Wales - Time of the Princes

Llewelyn the Great

After the departure of the Romans from Britain, the British Isles were ruled by Celtic Warlords.  There were only regions.  There was no country called England and no country called Wales or Scotland or Ireland.  The Celtic warlords sometimes ruled vast areas, sometimes very small areas.  We know very little about the people and events of the 4th and 5th Centuries.  We do know that the Saxons arrived in Britain during the 5th Century. What little we do know is from the writing of Geoffey of Monmouth born about the end of the 9th Century.  According to Wikipedia, he was a British cleric, anthropologist, and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur.  Much of what he wrote is legendary, not historically accurate.


If we write a story about someone who never existed, that person is mythical.  If we tell stories about a person that actually existed but tell tales that may or may not be true, then that person is legendary.   


In the U.S. I grew up hearing the legendary tales of Davy Crockett, a frontiersman.  A song was even written about him, describing these fantastic things he supposedly did.  He was a real person who died in the Alamo, but there is no evidence that he was born on a mountain top and I am pretty sure he never killed a bear when he was only three!  

Much of what Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote is considered a legend.  We know that there was a Celtic Warrior called Arthur who defeated the Saxons in a battle.  He was the basis for the legend of King Arthur.  Arthur was not a king, there was no round table, his group of knights didn’t exist and neither did Guinevere.  Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s Historia Regum Britanniae, a pseudo-historical chronicle of British history was written in mid-12th-century.


The technical definition of a King is one who rules over a country.  By this definition, Wales has never had a king.  At the same time we call tribal areas kingdoms.  It is logical to assume that a Kingdom has a king.  Not really.  Even though Merriam-Webster says this, in reality, a kingdom has a monarch.  This person can be called, King, Queen, Czar, Prince or any title meaning monarch.  In Wales, the title Prince was used, which meant a monarch that ruled over a principality.  Remember, Wales was not a country yet.  History says that it became recognized as an entity in 1056.  This was because Gruffydd ap Llwelyn ap Seise ruler of Gwynedd, conquered all of the Welsh principalities and ruled all of what became Wales.  Even though Wales was not officially a country, he certainly assumed the role of a king.


Wales was not officially declared a country until December 2011 when certified as a nation by the International Organisation for Standardization.  


There were regional rulers that I am including here, because of their significance in the history and development of Wales.


The first is Vortigern.  Vortigern was a title, not a name.  It roughly meant Great Chief.  He was said to be of Welsh origin, born about 493..  He is associated with King Arthur and Merlin in Geoffry of Monmouths Chronicles.  Legend says he was the one who invited the Saxons into Britain to help him (As mercenaries?) fight the Picts and Scots, and that the Saxons revolted and began to rule part of Britain.


The second is Brychan a 5th-century King of Brycheiniog (Breconshire) in South Wales.  He was born in Ireland, the son of Prince Aniach and Marchel, the heiress of the Welsh kingdom of Garthmadrun which became Brycheiniog.  He was probably named Brychan because he had freckles.  At the age of four, he was sent to Powys to be educated by the druids. Evidently, there was an Irish invasion of the Powys portion of Wales.  Eventually, Brychan became King and then everything seems to become legendary.  Brychan supposedly makes an alliance with High-King Arthur.  Little else is said, other than he was married three times and is the progenitor of the succession of minor Kings of Brycheiniog.  I mention him because he lived where my family came from in Wales and I am probably related to him. Where Brychan lived is unique in Wales.  A crannog is an artificial island.  Although plentiful in Ireland and Scotland, only one exists in either Wales nor England. It was created on Llangorse Lake, and Brychan had it built.  It was created by cutting trees and laying them on the lake bed, then covering them with brush and soil.  This crannog still exists, but no structures.  It is believed that Brychan used Irish craftsmen who possessed the knowledge to construct a crannog and had wooden structures built.  Brychan ruled from this crannog.  It was connected to the lakeshore by a wooden raised causeway.  Although the buildings and the causeway no longer exist, their remnants were found by archeologists.


