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Gwynedd (pr. [ˈɡwɪnɛð]) is one of several Welshmarker successor states that emerged in 5th-century post-Roman Britain. It was based on the former Brythonic tribal lands of the Ordovices, Gangani, and the Deceangli which were collectively known as Venedotia in late Romano-British documents. Between the 5th and 13th centuries Gwynedd grew to include Ynys Mônmarker and all of north Walesmarker between the River Dyfimarker in the south and River Dee (Welsh Dyfrdwy) in the northeast. The Irish seamarker (Môr Iwerddon) washes the coast of Gwynedd to the west and north and lands formerly part of the Kingdom of Powysmarker border Gwynedd in the south-east.

Gwynedd's strength lay in part due to the region's mountainousmarker geography which made it difficult for foreign invaders to campaign in the country and impose their will effectively.

Popular tradition attributed to Nennius, a 10th-century Welsh chronicler, traced Gwynedd's foundation to Cunedda. According to Nennius, Cunedda migrated with his sons and followers from Brythonic Lothian, in southern Scotland, in the 5th century.

The main court of the Kingdom of Gwynedd was originally at Deganwy Castlemarker, where Maelgwn Gwynedd (died 547) had his strongholdmarker. The senior line of descendants of Rhodri the Great would make Aberffrawmarker on Ynys Monmarker as their principle seat until 1170. In the thirteenth century, Llywelyn Fawr, his son Dafydd ap Llywelyn and grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had Garth Celynmarker on the north coast as their home.


The name Gwynedd may derive from Brythonic Ueneda, which may be akin to Goidelic (ancestor of Irish) Fenia (which gives fiana, "war-band" in Old Irish - e.g. Finn and his warriors). Thus the possible meaning may be "Land of the Hosts" or "Land of the Warrior Bands". The territory was called Venedotia in Latin.

Additionally, it is also suggested that Gwynedd is a mutated form of Cunedda, or Kenneth(a). In Welsh, the hard c mutates to g, thus Kenneth mutates to Gwyneth, thus Kenneth('s Land).

Whatever the exact etymology of the name, a gravestone from the late 5th century now in Penmachnomarker 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.


Gwynedd in the Early Middle Ages

The Sons of Cunedda

At the end of the Roman period the western areas of Britannia which had been under military administration seem to have reverted quickly to tribal law and petty states. Raiders from Irelandmarker such as the Uí Liatháin and Laigin harried the coasts initially razing towns and capturing slaves but later colonising large areas of what was then called Venedotia and later called Gwynedd, in particular Llŷn, the coasts of Arllechweddmarker, Arfon and the Isle of Monamarker. Legend, supported by some later written accounts, asserts that a prince called Cunedda (modern "Kenneth") from distant Manaw Gododdin—probably a refugee himself from the northern wars with the Picts—was "sent" to free these lands from the Irish scourge in about 450AD. He and his sons forced out the Irish and upon his death the realm was divided between his sons following Brythonic tradition. From these beginnings many of the ancient divisions of Gwynedd occur; his son Dynod was awarded Dunoding, another son Ceredig achieved Ceredigionmarker and so forth. Cunedda's heir, Einion Yrth threw the last Irish out of Mônmarker in 470. Einion Yrth's son Cadwallon Lawhir appears to have consolidated the realm during the time of relative peace following the Battle of Mons Badonicus where the Anglo-Saxons were soundly defeated. During that peace he managed to establish a mighty kingdom.

After Cadwallon, Gwynedd appears to have held a pre-eminent position amongst the petty Cambrian states in the post-Roman period. The great-grandson of Cunedda, Maelgwn Hir (Maelgwn the Tall), became one of the most famous (or infamous) leaders in Welsh history. There are several legends about his life concerning miracles either performed by him or in his presence. He is attributed in some old stories as hosting the first Eisteddfod and he is one of five Celtic British kings castigated for their sins by the contemporary Christian writer Gildas (who referred to him as Maglocunus, meaning 'Prince-Hound' in Brittonic) in De Excidio Britanniae. Maelgwn was curiously described as "the dragon of the island" by Gildas which was possibly a title (Pendragon?), but explicitly as the most powerful of the five named British kings.

" the last I write of but the first and greatest in evil, more than many in ability but also in malice, more generous in giving but also more liberal in sin, strong in war but stronger to destroy your soul...."

Gildas Sapiens, De Excidio Britanniæ

Maelgwn eventually died in 547 from the plague leaving a succession crisis in his wake. His son in law, Elidyr Mwynfawr of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, claimed the throne and invaded Gwynedd to displace Maelgwn's son Rhun Hir. Elidyr was killed in the attempt but his death was then avenged by his relatives who ravaged the coast of Arfon. Rhun counter-attacked and exacted the same penalty on the lands of his foes in what is now central Scotlandmarker. The long distances these armies travelled suggests they were moving across the Irish Seamarker but because almost all of what is now northern Englandmarker was at this point (c.550) under British (Brythonic) rule it is possible his army marched to Strathclyde overland. Rhun returned to Gwynedd and the rest of his reign was far less eventful. He was succeeded by his son Beli in c.586.
On the accession of Beli's son Iago in c.599 the situation in Britain had deteriorated significantly. Most of the area today called northern Englandmarker and been overrun by the invading Angles of Deira and Bernicia who were in the process of forming a united Northumbrianmarker kingdom. In a rare show of common interest it appears Gwynedd and neighbouring Powysmarker acted in concert to rebuff the Anglican advance but were defeated at the Battle of Chestermarker in 613. Following this catastrophe the approximate borders of northern Wales were set with the city of Caerlleon (now called Chestermarker) and the surrounding Cheshire Plainmarker falling under the control of the Anglo-Saxons. Most importantly the Britons of Wales were now cut off from their kin in Cumbriamarker and Strathclyde.

Cadwallon ap Cadfan

The Battle of Chester would not end the ability of the Welsh to seriously threaten England (although England as a united realm would not exist for another 350 years). For among the most powerful of the early kings of Gwynedd was Cadwallon ap Cadfan (c.624 - 634) the grandson of Iago ap Beli. He became engaged in an initially disastrous campaign against Northumbriamarker where following a series of epic defeats he was confined first to Môn and then just to Ynys Glannaucmarker before being forced into exile across the Irish Seamarker to Dublinmarker - a place which would come to host many royal refugees from Gwynedd. All must have seemed lost but Cadwallon raised an enormous army and after a brief time in Guernseymarker he invaded Dumnonia, relieved the West Welsh who were suffering a Mercian invasion and forced Penda the pagan king of Merciamarker into an alliance against Northumbria. With new vigor he returned to his Northumbrian foes, devastated their armies and slaughtered a series of their kings. In this furious campaign his armies devastated Northumbria, captured and sacked Yorkmarker in 633 and briefly controlled the kingdom. From contemporary accounts he is said to have massacred so many of the Anglo-Saxons they believed it was his intention to exterminate them. They were probably right.

"...he neither spared the female sex, nor the innocent age of children, but with savage cruelty put them to tormenting deaths, ravaging all their country for a long time, and resolving to cut off all the race of the English within the borders of Britain."

Bede (Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum)

However, these tumultuous events would come to be short-lived, for he died in battle in 634 close to Hadrians Wallmarker. On account of these deeds he and his son Cadwaladr Fendigaid appear to have been considered the last two High Kings of Britain. Cadwaladr presided over a period of consolidation and devoted much time to the Church earning the title Fendigaid meaning "blessed".

Rhodri the Great and Aberffraw primacy

During the later 7th century and 8th century the coastal areas of Gwynedd, particularly Môn, were coming under increasing attack by Viking raiders. These raids no doubt had a seriously debilitating affect on the country but fortunately for Gwynedd the victims of the Vikings were not confined to Wales. The House of Cunedda - as the direct descendants of Cunedda are known - eventually expired in the male line in 825 upon the death of Hywel ap Rhodri Molwynog. His successor was Merfyn Frych who was the son of his niece Esyllt. Merfyn's father was said to have come from "Manaw" which may refer to the now long lost royal homeland of Manaw Gododdin but equally may refer to the Isle of Manmarker. He founded what was to become known as the House of Aberffrawmarker named for his court at Aberffrawmarker on Môn.

