The Croes Naid, also known as the Cross of Neath- The chances are that you’ve never heard of it but if you have you’ll know that somewhere in the last seven hundred years it disappeared without a trace. It was a part of the Welsh Crown Jewels and more specifically it belonged to the House of Aberffraw, rulers of Gwynedd. Supposedly it was an ornate cross which incorporated what was said to have been a part of the true cross and was said to have wielded its protection over the House of Aberffraw.
Whether or not it really did contain a piece of the true cross, gather all the supposed pieces of the true cross together and you’ll discover that Jesus was crucified thirty feet up in the air, I can’t say but the Croes Naid itself was certainly real. The story goes that the great Welsh King Hywell Dda brought the fragment back from Rome in 929 and from that had it made into the Croes Naid. It’s certainly plausible. Hywell Dda definitely did go on a pilgrimage to Rome at this time and it wasn’t unheard of for people to bring holy relics back from their travels (the toenails of John the Baptist, for example.) Being a man of some importance Hywell may well have been given a high status relic to return to Wales with and there aren’t many that are more high status than a piece of the true cross. At some point the cross ended up with the house of Aberffraw and it stayed there until the conquest of 1282.
At the conquest Llywelyn ap Gruffudd deposited it with the monks of Cymer Abbey (near Dolgellau) for its protection and after his humiliating final defeat at Orewin Bridge Edward Longshanks, King of England, appropriated it, along with the other Crown Jewels of Wales- The Coronet of Llywellyn, the Matrix of the Seal, the Crown of Arthur and the Jewels of Arthur. All of these were paraded through the streets of London in a kind of triumphal march before being deposited with the English Crown Jewels, the most important bits of which were kept with the king himself or, and the less important bits, like say, loot taken from Wales, in one of the crypts Westminster Abbey.
What happened to the Croes Naid and the other Welsh Crown Jewels after that is a complete mystery. The only thing we know for certain is that they were already absent when that well known anti-royalist Oliver Cromwell came to do an inventory of the Crown Jewels in 1649. They had, all of them, gone. But where? And how?
Several possibilities present themselves. The first is that they had been destroyed during the Reformation, seen as examples of Catholic idolatry perhaps. Whilst I can certainly see this being true of the Croes Naid, I can’t see why it would be the case with the much more secular crowns, coronets, jewels or the matrix. A second possibility is that someone destroyed them to prevent them from being used as symbol of Wales, a symbol of how they were subservient to the English, how the English had imprisoned the Welsh. The most likely candidate for this is Henry IV, he who resembled Ming the Merciless, during the Glyndwr rebellion of 1404-10.
The third possibility is the most interesting. In the early 1300’s there were numerous attempts at stealing the crown jewels and the one in 1303 was the most successful for the fact that it nearly succeeded. The chief orchestrator was Richard of Pudlicott, though it’s likely that the whole of Westminster Abbey and the remaining staff of the neighbouring Palace of Westminster (The king off in Scotland at the time) were in on it. It was only when some of the culprits tried to hide their ill gotten loot that the crime was discovered- Pieces were found hidden in hedgerows, behind tombstones, one pulled from the Thames. One London prostitute even boasted of a ring given to her by the Sacrist of the abbey. The subsequent investigation recovered most of the stolen booty but, if they were stolen at this time, perhaps not the Welsh Crown Jewels.
If they were not recovered, if they were even stolen, then the likelihood is that they were probably sold abroad, somewhere in Flanders perhaps. Wherever they went after this, without any records or even a single clue as to where they might have ended up, we cannot even begin to guess. It leaves open, however, the slight chance that they are still out there, somewhere on the continent- Not recognised for what they are. Perhaps they are on display in a museum, mislabelled as the jewels of some Germanic prince. Perhaps they sit in a Swiss bank account belonging to some ancient, once noble but now forgotten family. They could be anywhere, if they still exist.
There might be an addendum to this theft- Owain Glyndwr. In 1404, at Machynlleth, Glyndwr was crowned Prince of Wales. What he was crowned with is a matter of some debate- A new crown, made for the occasion; the Crown of Elise (royal crown of Powys) OR one of the Aberffraw crowns/coronets taken by Longshanks. The first is the most rational explanation. The second should lead us to ask as to why that wasn’t procured along with all the other Welsh Crown Jewels. Where was it and why did it suddenly reappear? As to the third… Is it conceivable that after the theft in 1303 the Crown Jewels ended up back in Wales and were subsequently used by Glyndwr? It is a stretch, in my honest opinion. And as to what would have happened to them then, or to the crown that Glyndwr used, is again a mystery. Glyndwr could have taken them with him when he disappeared into the mountains but then again maybe he didn’t. He was on the run at the time and lugging around the Welsh Crown Jewels would have been a burden.
The Croes Naid and the rest of the Crown Jewels certainly aren’t going to be hidden in an Indiana Jones style crypt somewhere, guarded by booby traps. The closest possibilty is a Swiss bank vault somewhere. The most likely explanation, whatever happened after they were taken to London, however they disappeared, is that they were destroyed and lost to history a long time ago.