Caerphilly Castle

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd - An unsettled reign

An initially promising start of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd's reign gave way to a political storm on many fronts.

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

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, which is precisely what was not vouchsafed to it.

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.

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 Elinor, 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 Elinor. He summoned Llywelyn to make homage to him. Llywelyn refused on the grounds that the King was harbouring his enemies and has seized his future wife.

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 is 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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