Coed Llathen-Cymmerau 1-2 June 1257 Strategy and battle Tactics a possible scenario


There is a very full, contemporary, account of the battle in the literature and this is strengthed by place-names in the area of Derwen Fawr, Caerfyrddin.

In this note it is intended to explain the significance of the place names in terms of the written accounts and possible battle tactics.

In the year Rhys Fychan ap Rhys Mechyll, had been disposessed of the Cantref of Buellt [now north Breconshire] by Llywelyn III, who had then supported his uncles, Maredudd ap Rhys and Maredudd ab Owain in his prefrence.

On Thuesday 29 May 1257, Stephen Bauson and a large army of English/Gascon/Welsh from the towns, was assembled at Carmarthen. Previously [5 February 1257], Stephen Bauson, Nicholas FitzMartin lord of Cemais, Patrick de Carducis lord of Cydweli, and Caerw, had attacked the Cistercian Abbey of Whitland, commiting wanton destruction of property, beating up the monks and killing the lay brothers. The abbey had been one of those endowed by Maredudd ap Rhys and Maredudd ab Owain and the attack may have been the reason for bringing them into the field.

By Thursday 31 May Stephen Brauson and the army left Carmarthen for Llandeilo Fawr, guided by Rhys Fychan. The accounts agree that as they progressed up the Tywi valley, they pillaged and destroyed the communities.

The main Roman road from Maridunum [Carmarthen] to Ureconium [Wroxeter] followed the north side of the Tywi from Carmarthen, to Dinefwr via Felin Wen, Pont ar Gothi, and the pass of Derwen Fawr. However, this route lay past the small motte-and-bailey castle of Llanegwad and the much larger, new stone castle of Dryslwyn - in the hands of Rhys’ uncles.

Thus several comentators have pointed out that this was probably not the route taken.

In addition, this the Roman road route would also have brought the army to Dinefwr before reaching Llandeilo Fawr, and the written accounts at this stage specifically refer to Llandeilo Fawr, not to Dinefwr. This is important, since it is agreed by comentators that one of the accounts appears to have been written by a monk of Tal-y-llychau Abbey, which is only 7m to the north of the area.

It is therefore more likely that the English army ravaged Cantref Bychan, south of the river, rather than Cantref Mawr to the north. This would have brought them to the river crossing at Llandeilo Fawr, without passing the other castles first.

The accounts agree that the English army then encamped on Friday night in the vicinity of Llandeilo Fawr - probably on the relatively flat ground where the cricket ground now stands - some distance from Dinefwr.

There is no mention at this stage of any engagement between the two sides - certtainly no mention of any seige of Dinefwr Castle.

A possible explanation of this course of events may be that Rhys had convinced Stephen Bauson that if a large enough English force having ‘softened up’ the villages and countryside along the Tywi valley then appeared before his castle, the garison would be intimidated enough to surrender, without a fight, particularely that it was originally one of Rhys’ castles.

Unknown to the English army, but possibly known to Rhys, the wooded countryside in mid Tywi was full of Maredudd ap Rhys and Maredudd ap Owain’s troops, who undoubtedly had been shaddowing the forces through the previous day but apparently did not engage with them. Throughout Friday night, however, the forces of the two Maredudds kept up psycological warfare from the cover of the forest - a barage of intimidating noise, and equally telling a hail of arrows and spears, with a high success rate of hitting their targets.

Rhys plan would have been to go foreward to the castle, to negotiate. However, the plan went wrong. Either Rhys was arrested by the garison, as some chroniclers have suggested, or, once within the walls, he was free to change sides again, having left the English army in strange territory, without a guide, as other chronicles have suggested. The results were the same whichever was the case. The natural thing for the English army to do would have been to make for Carmarthen along the roman road, inspite of the fortifications which they would have to pass. At the same time, the leaders of the English army were aware that reinforcements and stores were stockpiled at Cardigan over thirty miles to the north-west.