The third is Elystan Glodrydd, also known as Æthelstan the Famous, died in 1010.  He was the Prince of Buellt and Fferligs a territory between the Wye and Severn Rivers in Wales.  Part of his principality became Radnorshire which is now in Powys.  To my family, he is very important.  He is my direct ancestor.  My family came from Radnorshire and settled the town of Radnor in Ohio. Our ancestral home is in the Brecon Beacons and was the home of John Penry, a Welsh Martyr.  His statue stands on what was the Penry estate in Radnorshire.  


There were many minor princes.  I see no reason to list them all.  I will list others who had a significant impact on Wales.

Rhodri the Great (Welsh Rhodri Mawr).  King of Gwynedd 844.  He ruled much of what is present-day Wales.  He fought the Viking invasion and was killed fighting Ceolwulf of Mercia.


Hywell Dda, (Howel the Good).  904-950.  Most of Wales was united during his rule of both Dyfed and Gwynedd.  He was the only Welsh ruler than issued his own coins.  He developed a set of laws that governed Wales up to the reign of Henry VIII.  The Welsh law differed from the English in that instead of crime and punishment, it was based on crime and restitution.  


Llwelyn ap Seisyll, King od Deheubarth, Powys and Gwynedd.  Ruled 2018-to his death in 2023. His son


Gruffydd ap Llwelyn ap Seisyll, 1039-1063.  King of Gwynedd and overlord of the Welsh.  He fought the Saxons but was killed somewhere in Snowdonia.


Llywelyn Fawr (Llwelyn the Great), 1194-1420.  King of Gwynedd who eventually ruled all of Wales.  He made treaty with King John of England and married John’s daughter Joan.  John signed the Magna Carta which contained clauses relating to Wales.  He was a great diplomat, ruling for 45 years.


Dafydd ap Llwelyn 1240-1246 was the first ruler to actually claim the title “Prince of Wales”  He battled with Henry III who conquered Gwynedd making Dafydd acknowledge Henry as his overlord and made Dyfydd give up all lands outside of Gwynedd.  Dyfydd and made alliances with the Pope who acknowledged his right as ruler.  He died suddenly in his home in 1246.


Llwelyn ap Grufydd, “the Last”  1246-1282.  Dafydd ap Llwelyn’s nephew.  He was the last sovereign Prince of Wales until conquered by Edward I of England.  He was killed in a skirmish at Aberedw near Builth in Wales.


I must include Owain Glyndŵr.  The following is a Wiki article.

Owain ap Gruffydd, Lord of Glyndyfrdwy (c. 1359 – c. 1415), or simply Owain Glyndŵr or Glyn Dŵr (pronounced [ˈoʊain ɡlɨ̞nˈduːr], anglicized to Owen Glendower), was a Welsh leader who instigated a fierce and long-running yet ultimately unsuccessful war of independence with the aim of ending English rule in Wales during the Late Middle Ages. He was the last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales (WelshTywysog Cymru).

Glyndŵr was a descendant of the Princes of Powys through his father Gruffudd Fychan II, hereditary Tywysog of Powys Fadog, and Lord of Glyndyfrdwy. Through his mother Elen ferch Tomas ap Llywellyn he was a descendant of the Princes of Deheubarth, and through her, he also claimed descent from Llywellyn the Great of the Gwynedd royal house of Aberffraw.[2] On 16 September 1400, Glyndŵr instigated the Welsh Revolt against the rule of Henry IV of England. The uprising was initially very successful and rapidly gained control of large areas of Wales, but it suffered from key weaknesses – particularly a lack of artillery, which made capturing defended fortresses difficult, and of ships, which made rebel-controlled coastlands vulnerable. The uprising was eventually suppressed by the superior resources of the English. Glyndŵr was driven from his last remaining strongholds in 1409, but he avoided capture; the last documented sighting of him was in 1412. He twice ignored offers of a pardon from his military nemesis, the new king Henry V of England, and despite the large rewards offered, Glyndŵr was never betrayed to the English. His death was recorded by a former follower in the year 1415.

With his death, Owain acquired a mythical status along with CadwaladrCynan, and Arthur as a folk hero awaiting the call to return and liberate his people. In William Shakespeare‘s play Henry IV, Part 1, the character of Owen Glendower is a wild and exotic king ruled by magic and emotion. In the late 19th century, the Cymru Fydd movement recreated him as the father of Welsh nationalism.

English kings that followed after William the Conqueror, especially Edward II, were able to settle and conquer parts of Wales.


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