The Death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd - Sarah Woodbury

The Death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

It has been over 700 years since the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd on 11 December 1282.

J. Beverley Smith writes:

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

The chronicle of Hagnaby Abbey is a historical document that begins in 1173 with the foundation of the Abbey in Lincolnshire.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

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

And then Llywelyn ap Gruffudd left Dafydd, his brother, guarding Gwynedd; and he himself and his host went to gain possession of Powys and Buellt. And he gained possession as far as Llanganten. And thereupon he sent his men and his steward to receive the homage of the men of Brycheiniog, and the prince was left with but a few men with him. And then Edmund Mortimer and Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, and with them the king’s host, came upon them without warning; and then Llywelyn and his foremost men were slain on the day of Damasus the Pope, a fortnight to the day from Christmas day; and that was a Friday.
—-Brut y Tywysogyon, Peniarth manuscript 20  (The Chronicle of the Princes)

His head was carried to King Edward I, who ordered that it be displayed on a pike, in London.  Apparently, it stayed on display for over 20 years.  The rest of his body is purportedly buried at Abbey Cwmhir, northeast of Rhayader in Powys.

Here’s a good accounting:

It includes information about what John Peckham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, knew, from his own letter to King Edward written in Norman French on 17th December 1282 from Pembridge in Herefordshire, the Thursday after St. Lucy’s Day.  By this time Llywelyn was dead, apparently on the Friday before St. Lucy’s Day.   The text, as translated by C.T. Martin, is as follows: ‘To my lord the King.  To his very dear lord Edward, by the grace of God king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Aquitaine, friar John, by the permission of God, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England, greeting in great reverence.  Sire, know that those who were at the death of Llywelyn found in the most secret part of his body some small things which we have seen.  Among other things was a treasonable letter disguised by false names.  And that you may be warned, we send a copy of the letter to the Bishop of Bath, and the letter itself Edmund Mortimer has, with Llywelyn’s privy seal, and these things you may have at your pleasure.  And this we send to warn you, and not that anyone should be troubled for it.  And we pray you that no one may suffer death or mutilation in consequence of our information, and that which we send you in secret. Beside this, sire, know that lady Maud Longespée prayed us by letter to absolve Llywelyn, that he might be buried in consecrated ground, and we sent word to her that we would do nothing if it could not be proved that he showed signs of true repentance before his death.  And Edmund de Mortimer said to me that he had heard from his servants who were at the death that he asked for the priest before his death, but without sure certainty we will do nothing.  Besides this, sire, know that the very day he was killed, a white monk [a Cistercian] sang Mass to him, and my lord Roger de Mortimer has the vestments…’

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.

4 Replies to “The Death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd”

  1. Has the person that killed the last real Duke of Wales ever been revealed?
    There is a legend in my family that a mounted English soldier killed him in a one on one confrontation as the Duke was escaping from a battle at a bridge near Mount Snowden. That soldiers name was Anthony Tipton. Upon King Edward viewing the Duke’s body he immediately knighted Anthony and gave him the title Sir Anthony de Tipton and ordered a crest with the banner “The hand that wielded the sword ended the battle.” (sic) In my reading I have observe 2 or 3 other names that are credited with the Duke of Wales demise. Also, there are some other descriptions of the confrontation and killing.
    Do you have information you could share about this incident? Please email your answer, also if published I will search it out.

    1. Hi Brad!
      The stories around the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (the Prince of Wales) are inexact, but Llywelyn was 100 miles from Snowdon when he was assassinated. The only information online I could come across regarding your ancestor is probably the same as yours:

      This is a pretty complete accounting online:

  2. Great job on this blog and on your website. I have read most of your books now and have enjoyed them wholeheartedly.

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