Tag Archives: Owain Gwynedd


Owain Gwynedd’s birthday

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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 after Dafydd 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



Geoffrey of Monmouth

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Geoffrey of Monmouth was born sometime around 1100, probably in Monmouth in southeast Wales. “His father was named Arthur. Geoffrey was appointed archdeacon of Llandsaff in 1140 and was consecrated bishop of St. Asaph in 1152. He died c. 1155.

Geoffrey is one of the most significant authors in the development of the Arthurian legends. It was Geoffrey who, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (completed in 1138) located Arthur in the line of British kings. Such an action not only asserted the historicity of Arthur but also gave him an authoritative history which included many events familiar from later romance. Geoffrey also introduced the character of Merlin as we know him into the legends. Geoffrey’s Merlin, a combination of the young and prophetic Ambrosius in Nennius’s history and the prophet Myrddin who figures in several Welsh poems, first appears in a book known as the Prophetiae Merlini (The Prophecies of Merlin), which was written about 1135 but then incorporated as Book VII of the Historia. This book contains the prophecies made by Merlin to Vortigern, which foreshadow not only the downfall of Vortigern but also the rise and fall of Arthur, events subsequent to the end of the Historia, and events of the obscure future.”  http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/geoffrey.htm

“Modifying the name of the northern bard Myrddin, Geoffrey uses Welsh predictions of a Celtic revival and many of his own probable invention and ascribes them to the prophet. This work was followed toward 1136-1138 by the Historia Regum Britanniae that incorporated the prophecies in it. Near the end of 1150 he composed a long narrative poem expanding on Welsh traditions about the prophet entitled, Vita Merlini (“Life of Merlin”).”  http://www.pantheon.org/articles/g/geoffrey_of_monmouth.html

By his late twenties, Geoffrey certainly seems to have travelled eastwards to work at the Collegiate Church of St. George at the castle in Oxford.   He remained there, as a tutor of some kind, for at least the next twenty years  and began writing not long after he arrived.  The Prophecies of Merlin appear to have been a series of ancient Celtic prophecies which, at the request of Alexander of Salisbury, Bishop of Lincoln, Geoffrey translated into Latin, perhaps with some additions of his own. “Whether they had previously been attributed to the Northern British bard, Myrddin, is unknown. As with all his works, Geoffrey hoped the prophecies might bring him a lucrative preferment in the Church, and he used its dedication to ingratiate himself with Alexander who was Bishop of his local diocese. Geoffrey made a more appreciative acquaintance while at St. George’s, in the person of Walter the Provost, who was also Archdeacon of the city. In his writings, Geoffrey tells us that Walter gave him “a certain very ancient book written in the British language” and, probably because he was unable to read Welsh (or Breton) himself, the Archdeacon encouraged Geoffrey to translate it into Latin.”

Geoffrey began writing History of the Kings of Britain’ dedicated to Robert, Earl of Gloucester, and Waleran, Count of Mellent in 1136. “At the time, the work was taken at face value and accepted by most as a true history of the Welsh nation from around 1100 bc to around AD 689. Merlin appeared again, as an advisor to Kings Ambrosius and Uther, but the work was most notable for its extensive chapters covering the reign of the great King Arthur. Since the 17th century, however, its author has been largely vilified as an inexorable forger who made up his stories “from an inordinate love of lying”. Modern historians tend to be slightly more sympathetic.

At the end of 1150, Geoffrey appears to have come into the possession of further source documents concerning the life-story of his original subject, the bard, Myrddin (alias Merlin). Unfortunately, these did not line up terribly well the information he had given about this man in his History of the Kings of Britain – perhaps indicating that this part was either invented or, more probably, that Merlin’s name had been rather over-eagerly attributed to an otherwise unknown Royal adviser. Keen to put across the true story, without losing face, Geoffrey wrote the Life of Merlin, correctly placing its events after the reign of Arthur, but thus giving his title role an impossibly long lifespan. It was dedicated to his former colleague at St. George’s, Robert De Chesney, the new Bishop of Lincoln.

“The following year, Geoffrey’s sycophancy at last paid off. He was elected Bishop of St. Asaphs, for good service to his Norman masters; and was consecrated by Archbishop Theobald at Lambeth Palace in February 1152. As a Welsh-speaker, he was probably chosen in an attempt to make the diocesanal administration more acceptable in an age when Normans were not at all popular in the areas of Wales which they controlled. However, the strategy seems to have been unsuccessful. Owain Gwynedd’s open rebellion was in full swing and Geoffrey appears to have never even visited his bishopric. He died four years later, probably in London.”   http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/geofmon.html

“Whenever his dates are checked, as in the Roman period, Geoffrey emerges clearly as a writer of fiction and cannot be relied upon for facts. Following medieval tradition, he fully modernizes Arthur’s court to the 12th century. Later, however, from Caesar on he is using what passed for real history at the time and some of his source materials can be identified – the Historia Brittonum, Bede and Gildas in addition to Roman historians.

For the most part he is creating and aggrandizing very little data but in his preface he claims to be translating from a much fuller source, one “ancient book in the British language” (maybe Welsh but probably Breton) bestowed upon him by Walter, archdeacon at Oxford. This claim remains dubious as no copy of this source is extant. But the tale of Arthur scribed by Geoffrey cannot be fully accounted for from the aforementioned sources hinting at some unknown text of some kind. There is a possible tie to the Continent from the resonance with 5th century events in Gaul. Traces of a similar source are found in the preface to the Breton Legend of St. Goeznovius.”  http://www.pantheon.org/articles/g/geoffrey_of_monmouth.html


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.



King Owain Gwynedd

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The Good KnightOwain was born Owain ap Gruffydd around 1100 AD, the second son of Gruffydd ap Cynan.  Owain ruled from 1137 to 1170 AD.   His rule was marked by peace initially, at least with England, as Owain took advantage of the strife in England between Stephen and Maud for the English throne to consolidate his power in Wales.  That conflict lasted for 19 years (http://www.britainexpress.com/wales/history/owain-gwynedd.htm), finally resolving in the rule by Stephen but with the inheritance of the throne upon his death by Maud’s son, Henry.

Owain “married, firstly, Gwladys, the daughter of Llywarch ap Trahaearn; and secondly, Christina, his cousin, the daughter of Goronwy ap Owain ‘the Traitor,’ Lord of Tegeingle, to whom he remained constant despite the active disapproval of the Church.” He had many sons and daughters, not all of whom are documented.  http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/owaingd.html

His first  relationship was with a woman named Pyfog, of Ireland, by whom he had two sons:  Rhun and Hywel.  Rhun, a most favored son, died in 1147.

“As a young man in the 1120s, Owain was largely associated with his elder brother, Cadwallon, in restoring Gwynedd’s prosperity on behalf of their ageing father. Together, they directed the military campaigns which added Meirionydd, Rhos, Rhufoniog and Dyffryn Clwyd to Gwynedd proper. Thus, at his accession to the throne, upon Gruffudd’s death in 1137 – Cadwallon having died five years earlier – the groundwork for an impressive career had already been firmly set.”  http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/owaingd.html

Owain did have to deal with his younger brother, Cadwaladr.  As with Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in the 13th century, Owain, as the second son, was a charismatic and strong ruler (and, apparently, fair).  His younger brother, Cadwaladr, had somewhat less honor and although the two split Gwynedd between them upon their father’s death, in 1143 Cadwaladr was implicated in the murder of Anarawd ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth.  Owain responded by sending his son, Hywel, to strip him of his lands in the north of Ceredigion and banished Cadwaladr to Ireland.

In response, Cadwaladr returned to Wales at the head of an army of mercenaries (this is the subject of Ellis Peter’s 20th Cadfael chronicle, The Summer of the Danes and my work in progress The Good Knight), to the extreme displeasure of his brother.  Cadwaladr was driven into permanent exile in 1155 AD.

Back to King Henry.  He gained power in 1154, ruling as Henry II.  In 1157, he attacked Wales.  His goal, as was generally the case for the English kings, was to force Owain to give up some of the lands he had gained at English expense, particularly in Powys, and to force Wales into the status of ‘dependent’ state, instead of ‘client’ state—an important difference in the eyes of both the Welsh and the English.

Henry II was, for the most part, not successful.  Other than an initial stalemate, Owain continued to rule Wales as he saw fit, and left a consolidated country for his heirs when he died in 1170.  Gwynedd was split among Owain’s many sons.  For problems with the succession, see http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=770


The Revolt of 1136

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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.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwenllian_ferch_Gruffydd

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.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwenllian_ferch_Gruffydd

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.”  http://en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/1530079

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.”


