by Susan Flantzer
Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Note: “ap” means “son of”), later known as Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great) was the longest reigning ruler of Welsh principalities, maintaining control for 45 years. He was was Prince of Gwynedd and Prince of Powys Wenwynwyn. In 1216, Llewellyn received the fealty of other Welsh lords and although he never used the title, was the de facto Prince of Wales. Llywelyn dominated Wales for 45 years, and was one of only two Welsh rulers to be called “the Great”, the other being his ancestor Rhodri the Great.
Llywelyn ap Iorwerth was born around 1173 and traditionally Dolwyddelan Castle has been cited as his birthplace. His parents were Iorwerth ab Owain, son of Owain Gwynedd, Prince of Gwynedd and Marared ferch Madog (Note: “ferch” means “daughter of”), daughter of Madog ap Maredudd, Prince of Powys. In 1170, Llywelyn’s grandfather Owain died and there was a power struggle among his sons. Llywelyn’s father Iorwerth was the eldest son, but it appears he did not take part in the power struggle perhaps because he was disfigured and this excluded him. Eventually, Llwelyn’s uncles Dafydd ab Owain and Rhodri ab Owain split Gwynedd between them. It seems likely that Llywelyn was taken to his mother’s family in Powys after his father’s death and raised there.
In 1194, with the aid of his cousins Gruffudd ap Cynan and Maredudd ap Cynan, Llywelyn defeated his uncle Dafydd ab Owain at the Battle of Aberconwy. Llywelyn’s victory allowed him to claim the title of Prince of Gwynedd. Dafydd was exiled to England where he died in 1203.
To substantiate his position, Llywelyn married Joan (also known as Joanna), an illegitimate daughter of King John of England, in 1205 at St. Werburgh’s Abbey in Chester, Chesire, England. Llywelyn and Joan had at least two children:
- Elen ferch Llywelyn (1207–1253), married 1) John of Scotland, 9th Earl of Huntingdon and 7th Earl of Chester, had issue 2) Sir Robert de Quincy, had issue
- Dafydd ap Llywelyn, Prince of Gwynedd, Prince of Wales (c. 1212-1246), married Isabella de Braose, no issue
Some of Llywelyn’s other recorded children may also have been Joan’s:
- Gwladus Ddu (1206–1251), married 1) Reginald de Braose 2) Ralph de Mortimer, had issue
- Susanna, sent to England as a hostage in 1228.
- Angharad ferch Llywelyn, married Maelgwn Fychan of Deheubarth, had issue
- Margaret, married 1) Sir John de Braose, had issue 2) Sir Walter de Clifford, had issue
Joan and Llywelyn; stained glass windows of St. Mary’s Church, Trefriw, Conwy County, Wales
In spite of the marriage of Llywelyn and Joan, hostilities with England broke out in 1210. Wales was invaded and some territory was lost. However, the lost territories were regained in 1212 and over the next several years, Llywelyn gained more Welsh territory. Llywelyn had established himself as the leader of the independent princes of Wales. In 1216, Llywelyn held a council at Aberdyfi to determine the territorial claims of the lesser Welsh princes, who affirmed their homage and allegiance to him. Llywelyn was now the de facto Prince of Wales.
Following King John’s death in 1216, Llywelyn negotiated the Treaty of Worchester with John’s successor King Henry III. This treaty confirmed Llywelyn’s possession of all his recent conquests. From then until his death, Llywelyn was the dominant force in Wales. Although there were some border issues, Llywelyn was careful not to provoke unnecessary hostilities with the English.
In 1229, Joan became involved in an affair with her son’s father-in-law William de Braose who was publicly hanged for his part in the affair in 1230. Joan was imprisoned for a short time, but was later released by her husband, who was genuinely fond of her. Joan died in 1237 and was buried in Llanfaes in Anglesey where Llywelyn founded a Franciscan friary in her memory.
It appears that Llywelyn suffered a stroke the same year that Joan died and thereafter his son and heir Dafydd took an increasing part in the rule of the principality. On April 11, 1240, Llywelyn died at and was also buried at the Cistercian Abbey in Aberconwy, which he had founded.
Llywelyn and his family are among the characters in Sharon Penman‘s historical fiction trilogy, The Welsh Trilogy: