Tag Archives: Chronicle of the Princes


Eleanor (Elinor) de Montfort


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Eleanor (Elinor in Welsh) de Montfort (1252-1282) was the wife of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales.  She was the daughter of Simon de Montfort, who was killed in the Battle of Evesham by the forces of Edward I when she was only thirteen.  Her mother, Eleanor of Leicester, was the youngest daughter of King John of England and his wife, Isabella of Angouleme.  Interestingly, that made Elinor’s mother and Joanna, Princess of Wales and the wife of Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s grandfather), half-sisters.  Joanna had been born in 1191.  After Simon de Montfort’s death, Elinor and her mother) found refuge at the Dominican nunnery of Monargis in France.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan,_Lady_of_Wales

J. Beverely Smith writes:  “Llywelyn’s decision to marry Simon de Montfort’s daughter was revealed in dramatic circumstances at the end of 1275.  Eleanor was travelling from France to join the prince [whom she had already married per verba de presenti–or inabsentia] when she was detained at sea and taken into Edward’s custody.  She sailed in the company of her brother Amaury, and the king was jubilant at a capture which placed Montfort’s son and daughter in his hands and revealed, hidden beneath the ship’s boards, the arms and banner of the Montforts” (1998:390).  Finally, by Edward’s lights, he had real justification for re-entering Wales and forcing Llywelyn to submit to England once and for all.  Note that Elinor was also Edward’s cousin.

For Llywelyn’s part, he had decided to marry Elinor after the events of 1274 when his brother, Dafydd, and other conspirators had tried to kill him.  Nobody knows why he’d waited this long to marry (he was now approaching 50 years old) but his failure to father a child with any woman up until then might have played a role–once married, there was no chance to father a child with another woman who might prove more fertile, AND have that child acknowledged by Edward and/or the Church.

In the end, Edward kept Elinor captive for three years, until after Llywelyn had lost the war of 1277 and submitted to Edward at Rhuddlan castle.  Elinor and Llywelyn were married (again) on October 13th (the Feast of St. Edward) in 1278, at the cathedral church at Worcester.  Edward gave Elinor away.

Wales remained at peace until 1282, when Prince Dafydd’s men launched a surprise attack on English castles on Palm Sunday.  Elinor herself died in childbirth on June 19, 1282 at Garth Celyn, and was buried across the Menai Strait at Llanfair Abbey, beside her aunt, Joanna.  No trace remains of her grave.

From The Chronicles of the Princes (Red Book of Hergest): “And then, on the Feast of St. Edward, the marriage of Llywelyn and Eleanor solemnized at Winchester, Edward, king of England himself bearing the cost of the banquet and nuptial on the feast of St.  festivities liberally. And of that Eleanor there was a daughter to Llywelyn, called Gwenllian and Eleanor died in childbirth, and was buried in the chapter house of the barefooted friars at Llanvaes in Mona. Gwenllian, after the death of her father, was taken as a prisoner to England, and before she was of age, she was made a nun against her consent.”


The Rising of 1256

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I bet you didn’t know there was a Welsh Rising of 1256 did you? This date, even more than the Battle of Bryn Derwin in 1255, is the point at which Llywelyn ap Gruffydd began to assert his authority in Wales beyond Gwynedd and to place himself squarely in the forefront as the inheritor of his grandfather’s vision of a Wales united under one, supreme Prince.

In 1256, Prince Edward of England was only seventeen years old.  He had been ceded lands in Perfeddwlad, or Gwynedd Is Conwy (Gwynedd east of the River Conwy), by his father, King Henry.  But both his parents still held authority over them, for the most part, and had been responsible for overseeing their welfare.  They had not done a good job, as usual giving sycophants and hangers-on Welsh lands about which none of the parties involved cared a whit.

These lands, by no coincidence, had been fully in the control of Llywelyn Fawr before his death, and at the death of Prince Dafydd, had fallen under English control.  In November 1256, at the request of the people themselves, Llywelyn  took his men across the Conwy River and into what was then English territory.   They conquered the entire area, with the consent of the people in it, within a week.

Much of these lands Llywelyn then gave to Dafydd, his brother, whom he’d just released from prison.  Only eighteen himself, Dafydd had united with Owain in 1255, but with his defeat, had suffered only a short incarceration before Llywelyn forgave him–and established him as a fully authoritative Prince of Wales in his own right.