The Succession (1170 AD) in Gwynedd

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1170 AD was a tough year in Gwynedd. It was the year Owain Gwynedd died and as is often the case with a strong king, his death brings about a vacuum waiting to be filled with intrigue and fratricide.

Because his brother, Rhun, had already dThe Fourth Horsemanied, Hwyel ap Owain Gwynedd, the second son, was the eldest surviving son. Unfortunately for Hywel, Owain had a lot of sons and the contention among them at their father’s death was fierce. While the tradition in Wales, under Welsh law at the time, was to split the kingdom among all the surviving sons, in practice, this rarely happened amicably.

Hywel, although beloved of his father and his choice to succeed him, did not survive 1170, as he was killed by two of his younger brothers, Dafydd and Rhodri, who conspired against all of their brothers through the urging of their mother, Cristina. Although Rhodri supported Dafydd’s bid to the throne, Dafydd eventually turned on him too.

Owain’s sons included:

Rhun and Hywel, both illegitimate

Iorwerth and Maelgwyn, both children of Gladwys, Owain’s first wife

Dafydd, Rhodri, children of Cristina, Owain’s second wife

Cynan, Rhirid, Madoc, Cynwrig, Einion, Iago, Ffilip, Cadell, Rotpert and Idwal (all illegitimate)

Madoc, according to legend, was so upset by the infighting among his brothers that he sailed to the New World.

Wikipedia has a good summary of what happened:

“As the eldest surviving son and elding, Hywel succeeded his father in 1170 as Prince of Gwynedd in accordance with Welsh law and custom.However, the new prince was immediately confronted by a coup instigated by his step-mother Cristin, Dowager Princess of Gwynedd.

The dowager princess plotted to have her eldest son Dafydd usurp the Throne of Gwynedd from Hywel [who was illegitimate], and with Gwynedd divided between Dafydd and her other sons . . .The speed with which Cristen and her sons acted suggest that the conspiracy may have had roots before Owain’s death. Additionally, the complete surprise of the elder sons of Owain suggests that the scheme had been a well kept secret.

Within months of his succession Hywel was forced to flee to Ireland, returning later that year with a Hiberno-Norse army and landing on Môn, where he may have had [his brother] Maelgwn’s support.Dafydd himself landed his army on the island and caught Hywel off guard at Pentraeth, defeating his army and killing Hywel.Following Hywel’s death and the defeat of the legitimist army, the surviving sons of Owain came to terms with Dafydd. Iorwerth was apportioned the commotes of Arfon and Arllechwedd, with his seat at Dolwyddelan, with Maelgwn retaining Ynys Môn, and with Cynan receiving Meirionydd. However by 1174 Iorwerth and Cynan were both dead and Maelgwn and Rhodri were imprisoned by Dafydd, who was now master over the whole of Gwynedd.”

Peace prevailed until 1194 when his nephew, Llywelyn ap Iowerth, seized the throne. He would become known as Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great).  http://www.castlewales.com/llewelyn.html

O England’s hate is my love unsleeping, Gwynedd my land,
Golden on every hand to the myriad reaping.
For her bounty of mead I love her, winter content,
Where turbulent wastes of the sea but touch and are spent;
I love her people, quiet peace, rich store of her treasure
Changed at her prince’s pleasure to splendid war

One I have loved, uneluding, dearly possessed,
Two I have wooed, by greater praise be they blessed –
Three, yea, and four, with fortune lavish of gold,
Five maidens I’ve won their white flesh fair to behold,
And six more bright than the sun on my city’s strong walls
With never a treacherous rede to blemish delight;
Seven by heaven! though hardly won was the fight –
Yea eight of whom I have sung: but to bridle the tongue
Lest heedless a careless word slip – the teeth they are strong

I love a bright fort on a shining slope,
Where a fair, shy girl loves watching gulls.
I’d like to go, though I get no great love,
On a longed-for visit on a slender white horse
To seek my love of the quiet laughter,
To recite love, since it’s come my way.

–Hywel ap Owain Gwynedd.

