Unfortunately for the rebels, Henry IV acted swiftly and intercepted Hotspur's army at Shrewsbury, where a battle broke out that saw the death of Hotspur and a victory for the royal army. The loss of such a powerful ally did not deter Glendower in the least, and he continued to wreak havoc in Wales and the marches. 1405 saw another rebellion against the king take place led by Hotspur's father, the Earl of Northumberland (and also included Archbishop Richard Scrope and earl marshal Thomas Mowbray). It is at this point when the supposed Tripartite Indenture was sealed, which would divide the kingdom (after the king's defeat) between Glendower (who would rule over an extended Wales); Northumberland (who would rule England's north); and Mortimer (who would rule over the rest of the country). As luck would have it though, Archbishop Scrope and Mowbray were duped into dismissing their armies, arrested and executed before the rebellion could even officially begin, and Northumberland was forced to go into hiding in Scotland. The Welsh rebellion, however, continued to rage on, and Glendower continued to gain territory. By 1406, however, the rebellion was starting to, by very small steps, slow down as Prince Hal, Henry IV's eldest son and heir, showed off his brilliant military skills. The rebellion took another hit in 1408 when Northumberland was killed in battle and suffered a further setback when the English retook Harlech from the rebels the following year. At the latter event, a number of Glendower's relatives, including his wife, two of his daughters and several of his grandchildren, were captured; it is believed his son-in-law Mortimer perished during the siege.
For the next five years or so, the Welsh continued to threaten, launching occasional guerrilla attacks on English forces, but the rebellion was, for all intents and purposes, over. No one knows exactly what happened to Glendower himself. In 1417, Henry V, who had taken up a policy of reconciliation with his father's enemies, offered him a pardon. Glendower's son accepted but nothing was heard from Glendower himself. It is widely believed that he was dead by this point. No one knows exactly when, or how, or where the Welsh rebel and self-proclaimed Prince of Wales died, but he unquestionably left a reputation that remains an enigma to this very day, nearly six hundred years later.
Glendower in Shakespeare
Appears in: Henry IV, Part 1
Owen Glendower may have been portrayed in Richard II (and he was indeed mentioned by name in the play), but we will never know for sure if Shakespeare intended the character labeled simply as a "Welsh Captain" to be Glendower. Whatever the case may be, the captain within the play, believing King Richard to be deceased, informs the Earl of Salisbury that he will be dropping his support for the imperiled monarch, though he seems to do so reluctantly. The character of Owen Glendower within 1 Henry IV, however, is an interesting one to say the very least. Although he appears in only one scene, one gains the knowledge that he is a magician of sorts, who supposedly brought grave portents to earth with him upon his birth. (Note: The Welsh captain seen in Richard II also mention of supernatural events that told of the death of the king, providing some evidence that we were indeed meant to believe that the captain was Glendower himself). Yet, he also claims to have been brought up in the English court, giving him a sense of sophistication. Within the one scene he appears in, Glendower meets with Hotspur, Worcester and his son-in-law, Edmund Mortimer, to discuss how the kingdom will be divided up after Henry IV's defeat (Hotspur continuously mocks the Welshman throughout, making the scene a semi-comical one). In reality, this Tripartite Indenture did not take place until two years after Hotspur's death at Shrewsbury. It was Hotspur's father, Northumberland, who was a participant. In 2 Henry IV, it is announced that Glendower has died. This blatantly false fact was undoubtedly taken by Shakespeare from Holinshed, who provided the main source for the histories and wrote that Glendower died, destitute and alone, in a cave. Glendower undoubtedly passed away during Henry V's reign, as later historians would discover. The misinformation clearly shows how little was known about the Welshman when Shakespeare was writing these plays. Despite the passage of over four centuries, relatively little has changed on that aspect, and Glendower remains a very enigmatic figure.