Gwylliaid Cochion Mawddwy
(‘The Red Bandits of Mawddwy’)
During the C16, a group of highway robbers and bandits roamed the Dinas Mawddwy area and they were known as ‘Gwylliaid Cochion Mawddwy’ or ‘Gwylliaid y Dugoed’. They say that the Gwylliaid were the dregs of society, who came to the Dinas Mawddwy area having been excommunicated from their own areas. Thomas Pennant believed that the Gwylliaid were the refuse of the English Civil War between the houses of York and Lancaster, who were forced, following peace between both families, to flee to another area to continue their uncivilized way of life.
Local residents feared the Gwylliaid and whenever they would travel away from home, they would carry arms. Some would put a scythe or a sharp knife in the chimney of their home, in case one of the Gwylliaid decided to enter the house through the chimney.
The Gwylliaid had their own customs and traditions, with one person leading the group. The Gwylliaid’s attacks on people and property increased to such an extent, that the authorities decided that they must act. Sir John Wynn ab Meredydd of Gwydir and the Baron Lewis Owain were appointed to gather two armies of armed men to try to defeat the Gwylliaid. One Christmas night, they succeeded to catch around one hundred of the Gwylliaid. Some were hanged and others were exiled from the area forever. Two brothers pleaded to be pardoned by the Baron Owain, but they were rejected, thus enraging the Gwylliaid. They were intent on revenge and one night, while the Baron Owain travelled home from Montgomeryshire, the Gwylliaid set traps on the road and shot arrows at the baron and his company. His body was found with thirty arrows attached to it.
The murder of the Baron Owain lead to the demise of the Gwylliaid and following the murder, the full force of the law was brought against them. Tradition has it that every male aged between eight and eighty years old was hanged and that other Gwylliaid were exiled to other areas and countries. Following this, it is said that law and order was never as strong or the people as refined, as they were in Meirionnydd.
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