LLYWELYN ap IORWERTH (or 'Llywelyn the Great', often styled 'Llywelyn I', though in strictness the first prince of that name was Llywelyn ap Seisyll; 1173-1240, prince of Gwynedd

Name: Llywelyn ap Iorwerth
Pseudonym: Llywelyn The Great, Llywelyn I
Spouse: Joan
Partner: Tangwystl ferch Llywarch Goch
Child: Angharad ferch Llywelyn ap Iorwerth
Child: Susanna ferch Llywelyn ap Iorwerth
Child: Gwladus ferch Llywelyn ap Iorwerth
Child: Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn
Child: Helen ferch Llywelyn ap Iorwerth
Child: Margaret ferch Llywelyn ap Iorwerth
Child: Gruffydd ap Llywelyn
Child: Dafydd ap Llywelyn ap Iorwerth
Parent: Margaret ferch Madog ap Maredudd
Parent: Iorwerth Drwyndwn
Gender: Male
Occupation: prince
Area of activity: Military; Politics, Government and Political Movements; Royalty and Society
Author: Thomas Jones Pierce

Son of Iorwerth Drwyndwn by Margaret, daughter of Madog ap Maredudd. He may have been born at Dolwyddelan, the royal manor of Nantconwy, over which his father had exercised a brief lordship which ended with his death at about the time of Llywelyn's birth. The infant prince, being a potential menace to the power of his father's half-brothers in Gwynedd, probably grew up in Powys under the protection of his maternal relatives. Following an obscure period of apprenticeship in arms (he entered the turbulent arena of northern politics at a very tender age), he combined with his cousins, the sons of Cynan ap Owain, and in 1194 defeated his uncle, Dafydd I, seizing from him a share in the government of Perfeddwlad, which in 1197, he transformed into sole rulership. With the capture of Mold in 1199 he promised to become a leader of the calibre and vision of Owain Gwynedd; in fact, between 1199 and 1203, he restored the undivided sovereignty of his grandfather over the whole of Gwynedd, including Merioneth and Penllyn.

The attitude of the English crown remained for a time uncertain, until king John resolved on a policy of friendship which was marked by Llywelyn's marriage in 1205 to Joan, the king's natural daughter. Good relations broke down in 1210, and in 1211, a royal expedition into Wales resulted in Llywelyn's isolation and the loss of Perfeddwlad [the 'Four Cantreds']. These territories were re-taken in 1212, and there followed the years of his greatest military triumphs, for he took the fullest advantage of external events which culminated in ' Magna Carta,' ruthlessly attacking the Marches and capturing, among other strongholds, the key positions of Carmarthen, Cardigan, and Montgomery. These he retained in custody by the treaty of Worcester (1218).

Meanwhile he had secured mastery over his fellow-princes. His greatest rival among the native lords of Wales, Gwenwynwyn of southern Powys, was finally exiled in 1216, and his lands remained in Llywelyn's custody to the end. The princes of northern Powys were friendly, and after 1216 no serious problem was caused by the princes of the house of Dinefwr, whose lands Llywelyn had, in that year, re-allocated among them at a solemn assembly ' all of the Welsh princes and all the wise men of Gwynedd ' held at Aberdovey.

Henceforth his position was never seriously threatened. The antagonism of the Marshall 's, it is true, led to the loss of Carmarthen, Cardigan, and Montgomery in 1223, but he again acquired strategic outposts with the acquisition of Builth from William de Breos in 1229, and the re-capture of Cardigan, 1231, at a time when he was engaged in meeting the menace caused by the consolidation of vast territorial interests in the march by certain royal officials, notably Hubert de Burgh. This phase was concluded with the ' Pact of Middle ' (1234) which virtually established peace for the remainder of Llywelyn's life. He hoped to preserve the integrity of his dominions by introducing primogeniture in place of the native custom of partible succession, and a step towards that end had already been taken when, in 1229, Henry III had acknowledged Dafydd, Joan's son, as Llywelyn's sole successor, to the exclusion of an elder brother, Gruffydd. A statesmanlike desire to conciliate his neighbours of the march is seen in the marriages which he arranged for his children: Dafydd was married to Isabella de Breos; Gwladus to Reginald de Breos and as a widow to Ralph Mortimer; Margaret was married to John de Breos and afterwards to Walter Clifford; Gwenllian married William de Lacy, and Helen married John, the nephew of her father's closest ally, Ranulf, earl of Chester.

A great feudal magnate - for Llywelyn's policy was conceived within the limitations imposed by obligations of homage to the English crown, he envisaged Wales as a feudal principality on the same model as the Scottish monarchy; and though there is no evidence that he ever attempted to impose more than 'de facto' suzerainty over the native lords of Wales, there are indications that during his closing years he was steadily shaping a constitutional policy of the kind brought to fruition by his grandson and namesake. There was the subtle assumption after 1230 of a new style - ' Prince of Aberffraw and Lord of Snowdon ' - and the more open move taken in 1238 at Strata Florida when, despite protests from the English court, fealty to Dafydd was exacted from subordinate Welsh lords. He died on 11 April 1240 at Aberconwy, where he was buried in the abbey, of which he was the greatest benefactor.


Published date: 1959

Article Copyright:



John, husband of Llywelyn's daughter Helen, was not son of Ranulf, Earl of Chester, who had no sons, but his nephew. He was John le Scot, son of David, Earl of Huntingdon, and his mother was Maud, sister of Ranulf.

    Published date: 1997


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