As the Chronicle of the Princes states for 1256:

“In this year the gentlefolk of Wales, despoiled of their liberty and their rights, came to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and revealed to him with tears their grievous bondage to the English; and they made known to him that they preferred to be slain in war for their liberty than to suffer themselves to be unrighteously trampled by foreigners. And Llywelyn at their instigation and by their counsel and at their request, made for Perfeddwlad, and with him Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg; and he gained possession of it all. And after that he took the cantref of Meirionydd into his hands. And the land that belonged to Edward, the earl of Chester, the son of king Henry, he gave to Maredudd ab Owain, and Builth he gave to Maredudd ap Rhys, and keeping naught for himself, but only fame and honor.”

Sources:  Llywelyn ap Gruffydd by J. Beverly Smith



Betrayal in the Belfry at Bangor


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“And there was effected the betrayal of Llywelyn in the belfry of Bangor by his own men.”
Brut y Tywysogyon, Peniarth manuscript 20. (Chronicle of the Princes)

This comment is sandwiched between the description of the defeat of the English at the Menai Straits on November 6th, and the death of Llywelyn on December 11th, 1282. It is only found in the manuscript kept at the National Library of Wales, not the incomplete version at Oxford, which ends with the firing of Aberystwyth Castle on Palm Sunday (April, 1282). Here is the full record for the year 1282:

“In this year Gruffydd ap Maredudd and Rhys Fychan ap Rhys ap Maelgwn took the castle and town of Aberystwyth. And Rhys gained possession of the cantref of Penweddig and Gruffydd the commot of Mefenydd. On Palm Sunday took place the breach between Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and Edward Longshanks, king of England. And the autumn after that, the king and his host came to Rhuddlan. And he sent a fleet of ships to Anglesey, and they gained possession of Arfon. And then was made the bridge over the Menai; but the bridge broke and countless numbers of the English were drowned and others slain.  And then was effected the betrayal of Llywelyn in the belfry at Bangor by his own men.

And then Llywelyn ap Gruffydd left Dafydd, his brother, guarding Gwynedd; and he himself and his host went to gain possession of Powys and Builth. 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 Roger Mortimer and Gruffydd 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.”

The document is located here: http://www.llgc.org.uk/index.php?id=chronicleoftheprincespeniar

The question that springs to mind immediately as a result of this statement is–That’s it? What happened in the belfry? What does the author mean by ‘betrayal’?

It may well be that at the time, the answer was so memorable that the author didn’t feel the need to write it down, but since the English so effectively and systematically suppressed Wales after Llywelyn’s defeat, 750 years later, we don’t know the answer to that question.

Given that Llywleyn was cut down in Buellt on the 11th of December, only a few short weeks later, the statement begs for more information. But there isn’t any. Even the fabulous biography of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, written by J. Beverley Smith, has no answer for us. Such are the limits to history: if our ancestors didn’t write down what they knew, we have no way of recovering that information. For an event as momentous as the betrayal of Llywelyn, it seems amazing to know so much, and yet, so little.


Llywelyn ap Iorwerth Takes the Throne


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Upon the death of Owain Gwynedd in 1170 AD, his eldest son, Hywel, purportedly a most capable man, succeeded to the rulership of Gwynedd.  In Wales, all sons, regardless of their legitimacy, can inherit, provided their father had acknowledged them.  This should have been the case with Hywel.

As I wrote in this post, the downside of this enlightened approach to illegitimacy is that it divided the kingdom between all the heirs and fostered animosity among brothers over their portion of their inheritance.  Such was the case when Owain Gwynedd overcame his brothers to take the throne, such was the case many years later after the death of Llywelyn Fawr, and such was the case in 1170.

Thus, Dafydd ap Owain Gywnedd conspired with his mother (Owain Gwynedd’s second wife, Cristina) and brother Rhodri to usurp the throne from Hywel, the eddling, whom his father had chosen to succeed him.  Dafydd drove Hywel out of Gwynedd and ultimately defeated him at the battle of Pentraeth.  After the untimely and suspicious deaths of most of Dafydd’s other brothers, Dafydd eventually ruled most of Gwynedd and parts of Wales all by himself from 1174.  http://en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/1255610

Llywelyn ap Iorwerth was born in 1172, at the remote castle of Dolwyddelan, south of Mt. Snowdon.

