Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was born somewhere around 1225 (amazingly, historians are sure of neither the date nor his true mother–although there are enough hints to conclude that it was Senana, his father’s wife). He was the second son of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn. Other sons were Owain, the eldest, Rhodri, who never made a claim for any power in Wales, and Dafydd, who was thirteen years younger.
When Llywelyn Fawr, the great Prince of Wales, died in 1240, he left two sons: Gruffydd, who was the eldest but illegitimate and Dafydd, who was younger but born to Llywelyn Fawr’s lawful wife, Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of King John of England. Although it was customary in Wales to divide an inheritance equally between all sons no matter on which side of the blanket they’d been born, Llywelyn Fawr instructed that only Dafydd would follow him as the Prince of Wales. This decree was supported by King Henry of England, who was the ruler at the time, and the Church, whose aim was discourage the production of by-blows. This law was not the only conflict between Welsh tradition and the Catholic Church, although one of the most contentious.
Gruffydd, quite naturally, objected to his disinheritance, and set about undermining Dafydd’s rule, in the great tradition of warring, Welsh nobility and brotherhood. Dafydd retaliated by imprisoning Gruffydd and his eldest son, Owain, in one of his castles. In a further attempt to undermine her brother-in-law, Gruffydd’s wife, Senana, went to King Henry, begging for her husband’s deliverance.
King Henry responded to her plea by offering Gruffydd’s entire family asylum in England. When the family arrived, however, King Henry threw them into the Tower of London. Consequently, Gruffydd’s young son, Dafydd, only three years old at the time, grew up in England. He spent his days playing with Henry’s son, Edward (and the future king of England), was more fluent in French than Welsh, and hardly knew the lands he claimed to love, or the people in them.
Llywelyn was sixteen at this time. Rather than follow his father and elder brother into captivity, he ran away to Aber Garth Celyn and his uncle’s court. That single action set him apart from his brothers and ensured that he was at Garth Celyn, ready to take over, when his Uncle Dafydd died unexpectedly and without an heir in 1246.
Gruffydd, however, had already died first. In 1244, while trying to escape the Tower of London, the rope he was using to scale down from his window broke. By this time, Dafydd was six years old and Llywelyn nineteen. Instead of returning to Wales, Senana made the fateful decision to stay in England, under the continued patronage of the kings of England, and keep her younger sons with her, leaving the field open for Llywelyn and his older brother Owain, with whom he established an uneasy truce.
For Llywelyn’s relationship with his youngest brother, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, see this post: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=1007
Llywelyn ap Gruffydd died on 11 December 1282 in the region of Buellt, having left Gwynedd to pursue the war in the Marche. See http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=117 for the full story.