Now, arise Wales, the English have our king

The Scots have their Stone of Scone, so the Welsh want to find their royal bones. Andy Beckett on the frantic search for Owain Glyndwr
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The Independent Online
High in a hill town above Swansea, where the winter mist lingers, there lives an old Welsh patriot with one remaining goal.

Adrien Jones has fought at Suez and taught in Tottenham, but now he thinks of a more distant past, back beyond his own. Jones dreams and schemes for the return of Owain Glyndwr.

Glyndwr, or Owen Glendower to the English he fought, is Wales' lost national hero. For a giddy half-decade from 1400 to 1405 he stormed the grey fortresses built by Edward I and established an independent Wales with himself as monarch.

No Welshman has repeated the feat. Yet since his slow, inevitable defeat by the stronger English, Glyndwr the man - if not the legend - has simply vanished. "There is no contemporary record of when or where he died," says Rees Davies, a professor of medieval history at Oxford and the leading Glyndwr scholar. Glyndwr did not surrender; he evaded capture; in February 1416 he walked out of official records forever.

Adrien Jones says he knows where to find him: founder of the first Owain Glyndwr Society a fortnight ago, Jones wants to dig up his body, return it to Wales and erect a Glyndwr monument in time for the millennium.

These demands have been deftly made. Jones has sought, and received, messages of support for his Society from, among others, Lord Callaghan, Peter Hain MP, and the Welsh historian Sir Glanmor Williams. With a film about Glyndwr in development at the BBC, the Stone of Scone just returned to Scotland and a Welsh Assembly promised by the Labour Party, the time has at last arrived, it seems, to commemorate the founder of the principality's only previous parliament.

On Friday morning, as the frost lifted from the valley below him, Jones sat with eyes alight in his dining room in Llandeilo and spoke of Glyndwr. "He is the most revered Welshman," he said, very fast. "Forgotten for 600 years. The Irish and the Scots have been superb at these symbols - the Welsh are way behind... but now we're talking about him: letters to the press, historians with different points of view."

The debate Jones has stirred has focused on an ancient country estate near Hereford called Kentchurch Court. Its secluded border acres have been held by the same family, the Scudamores, since 1086. They are English; Jones believes they possess, handed down the generations, the final secret of Owain Glyndwr.

The Welsh rebel's life has always been blurred at the edges. The nationalists' Che Guevara was probably born in 1359, the heir to three estates and two of the principality's princely bloodlines. As a young man though, he served in the English army, helping garrison a castle against the Scots at Berwick- on-Tweed.

It was not until nearly 1399 that this servility became unacceptable. Glyndwr quarrelled with an English landowner; when London scorned his appeal, he took up arms. For six years his few thousand troops fought a ferocious guerilla campaign, taking English settlers hostage, razing their settlements and terrifying noblemen either side of the border into humiliating local treaties.

When Glyndwr began losing battles after 1405, he disappeared into the mountains of North Wales. But his vision for Wales - universities and an exchange of ambassadors with France - remained to tantalise later nationalists. "He was a true European," says Tony Carter, a member of Plaid Cymru's executive committee.

Glyndwr may have slipped down to Kentchurch around 1410. "Hereford was a remarkable area for people to hide in," says Sir Glanmor Williams, "so hilly and remote and close-knit." What is certain is that Alice, one of Glyndwr's daughters, married a Scudamore in the early 1400s. That, and a swirl of rumours since, is enough for Adrien Jones: he believes her father is buried at Kentchurch.

Jan Scudamore, the tall lady who lives there, is less than delighted about this. Ever since Jones set up his society, she has been "inundated with Glyndwr freaks". Last Friday afternoon, with polite reluctance, Mrs Scudamore agreed to conduct a Glyndwr tour. The Great Hall of Kentchurch stood hidden up its long drive, the wooded valley sides pressing in. Mrs Scudamore led me up a cold hallway to the back of the house. A small portrait, said to be Glyndwr's, hung before us. The face was pinched, sallow, eyes darting; Kentchurch stood unmistakably in the background. "That's actually Jack of Kent," said Mrs Scudamore, "A stable boy who became the family chaplin - and was meant to have been in league with the devil."

Laughing, she turned smartly and strode up a spiral staircase. At the top, she opened a door: "This might have been Glyndwr's room," she said. It had a four-poster bed, faded rugs, dark panelling and a damp, lingering chill. We were in a thick-walled tower, concealed behind the house. "At least, we tell our bed and breakfast guests this might have been his," said Mrs Scudamore.

Business aside, she had instructed her solicitor to warn off Adrien Jones. "People will carry away chunks of the house otherwise," she said. "We had a dowser here two or three years ago, and he couldn't find the body."

Yet Jones's society are not the only ones drawn to seek Owain's bones. Later on Friday afternoon a local historian, Rocyn Jones, led another search. Wetwisted along lanes towards Monnington-On-Wye, another reputed resting place.

As the hedges darkened and we came to a muddy track with a churchyard at its end, Mrs Jones's movements quickened. Glyndwr, she read aloud, was thought to have been buried beneath a slate slab; its crumbling remnant could still be found beside the porch of the church.

We entered the churchyard, almost an island between three swampy streams, turning black in the dusk. Yet beneath the porch there was nothing, just headstones with 18th-century dates. Then again, there was one in the long wet grass: in greyish stone, without dates, a chunk of it recently knocked away. "It could be a sign," said Mrs Jones.

It was dark enough, now, for a Glyndwr ambush. She consulted her book again: "Then there appears to be another Monnington. It also lays claim to a grave..."