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Kingdom of Gwynedd

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Kingdom of Gwynedd




Gwynedd was one of the kingdoms or principalities of medieval Wales. Traditionally covering an area between the rivers Dyfi and Dee in the north-west of the country around Snowdonia (Welsh: Eryri) and including the isle of Anglesey (Welsh: Ynys Mon), its rulers�such as Maelgwn Hir, Owain Gwynedd, Llywelyn the Great and Llywelyn the Last�usually held ascendancy over their rivals. The region's geography made it difficult for English kings to impose their will on the local rulers. In honour of the kingdom's founder, its royal family is sometimes called the House of Cunedda. The senior branch of this dynasty, from Anarawd ap Rhodri onwards, are designated as the House of Aberffraw, which was a title and not the place where they necessarily resided. In the early thirteenth century Llywelyn Fawr made the mainland of Gwynedd from Bangor to Conwy into the centre of his administration, with the royal home at Garth Celyn, overlooking the eastern approaches to the Menai Strait. Bangor was the Cathedral City and Conwy was a Cistercian Monastery with links to its European mother Houses. Llanfaes, opposite Garth Celyn, was a busting port and market town.

Gwynedd covered part of the territory of the Ordovices, but tradition traced the kingdom's foundation to Cunedda, who migrated with his sons and followers from what is now southern Scotland. The name Gwynedd is probably derived from Brythonic Ueneda and is akin to Goidelic (ancestor of Irish) Fenia (which gives fiana, "war-band" in Old Irish - e.g. Finn and his warriors). Thus the probable meaning is "Land of the Hosts" or "Land of the Warrior Bands". The territory was called Venedotia in Latin. It is sometimes suggested that Gwynedd is a mutated form of Cunedda, thus the Kingdom of Cunedda, but there is no etymological basis for this. Whatever the exact etymology of the name, a gravestone from the late 5th century now in Penmachno church seems to be the earliest record of the name. It is in memory of a man named Cantiorix and the Latin inscription is: "Cantiorix hic iacit/Venedotis cives fuit/consobrinos Magli magistrati", ("Cantiorix lies here. He was a citizen of Gwynedd and a cousin of Maglos the magistrate"). The references to "citizen" and "magistrate" suggest that Roman institutions may have survived in Gwynedd for a while after the legions departed.

The heart of Gwynedd was originally at Deganwy, where Maelgwn Gwynedd (died 547) had his stronghold, but later moved to Aberffraw on Anglesey. The ruler of Gwynedd was often described as "Prince of Aberffraw" or "Lord of Aberffraw".

Among the more powerful of the early kings of Gwynedd were Cadwallon ap Cadfan who invaded Northumbria and briefly controlled it, and Rhodri the Great (844 - 878) who was able to add Powys and part of southern Wales to his realm, becoming the first ruler to control the greater part of Wales. Rhodri's eldest son Anarawd ap Rhodri would establish the princely house of Aberffraw, that would come to rule Gwynedd until the 13th century. Hywel Dda of Deheubarth was able to annex Gwynedd to his own kingdom between 942 and 950, but the previous dynasty regained power on his death. The coastal areas, particularly Anglesey, were now coming under increasing attack by Viking raiders, particularly Danish raids in the period between 950 and 1000. Godfrey Haroldson is said to have carried off two thousand captives from Anglesey on 987, and the king of Gwynedd, Maredudd ab Owain is reported to have redeemed many of his subjects from slavery by paying the Danes a large ransom.

Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, originally king of Gwynedd, was able to make himself king of most of Wales by 1055 and also held parts of England near the border after several victories over English armies. However in 1063 he was defeated by Harold Godwinson and killed by his own men. Bleddyn ap Cynfyn and his brother Rhiwallon came to terms with Harold and took over the rule of Gwynedd and Powys.

Shortly after the Norman conquest of England in 1066 the Normans began to exert pressure on the eastern border of Gwynedd. They were helped by internal strife, for following the killing of Bleddyn ap Cynfyn in Deheubarth in 1075, his cousin Trahaearn ap Caradog seized the throne but then was immediately challenged by Gruffydd ap Cynan who had been in exile in Ireland. Gruffydd briefly gained control of Gwynedd, but was then forced to flee back to Ireland. Trahaearn ruled until 1081, when Gruffydd launched another invasion. Trahaearn was defeated and killed at the Battle of Mynydd Carn and Gruffydd again ruled Gwynedd briefly. However he was then lured to a meeting with the Earl of Chester, seized and kept a prisoner at Chester for many years. By around 1086 the Norman Robert of Rhuddlan had gained control of most of Gwynedd, but eventually Gruffydd ap Cynan was able to escape and helped lead a Welsh revolt in 1094 which won back many of the occupied territories. Gruffydd ap Cynan was again forced to flee to Ireland in 1098 when the Earl of Chester and the Earl of Shrewsbury invaded Gwynedd and took possession of Anglesey. However the Norman forces were then attacked near the eastern end of the Menai Straits by a fleet led by King Magnus Barefoot of Norway, and the Earl of Shrewsbury was killed. The Normans evacuated Anglesey, and Gruffydd was able to return once more after coming to an agreement with the Earl of Chester. Gruffydd ruled until his death in 1137, and though he himself had become to old to lead the forces of Gwynedd by about 1120, his sons Cadwallon, Owain Gwynedd and Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd were able to extend Gwynedd's borders eastwards at the expense both of the Normans and of Powys. In 1136 they defeated the Normans at the Battle of Crug Mawr near Cardigan, and Ceredigion, traditionally a part of Deheubarth, was annexed to Gwynedd.

