The Battle of Cymerau

The fortunes of the Welsh ebbed and flowed in the 13th century, but between 1255 (the Battle of Bryn Derwin when Llywelyn defeated his brothers, Dafydd and Owain) and 1277, they were on the rise.

One of the first important battles was that of Cymerau.

In September of 1256, Stephen Bauzan, Prince Edward’s officer in south-west Wales, brought a substantial force of men to Ystrad Tywi, located in the northern portion of Deheubarth at the base of the Cambrian Mountains.

Thus, on the eve of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s advance into Perfeddwlad, a force was arraigned against Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg, the Welsh lord of those lands. Llywelyn and Maredudd, eyeing each other with mutual concern about their own power and authority, struck an alliance, and perhaps this is the true impetus for Llywelyn’s foray east of the Conwy River. After he took all of Gwynedd under his control, he swept south, taking over all of Wales from the Dee River to the Dyfi, and then turning southwest towards Ystrad Tywi and taking all those lands for Maredudd.

Then, Llywelyn turned back east and drove towards Welshpool, through the lands of Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn in Powys. Further south, he took lands from Roger Mortimer, including Builth, initiating a lifelong animosity between the two men.  Llywelyn found himself in possession of almost the whole of Wales and the chroniclers realized he was cut from the same cloth as the great Kings of Wales who preceded him.  They began to speak of him in the same breath as his grandfather, Llywelyn Fawr.

All this activity forced Prince Edward to engage his Marcher barons–Mortimer, Bohun, Lestrange, Valence–none of whom was enthused about the idea of challenging Llywelyn. Edward was also short of funds. But he had no choice but to attempt a counter measure and try to wrest back some of the lands that Llywelyn had taken from him.

At Edward’s behest, Bauzan again set out (hard to see why Edward entrusted this mission with him, given the disaster of the previous year, but he did).  On 31 May 1257, he reached Llandeilo Fawr and camped. During the night, Maredudd ap Owain and Maredudd ap Rhys drew their forces close.  At dawn, they attacked in a shower of lances and arrows. For two days, the English cowered under the onslaught. Rhys Fychan, an ally of Edward and Prince Llywelyn’s nephew, who’d encouraged the whole endeavor, slipped away and made for Dinefwr.  This was the Welsh court of Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg, to which he thereby transferred his allegiance.

The next day, the English attempted to retreat to Cardigan, but at Coed Llathen the force lost many of its supplies.  Then, at Cymerau, the Welsh and English forces met openly on a battlefield. The Welsh so routed the English that 3000 men were recorded as having fallen.  It was an embarrassing and epic defeat for Edward.  Unfortunately for Llywelyn, his alliance with Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg was irrepairably damaged by his acceptance of Rhys Fychan back into the fold, and Maredudd defected again to the king before the year was out.

These details come from:

Marc Morris, A Great and Terrible King, Edward I and the Forging of Britain.

J. Beverley Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.

And Wikipedia has a great description here:

The Revolt of 1136

Warfare was nearly constant in Wales both before and after the Norman conquest.  Of course, the Normans didn’t actually conquer Wales–only parts of it–until the final defeat of Llywelyn in 1282.

In the years since 1066, however, the native Welsh princes and kings had lost out to the conquering Normans.  Deheubarth, the southwestern region of Wales, was flatter and more accessible than the northern areas, and had been of particular interest to the conquerers.  They had successfully overrun much of it by 1136, but in that year, the time was ripe for rebellion:

“By 1136 an opportunity arose for the Welsh to recover lands lost to the Marcher lords when Stephen de Blois displaced his cousin Empress Matilda from succeeding her father to the English throne the prior year, sparking the Anarchy in England.

The usurption and conflict it caused eroded central authority in England. The revolt began in south Wales, as Hywel ap Maredudd, lord of Brycheiniog (Brecknockshire), gathered his men and marched to the Gower, defeating the Norman and English colonists there at the Battle of Llwchwr.”

