Owain Gwynedd (c. 1100 � November 28, 1170), alternatively known by the patronymic "Owain ap Gruffydd", is considered to be the most successful of all the north Welsh princes prior to his grandson, Llywelyn the Great.
Owain's father, Gruffydd ap Cynan, was a strong and long-lived ruler who had made the principality of Gwynedd the most influential in Wales during the sixty-two years of his reign, using the island of Anglesey as his power base. His mother, Angharad ferch Owain, was the daughter of Owain ab Edwin. Owain was the second of three sons of Gruffydd and Angharad.
Owain is thought to have been born on Anglesey about the year 1100. By about 1120 Gruffydd had grown too old to lead his forces in battle and Owain and his brothers Cadwallon and later Cadwaladr led the forces of Gwynedd against the Normans and against other Welsh princes with great success. His elder brother Cadwallon was killed in a battle against the forces of Powys in 1132, leaving Owain as his father's heir. Owain and Cadwaladr, in alliance with Gruffydd ap Rhys of Deheubarth, won a major victory over the Normans at Crug Mawr near Cardigan in 1136 and annexed Ceredigion to their father's realm.
Accession to the throne and early campaigns
On Gruffydd's death in 1137, therefore, Owain inherited a portion of a well-established kingdom, but had to share it with Cadwaladr. In 1143 Cadwaladr was implicated in the murder of Anarawd ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth, and Owain responded by sending his son Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd to strip him of his lands in the north of Ceredigion. Though Owain was later reconciled with Cadwaladr, from 1143, Owain ruled alone over most of north Wales. In 1155 Cadwaladr was driven into exile.
Owain took advantage of the civil war in England between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda to push Gwynedd's boundaries further east than ever before. In 1146 he captured the castle of Mold and about 1150 captured Rhuddlan and encroached on the borders of Powys. The prince of Powys, Madog ap Maredudd, with assistance from Earl Ranulf of Chester, gave battle at Coleshill, but Owain was victorious.
War with King Henry II
All went well until the accession of King Henry II of England in 1154. Henry invaded Gwynedd in 1157 with the support of Madog ap Maredudd of Powys and Owain's brother Cadwaladr. The invasion met with mixed fortunes. King Henry was nearly killed in a skirmish near Basingwerk and the fleet accompanying the invasion made a landing on Anglesey where it was defeated. Owain was however obliged to come to terms with Henry, being obliged to surrender Rhuddlan and other conquests in the east.
Madog ap Maredudd died in 1160, enabling Owain to regain territory in the east. In 1163 he formed an alliance with Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth to challenge English rule. King Henry again invaded Gwynedd in 1165, but instead of taking the usual route along the northern coastal plain, the king's army invaded from Oswestry and took a route over the Berwyn hills. The invasion was met by an alliance of all the Welsh princes, with Owain as the undisputed leader. However there was little fighting, for the Welsh weather came to Owain's assistance as torrential rain forced Henry to retreat in disorder. The infuriated Henry mutilated a number of Welsh hostages, including two of Owain's sons.
Henry did not invade Gwynedd again and Owain was able to regain his eastern conquests, recapturing Rhuddlan castle in 1167 after a siege of three months.
Disputes with the church and succession
The last years of Owain's life were spent in disputes with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, over the appointment of a new Bishop of Bangor. When the see became vacant Owain had his nominee, Arthur of Bardsey, elected. The archbishop refused to accept this, so Owain had Arthur consecrated in Ireland. The dispute continued, and the see remained officially vacant until well after Owain's death. He was also put under pressure by the Archbishop and the Pope to put aside his second wife, Cristin, who was his first cousin, this relationship making the marriage invalid under church law. Despite being excommunicated for his defiance, Owain steadfastly refused to put Cristin aside. Owain died in 1170, and despite having been excommunicated was buried in Bangor Cathedral by the local clergy. The annalist writing Brut y Tywysogion recorded his death "after innumerable victories, and unconquered from his youth".
He is believed to have commissioned the propaganda text, The Life of Gruffydd ap Cynan an account of his father's life. Following his death, civil war broke out between his sons. Owain was married twice, first to Gwladus ferch Llywarch ap Trahaearn, by whom he had two sons, Maelgwn ab Owain Gwynedd and Iorwerth Drwyndwn, the father of Llywelyn the Great, then to Cristin, by whom he had three sons including Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd and Rhodri ab Owain Gwynedd. He also had a number of illegitimate sons, who by Welsh law had an equal claim on the inheritance if acknowledged by their father.
Owain had originally designated Rhun ab Owain Gwynedd as his successor. Rhun was Owain's favourite son, and his premature death in 1147 plunged his father into a deep melancholy, from which he was only roused by the news that his forces had captured Mold castle. Owain then designated Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd as his successor, but after his death Hywel was first driven to seek refuge in Ireland by Cristin's sons, Dafydd and Rhodri, then killed at the battle of Pentraeth when he returned with an Irish army. Dafydd and Rhodri split Gwynedd between them, but a generation passed before Gwynedd was restored to its former glory under Owain's grandson Llywelyn the Great.
According to legend, one of Owain's sons was Prince Madoc, who is popularly supposed to have fled across the Atlantic and colonised America.