On Gruffydd's death his son Owain Gwynedd took over the throne and continued to build up the kingdom's power and extend its boundaries. Although both Deheubarth and Powys were led by very able rulers in Owain's time, Gwynedd was the dominant force in Wales and Owain was the undisputed leader of the coalition of all the Welsh rulers who opposed King Henry II of England's invasion in 1165. The invasion failed, and Owain's position was not threatened for the remainder of his reign. On Owain's death in 1170 war broke out between his sons. His designated heir, Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd was killed in battle the same year, and the kingdom was split between three of Owain's other sons. For a while Gwynedd lost its position as the most powerful of the Welsh kingdoms to Deheubarth under Rhys ap Gruffydd.

By 1188 one of Owain Gwynedd's grandsons Llywelyn ab Iorwerth had begun to challenge his uncles, and by the end of the 12th century had gained control of Gwynedd. Llywelyn, later known as Llywelyn the Great, went on to become ruler of most of Wales. On his death in 1240, the rule of Gwynedd passed to his son Dafydd ap Llywelyn, but Dafydd died without an heir in 1246 and the kingdom was split between the sons of another son of Llywelyn the Great, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn. One of these, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, eventually defeated his brothers and became ruler of all Gwynedd, later extending his rule to other parts of Wales.

From 1200 until 1283 the home and headquarters of the Princes was Garth Celyn, Aber Garth Celyn, now known as Pen y Bryn, Abergwyngregyn or Aber in its shortened form adopted by the Crown of England after the conquest. Garth Celyn is situated on a ledge of land to the east of the river, at the foot of Maes y Gaer, a pre-Roman hillfort. It has widesweeping views over the Menai Strait to Anglesey, and the medieval port of Llanfaes. Joan, Lady of Wales, died at Garth Celyn in 1237; Dafydd ap Llywelyn in 1246; Eleanor de Montfort, Lady of Wales, wife of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Tywysog Cymru, on 19th June 1282, giving birth to a daughter, Gwenllian. In November 1282 the Archbishop of Canterbury came to Garth Celyn to mediate between Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and Edward Longshanks. Tywysog Llywelyn was offered a bribe; One thousand pounds a year and an estate in England, if he would surrender his nation to Edward. From Garth Celyn Llywelyn wrote a dignified and emotional response setting out his total rejection of the offer. Within a month, Llywelyn, on 11 December 1282, was lured into a trap and executed. The letters preserved in the Lambeth Palace Archives provide a clear picture of the events. In June 1283 Dafydd ap Gruffudd was capured at Bera Mountain, in the uplands above Gath Celyn. Recorded as being 'severely injured' in his capture, he was taken to Edward that day, then moved to Shrewsbury where in October he was hanged, drawn and quartered. The royal children were locked away and never released: the boys in Bristol Castle; the girls in priories in Lincolnshire.

The extent of the kingdom varied with the strength of the current ruler. Gwynedd was traditionally divided into "Gwynedd Uwch Conwy", "Gwynedd Is Conwy" (with the River Conwy forming the dividing line between the two) and "M�n". The kingdom was administered under Welsh custom through thirteen Cantrefi each containing, in theory, one hundred settlements or Trefi. Most cantrefs were also divided into cymydau (English Commote).

Ynys M�n

  • Aberffraw
  • Cemais
  • Rhosyr


  • Arfon
  • Eifionydd
  • Arllechwedd
  • Llŷn
  • Ardudwy
  • Meirionnydd

Perfeddwlad (also known as Gwynedd-Is-Conwy)

  • Rh�s
  • Rhufoniog
  • Dyffryn Clwyd
  • Tegeingl

End of Independence
Following the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282, and the execution of his brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd the following year, eight centuries of independent rule by the house of Gwynedd came to an end, and the kingdom, which had long been one of the final holdouts to total English domination of Wales, was annexed to England. Under the terms of the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 the realm was broken up and re-organised into the English county model which created the traditional counties of Anglesey, Carnarvonshire, Merionethshire, Denbighshire and Flintshire. This administrative model would last until the re-organisation of 1974.

There were many Gwynedd based rebellions after 1284 with varying degrees of success with most being led by members of the old royal house. In particular the rebellions of Prince Madoc in 1294, Owain Lawgoch (the great-nephew of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd) between 1372-1378, and Owain Glyndŵr in 1400 are most notable. Because of this the old royal house was purged and any surviving members went in to hiding.

