THE Battle of Coleshill, fought in Flintshire in 1157, when the invading forces of King Henry II of England clashed with the Welsh forces of Prince Owain Gwynedd was a decisive event in Welsh history. Today, it is all but forgotten.

One man trying to change this is Hawarden-based historian Steve Griffiths, who has dedicated much of his time over the last decade to promoting Welsh history throughout the region.

After spending years researching the lives of the Welsh princes, Steve found out about the battle which saw 200 Welshmen led by Prince Owain, who was then king of north Wales, nearly kill English monarch Henry II. The fight in Ewloe Wood was close to where the ruins of Ewloe Castle stand today.

Back in 2010, Steve joined a number of enthusiasts who campaigned successfully to have a plaque erected at the site, claiming the battle was of huge significance to the region, yet details of the conflict are still little known in the area.

In his book, The Battle of Coleshill, 1157, Steve recreates the campaign which was fought from Chester to Anglesey, and identifies all the likely locations for the events of that year using mediaeval chronicles, contemporary poetry and oral traditions, as well as his own research.

"No other royal military campaign in Anglo-Welsh history compares with this extraordinary encounter between two gifted commanders," says Steve.

"Henry II almost died during the woodland ambush that resulted in the deaths of some of his leading barons, and his invasion was further disrupted when his marine force was defeated on Anglesey."

King Henry, who ascended to the throne in 1154, decided to invade Gwynedd to halt the recent expansion of Owain Gwynedd into the lands of Powys, and to expand his empire into northern Wales. With the support of the Prince of Powys, Madog ap Maredudd, and Owain's brother, Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd (whom Owain had recently stripped of his lands in Ceredigion), Henry led a large army (claimed to be as many as 30,000 men) into northern Wales and sent a fleet, led by Henry FitzRoy, to capture Anglesey to cut off Owain's supplies. Owain responded by raising a Welsh army of around 3,000 men as the King established his camp at Saltney Marsh, an area now part of the modern day town of Connah's Quay.

"Owain Gwynedd led a force of just 3,000," explains Steve. "But during the mediaeval period, the typical Welsh soldier was viewed by his enemies as a robust and brutal killing machine. In battle, the Welsh infantryman would use a range of weaponry including scythes, agricultural axes, billhooks, simple slings and rough looking bows."

Owain made his base at Basingwerk, around two miles from Flint, where he could monitor passing ships on the Dee and create a defensive position with a network dykes an ditches.

"Spies were sent to mingle with the solders and the mercenaries," says Steve. "They found out the king was going to lead his force, the household troop, through Ewloe wood."

Henry had split from his main army with a smaller force that planned to march through the nearby Ewloe woods to outflank Owain's army. Sensing this, Owain is said to have sent a large army led by his sons Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd and Cynan ab Owain Gwynedd into the woods to guard Owain's main force from Henry's outflanking army. Owain split his army and decided to personally lead an extra 200 men into the Ewloe woods to reinforce his sons' armies. When Henry's outflanking force advanced into the wood, they were ambushed by Owain's forces and cut down.

In the book, Steve tries to solve the riddle of where exactly the battle took place with historians undecided if it was the woods around Ewloe or those in Hawarden, with the author favouring the former, but also speculating about a local tradition that suggests a burial ground for those killed in the battle lies within a wood on the grounds of Bryn Madyn Hall, a Georgian country hall close to Bagilt.

"The daring attack proved that the outcome of carefully planned manoeuvres, orchestrated by a much smaller force could in fact prove successful," says Steve. "The engagement proved to be the pivotal moment of the campaign. When Owain ordered his men to attack the King's troops so close to the border with England, the immediate future of Welsh resistance lay in the balance.

"Had the Welsh troops been defeated it is more than probable that Welsh resistance would have crumbled."

Following the battle, Henry managed to escape back to his main army alive. Not wishing to engage the English army directly, Owain repositioned himself first at St. Asaph, then further west, clearing the road for Henry II to enter into Rhuddlan. Once in Rhuddlan, Henry II received word that his naval expedition had failed. Instead of meeting Henry II at Deganwy or Rhuddlan as the king had commanded, the English fleet had gone to plunder Môn and the Norman troops on board had been defeated by the local Welsh soldiers and their commander Henry FitzRoy was killed. Despite Owain's success in the Ewloe woods and his men on Anglesey's success, Henry had still succeeded in securing Rhuddlan, and so Owain felt obliged to make peace with him.

"The boldness and bravery of the Welsh resistance failed to even dent Henry's great numerical advantages in both men and resources," adds Steve. "But he had failed to register a single victory over Owain's forces on either land or sea."

Despite conceding to the English, it was only a few years later that Owain's son, Dafydd was once again taking the fight to the enemy and Owain was busy seeking an alliance with the France with the confidence to refer to himself as 'Waliarum Princeps' - the Prince of Wales.

The stage was set for the final showdown between Owain and Henry. But that's another story....

The Battle of Coleshill, 1157, by Steve Griffiths, is priced at £7, with copies available from Deeside History Club (07508460551), Wepre Park Visitor Centre, Northop Post Office, Hawarden Post Office, Hawarden Estate Farm Shop, Paper Clip Shop, Flint, Elfair Bookshop, Flint, Elfair Bookshop, Ruthin and libraries throughout Flintshire.