Rhodri the Great (844 - 878), son of Merfyn Frych, was able to add Powysmarker and part of southern Wales to his realm and became the first ruler to control the greater part of Wales. Rhodri's eldest son Anarawd ap Rhodri would firmly establish the princely house of Aberffrawmarker, 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.

From the successes of Rhodri the Aberffrawmarker family claimed primacy over all other Welsh lords, including of Powysmarker and of Deheubarthmarker. In The History of Gruffydd ap Cynan, written in the late 12th century, the family asserted its rights as the senior line of descendants from Rhodri the Great who had conquered most of Wales during his lifetime. Gruffydd ap Cynan's biography was first written in Latin and intended for a wider audience outside of Wales.

The significance of this claim was that the Aberffraw family owed nothing to the English king for its position in Wales, and that they held authority in Wales "by absolute right through decent," wrote historian John Davies.

Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, originally from Powys, displaced the Aberffraw line from Gwynedd making himself ruler there, and by 1055 was able to make himself king of most of Wales. Additionally, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn 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 of the Mathrafalmarker house of Powys, Gruffudd's maternal half-brothers, 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 Deheubarthmarker 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 Irelandmarker.

Gwynedd in the High Middle Ages

See also Gwynedd in the High Middle Ages, Wales and the Normans: 1067–1283

The personal coat of arms of Gruffydd ap Cynan were: Gules, three lioncels passant, in pale Argent, armed Azure

Gruffydd ap Cynan

Wales c.

The Aberffraw dynasty suffered various depositions by rivals in Deheubarth, Powys, and England in the 10th and 11th centuries. Gruffydd I ap Cynan (b.c.1055–1137), who grew up in exile in Hiberno-Norse Dublin, regained his inheritance following his victory at the Battle of Mynydd Carn in 1081 over his Mathrafal rivals then in control of Gwynedd. However, Gruffydd's victory was short-lived as the Normans launched an invasion of Wales following the Saxon revolt in northern England, known as the Harrowing of the North.

Shortly after the Battle of Mynydd Carn in 1081, Gruffydd was lured into a trap with the promise of an alliance but seized by Hugh the Fat, 1st Earl of Chester in an ambush near Corwenmarker Earl Hugh claimed the Perfeddwlad up to the Clwyd rivermarker (the commotes of Tegeingl and Rhufoniogmarker; the modern counties of Denbighshire Flintshire and Wrexhammarker) as part of Chester, and viewed the restoration of the Aberffraw family in Gwynedd as a threat to his own expansion into Wales. The lands west of the Clwyd were intended for his cousin Robert "of Ruddlan", and their advance extended to the Llŷn Peninsula by 1090. By 1094 almost the whole of Wales was occupied by Norman forces. However, although they erected many castles, Norman control in most regions of Wales was tenuous at best. Motivated by local anger over the "gratuitously cruel" invaders, and led by the historic ruling houses, Welsh control over the greater part of Wales was restored by 1100.

In an effort to further consolidate his control over Gwynedd, Earl Hugh of Chester had Hervé the Breton elected as Bishop of Bangor in 1092, and consecrated by Thomas of Bayeux, Archbishop of York. It was hoped that by placing a prelate loyal to the Normans over the traditionally independent Welsh church in Gwynedd would help to pacify the local inhabitants, and Hervé recognized the primacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury over the episcopal see of Bangor, a recognition hitherto rejected by the Welsh church.

However, the Welsh parishioners remained hostile with Hervé's appointment, and the bishop was forced to carry a sword with him and rely on a contingent of Norman knights for his protection. Additionally, Hervé routinely excommunicated parishioners of whom he perceived as challenging his spiritual and temporal authority.

Gruffydd ap Cynan escapes from Chester,

Illustration by T.
Prytherch in 1900

Gruffydd escaped imprisonment in Chester, and slew Robert of Rhuddlan in a beach side battle at Deganwy on 3 July 1093. Gruffydd recovered Gwynedd by 1095, and by 1098 Gruffydd allied with Cadwgan ap Bleddyn of the Mathrafal house of Powys, their traditional dynastic rivalry notwithstanding. Gruffydd and Cadwgan led the Welsh resistance to the Norman occupation in north and mid Wales. However, by 1098 Earl Hugh of Chester and Hugh of Montgomery, 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury advanced their army to the Menai Straitmarker, with Gruffydd and Cadwgan regrouping on defensible Ynys Mônmarker, where they planned to make retaliatory strikes from their island fortress. Gruffydd hired a Norse fleet from a settlement in Ireland to patrol the Menai and prevent the Norman army from crossing, however the Normans were able to pay-off the fleet to instead ferry them to Môn.Betrayed, Gruffydd and Cadwgan were forced to flee to Ireland in a skiff.

The Normans landed on Môn, and their furious 'victory celebrations' which followed were exceptionally violent, with rape and carnage committed by the Norman army left unchecked. The earl of Shrewsbury had an elderly priest mutilated, and made the church of Llandyfrydog a kennel for his dogs.

During the 'celebrations' a Norse fleet led by Magnus Barefoot, king of Norway, appeared off the coast at Ynys Seiriolmarker (Puffin island) , and in battle that followed, known as the Battle of Anglesey Sound, Magnus shot-dead the earl of Shrewsbury with an arrow to the eye. The Norse left as suddenly and as mysteriously as they had arrived, however leaving the Norman army weakened and demoralized.

The Norman army retired to England, leaving a Welshman, Edwin ap Goronwy, lord of Tegeingl, in command of a token force to control Ynys Môn and upper Gwyneed, and ultimately abandoning any colonization plans there. Edwin ap Goronwy transferred his alliegence to Chester following the defeat of his ally Trahaearn ap Caradog in 1081, a move for which earned him the epithet Fradwr, traitor, among the Welsh.

In late 1098 Gruffydd and Cadwgan landed in Wales and recovered Ynys Môn without much difficulty, with Hervé the Breton fleeing Bangor for safety in England. Over the course of the next three years, Gruffydd was able to recover upper Gwynedd to the Conwy, defeating Hugh, Earl of Chester. In 1101, after Earl Hugh's death, Gruffydd and Cadwgan came to terms with England's new king, Henry I, who was consolidating his own authority and also eager to come to terms. In the negotiations which followed Henry I recognized Gruffydd's ancestral claims of Môn, Llŷn, Dunoding (Eifionyddmarker and Ardudwymarker) and Arllechweddmarker, being the lands of upper Gwynedd to the Conwy which were already firmly in Gruffydd's control. Cadwgan regained Ceredigionmarker, and his share of the family inheritance in Powys, from the new earl of Shrewsbury, Robert of Bellême.

With the settlement reached between Henry I and Gruffydd I, and other Welsh lords, the dividing of Wales between Pura Wallia, the lands under Welsh control; and Marchia Wallie, Welsh lands under Norman control, came into existence. Author and historian John Davies notes that the border shifted on occasion, "in one direction and in the other", but remained more or less stable for almost the next two hundred years.

After generations of incessant warfare, Gruffydd began the reconstruction of Gwynedd, intent on bringing stability to his country. According to Davies, Gruffydd sought to give his people the peace to "plant their crops in the full confidence that they would be able to harvest them". Gruffydd consolidated princely authority in north Wales, and offered sanctuary to displaced Welsh from the Perfeddwlad, particularly from Rhos, at the time harassed by Richard, 2nd Earl of Chester.

Alarmed by Gruffydd's growing influence and authority in north Wales, and on pretext that Gruffydd sheltered rebels from Rhos against Chester, Henry I launched a campaign against Gwynedd and Powys in 1116, which included a vanguard commanded by King Alexander I of Scotland. While Owain ap Cadwgan of Ceredigionmarker sought refuge in Gwynedd's mountains, Maredudd ap Bleddyn of Powys made peace with the English king as the Norman army advanced. There were no battles or skirmishes fought in the face of the vast host brought into Wales, rather Owain and Gruffydd entered into truce negotiations. Owain ap Cadwgan regained royal favor relatively easily. However Gruffydd I was forced to render homage and fealty and pay a heavy fine, though he lost no land or prestige.

The invasion left a lasting impact on Gruffydd, who by 1116 was in his 60s and with failing eyesight. For the remainder of his life, while Gruffydd I continued to rule in Gwynedd, his sons Cadwallon, Owain, and Cadwaladr, would lead Gwynedd's army after 1120. Gruffydd's policy, which his sons would execute and later rulers of Gwynedd adopted, was to recover Gwynedd's primacy without blatantly antagonizing the English crown.

The Expansion of Gwynedd

In 1120 a minor border war between Llywarch ab Owain, lord of a commote in the Dyffryn Clwyd cantref, and Hywel ab Ithel, lord of Rhufoniogmarker and Rhos, (all three part of either Conwy county or Denbighshire), brought Powys and Chester into conflict in the Perfeddwlad. Powys brought a force of 400 warriors to the aid of its ally Rhufoniog, while Chester sent Norman knights from Rhuddlan to the aid of Dyffryn Clwyd. The bloody Battle of Maes Maen Cymro, fought a mile to the north-west of Ruthin, ended with Lywarch ab Owain slain and the defeat of Dyffryn Clwyd. However, It was a pyrrhic victory as the battle left Hywel ab Ithel mortally wounded. The last of his line, when Hywel ab Ithel died six weeks later he left Rhufoniog and Rhos berefit. Powys, however, was not strong enough to garrison Rhufoniog and Rhos, nor was Chester able to exert influence inland from its coastal holdings of Rhuddlan and Degannwy. With Rhufoniog and Rhos abandoned, Gruffydd I annexed the cantrefs.

On the death of Einion ap Cadwgan, lord of Meirionyddmarker, a quarrel engulfed his kinsmen on who should succeed him. Meirionydd was then a vassel cantref of Powys, and the family there a cadet of the Mathrafal house of Powys. Gruffydd gave license to his sons Cadwallon and Owain to press the opportunity the dynastic strife in Meirionydd presented. The brothers raided Mierionydd with the Lord of Powys as important there as he was in the Perfeddwlad. However it would not be until 1136 that the cantref was firmly within Gwynedd's control. Perhaps because of their support of Earl Hugh of Chester, Gwynedd's rival, in 1124 Cadwallon slew the three rulers of Dyffryn Clwyd, his maternal uncles, bringing the cantref firmly under Gwynedd's vassalage that year. And in 1125 Cadwallon slew the grandsons of Edwin ap Goronwy of Tegeingl, leaving Tegeingl berift of lordship. However, in 1132 while on campaign in the commote of Nanheudwy, near Llangollenmarker, 'victorious' Cadwallon was defeated in battle and slain by an army from Powys. The defeat checked Gwynedd's expansion for a time, "much to the relief of the men of Powys", wrote historian Sir John Edward Lloyd (J.E Lloyd).

In 1136 a campaign against the Normans was launched from Gwynedd in revenge for the execution of Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd ap Cynan, the wife of the Prince of Deheubarth and the daughter of Gruffydd. When word reached Gwynedd of Gwenllain's death and the revolt in Gwent, Gruffydd I's sons Owain and Cadwaladr invaded Norman controlled Ceredigon, taking Llanfihangle, Aberystwythmarker, and Llanbadarn. Liberating Llanbadarn, one local chronicler hailed Owain and Cadwaladr both as "bold lions, virtuous, fearless and wise, who guard the churches and their indwellers, defenders of the poor [who] overcome their enemies, affording a safest retreat to all those who seek their protection". The brothers restored the Welsh monks of Llanbadarn, who had been displaced by monks from Gloucester brought there by the Normans who had controlled Ceredigon. By late September 1136 a vast Welsh host gathered in Ceredigionmarker, which included the combined forces of Gwynedd, Deheubarth, and Powys; met the Norman army at the Battle of Crug Mawrmarker at Cardigan Castlemarker. The battle turned into a rout, and then into a resounding defeat of the Normans.

When their father Gruffydd I died in 1137, the brothers Owain and Cadwaladr were on a second campaign in Ceredigionmarker, and took the castles of Ystrad Meurigmarker, Lampetermarker (Stephen's Castle), and Castell Hywell (Humphries Castle) Gruffydd I ap Cynan left a more stable realm then had hitherto existed in Gwynedd for more than 100 years.Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Gruffyd's legacy pg 79, 80 No foreign army was able to cross the Conwy into upper Gwynedd. The stability of Gruffydd's long reign allowed for Gwynedd's Welsh to plan for the future without fear that home and harvest would "go to the flames" from invaders.

Settlements became more permanent, with buildings of stone replacing timber structures. Stone churches in particular were built across Gwynedd, with so many limewashed that "Gwynedd was bespangled with them as is the firmament with stars". Gruffydd had built stone churches at his princely manors, and Lloyd suggests Gruffydd's example led to the rebuilding of churches with stone in Penmonmarker, Aberdaronmarker, and Towynmarker in the Norman fashion.

Gruffydd promoted the primacy of the Episcopal See of Bangor in Gwynedd, and funded the building of Bangor Cathedralmarker during the episcopate of David the Scot, Bishop of Bangor, between 1120-1139. Gruffydd's remains were interned in a tomb in the presbytery of Bangor Cathedral.

The personal coat of arms of Owain Gwynedd were: Vert, three eagles displayed in fess Or

Owain Gwynedd

Owain I ap Gruffydd succeeded his father to the greater portion of Gwynedd in accordance to Welsh law, the Cyfraith Hywel, the Laws of Hywel; and became known as Owain Gwynedd to differiate him from another Owain ap Gruffydd, the Mathrafal ruler of Powys, known as Owain Cyfeiliog.Lloyd, J.E. 0A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Gruffydd Gwynedd, Gruffydd Cyfeiliog, pg 93 Cadwaladr, Gruffydd's youngest son, inherited the commote of Aberffraw on Ynys Môn, and the recently conquered Meirionydd and northern Ceredigion, that is Ceredigion between the rivers Aeron and the Dyfi.Lloyd, J.E. 0A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Cadwaladr's inheritance, pgs 85, 93, 104

By 1141 Cadwaladr and Madog ap Maredudd of Powys led a Welsh vanguard as an ally of the Earl of Chester in the Battle of Lincolnmarker, and joined in the route which made Stephen of England prisoner of Empress Matilda for a year. Owain, however, did not participate in the battle, keeping the majority of Gwynedd's army at home. Owain, of restrained and prudent temperament, may have judge that the aiding in Stephen's capture would lead to the restoration of Matilda and a strong royal government in England; a government which would support Marcher lords, support hitherto bereft since Stephen's usurpation.

Owain and Cadwaladr came to blows in 1143 when Cadwaladr was implicated in the murder of Prince Anarawd ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth, Owain's ally and future son-in-law, on the eve of Anarawd's wedding to Owain's daughter.Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Cadwaladr's betrayal, pg 95 Owain followed a diplomatic policy of binding other Welsh rulers to Gwynedd through dynastic marriages, and Cadwaladr's border dispute and murder of Anarawd threatened Owain's efforts and credibility. As ruler of Gwynedd, Owain stripped Cadwaladr of his lands, with Owain's son Hywel dispatched to Ceredigion, where he burned Cadwaladr's castle at Aberystwyth. Cadwaladr fled to Ireland and hired a Norse fleet from Dublin, bringing the fleet to Abermenai to compel Owain to reinstate him. Taking advantage of the brotherly strife, and perhaps with the tacit understanding of Cadwaladr, the marcher lords mounted incursions into Wales. Realizing the wider ramifications of the war before him, Owain and Cadwaladr came to terms and reconciled, with Cadwaladr restored to his lands. Peace between the brothers held until 1147, when an unrecorded event occurred which led Owain's sons Hywel and Cynan to drive Cadwaladr out of Meirionydd and Ceredigon, with Cadwaladr retreating to Môn. Again an accord was reached, with Cadwaladr retaining Aberffraw until a more serious breach occurred in 1153, when he was forced into exile in England, where his wife was the sister of Gilbert de Clare, 2nd Earl of Hertford and the niece of Ranulph de Gernon, 2nd Earl of Chester.

In 1146 news reached Owain that his favoured eldest son and heir, Rhun, died. Owain was overcome with grief, falling into a deep melancholy from which none could console him, until news reached him that Mold castlemarker in Tengeingl (Flintshire) had fallen to Gwynedd, "[reminding Owain] that he had still a country for which to live," wrote historian Sir John Edward Lloyd.Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Rhun's death, pg 96

Between 1148 and 1151, Owain I of Gwynedd fought against Madog ap Maredudd of Powys, Owain's son-in-law, and against the Earl of Chester for control of Iâl, with Owain having secured Rhuddlan Castle and all of Tegeingl from Chester. "By 1154 Owain had brought his men within sight of the red towers of the great city on the Dee", wrote Lloyd."

Having spent three years consolidating his authority in the vast Angevin Empire, Henry II of England resolved on a strategy against Owain I of Gwynedd by 1157. By now, Owain's enemies had joined Henry II's camp, enemies such as his wayward brother Cadwaladr and in particular the support of Madog of Powys. Henry II raised his feudal host and marched into Wales from Chester. Owain positioned himself and his army at Dinas Basing (Basingwerkmarker), barring the road to Rhuddlan, setting up a trap in which Henry II would send his army along the direct road along the coast, while he crossed through the woods to out-flank Owain. The Prince of Gwynedd anticipated this, and dispatched his sons Dafydd and Cynan into the woods with an army, catching Henry II unaware.

In the melee which followed Henry II was almost slain had not Roger, Earl of Hertford rescued the king. Henry II retreated and made his way back to his main army, by now slowly advancing towards Rhuddlan. Not wishing to engage the Norman army directly, Owain repositioned himself first at St. Asph, then further west, clearing the road for Henry II to enter into Rhuddlan "ingloriously". Once in Rhuddlan Henry II received word that his naval expedition had failed, as instead of meeting Henry II at Degannwy or Rhuddlan, it had gone to plunder Môn.

In a later letter to the Byzantine Emperor, Henry probably recalled these experiences when he wrote of the Welsh:

A people called Welsh, so bold and ferocious that, when unarmed, they do not fear to encounter an armed force, being ready to shed their blood in defence of their country, and to sacrifice their lives for renown.[51771]

The naval expedition was led by Henry II's maternal uncle (Empress Matilda's half-brother), Henry FitzRoy; and when they landed on Môn, Henry FitzRoy had the churches of Llanbedr Goch and Llanfair Mathafarn Eithaf torched. During the night the men of Môn gathered together, and the next morning fought and defeated the Norman army, with Henry FitzRoy falling under a shower of lances. The defeat of his navy and his own military difficulties had convinced Henry II that he had "gone as far as was practical that year" in his effort to subject Owain, and the king offered terms to the prince.

Owain I of Gwynedd, "ever prudent and sagacious", recognized that he needed time to further consolidate power, and agreed to the terms. Owain was to render homage and fealty to the King, and resign Tegeingle and Rhuddlan to Chester, and restore Cadwaladr to his possessions in Gwynedd.

The death of Madog ap Meredudd of Powys in 1160 opened an opportunity for Owain I of Gwynedd to further press Gwynedd's influence at the expense of Powys. However, Owain continued to further Gwynedd's expansion without rousing the English crown, maintaining his 'prudent policy' of Quieta non movere (don't move settled things), as Lloyd wrote. It was a policy of outward conciliation, while masking his own consolidation of authority. To further demonstrate his good-will, in 1160 Owain handed over to the English crown the fugative Einion Clud. By 1162 Owain was in possession of the Powys cantref of Cyfeiliog, and its castle of Tafolwern; and ravaged another Powys cantref of Arwystli, slaying its lord, Hywel ab Ieuaf. Owain's strategy was in sharp contrast to Rhys ap Gruffydd, prince of Deheubarth, who in 1162 rose in open revolt against the Normans in south Wales, drawing Henry II back to England from the continent.

In 1163 Henry II quarrelled with Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, causing growing divisions between the king's supporters and the archbishop's supporters. With discontent mounting in England, Owain I of Gwynedd joined with Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth in a second grand Welsh revolt against Henry II. England's king, who only the prior year had pardoned Rhys ap Gruffydd for his 1162 revolt, assembled a vast host against the allied Welsh, with troops drawn from all over the Angevin empire assembling in Shrewsbury, and with the Norse of Dublin paid to harass the Welsh coast. While his army gathered on the Welsh frontier, Henry II left for the continent to negotiate a truce with France and Flanders to not disturb his peace while campaigning in Wales.

However, when Henry II returned to England he found that the war had already began, with Owain's son Dafydd raiding Angevin positions in Tegeingle, exposing the castles of Rhuddlan and Basingwerk to "serious dangers", wrote Lloyd. Henry II rushed to north Wales for a few days to shore up defences there, before returning to his main army now gathering in Oswestery.

The vast host gathered before the allied Welsh principalities represented the largest army yet assembled for their conquest, a circumstance which further drew the Welsh allies into a closer confederacy, wrote Lloyd. With Owain I of Gwynedd the over all battle commander, and with his brother Cadwaladr as his second, Owain assembled the Welsh host at Corwen in the vale of Edeyrion where he could best resist Henry II's advance.

The Angevin army advanced from Oswestry into Wales crossing the mountains towards Mur Castell, and found itself in the thick forest of the Ceiriog Valley where they were forced into a narrow thin line. Owain I had positioned a band of skirmishers in the thick woods overlooking the pass, which harassed the exposed army from a secured position. Henry II ordered the clearing of the woods on either side to widen the passage through the valley, and to lessen the exposure of his army. The road his army travelled later became known as the Ffordd y Saeson, the English Road, and leads through heath and bog towards the Dee. In a dry summer the moors may have been passable, however "on this occasion the skies put on their most wintry aspect; and the rain fell in torrents [...] flooding the mountain meadows" until the great Angevin encampment became a "morass," wrote Lloyd. In the face of "hurricane" force wind and rain, diminishing provisions and an exposed supply line stretching through hostile country subject to enemy raids, and with a demoralized army, Henry II was forced into a complete retreat without even a semblance of a victory.

In frustration, Henry II had twenty-two Welsh hostages mutilated; the sons of Owain' supporters and allies, including two of Owain's own sons. In addition to his failed campaign in Wales, Henry's mercenary Norse navy, which he had hired to harass the Welsh coast, turned out to be too few for use, and were disbanded without engagement.

Henry II's Welsh campaign was a complete failure, with the king abandoning all plans for the conquest of Wales, returning to his court in Anjou and not returning to England for another four years. Lloyd wrote;

It is true that [Henry II] did not cross swords with [Owain I], but the elements had done their work for [the Welsh]; the stars in their courses had fought against the pride of England and humbled it to the very dust. To conquer a land which was defended, not merely by the arms of its valiant and audacious sons, but also by tangled woods and impassable bogs, by piercing winds and pitiless storms of rain, seemed a hopeless task, and Henry resolved to no longer attempt it.

Owain expanded his international diplomatic offensive against Henry II by sending an embassy to Louis VII of France in 1168, led by Arthur of Bardsey, Bishop of Bangor (1166-1177), who was charged with negotiating a joint alliance against Henry II. Distracted by his widening quarrel with Thomas Becket, Owain's army recovered Tegeingle for Gwynedd by 1169.

Like his father before him, Owain I promoted stability in upper Gwynedd as no foreign army was able to campaign past the Conwy, marking nearly 70 years of peace in upper Gwynedd and on Ynys Môn.

In his later reign Owain I was the styled princeps Wallensium, Latin for the Prince of the Welsh, a title of substance given his leadership of the Welsh and victory against the English king, wrote historian Dr. John Davies. Additionally, Owain I commissioned the Life of Gruffydd ap Cynan, the biography of his father in which Owain firmly asserted his primacy over other Welsh rulers by "absolute right through decent" from Rhodri the Great, according to Davies. Owain I was the eldest male descendent of Rhodri the Great through paternal decent.

The adoption of the title prince (Latin princeps, Welsh twysog), rather than king (Latin rex, Welsh brenin), did not mean a diminution in status, according to Davies. The use of the title prince was a recognition of the ruler of Gwynedd in relation to the wider international feudal world. The princes of Gwynedd exercised greater status and prestige then the earls, counts, and dukes of the Angevin empire, suggesting a similar status as that of the king of Scots, himself nominally a vassel of the king of England, argued Davies. As Welsh society became further influenced by feudal Europe, the princes of Gwynedd would in turn use feudalism to strengthen their own authority over lesser Welsh lords, a "two-edged sword" for the King of England, wrote Davies. Though Gwynedd's princes recognized the de jure suzerainty of the King of England, they maintained a well established legal jurisprudence, separate from the English legal system, and were independent de facto, wrote Davies.