Translation from Gwyn Williams (trans.) Welsh Poems, 6th Century to 1600 (London: Faber & Faber, 1973) p. 43


Gruffydd ap Cynan, King of Gwynedd

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The Fourth HorsemanOne 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.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gruffydd_ap_Cynan  http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/gruffcgd.html


A Question about Rhuddlan Castle (Twthill)

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A reader of the Gareth and Gwen medieval mysteries asked me a question today and I thought it and my answer was worth sharing …

The Uninvited GuestQuestion: Rhuddlan is an important component of the plot [of The Uninvited Guest]. A sentence in Wikipedia (yes, I know Wikipedia has its limitations, but I notice that, on occasion, even your blogs have referenced Wikipedia) brings up a question. Wikipedia states that Owain Gwynedd did not conquer Rhuddlan until about 1150. It appears that the Welsh/English border was somewhat fluid during the reign of Owain Gwynedd, and other online sources are not clear on whether Rhuddlan was part of Wales or England in 1143. It is my perception that your research is thorough, and I am guessing that there is a historical basis for your describing Rhuddlan as part of Gwynedd in 1143. Can you elaborate?


It is my understanding that Rhuddlan was reunited with Gwynedd as part of the campaign of Owain’s father, Gruffydd, that cost the life of Owain’s elder brother, Cadwallon in 1132. Cadwallon killed some of his own uncles in order to achieve this. Owain’s marriage to Cristina reconciled these two sides of the family. The campaigns of 1136/37, which brought Ceredigion into the fold, expanded Gruffydd’s (and then Owain’s) hold over Wales to include all of north Wales and most of the west coast.

Earlier, Robert of Rhuddlan controlled both Deganwy and Rhuddlan (these locations are referred to as in the hands of the Earl of Chester in the Wiki quote below), but Gruffydd killed Robert in 1093 and I find no indication (other than the quote below) that Normans regained control of either site after his death. (For example, a quote here: “Robert’s lands in Gwynedd were now taken over by Earl Hugh of Chester, but the Welsh revolt of 1094 led by Gruffydd ap Cynan resulted in the loss of most of this territory.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_of_Rhuddlan)

Cantrefs in Medieval WalesI draw your attention to this map: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/565px-Cantrefi_Medieval_Wales.jpg
along with some further wikipedia information. The cantrefs in question are Rhos, Rhufoniog, and Tegeingel, all of which intersect at Rhuddlan.

“In 1120 a minor border war between Llywarch ab Owain, lord of a commote in the Dyffryn Clwyd cantref, and Hywel ab Ithel, lord of Rhufoniog and Rhos brought Powys and Chester into conflict in the Perfeddwlad. Powys brought a force of 400 warriors to the aid of its ally Rhufoniog, while Chester sent Norman knights from Rhuddlan to the aid of Dyffryn Clwyd. The bloody Battle of Maes Maen Cymro, fought a mile to the north-west of Ruthin, ended with Lywarch ab Owain slain and the defeat of Dyffryn Clwyd. However, It was a pyrrhic victory as the battle left Hywel ab Ithel mortally wounded. The last of his line, when Hywel ab Ithel died six weeks later he left Rhufoniog and Rhos bereft.  Powys, however, was not strong enough to garrison Rhufoniog and Rhos, nor was Chester able to exert influence inland from its coastal holdings of Rhuddlan and Degannwy.  With Rhufoniog and Rhos abandoned, Gruffydd I annexed the cantrefs.[23]

On the death of Einion ap Cadwgan, lord of Meirionydd, a quarrel engulfed his kinsmen on who should succeed him. Meirionydd was then a vassal cantref of Powys, and the family there a cadet of the Mathrafal house of Powys. Gruffydd gave license to his sons Cadwallon and Owain to press the opportunity the dynastic strife in Meirionydd presented.  The brothers raided Meirionydd with the Lord of Powys as important there as he was in the Perfeddwlad. However it would not be until 1136 that the cantref was firmly within Gwynedd’s control. Perhaps because of their support of Earl Hugh of Chester, Gwynedd’s rival, in 1124 Cadwallon slew the three rulers of Dyffryn Clwyd, his maternal uncles, bringing the cantref firmly under Gwynedd’s vassalage that year.[23] And in 1125 Cadwallon slew the grandsons of Edwin ap Goronwy of Tegeingl, leaving Tegeingl bereft of lordship.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Gwynedd#cite_note-Tegeingl-21

I grant the possibility that Rhuddlan remained a tiny outpost amidst a sea of control by Gruffydd/Owain. Given the bloodbath he instituted, however, I went with the assumption he’d taken the whole of it to write The Uninvited Guest. I also must point out that the the book from which all of this information is taken is A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest by John Edward Lloyd. It was written in 1911.

