Betrayal in the Belfry of Bangor - Sarah Woodbury

Betrayal in the Belfry of Bangor

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

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

And then Llywelyn ap Gruffydd left Dafydd, his brother, guarding Gwynedd; and he himself and his host went to gain possession of Powys and Builth. And he gained possession as far as Llanganten. And thereupon he sent his men and his steward to receive the homage of the men of Brycheiniog, and the prince was left with but a few men with him. And then Roger Mortimer and Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, and with them the king’s host, came upon them without warning; and then Llywelyn and his foremost men were slain on the day of Damasus the Pope, a fortnight to the day from Christmas day; and that was a Friday.”

The document is located here:

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.


4 Replies to “Betrayal in the Belfry of Bangor”

  1. Hi all,
    I may be way off the mark here, but in certain snippets of information I’ve read whilst performing my own research on Llywelyn – it appears that the position of a certain ‘Huw ab Ithel’ is a bone of contention in this ‘mystery’. I also hear of a ‘Madoc Min’s’ position/status being quite unclear;

    From memory – Huw ab Ithel was the ‘bradwr’ who turned over possession of the treasures of Wales to Edward. I can’t remember where I saw the reference – but I heard he may have been a member of the clergy at Bangor (with whom Llywelyn was not exactly on favourable terms).

    The other – Madoc Min. Is sometimes portrayed as the ‘Blacksmith whom Llywelyn asked to reverse the shoes of his horse’ during the game of cat & mouse he played with his ambushers near Aberedw. However, Madoc was also the name of the Bishop of Bangor at the time (Or so I was lead to believe from the article) – which suggests that (as historical accounts often vary of clash) – Llywelyn’s betrayal may have been concocted in the belfry at Bangor between Bishop Madoc, this Huw ab Ithel fellow, and certain others (Most likely disillusioned Welshmen who had become fed-up of paying Llywelyn’s taxes).

    If I have the time later, I will try and find out where I read these snippets of information – and I’ll post them here for you to conduct your own further research.

    Kindest regards, keep up the good work & Cymru am Byth!

    Diolch yn fawr,


    1. Thanks for the information!

      Irony here … people thought Llywelyn’s taxes were high? Edward was far, far worse, and they were delusional to ever think colluding with Normans was going to work out well.

  2. I should think it meant that the conspirators in Llewelyn’s death formed their plot in the belfry of Bangor Cathedral. It seems like a good place, since you wouldn’t be able to overhear the conspirators if they talked while the bells were ringing, and when the bells were silent, the bell tower would be unoccupied.

    1. I don’t disagree–it’s just that how does this play into Edmund Mortimer luring him into a trap at Cilmeri? Who were the Welsh who betrayed him? Questions that need answering!

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