King of Powys Wenwynwyn (1240-1257,1263-1274)
Lord of Mechain (1276-1289)
He was the son of Gwenwynwyn ab Owain who had ruled the southern portion of the former kingdom of Powys which was thereafter known as Powys Wenwynwyn after him. Gwenwynwyn was driven out of his kingdom in 1216 by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth of Gwynedd ostensibly for the crime of treating with the enemy, in this case king John of England.
Gwenwynwyn fled into exile in England and died shortly afterwards. Gruffudd at the time was not of age to inherit and in any case his position as nominal heir to Powys Wenwynwyn was rather academic given that Llywelyn ap Iorwerth had the kingdom firmly in his hands. But to the English crown Gruffudd was at least a potentially useful ally against Llywelyn and so he was provided with land in Derbyshire and also some military assistance to support his unsuccessful attempts to regain his kingdom. In reality the English crown was going through one of its periodic bouts of weakness at the time and was unable to do much on his behalf.
Gruffudd had to wait until Llywelyn ap Iorwerth died in 1240, when Henry III took advantage of the disruption by succession problems within Gwynedd to enforce his own will on Wales. As the Brut says for the year 1241
In this year the king gathered a mighty host to subdue all the Welsh and to receive their homage... And he gave to Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn his rights in Powys
Thereafter Gruffudd had a decade of more or less peaceful enjoyment of his kingdom before Llywelyn ap Gruffudd began flexing his muscles in the 1250's, encouraged by the sheer ineptness of Henry III as ruler.
The Rise of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd
Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was keen to rebuild Gwynedd and to build a coalition of native Welsh rulers in order to resist the encroachments of the English. Gruffudd was just as keen to maintain his independence and refused to acknowledge Llywelyn's acknowledge his claim for overlordship over the rest of Wales.
Unable to gain what he wanted from Gruffudd by consent, Llywelyn achieved it by force and in 1257 attacked Gruffudd's kingdom and 'took almost all but' his castle at Welshpool and one he'd assured the support of Gruffudd ap Madog ruler of the northern Powys Fadog, Llywelyn returned to finish the job and drive Gruffudd out.
Gruffudd went into exile in England once more looking for support, but by 1263 Llywelyn had secured a deal with Simon de Montfort (who was then engaged in an apparently successfull rebellion against Henry III) and so Gruffudd accepted what at the time, appeared to be the inevitable and agreed to pay homage to Llywelyn for Powys Wenwynwyn and was thereby restored to his kingdom. Gruffudd even joined in the fun and went and destoyed Oswestry castle.
The Fall of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd
By the year 1272 circumstances had changed once more, the new king Edward was a man whose capabilities far exceeded those of his predecessor Henry III, and a man who became determined to find a solution to the 'problem' of Wales.
The next phase in Gruffudd's career was therefore to be played out against the background of the struggle between Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and Edward I, a struggle that from Gruffudd's point of view presented him with an opportunity to free himself from the grip of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.
In 1274 Llywelyn received word of a conspiracy being hatched by his brother Dafydd and Gruffudd. Llywelyn was suspicious, but had no definite proof but to ensure Gruffudd's good faith he demanded that he surrender Arwystli and provide his eldest son Owain as hostage. Once Owain was in Llywelyn's custody he spilt the beans and revealed that there had indeed been a plan to assassinate Llywelyn and replace him with Dafydd and that Gruffudd had been on his way to execute the design before bad weather forced him to abandon his mission and return home.
Llywelyn sent messengers to Gruffudd requiring his prescence; Gruffudd however, rather sensibly fled to Shrewsbury and from there to Edward I whilst Llywelyn came and destroyed his castle at Welshpool and seized his lands once more.
This time however his period of exile was only short, as the Brut y Tywysogion reports for the year 1276;
King Edward set up three hosts to war against the Welsh. And those gained possession of Powys for Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, and Cydewain and Ceri and Gwerthrynion and Buellt for Roger Mortimer; and the earl of Hereford gained possession of Brycheiniog.
Hence Gruffudd was restored to power by the force of English
arms, which Llywelyn
was forced to accept by the Treaty of Aberconwy
in 1277. Gruffudd's restoration was however strictly conditional on his acceptance of English
authority and as the Brut
above noted, both Ceri
were to be surrendered into the hands of Roger Mortimer
This was not too disatisafctory from Gruffudd's point of view it was far better to be subject to an English king far away in London rather than a Welsh king somewhat closer to home. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd however regarded the events of 1276 and 1277 as merely a temporary setback and was unhappy with Gruffudd's retention of the cantref of Arwystli which he claimed had been forfeit to him as a result of Gruffudd's rebellion of 1274, and in accordance with the Welsh Laws was rightly his. Gruffudd chose to contest Llywelyn's claim by arguing that as a subject of Edward I he was answerable only to English Law. This raised a legal conundrum that was difficult to resolve, but in the event no final decision was ever required as events were to overtake the slow processes of the law.
In 1281 the dispute between Llywelyn and Edward broke out into open warfare once more, and during what was to prove to be the final rebellion Gruffudd again sided with Edward, and in the December of 1282 joined with Roger Mortimer in moving against Llywelyn ap Gruffudd when the latter made a brief incurison into the cantref of Buellt. Llywelyn was ambushed and killed.
The Last Welsh King
With the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd so died any notions of Welsh independence. A new order was born as Edward I sought to ensure that never again was the English crown to be troubled by the rebellious Welsh by ensuring that the territories of the now conquered nation were parcelled out to his trustworthy supporters.
Most of the native Welsh kings and lords therefore found themselves dispossed and disinherited. Gruffudd however survived the storm and was one of only two Welsh rulers allowed to retain their lands in the new Edwardian settlement of Wales.2
For this reason and for his complicity in the death of Llywellyn ap Gruffudd, Gruffudd has long been considered as a traitor by many. But Gruffudd's position was quite simple; he wanted to enjoy his lands with the minimum of outside intereference and the greatest threat to that enjoyment came not from England but from Gwynedd. His policy of allying himself with the English against Llywellyn ap Gruffudd was simply a practical reaction to the circumstances of his time.
Gruffudd died peacefully in the year 1289 in his own bed and of entirely natural causes and transmitted his lands without any problems to his oldest son Owain. Like his father before him, he bent with the wind, alternately allying himself with Gwynedd or England. His great achievment was to survive, the only Welsh king who survived the transistion of power re-inventing himself as an English Lord. His Owain completed the task by adopting the Norman-French sounding name of 'de la Pole'.
1 Both Ceri and Cydewain had previously been considered intergral parts of Powys Wenwynwyn.
2 The other was Rhys ap Gruffudd a minor lord of Deheubarth, who rebelled in 1287 and ended up being executed in 1292.
Brut y Tywysogion
John Davies A History of Wales (Allen Lane, 1993)
Kari Mundi The Welsh Kings (Tempus, 2000)