Here is a link to my other post on Rhuddlan and the videos of when I visited the two castle sites in May 2012:  http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/rhuddlan-castle-s-26-may-2012/


The Coracle, Prince Madoc, and the Mandans


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Mandan NDLewis and Clark trekked up the Mississippi river in 1804 and spent the winter of 1804-05 at Ft. Mandan (present day Washburn, North Dakota).  Lewis believed that the Mandan people were descended from Madoc ap Owain Gwynedd, who purportedly sailed from the new world in 1170 after the death of his father, and to escape the murder and infighting among his brothers for the throne of Wales.  Given that all but one of his brothers ended up dead within 5 years, this might have been a good plan, all around.

Now, if Madoc’s family hadn’t been associated with the Danes of Dublin, the notion of such an expedition would have been even more far-fetched.  Madoc’s great-grandmother was Ragnhild, “the daughter of Olaf of Dublin, son of King Sigtrygg Silkbeard and a member of the Hiberno-Norse Uí Ímhair dynasty. Through his mother, who appears in the list of the fair women of Ireland in the Book of Leinster.”  His grandfather, Gruffydd, “claimed relationships with many of the leading septs in Ireland. His great-great grandparents on his mother’s side include the High King of Ireland, Brian Bóruma, and the King of Dublin and King of Northumbria, Olaf Cuarán, and Gormflaith.”  (Hudson, Benjamin T.  (2005). Viking Pirates and Christian Princes: Dynasty, Religion, and Empire in the North Atlantic (Illustrated ed.). United States: Oxford University Press).  The norsemen had landed in North America over a hundred years before, stories about which Madoc would have heard.

Welshmen were not the same kind of sailors as the Danes, but one of the pieces of evidence that Meriwether Lewis and others (George Carlin) hit upon that made him think that the Mandans were indeed descended from Welshmen (in addition to their anomalous hair and eye color), were their coracles, round boats not unique to Wales, but used in the British isles for thousands of years and not found elsewhere in North America.  See http://www.data-wales.co.uk/coracle1.htm for a description.  And here for a long discussion about this issue:  http://freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~bowen/mandans.html

That this story is anything more than a myth remains unlikely.  The origin of the story is not known, but it rose to prominence during the Elizabethan era, when England was competing with Spain for the conquest of the New World.  That a Welsh explorer had come to America first . . . well, that would strengthen the claim.  That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but as with Arthur, propaganda is a powerful tool.  “The earliest certain reference appears in a cywydd by the Welsh poet Maredudd ap Rhys (fl. 1450-83) of Powys, which mentions a Madog who is a son or descendant of Owain Gwynedd and who voyaged to the sea. The poem is addressed to a local squire, thanking him for a fishing net on a patron’s behalf. Madog is referred to as “Splendid Madog… / Of Owain Gwynedd’s line, / He desired not land… / Or worldy wealth but the sea.”   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madoc

The Mandans as a people, did not survive the 19th century and there is no other evidence that might help us.  “The great plague of smallpox struck the Three Tribes in June of 1837, and this horrible epidemic brought disaster to these Indians.  Francis A. Chardon’s journals state that on July 14, a young Mandan died of smallpox and several more had caught it.  The plague spread with terrible rapidity and raged with a violence unknown before.  Death followed in a few hours after the victim was seized with pain in the head; a very few who caught the disease survived.  The Hidatsa scattered out along the Little Missouri to escape the disease and the Arikara hovered around Fort Clark.  But the Mandan remained in their villages and were afflicted worst; they were afraid of being attacked by Sioux if they ventured out of their villages.  By September 30, Chardon estimated that seven- eighths of the Mandan and one-half of the Arikara and Hidatsa were dead.  Many committed suicide because they felt they had no chance to survive.  Nobody thought of burying the dead, death was too fast and everyone still living was in despair.  The scene of desolation was appalling beyond the conception of the imagination.  The Mandan were reduced from 1800 in June to 23 men, 40 women, and 60 to 70 young people by fall.  Their Chief Four Bears, had died. (Shane, 1959, p. 199).” http://freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~bowen/mandans.html


Bards and Poets

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In Welsh society before the conquest–in all Celtic societies in fact–the bard/poet played a very important role in the life of society.

