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Llywelyn ap Gruffudd
Prince of Aberffraw
Lord of Snowdon
Llywelyn le Dernier.jpg
Contemporary depiction
Prince of Wales
Reign 1246–1282
Predecessor Dafydd ap Llywelyn
Successor Dafydd ap Gruffydd
Born c. 1223
Gwynedd, Wales
Died 11 December 1282
Aberedw, Powys, Wales
Spouse Eleanor de Montfort
Issue Gwenllian of Wales
Princess Catherine
Full name
Llywelyn ap Gruffydd or
Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf
Royal house Aberffraw
Father Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr
Mother Senana ferch Caradog

Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (c. 1223 – 11 December 1282), sometimes written as Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, also known as Llywelyn the Last (Welsh: Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf, lit.'Llywelyn, Our Last Leader'), was the native Prince of Wales (Latin: Princeps Walliae; Welsh: Tywysog Cymru) from 1258 until his death at Cilmeri in 1282. Llywelyn was the son of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr and grandson of Llywelyn the Great, and he was one of the last native and independent princes of Wales before its conquest by Edward I of England and English rule in Wales that followed, until Owain Glyndŵr held the title during the Welsh Revolt of 1400–1415.

Genealogy and early life

Llywelyn was the second of the four sons of Gruffydd, the eldest son of Llywelyn the Great, and Senana ferch Caradog, the daughter of Caradoc ap Thomas ap Rhodri, Lord of Anglesey.

The eldest was Owain Goch ap Gruffydd and Llywelyn had two younger brothers, Dafydd ap Gruffydd and Rhodri ap Gruffydd. Llywelyn is thought to have been born around 1222 or 1223. He is first heard of holding lands in the Vale of Clwyd around 1244.

Following his grandfather's death in 1240, Llywelyn's uncle, Dafydd ap Llywelyn (who was Llywelyn the Great's eldest legitimate son), succeeded him as ruler of Gwynedd. At this time, Llywelyn went on crusade with Richard of Cornwall, brother of Henry III of England.

Llywelyn's father, Gruffydd (who was Llywelyn's eldest son but illegitimate), and his brother, Owain, were initially kept prisoner by Dafydd, then transferred into the custody of King Henry III of England. Gruffydd died in 1244 from a fall while trying to escape from his cell at the top of the Tower of London. The window from which he attempted to escape the Tower was bricked up and can still be seen to this day.

This freed Dafydd ap Llywelyn's hand as King Henry could no longer use Gruffydd against him, and war broke out between him and King Henry in 1245. Llywelyn supported his uncle in the savage fighting that followed. Owain, meanwhile, was freed by Henry after his father's death in the hope that he would start a civil war in Gwynedd, but stayed in Chester, so when Dafydd died in February 1246 without leaving an heir, Llywelyn had the advantage of being on the spot.

Early reign

Arms of Llywelyn
Arms of Gwynedd

Llywelyn and Owain came to terms with King Henry and in 1247, signed the Treaty of Woodstock at Woodstock Palace. The terms they were forced to accept restricted them to Gwynedd Uwch Conwy, the part of Gwynedd west of the River Conwy, which was divided between them. Gwynedd Is Conwy, east of the river, was taken over by King Henry.

Gwynedd 1247 Map
Division of Gwynedd in 1247 following the succession of the brothers Owain (whose lands are shown in dark green) and Llywelyn (light green) ap Gruffydd. The Commote of Cymydmaen (gold) was granted to Dafydd ap Gruffydd by Owain when he reached majority in 1252 (Source: J. Beverley Smith)

When Dafydd ap Gruffydd came of age, King Henry accepted his homage and announced his intention to give him part of the already reduced Gwynedd. Llywelyn refused to accept this, and Owain and Dafydd formed an alliance against him. This led to the Battle of Bryn Derwin in June 1255. Llywelyn defeated Owain and Dafydd and captured them, thereby becoming sole ruler of Gwynedd Uwch Conwy. Llywelyn now looked to expand his area of control. The population of Gwynedd Is Conwy resented English rule. This area, also known as "Perfeddwlad" (meaning 'middle land') had been given by King Henry to his son Edward and during the summer of 1256, he visited the area, but failed to deal with grievances against the rule of his officers. An appeal was made to Llywelyn, who, that November, crossed the River Conwy with an army, accompanied by his brother, Dafydd, whom he had released from prison. By early December, Llywelyn controlled all of Gwynedd Is Conwy, apart from the royal castle at Dyserth, as a reward for his support and dispossessing his brother-in-law, Rhys Fychan, who supported the king. An English army led by Stephen Bauzan invaded to try to restore Rhys Fychan but was decisively defeated by Welsh forces at the Battle of Cadfan in June 1257, with Rhys having previously slipped away to make his peace with Llywelyn.