One of the lords of Deheubarth, Gruffydd ap Rhys, saw an opportunity to regain what he’d lost in the last few years and journeyed to meet with Gruffydd ap Cynan of Gwynedd, his father-in-law, to enlist his aid in the revolt.

Gruffydd ap Rhys left his wife, Gwenllian (Gruffydd ap Cynan’s daughter), at home to hold the fort (so to speak).

But Maurice of London and other Normans took Gruffydd’s absence as an opportunity to lead raids against the Welsh. Needing to defend her lands, Gwenllian raised an army, which was then routed near Kidwelly Castle.  The Normans captured Gwenllian and beheaded her.  Two of her sons, Morgan and Maelgwyn, also died (one slain in battle, one captured and executed).

When the two Gruffydds heard about Gwenllian’s death and the revolt it inspired in Gwent, Gwenllian’s brothers, Owain and Cadwaladr, invaded Deheubarth, taking Llanfihangel, Aberystwyth, and Llanbadarn.

Following these events, the Battle of Crug Mawr occurred in October, 1136.  “At Crug Mawr, two miles outside Cardigan, the Welsh forces were confronted by Norman troops drawn from all the lordships of South Wales. The Normans were led by Robert fitz Martin, lord of Cemais; Robert fitz Stephen, constable of Cardigan Castle; and William and Maurice fitz Gerald, uncles of Gerald of Windsor.

After some hard fighting, the Norman forces were put to flight and pursued as far as the River Teifi. Many of the fugitives tried to cross the bridge, which broke under the weight, with hundreds said to have drowned, clogging the river with the bodies of men and horses. Others fled to the town of Cardigan, which however was taken and burned by the Welsh though Robert fitz Martin successfully managed to defend and hold the castle; it was the only one to remain in Norman hands at the end of the rebellion.”

Unfortunately, both Gruffydd ap Rhys (of Deheubarth) and Gruffydd ap Cynan (of Gwynedd) died in 1137, the former in battle or otherwise irregular circumstances, and the latter of old age.  Anarawd succeeded to his father in Deheubarth and Owain to Gwynedd.

The Chronicle of the Princes (the Red Book of Hergest) has this to say:

“And after joining battle, with cruel fighting on every side, the Flemings and the Normans took to flight, according to their usual custom. And after some of them had been killed, and others burned, aand the limbs of the horses of others broken/ and others taken captive, and the greater part, like fools, drowned in the river, and after losing about three thousand of their men, they returned exceedingly sorrowful to their country. After that, Owain and Cadwalader returned, happy and rejoicing, to their country, having obtained the victory honourably/ with an immense number of prisoners, and spoils, and costly garments and arms.”

Dryslwyn Castle

Dryslwyn Castle is built on the same ridge as Dinefwr Castle. It is likely that Lord Rhys, the ruler of Deheubarth in the 12th century, maintained a stronghold in both places, although both castles were rebuilt in stone by later rulers.

Dryslwyn Castle as it exists today “stands on top of a hill overlooking the Tywi valley. Its date of construction is unknown but the similarity between it and neighbouring Dinefwr Castle suggest that it was built at a similar time and possibly by the same person. The most likely builder was Rhys Gryg who occupied Dinefwr in the early 13th century, or possibly his son Maredudd, who inherited Dryslwyn from his father.

By the late 13th century the castle at Dryslwyn had developed into the largest native Welsh castle in South Wales. In 1277 the English king, Edward I sent an army into Wales to defeat Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. Maredudd’s son, Rhys, who had inherited Dryslwyn after his fathers death in 1271, surrendered without a fight and was allowed to keep his castle. Dinefwr Castle was not as quick to surrender and as a result was forfeited by the king. Dryslwyn now had an English neighbour, a situation that was not well received by Rhys who felt he had a claim to the lands. In 1287 Rhys, enraged by years of border disputes with his English neighbours, captured the castles of Dinefwr,Carreg Cennen and Llandovery. The English response was swift and an army of 11,000 men recaptured the castles and defeated Rhys after a three week siege at Dryslwyn. Rhys escaped but was eventually captured and executed for treason.”

Can anyone say irony.  During the 1282 war, Rhys found allegiance to Edward better suited his needs and did not support Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in his quest to maintain and independent Wales.  Whoops.

The Kingdom of Deheubarth

Deheubarth was a southern Welsh kingdom, arising from the former kingdoms of Dyfed and Seisyllwg in 920 AD, under the rule of Hywel Dda.   At various times, it fell under the auspices of Gwynedd, namely, during the rule of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn in 1055 AD.  The Norman conquest, as for the Saxons to the east, was not a happy event, however, and Deheubarth fell to them before 1100 AD.  These Normans conquered the southern regions of Wales more fully than they ever did the north, including Deheubarth (until 1282, at which point Edward I conquered all of Wales).

The Normans accepted a client rule in certain instances and granted Cantref Mawr to Gruffydd ap Rhys in 1116. In time, he passed its rule onto his son, Anarawd.  With the help of Owain Gwynedd, Anarawd and Gruffydd successfully revolted against their Norman masters in 1136.  Gruffydd was killed in battle in 1137 and Anarawd went on to rule Deheubarth until he was murdered by Owain Gwynedd’s brother, Cadwaladr, in 1143.

“”The Welsh lawbooks of the medieval period, the earliest of which is a text of the 13th century, accorded to Dinefwr a special status as the principal court of the kingdom of Deheubarth. Indeed, the lawbooks which emanate from the kingdom of Deheubarth accord Dinefwr parity with Aberffraw, the chief court of the kingdom of Gwynedd. The phraseology of the lawyers’ statements may give Dinefwr an aura of antiquity, but written sources do not suggest that the castle has any history earlier than the 12th century. The earliest reference to the castle at Dinefwr in historical sources belongs to the period of Rhys ap Gruffydd, the Lord Rhys. One of the greatest Welsh leaders of the 12th century, Rhys ap Gruffydd was able to withstand the power of the Anglo-Norman lords of the March, supported on occasion by the intervention of King Henry II (1154-89) of England, and recreate the kingdom. He was then able to take advantage of the king’s more conciliatory policy in the period after 1171 to maintain stable authority for many years. Deheubarth flourished over a period of relative peace and general harmony, with Welsh culture and religious life, as well as legal and administrative affairs, all benefiting from Rhys’s patronage and self-assured governance.”

A younger brother, Rhys ap Gruffydd, ruled from 1155 to 1197 and submitted to King Henry in 1158 for the right to it.  He was known from then on as “Lord Rhys”.  After his death, “the princes of Deheubarth were effectively minor lords subject to Gwynedd and ruling small commotes and cantrefs in Ystrad Tywi and Ceredigion with no real authority. Rhys ap Maredudd was the last to make a stand in the South and was briefly proclaimed lord of Ystrad Tywi.”

This stand by Rhys ap Maredudd came in 1287, after the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.  Rhys had supported King Edward, despite overtures from Llywelyn.  “But the actions of the royal officials of the shire irked him, and moreover he had a feud with the Giffards of Iscennen ( Llandovery ). His grievances, however, as T. F. Tout puts it, were ‘those of a Marcher rather than those of a Welshman .’  He was eventually caught and executed in 1291.

