Born c1351 Died 1415

Dafydd Gam or to give him his full name Dafydd ap Llewellyn, was the son of Llewellyn ap Hywel Fychan described as the Lord of Pen-pont near the town of Aberhonddu or Brecon, which in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was the caput of the Marcher Lordship of Brecon ruled by the Bohun family. Llewellyn was himself the grandson of Einion ap Rhys known as 'Einion Sais', or 'Einion the English' which provides the clue that the family of Pen-pont where amongst those who had made their peace with their new masters.

According to George Borrow, our Dafydd "was small of stature and deformed in person, though possessed of great strength. He was very sensitive of injury, though quite as alive to kindness; a thorough-going enemy and a thorough-going friend". Since Gam or Cam is Welsh for crooked, it appears that the nature of his deformity was that he was either cross-eyed or had lost an eye at some point in his youth.

Dafydd's first claim to fame was when he got into a fight with one Richard Fawr, Lord of Slwch, in Brecon High Street as a result of which poor Richard was killed. Hence Dafydd abandoned Wales for fear of retribution and found refuge in England in the service of John of Gaunt, during the course of which he established a firm friendship with Gaunt's son Henry Bolingbroke1. In due course his friend Henry Bolingbroke became king Henry IV in 1399 at which point Henry restored Dafydd to his former position in Brecon and additionally "gave him employments of great trust and profit in Herefordshire".

During the time of his service in England Dafydd may well have made the acquaintance of a fellow Welshman who had also found employment with the Duke of Lancaster, namely one Owain Glyndwr who had been esquire to the young Henry. In the aftermath of the Lancastrian Usurpation of the crown, whilst Dafydd was now a committed Lancastrian, his compatriot Glyndwr took a different view. Mainly as a result of a quarrel with a Reginald Grey and his failure to receive a fair hearing in the English courts, in 1402 Glyndwr broke out in rebellion.

In 1404 Owain Glyndwr summoned a Welsh parliament to meet at Machynlleth, and it is said that Dafydd Gam answered the summons but only with the specific intention of assassinating Glyndwr. The plot however failed and Glyndwr "caused him to be seized and conducted in chains to a prison which he had in the mountains of Sycharth". Thus Dafydd spent the next eight years in prison according to one tradition, although another version of the story claims that after a period in prison in Machynlleth he was set free on parole.

There appear to be good reasons to doubt the story of Dafydd the assassin, which may well have arisen as a result of a deliberate confusion with the story of Hywel Sele, Lord of Nannau, who did indeed attempt to kill Glyndwr. (And given Hywel's rather grisly fate2 it seems unlikely that Glyndwr would have contented himself with merely imprisoning a failed assassin, let alone releasing him on parole.)

The simple truth appears to be that the family of Llewellyn ap Hywel Fychan refused to join with Glyndwr (preferring, it seems, the devil they knew, rather than the unknown quantity of the self styled 'Prince of Wales'). Dafydd was the leader of a force of Brecon locals defending the area against Glyndwr's men and sometime in the years 1410 to 1412 he was captured by them and was only released on payment of a ransom, funded naturally by his old friend Henry IV.

For this reason Dafydd Gam has been described as "one of the few real Welsh traitors", although no doubt Dafydd himself would not have seen it that wayand would have regarded Glyndwr as the traitor, betraying the personal loyalty he owed to the House of Lancaster.

With the death of Henry IV in 1413, Dafydd transferred his loyalties to Henry's son and successor Henry V, and together with three men at arms joined with Henry in his invasion of France in 1415, where he appears to have served in the capacity of a royal bodyguard. It is for this reason that Dafydd Gam was to found in the thick of the fighting during the final stages of the battle of Agincourt when the charge of Anthony of Brabant resulted in a press of men around Henry V and it seemed as if the king's life was threatened. It was then Dafydd Gam who cut a path through the melee to lead his king to safety. There "he achieved that glory which will for ever bloom, dying, covered with wounds, on the field of Agincourt after saving the life of the king, to whom in the dreadest and most critical moment of the fight he stuck closer than a brother".

Dafydd was posthumously knighted on the battlefield but Welsh History pays little heed to Dafydd Gam (preferring instead to dwell on the antics of his contemporary Glyndwr) and his name is scarcely mentioned other than in the context of being amongst those that opposed Glyndwr. His exploits at Agincourt, even if they are in the realm of a well respected tradition rather than undeniable historical fact, are not mentioned; possibly because saving the life of an English king, even one born in Monmouth, is not something that warrants any particular consideration.


Modern day representatives of the Games or Gaines family, who undoubtedly originate from Breconshire like to think of themselves as being descended from Dafydd Gam, although Dafydd's only recorded child was a daughter named Gwladus who married firstly Roger Vaughan of Bredwardine, who also died at Agincourt and subsequently William ap Thomas and was thus the mother of William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke.


NOTES

1 There being no extradition treaties in place between England and the Marcher statelet of Brecon, Dafydd was safe enough.
2 The wounded Hywel Sele was placed inside the hollow trunk of an old oak tree and left to die of his wounds.


SOURCES

  • George Borrow Wild Wales Reproduced at http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/b/borrow/george/wild/chapter79.html
  • Gathering the Jewels: the website for Welsh cultural history http://www.gtj.org.uk/item.php?lang=en&id=7837&t=1
  • Jacqueline Peltier Owen Glendower & Owain Glyn Dwr (1359?-1416?) La Lettre Powysienne No. 4 (2002). See : http://www.powys-lannion.net/Powys/LettrePowysienne/number4.htm
  • John Davies A History of Wales (Allen Lane, 1993)
  • Gwyn Williams When Was Wales? (Penguin, 1991)

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