He was the son of Llywelyn ap Seisyll and Angharad merch Maredudd. Gruffudd was one of the most successful British princes of the Middle Ages and the Book of Llandaff claims that he was 'king of all Wales from end to end'. True to the medieval idea of a Wheel of Fate, however, Gruffudd's career ended in exile and violent death.
Gruffudd's father Llywelyn came originally from Powys. He fought his way into the kingship of Gwynedd circa 1018 and took control of Deheubarth in 1022 before dying in 1023. Through his mother Angharad, Gruffudd was a grandson of the great Maredudd ab Owain (died 999), the king of Deheubarth and overlord of Powys. An unflattering legend of Gruffudd's early days comes from the twelfth-century collection known as Courtiers' Trifles by Walter Map (who calls him by his father's name). The story claims that he was an indolent youth and one New Year's Eve, after his sister put him out of the house, he overheard from a neighbouring house the complaint that a piece of meat kept coming to the top of the cauldron, which he took as an omen of his future success.
The killing of the king of Gwynedd named Iago ab Idwal in 1039 heralded the first appearance of Gruffudd in Annales Cambriae when he won a victory at the battle of Rhyd-y-groes ('the ford of the cross') on the river Severn. Subsequently he ravaged Llanbadarn and expelled Hywel ab Edwin from the lordship of Deheubarth. Hywel returned two years later, only to be defeated by Gruffudd at the battle of Pencader Pencader in Carmarthenshire, where he also captured Hywel's wife.
After his early successes, Gruffudd's rivals began to look across the Irish Sea for aid. He was kidnapped by the Vikings of Dublin in 1042. According to the testimony of the Historie of Cambria by the sixteenth-century historian David Powel (who claimed that his ultimate source was a medieval Welsh chronicle), the abduction was organized by Iago's son Cynan, but it failed when the captives were freed by the Welsh while being led to the ship. Next it was the turn of Gruffudd's rival Hywel ab Edwin to recruit a Viking force from Ireland in 1044. The two men met in battle at the river Tywi, where Hywel was defeated and slain.
New rivals appeared in the south in the brothers Gruffudd and Rhys, the sons of Rhydderch ab Iestyn. They might have held power in Deheubarth through an alliance with the northern prince because a laconic notice circa 1045 claims there was treachery between them and Gruffudd. They could have been the instigators of a massacre of 140 of Gruffudd's men by the populace of Ystrad Tywi in the following year. The earliest text of Annales Cambriae (circa 1100) claims that the slain men were part of Gruffudd's familia (personal retinue), possibly an occupying force. Gruffudd took revenge by ravaging Ystrad Tywi as well as Dyfed. He might have had less success against the sons of Rhydderch than the extant records suggest, because in 1046 (according to the 'C' version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) Gruffudd allied with the Anglo-Saxon nobleman Sven Godwinson, who had been made earl of the region round Hereford in 1043, for a raid into southern Wales where they took hostages. The destruction could have been severe and the Annales Cambriae claim that two years later the eastern districts of Wales were deserted. Gruffudd ap Rhydderch returned the compliment in 1049, when he recruited a Viking force from Ireland and ravaged Sven's territory round Hereford and Gloucester; he invaded Herefordshire again in 1052. The final confrontation between the two Gruffudds came in 1055 when the northern prince killed his southern rival and united the Welsh under his rule.
Gruffudd's systematic elimination of his competitors was remembered a century later in the grim apologia found in the collection by Walter Map: 'I slay no one, but I dull the horns of the Welsh that they may not harm their mother.'
