Llywelyn ap Gruffudd "the Last," Prince of Wales

Born: c. 1223

Died: December 11, 1282

Cilmeri, Powys, Wales (Age c. 59)

Llywelyn in History

There can be no doubt that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd's journey to becoming Prince of Wales was a long, arduous one. His father, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, was an illegitimate son of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd, who died in 1240, leaving his kingdom to his legitimate, but younger, son Dafydd ap Llywelyn. A power struggle erupted between the brothers Gruffudd and Dafydd which ultimately saw Dafydd reign supreme. Gruffudd would spend the rest of his life in prison between Wales and the tower of London, the latter of which he would die outside of after a failed escape attempt. Dafydd followed his brother to the grave just two years later, leaving Llywelyn and his three brothers in a position to gain an extreme amount of power. Llywelyn's elder brother Owain was the most logical successor to the principality, but Llywelyn and his younger brothers Dafydd and Rhodri were eager to acquire their share of their late uncle's lands. Soon enough, tensions came to a boiling point between the brothers, and open war broke out. Llywelyn, who was by far the most competent of the brothers, achieved a huge victory and captured both Owain and Dafydd, the former of which would remain in prison for the next twenty years (though Dafydd was released shortly after). Over the following years, Llywelyn would greatly expand his territory by forcing other Welsh lords to submit to him through a combination of diplomacy and intimidation and began to style himself with the unofficial title of 'Prince of Wales' quite frequently.

In addition to the conflicts he faced in his native Wales, Llywelyn was also forced to deal with occasional assaults from King Henry III and the English. These conflicts resulted in Llywelyn putting his lot in with Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and brother-in-law to the the king, who, along with a number of other dissatisfied lords, rebelled against Henry III in the Second Baron's War (1264-67). Montfort was able to make excellent progress against the royal party, defeating them at Lewes and taking both the king and Prince Edward, his eldest son and heir, captive. However, it became clear that Monfort's new government would not be an enduring one, and after Prince Edward was able to escape his captors, Llywelyn gave him his full support. Montfort's forces were defeated, the earl himself being killed, at Evesham in 1265, and Henry III resumed control of government. A formal treaty was reached between the English and Welsh in 1267 at Montgomery that stated Llywelyn was now the official Prince of Wales (all other Welsh lords were to pay homage to him), in exchange for annual payments to Henry III and his heirs. Llywelyn had now reached the zenith of his power and would remain there for several years. But events would ultimately deteriorate quickly for the Welsh prince.

Llywelyn's reverse in fortune was caused by a number of issues. Firstly, he was having a difficult time keeping up with the payments that he was obligated to pay under the Treaty of Montgomery. Secondly, when Henry III died in 1272, the government was left under the control of a group of regents (Prince Edward, now King Edward I, had been on crusade since 1270 and would not return until 1274), which included men such as Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Hertford and Gloucester, and Roger Mortimer, both of whom possessed considerable influence in Wales and the marches and were considered huge threats to Llywelyn's power. In addition, the Prince of Wales was forced to deal with murder plots composed by his own brother Dafydd and one Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, another disgruntled Welsh magnate.

When Edward I finally returned from crusade, both Dafydd and Gruffudd fled Wales to join him at the English court. The men were received with open arms by the king, much to Llywelyn's chagrin, who was not happy that Edward was harboring men who had conspired against his life. For this reason, Llywelyn refused to pay homage to the new king and even betrothed himself to Eleanor, daughter of Simon de Montfort, as a sign of recalcitrance. After several unsuccessful attempts to make peace with the Welshman, Edward I was at his wits end and sent an army to besiege Llywelyn's castle of Conway. After a lengthy siege, Llywelyn was forced to submit to the king. He was allowed to keep the title of Prince of Wales, but was forced to release his brother Owain from his long imprisonment and provide substantial lands for his other brothers, in addition to giving up any claim to a majority of the homages he had been receiving from the Welsh lords. All these terms were part of the Treaty of Aberconwy He was, however, able to marry Eleanor de Montfort, with the king's blessing, in 1278.

Tensions, however, would remain between England and Wales and were strengthened by the fact that Llywelyn was unhappy with the intervention of the English in the affairs of the Welsh justice system. By 1282, Llywelyn and the Welsh were once again in open rebellion. This time, Llywelyn's brother Dafydd, who had become disillusioned with Edward I's handling of the the Welsh situation, was on his side and is actually looked at as the main antagonist in the quarrel that would prove to be Llywelyn's last stand. In December 1282, Llywelyn made the decision to lead a small army into the Welsh marches and was killed, under mysterious circumstances, at Cilmeri in the process. To this day it is by no means clear as to what happened, but it seems likely that Llywelyn was tricked into meeting one of his rivals in the Welsh marches to discuss a treaty and subsequently ambushed. Dafydd succeeded his brother as Prince of Wales but was captured and executed the following year. Even in modern times, Llywelyn is looked at with great admiration by his fellow Welshmen and is considered to be the first and only official native Prince of Wales (the title was thereafter given to the heir to the English throne), giving him the nickname Llywelyn "the last."

Llywelyn in Peele

Appears in: Edward I

Llywelyn appears as and arrogant and ambitious lord within Edward I, though he seems genuinely committed to an independent Wales, free from English control. The prince uses his brother Dafydd (whom Edward I believes is his ally) as a hostage so he may recover Eleanor, his captive wife, from the English. Even after making an official peace with the English, Llywelyn is still committed to breaking off from them, claiming that he and his followers are Robin Hood-like figures, fighting for justice against an unjust monarch. In the end, Llywelyn becomes the tragic figure of the play when he is killed in battle. The Welsh cause is then upheld by Dafydd, but he is ultimately captured and executed. Llywelyn's wife Eleanor is then taken into the custody of Roger Mortimer, who had fallen in love with her during her captivity. In reality, both Eleanor and Mortimer predeceased Llywelyn, dying in June and October 1282, respectively. Llywelyn was killed in December of that year.


Make a Free Website with Yola.