Today is the 730th anniversary the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native Welsh Prince of Wales. He was ambushed and cut down by Englishmen, somewhere in the vicinity of Builth Wells (Buellt in Welsh), Wales, late on the afternoon on 11 December 1282. It was a Friday.
And then Llywelyn ap Gruffudd left Dafydd, his brother, guarding Gwynedd; and he himself and his host went to gain possession of Powys and Buellt. And he gained possession as far as Llanganten. And thereupon he sent his men and his steward to receive the homage of the men of Brycheiniog, and the prince was left with but a few men with him. And then Edmund Mortimer and Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, and with them the king’s host, came upon them without warning; and then Llywelyn and his foremost men were slain on the day of Damasus the Pope, a fortnight to the day from Christmas day; and that was a Friday.
—-Brut y Tywysogyon, Peniarth manuscript 20 (The Chronicle of the Princes)
His head was carried to King Edward I, who ordered that it be displayed on a pike, in London. Apparently, it stayed on display for over 20 years. The rest of his body is purportedly buried at Abbey Cwmhir, northeast of Rhayader in Powys.
I wrote Footsteps in Time because there seemed to me to be few events in history where the fate of a nation hinged so profoundly upon the death of one man and I couldn’t stand that it ended the way it did. So I changed it . At the time, historians said that if Llywelyn had lived only a few more weeks, all of Wales would have flocked to his banner. We’ll never know the truth of that, but his star was in the ascendancy and King Edward was within weeks of running out of both patience and money.
Llywelyn’s brother, Dafydd, was eventually captured and hanged, drawn, and quartered, the first man of significance to experience that particular death. His death was practice for what Edward did to William Wallace, two dozen years later. Gwenlllian, Llywelyn’s daughter and only child, was kidnapped from Aber and sent to a convent in England, where she remained a prisoner her entire life.
At Llywelyn’s death, Wales fell under English rule, and Edward declared his own son, Edward II, the new Prince of Wales.
That this happened, and that it is little remarked in historial records, should not come as a surprise. History is written by the victors, as this comment from an English travel writer, William Camden, dating to 1610, makes clear: “following rather his owne and his brothers stubberne wilfulnesse than any good hope to prevaile, would needes put all once againe to the hazard of warre, he was slaine, and so both ended his owne life, and withall the British [meaning, not English] government in Wales.”
I visited the site in May at Cilmeri where Llywelyn’s death is commemorated by a lone stone marker.
For more on Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, see: