Ruler of Gwynedd 1170-1194
Born c1135 Died after 1203
The sons of Owain Gwynedd
In its entry for the year 1169 1, the Brut y Tywysogion lamented the death of Owain ruler of Gwynedd, recording that;
At the end of this year Owain ap Gruffudd ap Cynan, prince of Gwynedd, the man who was of great goodness and very great nobility and wisdom...died after taking penance and communion and confession and making a good end.
As befits a ruler who lived for many years and had many wives Owain Gwynedd had many sons, his first born son Rhun had predeceased him many years before and so the choice of succession fell upon the eldest remaining son Hywel. Hywel appeared to be a capable and worthy successor who had proved himself in battle during the later years of Owain's reign.
Hywel duly succeeded his father in 1170, however Owain's widow Cristin ferch Goronwy ab Owain favoured her own sons Dafydd and Rhodri. Cristin appears to have been the prime instigator of a revolt organised between a cabal of discontented relatives.
They duly made their move, and within a few months of his succession Hywel was overthrown and killed at the battle of Pentraeth.
The struggle for control of Gwynedd
Dafydd was the leading figure in this cabal, which naturally included his brother Rhodri as well as his half brother Maelgwn and the nephews of another half brother Cynan2, namely Gruffudd and Maredudd.
Althought the exact division of the spoils is unclear, Maelgwn appears to have gained Anglesey whilst the sons of Cynan held the cantrefs of Meirionydd, Eifionydd and Ardudwy between them. However Dafydd appears at to have been recognised as pre-eminent amongst them and was regarded in some eay as the overall leader.
Naturally, once he'd enjoyed some of the benefits of power, Dafydd felt disinclined to share, as well as no doubt nervous that he might also soon share the fate of his predecessor Hywel; in 1173 he acted against his brother Maelgwn and drove him into exile in Ireland thereby gaining possession of all Anglesey for himself.
The following year he expelled all his remaining family rivals and made himself master of all Gwynedd and in 1175 "seized through treachery" his brother Rhodri and imprisoned him for good measure.
Master of all Gwynedd (for a while)
Thus Dafydd re-united all Gwynedd under his one rule and in order to strengthen his position he sought an agreement with Henry I. Due to his problems with the Church and Normandy Henry was not in a belligerent mood at the time and anxious to secure peace and order in Wales. It was agreed that Dafydd would marry Emma of Anjou, who was Henry's illegitimate half sister and receive the manor of Ellesmere3 as dowry, but unlike his southern counterpart Rhys ap Gruffudd, he received no 'official' recognition of his position in the north.
All this was done, as the Brut y Tywysogion explained regarding Dafydd "because he thought he could hold his territory in peace thereby", but it proved insufficient. Before the end of 1175 Rhodri had escaped from captivity and gathered sufficient support to be able to drive Dafydd from Anglesey and across the river Conwy.
Faced with this turn of events, Dafydd and Rhodri agreed to divide Gwynedd between each other. Thereafter Dafydd's realm was restricted to Gwynedd Is-Conwy, that is the Perfeddwlad, the land between the rivers Conwy and the Dee, whilst Rhodri retained Anglesey and Gwynedd Uwch Conwy.
The enjoyment of a peaceful life
Secure in his now truncated realm, Dafydd now appears to have pushed ambition to one side and resolved to enjoy the quiet life. There is no record of him engaging in any further strife for the twenty years or so after the settlement of 1175. Dafydd may not have inherited the leadership abilities of his father but he had sufficient qualities of diplomacy and tact remaining to ensure he could live at peace with his neighbours.
This appears to be the one quality recognised by his contemporaries as
he was described by Giraldus Cambrensis as a man who showed "good faith and credit by observing a strict neutrality between the Welsh and English"
His brother Rhodri had a more eventful time and fell out with the descendants of Cynan4. They acted against Rhodri in 1190 and drove him out of Gwynedd altogether. Rhodri fled to the safety of the Isle of Man,only to be briefly reinstated in 1193 with the assistance of the king of Man, and then driven out once more at the beginning of 1194.
The end of Dafydd
His nemesis proved to be his nephew Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, born most likely in the year 1173 and therefore only a child when all these events were played out. Llywelyn's father Iorwerth ab Owain Gwynedd took no part in the dynastic struggles and most likely died sometime in the mid 1170s.
But as the century drew to a close Llywelyn became a young man and conceived the ambition to stake his claim to power in Gwynedd. He conspired with his cousins Gruffudd and Maredudd and his uncle Rhodri and in the year 1194 they all united against him, defeated him at the battle of Aberconwy and "drove him to flight and took from him all his territory except three castles.
Llywelyn took over most of Dafydd's territory in the Perefeddwlad and thereafter Dafydd clung on to his 'three castles' watching from the sidelines as Llywelyn ap Iorwerth accomplished what he could not, and patiently rebuilt the authority and power of Gwynedd.
Dafydd hung on until the year 1203 when Llywelyn finally expelled him from Gwynedd. The Brut simply states that "he died in England"; it is presumed that he fled to his manor in Ellesmere where he died sometime shortly afterwards.
1 But actually referring to the year 1170.
2 Cynan actually died in 1174, but he is not mentioned as ever taking part in any of the struggles prior to his death.
3 Which would be just over the border in Cheshire.
4 For the year 1178 the Brut states that " In this year the sons of Cynan waged war against Rhys ap Gruffudd"; therefore it is assumed that they had returned to their previous holding of Meirionydd, where Rhys ap Gruffudd and his holding of Ceredigion would have been their southern neighbour.
Brut y Tywysogion
John Davies A History of Wales (Allen Lane, 1993)
Kari Mundi The Welsh Kings (Tempus, 2000)