Llywelyn the Great
Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (c. 1173–April 11, 1240) was a Prince of Gwynedd and eventually ruler over much of Wales. Llywelyn was a decendant of the senior line of Rhodri Mawr, thus a member of the princely house of Aberffraw. Although he is often referred to as a Prince of Wales, his official title was "Prince of Aberffraw and Lord of Snowdonia" (the first "official" Prince of Wales was his son, Dafydd). He was also known as Llywelyn the Great or, in Welsh, Llywelyn Fawr, one of only two Welsh rulers to bear this title, the other being his ancestor Rhodri the Great.
Llywelyn was born in 1173, probably at Dolwyddelan, the grandson of Owain Gwynedd. Little is known about his father Iorwerth Drwyndwn, who may have died when Llywelyn was an infant. Certainly he is not recorded as taking part in the power struggle between some of Owain Gwynedd's other sons following Owain's death in 1170, although he was the eldest surviving son. Llywelyn's mother was Marared, also called Margaret, daughter of Madog ap Maredudd prince of Powys. There is some evidence that after Iorwerth's death Marared married into the Corbet family of Caux in Shropshire, and it has been suggested that Llywelyn may have spent part of his boyhood here.
At this time Gwynedd was ruled by his uncles Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd and Rhodri ab Owain Gwynedd, but by 1188 Giraldus Cambrensis records that the young Llywelyn was already in arms against them. In 1194, with the aid of his cousins Gruffydd and Maredydd ap Cynan, he defeated Dafydd in a battle at the mouth of the river Conwy. Rhodri died in 1195 and in 1197 Llywelyn captured Dafydd and expelled him from Gwynedd to spend the remainder of his life in England. In 1198 Llywelyn formed an alliance with Gwenwynwyn ab Owain, prince of Powys Wenwynwyn and provided troops to help Gwenwynwyn in a campaign in the middle marches which however ended in defeat. Llywelyn went on to capture the castle of Mold in 1199, then in 1201 took Eifionydd and Llŷn from Maredudd ap Cynan. The same year Llywelyn concluded a treaty with King John of England.
He consolidated this conquest in 1205 by marrying Joan, the illegitimate daughter of King John. He had previously been negotiating with Pope Innocent III for leave to marry his uncle Rhodri's widow, daughter of Reginald, king of the Isle of Man. However this proposal was dropped when a more advantageous marriage was offered.
His main rival in Wales was Gwenwynwyn ab Owain of Powys. When Gwenwynwyn fell out with King John in 1208, Llywelyn took advantage of the situation to annex southern Powys and northern Ceredigion. In 1210 however relations between Llywelyn and King John deteriorated, and John restored Gwenwynwyn to the rule of southern Powys. In 1211 John invaded Gwynedd and Llywelyn was forced to come to terms. He lost all his lands east of the river Conwy, but would probably have lost more had not his wife Joan, daughter of King John, interceded with her father. In alliance with other Welsh princes, including Gwenwynwyn of Powys and Maelgwn ap Rhys and Rhys Gryg of Deheubarth, Llywelyn was able to recover many of these lands in 1212 and took the castles of Deganwy and Rhuddlan in 1213. Llywelyn allied himself with the barons who forced John to sign the Magna Carta, marching on Shrewsbury and capturing it in 1215. The same year Ednyfed Fychan was appointed sensechal of Gwynedd and was to work closely with Llywelyn for the remainder of his reign.
Llywelyn had now established himself as the leader of the independent princes of Wales and in December 1215 led an army which included all the lesser princes of Wales to capture the castles of Carmarthen, Cardigan and Cilgerran. Another indication of his growing power was that he was able to insist on the consecration of two Welshmen to the vacant sees of St. David's and Bangor that year, Iorwerth as Bishop of St. David's and Cadwgan as Bishop of Bangor. At Aberdyfi in 1216 he held what could be regarded as a Welsh parliament to adjudicate on the territorial claims of the lesser princes. Gwenwynwyn of Powys changed sides again the same year and allied himself with King John, but was again driven from southern Powys by Llywelyn, this time for good.
Following King John's death Llywelyn concluded a treaty, the Peace of Worcester, with his successor Henry III in 1218 whereby he was confirmed in possession of all his recent conquests. From then until his death Llywelyn was a dominant force in Wales, though there were further outbreaks of hostilities with marcher lords such as the Marshall family and Hubert de Burgh and sometimes with the king. Hostilities broke out with William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke in 1220, and Llywelyn destroyed the castles of Narberth and Wiston, burned the town of Haverfordwest and threatened Pembroke castle, but agreed to abandon the attack on payment of £100. He lost Cardigan and Carmarthen to the Marshalls in a counter attack in 1223.
In 1228 hostilties broke out with Hubert de Burgh who had been given the lordship and castle of Montgomery by the king and began to threaten Llywelyn's lands nearby. The king raised an army to help Hubert, who began to build another castle in the commote of Ceri. However in October the royal army was obliged to retreat and Henry agreed to destroy the half-built castle in exchange for the payment of £2,000 by Llywelyn. Llywelyn raised the money by demanding the same sum as the ransom of William de Braose, Lord of Abergavenny, whom he had captured in the fighting.
In 1231 there was further fighting. Llywelyn was becoming concerned about the growing power of Hubert de Burgh. Some of his men had been taken prisoner by the garrison of Montgomery and beheaded, and Llywelyn responded by burning Montgomery, Radnor, Hay and Brecon before turning west to capture the castles of Neath and Kidwelly, then completed the campaign by recapturing Cardigan castle. Henry responded by launching an invasion and built a new castle at Painscastle, but did not penetrate far into Wales. Negotiations continued through 1232 and when trouble broke out in 1233 between Richard Marshall, who had succeeded William as Earl of Pembroke, and the king, Llywelyn allied himself with the Marshalls against the crown.
The king agreed to make peace with the insurgents in 1234 and the Treaty of Middle that year concluded a truce of two years with Llywelyn, who was allowed to retain Cardigan and Builth. This truce was in fact renewed year by year for the remainder of Llywelyn's reign.
Llywelyn was a notable castle builder, his castles at Criccieth, Deganwy, Dolbadarn and Castell y Bere being among the best examples.
Llywelyn's marriage to Joan has an unusual history. Joan presented Llywelyn with a legitimate heir, Dafydd ap Llywelyn, and a daughter, Elen ferch Llywelyn who was married off to John de Scotia, 9th Earl of Huntingdon, who later became Earl of Chester.
In 1230 William de Braose, Lord of Abergavenny visited Llywelyn's court at Easter to arrange the marriage of his daughter Isabella to Dafydd ap Llywelyn. De Braose had been captured and later ransomed by Llywelyn in 1228, and then decided to ally himself to Llywelyn. During this visit he was found in Joan's chamber, possibly continuing a relationship started when he was a prisoner at Llywelyn's court in 1228. An enraged Llywelyn had him publicly hanged on 2 May, a deliberately humiliating execution for a nobleman, and Joan imprisoned. A letter from Llywelyn to William's wife, Eva de Braose, written shortly after the execution enquires whether she still wishes the marriage between Dafydd and Isabella to take place. The marriage did go ahead, and the following year Joan was forgiven and restored to her position as princess [causing many to believe she had bewitched the prince], dying in 1237.
In his later years Llywelyn had devoted much effort to ensuring that his only legitimate son Dafydd would follow him as ruler of Gwynedd. Dafydd's older but illegitimate brother, Gruffydd was excluded from the succession. This was a departure from Welsh custom, not as is often stated because the kingdom was not divided between Dafydd and Gruffydd but because Gruffydd was excluded from any consideration in the selection of an heir owing to his illegitimacy. This was contrary to Welsh law which stipulated that illegitimate sons had equal rights with legitimate sons, provided they had been acknowledged by the father. Llywelyn petitioned Pope Honorius III in 1222 to have Dafydd's succession confirmed. The original petition has not been preserved but the Pope's reply refers to the destestable custom ... in his land whereby the son of the handmaiden was equally heir with the son of the free woman and illegitimate sons obtained an inheritance as if they were legitimate. The Pope welcomed the fact that Llywelyn was abolishing this custom 1.
In 1238 Llywelyn held a council at Strata Florida Abbey where the other Welsh princes were induced to swear fealty to Dafydd. He also induced the Pope to declare his wife Joan, Dafydd's mother, as being a legitimate daughter of King John, again in order to strengthen Dafydd's position.
Death and aftermath
Llywelyn appears to have suffered a paralytic stroke in 1237, and from this time on his heir Dafydd took an increasing part in the rule of the principality. Dafydd imprisoned his brother Gruffydd, and held him in Criccieth Castle. Llywelyn died in 1240 at the Cistercian abbey of Aberconwy which he had founded, and was buried there. This abbey was later moved to Maenan near Llanrwst, and Llywelyn's stone coffin can now be seen in Llanrwst parish church.
Dafydd succeeded Llywelyn as prince of Gwynedd, but king Henry was not prepared to allow him to inherit his father's position in the remainder of Wales. Dafydd was forced to agree to a treaty greatly restricting his power and was also obliged to hand his brother Gruffydd over to the king, who now had the option of using him against Dafydd. Gruffydd was killed attempting to escape from the Tower of London in 1244, leaving the field clear for Dafydd, but Dafydd himself died without heirs in 1246, and was eventually succeeded by his nephew, Gruffydd's son, Llywelyn the Last.