Ruler of Gwynedd (950-974, 974-979)
Born c920 Died sometime after 979

The Sons of Idwal Foel

Iago was one of the six recorded sons 1 of Idwal Foel, Idwal 'the Bald', ruler of Gwynedd between the years 916 and 943. The Annales Cambriae record that his father Idwal Foel and brother Elisedd were killed in battle against the English in 943, an event that appears to have prompted Hywel Dda2, ruler of neighbouring Deheubarth to invade Gwynedd and drive Iago and his remaining brothers into exile. 3

Hywel ruled the combined kingdom of Gwynedd and Deheubarth for the next seven years until his death in 950. With Hywel gone the sons of Idwal Foel returned to reassert their hereditary claim to rule Gwynedd and were, naturally enough, opposed by the the sons of Hywel Dda- Owain, Edwin and Rhodri.

Inevitably the two sides came to blows and the Annales Cambriae recorded for the year 951 "the battle of Carno between the sons of Hywel and the sons of Idwal". Fought on the border between Gwynedd and Deheubarth the 'sons of Idwal' appear to have been victorious as in the following year the Annales Cambriae further recorded that "Iago and Idwal the sons of Idwal laid Dyfed waste"

In 954 Iago and his brothers won another victory at the battle of Llanrwst in Gwynedd, presumably fighting off a retaliatory offensive by the sons of Hywel Dda, and were busy raiding Ceredigion later that same year. Thereafter the two sides decided to call a halt to the conflict; Deheubarth pursued its territorial ambitions in the south-east, whilst the sons of Idwal Foel, under the overall leadership of Iago were left to enjoy their kingdom in peace.

Trouble with Vikings, Mercians and the family

For reasons that are not entirely clear, during the first half of the tenth century Viking raids on Wales came to a halt. This relative period of calm was to come to an end, and the latter half of the century was to see a resumption in activity directed, more often than not, against Gwynedd and Anglesey in particular.

In 961 the sons of Olafr Cuaran, ruler of the Dublin Norse ravaged Holyhead and the Lleyn peninsula and two years later an unspecified group of pagans attacked Aberffraw itself. Unfortunately for Iago, it wasn't only Viking raids that he had to deal as Aelfhere the ealdorman of Mercia launched an extensive raid throughout Gwynedd in 967. But as usual Iago's greatest problems were caused by members of his own family; having co-operated in the business of re-claiming Gwynedd and defending it from external threat, the sons of Idwal Foel had cause to fall out.

In 968 Rhodri was killed in Anglesey repulsing an attack led by another Viking named Ivarr of Limerick4; and the death of Rhodri seems to have been the catalyst for a power struggle amongst the surviving brothers. The next year Iago, possibly with the connivance of brother Meurig, captured brother Ieuaf and imprisoned him. 5

For a while this put Iago in sole charge of affairs in Gwynedd, but whereas Iago may have succeeded in removing Ieuaf from the scene his brother had a son named Hywel ready to step into his shoes. Since in the year 973 both Iago and Hywel are recorded amongst the names of those kings that submitted to Edgar at Chester, it must be assumed that Hywel had succeeded in establishing himself in at least part of Gwynedd by that time.

In 974 Hywel ab Ieuaf went a step further and captured and blinded his uncle Meurig and succeeded in driving Iago out of Gwynedd altogether. Iago soon returned however and the two seem to have agreed to share power in Gwynedd for the time being, but by the year 978 Hywel seems to developed sufficient confidence to try again, and with English military assistance, presumably obtained from Aelfhere of Mercia, he attacked the monastery of Clynnog Fawr in a bid to destabalise Iago's rule.

In the following year Iago was captured by a band of roving Vikings (quite possibly in the pay of Hywel) and disappeared from view. Whether he was simply killed outright or sold into slavery is simply not known as nothing more was ever heard from him or about him.


1 Being Iago himself and in addition, Idwal, Rhodri, Meurig, Elisedd and Ieuaf.

2 Hywel Dda and Iago were of course cousins, since their respective fathers were both sons of Rhodri Fawr.

3 Quite where they spent their time in exile is not recorded, but Ireland was the traditional refuge for exiled Welsh rulers.

4 Ivarr of Limerick was the brother of Olaf the White, after his failure to grab a slice of Wales he returned to Ireland and died in 873.

5 Ieuaf was kept locked up until his death until 988, and one can only assume that this suited his son Hywel as well, as he appears to have done nothing to release him.


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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