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  • Writer's pictureGraham Watkins

The Red Bandits of Mawddwy

Hen ddwyediad lleol – ‘Tri pheth o Fawddwy a ddaw, Dyn cas, nod cas, a glaw’.

Old local saying – ‘Three things come from Mawddwy, hateful men, blue earmarks and rain’.

In the 16th Century the land of Merrionnydd was a wild and dangerous place. Gangs of robbers roamed the countryside. They terrorized the people; stealing, cheating and murdering at will. The most treacherous were the Red Bandits of Mawddwy, a gang so evil that villagers shook in fear when they swaggered past. The bandits had bright red hair, which they wore long as a mark of allegiance to their clan.


Fearing for their safety, villagers never left home without weapons. At night, doors were locked, windows shuttered and barred. Some put sharpened scythes in their chimneys to stop the robbers entering down the flue and murdering them in their beds.

The Red Bandits of Mawddwy spoke a strange language that only they understood. People whispered that they had arrived from a distant land in the east, exiled for their evil ways.

News of the Red Bandits of Mawddwy reached Queen Mary. She summoned the Sheriff of Meirionnydd, Baron Lewis Owen, and commanded him to end the reign of terror of the Red Bandits. Baron Owen gathered together his men and attacked the bandits while they slept in their hideout on Dinas Mawddwy. Many bandits were slain in the fight and those that survived were led away in chains.

Baron Owen ordered a gallows to be built. Eighty men were separated from the women and led to the scaffold.

“I will end your tyranny,” shouted the Baron.

“Hang all the men,” he ordered.

One by one the bandits were placed on the scaffold and dropped with a sickening jolt as the noose snapped their neck.

The women screamed and pleaded for mercy but the Baron ignored their cries. Among the condemned men were two young boys. Their mother, Lowri, broke away from the other women. She fell on her knees in front of the Baron and grabbed his coat.

“My Lord. They are just boys,” she wailed. “Please be merciful. Spare their lives,” she sobbed.

The Baron looked down at the prostrate woman. He lifted his boot and kicked her to the ground.

“Hang the two boys next,” he commanded.

When it was done, the woman stood up, a sullen look of hatred in her eyes. Lowri bared her chest and cupped her breasts with her hands.

“These yellow breasts have given suck to life and these hands will be washed in your blood,” she spat.

The Baron snorted at the demented woman and strode away leaving her standing by the bodies of her two children.

The tyranny of the Red Bandits of Mawddwy was broken but the red haired women wanted revenge for the murder of their men folk. They waited and plotted until one day the Baron was out riding with his retainers. Suddenly, as they trotted through the valley at Bwlch Oerddrws, a hail of arrows rained down on the riders. The riders were unable to protect themselves and were cut down. More arrows followed. The Baron’s horse wounded with an arrow through its neck fell to the ground.

The Baron was alone; all his men were dead or wounded. Red haired women emerged from behind rocks. They seized the Baron and bound him with leather thongs. The prisoner was dragged to a camp hidden high in the forest above Dinas Mawddwy.

A woman emerged from a cave. It was Lowri, the mother of the two boys. Her face was contorted with hate. With her was an old man with red hair.

“Strip the Baron and tie him to that tree,” commanded the woman.

The Baron struggled as hands ripped his cloak and tunic from his shoulders. His arms were pulled back and lashed to a stout tree.

“What evil is this?” he cried.

The man produced a knife and walked towards the Baron. Lowri stood in front of the Baron and cupped her hands. The Baron screamed as the old man raised the knife. Then, with one quick movement, he slashed the Baron’s throat. The Baron looked down, silently, and watched while the vengeful woman washed her hands in the blood spurting from the wound in his neck. Then he died.

Baron Lewis Owen, Sheriff of Meirionnydd was murdered on the 12th October 1555. The old man, known as John Goch (Red John), a relative of the young boys, was captured and charged with striking the lethal blow. His accomplice Lowri was tried at Bala in 1558. She claimed to be a spinster and attempted to avoid the gallows by announcing that she was pregnant. A jury of women confirmed the pregnancy and she was not hanged while carrying the child. No record exists to confirm whether or not she was executed after giving birth.

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