The Battle of Pilleth

The Battle of Pilleth took place on St Alban’s day, 1402, between the forces of Owain Glyndwr and Edmund Mortimer. Owain Glyndwr led a national uprising from 1400 to 1415 in order to restore Welsh independence by ending English rule and oppression in Wales. Owain’s great seal bears the legend ‘Owain, by the grace of God, Prince of Wales’. Edmund Mortimer was one of the Marcher barons of Henry IV who had their power base around Wigmore, Herefordshire.

In June 1402, learning of Owain Glyndwr’s incursion into Radnorshire, Edmund Mortimer raised an army of tenants and supporters and moved west along the river Lugg invasion corridor to counter the threat to his lands. Edmund Mortimer’s force arrived in the area on 21 June and it is believed that they spent the night at nearby Whitton before assembling at the foot of Bryn Glas hill on the morning of the 22nd. Owain’s force was already firmly established on the slopes above.

Imagine standing near Pilleth Church which is thought to have been at a mid-way point between the two armies. Owain’s force would be above in waiting and Mortimer’s army was climbing up the hill towards them. Observing the steepness of the hill behind the church, imagine climbing this in full battle gear, since the chaotic mix of a few thousand men locked into the to and fro of savage, close order, mediaeval combat, with the thrum of airborne arrows, the clash of steel on steel, mixed in with the human cries of exertion, distress and pain.

Mortimer’s army was the larger (2000 estimate) but was handicapped by the need to scale the hill and a switching of allegiances during the battle, which led to a disastrous defeat with some 800 killed and Mortimer and other notables captured. After his capture, Mortimer also changed his allegiance eventually marrying Owain Glyndwr’s daughter. The churchyard and the ground above was the final resting place of most of the dead, whose bones are still turned up from time to time. You will find a stone marking a burial place in the churchyard.

The Battle of Pilleth is mentioned by William Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part 1

                              ” the noble Mortimer,
Leading the men of Herfordshire to fight,
Against the wild and irregular Glendower,
Was by the rude hand of that Welshman taken,
A thousand of his people butchered”