Civil war and usurpation 1170–1195

When Owain Gwynedd died in December 1169 the realm was plunged into conflict between two rival factions within the ruling family. Throughout his life it is clear he favoured his eldest sons; those born of Pyfog the Irishwoman. Annals state that these two sons; Rhun ab Owain Gwynedd and Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd; were illegitimate, but it is worth pausing to consider that victory is often written by the victors. Owain and his father, Gruffydd ap Cynan, had both drawn considerable strength from family connections they had maintained across the Irish Sea in Dublinmarker, and it was these connections which had restored Gruffydd on several occasions to his throne and had provided his father, Cynan, with a place of refuge during the usurptions of the 11th Century. It is therefore possible that Owain hoped to maintain this Irish connection by ensuring the succession of one of his sons born of this Irish woman, Pyfog. Furthermore, it seems illogical - given the fact Owain was so set on their succession and the respect he no doubt commanded in Ireland - that the mother of Rhun and Hywel was a mere commoner and that both those children were born out of wedlock. What the annals record, however, is that in 1146 the eldest son and designated heir, Rhun - a man who was acclaimed as a great warrior - "died" mysteriously, and that Hywel his natural brother was proclaimed the new Edling or heir.

Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd duly succeeded his father in 1170 and the realm was plunged immediately into a civil war that appears to have been a conflict between two rival factions; one which was pro-Irish and seeking to ensure the succession of Hywel and protect the legacy of Owain Gwynedd and his father, and a second which seems to be an anti-Irish coalition and headed by Iorwerth Drwyndwn and Owain's widow; Cristin ferch Goronwy ab Owain.

They made their move, and within a few months of his succession Hywel was overthrown and killed at the Battle of Pentraeth in 1171. It seems that Iorwerth was injured badly enough to be ruled out of the succession (he was to die in 1174), leaving Dafydd as the leading figure in this cabal, which included his brother Rhodri as well as his half brother Maelgwn ab Owain Gwynedd and the nephews of another half brother Cynan ab Owain, namely Gruffudd ap Cynan and Maredudd ap Cynan.

Although the exact division of the spoils is unclear, Maelgwn appears to have gained Anglesey whilst the sons of Cynan held the cantrefs of Meirionydd, Eifionydd and Ardudwy between them. However Dafydd appears at to have been recognised as pre-eminent amongst them and was regarded in some way as the overall leader. Naturally, once he'd enjoyed some of the benefits of power, Dafydd felt disinclined to share, as well as no doubt nervous that he might also soon share the fate of his predecessor Hywel; in 1173 he acted against his brother Maelgwn and drove him into exile in Ireland thereby gaining possession of all Anglesey for himself.

The following year he expelled all his remaining family rivals and made himself master of all Gwynedd and in 1175 "seized through treachery" his brother Rhodri and imprisoned him for good measure. Thus Dafydd re-united all Gwynedd under his one rule and in order to strengthen his position he sought an agreement with Henry I. Due to his problems with the Church and Normandy, Henry I of England was anxious to secure peace and order in Wales. It was agreed that Dafydd would marry Emma of Anjou, who was Henry's illegitimate half sister, and receive the manor of Ellesmere as dowry, but unlike his southern counterpart, Rhys ap Gruffudd, he received no 'official' recognition of his position in the north.

All this was done, as the Brut y Tywysogion explained regarding Dafydd "because he thought he could hold his territory in peace thereby", but it proved insufficient. Before the end of 1175 Rhodri had escaped from captivity and gathered sufficient support to be able to drive Dafydd from Anglesey and across the River Conwymarker. Faced with this turn of events, Dafydd and Rhodri agreed to divide Gwynedd between each other. Thereafter Dafydd's realm was restricted to Gwynedd Is Conwy, that is the Perfeddwladmarker, the land between the rivers Conwy and the Dee, whilst Rhodri retained Anglesey and Gwynedd Uwch Conwy. Secure in his now truncated realm, Dafydd now appears to have pushed ambition to one side and resolved to enjoy the quiet life. There is no record of him engaging in any further strife for the twenty years or so after the settlement of 1175. Dafydd may not have inherited the leadership abilities of his father but he had sufficient qualities of diplomacy and tact remaining to ensure he could live at peace with his neighbours. This appears to be the one quality recognised by his contemporaries as he was described by Giraldus Cambrensis as a man who showed "good faith and credit by observing a strict neutrality between the Welsh and English"

His brother Rhodri had a more eventful time and fell out with the descendants of Cynan. They acted against Rhodri in 1190 and drove him out of Gwynedd altogether. Rhodri fled to the safety of the Isle of Manmarker only to be briefly reinstated in 1193 with the assistance of the King of Man, to be driven out once more at the beginning of 1194.

Dafydd's nemesis proved to be his nephew Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, born most likely in the year 1173 and therefore only a child when all these events were played out. Llywelyn's father Iorwerth Drwyndwn had been involved in the early stages of the dynastic struggles and most likely died sometime around 1174. As the century drew to a close Llywelyn became a young man and conceived the ambition to stake his claim to power in Gwynedd. He conspired with his cousins Gruffudd and Maredudd and his uncle Rhodri and in the year 1194 they all united against Dafydd, defeated him at the Battle of Aberconwymarker and "drove him to flight and took from him all his territory except three castles".

The personal coat of arms of Llywelyn were:Quarterly Or and Gules, four lions passant guardant counter charged, armed and langued Azur, later the arms of the Gwynedd realm.

Llywelyn the Great

See also Llywelyn ap Iorwerth

Llywelyn, later known as Llywelyn the Great, was sole ruler of Gwynedd by 1200, and made a treaty with King John of England the same year. Llywelyn's relations with John remained good for the next ten years. He married John's illegitimate daughter Joan, also known as Joanna, in 1205, and when John arrested Gwenwynwyn ab Owain of Powys in 1208 Llywelyn took the opportunity to annex southern Powys. In 1210 relations deteriorated and John invaded Gwynedd in 1211. Llywelyn was forced to seek terms and to give up all his lands east of the River Conwy, but was able to recover these lands the following year in alliance with the other Welsh princes. He allied himself with the barons who forced John to sign Magna Carta in 1215. By 1216 he was the dominant power in Wales, holding a council at Aberdyfi that year to apportion lands to the other princes.

Following King John's death, Llywelyn concluded the Treaty of Worcester with his successor Henry III in 1218. During the next fifteen years Llywelyn was frequently involved in fighting with Marcher lords and sometimes with the king, but also made alliances with several of the major powers in the Marches. The Peace of Middle in 1234 marked the end of Llywelyn's military career as the agreed truce of two years was extended year by year for the remainder of his reign.

Llywelyn the Great was determined to enforce the right of legitimate sons in Welsh succession law to bring Gwynedd in line with other Christian countries in Europe. However, by promoting his younger son Dafydd he was up against considerable support for his elder son Gruffydd from traditionalists in Gwynedd. However, with Gruffydd a prisoner the support for Gruffydd could not be transformed into anything more dangerous. Although Dafydd lost one of his most important supporters when his mother died in 1237, he retained the support of Ednyfed Fychan, the Seneschal of Gwynedd and the wielder of great political influence. Llywelyn suffered a paralytic stroke in 1237, and Dafydd took an increasing role in government. Dafydd ruled Gwynedd following his father's death in 1240.

The arms used by Dafydd ap Llywelyn.

Dafydd ap Llywelyn

Although King Henry III of England had accepted Dafydd's claim to rule Gwynedd, he was not disposed to allow him to retain his father's conquests outside Gwynedd. In 1241 the King invaded Gwynedd, and Dafydd was forced to submit in late August. Under the terms of the Treaty of Gwerneigron, he had to give up all his lands outside Gwynedd, and also to hand over to the King his half brother Gruffydd whom he had been keeping a prisoner. Henry thereby gained what could have been a useful weapon against Dafydd, with the possibility of setting Gruffydd up as a rival to Dafydd in Gwynedd, but Gruffydd died trying to escape from the Tower of London by climbing down a knotted sheet, and fell to his death in March 1244.

