Iorwerth of Wales
19th King of Wales

19. Iorwerth in German Guards Uniform.jpg
King of Wales
King of Wales
Reign 3rd May 1904 - 5th May 1920
Coronation 1st February 1905
Predecessor Rhisiart IV
Successor Iago
Principality of Morgannwg
Reign 3rd May 1904 - 5th May 1920
Predecessor Rhisiart IV of Morgannwg
Successor Iago II of Morgannwg
Born 15 May 1885
Palas Cwm Hyfryd
Died 20th May 1920
Spouse Alexandra Oldenburg - Daughter of the Grand Duke of Oldenburg
Issue Iago, Edling Cymru

Marged, Pendefiges Cymru

Full name
Iorwerth Cystennin Auguste Pawl Morgannwg
Posthumous name
Iorwerth Peiriannwr (the Engineer)
House House of Morgannwg
Father Rhisiart Ioan Auguste Cystennin Morgannwg
Mother Tsarina Catherine Romanov
Burial Royal Crypts, St Davids Cathedral
Religion Roman Catholic
The 19th King of Wales and the first king of the modern era, Iorwerth was an odd contradiction. A firm believer in the divine Right of Kings, something that his family had adhered to ever since the Re-Conquest of Wales. At the same time he was a king who inherited a new Parliament with a written constitution. A lover of all things technological but a reactionary conservative in terms of his personal politics. Iorwerth would be a semi tragic figure in Welsh history. Killed in an air crash in the prime of both life and health he left a country unsure of its direction and in the hands of an heir (Iago) who had very determined ideas of where Wales should go.

Early life

Born as the both the eldest child and the only son Iorwerth grew up knowing his place was to be king one day. His childhood however was unusual in that he grew up not in his mothers or fathers household but that of his Great Uncle, Prince Iwan Xavier (one time prospective heir to the throne). Although his parents were in a loving marriage neither of them could quite bring themselves to love their son. Growing up however in the household of Prince Iwan Xavier was a boon to the young prince. Free of the entanglements of court his childhood was a happy one and he grew up to adore his cousin Prince Dafydd Xavier (Prince Iwas Xavier's son). Iorwerth was also close to his sisters, regularly seeing them even though they grew up in his mothers household.

The plot in 1897 to depose his father and place him on the throne was conducted without the 12 year olds knowledge or the knowledge of his guardian Prince Iwan, and the net result was a further estrangement from his parents which only ended with the death of his sisters along with the Queen in 1901. At that point the now 16 year old Edling moved back to the Royal Court taking up his place as heir and replacing his father in public duties as the old king visibly ailed following the death of his beloved Queen.

When the old king finally died in 1904, Iorwerth was there to take his hand and remove the ring of Cystennin and take his place as a new monarch for a new century.

King of Wales

With the announcement of the death of King Rhisiart the political rioting that was still taking place sporadically across Wales died down. The new political settlement combined with the promise of a fresh start was sufficient for most of the main political actors to see what the new reign would bring. Iorwerth himself was the first monarch of Wales to be crowned under the new constitution, something which he swore to uphold. The new reign however continued under the Chancellorship of Tomos Vaughan, who proved to be a capable and steady hand at the tiller of state. Having achieved by default what had evaded his father since the death of Prince Gruffud (stable popular government) Iorwerth was able to indulge his interests in the sciences and the new inventions.

Peace and Stability

1908 Mercedes Double-Phaeton 75hp

1908 Mercedes 39PS

The first 10 years of Iorwerth's reign were characterised by stability peace and continued economic growth. Tomos Vaughan continued to rule the Senedd (being the first Chancellor to be elected in 1905) and Iorwerth in this period ordered the first Welsh Royal Yacht and also his love affair with mechanical toys. He purchased the first car of the Royal Fleet in 1908 with the first one being the Daimler creation Mercedes 39PS (which is on show in the Royal Museum, Caerdydd)

In 1906 Iorwerth purchased the first Welsh royal yacht, the HMBS Y Ddraig Aur and with the increasing numbers of car owners (initially the nobility and higher reaches of civil society but increasingly the more affluent upper middle class) Iorwerth directed the government (by Privy Council decree) that planned road building should commence in Wales. The A1 was the first such road, connecting Caerdydd with the port of Casnewydd, with the road being extended to connect via Dean to Caerodor (to the east) and Abertawe (and eventually Ty Dewi in the west).