Coed ?

Castrell Gwrychion from Gadfan

Here the place-names provide useful evidence of a possible set of events. The valley along which the roman road lies towards Carmarthen west of Llandeilo closes westward as the slopes of Cefn Melgoed forming the north-western valley side converge westward to the hills with the southern side of the valley, namely Castell Gwrychion. At the place where the road passes through a pass between these two ridges is the present cross roads of Derwen Fawr [Broad Oak] in Coed Llathen, and the field at the junction is Congl Gwaedd [the corner of Shouting]. The chroniclers were clear that noise figured greately in the battle.


Cadfan - The Farm

If the English army were progressing westward towards Carmarthen they would observe the valley narrowing with an open slope rising to the north-west. The sudden noise from Congl y Gwaedd would cause them to vear to the right and climbe the long slope up Llethr Cadfan [the slope of battle] towards the present Cadfan Farm. However, immediatly at the top of the slope, where the present lane passes the farm is a long hollow “dead-ground” - ie. not visible from the slope up which the English army would be progressing. Here, it was possible to hide the main Welsh force and when the English force reached the top of the slope they were face-to-face with the main body of the Welsh army. They also were open on their left flank to attack from the force in the Congl Gwaedd.

On the left flank, where the force of Congl y Gwaedd would have hit is now Cae Dial [the field of retribution and the field below the sumit is Cae Tranc [the field of defeat, destruction and death]

It was in this engagement that English army lost its supply train, with weapons, armour, war horses, and pack-annimals.

From the jaws of this defeat, the only way for the surviving army, was to retrace their steps along the roman road and then progress towards Tal-y-llychau to find the northern route to Cardigan. The ground north of the roman road, in the valley floor is very wet and marshy, and many of the tributary valleys are deep narrow gorges.

We now have a problem of identifying the location of the second battle. There is a clue in the name itself: Cymer is the word for confluence, but cymmerau is the plural ie. ‘confluences’. Thus the name does not mean the place where two streams come together, but the place where more than two streams come together. The great historian Sir J.E. Lloyd suggested the confluence of the Cothi river with the Tywi, but this area does not show any evidence of more than one water-course being involved. The area of the confluence of the Dulais near Dryslwyn does involve more than one stream, but lies west of the battle of Coed Llathen: the way blocked by the battle of Coed Llathen.

J. Beverley Smith and others favour a site nearer to Tal-y-llychau for this engagement, but we need not look so far, because the site of Pont Myddyfi on the roman road is just such a place where several streams come together. It is also very marshy, and one of the streams has an unusual, un-Welsh name - Nant Stephanau, formerly Staphanus. This certainly commemorates the site where Stephen[us] Bauson was killed.

The contemporary accounts refer to the English Cavaly being bogged in the marsh, the knights being pulled from their horses and being trampled under foot. The slaughter was imence, between 1,000 and 3,000 being killed on the field. It was the greatest defeat that a Welsh army inflicted on an English one for many centuries, and still remains one of the greatest victories of a Welsh army in the field against a usually, much more powerful force drawn from all over the English empire in Europe.

Later Edward I payed for the erection of monuments to those killed in the battle.

Whether voluntarily or not, Meredydd formerly confirmed a grant of land made over 60 years earlier by William de Breos, who had been executed by Llewelyn the Great in 1230. The property consisted of the advowson of a church at Ebernant, and its chapel at Cynwil Elfed, to the Priory of St John’s Carmarthen [49 - Archaelogia Cambrensis]. Attached to this confirmation was the condition that the Canons of the Priory should say mass for the soul of Stephen Bauzan and Richard Giffard ‘and all the other men fallen in the king’s service’ [50 - Carmarthen Antiquary - Vol. 5 p 2 ‘Stephen Bauzan’ Geo Eyre Evans]. It seems reasonable to assume therefore, that the effigy was placed, not in Llansannor Church but in the Priory of Carmarthen.