The elimination of an old rival was closely followed by the acquisition of a new and unlikely ally. Ælfgar son of Iarll Leofric of Mercia was accused of treason and, late in March 1055, a sentence of outlawry was pronounced against him. He fled to Ireland and recruited a fleet of 18 ships from the 'rising star' of the Irish political world King Diarmait mac Máel na mbó of Leinster. Upon returning to Britain, Ælfgar went to Wales and he allied with Gruffudd. Rendezvousing in Herefordshire, their armies met a force led by Ralph de Mantes the nephew of King Edward the Confessor and they fought two miles from the town of Hereford. The battle on October 24 was a victory for Gruffudd and Ælfgar, whose troops plundered the town. In response, an army was assembled at Gloucester under the leadership of the king's brother-in-law Harold Godwinson, the brother of Gruffudd's former ally Sven. Harold pursued the pair, but Gruffudd and Ælfgar refused to be drawn from their refuge in southern Wales. After refortifying Hereford, Harold met his opponents in a conference at Billingsley and negotiated terms, including an alliance. Ælfgar was re-instated in his lands and after the death of his father in 1057, he succeeded to the earldom. Others were less inclined to make peace and on 16 June 1056 Gruffudd was confronted by the new bishop of Hereford named Leovegar (formerly Harold Godwinson's priest) whom he defeated and killed at Claftbyrig. An indication of the destruction comes from the Herefordshire Domesday survey that claims Gruffudd and his half-brother Bleddyn so devastated the area round Archenfield that nothing was known of its valuation before 1066. At about this time the 'C' version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claims that Gruffudd became the 'under-king' of King Edward, although the chronicle of John of Worcester merely notes that the two men were reconciled. When Ælfgar was again exiled in 1058 he immediately fled to Gruffudd and the allies were joined by the Norse crown prince Magnus Haraldsson who led a fleet recruited from the Hebrides, Orkneys and Dublin. Some unidentified area of England was attacked, but little is known of that invasion other than, once again, Ælfgar's re-instatement. The alliance between Gruffudd and Ælfgar was cemented in this period when the latter's daughter Ealdgytha 'Swan-neck' married Gruffudd. Almost certainly due to the raids of 1055 and/or 1058, King Edward reached an accommodation with Gruffudd that Walter Map presents as a submission on the part of the latter. Domesday Book records that he ceded to Gruffudd all of Cheshire west of the river Dee and possibly a strip of territory east of Offa's Dyke as far south as Hereford. Gruffudd solidified his hold on these new lands by allowing Welsh settlers to move into the annexed regions.
The following five years were quiet. Gruffudd's proven military prowess, his marital ties to the earl of Mercia as well as his alliances with Irish and Norwegian princes made him a dangerous opponent. Not too dangerous for everyone, however, and his nemesis Harold Godwinson was waiting for an opportunity to attack. He seized his chance at Christmastide in 1063 and led an assault on Gruffudd's stronghold at Rhuddlan. Most of the fortress and fleet were destroyed, but Gruffudd escaped. Later, during Rogation Days (17 - 19 May), Harold sailed with a fleet from Bristol to subdue the coast while his brother Tostig led an army into Wales. Gruffudd had fled to Ireland where he was killed on 5 August 1064 by Cynan ab Iago, whose plot to kidnap Gruffudd had failed in 1042. Gruffudd's death was announced at the English court with the presentation of his head and the figure-head from his ship. Gwynedd and Powys were divided between his maternal half-brothers, Bleddyn and Rhiwallon, the sons of Cynfyn.
Remembrances of Gruffudd varied. He was idealized as a victorious prince to the Welsh. Even Gruffudd ap Cynan, the son of his slayer, became associated with his memory. According to his history, during Gruffudd's first expedition to Wales, Tangwystl, the wife of Gruffudd's chamberlain gave him a shirt and tunic made from the late king's cloak. Other memories, however, were less kind. Shortly after Gruffudd's death, the author of the vita of Edward the Confessor accuses him of constantly plotting war. Gruffudd is called a tyrant who oppressed Wales in Gerald of Wales's late twelfth-century Journey through Wales, an estimation echoed by Walter Map who claimed that Gruffudd destroyed anyone who might become a rival. By the sixteenth century Gruffudd was a literary figure associated with a version of the Macbeth legend. According to PowelPowel's Historie of Cambria, after Fleance escaped from the murderers of his father Banquo, he found sanctuary at the court of Gruffudd.