Royal Yacht Y Ddraig Aur

The Royal Yacht, HMBS Golden Dragon

In 1910, the Vaughan Government fell and was replaced by the Royalist Government headed by the Lord Gruffydd. The new government was less inclined to the liberal policies of Vaughan and Gruffydd encouraged the King to take a more active role in politics (something he had been discouraged from doing by Vaughan). With European tensions running high particularly between the UK-ES and France and Germany, the UK Government was keen to stress to Iorwerth the importance of maintaining the treaty obligations that Wales was under to the Entente Cordiale.

From 1912 onwards as the rest of Europe seems to be sleep-walking to another war, the Welsh Government follows suit, increasing the military budget, allowing the creation of new battalions and the laying down of new ships for the navy. In the two years that followed however Iorwerth and Lord Gruffydd grew concerned over the increase in political tension in Wales and the re-emergence of civil unrest. The new unrest however is spearheaded not by the old Republican movements but by new Workers Solidarity movements, Communists. Then in the summer of 1914 with the mobilisation of the Russian Army and the Austrian attacks on Serbia the European War of 1914-18 begun. When Germany invaded Belgium in order to attack France, the British declared war. The ambassador to the Welsh Court, Sir Percival Templeton-Fox sought an audience with Iorwerth passing to him a diplomatic note from the British Government, asking him to declare war in order to meet Wales' obligations. Iorwerth declined.

1914 - The year everything changed

1914 was a watershed moment for the Welsh Kingdom. With the British sending troops to Europe to fight on behalf of France and Belgium, the Welsh divisions, stayed at home. Under advice from Lord Gruffydd, Iorwerth orders the army to return to barracks and to assume a peacetime security standing. The result was a political firestorm in the Senedd. Members of both Houses were loud in their accusation of their king. The newspapers, usually deferential to the king backed the politicians in their accusation of the king. Accused of being the German's patsy, of being a sell out, of besmirching Welsh honour by not fighting side by side with both the French (our more traditional allies) and the English (who whilst not traditional we were bound to by treaty obligations). Coupled with that the Welsh Protestants, for long a quiet minority chose the summer of 1914 to launch parades and petitions for full entry to Welsh political life.

In October 1914 the final straw was reached when an act was passed by both Houses of the Senedd removing the Kings right to declare war. In future, requests such as was made by the British Ambasador, would have to be made to the Chancellor in Palas Caerdydd who then had to bring it to the Cabinet and then the Houses of the Senedd. Faced with such a blatant attack on the dignity of the Crown Iorwerth ordered the dismissal of parliament. Backed by Lord Gruffydd and sure in the the security of the Army's oaths of loyalty to the Crown, the King ordered that soldiers guard the Senedd House in Caerdydd and prevent entry to any member of the Houses. Wales was to be ruled by Privy Council Commands for the next three years.

During the war period Wales itself was relatively quiet. The Welsh economy continued to export, feeding the British and French war machines and generating a sizable profit for the Welsh Exchequer. Whilst Wales did not join the war (which in Wales is only considered to be another European War and not a "world" war) there did exist the Welsh Continental Volunteer Regiment, a quasi-official unit which did fight for the allies in France. The Welsh High Command, ill at ease with the decision not to fight allowed the creation of the unit and during the war period some 20,000 men serve under its colours in Europe. Small numbers when compared to the numbers fighting but considerable for a "neutral" country.

During the war period Iorwerth also purchases a set of aircraft. 10 Morane-Saulnier P aircraft were bought by Iorwerth in the spring of 1916 and the Royal Aeronautic Society of Wales was born later that year.
Morane saulnier p pic

The King and his Aircraft

Over the next 2 years many more aircraft would be bought, some by the rich and powerful, many by the Army, who having reports from France finally saw their military potential.