Iorwerth, Llywelyn’s father, was the eldest legitimate son of Owain Gwynedd, by his first wife Gwladys.  He seems not to have taken part in the upheaval among the brothers and perhaps it had something to do with his disfigurement (he is nicknamed Iowerth Drwyndwn ‘broken nose’).   He married Marared, daughter of Madog ap Maredudd, Prince of Powys.   Thus, Llywelyn was grandson to Owain Gwynedd and of a powerful lineage on both sides.

“The infant prince, being a potential menace to the power of his father’s half-brothers in Gwynedd , probably grew up in Powys under the protection of his maternal relatives. Following an obscure period of apprenticeship in arms (he entered the turbulent arena of northern politics at a very tender age), he combined with his cousins, the sons of Cynan ap Owain Gwynedd, and in 1194 defeated his uncle, Dafydd I, seizing from him a share in the government of Perfeddwlad, which in 1197, he transformed into sole rulership. With the capture of Mold in 1199 he promised to become a leader of the calibre and vision of Owain Gwynedd; in fact, between 1199 and 1203 , he restored the undivided sovereignty of his grandfather over the whole of Gwynedd , including Merioneth and Penllyn .”  In 1194, he was only 22.



Historiography of the Welsh Conquest

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Thank you to Brynne Haug for the next installment of her essay on the conquest of Wales. The following video is of our visit in May 2014 to Caernarfon Castle, the centerpiece of King Edward’s conquest of Wales.


While there has been some measure of historical debate on the benefits and detriments of the English conquest of Wales on the country itself, the majority of scholars have agreed that in terms of identity and culture, the conquest had a negative impact. Wales prior to 1282 was fiercely independent, its people pastoral and very much devoted to the land on which they lived. In the years that followed the conquest, however, Edward I, in an attempt to “civilize” the Welsh, built walled towns throughout Wales and brought English settlers to live in them. Thus, by the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Welsh—who were in theory entirely excluded from these English towns of privilege—were, in the words of R.R. Davies, “outsiders in their own country.”[1] Historians have not argued that such attempts at “civilization” had a positive effect on Wales; even economically, England destroyed local systems rather than bolstering them.[2] However, historians have debated whether the actions of certain individuals had an effect on the outcome, good or bad, for Wales.

Historians agree that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, and King Edward I of England were primary players in the conflict between Wales and England. The tension between the two countries, however, was not new. The Brut y Tywysogion, a Welsh chronicle redacted in the 13th century and written in Middle Welsh, spoke of “battle between the Britons [Welsh] and Saxons” in 760 and of repeated skirmish with the English throughout the intervening centuries.[3] The Anglo-Normans were persistent in their efforts, even after they had taken the greater part of Britain.

Given this drawn-out conflict between Wales and England, it is not surprising that what historians have debated most widely is what caused the subjugation to occur when it did—not the content of what occurred. In particular, historians focus the size of the role that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, whatever his intentions, played in bringing about the conquest of his lands. The debate focuses on whether the conquest would inevitably have occurred in that period, or if Llywelyn’s flagrant disrespect of King Edward I precipitated Wales’ subjugation. The most simplistic interpretation of the conflict, summed up by Ifor Rowlands, is that the attack Edward launched on Wales resulted from behavior by Llywelyn that “challenged royal overlordship in the most blatant fashion,” and that the ensuing wars were a direct “punitive expedition . . . launched to purge the contumacy” of a “disobedient vassal.”[4] Without passing judgment on either party, Rowlands’s interpretation sees Llywelyn’s behavior as a violation of the terms of the society in which he lived: as an underling of King Edward, he had to have known his refusal to pay homage to him would bring the wrath of the king down on him.

Early historiography tended to take such an approach. John E. Morris, writing in 1901, studied the wars in an English context, focusing on the influence of Welsh conflict on the development of English warfare; he viewed the real power in the wars as lying in the Welsh March, balanced between the impetuous Llywelyn and the “destined conqueror of Wales,” Edward I.[5] He emphasized the agency of Edward and questioned the Welsh account of the events leading up to Llywelyn’s death.[6] This attitude is consistent with the tone taken by historians writing in that era. According to later historiographical discussion, some scholars went further, arguing that Llywelyn’s “high-handed” political and military behavior cost him many allies, and not only initiated a war with England, but also divided an already fractious Wales.[7] The kingdom he built, according to J.G. Edwards, was far beyond his military capacity to maintain, and his arrogance and need for personal power influenced his desire for status as a Prince of Wales and ultimately led to the downfall of his kingdom to such an extent that Edwards convicted him of “fumbl[ing] his way to disaster.”[8] J.E Lloyd, who wrote in the early 20th century, did not go so far, but rather argued that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s qualities “hardly matched those which had raised his grandfather above all the other princes of the nation.”[9] Such negative interpretations of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s character and agency are relatively common in historiography of the early half of the 20th century, but more recent studies of the period have come to a different conclusion.

