Caerphilly Castle

The Emergence of the Principality of Wales (part 2)

The problem of the succession

The marriage of Llywelyn and Joan produced one son, Dafydd. Llywelyn had another son, Gruffudd, but he was determined to ensure that his entire principality would be inherited by his legitimate son. Before his death, the pope, the King of England and the lesser Welsh rulers, recognised Dafydd as Llywelyn's heir.

On inheriting, Dafydd found that his uncle, Henry III, King of England, was prepared to accept him as Prince of Gwynedd. The king would not, however, allow him the wider role won by Llywelyn. In 1246, before the matter was fully resolved, Dafydd died childless.

Power in Gwynedd passed to the sons of Gruffudd, with Llywelyn the most prominent among them. Henry sought to limit their authority; his aim was to transform the ancient kingdoms of a distinct people into no more than ordinary lordships of the realm of England.

The rise of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd

Henry III recognised Llywelyn as Prince of Wales and Llywelyn, in turn, recognised the King of England as his suzerain

By 1256 Llywelyn had ousted his brothers. He undertook campaigns similar to those of his grandfather. He secured the allegiance of the Lords of Powys Fadog, seized Powys Wenwynwyn and ensured that authority in Deheubarth was in the hands of those loyal to him. He became not only the leader of Pura Wallia but also its lord.

By 1258, he was referring to himself not as Prince of Gwynedd but as Prince of Wales. To give full substance to his title he also needed to have influence in Marchia Wallie. In 1263 he led his forces into the heart of the March and was welcomed by the Welsh of Brecon, Abergavenny and upland Glamorgan. His advance was assisted by the Barons' Revolt in England, whose leader, Simon de Montfort, allied with Llywelyn in 1264.

Three years later, through the Treaty of Montgomery, Henry III recognised Llywelyn as Prince of Wales and Llywelyn, in turn, recognised the King of England as his suzerain. The prince was to be overlord of the lesser Welsh rulers. He was allowed to retain a chain of lordships extending from the borders of Powys to Brecon and gained an ill-defined authority over the Welsh of upland Glamorgan and Gwent.

The Principality

The principality of Wales ruled by a Welsh dynasty lasted for 15 years, although in its last five years its power was much diminished. The years 1267-77 were a period of much promise, suggesting that there were in medieval Wales all the elements necessary for the growth of statehood. Llywelyn was lord of some three quarters of the surface area of Wales, and had perhaps 200,000 subjects.

The administrative machinery of the principality developed, and its chancery produced documents of the highest standard. Its chief need was time to allow it to become an undisputed fact; that was precisely what was not vouchsafed to it.

The dangers facing the principality

One of Llywelyn's difficulties was that he was not the undoubted heir to the patrimony of Llywelyn the Great. The second of the sons of Gruffudd, he had three brothers, one of whom - Dafydd - was faithful and faithless in turn.

Some of the smaller lords, particularly Gwenwynwyn of Powys, resented the power of the prince. The 25,000 marks (£16,666) tribute payable to the English crown was a grave financial burden. By holding lordships such as Brecon and Maelienydd, Llywelyn gained the enmity of their former rulers, the Bohun and Mortimer families.

Gilbert de Clare built Caerphilly Castle prevent lowland south Wales from falling into the hands of Llywelyn

Support for Llywelyn in northern Glamorgan alarmed Gilbert de Clare, the powerful Lord of Glamorgan, who built Caerphilly Castle to thwart the Prince's ambitions. Llywelyn's intention of marrying Eleanor, daughter of Simon de Montfort, angered the new King Edward I, who believed the Prince was seeking to stir up another Barons' War in England.

In 1274, Dafydd and Gwenwynwyn defected to England. In 1275, the king kidnapped Eleanor. He summoned Llywelyn to make homage to him. Llywelyn refused on the grounds that the king was harbouring his enemies and had seized his future wife.

The war of 1277 and the Treaty of Aberconwy

In 1276, Edward declared Llywelyn a rebel. The King gathered the largest army seen in Britain since 1066. By August 1277 his forces were in the heart of Gwynedd. In Anglesey, the traditional breadbasket, they confiscated the harvest, thus depriving the Prince and his army of sustenance.

Llywelyn was forced to submit. Under the Treaty of Aberconwy, his authority was confined to the lands west of the River Conwy; much of the land to its east was granted to Dafydd. Llywelyn was not deprived of the title of Prince of Wales, but most of the lesser Welsh rulers were no longer to recognise him as overlord.

The King, who already had castles at Cardigan, Carmarthen and Montgomery, built elaborate fortresses at Aberystwyth, Builth, Flint and Rhuddlan. Yet all was not lost. Llywelyn still had an almost impregnable base in Snowdonia and allegiance to him was widespread throughout the rest of Wales.


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