Adam of Usk’s chronicle, covering the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, is one of the most personal and idiosyncratic of medieval chronicles. It offers an eyewitness account of the fall of Richard II, the turbulent politics of Rome between 1402 and 1406, and the Glyn Dwr revolt. It is also a record of the remarkable life and career of an author who suffered exile and excommunication before finding peace in his last years. Adam studied at Oxford, where he obtained his doctorate and became extraordinarius in canon law. He practised in the archiepiscopal court of Canterbury, 1390-97, and in 1399 accompanied the Archbishop and Bolingbroke’s army on the march to Chester. After Richard’s surrender Adam was rewarded with the living of Kemsing and Seal in Kent, and later with a prebend in the church of Bangor. However, he forfeited the King’s favour by the boldness of his criticisms, and was banished to Rome in 1402, where in 1404 and later he was successively nominated to the sees of Hereford and St. David’s, but was unable to obtain possession of either. He left a Latin chronicle of English history from 1377 to 1421. Adam did not concentrate on military events, but he does write about a campaign in Scotland in 1400, Owen Glendower’s rebellion that began that same year, the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, and the battle of Agincourt in 1415.
Henry IV’s invasion of Scotland (August 14-29, 1400), the revolt of Owen Glendower, and the battle of Reidswire (September 29, 1400)
In the same year the king passed into Scotland with a great and glorious host to tame the fierceness of the Scots. But they, fleeing to places of refuge, laid waste and stripped their fields and houses and farms, lest they should profit our king; and, lurking in thickets and in hiding places of secret caves and woods, they withdrew before the king’s face. Yet did they often issue forth from these lairs, and in lonely deserts and by-paths they slew and took prisoners very many of our men, doing us more harm than we did to them.
On the day of the Decollation of Saint John the Baptist (August 29th) the king returned to England; and hearing at Leicester how Owen, lord of Glendower, along with northern Welsh who had raised him up to be their prince, had broken out into open rebellion and had seized many castles, and how he had burned on all sides the towns wherein the English dwelt amongst them, pillaging them and driving out the English, he gathered together the flower of his troops, and marched his array into North Wales. And the Welsh being subdued and driven away, their prince with seven others lay hid for a year among rocks and caves. With others who yielded peacefully the king dealt gently, slaying but very few of them, yet carrying away their chieftains captives to Shrewsbury. But afterwards he set them free, on condition of pursuing and taking those who still held out in rebellion in Snowdon and elsewhere.
About the feast of Saint Faith (October 6th), the earl of Northumberland and his son, the lord Henry Percy, had a great battle with the Scots who were invading England after the king’s withdrawal; wherein they took one hundred knights and squires of the Scots and put the rest to flight [battle of Reidswire]. The victory was won thus: the English grooms in the rear, mounting their master’s horses during the battle, did very craftily and with success use a stratagem of war, shouting with one voice: “The Scots flee! The Scots flee!”, whereat the Scots who fought in the forefront of the battle were too sorely scared; and, while they looked behind them to find out the truth thereof, they fell stricken down by a storm of blows from maces about their ears and shoulders.
The revolt of Owen Glendower continues (1401)
William ap Tudor and Rhys ap Tudor, brothers, natives of the isle of Anglesey, or Mona, because they could not have the king’s pardon for Owen’s rebellion, on the same Good Friday (April 1st) seized the castle of Conway, which was well stored with arms and victuals, the two warders being slain by the craftiness of a certain carpenter who feigned to come to his accustomed work; and, entering therein with forty other men, they held it for a stronghold. But, straightaway being besieged by the prince and the country, on the twenty-eight day of May next following they surrendered the same castle, cowardly for themselves and treacherously for their comrades; for, having bound nine of their number, who were very hateful to the prince, by stealth as they slept after the night watches, they gave them up, on condition of saving their own lives and the others’ lives. And the nine thus bound and yielded up to the prince they straightaway saw drawn, disembowelled, hanged, beheaded, and quartered.