The following list shows the rulers from the 10th century on:

Kings of Deheubarth
Hywel Dda the Good   909-950
Rhodri ap Hywel 950-953 (joint)
Edwin ap Hywel 950-954 (joint)
Owain ap Hywel 950-987
Maredudd ab Owain 987-999
Cynan ap Hywel 999-1005
Edwin ab Einion 1005-1018
Cadell ab Einion 005-1018
Llywelyn ap Seisyll 1018-1023
Rhydderch ab Iestyn 1023-1033
Hywel ab Edwin 1033-1044
Gruffydd ap Llywelyn 1044-1047
Gruffydd ab Rhydderch 1047-1055
Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (again) 1055-1063
Maredudd ab Owain 1063-1072
Rhys ab Owain 1072-1078
Rhys ap Tewdwr 1078-1093
Gruffydd ap Rhys 1135-1137
Anarawd ap Gruffydd 1137-1143
Cadell ap Gruffydd 1143-1153
Maredudd ap Gruffydd 1153-1155
Rhys The Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd 1155-1197
Gruffydd ap Rhys 1197-1201

Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd, King of Deheubarth

In my book, The Good Knight, the King of Deheubarth, Anarawd, dies in the opening chapter.  This is in 1143 AD, and King Owain of Gwynedd rules Gwynedd–and much of the rest of Wales–with a strong hand.

After Anarawd’s death, the rule of Deheubarth falls to his younger brother, Cadell.  “Cadell’s career was effectively ended in 1151. When out hunting, he was attacked by a Norman force from Tenby, who left him assuming him to be dead. In fact he survived, but was so badly injured as to be unable to resume his activities. In 1153 he left on a pilgrimage to Rome, leaving the rule of Deheubarth to his younger brothers Maredudd and Rhys. Cadell is not heard of again until 1175, when he entered the abbey of Strata Florida after a long illness and died there.”

The bastard son of Owain Gwynedd, Hywel, plays a key role in my medieval mysteries.  While Cadell and Rhys are ruling the rest of Deheubarth, Hywel rules Ceredigion, a northern territory carved out of Deheubarth.  However, “Maredudd and Rhys were able to drive Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd from Ceredigion by 1153. The same year, Rhys is recorded as an independent commander for the first time, leading an army to capture the Norman castle of St Clears.  Maredudd and Rhys also destroyed the castles at Tenby and Aberafan that year. Maredudd died in 1155 at the age of twenty-five and left Rhys as ruler of Deheubarth. Around this time he married Gwenllian ferch Madog, daughter of Madog ap Maredudd, prince of Powys.”

Rhys then began strengthening his position, but realized that he would have to come to an accommodation with King Henry (the war between King Stephen and Empress Maud having finally ended).  “Between 1158 and 1165 Rhys was under heavy pressure from Henry II. He was persuaded to submit, despite the loss of territory involved when Ceredigion and Cantref Bychan were restored to their Norman lords. Immediate retaliation by Rhys and his kinsmen, an attempt to take Carmarthen in 1159, and a successful attack on Llandovery in 1162 pointed for Henry II a recurrent danger: the Welsh prince would not accept an enhanced Anglo-Norman presence in West Wales. For Rhys, submission and defiance were part of the dynamic border conflict.

While Henry lived, Rhys was a trusted agent and ally. For his part, Rhys was content to make the most of his relationship with the king, but he continued to think and act as an independent Welsh prince. He rebuilt Cardigan Castle for his own use, and he used marriage alliances to consolidate his position. As the 12th century drew to a close, Rhys was once again engaged in campaigning against the crown and the greater lords of the southern march, and at the same time he was deeply implicated in internal feuds among his kindred. These struggles presaged the decline of his dynasty and the eclipse of his kingdom. By the time of his death in 1197 he had been an active participant in war and politics for sixty years, and he had been the dominate ruling prince in Wales for more than forty years.”

King Owain of Gwynedd died in 1170 and his son Dafydd eliminated all of his brothers over the course of four years, resulting in his undisputed rule of Gwynedd.  He was not a strong king in the way his father had been, with the result that Lord Rhys was the strongest ruler of Wales.  Upon Rhys’ death in 1197, however, Gwynedd again gained the ascendancy with the overthrow of Dafydd by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, grandson to Owain Gwynedd and his eldest legitimate grandchild.