“The three principal endeavors of a Bard:
One is to learn and collect sciences.
The second is to teach.
And the third is to make peace
And to put an end to all injury;
For to do contrary to these things
Is not usual or becoming to a Bard.”



“In the Celtic cultures, the Bard/Filidh/Ollave was inviolate. He could travel anywhere, say anything, and perform when and where he pleased. The reason for this was, of course, that he was the bearer of news and the carrier of messages, and, if he was harmed, then nobody found out what was happening over the next hill. In addition, he carried the Custom of the country as memorized verses…he could be consulted in cases of Customary (Common) Law. He was, therefore, quite a valuble repository of cultural information, news, and entertainment.”  http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/articles/onbards.html

“The Celtic oral tradition, as it is generally referred to, was forbidden to be written down. To our modern outlook, this is an incredible impediment to preservation; however, the traditional myths, tales, and lyric poetry were well-preserved by a class of people called Druids, specifically a sub-group, the Bards or Poets. This elite group of people “were priests and teachers as well as entertainers” (Bellingham 11), and and it is thanks to their skills that examples of their lyric poetry survive today. The station of the Bard was an important one, and took many years of education:

. . . when he received the degree of Ollambh he also received the right to wear the mantle of crimson bird feathers, the right to carry the golden musical branch or wand of office, and to fill the highest post in the kingdom next to the king. (Hoagland xxxi)

Whether Fili or Ollambh, the Bard was “… in fact, a professor of literature and a man of letters, highly trained in the use of a polished literary medium”. (CELT) (I have used ‘fili’ throughout this paper in the interests of continuity, as there are different spellings of the word depending on which dialect of Gaelic is used.) They were members of the aristocratic caste, and as such, the Bards and Poets in ancient Gaelic Ireland were powerful; even as late as 1596, writer Edmund Spenser said these poets were “held in so high regard and estimation … that none may displease them, for feare to runne into reproach through their offense, and be made infamous in the mouths of all men” (Hoagland xxx).”  http://www.celticcafe.com/celticcafe/Books/Papers/HeatherIngemar/01_HeatherIngemar.html

In Wales, upon the advent of Christianity, the role of the bard was modified in the sense that he became more court poet, less seer.  At the same time, the great poets were remembered and revered.  (In  my book, The Good Knight, two of the characters are the most renowned bards of the twelfth century:  Hywel ap Owain Gywnedd and Gwalchmai ap Meilyr.)  The most famous Welsh bard of all time is Taliesin with his ties to Arthur, and perhaps the wizard Myrddin himself.

All of the books that we have in the Welsh language and tradition are poetry which was sung by bards:



Even today, Wales has a National Eisteddfod, a Celtic tradition honoring the bard, begun initially in 1176 by Lord Rhys, ruler of Dehuebarth (and much of Wales, after the death of Owain Gwynedd):  http://iantopf.hubpages.com/hub/The-Welsh-National-Eisteddfod


Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd, brother to the King


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If ever your family gets on your nerves, you can be glad that you don’t have a family like Owain Gwynedd.

Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd was Owain Gwynedd’s brother.  A royal family in Wales wasn’t the same as in England, where the eldest son inherited most everything.  In Wales, upon the death of a king, an entire kingdom was to be split among the brothers, even the illegitimate ones.  (yes, the Catholic Church objected to this, but the Welsh didn’t much care).  This caused problems for Wales time and again–as the brothers fought over lands among themselves and what had been a united kingdom under the father became divided under the sons.

Cadwaladr and Owain were often at odds.  Owain became the eldest son when his brother, Cadwallon, died, leaving Owain and Cadwaladr to rule without him.

Owain and Cadwaladr seemed to have split their territory amicably at first, but in 1143 AD, “Cadwaladr’s men killed Anarawd ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth by treachery, apparently on Cadwaladr’s orders.” Anarawd was the King of Deheubarth, in fact, and this was on the eve of his wedding to Owain’s daughter.  This marriage would have united the two kingdoms of Gwynedd and Deheubarth.  And Cadwaladr has Anarawd murdered!

