France returns manifesto for Wales after 600 years

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The Independent Online

France has bowed to pressure and agreed that two letters of defining importance to the Welsh nation be returned there after 600 years.

France has bowed to pressure and agreed that two letters of defining importance to the Welsh nation be returned there after 600 years.

The Pennal Letters were sent from the village so named west of Machynlleth, Powys, in 1406, by Owain Glyndwr during his uprising against Henry IV. Dispatched to Charles VI of France in request of military reinforcements, they are a significant manifesto of Glyndwr's aspirations for his embryonic Welsh state and the last such document to another nation before the English overran it.

France, as the recipient, has a rightful claim and steadfastly refuses to cede ownership, though the letters, which include Glyndwr's seal, are of considerably more interest to Wales. After petitioning by the Welsh First Secretary, Rhodri Morgan, for their release, the Archives Nationales, Paris, will lend them to the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, tomorrow, where they will form part of a free six-month Glyndwr exhibition from Saturday.

The letters' temporary release is of more significance than may be apparent, since Wales laments the loss of many treasures to its English conquerors, among them Prince Llewelyn's crown, part of the Crown Jewels, and the St Teilo gospels, which include the earliest written Welsh and lie in Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire.

The French move coincides with the 600th anniversary of Glyndwr's uprising and renewed Welsh efforts to correct the image of him as a mere Celtic hooligan. Surprisingly little primary evidence on Glyndwr exists, but it is known he was educated at the Inns of Court. England also owes him some debt of loyalty: he defended it against the Scots in 1380 and, though the irony of the fact seemed to be lost, he was used in posters urging young Welshmen to fight in the First World War.

The letters, etched on parchment in Latin, also demonstrate his foresight, detailing a desire for universities (Wales had to wait until 1872 for its first, at Aberystwyth) and an independent church, subject to the Pope at Avignon rather than Canterbury. The Church in Wales was finally disestablished in 1920, while Glyndwr's aspirations for Welsh autonomy reached a fruition of sorts with the birth of the Welsh Assembly last June.

The exhibition will include new portraits of Glyndwr and also coincides with a campaign to find his grave.

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