On this day, 11 April 1240, Llywelyn “Fawr” ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great), the longest-reigning ruler of Welsh principalities, died in Aberconwy, Gwynedd, Wales. (He was my 23rd, 24th, and 26th great-grandfather.)
Born circa 1173, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth was the only child of Iorwerth “Drwyndwn” ap Owain and Marared ferch Madog. Llywelyn’s father was the eldest surviving son of Owain Gwynedd, prince of Gwynedd. In 1174, Iorwerth ap Owain died in at the Battle at Pennant Melangell. His mother was the daughter of Madog ap Maredudd, Prince of Powys. Through her, Llywelyn is descended from Rhodri Mawr, king of Wales.
Upon his father’s death, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth was recognized as Owain Gwynedd’s only legitimate heir. Unfortunately, this did not sit well with his uncle Dafydd ab Owain, who confiscated young Llywelyn’s lands and sent him into exile.
However, when Llywelyn grew up, he returned home to reclaim his birthright. In 1194, aided by his cousins Gruffudd ap Cynan and Maredudd ap Cynan, Llywelyn defeated his uncle at the Battle of Aberconwy.
In 1195, Llywelyn’s uncle Rhodri ab Owain passed away. Rhodri’s lands west of the River Conwy were controlled by Gruffudd and Maredudd, while Llywelyn ruled the territories taken from Dafydd, located east of the river.
Circa 1196, Llywelyn fathered an illegitimate son with Tangwystl Goch, his mistress. His name was Gruffydd ap Llywelyn.
In 1197, Llywelyn captured and imprisoned his uncle Dafydd whom he released a year later.
In 1198, Gwenwynwyn ab Owain, Prince of Powys Wenwynwyn, attempted to take over as leader of the Welsh princes and besieged Painscastle, held by William de Braose, 4th Lord of Bramber (my 25th great-grandfather). Llywelyn sent troops to assist Gwenwynwyn. In August 1198, Gwenwynwyn’s force was attacked by the forces of Geoffrey FitzPiers (my 25th and 28th great-grandfather) and was defeated.
Gwenwynwyn’s defeat provided Llywelyn with the opportunity to establish himself as the Welsh leader. In 1199, Llywelyn captured Castle Mold. Meanwhile, Llywelyn’s cousin Gruffudd ap Cynan paid homage to John “Lackland” of England (my 24th and 25th great-grandfather) in exchange for Gwynedd.
One year later, in 1200, Gruffudd ap Cynan died, leaving Llywelyn the uncontested ruler of Gwynedd. From 1200 through 1209, Llywelyn worked to consolidate control of all of Wales.
In 1201, Llywelyn confiscated Eifionydd and Llŷn from Maredudd ap Cynan on a charge of treachery. In July 1201, Llywelyn negotiated a treaty with John “Lackland” of England, whereas Llywelyn swore fealty and paid homage to John. In exchange, he was permitted to keep his conquests.
By 1202, Llywelyn had brought most of northern Wales under his control. In August 1202, Llywelyn tried to expand the boundaries of his holdings, attacking Gwenwynwyn ab Owain of Powys, his primary Welsh rival. The Church stepped in and brokered a peace between the two men.
In 1205, Llywelyn married Joan, Lady of Wales (my 23rd, 24th, and 26th great-grandmother). She was the illegitimate daughter of John “Lackland” of England and Clemence.
Circa 1206, daughter Gwladus “Dhu” ferch Llywelyn (my 23rd great-grandmother) was born. (Some sources have claimed that Gwladus’ mother was Llywelyn’s mistress Tangwystl Goch; other sources have claimed that she was Joan’s daughter.)
In 1207, a daughter named Elen ferch Llywelyn (my 25th great-grandmother) was born to Llywelyn and Joan.
In 1208, Gwenwynwyn of Powys had a falling out with John of England and was stripped him of his lands. Llywelyn annexed southern Powys and northern Ceredigion and rebuild Aberystwyth Castle.
In the summer of 1209, Llywelyn and John of England campaigned against William I “The Lion” of Scotland (my two-times 25th great-grandfather).
In 1210, daughter Margaret ferch Llywelyn was born. (She was my 22nd great-grandmother.)
Between 1210 and 1217, Llywelyn experienced significant setbacks. In 1210, relations between Llywelyn and his father-in-law had deteriorated, due in part with Llywelyn alliance with William de Braose, who himself was in conflict with John “Lackland” of England.
While a campaign against William de Braose and his Irish allies was being waged, Ranulph of Chester and Piers des Roches invaded Gwynedd. To prevent the capture of his holding, Llywelyn destroyed his own castle before retreated. Ranulph of Chester rebuilt the castle at Deganwy. Llywelyn retaliated by ravaging the Ranulph of Chester’s lands. Meanwhile, John “Lackland” of England sent troops in an attempt to restore Gwenwynwyn to the rule of southern Powys.