Political Turmoil

As the war in Europe progressed the political settlement in Wales came under increasing strain. The Communists in Wales had begun to be more vocal especially in the south Wales valleys where they had most of their strength. 1917 saw the return of the Senedd as Lord Gruffydd was unable to guarantee the loyalty of the Army to prevent them. Reluctantly the King attended the State Opening of Parliament, where he was forced to listen to diatribe after diatribe from politicians prevented from speaking for the last three years. There was however a new threat. With the re-opening of Parliament came elections and for the first time communists were elected to the Senedd. Their first action was to attempt to impeach the king for having ruled without the consent of the Senedd for the last three years. Although the attempt failed it was seen as a warning shot over the bows of the Monarchy. Later that year as the events of the unfolding crisis in Russis became apparent, Iorwerth authorised by Privy Council Decree that Russian nobility fleeing the chaos could travel to Wales. Again, a firestorm enveloped the Senedd as politicians from both sides of the house lamblasted the king for his political interference. Again though the Privy Council Decree held, although Iorwerth was unable to save his cousin the Tsar.

1918 saw the another political watershed with the arrest and later execution of members of the Lower House for treason against the king. All the the men arrested were on the political left, all were either members of or had links to the Communist Party. Of the 11 men arrested, 8 were executed for acts of high treason against the king. The depth however of public disgust, scorn and ridicule that Iorwerth encountered as a result however started to change his approach to politics. Brought up in an era where the Senedd lacked teeth, where the King could and did rule Iorwerth was used to the idea of the rule of the Crown. He was though a more sensitive man than either his father or grandfather, sensing the way the political wind was blowing and seeing the murder of the Tsar in Russia Iorwerth suddenly changed political tacks.

Lord Gruffydd suddenly found himself falling out of favour with the king. Iorwerth started to meet with Gethin Williams, the leader of the Opposition and it was no surprise that in 1919 following the death of Gruffydd and a snap election that the political liberal Williams should gain office.

Iorwerth had learned his lessons quickly, but he was worried that the lessons he was learning the hard way were not being understood by the Edling, Iago.

The Royal Family & the Troublesome Edling

Welsh Royal Family

L-R: Alexandra, Cystennin, Iorwerth, Iago

The King had married before ascending the throne. Marrying the daughter of the Grand Duke of Oldenburg in 1901, the Prince and Princess (Alexandra) led a happy home life. Their first child, Iago, was born a little over a year following their marriage and unlike his father or grandfather Iorwerth was determined to have his son enjoy a family upbringing. For the first time in generations a future King of Wales was not brought up in his mother Court. In fact, Queen Alexandra was the first Welsh Queen in some time to not have her own court separate to the kings. Both monarchs resided in Palas Cwm Hyfryd and brought their son up together. After some troublesome pregnancies, a sister was added to the family in 1912 with the Princess Marged joining the family. Also joining the family was the grandson (and only other direct line male descendant of King Arthur) of Prince Dafydd Xavier. Iorwerth, still displaying the closeness he felt to his adoptive father (Prince Iwan Xavier) sought to keep young Prince Cystennin close even to the extent of including him in royal portraits. The Edling however was displaying by his early teens disturbing signs.

Rhisiart IV had been a weak willed man, easily led and subject to ideas of divine rights of kings. Rhisiart III had felt that strong dynamic leadership was essential to kingship. Iorwerth had learned almost to his cost that kingship in the 20th Century was about conciliation, about working with the politicians. These were traits missing in the Edling. After 1918 when Iorwerth realised the need to engage with the Liberal wing of Welsh politics he began to despair of the rise in nationalistic tendencies both in the general populace and in his own son. Also worrying was Iago's desire for stronger more autocratic methods of governing. Having seen what happened to his relatives in Russia, Iorwerth was not about to make those mistakes, Iago however was removed enough from his own Russian heritage (his grandmother having died before his birth) not to see the potential dangers for a Welsh "Tsar". In 1919 Iorwerth began a slow process of moving some of the Crowns powers to the position of Chancellor but died before any significant moves were made.

Birth of an Air force

Iorwerth is considered to be the father of the Welsh Royal Air force. The Air force itself was established by Royal Charter on the 20th July 1919 with a ceremony at the Aerodrome in Llantwit Major and was born from the lessons learned in the Great European War of 1914-18 and as a direct result of the creation of the British Royal Air force a year earlier.

