The Achievements of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

The Death of LlywelynIt is very difficult to sum up the achievements of Prince Llywelyn.  He is always portrayed as Llywelyn the Last, a name totally unfitted to the man who, according to the treaty of Montgomery in 1267, was actually Llywelyn the First!

Llywelyn's life is filled with unknowns.  No one knows exactly when he was born or why he was so estranged to his brothers that he kept one locked up for most of his life, another was driven from Wales and the youngest even plotted to kill him.

By 1240 Llywelyn was lord or overlord of Maelienydd and Gwrtheyrnion in Rhwng Gwy a Hafren, important border lordships often held by the Mortimers.  Here he was a baron of his half uncle, Prince Dafydd ap Llywelyn.  This was at a time when his father, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (d.1244) and elder brother (Owain Goch) were fighting in opposition to Dafydd!  Llywelyn seems to have subsequently concurred in the imprisonment of both his father and possibly all his brothers by Prince Dafydd.

In 1241 Llywelyn and Dafydd tasted bitter defeat at the hands of King Henry III and the Mortimers. Consequently Llywelyn was forced to quitclaim away his rights in Maelienydd and Gwrtheyrnion.  The Mortimers obviously knew a threat when they saw one!

In 1246 Prince Dafydd died in the middle of his second war with Henry III and Llywelyn stepped seamlessly into his shoes.  His father, Gruffydd, had died in 1244.  At this point Henry III released Llywelyn's brother Owain Goch and although it seemed for a while as if the two brother's would fight it out for the control of Gwynedd, wiser counsel's prevailed and the two agreed to share Gwynedd between themselves and in early 1247 they made their peace with Henry III.

However, the truce between the brothers proved fickle and there were disagreements from the first. These disputes were sent to Henry III to arbitrate.  The antagonism seems to have revolved around Welsh law and the succession.  Owain Goch, far more Anglophile in outlook than Llywelyn, wanted to maintain the Norman version of gravelkind, the law of Welsh succession, by which the patrimony was divided amongst all surviving sons.  Llywelyn had no objection to the division of the patrimony, but he believed, like his grandfather, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, and his uncle, Dafydd ap Llywelyn, had before him, that one man from the royal family of Gwynedd should be prince of all the lesser men.  This difference of opinion led to war between the brothers and in 1255 Owain and his younger brother, Dafydd, were defeated in pitched battle by Llywelyn and captured.  This effectively settled the issue and in November 1256 Llywelyn broke his vows of fealty to Henry III and invaded his territories to turn the clock back to 1234 - the high point of the career of his grandfather, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth.

After two years of fighting Llywelyn had effectively tripled the territories under his control and brought many of the Welsh lords and princes under his effective authority from the borders of Cardigan and Carmarthen in the south to Rhayadr and nearly Montgomery in the east and almost to the gates of Chester in the north, although here and there stubborn garrisons held firm against his rule.  After further, mainly victorious campaigns, King Henry III finally recognised Llywelyn as prince of Wales, the first and last recognised native prince of Wales since Gruffydd ap Llywelyn in 1063.  This is rightly recognised as Llywelyn's greatest achievement.  However, he failed the test as a statesman, not through military ineptitude, but probably through vanity.  His half-uncle, Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd, had been the grandson of King John of England - yet Llywelyn himself had no Plantagenet blood.  Consequently he negotiated for a royal bride with increasing frustration that led to his defeat and total undoing.  In 1276 he went to war with Edward I who was holding his intended bride, a granddaughter of King John, a captive, and lost the war.  In order to obtain his bride he promised Edward that his title of Prince of Wales would only pass to his legitimate male offspring by his new bride, Edward's cousin, Eleanor Montfort.  All could still have been well if it were not for the fact that Eleanor died giving birth to a daughter.  Effectively Llywelyn had lost the war against time as he could not hope to find another royal bride after going to war with Edward yet again and even if he did so, he was now too old for his potential son to reach manhood before his death.  In any case Llywelyn fell in the ensuing war with Edward and his principality escheated to the Crown and was given eventually to Edward's son, Edward of Caernarfon, later Edward II.

The achievements of Llywelyn were legion.  He made Wales a transient state and even had that principality twice recognised by kings of England.  This no other man managed to achieve.  His failure and downfall was more human - he failed to conceive.

Copyright©1994-2012 Paul Martin Remfry

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