King of Powys (1111-1116)
Born c1080? Died 1116
He is first mentioned by the Welsh 'Chronicle of the Princes', the Brut y Tywysogion in the year 1106 as thje force behind the deaths of Meurig and Griffi, the sons of Trahaearn ap Caradog from Arwystli. Owain himself was the son and heir of Cadwgan ap Bleddyn, ruler of a resurected Powys since 1088 - Owain's actions in 1106 were most likely concerned with the imposition of Powysian authority over Arwystli, an indication that he was considered a trusted agent by his father.
Portrayed as a hero of Welsh resistance to some and dangerously unstable by others and a key factor in the decline of Powys, Owain at least had the compensations of an active and colourful life.
Nest ferch Rhys ap Tewdwr
Owain's most famous exploit was the abduction of Nest, the wife of Gerald of Windsor, the castellan of Pembroke. Nest, who was herself the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, was reputedly the most ravishing beauty of her time and known as the 'Helen of Wales'.
As the tale goes, Owain apparently heard of Nest's beauty and resolved to see her for himself and so paid a visit to the castle at 'Cenarth Bychan'1 where she and her husband were staying. Owain was apparently so impressed that he returned the next day with a small army and stormed the castle; Gerald escaped by sliding down the privy chute into the moat, but Owain succeeded in carrying Nest off in triumph.
Whether there is any truth to this particular account is not known#, but one thing is certain, Owain did indeed abduct Nest. For in the year 1109 "Owain ap Cadwgan stole Nest from Gerald of Windsor" as the Brut reported with the addition of the fateful words "And there was much grief."
"And there was much grief."
And indeed there was, as Gerald of Windsor was naturally unhappy with this turn of events and Henry I was similarly discomforted by the embarassment to one of his leading supporters. Pressure was brought to bear on both Owain and his father Cadwgan to return Nest to her lawful husband, but Owain rejected such entreaties and although he returned the children to Gerald's care he held on to Nest.
Whilst Owain sought to place himself out of Henry's reach in Ireland, Richard de Beaumais, the Bishop of London who seems to have been placed in charge of Shropshire at the time, bribed the two sons of Rhirid ap Bleddyn Ithel and Madog to attack Powys.2
Unfortunately for Henry these gentlemen tended to follow their own agendas once set loose and proved inadequate to the task. Although Ithel and Madog seized part of Powys, when Owain returned from Ireland it was to join Madog in a series of raids on Norman Dyfed. Henry also finally relaeased Iorwerth ap Bleddyn from captivity perhaps hoping that he would prove more piable, but again he was disappointed.
Owain again retreated to Ireland
but was soon back again leading further raids from his base in Ceredigion
and it was very likely as a result of all this brouhah that Henry I
to Gilbert Fitz Richard
Owain the king
Despite all of the above activities on the death of his father Cadwgan in the year 1111, Owain inherited the kingdom of Powys with little difficulty. The Brut reports that "Owain ap Cadwgan made peace with king Henry by giving hostages and promising much money". And one must assume returning Nest to her husband.
His father Cadwgan had died not from natural causes but rather as a result of a power struggle within Powys, and at the hands of his nephew Madog ap Rhiryd. Madog it seems, had formed an ambition to take Powys into his own hands and succeeded in killing both Cadwgan and his brother Iorwerth. Madog ap Rhirid may well have expected that Powys would now be granted to him by Henry I, but Henry as we have seen, preferred the devil that he knew.
Madog was to pay the price for his ambition as Maredudd ap Bleddyn, the one uncle that he failed to kill, seized hold of him in 1113 and delivered him into the hands of Owain. As the Brut records "Owain ap Cadwgan gouged out the eyes of Madog ap Rhiryd", after which "Owain and Maredudd ap Bleddyn divided his portion of Powys between them".
However it does not seem as if Owain had quite given up on his life of old and further attacks on the Normans resulted in Henry organising one of the customary military exoeditions into Wales. It was therefore in the year 1114 Henry "moved a host against the men of Gwynedd and above all to Powys"; both Owain and his counterpart in Gwynedd, Gruffudd ap Cynan, made peace with Henry, and Owain went so far as to later accompany the king to Normandy.
The fact that Owain went to Normandy4 with Henry I is indicative of two things; firstly that Owain felt that his control of Powys was sufficiently secure and secondly that sufficient trust had developed in the relationship between Henry and Owain. Indeed in the following year Henry formally knighted Owain, the customary honour for faithful subjects who had provded military service and an indication that the two were now on speaking terms at least.5
The revolt of Gruffudd ap Rhys ap Tewdwr
In the year 1116, Gruffudd ap Rhys, son of Rhys ap Tewdwr heir to the kingdom of Deheubarth, gathered to together a group of "young hotheads" and began an attempt to assert his authority in the south-west.
Gruffudd burned the castle at Narberth and another in Gower and generally made a nuisance of himself across the whole of the south west, and was now hiding out with his warband somewhere within Ystrad Tywi. Some accounts suggest that Henry I was therefore anxious to rid himself of this particular disturber of the peace and commissioned Owain to hunt him down. It is easy to believe that Owain would have readily agreed to the enterprise as it served the double advantage of not only placing him in Henry's good books but also provided an opportunity to extend the influence of Powys into Ystrad Tywi.
However other commentators suggest that on the contrary, Owain went south to assist Gruffudd in his rebellion. But whatever the reason for his move into the Tywi valley it was unfortunate for Owain that Gerald of Windsor soon arrived at Carmarthen Castle. Gerald had not forgotten Owain's little escapade of seven years previously and he remained a bitter enemy. Regardless of the fact that Owain may well have been enaged on the king's business he sent his troops after Owain, cornered him at Ystrad Rwnws, where the river Cothi meets the Tywi, and killed him.6
The Brut had little to say regarding Owain's death merely remarking that "Owain ap Cadwgan was slain".
As neither of his sons were anywhere near old enough, Owain's uncle Maredudd ap Bleddyn, who had been quietly supporting both his regime and that of his father, stepped out of the shadows to take over.
1 'Cenarth Bychan' believed to be Cilgerran Castle in the lower Teifi valley, although some suggest it was Carew Castle in Dyfed.
2 As the sons of Rhirid ap Bleddyn, Cadwgan's elder brother who had died in 1088, they wpuld have felt they had their own claim to at least a share of Powys.
3 Supposedly with the words, "Now I will give you the lands of Cadwgan ap Bleddyn. Go and take possession of it." Although it does seem unlikely that Henry would have used the correct Welsh name for Cadwgan.
4 And going to Normandy in this context meant more than a mere tourist jaunt; Owain would have gone with a warband and participated in one Henry's seemingly endless military campaigns to secure Normandy.
5 Owain is indeed one of the very few Welsh rulers to have accompanied an English king on a foreign military expedition; the only other example that comes to mind is that of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth who accompanied king John on his Scottish expedition of 1209.
6 Gruffudd ap Rhys ap Tewdwr however survived and earned Henry's forgiveness and ended up been given a portion of Ystrad Tywi.
John Davies A History of Wales (Allen Lane, 1993)
Kari Mundi The Welsh Kings (Tempus, 2000)
The Norman Conquest of the Towy Valley at