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Gruffydd ap Cynan

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he power of Gwynedd was shattered in 1063 when the Saxon earl Harold (later king Harold I), drove his army into north Wales and defeated Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the last high king of Wales, a defeat which resulted in Llywelyn's death. Gryffydd ap Cynan was still a boy living with his mother in Ireland, and it's likely his father Cynan was also a casualty of the 1063 war. In the chaos that followed the death of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the Normans made deep advances into north Wales from their base at Chester, building a impressive new motte-and-bailey castle on (or near) the traditional Welsh stronghold at Rhuddlan.

In the later 11th century Gruffydd ap Cynan returned from Ireland but had little initial success in asserting his claims to Gwynedd. He was, in fact, imprisoned for a short time. By the early 12th century, however, he had patiently regained much of the territory of ancient Gwynedd, claiming it for the house of Aberffraw, and he was later able to claim additional land below the Conwy. By the time of his death in 1137 he also controlled the western territory of Ceredigion.

He was the only Welsh ruler to have part of his reign recorded by a contemporary, yet there is debate about the true extent of his power, therefore his importance in Welsh history. Walker (1990) states that 'Gruffydd ap Cynan achieved much by patient and steady progress rather than by heroic measures and major advances, but he was a man of wide influence'. His deeds were certainly overshadowed by his more famous son, Owain Gwynedd, yet during Gruffydd's reign the Normans saw a drastic reversal of fortunes in north Wales, aided by a (rare) smooth transfer of power from Gruffydd to his son Owain.

The first two decades of Gruffydd's reign were a period of relative peace, during which the literary arts were allowed to flourish after decades of warfare between Norman and Welsh. A similar pattern emerged in south Wales under the leadership of Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth. Free from the constant warfare that had crippled Wales for so many years, the reigns of Gruffydd ap Cynan and his son Owain Gwynedd, were and are viewed by many as a kind of "Golden Age" for north Wales, lasting until the death of Owain Gwynwdd in 1170, and in south Wales until the death of Rhys ap Gruffydd (the Lord Rhys) in 1197.

 

Genealogy of the Princes of Gwynedd

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