Heir to the kingdom of Deheubarth
Born 1081 Died 1137

The Background

Gruffudd was the son of Rhys ap Tewdwr, who was ruler of Deheubarth until his death in 1093. Rhys died at the hands of Bernard of Neufmarche attempting to prevent Norman penetration into Wales, and after his death the Normans moved to occupy Deheubarth as they did with much of Wales. Within two months of Rhys' death the Normans overran both Dyfed and Ceredigion where they built castles and fortified them to provide tangible evidence of their control.

The revolt of 1094 loosened the Norman hold on much of Wales, but the aftermath of the revolt, which ended in 1099, left Ceredigion in the hands of Cadwgan ap Bleddyn of Powys and much of the rest of Deheubarth divided up amongst sundry lesser Welsh lords and new Anglo-Norman masters.

His Life

Gruffudd was too young to play a part in any of these events and was brought up in exile in Ireland, but in the year 1113 Gruffudd returned to Wales eager to try and recover the kingdom of his father. His efforts do not appear to have had much success as the Welsh of Deheubarth seemed to have little interest in further conflict.

So in 1115 Grufudd went north to Gwynedd seeking the help of his namesake Gruffudd ap Cynan. The northern Gruffudd initially offered him shelter but was anxious not to offend Henry I and to endanger his own recently negotiated settlment with the English king. Offered money to hand over Gruffudd ap Rhys he readily agreed, only to find that Gruffudd ap Rhys had been forewarned and had fled to sanctuary in the church at Aberdaron. Gruffudd ap Cynan came with his warband and sought to dislodge Gruffudd ap Rhys, but the local clergy were determined to maintain the privilege of sanctuary and Gruffudd ap Cynan went home empty handed.

Gruffudd ap Rhys went south again and began raiding Anglo-Norman settlements in the south hitting Narberth, Llandovery and Gower in 1116. Henry I however sent an army against him and the rebellion collapsed; Gruffudd rapidly accepted terms and received but one commote in Cantref Mawr in Ystrad Tywi and became a small land-holder subject to one of the Marcher lords.

Thereafter very little is known of Gruffudd for the next twenty years. Despite his previous treatment at the hands of Gruffudd ap Cynan there apears to have been no long term ill-feeling as he went and married Gwenllian Gruffudd's daughter. The Brut records that he killed the otherwise unknown Gruffudd ap Sulhaearn in 1123 and that four years later he was expelled from his territory by Henry I after being "accused without cause by the French who were dwelling along with him".

What happened to him after that is not recorded. He may have returned to Ireland or he may well have been restored to his commote in Cantref Mawr sometime later.

In 1135 Henry I died and the throne of England became a matter of dispute between his cousin Stephen and his daughter Matilda. The native kings of Wales, taking advantage of the weakness of the English crown, once again raised the banner of revolt.

We next hear of Gruffudd ap Rhys when he joined the second revolt of 1136. Whilst he assisted in the capture of Cardigan from the Normans that year, his wife Gwenllian fought a pitched battle against the Norman Maurice of London just north of Cydweli. She was killed along with one of her sons, and according to Gerald of Wales, Maurice had her head cut off.

When Gruffudd himself died the following year the Brut y Tywysogion called him "the light and excellence and strength of all South Wales".

Assessment

Despite his eulogy Gruffudd ap Rhys had little success in his quest to recover Deheubarth or in re-establishing any kind of native Welsh control of the south-east. This may have been due to a lack of ability or defect in character, but then for most of his life he was faced with opposition in the form of Henry I, one of the most capable and ruthless gentlemen to sit on the English throne.

Henry I appears to have had a particular interest in establishing Norman control of Deheubarth. The entry in the Brut for the year 1108 records the appearance of "a folk of strange origin and customs" who "occupied the whole cantref called Rhos and drove away the inhabitants from the land". These were Flemish colonists introduced by Henry I to strengthen his grip on Deheubarth that were to be an important feature in the future, and a major obstacle to any Welsh revival.

Gruffudd ap Rhys may not have enjoyed much success himself, but his four surviving sons, Anarawd, Cadell, Maredudd and Rhys were to face more promising conditions and succeeded in re-establishing the kingdom of their grandfather.


SOURCES

Brut y Tywysogion from which all quotations are drawn
Ann Williams, Alfred P. Smyth and D. P. Kirby A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain (Seaby, 1991)
John Davies A History of Wales (Allen Lane, 1993)
Kari Mundi The Welsh Kings (Tempus, 2000)

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