Rhys Fychan now accepted Llywelyn as overlord, but this caused problems for Llywelyn, as Rhys's lands had already been given to Maredudd. Llywelyn restored his lands to Rhys, but the king's envoys approached Maredudd and offered him Rhys's lands if he would change sides. Maredudd paid homage to Henry in late 1257.

By early 1258, Llywelyn was using the title Prince of Wales, first used in an agreement between Llywelyn and his supporters and the Scottish nobility associated with the Comyn family. The English Crown refused to recognise this title however, and, in 1263, Llywelyn's brother, Dafydd, went over to King Henry.

On 12 December 1263, in the commote of Ystumanner, Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn did homage and swore fealty to Llywelyn. In return he was made a vassal lord and the lands taken from him by Llywelyn about six years earlier were restored to him.

In England, Simon de Montfort (the Younger) defeated the king's supporters at the Battle of Lewes in 1264, capturing the king and the Lord Edward. Llywelyn began negotiations with de Montfort, and in 1265, offered him 30,000 marks in exchange for a permanent peace, in which Llywelyn's right to rule Wales would be acknowledged. The Treaty of Pipton, 22 June 1265, established an alliance between Llywelyn and de Montfort, but the very favourable terms given to Llywelyn in this treaty were an indication of de Montfort's weakening position. De Montfort was to die at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, a battle in which Llywelyn took no part.

Supremacy in Wales

Wales after the Treaty of Montgomery 1267 Colorblind
Wales after the Treaty of Montgomery of 1267:      Gwynedd, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd's principality      Territories conquered by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd      Territories of Llywelyn's vassals      Lordships of the Marcher barons      Lordships of the King of England      Kingdom of England

After Simon de Montfort's death, Llywelyn launched a campaign in order to rapidly gain a bargaining position before King Henry had fully recovered. In 1265, Llywelyn captured Hawarden Castle and routed the combined armies of Hamo Lestrange and Maurice fitz Gerald in north Wales. Llywelyn then moved on to Brycheiniog, and in 1266, he routed Roger Mortimer's army. With these victories and the backing of the papal legate, Ottobuono, Llywelyn opened negotiations with the king, and was eventually recognised as Prince of Wales by King Henry in the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267. In return for the title, the retention of the lands he had conquered and the homage of almost all the native rulers of Wales, he was to pay a tribute of 25,000 marks in yearly installments of 3,000 marks, and could if he wished, purchase the homage of the one outstanding native prince - Maredudd ap Rhys of Deheubarth - for another 5,000 marks. However, Llywelyn's territorial ambitions gradually made him unpopular with some minor Welsh leaders, particularly the princes of south Wales.

Llywelyn le Dernier
Llywelyn the Last, Prince of Wales and King of Gwynedd at a ceremony where he paid tribute Henry III of England (not shown in this portion of the table)

The Treaty of Montgomery marked the high point of Llywelyn's power. Problems began arising soon afterwards, initially a dispute with Gilbert de Clare concerning the allegiance of a Welsh nobleman holding lands in Glamorgan. Gilbert built Caerphilly Castle in response to this. King Henry sent a bishop to take possession of the castle while the dispute was resolved but when Gilbert regained the castle by trickery, the king was unable to do anything about it.

Following the death of King Henry in late 1272, with the new King Edward I of England away from the kingdom, the rule fell to three men. One of them, Roger Mortimer was one of Llywelyn's rivals in the marches. When Humphrey de Bohun tried to take back Brycheiniog, which was granted to Llywelyn by the Treaty of Montgomery, Mortimer supported de Bohun. Llywelyn was also finding it difficult to raise the annual sums required under the terms of this treaty, and ceased making payments.

In early 1274, there was a plot by Llywelyn's brother, Dafydd, and Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn of Powys Wenwynwyn and his son, Owain, to kill Llywelyn. Dafydd was with Llywelyn at the time, and it was arranged that Owain would come with armed men on 2 February to carry out the assassination; however, he was prevented by a snowstorm. Llywelyn did not discover the full details of the plot until Owain confessed to the Bishop of Bangor. He said that the intention had been to make Dafydd prince of Gwynedd, and that Dafydd would reward Gruffydd with lands. Dafydd and Gruffydd fled to England where they were maintained by the king and carried out raids on Llywelyn's lands, increasing Llywelyn's resentment. When Edward called Llywelyn to Chester in 1275 to pay homage, Llywelyn refused to attend.

Llywelyn also made an enemy of King Edward by continuing to ally himself with the family of Simon de Montfort, even though their power was now greatly reduced. Llywelyn sought to marry Eleanor de Montfort, born in 1252, Simon de Montfort's daughter. They were married by proxy in 1275, but King Edward took exception to the marriage, in part because Eleanor was his first cousin: her mother was Eleanor of England, daughter of King John and princess of the House of Plantagenet. When Eleanor sailed from France to meet Llywelyn, Edward hired pirates to seize her ship and she was imprisoned at Windsor Castle until Llywelyn made certain concessions.

In 1276, Edward declared Llywelyn a rebel and in 1277, gathered an enormous army to march against him. Edward's intention was to disinherit Llywelyn completely and take over Gwynedd Is Conwy himself. He was considering two options for Gwynedd Uwch Conwy: either to divide it between Llywelyn's brothers, Dafydd and Owain, or to annex Anglesey and divide only the mainland between the two brothers. Edward was supported by Dafydd ap Gruffydd and Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn. Many of the lesser Welsh princes who had supported Llywelyn now hastened to make peace with Edward. By the summer of 1277, Edward's forces had reached the River Conwy and encamped at Deganwy, while another force had captured Anglesey and took possession of the harvest there. This deprived Llywelyn and his men of food, forcing them to seek terms.

Treaty of Aberconwy

Gwynedd 1277 Map
The division of Gwynedd following the Treaty of Aberconwy in 1277. Llywelyn continued to rule west of the River Conwy (indicated in green). The Perfeddwlad, east of the Conwy, was divided between Dafydd ap Gruffydd (shown in gold) and areas ceded forever to the English Crown (shown in red).

What resulted was the Treaty of Aberconwy, which guaranteed peace in Gwynedd in return for several difficult concessions from Llywelyn, including confining his authority to Gwynedd Uwch Conwy once again. Part of Gwynedd Is Conwy was given to Dafydd ap Gruffydd, with a promise that if Llywelyn died without an heir, he would be given a share of Gwynedd Uwch Conwy instead.

Llywelyn was forced to acknowledge the English king as his sovereign; initially he had refused, but after the events of 1276, Llywelyn was stripped of all but a small portion of his lands. He went to meet Edward, and found Eleanor lodged with the royal family at Worcester; after Llywelyn agreed to Edward's demands, Edward gave them permission to be married at Worcester Cathedral. A stained glass window exists to this day depicting the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Eleanor. By all accounts, the marriage was a genuine love match; Llywelyn is not known to have fathered any illegitimate children, which is extremely unusual for the Welsh royalty. (In medieval Wales, illegitimate children were as entitled to their father's property as legitimate children.)

Last campaign and death

Death of Llywelyn
The death of Llywelyn

By early 1282, many of the lesser princes who had supported Edward against Llywelyn in 1277 were becoming disillusioned with the exactions of the royal officers. On Palm Sunday that year, Dafydd ap Gruffydd attacked the English at Hawarden Castle and then laid siege to Rhuddlan. The revolt quickly spread to other parts of Wales, with Aberystwyth castle captured and burnt and rebellion in Ystrad Tywi in south Wales, also inspired by Dafydd according to the annals, where Carreg Cennen castle was captured.

Llywelyn, according to a letter he sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury John Peckham, was not involved in the planning of the revolt. He felt obliged, however, to support his brother and a war began for which the Welsh were ill-prepared. Personal tragedy also struck him at this time when, on or about 19 June 1282, his wife, Eleanor de Montfort, died shortly after giving birth to their daughter, Gwenllian. Their previous daughter, Princess Catherine, had been married to Philip ap Ivor, Lord of Cardigan.

Events followed a similar pattern to 1277, with Edward's forces capturing Gwynedd Is Conwy, Anglesey and taking the harvest. The English force occupying Anglesey tried to cross to the mainland on a bridge of boats, but failed and was defeated in the Battle of Moel-y-don. The Archbishop of Canterbury tried mediating between Llywelyn and Edward, and Llywelyn was offered a large estate in England if he would surrender Wales to Edward, while Dafydd was to go on crusade and not return without the king's permission. In an emotional reply, which has been compared to the Declaration of Arbroath, Llywelyn said he would not abandon the people whom his ancestors had protected since "the days of Kamber son of Brutus" and rejected the offer.

Llywelyn now left Dafydd to lead the defence of Gwynedd and took a force south, trying to rally support in mid and south Wales and open up an important second front. On 11 December at the Battle of Orewin Bridge at Builth Wells, he was killed while separated from his army. The exact circumstances are unclear and there are two conflicting accounts of his death. Both accounts agree that Llywelyn was tricked into leaving the bulk of his army and was then attacked and killed. The first account says that Llywelyn and his chief minister approached the forces of Edmund Mortimer and Hugh Le Strange after crossing a bridge. They then heard the sound of battle as the main body of his army was met in battle by the forces of Roger Despenser and Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn. Llywelyn turned to rejoin his forces and was pursued by a lone lancer who struck him down. It was not until some time later that an English knight recognised the body as that of the prince. This version of events was written in the north of England some fifty years later and has suspicious similarities with details about the Battle of Stirling Bridge in Scotland.

An alternative version of events written in the east of England by monks in contact with Llywelyn's exiled daughter, Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn, and niece, Gwladys ferch Dafydd, states that Llywelyn, at the front of his army, approached the combined forces of Edmund and Roger Mortimer, Hugo Le Strange, and Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn on the promise that he would receive their homage. This was a deception. His army was immediately engaged in fierce battle during which a significant section of it was routed, causing Llywelyn and his eighteen retainers to become separated. At around dusk, Llywelyn and a small group of his retainers (which included clergy) were ambushed and chased into a wood at Aberedw. Llywelyn was surrounded and struck down. As he lay dying, he asked for a priest and gave away his identity. He was then killed. His person was searched and various items recovered, including a list of "conspirators", which may well have been faked, and his privy seal.

The Llywelyn Monument at Cilmeri near Builth Wells

The privy seal of Llywelyn the Last, his wife Eleanor and his brother Dafydd are thought to have been melted down by the English after finding them upon their bodies to make a chalice in 1284.

The poet Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch wrote in an elegy on Llywelyn:

Do you not see the path of the wind and the rain?
Do you not see the oak trees in turmoil?

Cold my heart in a fearful breast
For the king, the oaken door of Aberffraw

There is an enigmatic reference in the Welsh annals Brut y Tywysogion, "… and then Llywelyn was betrayed in the belfry at Bangor by his own men". No further explanation is given.


With the loss of Llywelyn, Welsh morale and the will to resist diminished. Dafydd was Llywelyn's named successor. He carried on the struggle for several months, but in June 1283 was captured in the uplands above Abergwyngregyn at Bera Mountain together with his family. He was brought before Edward, then taken to Shrewsbury where a special session of Parliament condemned him to death.

After the final defeat of 1283, Gwynedd was stripped of all royal insignia, relics, and regalia. Edward took particular delight in appropriating the royal home of the Gwynedd dynasty. In August 1284, he set up his court at Abergwyngregyn, Gwynedd. With equal deliberateness, he removed all the insignia of majesty from Gwynedd; a coronet was solemnly presented to the shrine of St. Edward at Westminster; the matrices of the seals of Llywelyn, of his wife, and of his brother Dafydd were melted down to make a chalice which was given by the king to Vale Royal Abbey where it remained until the dissolution of that institution in 1538, after which it came into the possession of the family of the final abbot. The most precious religious relic in Gwynedd, the fragment of the True Cross known as Cross of Neith, was paraded through London in May 1285 in a solemn procession on foot led by the king, the queen, the archbishop of Canterbury and fourteen bishops, and the magnates of the realm. Edward was thereby appropriating the historical and religious regalia of the house of Gwynedd and placarding to the world the extinction of its dynasty and the annexation of the principality to his Crown. Commenting on this a contemporary chronicler is said to have declared "and then all Wales was cast to the ground."

Most of Llywelyn's relatives ended their lives in captivity with the notable exceptions of his younger brother Rhodri ap Gruffydd, who had long since sold his claim to the crown and endeavoured to keep a very low profile, and a distant cousin, Madog ap Llywelyn, who in 1294 led a revolt and briefly claimed the title Prince of Wales. Llywelyn and Eleanor's baby daughter Gwenllian of Wales was captured by Edward's troops in 1283. She was interned at Sempringham Priory in England for the rest of her life, becoming a nun in 1317 and dying without issue in 1337, probably knowing little of her heritage and speaking none of her language.

Dafydd's two surviving sons were captured and incarcerated at Bristol Gaol, where they eventually died many years later. Llywelyn's elder brother Owain Goch disappears from the record in 1282. Llywelyn's surviving brother Rhodri (who had been exiled from Wales since 1272) survived and held manors in Gloucestershire, Cheshire, Surrey, and Powys and died around 1315. His grandson, Owain Lawgoch, later claimed the title Prince of Wales.

Family tree

Llywelyn the Great
Gruffydd ap Llywelyn
Dafydd ap Llywelyn
Owain Goch ap Gruffydd
d. 1282
Llywelyn ap Gruffydd
Dafydd ap Gruffydd
Rhodri ap Gruffydd
Gwenllian of Wales
Llywelyn ap Dafydd
Owain ap Dafydd
1275–1287–c. 1325
Tomas ap Rhodri

See also

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