Early historians, some modern scholars argue, might not have misjudged Llywelyn’s arrogance—he was stubborn and prideful, and lost allies as a result of his overbearing treatment of his fellow Welsh leaders—but have overlooked the necessity of his actions. Edward I’s increasing demands on Wales, and his imperialist attitude, were incompatible with Wales’ continued existence as a semi-independent polity.[10] The princes of Gwynedd used royal language to describe themselves; J. Beverley Smith argues that they could not give Edward the total submission he required without sacrificing the image they had created for themselves and that Llywelyn’s course of action was therefore the only one that had a hope of preserving independent royalty in Wales.[11] The idea that Llywelyn’s arrogance and neglect for the welfare of Gwynedd and Wales caused Wales’s fall has not entirely been discredited: Michael Prestwich writes that Llywelyn “unwisely overestimated his own strength,” through hubris bringing about his own ruin to the good fortune of the English.[12] R.R. Davies in particular, however, is adamant that Llywelyn’s actions were deliberate and necessary. Llywelyn not only did what he believed was in the best interests of his people, but he chose the only path he could in good conscience take. Edward I’s “concept of the nature of overlordship,” Davies argues, “could not be squared with Llywelyn’s concept of a native principality of Wales.”[13] Davies sees Llywelyn’s choice as the only one that offered any chance for his country; he goes so far as to suggest that Llywelyn’s action was “the only hope of retaining a semblance of true political independence.”[14] The two views do not seem mutually exclusive; Llywelyn may have overestimated himself, but the actions he took were necessary for an independent Wales.

[1] R.R. Davies, “Edward I and Wales,” in Edward I and Wales, ed. Trevor Herbert and Gareth Elwyn Jones (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1988), 3.

[2] James Given, “The Economic Consequences of the English Conquest of Gwynedd,” Speculum 64 (1989), 12.

[3] Brut y Tywysogion; Or, The Chronicle of the Princes, ed. John Williams ab Ithel (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860), 7.

[4] Ifor Rowlands, “The Edwardian Conquest and Its Military Consolidation,” in Edward I and Wales, ed. Trevor Herbert and Gareth Elwyn Jones (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1988), 41.

[5] John E. Morris, The Welsh Wars of Edward I (New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1901), 23.

[6] Ibid., 183.

[7] Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change, 328.

[8] J.G. Edwards, Littere Wallie (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1935), lxi.

[9] J. Beverley Smith, 3.

[10] Davies, “Edward I and Wales,” 9.

[11] Beverley Smith, 5.

[12] Michael Prestwich, The Three Edwards: War and State in England, 1272-1377 (London; New York: Routledge, 2003), 10.

[13] Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change, 330.

[14] Ibid., 329.


The Conquests of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth

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Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, born around 1172, was the grandson of Owain Gwynedd and ruled Wales from the late 12th century (certainly by 1200) to his death in 1240 AD.  He married Joanna (Joan), the eldest (albeit illegitimate) daughter of King John of England.

Llywelyn “proved to be the greatest and most constructive Welsh statesman of the Middle Ages. In his long career he succeeded, by constant warfare, by tactful yielding under pressure and by masterly resilience the moment that pressure was relieved, in bringing under his control most of Pura Wallia. When he died in 1240, full of honor and glory, he left a principality which had the possibility of expanding into a truly national state of Wales. There was a moment when an independent Wales seemed about to become a reality.”  http://www.castlewales.com/llewelyn.html

The Chronicle of the Princes (Ystrad Fflur edition) details the events of the 13th century in more detail than virtually any other contemporary source, particularly from a Welsh perspective, albeit one written by monks.   Llywelyn’s conquests are treated with some detail and give insight into the kind of ‘constant warfare’ to which the above quote refers:

1211 In this year Llywelyn ab Iorwerth led frequent attacks against the Saxons, harassing them cruelly. And because of that, John, king of England, gathered a mighty host and made for Gwynedd, planning to dispossess Llywelyn and to destroy him utterly. And the king came as far as Chester and to the castle of Degannwy. And there the host suffered lack of food to such an extent that an egg was sold for a penny-halfpenny; and they found the flesh of their horses as good as the best dishes. And because of that the king having lost many of his men, returned in shame to England without having fulfilled aught of his mission. And he returned again in August, and with him a host which was greater and fiercer.  And Llywelyn, being unable to suffer the king’s rage, sent his wife, the king’s daughter, to him by the counsel of his leading men to make peace with the king on whatever terms he could. And after he had accepted safe conduct to go to the king and to come away from him free, he went to the king and was reconciled to him. And then all the princes of Wales made peace with the king, except the two sons of Gruffudd, son of Yr Arglwydd Rhys. And the king with great joy and victory returned to England.  And he commanded Falkes, sheriff of Cardiff, to take all the host of Glamorgan and Dyfed with him to force the sons of Gruffudd ap Rhys to yield or else to drive them from all the kingdom. And Rhys and Owain, being unable to counter such great might as that, sent messengers to Falkes to draw up peace for them; for there was no place for them to flee in all of Wales. And Rhys and Owain went to the king under safe conduct of Falkes; and the king received them into reconciliation and into peace.

1212 In this year Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, prince of Gwynedd, being unable to bear the injuries which the men from the new castles were inflicting upon him, made a solm pact with the princes of Wales, namely, Gwenwynwyn, Maelgwn ap Rhys, Madog ap Gruffudd Maelor, Maredudd ap Rhobert. And he rose up against the king, and by the end of two months, he laid seige to all the castles which the king had built in Gwynedd, and took them all except two, Degannwy and Rhuddlan.  And three leaders of gentle birth from Wales were hanged in England, namely, Hywel ap Cadwallon, Madog ap Maelgwn, Meurig Barach.  And Pope Innocent the Third absolved three princes, namely, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Gwenwynwyn and Maelgwn ap Rhys, from the oath and allegiance they owed to the king of England. And he enjoined upon them, for the remission of their sins, to direct friendly endeavour and action against the iniquity of that king. And he interdicted the churches for five years in all England and Wales, except for the territory of those three princes and those who were leagued with them.

1213 In this year John, king of England, went to the archbisho of Canterbury to do penance. And he recalled the archbishop and the bishops and the clerics who had gone into exile because of the interdict on the churches. And he swore, too, that he would restore everything that he had taken from the Church.  And Llywelyn ab Iorwerth took the castle of Degannwy and the castle of Rhuddlan, and he gained possession of them.

The included map shows the lands Llywelyn Fawr controlled directly (yellow) and those belonging to his client princes (gray) circa 1271 AD.


Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales

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410px-Arms_of_Dafydd_ap_Gruffydd.svgDafydd ap Gruffydd was the younger brother of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Wales who ruled portions of Wales, to a greater or lesser degree, since the death of his uncle (also named Dafydd) in 1246.  The younger Dafydd was born in 1238, thirteen years after Llywelyn.  This Dafydd spent the majority of his life in England, to which his family was forced to come when his father was imprisoned at the Tower of London by King Henry.  Llywelyn, 16 at the time and a man, had refused to leave Wales with the rest of his family, and thus was on the spot, so to speak, when his uncle Dafydd died.

At that point, Dafydd ap Gruffydd was only 8 years old, and in no sense prepared to put forth a claim to his patrimony.  That occurred for the first time in 1255, when he conspired with his brother, Owain Goch, to force Llywelyn to relinquish some of his lands to Dafydd.  They were defeated in the Battle of Bryn Derwin.  Llywelyn accepted Dafydd back into his favor a year later, only to have Dafydd betray him again in 1263, and again in 1274 when he attempted to assassinate Llywelyn.

To say that Dafydd had a problematic relationship with Llywelyn is an understatement. Llywelyn kept Owain Goch imprisoned for the rest of his life, but he released Dafydd after Bryn Derwin and gave him lands, ultimately bowing to his younger brother’s rightful claim. At the time, Llywelyn perceived Owain, the elder brother, as the greater threat.