With his main rival dead Dafydd formed an alliance with other Welsh rulers and began a campaign against the English occupation of parts of Wales. After savage fighting the campaign was successful until Dafydd's sudden natural death brought it to a halt. At the time of his death he had no children and with Gruffydd dead the succession would pass to the sons of Gruffydd. The only adult sons of Gruffydd were Owain ap Gruffydd and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd who divided the realm between them.

The arms used by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

Llywelyn was in Gywnedd at the time of his elevation to the throne and had fought alongside his uncle Dafydd during the last campaign of his reign. This gave him an advantage over his elder brother Owain who had been imprisoned in England with his uncle since 1242. Owain returned to Gwynedd - he apparently "escaped" or was released from Chester immediately after the news of Dafydd's death reached England. Llywelyn and Owain were able to come to agreement and the reduced territory of Gwynedd were divided between them.

In 1255 their younger sibling Dafydd ap Gruffydd reached maturity and Henry III sensing an opportunity to create mischief demanded that he be allowed his division of Gwynedd also. Llywelyn rejected this on the grounds that this would further weaken the realm and play into England's hands. Dafydd formed an alliance with Owain and at the Battle of Bryn Derwin met Llywelyn in battle. Llywelyn was victorious and imprisoned Owain and confiscated his lands. He also imprisoned Dafydd for a short period before coming to terms with him.

Between 1255 and 1258 Llywelyn orchestrated a campaign against England across all of Wales gaining allies in Deheubarth and Powys. By 1258 he was acknowledged by almost all the native rulers as Prince of Wales. In 1263 his brother Dafydd defected to England for reasons which are unclear. It has been speculated that the death of their mother may have had an effect.

The following year, 1264, the Baron's Revolt in England had reached its climax at the Battle of Lewesmarker. Llywelyn signed the Treaty of Woodstock with Simon de Montfort thus forming an alliance against Henry III. Although de Montfort was soon defeated and killed by the English king the peace between England and Wales held, being formalised at the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267 and the title "Prince of Wales" was recognised by the King of England. All the native Welsh princes were to be vassals of Llywelyn and it is from this point that the independent history of the kingdom of Gwynedd comes to an end.

The principality of Wales was to be a short-lived creation. As is explained in greater detail elsewhere, the relationship between England and Wales broke down following the death of Henry III in 1272. By 1276 Llywelyn had been declared a rebel by the new King Edward I who was determined to be the master of the whole island of Great Britainmarker. Diplomatic pressure followed up by an enormous invasion force broke the unity of Wales and allowed the English army to quickly occupy large areas forcing Llywelyn back into his Gwynedd heartland. With the capture of Mônmarker and the Perfeddwlad, LLywelyn sued for peace and was forced to sign the Treaty of Aberconwy reducing his realm to almost same extent that had existed at the beginning of his reign in 1247; confined to the lands above the Conwy. Dafydd was restored and granted some lands in the Perfeddwlad by Edward, including the cantrefi of Rhôs and Rhufoniog.

A confined Llywelyn appears to have put all of his hopes into stabilising the succession through children sired by his new wife Eleanor de Montfort. Tragedy struck when she died during childbirth in 1282, giving birth to a daughter; Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn. This seems to have driven Llywelyn into what some historians have speculated to be a nervous breakdown and incapacitated him.

Rebellion over the rule of the English Crown arose and Dafydd was joined by Llywelyn. In November 1282 the Archbishop of Canterbury John Peckham came to Garth Celyn to mediate between Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and Edward Longshanks. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was offered a bribe; One thousand pounds a year and an estate in England, if he would surrender his control (which extended at least to Gwynedd and Deheubarth) to Edward. From Garth Celynmarker Llywelyn wrote rejecting the offer . Within a month, Llywelyn, on 11 December 1282, was killed at Cilmerimarker in an ambush. The nature of his death is reported in the Lambeth Palace Archives . His leaderless forces were routed shortly afterwards and the English forces led by Edward I moved to occupy Powys and eastern Gwynedd.

The arms used by Dafydd ap Gruffydd were a variant of the Aberffraw Arms.

Dafydd ap Gruffydd

After these events Dafydd ap Gruffydd was proclaimed Prince of Wales. Dafydd continued the fight and kept the support of Goronowy ap Heilin, the Lord of Rhôs, as well as Hywel ap Rhys Gryg and his brother Rhys Wyndod, disinherited princes of Deheubarthmarker.

However, as the English forces encircled Snowdonia and his people starved he was soon moving desperately from one fort to another as effective resistance was systematically crushed. Dolwyddelanmarker which was at risk of becoming encircled was first abandoned on January 18 1283. After this Dolbadarn Castlemarker served as his base but by March this noble site in the heart of Snowdonia was also threatened forcing his departure. Finally, Dafydd moved his head quarters south to Castell y Beremarker near Llanfihangel-y-pennantmarker. As the situation deteriorated it seems most likely that Dafydd and his family hoped to remain at Y Bere just long enough to avoid the worst of the Welsh winter before they were compelled to evacuate the site at the end of March in advance of the English forces who were maneuvering to place it under siege. From this point forwards the prince, his family and the remains of his government were fugitives sleeping outdoors, forced to keep moving from place to place to avoid capture. Castell Y Bere's starving garrison would eventually surrender on April 25. After the fall of Y Bere, Dafydd's movements are speculative but he is recorded in May 1283 leading raids from the mountains supported to the bitter end by Goronwy ap Heilin, Hywel ap Rhys and his brother Rhys Wyndod.

The last months saw inward disintegration as well as submission to superior force.
Nevertheless, Goronwy ap Heilin had committed himself to the struggle and died in rebellion, alongside the disinherited princes who stood with Dafydd ap Gruffudd in the last springtime of the principality of Wales, diehards who knew that theirs was not the heroism of a new beginning but the ultimate stand of the very last cohort clutching the figment of the political order that they had once been privileged to know.

On the 22nd June 1283, Dafydd ap Gruffudd was captured in the uplands above Garth Celyn close to Bera Mountain in a secret hiding place recorded as Nanhysglain. The site was no more than a hovel in a bog which may have been used previously by religious hermits. It is recorded that Dafydd, who had been betrayed, was "severely injured" during his capture. It is likely that his wife, daughters, niece and one of his sons were captured alongside him. His eldest son, Llywelyn ap Dafydd (aged about 15) was not there at the time because it is recorded that King Edward issued specific orders ad querendum filium David primogenitum to have him apprehended. Llywelyn ap Dafydd was detained later by "men of his own tongue" and taken into royal custody on 29 June. Following this any organised resistance ended until the uprising of Madog ap Llywelyn some eleven years later.

Dafydd was taken to Edward on the night of his capture, then moved under heavy guard by way of Chester to Shrewsbury where in October he was hanged, drawn and quartered. His children and legal successors were locked away and never released: his sons Llywelyn ap Dafydd and Owain ap Dafydd in Bristol Castle; his daughter and niece in priories in Lincolnshire.

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. The remaining important members of the ruling house were all arrested and imprisoned for the remainder of their lives (Dafydd's sons Llywelyn ap Dafydd and Owain ap Dafydd in Bristol Castle, his daughters and niece in convents). Under the terms of the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 the Kingdom of Gwynedd was broken up and re-organised into the English county model which created the traditional counties of Angleseymarker, Carnarvonshire, Merionethshiremarker, Denbighshire and Flintshire.

The Pura Walia (the new counties which had been Gwynedd plus Carmarthenshiremarker and Cardiganshire) continued to be within a nominal Principality of Wales ruled by the Council of Wales at Ludlowmarker as a part of the English crown. The title Prince of Wales was retained by the sovereign to be eventually awarded to his son, Prince Edward (later Edward II). The Welsh Marches would be merged with the principality in 1534 under the Council of Wales and the Marches until all separate governance for Wales as an administrative entity was abolished in 1689. The resulting county 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 peripheral members of the old royal house. In particular the rebellions of Prince Madoc in 1294 and of Owain Lawgoch (the great-nephew of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd) between 1372-1378 are most notable. Because of this the old royal house was purged and any surviving members went in to hiding. A final rebellion in 1400 led by Owain Glyndŵr, a member of the rival royal house of Powysmarker, also drew considerable support from within Gwynedd.