Gruffudd had at least two, and possibly three, wives. He abducted the wife of his rival Hywel ab Edwin in 1041 and 'kept her for his own'. From his marriage to Ealdgytha daughter of Ælfgar of Mercia came their daughter Nest who married Osbern fitz Richard; her daughter was also named Nest and she married Bernard of Neufmarché. A genealogy in Hen Lwythau Gwynedd a'r Mars claims that a third wife was Ceinfryd daughter of Rhirid Mawr and her son with Gruffudd was called Cynin. Less certain, although possible, is his parentage of three men active in the third quarter of the eleventh century who are described only as sons of Gruffudd: Owain, who died in 1059, and the brothers Maredudd and Ithel who were killed fighting Bleddyn ap Cynfyn in 1069.
Published date: 2018-01-24
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Not much information about his youth is available but some traditions have been preserved in the tales of Walter Map. As a youth he is said to have been slow and spiritless, but ambition later turned him into a man of valour and boldness and developed in him imagination and steadfastness of purpose. After Iago ab Idwal had been slain by his own men in 1039 Gruffudd ap Llywelyn became king of Gwynedd and Powys. Immediately afterwards, he struck a blow against the Saxons of Mercia in the battle of Rhyd-y-groes on the Severn and drove them to flight. This victory made him a prominent figure; and thenceforth until his death he continued to be the shield of his country and the terror of its enemies. Having struck the men of Mercia and made the Marches safe he turned his attention to Deheubarth, where Hywel ab Edwin was king. There is not much information about the conflict between the two; but in 1040 Gruffudd again attacked Ceredigion and burned Llanbadarnfawr. In 1041 Gruffudd again defeated Hywel in the battle of Pencader, but he did not succeed in overpowering him completely for in 1042 Hywel defeated a host of ' Black Gentiles ' at Pwlldyfach (today, Pwlldyfarch), near Carmarthen. Two years later (1044), Hywel brought with him from Ireland a fleet of the ' Black Gentiles,' but he was slain in a fierce encounter with Gruffudd in the estuary of the Towy. Even after this Gruffudd failed to gain possession of Deheubarth; Gruffydd ap Rhydderch ap Iestyn rose up against him. According to ' Brut y Tywysogion ' (Pen. MS. 20, 18a), great deceit and treachery took place in 1045 between Gruffydd ap Rydderch and his brother Rhys and Gruffudd ap Llywelyn. The latter was forced to call in the help of Swegen son of Godwin, in his endeavour to uphold his authority in Deheubarth. In 1047 about 140 of Gruffudd's war-band were slain through the treachery of the men of Ystrad Tywi, and to avenge them Gruffudd plundered Dyfed and Ystrad Tywi; but that was all he succeeded in doing and for the next eight years Gruffydd ap Rhydderch was in sure possession of Deheubarth. Gruffudd ap Llywelyn directed his efforts in another direction; early in the summer of 1052 he invaded the land of Hereford and defeated a combined host of Saxons and Normans near Leominster. In 1055 he slew Gruffydd ap Rhydderch and thus at last gained possession of Deheubarth. Moreover, leagued with Aelfgar of Mercia he attacked the Saxons and Normans of Hereford under earl Ralph, drove them to flight and set fire to the town. Earl Harold was sent to avenge this attack but all he succeeded in doing was to repair Hereford and to come to terms with Aelfgar. In 1056 Leofgar, bishop of Hereford, led an army against Gruffudd, and on 16 June a battle took place between them in the valley of the Machawy. Once again Gruffudd was victorious. Then, through the efforts of earl Harold, earl Leofric of Mercia, and Ealdred of Worcester, an agreement was reached and Gruffudd swore fealty to king Edward. About this time too Gruffudd married Ealdgyth, daughter of Aelfgar, and when Aelfgar was again exiled in 1058 Gruffudd, with the help of Magnus Haroldson, assisted him in regaining his lands. The close alliance between Gruffudd and Aelfgar ensured security for Wales, but towards the close of the year 1062, when Aelfgar had died, earl Harold without warning fell upon Gruffudd's court at Rhuddlan, but Gruffudd made good his escape. In 1063 Gruffudd was slain 'through the treachery of his own men,' according to ' Brut y Tywysogion,' after he had been 'the head and shield and defender of the Britons.' Gruffudd left two sons, Maredudd (died 1070) and Idwal (died 1070) and one daughter, Nest, who married Osbern FitzRichard.
Published date: 1959
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