From Brynne Haug:  “Dafydd’s choice to turn to Edward in 1263 and again in 1274 was self-serving in that he believed his chances better with the king than with Llywelyn. Llywelyn had little choice but to accept Dafydd back when he changed his mind: in 1267 Edward I stipulated it in the Treaty of Mongomery, and it was again a condition in 1277.” What must have been  most aggravating to Llywelyn was that Dafydd was one of the impetuses for ALL of the wars against England that peppered his reign:  in 1267, in 1277, both times when he fought against Llywelyn on the side of the English, and in 1282, when he forced Llywelyn to throw his weight behind Dafydd himself after he launched an attack on Edward’s castles in Wales.

Whatever his motives, Dafydd did stay true to Wales after Llywelyn’s death. In June 1283, English soldiers captured Dafydd, took him to Shrewsbury, and, in October, executed him.  He was hung, drawn, and quartered, and his head displayed in the tower of London alongside Llywelyn’s.


J. Beverly Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd:  The Prince of Wales.

Brynne Haug, Captive Cymru: Llywelyn and Gwynedd in the Wars of King Edward.

Peniarth MS 20, The Chronicle of the Princes


Memo to Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s Staff


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I unearthed this from my archives and thought I’d share.  Too bad this isn’t a deleted scene from Footsteps in Time 🙂


Breaking News! A historic document has been found in the archives at the University of Bangor in Wales! Read on for the full text!

18 November 1282

To:  All Welsh Staff

From:  Goronwy ap Heilin, Seneschal to Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

RE:  Dafydd ap Gruffydd, traitorous weasel

Summary of Facts:

Prince Dafydd ap Gruffydd, brother of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd has betrayed the Cause of Wales in the following manner:

1)  In June, 1255, Dafydd and his elder brother, Owain, leagued against Prince Llywelyn, discontented with his rule of Wales and his refusal to partitition Gwynedd.  Prince Llywelyn repulsed them at the Battle of Bryn Derwin.

2)  After Prince Llywelyn forgave this shocking betrayal and released him from prison, Dafydd defected to the English crown in the spring of 1263.  Together, he and King Henry waged war against Llywelyn.  Eventually, after several defeats, Henry sued for peace and acknowledged Llywelyn’s sovereignty as Prince of Wales in 1267.  As part of the treaty, Henry convinced Llywelyn to restore Dafydd to his favor.

3)  In the winter of 1274, Dafydd and Owain ap Gruffydd Gwenwynwyn of Powys plotted to assassinate Llywelyn.  The timely intercession of a snowstorm averted the attempt.  Dafydd fled to England and to King Edward (Henry had died in 1270).  In 1277, Edward, Dafydd at his side, put together an enormous army and attacked Llywelyn.  You all well remember the tragedy of that defeat.

4) At the humiliating Treaty of Rhuddlan which resulted from the defeat, Edward forced Prince Llywelyn to accept Dafydd’s return to Wales and the resumption of his place as one of its princes.

5) On Palm Sunday in 1282, Dafydd and some supporters, now turning traitor to King Edward, attacked several of Edward’s castles in Wales, thus violating the peace Llywelyn had arranged with Edward.  Prince Llywelyn supported his brother and began to take back the lands he’d lost in the previous war—lands that Edward had taken from him with the help of Dafydd.



The Normans in Wales (Chepstow Castle)


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William the Bastard (William the Conquerer, William the Norman) won his first battle for the conquest of England at Hastings in October of 1066.  He defeated the army of King Harold Godwinson, who’d force-marched his men from Stamford Bridge after defeating an invasion by King Hardrada of Norway.  Harold’s forces almost held, but in the end, his discipline did not and he himself died on the battlefield.  http://www.middle-ages.org.uk/william-the-conqueror.htm

That was only the beginning, however, and it would be another six years before England was truly conquered.  http://www.britannia.com/history/monarchs/mon22.html

Wales, however, took a bit longer.  The Welsh fought what amounted to a guerilla war for over 150 years against the Norman/French aggressors.  Although the documentation of this war is mostly on the English side, it is interesting reading from the perspective of the Welsh.

In the Chroncile of the Princes (from the Red Book of Hergest), it becomes clear that there is a form of schizophrenia  at work when the authors discuss the coming of William the Bastard in 1066, his claiming of the kingship, and then his subsequent reign.  On one hand, the Chronicle states:

“And that William defended the kingdom of England in a great battle, with an invincible hand, and his most noble army.” (1066)

“And then, the Bastard, prince of the Normans, and king of the Saxons, the Britons, and the Albanians, after a sufficiency of the glory and fame of this transient world, and after glorious victories, and the honour acquired by riches, died; and after him William Rufus, his son reigned.” (1085)

In between these entries, the Chronicle states:  “the French ravaged Ceredigion and Dyfed” (1071); “a second time the French devestated Ceredigion” (1072) These notes indicate the conquering of south Wales by that same king.  Things start to really get bad, however, in the years after William of Normandy’s death.