In 1211, John “Lackland” of England invaded Gwynedd with the aid of other Welsh princes. He was forced to retreat, but he invaded, after raising a larger army, he struck again in August. At that point, Llywelyn was forced to come to terms, sending his wife to negotiate with her father. Joan was able to persuade her father not to dispossess her husband; however, Llywelyn lost his lands west of the River Conwy, paid a large tribute of cattle and horses, and handed over hostages (including his illegitimate son Gruffydd). He also agreed that if he died without a legitimate heir by Joan then his lands would be forfeited to the John “Lackland” of England.
Meanwhile, the Welsh princes who had initially supported John “Lackland” of England took umbrage with these terms and allied themselves with Llywelyn. Pope Innocent III supported this rebellion, released the men from their oaths of loyalty to John “Lackland” of England, and lifted the interdict in the territories which they controlled. By 1212, Llywelyn was able to recover much of Gwynedd.
In August 1212, John “Lackland” of England planned another invasion of Gwynedd. However, before he could do this, both his daughter Joan and William I of Scotland, informed him that if he invaded Wales his magnates would either kill him or surrender him to his enemies. The invasion was abandoned, and in 1213, Llywelyn reclaimed the castles of Deganwy and Rhuddlan and allied himself with Philip II Augustus of France.
In 1215, Llywelyn then allied himself with the English barons rebelling against John “Lackland” of England. After the Magna Carta signed in 1215, Llywelyn’s son Gruffydd, who had been held hostage since 1211, was released.
Llywelyn was now the leader of the independent princes of Wales. In December 1215, he captured the castles of Carmarthen, Cardigan, Cilgerran, Kidwelly, and Llanstephan. His increased power ensured that Welshmen were appointed to two church vacancies that year: Iorwerth, Bishop of St. David’s, and Cadwgan, Bishop of Bangor.
In 1216, Llywelyn convened a council to address the territorial claims of the lesser princes, who had pledged their allegiance to Llywelyn. That same year, Gwenwynwyn of Powys switched sides again, aligning himself with John “Lackland” of England. In response, Llywelyn drove Gwenwynwyn of Powys out of southern Wales.
In 1217, Llywelyn’s son-in-law, Reginald de Braose of Brecon and Abergavenny, husband of Gwladus Ddu, also switched sides. Llywelyn responded by invading his lands.
Then, on 19 October 1216, John “Lackland” of England died. Two years later, Llywelyn signed the Treaty of Worcester with Henry III (my multi-times great-grandfather, many times over). This treaty allowed Llywelyn to retain possession of his recent conquests.
In 1228, Reginald de Braose passed away. After his death, Llywelyn married daughter Gwladus Ddu to Ralph de Mortimer (my 23rd great-grandfather).
During this time period, Llywelyn was wary to provoke further hostilities with England or the Marcher lords. Between 1220 and 1230, he built several castles to defend his borders, including Castell y Bere, Criccieth, Deganwy, Dolbadarn, and Dolwyddelan.
Unfortunately, in 1120, hostilities did break out between Llywelyn and English nobleman William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. Llywelyn destroyed the castles of Narberth and Wiston and burnt the town of Haverfordwest. In early 1223, Llywelyn crossed the border into Shropshire and captured the castles of Kinnerley and Whittington. In April 1123, while Llywelyn was preoccupied in Shropshire, William Marshal recaptured Cardigan and Carmarthen. In October 1123, Llywelyn came to an agreement with Henry III. Llywelyn’s Welsh allies were remitted lands stolen by William Marshal, while Llywelyn surrendered his Shropshire conquests.
In 1228, Llywelyn was in conflict with Hubert de Burgh, Justiciar of England and Ireland. Hubert had been given the lordship and castle of Montgomery and was encroaching on Llywelyn’s adjacent lands. Henry III raised an army to help Hubert, who began to build another castle in Ceri. However in October 1228, the English retreated, and Henry III destroyed the half-built castle in exchange for £2,000 from Llywelyn. Incidentally, Llywelyn raised this sum by demanding the same amount as the ransom of William de Braose, whom he had captured in the fighting.
In the Easter of 1230, William de Braose was found in bed with Llywelyn’s wife. He was hanged on 2 May 1230, while Joan was placed under house arrest for one year. At the end of the year, Llywelyn forgave his wife and restored her to favor.
In 1237, Joan died, and Llywelyn suffered a paralytic stroke. After his stroke, his heir Dafydd assumed more oversight of the estates.
Finally, after 45 years of rule, Llywelyn “Fawr” ap Iorwerth died on 11 April 1240. He was buried at the Cistercian Abbey of Aberconwy, which he had founded. Today, Llywelyn’s stone coffin is housed at St. Grwst’s Church in Llanrwst.