In this autumn, Owen Glendower, all North Wales and Cardigan and Powis siding with him, sorely harried with fire and sword the English who dwelt in those parts, and their towns, especially the town of Pool. Wherefore the English, invading these parts with a strong power, and utterly laying them waste and ravaging them with fire, famine and sword, left them a desert, not even sparing children and churches, nor the monastery of Strata Florida, wherein the king himself was being lodged, and the church of which and its choir, even up to the high altar, they used as a stable, and pillaged even the patens; and they carried away into England more than a thousand children of both sexes to be their servants. Yet did the same Owen do no small hurt to the English, slaying many of them, and carrying off the arms, horses, and tents of the king’s eldest son, the prince of Wales, and or other lords, which he bare away for his own behoof to the mountain fastnesses of Snowdon.
In those days, southern Wales, and in particular all the diocese of Llandaff, was at peace from every kind of trouble of invasion or defence.
Among those slain by the above inroad of the English, Llewellyn ap Giffith Vaughan, of Cayo in the county of Cardigan, a man of gentle birth and bountiful, who yearly used sixteen tuns of wine in his household, because he was well disposed to the said Owen, was on the feast of Saint Denis (October 9th), at Llandovery, in the presence of the king and his eldest son, and by his command, drawn, hanged, and beheaded, and quartered.
At this time, about Michaelmas, a quarter of wheat all of a sudden rose in price from one noble to two, and in some parts of England to three nobles.
Throughout all Wales the strongholds were repaired in walls and ditches.
On the morrow of All Hallows (2nd November), Owen, seeking to lay siege to Caernarvon, there, in the midst of a great host, unfurled his standard, a golden dragon on a white field; but, being attacked by those within, he was put to flight, losing three hundred of his men.
Owen and his men cruelly harried the lordship of Ruthin, in North Wales, and the countryside with fire and sword, on the last day but one of January, carrying off the spoil of the land and specially the cattle to the mountains of Snowdon; yet did he spare much the lordship of Denbigh and others of the earl of March, having at his beck the two counties of Cardigan and Merioneth which were favorable to him both for government and war.
Battle of Bryn Glas (1402)
On the day of Saint Alban (June 22nd), near to Knighton in Wales, was hard battle between the English under Sir Edmund Mortimer and the Welsh under Owen Glendower, with woeful slaughter even to eight thousand souls, the victory being with Owen. And alas!, my lord the said Sir Edmund, whose father, the lord of Usk, supported me at the schools, was by fortune of war carried away captive. And, being by his enemies in England stripped of all his goods and hindered from paying ransom, in order to escape more easily the pains of captivity, he is known by common report to have wedded the daughter of the same Owen; by whom he had a son, Lionel, and three daughters, all of whom, except one daughter, along with their mother are now dead. At last, being by the English host besieged in the castle of Harlech, he brought his days of sorrow to an end, his wonderful deeds being to this day told at the feast in song.
In this year also the lord Grey of Ruthin, being taken captive by the same Owen, with the slaughter of two thousand of his men, was shut up in prison; but he was set free on payment or ransom of sixteen thousand pounds of gold.
Concerning such an ill-starred blow given by Owen to the English rule, when I think thereon, my heart trembles. For, backed by a following of thirty thousand men issuing from their lairs, throughout Wales and its marches he overthrew castles, among which were Usk, Caerleon, and Newport, and fired the towns. In short, like a second Assyrian, the rod of God’s anger, he did deeds of unheard-of cruelty with fire and sword.
Battle of Shrewsbury (1403)
In the next year, on behalf of the crown of England claimed for the earl of March, as is said, a deadly quarrel arose between the king and house of Percy of Northumberland, as kin to the same earl, to the great agitation of the realm as it took part with one side or the other; and a field being pitched for the morrow of Saint Mary Magdalene (July 23rd), the king, by advice of the said earl of Dunbar of Scotland, because the father of the lord Henry Percy and Owen Glendower were then about to come against the said lord Henry and the lord Thomas Percy, then earl of Worcester. And, after that there had fallen on either side in most bloody slaughter to the number of sixteen thousand men, in the field of Berwick (where the king afterwards founded a hospice for the souls of those who there fell) two miles from Shrewsbury, on the eve of the said feast, victory declared for the king who had thus made the onslaught. In this battle the said lord Percy, the flower and glory of chivalry of Christendom, fell, alas!, and with him his uncle. Whereby is the prophecy fulfilled: “The cast-off beast shall carry away the two horns of the moon.” There fell also two noble knights in the king’s armour, each made conspicuous as though a second king, having been placed for the king’s safety in the rear line of battle. Whereat the earl of Douglas of Scotland, then being in the field with the said lord Henry, as his captive, when he heard victory shouted for king Henry, cried in wonder: “Have I not slain two king Henries (meaning the said knights) with my own hand? Tis ab evil hour for us that a third yet lives to be our victor.