Owain Gwynedd “responded by sending his son Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd to deprive Cadwaladr of his lands in Ceredigion.”  Ceredigion just happens to be the lands adjacent to Deheubarth.  Did Cadwaladr think that with Anarawd dead, he could pull a land grab?  Did he plot with Anarawd’s younger brother? We’ll never know.

“Cadwaladr fled to Ireland where he hired a fleet from the Danish settlement in Dublin and landed at Abermenai in 1144 in an attempt to force Owain to return his lands. Cadwaladr apparently abandoned or escaped from his allies and made peace with his brother, who obliged the Danes to leave.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadwaladr_ap_Gruffydd

Things remained uneasy between the brothers for the rest of their lives.  In 1147, the brothers fought again, resulting in Cadwaladr’s loss of Meirionydd.   Their animosity was further exacerbated by the fact that Cadwaladr sided with King Henry II in 1157 AD when he invaded Wales.   Cadwaladr, through his marriage to Alice Fitz Gilbert, had become a land owner in Lancashire and Shropshire.  http://www.red-dragon-wales.com/WelshPrinces/OwainGwynedd_1.htm

That war resulted in a stalemate, with Owain giving homage to Henry and Cadwaladr receiving some of his lands back, but with no real gains by Henry into Owain’s territory.  In the end, Cadwaladr outlived Owain but didn’t again attempt to share power with him again.

As a side note, and if you were thinking that this was an isolated incident.  The relationship between Cadwaladr and Owain bears a striking resemblance to that of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and his brothers, Owain and Dafydd.  Llywelyn kept Owain in prison for most of his natural life so he couldn’t incite against him, and Dafydd not only defected to the English twice in order to support the English king against Llywelyn, but tried to have him murdered.  Read more here:  http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/?p=495


NaNoWriMo Day 1


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November 1, 2010:

I sat up in bed morning, pulled my laptop close (hoping that my son wasn’t going to wake up quite yet) and started typing.  Now, with historical fiction, it doesn’t take very long before a need for research pops up, and I encountered the first after 3 sentences.  Why didn’t I do this research earlier?  Because I didn’t know what I needed until I’d written those three sentences.

This new book is a murder mystery, if I can pull it off, set in Gwynedd in 1143 AD.  In real life, Cadwaladr, Owain Gwynedd’s obnoxious brother, has Anarawd, Owain’s future son-in-law, murdered on the eve of his wedding.  It is over a land dispute, and Anarawd was ambushed on the road.  Once it is determined that Cadwaladr is to blame, Hywel, Owain Gwynedd’s bastard son, is sent to exact retribution from Cadwaladr for the death.

This book tells the story of how Owain Gwynedd discovers Cadwaladr’s treachery.  And the point of contention this morning at 6:50 am was exactly where this murder took place.  As the historical record is completely unhelpful, I get to put it wherever I want.  Since the wedding should have occurred at Aber Garth Celyn, then Anarawd must have been traveling in that direction, within one day’s journey perhaps, when Cadwaladr’s minions attack him.

So the thing to do is look at a map.  Usually I toggle between the Ordnance Survey and Google Earth, in this case of the area south of Aber:


Note the words ‘Roman fort’ in the center of the Ordnance Survey map–it’s not exactly clear where that is on the Google map, but it is wooded and secluded, near Swallow Falls.  There are a number of roads Anarawd could have used to get to Aber.  The first, this one, is to have come up from the Deheubarth to Dolwyddelan Castle, curving north-east to the Conwy River and then back west through the pass of Bwlch y Ddeufaen to Aber.  Second, there’s the possibility there once was a road directly from Dolwyddelan to Aber, but it’s not on any map that exists today.  The third possibility is for him to have ridden northwest from Tomen y Mur to Caernarfon and then east to Bangor and Aber Garth Celyn.  Any one of these routes would provide me with a nice, private spot for an ambush . . . but which to choose?

You can now get the satellite imagery at google maps (though you don’t get your bookmarks saved like when you download Google Earth) and the online ordnance survey maps are available at:  http://explore.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/search?routeEditor_search_location=swallow+falls

Word count November 1:  4338