“One year and one thousand and ninety was the year of Christ, when Rhys, son of Tewdwr, king South Wales, was killed by the French, who inhabited Brecheiniog; and then fell the kingdom of the Britons.  . . . two months after that, about the calends of July, the French came into Dyved and Ceredigion, which they have still retained, and fortified the castles, and seized upon all the land of the Britons.”

Even at this point, I was still wondering ‘did the French (meaning other than the Normans) sail from France and conquer Wales? How did I miss that?’ And then I realized that by ‘French’ the authors did mean ‘Normans’, who’d conquered England–the same group whose king they’d eulogized three pages before.

For in 1095, the Chronicle states: “And then, the second time, William, king of England, assembled innumerable hosts, with immense means and power, against the Britons. And then the Britons avoided their impulse, not confiding in themselves, but placing their hope in God, the Creator of all things, by a fasting and praying and giving alms, and undergoing severe bodily penance. For the French dared not penetrate the rocks and the woods, but hovered about the level plains. At length they returned home empty, without having gained anything; and the Britons, happy and unintimidated, defended their country.”

Thus begins the long, unhappy saga of the ‘French’ conquest of Wales.


Brecon Castle

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Brecon Castle was begun in 1093 by Bernard de Newmarch, when (as my book ‘Welsh Castles’ puts it) ‘he established his lordship of Brecon.’  The Normans had only come to Britain in 1066 and it was a wild time on the borders between England and Wales as they tried to gain control over the Welsh lands.  The Chronicle of the Princes (Red Book of Hergest version) says (for 1093)  “the French devastated Gower, Cydweli, and the Vale of Tywi; and the countries remained a desert.”

The lands had been occupied since before the Romans came, as Pen-y-crug hillfort, or Caer Coch, sits to the northwest of the castle.  http://www.wisdomofrhiannon.co.uk/Brecon.html

Brecon Castle was much fought over.  From Newmarch, the castle passed to the Braose dynasty.  King John seized it from William de Braose, who was in rebellion, in 1207 and William’s son Reginald recaptured it during the Magna Carta war.  In 1241, it passed to the Earls of Hereford, the Bohuns.  (Welsh Castles, Adam Pettifer, p. 8).

During the Barons war of 1263-65, both Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and the Bohuns allied themselves with Simon de Montfort.  Humphrey de Bohun ruled Brecon at the time.  He had been the guardian of Gilbert de Clare, but when Clare switched back to King Henry’s side, Clare took it upon himself to capture Brecon Castle from his former guardian in 1264.  In 1265, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd took it from Clare (but note, didn’t give it back to Bohun).  By then, things had begun to fall apart for Montfort.  Soon he was dead, along with the Earl of Hereford’s son, Humphrey. (Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, J. Beverely Smith, 1990)

Llywelyn lost control of those lands with the treaty of 1277, although he was much besieged through the 1270s.  (ibid p. 358)

Of the castle itself, it is set between the Honddu and Usk Rivers.  “There were two entrances as well as the postern gate. The main gate faced west and overlooked the Usk. It was approached across a drawbridge and probably guarded by two semi-circular towers and the usual great door and portcullis. From the town direction the castle was also guarded by a drawbridge on the site of the present bridge which crosses the Honddu. These gates were joined by the encircling curtain wail. which enclosed the whole area of the castle. Within these outer defences the most imposing building was the great Hall; this was the social centre of the castle and the Lordship where the Lords of Brecon held court when in the area. (The surviving medieval halls at Christ College – across the river from the castle – give a good idea of what it must have looked like inside. The private apartments of the Lord were next to the Hall. There are references to other rooms and buildings in the medieval documents. For example the Constable and the Receiver (of taxes and dues) had their own chambers. There was a chapel, exchequer, kitchen, harness tower, stable and porter’s chamber. The well was described as being 30 feet deep. These buildings suggest that the castle was more like a bustling town than the romantic, military fortress of imagination. People from the surrounding Lordship came to the courts held at the castle, they paid their dues to the exchequer, they pleaded for privileges or came with supplies of food, timber and other necessaries.”  http://www.castlewales.com/brecon.html

The castle is mostly destroyed now and parts of it have been turned into a hotel.  The only plan is above, from Speed, 1610:  http://www.breconcastle.co.uk/brecon-castle-history.asp

Brecon Castle plays an important role in my After Cilmeri series.



