The Succession (1170 AD) in Gwynedd - Sarah Woodbury

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 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).

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