April 2, 2015 by

Senana, Mother of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

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Senana, by all appearances, had to have been quite a woman.  She was the daughter of Caradog ap Thomas ap Rhodri ap Owain Gwynedd, the great king of Gwynedd during the twelfth century.  Her husband was the illegitimate son of Llywelyn Fawr, the great Prince of Wales.

Llywelyn Fawr ruled Wales with a strong hand, and as his death approached, he made a fateful choice:  that Dafydd, his legitimate son through his wife, Joanna, herself an illegitimate daughter of the King John of England,  would rule after him.  In so choosing, he put Wales on a course for inevitable conflict.

Llywelyn Fawr died in 1240 and Gruffydd immediately began agitating for his own power.  By 1241, Dafydd had imprisoned him in Criccieth Castle, along with his eldest son, Owain.  Senana pleaded first with Dafydd to free her husband and son, and when Dafydd refused to bend, went herself to Shrewsbury where King Henry of England was holding court, to ask him to intercede with Dafydd.  King Henry agreed.  What’s more, she got him to write up a charter dividing Gwynedd into two equal portions, one for Dafydd and one for Gruffydd, and thus indicating his proper patrimony.

Senana then gathered her family together (all except Llywelyn who was free and at sixteen, an adult) and went with them to England.

Unfortunately for her, King Henry immediately threw Gruffydd and Owain into the Tower of London.  On March 1, 1244, Gruffydd made a rope out of sheets and attempted to lower himself down from a high window. The sheets broke and Gruffydd fell to his death.

Senana, then, was left alone in England with Owain and her two younger sons, Dafydd and Rhodri.  At that point, she did not return to Wales, but stayed under the protection of the King of England, who still held Owain captive, although less confined then his father.  In so doing, she left Llywelyn alone in Wales beside Prince Dafydd, such that when he died unexpectedly and without an heir in 1246, Llywelyn alone was there to take the reins.  That is not to say she wasn’t proud of him for doing so.   He had carved some lands for himself out of what could have been his father’s.  The history books do not record her thoughts–it is only later, when Llywelyn refused to share power and lands with his brothers, that Senana fought for their rights against him.

Purportedly, Owain, was allowed to hotfoot it to Wales as soon as the news hit that his uncle was dead.  It served the English crown’s purposes to foster dissension among the Welsh royal brothers, but he’d lost six years–years in which Llywelyn had wooed supporters and proven himself a war leader.

And then, in 1252, when Dafydd was fourteen and now a man by the standards of Wales, Senana returned to Wales to try to help him establish his own lands.  At first Dafydd was under the tutelage of Llywelyn, but then Owain gifted him a small portion of land, which Llywelyn had not, thus uniting the two brothers against him.  This is the last mention of their mother in the historical records.

(Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.  J. Beverly Smith.  Cardiff:  University of Wales Press)

2 Responses to Senana, Mother of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

  1. Darrell Wolcott

    Senana was born c. 1205 and is a generation too old to have been the daughter of the Caradog you cite. She occurs only 4 generations after Gruffudd ap Cynan (father of Owain Gwynedd)

    Caradog ap Thomas ap Rhodri ap Owain Gwynedd was born near 1200; a daughter of his would be the same age as the SONS of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn Fawr.

    • Sarah Post author

      Weeeellll . . . the dates of these births are very difficult to determine, though you could well be right. My go-to source, ‘Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’ by J. Beverley Smith, has a geneology chart in the back and Senana is indeed the daughter of Caradog, through Thomas and Rhodri from Owain Gwynedd. Smith only lists death dates, however, not birthdates. I’ve discussed this elsewhere on my site. However, if Rhodri was born c. 1145, then it is possible that Thomas could have been born around 1165 and Caradog in 1185, making Senana’s birthday in 1205 perfectly reasonable. If you have sources for Caradog being born in 1200, I’d love to see them, but every date I find related to Caradog (or Thomas, for that matter) comes with a ‘circa’ attached, because everyone’s just guessing.