Sunday, 11 December 2016

Llewellyn ap Gruffyd, the last Prince of Wales ( 1232-1282)

 Llewellyn ap Gruffydd couldn’t have known it during his tumultuous life, but he would become known to posterity as Llewellyn the Last. He was the last native born Welshman recognised as the sovereign Prince of Wales, before Wales was finally conquered by Edward the 1st in 1282. I am no fan of titles and now is  little more than an honorific bestowed upon the eldest son of the King or Queen of England, a final insult dreamt up by King Edward to make certain that Wales knew its place in the new order. But in Llewellyn’s day, it was not something that came by birth right, but something he took by force of arms, strategic alliances, and breath-taking diplomacy.
Llewelyn was the second son of Gruffydd and his wife, Senena. Following his father's death, Llewelyn joined forces with his uncle, Dafydd, and effectively became Dafydd's heir as Dafydd had no sons. Llewelyn helped to re-unite North Wales.In 1247 Llywelyn and his brother Owain signed the Treaty of Woodstock with King Henry III. The treaty restricted the brothers' rule to parts of Gwynedd west of the River Conwy, while the remainder of Conwy, the Perfeddwlad, remained under English control.Within two years, however, Llywelyn had gained control of the Perfeddwlad and most of the Pura Wallia, parts of Wales under native Welsh rule. By early 1258 he was using the title Prince of Wales, although the English crown refused to acknowledge him as such.
When Henry was temporarily deposed by Baron Simon de Montfort after the Battle of Lewes in 1264, Llywelyn allied himself to the new ruler. The Treaty of Pipton, signed the following year, set out the terms Llywelyn had desired for several years: formal recognition as Prince of Wales and overlord of the other Welsh rulers.De Montfort died at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, and the resulting English power vacuum allowed Llywelyn to consolidate his control of Welsh territory. He was formally recognised as Prince of Wales by Henry III with the signing of the Treaty of Montgomery on 29 September 1267.
De Montfort died at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, and the resulting English power vacuum allowed Llywelyn to consolidate his control of Welsh territory. He was formally recognised as Prince of Wales by Henry III with the signing of the Treaty of Montgomery on 29 September 1267. However with the advent of a new English King, Edward I, relations deteriorated as Llewelyn refused to pay homage or make the money payments due under the Treaty of Montgomery. In 1277 Llewelyn was forced to submit to the King and was stripped of his hard won overlordship.Edward embarked on a unprecedented building programme across Wales, including the enormous sastles at Caernarfon, Conway and Harlech , showing of his military strength and acting as signals to the Welsh about the futility of opposing his might.
However in 1282, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Llewelyn's brother, attacked Hawarden Castle. Llewellyn  was faced with an impossible choice; he was called on to crush the rebellion, instead he joined it, sided with his brother against the English.Now engaged in a bitter struggle with Edward I of England, leading the Welsh resistance to Edward, with an ambition to create a permanent, independent Welsh principality and to keep Wales independent.  Edward continued to send armies into Wales and one consisting of 2000 infantrymen and 200 cavalrymen succeeded in capturing Anglesey. However the routing of this army by Llywelyn on 6th November 1282, boosted Welsh morale and when Edward turned his hand to diplomacy, offering Llywelyn a large estate in England if he would surrender, Llywelyn defiantly  refused, stating that he would not abandon the people whom his ancestors had previously protected.
Llywelyn was then deceived into attending a meeting with Edmund Mortimer at Aberedw, who  claimed that he wished give homage to Llywelyn. In Llywelyn's absence, the English army advanced on the Welsh position at Orewin Bridge.The full force of the English  army now crossed and engaged the leaderless Welsh army.As the Welsh turned to confront the archers they left the bridge undefended. The English seized the moment to attack. Mounted soldiers charged across Orewin Bridge, causing the leaderless and disorganised Welsh army to flee. Upon hearing the noise of the battle, Llywelyn realised that he had been tricked and immediately headed back with his entourage to assume command yet was ambushed and overwhelmed. Llywelyn lay mortally wounded and asked for a priest, but was recognized, and was instantly killed and his head cut off and sent to Edward at Rhuddlan, who then took it to London, put on it an ivory crown and placed it on the gate of the Tower of London, where it stayed for 15 years.
The death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd marked the end of an independent Wales. Resistance continued for a while under Dafydd, but by June of the following year, he too had been captured and executed, with his head displayed next to that of Llywelyn.The beheading of Llywelyn, the imprisonment of his family, the melting down of the crown jewels and the destruction of the royal mausoleums, and the symbolic display of their decapitated  heads would all have been designed to oppress the Welsh people, the end result being that Edward's conquest of Wales being complete.
Llewellyn dominated Wales for more than 40 years, and was one of only two Welsh rulers to be called "the Great", the other being his ancestor Rhodri the Great. The first person to give Llywelyn the title "the Great" seems to have been his near-contemporary, the English chronicler Matthew Paris.
 Llewellyn was  the last  prince of an united independent ,Wales until that is  Owain Glyndŵr rebel  prince came along to leave  his mark in the 14th century .with his fight against English oppression , his fight that nearly won Welsh independence and his threshold plan for a Welsh Parliament, an independent church and university which would turn him into a potent symbol of Welsh nationalism in the 20th Century.This is  another story from the pages of our history.
There is much uncertainty as to Llywelyn's final resting place, with the Cistercian Abbey at Abbeycwmhir the site suggested by most historians,it is known that he killed in battle not far from Llanfair in Buellt now known as Builth Wells.

Memorial stone to Llewellyn the last at Cilmeri

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