History of Llywelyn
ab Iorwerth, the grandson of the famed Owain Gwynedd, was born at the
Dolwyddelan castle in about 1173.
By 1200, he had attained control of Gwynedd,
and at the same time, the kingdom of Deheubarth, which had been the most
powerful of the Welsh kingdoms, was being divided among squabbling
Llywelyn was able to capitalise,
establishing himself as the foremost ruler of 'Pura Wallia' - the
locally-run areas of Wales not under the control of the Marcher lords (Marchia
Wallia). He was using the title 'Prince of the whole of North Wales' by
His cousin, Gruffudd ap Cynan, ruler of
Gwynedd west of the River Conwy died in 1200 and Llywelyn further
expanded his territory. In 1201, his other cousin Maredudd ap Cynan, was
arrested on a charge of treason and Llywelyn took his territories of
Eifionydd and Llyn.
Llywelyn the politician raise his head in
1201 as he concluded a treaty with King John of England. In return for
John's recognition of Llywelyn's territorial gains, he was to pledge
fealty to the English monarch.
Emboldened by his gains and increasing
power, Llywelyn moved against Gwenwynwyn ab Owain of Powys, his main
rival in Wales. While the invasion was called off - thanks to the
intervention of the clergy - Llywelyn had made his intentions clear, and
when he married Joan, the illegitimate daughter of King John, in 1205,
he had married into the royal family.
He benefited from this cosy relationship
when Gwenwynwyn was arrested and stripped of his lands by John -
Llywelyn took the majority of his lands. He also fought alongside King
John in a war against King William I of Scotland.
But things were not to remain rosy. For
some reason he fell out with John, possibly due to an ill-advised
alliance with a lord not in the king's favour. Gwynedd was invaded by
Earl Ranulph of Chester, then in 1211 by King John and an alliance of
almost all the other Welsh princes.
Military defeat was mitigated by his wife,
who convinced her father not to strip Llywelyn of all his lands, and
instead, he was restricted to lands west of the Conwy.
The fluid politics of the Welsh kingdoms
resulted in an alliance forming between Llywelyn and the lords of Powys
and Deheubarth against the now-unpopular King John.
Military success for the alliance followed,
with territory regained during 1212 and 1213, with John under threat
from assassination if he invaded in retaliation. John was at the time
under attack from disillusioned lords who forced him to sign Magna Carta.
1215 saw Llywelyn truly earn his eptithet
of The Great, with the castles of Carmarthen,
Cilgerran falling to his alliance.
He was now leader of the free princes of
Wales, and was ruler of the vast majority of the nation. In 1216 the
other princes affirmed their allegiance to Llywelyn at Aberdyfi.
In 1218, John's successor Henry III,
confirmed Llywelyn's possessions with the Treaty of Worcester.
Intermittent disputes erupted over the next few years with the Marcher
lords, but Llywelyn was always politically astute, using marriage to
shore up his position - his daughters became wives of Marchers.
He embarked on a programme of castle
Castell Y Bere,
Dolwyddelan and Tomen Y Bala.
Llywelyn seemed to be unable to avoid
conflict with the Crown, however, and mounted regular incursions across
the border into English lands or picked fights with the likes of Hubert
de Burgh, one of the most powerful men in England.
Largely, though, his position remained
unchanged and he was able to exert a political power possibly never
again reached by a Welsh prince. The Peace of Middle, agreed between
Llywelyn and the king in 1234, was initially for two years, but was
extended each year until Llywelyn died in 1240.