The royal house of Gwynedd may have endured in the guise of the Wynn and the Anwyl families who both claimed Rhodri ab Owain Gwynedd as their ancestor. After the purges in Wales had finished in the 16th century a certain Ioan ap Morys of Gwydirmarker proved his royal ancestry and he and his descendants were recognised across north Wales as the de jure Princes of Gwynedd until the male line of the Wynn family died out, probably in the late 18th century. Another claim could come the surviving members of the Anwyl of Tywyn Family or from any surviving male descendants of Dafydd Goch the acknowledged bastard son of Dafydd ap Gruffudd who avoided detection during the royal purges and continued the line.

Welsh in warfare

According to Sir John Edward Lloyd, the challenges of campaigning in Wales were exposed during the 20 year Norman invasion of Wales. If a defender could bar any road, control any river-crossing or mountain pass, and control the coastline around Wales, then the risks of extended campaigning in Wales were too great.

The Welsh method of warfare during the reign of Henry II is described by Gerald of Wales in his work Descriptio Cambriae written c.1190;

"Their mode of fighting consists in chasing the enemy or in retreating.
This light-armed people, relying more on their activity than on their strength, cannot struggle for the field of battle, enter into close engagement, or endure long and severe actions...though defeated and put to flight on one day, they are ready to resume the combat on the next, neither dejected by their
loss, nor by their dishonour; and although, perhaps, they do not display great fortitude in open engagements and regular conflicts, yet they harass the enemy by ambuscades and nightly sallies. Hence, neither oppressed by hunger or cold, not fatigued by martial labours, nor despondent inadversity, but ready, after a defeat, to return immediately to action, and again endure the dangers of war."
The Historical Works of Giraldus Cambrensis translated by Sir Richard Colt-Hoare (1894), p.511

The Welsh were revered for the skills of their bowmen. Additionally, the Welsh learned from their Norman rivals. During the generations of warfare and close contact with the Normans, Gruffydd I and other Welsh leaders learned the arts of knighthood and adapted them for Wales. By Gruffydd's death in 1137 Gwynedd could field hundreds of heavy well-armed cavalry as well as their traditional bowmen and infantry.

"They make use of light arms, which do not impede their agility, small coats of mail, bundles of arrows, and long lances, helmets and shields, and more rarely greaves plated with iron.
The higher class go to battle mounted on swift and generous steeds, which their country produces; but the greater part of the people fight on foot, on account of the marshy nature and unevenness of the soil.
The horsemen, as their situation or occasion requires, willingly serve as infantry, in attacking or retreating; and they either walk bare-footed, or make use of high shoes, roughly constructed with untanned leather.
In time of peace, the young men, by penetrating the deep recesses of the woods, and climbing the tops of mountains, learn by practice to endure fatigue through day and night."
The Historical Works of Giraldus Cambrensis translated by Sir Richard Colt-Hoare (1894), p.491

In the end Wales was defeated militarily by the improved ability of the English navy to blockade or seize areas essential for agricultural production such as Angleseymarker. With control of the Menai Strait, an invading army could regroup on Anglesey, without control of the Menai an army could be stranded there, and any occupying force on Anglesey could deny the vast harvest of the island from the Welsh.

Lack of food would force the disbandment of any large Welsh force besieged within the mountains. Following the occupation Welsh soldiers were conscripted to serve in the English Army. During the revolt of Owain Glyndwr the Welsh adapted the new skills they had learnt to guerilla tactics and lightening raids. Owain Glyndwr reputedly used the mountains with such advantage that many of the exasperated English soldiery suspected him of being a magician able to control the natural elements.


Principal administrative divisions of medieval Gwynedd (traditional territorial extent)

From 1200 until 1283 the home and headquarters of the Princes was Garth Celynmarker, Aber Garth Celyn, now known as Pen y Brynmarker, Abergwyngregyn or simply just "Aber" (its shortened form adopted by the Crown of England after the conquest). Garth Celynmarker 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, Prince of Wales ("Tywysog Cymru" in modern Welsh), on 19 June 1282, giving birth to a daughter, Gwenllian. The royal home was occupied and expropriated by the English Crown in early 1283.

The traditional sphere of Aberffraw influence in north Wales included Ynys Môn as their early seat of authority, and Gwynedd Uwch Conwy (Gwynedd above the Conwy, or upper Gwynedd), and the Perfeddwladmarker (the Middle Country) also known as Gwynedd Is Conwymarker (Gwynedd below the Conwy, or lower Gwynedd). Additional lands were acquired through vassalage or conquest, and by regaining lands lost to Marcher lords, particularly that of Ceredigion, Powys Fadogmarker, and Powys Wenwynwynmarker. However these areas were always considered an addition to Gwynedd never part of Gwynedd.

The extent of the kingdom varied with the strength of the current ruler. Gwynedd was traditionally divided into "Gwynedd Uwch Conwy" and "Gwynedd Is Conwy" (with the River Conwymarker forming the dividing line between the two), which included Môn (Anglesey). 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 commotes).

Ynys Môn

Cantref of Ynys Mônmarker
Commote Modern local Notes
Aberffraw Aberffrawmarker Historic seat of rulers of Gwynedd
Cemais Cemaesmarker
Llan-faes Llan-maesmarker
Penrhosmarker Penrhos
Rhosyr Newboroughmarker, Niwbro in 1294, refounded to house displaced villagers from Llanfaes

Gwynedd Uwch Conwy

Gwynedd above the Conwy, or upper Gwynedd

Cantref Arllechweddmarker
Commote Modern local Notes
Arllechwedd Uchaf Abergwyngregyn, Conwy county
Arllechwedd Isaf Trefriwmarker, Conwy county

Cantref Arfonmarker
Commote Modern local Notes
Arfon Uwch Gwyrfai Gwyneddmarker Arfon above Gwyrfai
Arfon Is Gwyrfai Gwyneddmarker Arfon beneath Gwyrfai

Cantref Dunoding
Commote Modern local Notes
Ardudwymarker Meirionnydd area within Gwynedd
Eifionyddmarker Dwyfor area within Gwynedd Named after Eifion ap Dunod ap Cunedda

Cantref Llŷnmarker
Commote Modern local Notes
Dinllaen Dwyfor council in Gwynedd county
Cymydmaen Dwyfor council in Gwynedd county

Cantref Meirionnyddmarker
Commote Modern local Notes
Ystumaner Merionethshire council in Gwynedd county


Perfeddwladmarker, or "the Middle Country" or Gwynedd Is Conwy (Gwynedd below the Conwy, or lower Gwynedd)

Rulers of Gwynedd

House of Cunedda

Line of Maelgwn Gwynedd

With Hywel's death all male descendants of Maelgwn Gwynedd have expired, and Merfyn the Freckled succeeds because his mother Esyllt was the eldest daughter of Cynan Dindaethwy ap Rhodri, and niece to the last king Hywel ap Rhodri Molwynog.

House of Manaw

  • Merfyn Frych ap Gwriad (Merfyn the Freckled) (825-844)
  • Rhodri Mawr ap Merfyn (844-878); inherits Gwynedd from his father and Powys from his maternal uncle (who died without issue), then conquers most of rest of Wales.

House of Aberffraw

10th- and 11th-century usurpations

Aberffraw restoration

  • 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)
  • Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd r. 1170; killed by his younger brother Dafydd ab Owain in a conspricy hatched by his stepmother Cristen, dowager princess of Gwynedd, and her sons Dafydd and Rhodri ab Owain.


Dafydd ab Owain ursurped the throne of Gwynedd from his brother Hywel ab Owain, and recognized as 'prince of Gwynedd' by the English Crown. However, his ascendency was short lived as he was displaced by other brothers, with the throne of Gwynedd returning to the senior legitimate heir of Owain Gwynedd with Llywelyn the Great.

Restoration of the senior line:

Post-Conquest descendants

Wynn Dynasty of Gwydir

After Owain Lawgoch the line of Aberffraw would continue post conquest, and later direct male descendants would include the Wynn family, claiming direct male decent from Owain Gwynedd.