Battle of Pwll Melyn (1405)
On the feast of Saint Gregory (March 12th), Griffith, eldest son of Owen, with a great following made assault, in an evil hour for himself, on the castle of Usk, which had been put into some condition for defence, and wherein at the that time were the lord Grey, of Codnor, Sir John Greyndour, and many other soldiers of the king. For those same lords, sallying forth manfully, took him captive, and pursuing his men even to the hill-country of Higher Gwent, through the river Usk, there slew with fire and the edge of the sword many of them, and above all the abbot of Llanthony, and they crushed them without ceasing, driving them through the monk’s wood, where the said Griffin was taken. And their captives, to the number of three hundred, they beheaded in front of the same castle near Ponfald; and certain prisoners of more noble birth they brought, along with the same Griffith, to the king. The which Griffith, being held in captivity for six years, at last in Tower of London was cut off by a pestilence [Griffith died c.1411]. And from that time forth in those parts the fortunes of Owen waned.
Battle of Agincourt (1415)
On the sixteenth day of the month of June, in the third year of his reign, king Henry the fifth, after that he had first visited holy places with all devotion, set forth from London, in glorious chivalry, towards France, to subdue it in war, passing on his way to the seacoast at Portsmouth. And there the envoys of the king of France coming to him and pretending to sue for peace bought for a great sum of gold, from certain his councillors, to wit, Richard, earl of Cambridge, the brother of the duke of York, and also the lords Scrope and Grey, consent to his death, or at least a hindrance of his voyage. But they, being discovered by the earl of March, deservedly found a death worthy of such treason. And there came solemn envoys from the king of Aragon offering his daughter to marry our king; in company with whom he sent over his own envoys thence.
Then making fair sail he ploughed through the sea, and on the thirteenth day of August he landed on the coast of Normandy, near to Harfleur, with his host, according to his desire. And pitching his camp he attacked the place, and he tormented its area with underground mines, and shook the city and the walls with his engines and cannons; and in the end he won the surrender, along with the inhabitants all stripped and having cords and halters about their necks, and all the goods of the place. And presently he drove out the native inhabitants and placed therein his own Englishmen; and he chose the earl of Dorset to be captain. Many perished in the siege by a flux of the bowels, among whom were the bishop of Norwich, and the earls of Arundel and Suffolk. Likewise thousands departed to their homes; some discharged, because they deserted the field, to the indignation of the king.
The king, committing himself to God and to the fortune of the sword, brave and like a very lion, with scarce ten thousand warriors at his back, with caution led the march through the open country, yea, through the midst of France, for the bridges were broken down, towards Calais, to abide there. And against him came his adversaries of France, to the number of sixty thousand of the nobles and men of rank, nigh Agincourt in Picardy. Battle was joined, and, blessed be God!, the victory fell to our king, on whose die only seven and twenty were slain, among whom the men of noble birth who died were the duke of York, and the young earl of Suffolk, sir Richard Kyghley and Sir John Skidmore, knights, and David Gam, of Breconshire. On the side of the French, who were slain or captured or put to flight, and who brought with them their treasure and, although to their own confusion, the kings baggage train, the dukes of Orleans and Bourbon and six counts were made prisoners; and three dukes, six counts, three and twenty barons, ninety lords, and fourteen hundred gentlemen who bore coat armour , and seven thousand of the commons fell on the field.
This translation is from Chronicon Adae de Usk (A.D. 1377-1421), ed. Edward Maunde Thompson (London, 1904). For those interested in this text, please consult a new edition and translation by Christopher Given-Wilson, The Chronicle of Adam Usk 1377-1421 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997).