Church Monuments Society

ysbytyifan 4 male general

Hero of Bosworth – or leader of outlaws? Rhys ap Maredudd of Ysbyty Ifan

Month: October 2022
Type: Effigy  
Era: 16th Century

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St John's Church (closed)
Church View, Ysbyty Ifan LL24 0NR

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Effigy of a local landowner who led his men to support Henry VII at Bosworth

Richard III is back in the news with the debate over the film The Lost King – which seems like a good time to look at the monument to one of Henry VII’s supporters at Bosworth. Forensic analysis of the remains identified as those of Richard III gave gruesome details of his injuries. According to some of the Welsh poetry of the period, one at least of the blows was struck by Rhys ap Maredudd, a landowner from Ysbyty Ifan in the Conwy valley in north Wales.

The parish church at Ysbyty Ifan has several monuments to members of what would become the Price family of Plas Iolyn and Foelas. The earlier monuments, slabs of local sandstone, are described in detail in Colin Gresham’s Medieval Stone Carving in North Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1968). A heraldic slab commemorates Cynwrig ap Llywarch (d. c. 1330). Later stones commemorate Marured, daughter and co-heiress of Hywel of Rhoswnog, and (probably) her husband Hywel, grandson of Cynwrig ap Llywarch. As well as these, the church has three very battered alabaster effigies. One of these is of a man in late medieval armour, and from the detail of the armour it seems most likely that it commemorates Rhys ap Maredudd.

Rhys was the great-grandson of Marured and Hywel of Plas Iolyn. He led a troop of local lads to support Henry at Bosworth and rescued Henry’s banner of the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr when it fell on the battlefield. This is where the story gets a bit speculative. Rhys’s grandson Ellis Price, one of Thomas Cromwell’s chief agents in north Wales, was nicknamed Y Doctor Coch, ‘the Red Doctor’. This may have been because of the colour of his academic robes, but it seems more likely that it was because he had red hair. So did red hair run in the family – and does this connect them with the infamous Red Bandits of Dinas Mawddwy?

The Red Bandits were outlaws in the disturbed conditions in Wales after the suppression of the Glyndwr uprising. There are many legends about them, but the key thing for our purposes is that they were called the Red Bandits because many of them came from a family with red hair. They are said to have used Ysbyty Ifan as a hideout because the Knights of St John had a commandery there with the privilege of sanctuary. Most of what we know about the Bandits comes from the pen of Sir John Wyn of Gwydir. When he said that ‘they had to their backstay friends and receptors, all the country of Merioneth and Powysland’, it was a clear dig at the Foelas family who controlled Ysbyty Ifan and were the local rivals of the Wynns. It is even possible that the Bandits formed the core of the fighting force which Rhys took to Bosworth. After all, one man’s bandit is another man’s freedom fighter.

The effigies of Rhys and his family are an important part of our history – not just locally but for the wider history of Wales and indeed Britain. Unfortunately, the church in which they sit is currently at risk. It has been closed for some years. Various projects for community use have been floated, but its future still seems uncertain.