Llywelyn the Great

November 4, 2018


Llywelyn the Great, Llewelyn Fawr in Welsh, was a Prince of Gwynedd in north Wales and eventually ruler over most of Wales. 

Born in 1172, Llywelyn came to power in the classic way of Welsh princes bedevilled by the dividing rule of Welsh inheritance - he seized it from his uncle! He proved to be the greatest and most constructive Welsh statesman of the Middle Ages.


Llywelyn the politician raised his head in 1201 as he concluded a treaty with King John of England. In return for John's recognition of Llywelyn's territorial gains, he was to pledge fealty (allegiance) to the English monarch. In 1205 he married John’s illegitimate thirteen-year-old daughter, Joan. He benefited from this relationship with English royalty when, his main rival in Wales, was arrested and stripped of his lands by John, and Llywelyn took the majority of his lands. He also fought alongside King John in a war against King William I of Scotland.


But things were not to remain rosy. He fell out with John, but military defeat was mitigated by Joan, who convinced her father not to strip Llywelyn of all his lands. Over time,. Llewelyn formed alliances with the other rulers of Wales, until he became the leader of the free princes of Wales and was ruler of the vast majority of the nation. 

King John died in 1216 and Henry III (John’s son and Joan’s half-brother) became king. Llewellyn, through marriage, was now brother-in-law to the King of England. He further entrenched his position by marrying his daughter, Gwladus, to Reginald de Braose, one the Marcher lords, (English/Norman lords who held lands along the Welsh/English border), and planned to marry his son, Dafydd, to Isabella, Reginald’s daughter by his first wife.


Llywelyn seemed to be unable to avoid conflict with King Henry, however, and mounted regular incursions across the border into English lands or picked fights with the likes of William Marshall and Hubert de Burgh, two of the most powerful men in England.


Largely, though, his position remained unchanged and he was able to exert a political power possibly never again reached by a Welsh prince. By a combination of war and diplomacy he dominated Wales for 40 years. He died in 1240.



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