Heir to the kingdom of Deheubarth
Born c1070? Died 1091
One of the more intriguing facts revealed by the Domesday Book is that William Fitz Osbern, the earl of Hereford between the years 1067 and 1071, made a series of grants to a certain "Mariadoth" styled as rex or 'king'.
This "Mariadoth" can be no other than Maredudd ab Owain ab Edwin, king of Deheubarth which raises the question as to why a Norman earl was handing out land to a Welsh king particularly one that he had according to Orderic Vitalis, just defeated in battle in the previous year.
The truthful answer is that no one knows, the Domesday Book provides no explanation and no other record survives to provide us with the details of the circumstances. Naturally Norman earls did not dispense valuable land grants without reason and it seems clear that these land grants were made as part of some deal or peace treaty made between William Fitz Osbern and Maredudd ab Owain ab Edwin, in the aftermath of the conflict of 1070.
This agreement must have been reached within a short time of the battle taking place as Fitz Osbern was in Normandy and Flanders in the months leading up to his death at the battle of Cassel in Flanders on the 22nd February 1071. We can only guess at the nature of the agreement reached between the two, but it would seem that the land grants were intended to compensate Maredudd for any loss he might have suffered as a result of Fitz Osbern's advances and to win Maredudd's acquiescence to the new regime.
The relevance of all this is that at the time that the Domesday Book was compiled these lands were held Maredudd's son Gruffudd and Domesday is merely recording how this "Grifin", as he is described, obtained the title to the land that he held in Herefordshire.
Maredudd ab Owain ab Edwin was to die in the year 1072, killed by his neighbour and rival Caradog ap Gruffudd of Gwynllwg, ironically operating with Norman allies at the time, and Deheubarth passed into the hands of Maredudd's brother Rhys ab Owain until he too was killed along with another brother by the name of Hywel by Caradog in the year 1078.
Thanks to Caradog's good work there were no more sons of Owain ab Edwin left, and the only surviving male descendant was Gruffudd the son of the previous king Maredudd ab Owain, who it seems, was far too young to take charge at the time.
Deheubarth therefore fell into the hands of one Rhys ap Tewdwr. We know nothing of the methods by which Rhys ap Tewdwr gained control of Deheubarth, and in particular whether he faced any opposition from within the kingdom to his seizure of power. The Brut y Tywysogion simply states for the year 1079 that "In this year Rhys ap Tewdwr began to rule".
If, as seems likely, Gruffudd was to young to challenge Rhys ap Tewdwr in 1078, then his family would have sought some place of safety well away from Rhys ap Tewdwr. Given the enmity previously shown by the then rulers of Gwynedd and Morgannwg to the line of Owain ab Edwin, nowhere in Wales would have appealed and the obvious choice would have been the Herefordshire estates, sitting behind the defensive chain of castles built by William Fitz Osbern.
These are therefore the circumstances under which Gruffudd ap Maredudd ab Owain ab Edwin heir to the kingdom of Deheubarth was raised in England and became a Herefordshire landowner.
It is possible that Gruffudd could have been content with that and established a line of Herefordshire 'Merediths' to rank amongst the minor nobility of the Anglo-Norman world. But Gruffudd presumably had ambition, and wished to retrieve his inheritance from the hands of the upstart Rhys ap Tewdwr.
And the Norman lords of Herefordshire also desired to see the end of Rhys ap Tewdwr as he stood in the way of their desire to expand into Wales. Already some of their number such as Bernard of Neufmarche (in Brycheiniog) and Roger Mortimer (in Maelienydd and Elfael) were nibbling sway at the edges of Rhys's domains, and it would have been in their interests to have encouraged Gruffudd in this endeavour.
In the year 1091 Gruffudd ap Maredudd set out with an army to challenge Rhys ap Tewdwr, and although there is no evidence that any of the Herefordshire Normans took a direct role in the attack they presumable provided some encouragement if not material assistance to the expedition. At the very least Gruffudd would have required them to turn a blind eye to his activities.
Within Deheubarth itself Cedifor ap Gollwyn, a nobleman from Dyfed defected from Rhys's side to support Gruffudd ap Maredudd and his bid for the kingdom, but it was all to no avail. As the Brut y Twysogion recorded for the year 1091;
In this year Rhys ap Tewdwr encountered Gruffudd ap Maredudd in battle near Llandudoch, where he drove him to flight and pursued him and at last he slew him.
A note on the identification of 'Mariadoth'
The only other Maredudd around that could possibly fit the bill is Maredudd ap Bleddyn of Powys and confusingly enough he also had a son named Gruffudd, which is why we refer to the Deheubarth 'Gruffudd' as 'Gruffudd ap Maredudd ab Owain' in order to distinguish him from the Gruffudd ap Maredudd ap Bleddyn of Powys.
Maredudd ap Bleddyn was however too young to have been granted land by William Fitz Osbern in the first place and did not become king of Powys until 1117, and was therefore unlikely to have been described as 'rex' in a document compiled in 1086. In addition his son Gruffudd was most likely not born until after Domesday was completed.
A note regarding Gruffudd's birth
As is quite normal for the time, no one knows precisely when our Gruffudd ap Maredudd was born, sometime before the death of his father in 1072 obviously.
It is an assumption, derived from the circumstantial evidence available, in particular the thirteen year gap between Rhys ap Tedwr taking power in 1078 and Gruffudd's challenge in 1091, that makes it likely that Gruffudd was a child in 1078 and that it was not until 1091 when he was likely in his early twenties was he able to make his move.
Lynn H. Nelson The Normans in South Wales 1070-1171 (University of Texas Press, 1966)
Kari Mundi The Welsh Kings (Tempus, 2000)
Brut y Twysogion