The Death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

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It has been over 700 years since Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s death on 11 December 1282.  J. Beverley Smith writes:

“Intimations of treachery, of breach of faith, are so often conveyed darkly, and no chronicle, nor any other source, provides the unequivocal teestomny which might enable us to unravel the threads in the various accounts of the tragic happening in the vicinity of Builth.  It was alleged at the time, or shortly afterwards, in the most explicit statement we have, that the prince’s decision to venture into the area was influenced by one of the sons of his old adversary, Roger Mortimer.  The Hagnaby chroinicler, an important source for the events of the day on which Llywelyn died, was quite definite:  Roger Mortimer, he says, but, more correctly, his brother Edmund Mortimer, drew the prince there by beseeching him to come to the neighbourhood of Builth to take his homage and that of his men. Along with other lords he hatched a plot to corner Llywelyn and kill him”  (Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, 1998:551).

The chronicle of Hagnaby Abbey is a historical document that begins in 1173 with the foundation of the Abbey in Lincolnshire.  It is now ruined.  It was a house Premonstratensian canons, “founded in 1175-1176 as a dependency of Welbeck Abbey. It gained independence and abbey status in 1250, and was supressed in 1536.”   http://www.pastscape.org/default.aspx


Whatever really happened, the entry from the Chronicle of the Princes (Ystrad Flleur) says it all:

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.

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.


Aberystwyth Castle

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Aberystwyth Castle, located on the west coast of Wales, is one of the few large castles in Ceredigion proper.  To the east is mountainous terrain and it guards the entire north/south coast of Wales.  A fort has existed in the area since prehistoric times, and over the centuries, different peoples have added to, knocked down, and rebuilt multiple fortifications.

The first ‘castle’ at Aberystwyth was on Pen Dinas.  It is an iron age hill fort, overlooking both the sea and the city of Aberystwyth.  It was occupied for about 300 years, into the first century BC.

“The ridged top site is enclosed by a series of banks and ditches.There have been numerous finds on the site and most are now in the hands of the National Museum of Wales. They include a clay pot made in the Malvern Hills and a pale yellow glass bead, possibly made in Somerset, as well as decorated Iron Age pottery, a 4th century Roman coin, spindle whorls and loom weights.”  http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/mid/sites/celts/pages/pendinas.shtml

Although other fortifications followed, the first true castle wasn’t built until the 12th century, with the coming of the Normans.  Traces of that castle, an earthen and wood construction, Tan-y-castell, are still visible alongside the River Ystwyth.  It was burned by Gruffydd ap Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth, in 1135, and then rebuilt by Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd, Owain Gwynedd’s wayward brother, when he took over Ceredigion.  http://www.castles.me.uk/aberystwyth-castle.htm


Llywelyn ap Iowerth (Llywelyn the Great) began the first stone castle in a different location by the sea, rather than on the heights.  http://www.castlewales.com/aberystw.html

This castle was then rebuilt beginning in 1277 by Edward I in his castle building program (See my blog, An Iron Ring of Castles).  Dafydd ap Gruffydd’s Palm Sunday insurrection in 1282 burned it, but at the Welsh defeat, Edward continued the building and it was completed in 1289.

“In 1404, the castle fell to Owain Glyndwr and it was occupied until being recaptured by cannon in 1408. During this occupation it became an important seat of Welsh government.  In 1637 the castle was chosen by Charles I to house a royal mint. Coins of eight different denominations were produced from local silver. All carried the emblem of the Prince of Wales feathers.

Charles Bushell, who operated the mint in 1637, became very wealthy. At the start of the Civil War he lent Charles I £40,000 and raised a regiment of soldiers made up from local miners. Bushell’s mint was closed down during the Civil War, but was used to store silver and lead.  Garrisoned by Royalists, the castle was besieged by the Parliamentarians and surrendered in 1646. Cromwell’s troops made a good job of demolishing the building, thus preventing it ever being used again.”  http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/themes/society/castles_aberystwyth.shtml

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