GARTH KELYN. Letter from Llywelyn, Prince of Wales to John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury: October 1282
(Translated from the Latin)
To the most reverend father in Christ, the Lord John, by the Grace of God, Archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England, from his humble and devoted son Llywelyn, prince of Wales, lord of Snowdon, greetings and filial affection, with all manner of reverence, submission and honour.
For the heavy labours which your fatherly holiness has assumed at this time, out of the love you bear to us and our nation, we render you grateful thanks, all the more since, as you have confided to us, you come against the king’s will.
You ask us to come to the king’s peace. Your holiness should know that we are ready to do so, provided the lord king will truly observe that same peace as is due to us and ours.
We rejoice that this interlude granted to Wales is at your instance and you will find no impediments placed in the way of peace by us, for we would rather support your efforts than those of any other.
We hope, God willing, there need be no occasion for you to write anything to the pope concerning our pertinacity nor will you find us spurning your fatherly entreaties and strenuous endeavours, indeed we embrace them with all the warmth of our heart. Nor is it necessary for the king to weigh his hand yet further against us, since we are fully prepared to render him obedience, always saving our rights and laws, a reservation legally permitted to us.
The realm of England may well be the special object of the Roman curia’s affection, but the aforesaid curia has yet to learn, and must learn, and the lord pope likewise, what evils have been wrought upon us by the English, how the peace formerly made has been violated in all the clauses of the treaty, how churches have been fired and devastated, and ecclesiastical persons, priests, monks and nuns slaughtered, women slain with children at their breast, hospitals and other houses of religion burned, Welsh people murdered in cemeteries, churches, yes at the very altar, with other sacrilegious offences horrible to hear. All which are detailed in these rotuli we send you in writing for your inspection.
Now our best hope is that you fatherly piety may incline kindly towards us, and neither the Roman curia nor the realm of England need be shaken for our sake, provide it is understood in advance that the peace we seek be not only made, but observed. Those who do indeed delight in the shedding of blood are identified manifestly by their deeds, and thus far the English, in their usage of us, have spared none, whether for sex, or age, or weakness, nor passed by any church or sacred place. Such outrages the Welsh have not committed.
It does, however, grieve us very deeply to acknowledge that it is true one ransomed prisoner was killed, but we have neither countenanced nor maintained the murderer, for he was wandering the forests as a freebooter.
You speak of certain persons beginning the fighting at a holy season. We ourselves knew nothing of this until after the fact, when it was urged in their defence that if they had not struck then, death and rape threatened them, they dared neither dwell in their own houses at peace nor go about except in arms, and it was fear and despair that caused them to act when they did.
As to the assertion that we are acting against God, and ought to repent as true Christians, seeking God’s grace, if the war continues it shall not be set at our door, provided we can be indemnified as is our due. But while we are disinherited and slaughtered, it behoves us to defend ourselves to the utmost. Where any genuine injuries and damages come into consideration upon either side, we are prepared to make amends for those committed by our men, provided the like amends are made for damages inflicted upon us. In the making and preserving of peace we are similarly ready to assist to the limit of what is due from us. But when royal pacts and treaties made with us are of none effect, as thus far they have not been observed, it is impossible to establish peace, nor when new and unprecedented exactions against us and ours are daily being devised.
In the accompanying rotuli we send to you the catalogue of our wrongs, and of the breaches of that treaty formerly made with us.
We fight because we are forced to fight, for we, and all Wales, are oppressed, subjugated, despoiled, reduced to servitude by the royal officers and bailiffs, in defiance of the form of the peace and of all justice, more maliciously than if we were Saracens or Jews, so that we feel, and have often so protested to the king, that we are left without any remedy.
Always the justiciars and bailiffs grow more savage and cruel, and if these become satiated with their unjust exactions, those in their turn apply themselves to fresh exasperations against the people. To such a pass are we come that they begin to prefer death to life. It is not fitting in such case to threaten greater armies, or move the Church against us. Let us but have peace, and observe it as due, as we have expressed above.
You should not believe all the words of our enemies, Holy Father, the very people who by their deeds oppress and ill-use us, and in their words defame us by attributing to us whatever they choose. They are ever present with you, and we absent, they the oppressors, we the oppressed. In accordance with divine faith, instead of quoting their words in all things, we should rather examine their deeds.
May your holiness long flourish, to the benefit and good order of the Church.
Dated at Garth Kelyn