Second son of Gruffudd ap Cynan and Angharad, daughter of Owain ab Edwin, The existence of another Owain ap Gruffydd, known as Owain Cyfeiliog, explains the use of the distinctive style of ' Owain Gwynedd.' He married (1) Gwladus, daughter of Llywarch ap Trahaearn, (2) Christina, his cousin, daughter of Gronw ap Owen ap Edwin, to whom he remained constant despite the active disapproval of the Church. By the former he had two sons, Iorwerth Drwyndwn and Maelgwn; and also two sons by Christina - Dafydd and Rhodri He had at least six other sons, of whom two, Hywel and Cynan, survived him, and two daughters, Angharad, wife of Gruffydd Maelor I, and Gwenllian, wife of Owain Cyfeiliog.
As a young man during the decade 1120-30 he was associated with an elder brother, Cadwallon, in restoring the prosperity of Gwynedd on behalf of an ageing father, and in directing the military operations which added the cantrefs of Meirionydd, Rhos, Rhufoniog, and Dyffryn Clwyd to Gwynedd proper. Thus on his accession to full kingship on Gruffudd's death in 1137 (Cadwallon died in 1132) the groundwork of a great career had been firmly laid. Already political anarchy in England had provided the opportunity to combine with Gruffydd ap Rhys and others in a victory over the Normans at Crug Mawr (1136), and in the temporary occupation of Ceredigion. Owain's operations in South Wales, however, were in the main intended as diversionary measures to cover his main objective of territorial consolidation in North Wales. Eventually, despite the opposition of Ranulf of Chester and Madog ap Maredudd of Powys, Mold and its hinterland submitted to him, in 1146, and in 1149 Tegeingl and Iâl were annexed to Gwynedd. In 1157, with changed conditions in England, Owain suffered his only decisive reverse at the hands of Henry II. The expedition into North Wales undertaken by Henry in that year, though indecisive in its military results, marks a positive stage in the relations of England and Wales. Deprived of Tegeingl and Iâl, and forced to re-admit his younger brother, Cadwaladr, exiled in 1152, to a share of power in Gwynedd. Owain, with characteristic prudence and insight, realised the great potentialities of the Angevin monarchy, did homage to Henry, and apparently agreed to change his official style from ' king ' to ' prince.' He made no attempt, moreover, to break the feudal link with England, when at the climax of his career, after the general Welsh uprising of 1165, he destroyed the royal strongholds of Tegeingl and once more established the power of Aberffraw along the estuary of the Dee. He died on 28 November 1170, and was buried in the cathedral church of Bangor.
Though it was Owain who finally accepted the principle of Angevin overlordship over Gwynedd, he regarded himself as no ordinary vassal (his attitude to episcopal elections in the see of Bangor should be noted) and it is clear that it was he who gave initial direction to the policies of his successors. It was largely due to his example, moreover, that the native rulers of Wales ceased to be mere tribal chieftains and took their place alongside the great feudal magnates of the time. The praises so repeatedly accorded to his many personal qualities by contemporary poets, and indeed by several public figures who could not have been predisposed in his favour, have so genuine a tone about them that the progressive trends in all the arts of peace and war discerned in 12th century Wales, it must be concluded, were in large measure due to the fostering genius of ' Owain the Great.'
Published date: 1959
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