One of the greatest kings of Gwynedd was Owain Gwynedd, but his father Gruffydd ap Cynan can equally lay stake to such a claim. His rule was certainly eventful.
Gruffydd ruled in Wales on and off since he was a young man, in between his flights to Ireland when the English—or other Welsh barons—ousted him from Gwynedd. Gruffydd’s grandfather had been the King of Gwynedd once upon a time, and Gruffydd had claimed the throne as its lawful heir.
But staking his claim hadn’t been easy. That first time, Gruffydd landed on Anglesey with an Irish and Danish, not Welsh, force. After he defeated Trahaearn, the man who’d usurped his throne, Gruffydd led his army eastwards to reclaim territories the Normans had taken over during the unrest. Despite the prior assistance given to him by the Norman, Robert of Rhuddlan, Gruffydd attacked and destroyed Rhuddlan castle.
Unfortunately for Gruffydd’s tenure on the throne, tensions between Gruffydd’s Danish-Irish bodyguard and the local Welsh led to a rebellion not long afterwards in Ll?n. Trahaearn, the previously ousted King of Gwynedd, took the opportunity to counter attack—with a helpful Norman force—defeating Gruffydd at the battle of Bron yr Erw.
Not giving up, six years later in 1081, Gruffydd allied himself with Rhys ap Tudur, Anarawd’s grandfather, and tried again. This time with a combined Dane, Irish, and Welsh force, he and Rhys marched north from Deheubarth to seek Trahaearn and his allies from Powys. The armies of the two confederacies met, Gruffydd and Rhys emerged victorious, and Trahaearn and his allied kings were killed. Gruffydd was thus able to seize power in Gwynedd for the second time.
But then the Normans counter-attacked, lured Gruffydd into a meeting near Corwen, and captured him. They imprisoned him for sixteen years. He finally escaped in 1197 and led a third invasion from Ireland. After some ups and downs, and with the timely intervention of King Magnus of Norway, Gruffydd stumbled to victory, came to terms with the Norman Earl of Chester, and began to consolidate his power. By the time his three sons were of age, he’d been King of Gwynedd for twenty years and had negotiated a peace with King Henry of England, who’d tried twice to conquer Gwynedd and failed.
This was the kingdom Owain Gwynedd inherited and the one he strived to defend and expand.
Sparked by a post yesterday, in which a historian commented that King Edward had a Welsh guard and didn’t ‘hate’ all Welsh as some people seemed to think, I feel compelled to comment.
First off, Edward was an English king who had the interests of the English crown and the English people first and foremost. He conquered all these countries from that position, with the idea that English law/church/language/culture (and that means Norman, really) was far superior to the barbaric north and west. That doesn’t mean he hated all Welshmen. A lot of what he did initially, in fact, was because he loved Dafydd, Llywelyn’s brother, in particular, and felt horribly betrayed by him when he started the rebellion in 1282.
And really, fine that he had a guard of Welshmen, but really, what were their choices? Nobody can prove or disprove that the Welsh did or did not like Edward, but back home, they were taxed to high heaven–deliberately to cripple them–their right to govern themselves was completely absent, and gradually their laws and way of life was disappearing. When Edward built all those castles, he ‘planted’ English towns next to them into which Welsh people were forbidden to live. He razed whole Welsh towns to the ground, including Aberconwy, where Llywelyn had a palace and one of the largest monasteries in Wales (Edward did the same 10 years later at Beaumaris). He proportioned out land to English lords, preventing the Welsh from herding their sheep and cattle (remember, herders were viewed as barbaric compared to farmers) and making a living.
This isn’t because Edward hated Welsh people, and any student of history knows that conquered people are exactly that–conquered. You didn’t see the Saxons murdering English kings either! The Saxons, in fact, were extraordinarily fortunate (after the initial conquest in 1066) in that they were the people at the forefront when the Normans came (like the Welsh/Britons had been when the Romans came) in that they were wholly coopted into the mythology of English superiority. Truly, the Romans had done the same thing to the Welsh back in 43 AD when they came, once resistance had been stamped out. It’s called being complicit in your own subjugation.
Here’s a Scottish example from my own family: My ancestor, Donald McKay fought FOR the English in the American revolution in one of the highland regiments. He was a McKay, from the nosebleed north, and returned home to discover that his lands had been ‘cleared’ by a rival clan that had allied with the English. The McKays were even protestant. Didn’t matter. Anyway, he came home to no land, no status, and no ability to earn a living. The English realized almost immediately that having all these displaced and resentful highlanders roaming Scotland was going to cause trouble, so they gave them land in Nova Scotia (New Scotland, heh), to get them out of their hair. It worked. Eventually Donald’s grandson made his way to Boston, and voila!
So did Edward ‘hate’ the Welsh. No. Did the Welsh ‘hate’ him? Many did, clearly, and perhaps some did not. And really, all through Welsh history, Welsh lords and men colluded with the English against their compatriots. But the fact that he had a Welsh guard and the Welsh fought for him against the Scots doesn’t indicate any kind of love either. Edward’s goal was to extract resources from the Welsh and subjugate their country. Of that there can be no question. I don’t see the point of arguing whether or not they loved him for it.
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.
When was Owain Gwynedd born? Here’s the truth: no idea.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. Like Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, nobody seems to have recorded the date Owain Gwynedd was born, or even the year. This is fine as far as it goes, because we can make some general estimates. The problem arises when the birthdays for his many, many children haven’t been recorded either. Nor his siblings. Nor the dates of his marriages.
My go-to-guide, John Davies History of Wales doesn’t discuss birthdays or ages, probably because he knows it’s fraught with difficulties, but many web sources try. For example, here’s one huge root of the problem, the Wikipedia entry, citing a book by John Edward Lloyd A history of Wales from the earliest times to the Edwardian conquest (Longmans, Green & Co.) written in 1911. This has Owain born c. 1100, and a long list of his offspring (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owain_Gwynedd):
Although I have edited the entry on Wikipedia to reflect the uncertainty of the birthday, if we’d continued to follow the 1911 source, Iorwerth ab Owain Gwynedd, the eldest son of Owain’s first wife, Gwladys, would have been born in 1145, a year afterDafydd ab Owain Gwynedd, the eldest child of Owain’s second wife. Such a date could be possible for Dafydd, since he is first mention in the annals of wales in 1157. At the latest, that means he was born in 1143/44, since Welsh boys become men at the age of fourteen. Obviously, we now have a problem.
It gets worse. The Castles of Wales site, normally very reliable, has Owain Gwynedd born as late as 1109. While neither Rhun nor Hywel get birthdays, they were full grown men by 1143, when Hywel is tasked with rousting his uncle Cadwaladr out of Ceredigion. If that’s the case, you have to think he’s at least 20 at the time. If this is true, however, for Hywel to be 20 in 1143, he would have to been fathered by Owain at the precocious age of 14, and his elder brother Rhun even earlier. Not impossible, but… http://www.castlewales.com/owain_g.html
Furthermore, Citing The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens (by Mike Ashley, Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. New York, 1998), elsewhere on the site, it makes the claim that Owain was born c. 1100 (so I give them a pass on that), but now Dafydd, the eldest son of his second wife Cristina, was born in c. 1135.
Deeper into a search, the EBK site reports that Owain’s father, Gruffydd, married Angharad in 1195 (when he was 40) and had three sons (Cadwallon, Owain, Cadwaladr) and some daughters, including the youngest, Gwenllian. http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/gruffcgd.html Fine. But it is Gwenllian who elopes with the much, much older Gruffydd ap Rhys in 1113. Whoa. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gruffydd_ap_Rhys Note that the particular entry on Gwenllian, which actually has citations, not all of which I have access to, has her born c 1197, which by necessity must push all these other dates back into the earlier 1190s to make any of this work. Unfortunately, to push those dates earlier is problematic, because Gruffydd was imprisoned for between 12 and 16 years, starting in 1081, so the earliest date of his release is 1093. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwenllian_ferch_Gruffydd
It is common knowledge among anyone who’s spent time wandering the history of Wales that murder and mayhem among the ruling families for power was common.
David Walker (Medieval Wales, 1990) writes: “Early entries in the Welsh Annales are brief in the extreme, but there are hints of ugly deeds. In 814, Griffri ap Cyngen was slain by the treachery of his brother; in 904, Merfyn ap Rhodri of Gwynedd was killed by his own men; in 969 Ieuaf ab Idwal of Gwynedd was seized by his brother Iago and imprisoned; in 974, Meurig ab Idwal was blinded” (p. 6).
He further points to the book Courtier’s Trifles by Walter Map, who satirized the reign of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (1039-63 AD), who ruled all of Wales from 1055 until his death. He writes: “I name Hywel, whom you caused to be smothered in secret when he was on a mission for you; Rhydderch, whom you received with a kiss and embrace and killed with a knife in your left hand; Tewdws, whom as he walked and talked with you, you tripped up with your foot and cast down the sheer rocks; and your nephew Meilin, whom you secretly captured by guile and let him die loaded with chains in your dungeon.” (p. 6)
This entry from Wikipedia is classic: “Hywel ap Ieuaf (died 985) was a King of Gwynedd in north-west Wales from 979 to 985.
Hywel was the son of Ieuaf ap Idwal who had ruled Gwynedd jointly with his brother Iago ab Idwal until 969. In that year the sons of Idwal quarrelled and Iago took Ieuaf prisoner . . . In 974 Hywel raised an army and drove his uncle from Gwynedd temporarily. Iago was able to return, but was forced to share power with his nephew. In 978 Hywel made another attempt to take the kingdom from his uncle, raiding the monastery at Clynnog Fawr. In this raid Hywel was helped by English troops, possibly provided by Aelfhere, Earl of Mercia. Hywel defeated Iago in battle in 979, and the same year Iago was captured by a force of Vikings, possibly in Hywel’s pay, and vanished from the scene. Hywel was left as sole ruler of Gwynedd, but apparently did not set his father free, since according to J.E. Lloyd, Ieuaf remained in captivity until 988.
In 980 Hywel faced a challenge from Iago’s son, Custennin ab Iago, who attacked Anglesey in alliance with Godfrey Haraldsson, a Viking chief from the Isle of Man. Hywel defeated them in battle, killing Custennin and putting Godfrey and his men to flight. Now securely in possession of Gwynedd, Hywel aimed to expand his kingdom to the south. He again made an alliance with Aelfhere of Mercia and attacked Brycheiniog and Morgannwg with some success, although he was not able to annex these kingdoms. However in 985 his English allies turned on him and killed him, possibly alarmed by his growing power. He was succeeded by his brother Cadwallon ap Ieuaf, who had not been on the throne long when Gwynedd was annexed by Maredudd ap Owain of Deheubarth.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hywel_ab_Ieuaf
This is much like the open warfare that erupted among the sons of Owain Gwynedd upon his death in 1170: his youngest sons, Dafydd and Rhodri (children of Cristina), systematically eliminated all of their rivals, including Hywel, the eldest (d. 1170). “Dafydd drove out Maelgwn in 1173, sending him fleeing to Ireland. Another brother, Cynan, died in 1174, removing one more contender for the throne. The same year Dafydd captured and imprisoned his brothers Maelgwn (who had returned from Ireland) and Rhodri.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dafydd_ab_Owain_Gwynedd
However, Llywelyn ap Iowerth (son of another dead brother) overthrew his uncle in 1294 and claimed the throne for himself. Thus began the remarkable rule of Llywelyn Fawr.
Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (d 1244) did everything in his power to undermine the rule of his brother, Dafydd. Dafydd retaliated by imprisoning him at Criccieth Castle. Gruffydd ultimately fell to his death trying to escape the Tower of London in which he’d been imprisoned by Henry III.
Llywelyn ap Gruffydd imprisoned his brother, Owain from 1256 to 1277 to prevent him from vying for the throne of Gwynedd. Their younger brother, Dafydd, defected twice to the English crown and tried to assassinate Llywelyn in 1274.
Today is the 735th 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.
Aber Garth Celyn was the seat of the Princes of Wales since Aberffraw and Deganwy were destroyed sometime in the early middle ages. With the fall of the Royal House of Wales and the subsequent conquering of Wales by Edward I, the location of Garth Celyn was lost to history. It is only in the last 20 years that we have a better idea of where it might be.
One possibility put forth by CADW, the Welsh Archaeological society, is at ‘y Myd’–a man-made mound to the west of the Aber River in North Wales. “Excavations at Abergwyngregyn, near Bangor, unearthed the remains of a medieval hall dating back to the 14th century, the period when Llywelyn the Great and Llywelyn the Last were fighting for Welsh independence.” [a note from Sarah–that the archaeologist would say this is somewhat surprising since Llywelyn was killed in 1282, otherwise known as the 13th century. If the best they can do is the 14th century, then there’s no evidence this hall dates from the time of the princes.]
“A test dig on the same site in 1993, revealed medieval pottery, a bronze brooch and a coin dating back to the post-conquest era.
“You can see a large area with some substantial walls and the floor plan of a medieval hall with large wings either side,” said John Roberts, archaeologist for the Snowdonia National Park Authority.
These excavations were covered over in 2010 to protect them.
Another possibility for the location of Garth Celyn, and the one I chose for my books, is just on the other side of the river and includes a still-standing tower, situated on a hill overlooking the Lavan Sands and with a view of Anglesey.
From the Garth Celyn web page (the page is gone, so I just have to quote it here): “During the centuries between 1283 and 1553, the English crown owned the home and allowed it to become derelict, while at the same time expunging any mention of ‘Garth Celyn’ from the written record. It is not until the time of Henry Vlll, that his surveyor, John Leland notes, ‘the palace on the hille still in part stondeth.’
Then, on June 14, 1551, Rhys Thomas of Aberglasney, appointed by Roger Williams, the surveyor of crown lands in north Wales, to be the deputy surveyor, obtained a lease for himself for the house. Subsequently, on 27 April 1553 King Edward VI, seriously ill with tuberculosis, granted the royal manors of Aber and Cemais to William Herbert, earl of Pembroke and William Clerke. Rhys Thomas and his wife, Jane, then built a house among the ruins of the palace.
Culturally speaking, one of the most important records of Garth Celyn is found in the letters written in the last months of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s life to Edward I and the Peckham, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The royal llys of the Welsh princes excavated on Anglesey does not include a motte, and bears no relationship to the kind of Norman construction CADW is proposing the Llywelyns either built or repurposed at Aber. In addition, Welsh rulers were moving from one royal llys to another as administrative centers from before the Normans arrived in Britain. http://www.angleseyheritage.com/key-places/llys-rhosyr/
As the house itself, the following is a written account from 1874:
Aber Village August 1874
The castle of Llywelyn is but a few minutes walk from the centre of the village.
To reach it by the quickest and most picturesque road you have to traverse the nook at the back of the mill and to scramble over the loose stones that rise about the surface of the widespread stream. Once over the somewhat perilous brook, you have to pass a gate, then a field, still following the side of the watercourse. Mounting a steep rustic ascent you find yourself a few minutes more before a huge barbaric Round Tower, the principal and almost only vestige of Llywelyn’s Castle at the present day. Attached to this Tower is an interesting looking structure built entirely we are told of the ruins of the ancient palace. It is at present used as a farmhouse. This most picturesque house is well worth a visit, though from its private isolated character it is known to few out of its immediate neighbourhood.
The farmer’s wife, though little prepared for the intrusion, nevertheless kindly allowed us to traverse the house, contenting herself with showing us alone one particular room in the tower, a clothes press and four chairs, evidently as old as the building itself and quite as primitive.
She also favoured me with a bit of lighted candle and led me to the steps of a vast cellar or dungeon under the tower, telling me to inspect it if I wished, which I hastened to do – I beg pardon, I did not hasten, for the steps down to it were so slimy, damp, and shaky, that any over haste would have been accompanied with serious bodily harm, so needs was to be slow and cautious.
On descending into this cavern, as well as the faint light of the candle would permit of, I noticed several contiguous cells with prison – like apertures. Could these possibly have been dungeons? At least there were good reasons for the conjecture. At the further end of the cavern, or cellar, or prison, or whatever it was and had been, I could perceive the commencement of a subterranean passage, which led, I was afterwards informed, to some solitary spot in the glen – for what purpose, must be left to the imagination, for there are no printed memorials to the spot, nor any written ones, unless Lord Penrhyn, the owner of the property, happens to have any such in the archives of his Castle.
Armes Prydein Fawr, the Great Prophecy of Britain, is a poem attributed to Taliesin (although could not be his work as it was composed in the 10th century) in which he sings of the return of Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon (the hero in my book, The Last Pendragon) and Cynan, another dark age leader of the Welsh people. Among the Welsh, it was these two, not Arthur, who would return in the future to save Britain. The motivation was the same, however, in that the poet desires to drive the invading Saxons out of the land that had belonged to the Cymry.
In the poem, Taliesin predicts the allliance of the Irish and Scots with the Welsh towards that purpose. John Davies, in his book, The History of Wales, writes that the poem expresses frustration with the peaceful, compromising policies of Hywel Dda (c. 930) towards the Saxons (2007:93). Further, the poem finds the root of its anguish in the deep sense of loss which became the motivating force behind much of Welsh mythology–the loss of their country to the Saxons after the fall of Rome (2007:48).
Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon was a King of Gwynedd, born in 633 AD. His father, a powerful king himself who’d allied himself with Mercia in marrying Alcfrith, sister of King Penda, was killed in battle in 634. With Cadwallon’s death, Gwynedd was left in disarray, and Cadwaladr’s people (whoever they were–there is no record of what happened to Alcfrith so perhaps she died in childbirth), fled Gwynedd with him. His place was taken by a man named Cadfael of unknown origin.
Cadwaladr grew up and returned to overthrow the usurper, ruling from 655 to 682 AD and is recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth as the last great King of Wales. Consequently, anything that we ‘know’ about Cadwaladr that is based on his story, is probably apocryphal. What is well established is that the red dragon of Wales–The Red Dragon of Cadwaladr–is attributable to him.
Far less is known about Cynan, who ruled in the middle/late 6th century Powys in the east and southeast of Wales.
With sharp-ground blades utterly they will kill.
There will be no advantage to the physician from what they do.
The armies of Cadwaladyr, mighty they come,
The Cymry were exalted, a battle they made.
A slaughter without measure they assailed.
In the end of their taxes, death they know.
0thers, large branches they planted.
For age of ages their taxes they will not leave off.
In wood, in plain, on lull,
A candle in the dark will go with them.
Cynan opening a forward way in every descent.
Saxons against the Brython, woe they will sing.
Cadwaladyr a pillar with his princes.
Though prudence utterly attending to then.
When they drop their covering over their support.
In affliction, and the crimson gore on the cheeks of the Allmyn.
At the end of every expedition spoil they lead.
Also included in the Book of Taliesin is an enigmatic poem, cut off almost before it begins. It is called The Prediction of Cadwaladr.
The knight of the swift bay horse
with the double face, creates turmoil:
With treachery afoot, a blessing his
death and burial in Snowdonia.
When our war-lord comes he will make,
in a mead in Prydein, a chief place.
His manifest life will invigorate morals:
and his confines will be to us an Eden.
There will come, thither,
A Saxon seeking hospitality.
Grief he will know; from excess
of presumption, he will sin
The yoking of a wife by a vassal
will renew old hatred: he will
know grief: from presumption
comes contempt; he commits treason.
Did you see my friend
playing with my spouce?
I saw a slim corse,
and crows full of activity.
But the catastrophe lacks the prostrate form
of the sword-stroke.
And beyond the bank of… (the manuscript is cut off)
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.”
“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 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.
In general, marriages between the well-born in the Middle Ages were arranged–daughters in particular were essentially sold off in order to cement alliances, concentrate wealth, or gain allies. That is not to say that sons were any better off, since they too were not marrying for love. They, however, for the most part had more leeway on whether or not they were faithful to their wives, and certainly had more freedom in general. Perhaps the most startling example of an arranged marriage that cements an alliance is when Isabella de Braose married Dafydd ap Llywelyn, the son of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Wales, after her father, William, had been hung by Llywelyn for sleeping with Joanna, his wife.
The families trees of the Gwynedd indicate how closely linked the Welsh princes were to the Marcher lords and to the Kings of England themselves. Click on the image to make it larger.
In looking through historical documents, there is a striking resemblance between one of the last letters that Llywelyn ap Gruffydd wrote to Edward I, a month before his death, and the famous speech by Patrick Henry. From Llywelyn:
We fight because we are forced to fight, for we, and all Wales, are oppressed, subjugated, despoiled, reduced to servitude by the royal officers and bailiffs so that we feel, and have often so protested to the King, that we are left without any remedy . . ..
Compare it to Patrick Henry’s speech to the Virginia Assembly:
Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope . . .
Welsh rulers fought the English/Norman rule from 1066 to 1282, but even after the Welsh conquest by Edward I, other men stepped up to foment rebellion, some with more success than others.
One was Madog ap Llywelyn (1294-95): Frustrated by high taxes, forced levies for Edward’s wars, misuse of power by his officers (sound familiar?), Madog rose to lead an organized rebellion at Michelmas in 1294, just as Edward was preparing to cross the English Channel for a continental campaign. He immediately abandoned that plan and turned his attention to Wales. http://www.medievalists.net/files/08100401.pdf
Madog himself wasn’t particularly noble in his ideals–he was a distant relative of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd but who had not been an ally. Back in 1256 the Prince of Wales dispossessed his family of their lands, they fled to England and to Edward. Upon Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s death, Madog expected a return to his fortunes, expectations which failed to materialize. Madog’s forces overran Caernarfon and occupied the castle. Other castles across Wales were besieged and many towns put to the flame, including Caerfphilly, Harlech, and Conwy. http://www.worldlingo.com/ma/enwiki/en/Madog_ap_Llywelyn Ultimately, of course, Edward’s armies defeated Madog’s and captured him.
A second was Llywelyn Bren in 1316 who rebelled against Edward II, somewhat despite himself. His real argument was with Sir Payn Turberville whom Edward had appointed to rule Glamorgan after the death of its Earl. As always seemed to be the case with these royal, English appointments, he was tyrannical and vicious. Llywelyn made some statement to that effect, which Turberville reported to Edward II, who then called Llywelyn to account. Instead of allowing Edward to hang him, he fled and fomented rebellion, although he ultimately surrendered rather than have the full weight of the Marche brought down on his countrymen’s head. This page has a detailed description of what went on: http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.com/2010/01/uprising-in-south-wales-1316.html
Ultimately, Hugh Despenser had Llywelyn removed from the Tower of London and murdered.