The Wynn family of Gwydir proved their royal ancestry, some say by manipulating ancient pedigrees in order to consolidate their legitimacy, in the 16th Century and Sir John Wynn, 1st Baronet and his descendants was recognised across north Wales as the de jure Princes of Gwynedd until the male line died out, probably in the late 18th Century. Another claim could come from any surviving male descendants of Dafydd Goch the acknowledged son of Dafydd ap Gruffudd.

List of Kings/Princes

  • Cunedda Wledig ap Edern (Cunedda the Imperator) (c.450-c.460)
  • Einion Yrth ap Cunedda (Einion the Impetuous) (c.470-c.480)
  • Cadwallon Lawhir ap Einion (Cadwallon Long Hand) (c.500-c.534)
  • Maelgwn Hir ap Cadwallon (Maelgwn the Tall) (c.520-c.547)
  • Rhun Hir ap Maelgwn (Rhun the Tall) (c.547-c.580)
  • Beli ap Rhun (c.580-c.599)
  • Iago ap Beli (c.599-c.613)
  • Cadfan ap Iago (c.613-c.625)
  • Cadwallon ap Cadfan (c.625-634)
  • Cadafael Cadomedd ap Cynfeddw (Cadfael the Battle-Shirker) (634-c.655)
  • Cadwaladr Fendigaid ap Cadwallon (Cadwallader the Blessed) (c.655-c.682)
  • Idwal Iwrch ap Cadwaladr (Idwal Roebuck) (c.682-c.720)
  • Rhodri Molwynog ap Idwal (Rhodri the Bald and Gray) (c.720-c.754)
  • Caradog ap Meirion (c.754-c.798)
  • Cynan Dindaethwy ap Rhodri (c.798-816)
  • Hywel ap Rhodri Molwynog (814-825)
  • Merfyn Frych ap Gwriad (Merfyn the Freckled) (825-844)
  • Rhodri Mawr ap Merfyn (Rhodri the Great) (844-878)
  • Anarawd ap Rhodri (878-916) (establishes the Aberffraw dynasty, the senior branch of descendants from Rhodri Mawr)
  • Idwal Foel ab Anarawd (Idwal the Bald) (916-942)
  • Hywel Dda ap Cadell (Howell the Good) (942-950) (Dinefwr dynasty of Rhodri Mawr's descendants usurp from Aberffraw.)
  • Iago ab Idwal (950-979) (returns to the Aberffraw branch)
  • Ieuaf ab Idwal (950-969)
  • Hywel ab Ieuaf (974-985)
  • Cadwallon ab Ieuaf (985-986)
  • Maredudd ab Owain (986-999) Dinefwr dynasty seizes Gwynedd
  • Cynan ap Hywel (999-1005) Returns to the Aberffraw dynasty briefly
  • Aeddan ap Blegywryd (1005-1018) (usurpes Gwynedd from the Aberffraw dynasty)
  • Llywelyn ap Seisyll (1018-1023) (cadet branch of Mathrafal dynasty from Powys usurps from Aeddan ap Blegywryd)
  • Iago ab Idwal ap Meurig (1023-1039) (Aberffraw dynasty returns)
  • Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (1039-1063) (Llywelyn's son Gruffydd usurps from Aberffraw dynasty)
  • Bleddyn ap Cynfyn (1063-1075) (Mathrafal dynasty of Powys "receives" Gwynedd from the English King)
  • Trahaearn ap Caradog (1075-1081)
  • Gruffydd ap Cynan (1081-1137) (Aberffraw dynasty returns)
  • Owain Gwynedd ap Gruffydd (1137-1170) (After Owain rulers of Gwynedd are styled Prince of Aberffraw and Lord of Snowdon)

Princes of Aberffraw & Lords of Snowdon

  • Maelgwn ab Owain Gwynedd (1170-1173)
  • Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd (1170-1195) (in the east)
  • Rhodri ab Owain Gwynedd (1170-1190) (in the west)
  • Llywelyn Fawr ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great) (1195-1240)
  • Dafydd ap Llywelyn (1240-1246) (First acknowledged Prince of Wales)
  • Owain Goch ap Gruffydd (Owen the Red) (1246-1255)
  • Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (Llywelyn the Last) (1246-1282) (Second acknowledged Prince of Wales)
  • Dafydd ap Gruffydd (1282-1283) (not crowned but claimed the title)
  • Madog ap Llywelyn (1294-1295) (not crowned but claimed the title)
  • Owain ap Tomas ap Rhodri (Owen the Red Hand) (1372-1378) (in exile but claimed the title)

Fictional reference
The Deryni novels and stories written by Katherine Kurtz take place in a fictional Gwynedd which occupies an alternative version of western Europe during the Middle Ages.

Traci Harding has written a trilogy of books set in the Kingdom of Gwynedd featuring Maelgwn.

Edith Pargeter has written two sets of historical novels set in medieval Wales, the 'Brothers of Gwynedd' saga and the 'Heaven Tree Trilogy'.

Sharon Kay Penman wrote of the Aberffraw dynasty from Llywelyn the Great to his grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in her trilogy Here Be Dragons, Falls the Shadow, and The Reckoning.


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