  • Owain Gwynedd, Prince of Gwynedd (died November 1170) = Cristina ferch Gronw ap Owain ap Edwin
  • Rhodri ab Owain Gwynedd, Lord of Anglesey (d.1195) = Annest ferch Rhys ap Gruffudd
  • Thomas ap Rhodri ab Owain Gwynedd = Annest ferch Einion ap Seisyllt
  • Caradog ap Tomas = Efa ferch Gwyn ap Gruffudd ap Beli
  • Gruffudd ap Caradog = Lleuca ferch Llywarch Fychan ap Llywarch
  • Dafydd ap Gruffudd of Rhos = Efa ferch Gruffudd Fychan
  • Hywel ap Dafydd = Efa ferch Evan ap Hywel ap Maredudd
  • Maredudd ap Hywell (d. after 1353) = Morfydd verch Ieuan ap Dafydd ap Trahaern Goch
  • Robert ap Maredudd = Angharad ferch Dafydd ap Llywelyn
  • Ifan ap Robert (b. 1438, died 1469) = Catherine ferch Rhys ap Hywel Fychan
  • Maredudd ap Ifan (Ieuan) ap Robert (b. c1459, died 18 March 1525) = Ales ferch William Gruffudd ap Robin
  • John "Wynn" ap Maredudd (died 9 July 1559) = Ellen Lloyd ferch Morys ap John
  • Morys Wynn ap John (d.1580) = Jane Bulkeley (1) Ann Grevill (2) Katherine of Berain (3)
  • Sir John Wynn ap Morys of Gwydir

Wynn Baronets of Gwydir (1611)

The Wynn Baronets of Gwydir were created in the Baronetage of England in 1611—one of the initial creations—for John Wynn, of Gwydir. The members of this line were heirs to the Aberffrawmarker claim to the Principality of Gwynedd and Wales as direct descendents of Owain Gwynedd. The family continued to be prominent in politics, all the baronets save Owen sat as members of parliament, often for Carnarvon or Carnarvonshire. This creation became extinct in 1719, on the death of the fifth baronet. Wynnstay, near Ruabonmarker, passed to Jane Thelwall and her husband Sir Watkin Williams, who took the name of Williams-Wynn in honor of his wife's princely heritage.

Anwyl Dynasty of Parc (later of Tywyn)

Like the Wynn Dynasty, the Anwyl Dynasty of Parc (and later of Tywynmarker) also claim Rhodri ab Owain Gwynedd as their ancestor. However, they part from the Wynn Dynasty in the early 15th Century as they descend from Jeuan ap Maredudd whereas the Wynn Dynasty descends from Robert ap Maredudd (the elder brother). The brothers took opposing sides during the revolt of Owain Glyndwr. When the Wynn Dynasty finally expired in the direct male line in 1719 the cadet "Anwyl" branch would have been considered the surviving heirs to the royal title according to the traditional agnatic principles of succession found in Welsh royal houses. The Anwyl Dynasty has been maintained in the male line and survives in Wales to this day; the current head of the family is Evan Vaughan Anwyl of Tywyn (b.1943).

Images of Gwynedd

Eryrimarker (the Snowdon range) is the highest mountain range in Wales. At 1085 metres (3,560 ft), Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is the second highest peak in Great Britain south of Scotland's Ben Nevismarker. The Welsh sought refuge in the mountain range in the face of invasions.

The name of the range in Welsh, Eryri is traditionally believed to derive from the Welsh word for eagle, eryr. However, Welsh scholar Sir Ifor Williams argued the name's origin derived from a Welsh word meaning "highlands".

In the Middle Ages the title Prince of Aberffrawmarker and Lord of Snowdon (Tywysog Aberffraw ac Arglwydd Eryri) was used by the hereditary princes of Gwynedd; for example Llywelyn Fawr.

Image:Snowdon from Llyn Llydaw.jpg|Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) from Llyn Llydaw

Image:Snowdon in the snow.jpg|The flanks of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in winterImage:Snowdon massif.jpg|Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) massif from Glyder FawrImage:HendreFawrNewborough.jpg |Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) from Hendre Fawr farm Ynys Môn (Anglesey)Image:ViewFromMountSnowdon640.jpg|View from the summit of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), looking east over Llyn Llydaw



  1. Davies, John, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, foundations of pgs 50-51, 54-55
  2. Lloyd, J.E., A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Recovers Gwynedd, Norman invasion, Battle of Anglesey Sound, pgs 21-22, 36, 39, 40, later years 76-77
  3. Davies, John, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, foundations of pg50-51
  4. Going further back etymologically the root * uen- is akin to Latin vena- and suggests "to struggle; to desire, to like" (the root of Latin venus, "love", and also venari "to hunt"). See Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (University of Wales Dictionary), vol. I, page 1773
  5. Davies, John, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, Aberffraw primacy pg 116, patron of bards 117, Aberfraw relations with English crown pg 128, 135
  6. Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Aberffraw primacy pg 220
  7. Davies, John, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, Gruffydd ap Cynan; Battle of Mynydd Carn, Norman Invasion, pg 104-108, reconstructing Gwynedd pg 116,
  8. Warner, Philip, Famous Welsh Battles, Gruffydd's seizure pg 61, Escape from Chester, Kills Robert of Ruddlan, pg 63, 1997, Barnes & Noble, INC.
  9. Barlow, Frank,William Rufus, Yale University Press, 200, ISBN 0-30-008291-6 p. 320-324
  10. Bartlett, Robert C. (2000). England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings: 1075-1225. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-822741-8.
  11. Owen "Hervery (d. 1131)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online edition accessed March 6 2008
  12. Wilcott, Darrell "The Ancestry of Edwin of Tegeingl"
  13. Davies, John, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, Pura Wallia, Purae Wallie (the Welshries), Marchia Wallie pg 109, 127-130, 137, 141, 149, 166, 176
  14. J.E. Lloyd, A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004,Advances westard" pg 77, 78, 79
  15. Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Great Revolt, beginnings Gwenllian pg 80, taking Ceredigion, restores Welsh monks, Battle of Crug Mawr, 82-85
  16. Warner, Philip "Famous Welsh Battles", Barnes & Noble INC. 1977, Gwenllian pg 69, 79
  17. Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd's inheritance, pg 94, 95
  18. Warner, Philip "Famous Welsh Battles", Barnes & Noble INC. 1977, Cadwaladr and Anarawd pg 80
  19. Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Owain takes Iâl, Ruddlan, Tegeingl, pg 96, 97, 98
  20. Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Owain and Henry II, pg 99. 1070
  21. Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Owain 1160-1170, pg 107, 108, 109,
  22. Davies, John, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, Henry and Becket, Owain's leadership in 1166, Owain recaptures Tegeingl, pg125 Gwynedd's embassy to France pg 125,126
  23. Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Henry's invasion plans pg 111, Welsh drawn together, pg 112, Angevin advance into Wales 112, 113, Henry II's campaign failure, pg 113, 114
  24. Davies, John, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, English King's suzerainty of Wales and Scotland, pg 103, Welsh princely titles pg128, 129
  25. Davies, John, A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, emerging defacto statehood pg 148
  26. Beverley Smith, J., Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales p.577
  27. J. Beverley Smith, p.576
  28. Beverley Smith, J. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, p.577
  29. Dwnn, Lewys, Heraldic Visitations of the Three Counties of North Wales above Conway (published 1613)
  30. Annals and antiquities of the counties and county families of Wales, p. 699
  31. Nicholas, Thomas, Annals and antiquities of the counties and county families of Wales (1872)
  32. The Royal Tribes of Wales, p15
  33. Burkes Peerage (online), Landed Gentry, Wales, 19th Edition. (Ref. 100057)
  34. Ifor Williams, Enwau Lleoedd (Liverpool, 1945), p.18. Compare the late professor's article in Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, vol. iv, pp. 137-41. The plural of Welsh eryr (eagle) is eryrod or eryron, with no example of a form eryri being attested. A second word eryr, plural eryri, means "shingles" in modern Welsh; in the old Welsh place name this suggests uneven or upraised ground, a land of hills; "the uplands" or "highlands"

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