The King had been instrumental in the formation of the Air force as it was almost his private fleet of aircraft which formed the bulk of the first Squadron and indeed the Air force was formed in spite of the hostility of the War Office and the Admiralty, both of whom were opposed to the idea of an Air force. The guiding force behind the Air force was an Army general called Emrys Gruffudd Vaughan. He had served with the Welsh Continental Volunteer Regiment, acting as its nominal head during its time in France. He championed the cause of the Air force and with the backing of the king, he was appointed its first head of service.

Birth of Two Wars

The tail end of Iorwerths reign saw Wales' involvement with two different and yet similar wars. The Irish War of Independence and the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-22. Whilst neither war started during Iorwerth's lifetime, the foundations for both were laid during his reign

Irish Connections

During the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th there was an increased interest in Wales in the struggles of the Irish to free themselves from British rule. The connections of a shared Celtic heritage, of a shared religion (Roman Catholicism) and of a shared history of fighting against the Anglo-Scottish union fostered an intellectual merging of both Welsh and Irish republicans. Many of the political groups in Wales during the reign of Rhisiart IV could find at their heart some very Irish murmurings. These whispers grew into the 20th Century and as the new political settlement in Wales established, men who had strong Irish sensibilities began to achieve office in the Senedd. With these sensibilities came dark glances at the British State, and in 1918, the Edling acting via the Leader of the Opposition (Gethin Williams) indicated to the Irish political party Sein Fein that Wales would be sympathetic to any declaration of independence from the UK-ES.

Greek Connections

The ties between Wales and Greece date back to the days just after the War of Greek Independence. In 1829 Arthur signed a treaty of friendship with the Greek Republic and this was later re-signed by Cystennin with Otto I of Greece (after Greece became a monarchy). Wales and Greece continued to enjoy a close relationship throughout the reigns of Rhisiart III & IV and under Iorwerth the countries even went so far as to conduct joint Naval maneuvers in the Mediterranean. Under Iorwerth, Wales began to be embroiled in the Greek struggle against the Ottoman Empire and as the 20th Century progressed, the treaty of friendship became a treaty of defence (Treaty of St Davids 1902). Under this treaty Wales was pledged to aid the Greek state in times of war. During the Great European War of 1914-18 this was stretched to breaking point as Wales was allied to the United Kingdom even though it refused to fight in the war. The UKES was involved in the Salonika Front in Greece and technically was at war with the Greek King, Constantine. Iorwerth and the Welsh Government prevaricated on this issue until Alexander became King of Greece. With Alexander on the throne and with the Treaty of Sevres, Iorwerth authorised the sailing of a Welsh fleet to the Aegean Sea. A movement of troops, material and supplies that would prove impactful in the up and coming war.

Death and Legacy

Iorwerth's death on the 5th May 1920 was a turning point in Welsh history. The Air force had only just been born, the Welsh political state was only 20 years old and Iago, the Edling, had been estranged from his more liberal father. The reign of Iorwerth is generally seen to be a success. Keeping Wales out of the European War helped to preserve its manpower strength as well as preserving its economic base. Supplying the Anglo-Scottish war machine lined the pockets of both Welsh businessmen and the State. The gradual change in political focus during Iorwerth's reign is also seen as a move towards a fully democratic state, something delayed by the reigns of Iago and Marged and not fully achieved until the reign of Arthur II. Overall, Iorwerth's reign was peaceful, popular, with an increase in the prosperity of the general population of Wales. It also saw increased Russian immigration following the Russian Revolution, and along with the immigrants came communism, a political ideology which would haunt Wales for most of the remaining century.

Titles & Styles

  • 15th May 1885 - 15th May 1887 - Ei Uchelder Brenhinol, Tywysog Iorwerth o Gymru
  • 15th May 1887 - 1st June 1901 - Ei Uchelder Brenhinol, Tywysog Iorwerth, Edling Cymru
  • 1st June 1901 - 3rd May 1904 - Ei Uchelder Brenhinol, Tywysog Iorwerth, Dug Conwy, Edling Cymru
  • 3rd May 1904 - 5th May 1920 - Ei Fawrhydi, Iorwerth, Gan Gras Duw, Brenin Cymru, Tywysog Morgannwg, Arglwydd Fawr Gymru, y Mers a Thiroedd yn y De ac ein gwlad dros y môr, Arglwydd Eryri, Senghennydd a Harlech
Preceded by:
Rhisiart IV
King of Wales
Succeeded by:
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