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  • Writer's pictureGraham Watkins

The Sleeping Prince of Carreg Cennen

Beneath a rocky outcrop, topped by Carreg Cennen Castle, there is a cave that reaches deep into the bowels of the earth. Within this cold damp dungeon lies a band of men dressed in ancient armour. Each man has his sword and shield close at hand, ready for the call to arms. Their chests slowly rise and fall and there is the quiet rasp of snoring. These ancient warriors are in a deep, trance like, sleep.

The leader, like his men, has lain here undisturbed for 600 years; the most fearful and bloody warrior of all, his name is Owain of The Red Hand. Hold up your lamp and look closely at his shield. In the dim light you will see the ‘Four Lions of Gwynedd’, the coat of arms of a Prince. In front of you lies the last in a long and noble line of Princes.

Here slumbers Owain of The Red Hand, the last truly Welsh Prince of Wales. As he sleeps can you see his eyes are moving beneath the lids? His face is twitching. There are small sudden jerks in his arms and legs. Owain of the Red Hand is a man of action even now as he sleeps in this dark place. Owain dreams of battles fought and battles soon to come. This phalanx of warriors and their Prince have fought in wars from Switzerland to Spain. They invaded Guernsey, learned the secrets of the French Royal Court and were favoured by kings. But now they sleep and wait for the clarion call of trumpets and the clash of arms, when as one, they will seize their weapons, pour from the cave at Carreg Cennen and drive the Saxons from their land. Leave quietly, taking care that you do not wake them. The legend of the sleeping prince has been retold many times but Owain of the Red Hand was no legend. He was born Owain ap Thomas ap Rhodri (Owain son of Thomas and grandson of Rhodri) in 14th century Wales. His lineage reaches back to Llewelyn and he could legitimately claim the title ‘Prince of Wales’. The French government recognised his claim and endeavoured to help him regain his throne. Owain grew up in France and, being a gentleman with limited choices for a profession, it was either army or church, he became a soldier in the French army. His ability and ruthless character bought swift promotion. Owain developed into a formidable leader of men and Welsh mercenaries were soon joining him. He led successful French campaigns into Switzerland then Spain and recovered Guernsey from the English.

As with his reputation, the stories of his violence too became exaggerated and his followers adopted the name Owain of The Red Hand (Owain Lawgoch). Realising how effective Owain had become the French began to groom him. They made him a Captain General of France and started to make plans for him to lead an invasion of England. Owain was paid 300,000 francs (£240m in today’s money) to build an invasion force. This was a serious, very well funded, invasion attempt and Owain was only delayed by bad weather.News reached the English who realised that the threat needed dealing with quickly. One day in 1378 Owain was outside the castle at Mortagne-sur-Gironde preparing to attack the English defenders. His servant, a man named John Lambe, entered Owain’s tent, crept up behind him and drove a short shafted spear into his back, killing him.

According to official letters from the time, now in the public records office at Kew, the English paid the assassin £20 to murder Owain. The pay for an archer during that period was just 4 pence a day. John Lambe escaped and lived in England into old age.Owain of The Red Hand is a legend in Wales. However, as a man he has been largely forgotten; but not in France. In Montagne-sur-Gironde, 40 miles north of Bordeaux, on the 15th August 2003 a statue was unveiled with great pomp by the French Minister of Defence in honour of Owain of the Red Hand, Owain Lawgoch, Yvain de Galles, legitimate Prince of Wales and Captain General of France. The 8ft stone statue, carved by French stonemasons, is of a hand holding a disc of welsh slate. The disc, carved by a Welshman, shows the four lions of Gwynedd, the sign of a Welsh Prince.

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