The Succession (1170 AD) in Gwynedd

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 died, 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 Read more…

The Conquests of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth

Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, born around 1172, was the grandson of Owain Gwynedd and ruled Wales from the late 12th century (certainly by 1200) to his death in 1240 AD.  He married Joanna (Joan), the eldest (albeit illegitimate) daughter of King John of England. Llywelyn “proved to be the greatest and most constructive Welsh statesman of the Middle Ages. In his long career he succeeded, by constant warfare, by tactful yielding under pressure and by masterly resilience the moment that pressure was relieved, in bringing under his control most of Pura Wallia. When he died in 1240, full of honor and glory, he left a principality which had the possibility of expanding into a truly national state of Wales. There was a moment when an independent Wales seemed about to become a reality.”  http://www.castlewales.com/llewelyn.html The Chronicle of the Princes (Ystrad Fflur edition) details the events of Read more…

Eryri (Snowdonia)

Eryri, Snowdonia in English, was the place in Gwynedd to which the Princes of Wales retreated, and their final stronghold when the English pressed on them from every side.  Mt. Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) has always been at its center, but it traditionally included the Carneddau range and essentially all the land west of the Conwy River. It is the land the Edward allowed Llywelyn ap Gruffydd to keep in the 1277 treaty.  Today, as a national park, it includes 838 square miles. From John T Koch, Celtic Culture: An Historical Encyclopedia: “The first literary mention of Eryri occurs in the 9th century Historia Brittonum, where an account is given of the downfall of the semi-legendary 5th century king Vortigern.  Pursued by his revolted Anglo-Saxon mercenaries and hated by his Brythonic countrymen, the king’s magi direct him to build a stronghold Read more…

The Death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

It has been over 700 years since Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s death 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 Read more…

Dolwyddelan Castle

  The site of Dolwyddelan Castle has been on a major thoroughfare through Wales for millenia.  Before the present castle was built by Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn ap Iorwerth) early in the 13th century, an older castle sat on a knoll on the valley floor below it.   http://www.castlewales.com/dolw.html Before that castle, a major Roman road through Snowdonia passed just to the east, connecting Tomen y Mur with the small fort of Bryn y Gefeilliau and the larger fort of Canovium (Caerhun).   (See Roman Roads:  https://sarahwoodbury.com/?p=29) The present Dolwyddelan Castle has been heavily restored, in keeping with it’s position as the birthplace of Llywelyn Fawr, even if  that even really occured a quarter of a mile southeast of the present castle.   The newer Dolwyddelan Castle represented a major stronghold for both Llywelyns throughout the 13th century.  Both of them improved its Read more…

Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn

Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn was a contemporary of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales who died in 1282.  He was father to Owain, who with Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Llywelyn’s brother, conspired to murder Llywelyn in 1274. Gruffydd was born sometime before 1216, the date of his father’s death.   Llywelyn Fawr had driven the family from their lands in Powys and Gruffydd subsequently grew up in England.   “Gwenwynwyn seized Arwystli in 1197 when he was aligned with England. Following the marriage of Llywelyn Fawr and Joan of England in 1208, warfare broke out once more between Gwenwynwyn and Llywelyn. In 1212 Gwenwynwyn’s ancient royal seat at Mathrafal was destroyed and he was evicted from his territories. He changed allegiances again and was restored to his realm in 1215 making a new capital at Welshpool. In 1216 he was defeated in battle with the forces of Read more…

Welsh Cantrefs and Commotes

In medieval Wales, for legal and administrative purposes the country was divided into cantrefs, which were relatively large areas (like US counties) and commotes, which were smaller jurisdictions.  “A cantref is a measurement of a hundred (literally, it means “one hundred”). A commot is a community, the word ultimately deriving from the same root as Cymru–comrad, compatriot, neighbor.”   The list of cantrefs and commotes from the Red Book of Hergest is found here:  http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/cantref.html In the Middle Ages, Gwynedd had and fifteen cantrefs and thirty-six commotes.  Overall, it was the largest of the regions of Wales. “The antiquity of the cantrefi is demonstrated by the fact that they often mark the boundary between dialects. Some were originally kingdoms in their own right, others may have been artificial units created later.   (Davies, John; Nigel Jenkins, Menna Baines and Peredur I. Lynch (2008), The Welsh Academy Read more…