THE FIRST AND LAST KING

He united Wales but Welsh king Gruf­fudd ap Lly­we­lyn has been largely for­got­ten. JAMES MCCARTHY looks at the his­tory sur­round­ing the man who killed his ri­vals

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS -

HE was a ruth­less killer who let no­body stand in his way. He was Gruf­fudd ap Lly­we­lyn and he was the first and last king of Wales.

No one be­fore him had ever united the na­tion. And no one has man­aged it since his death on Au­gust 5, 1063.

Dr Mike Davies thinks Gruf­fudd “seems al­most to have been writ­ten out of his­tory.”

He wrote The Last King of Wales about Gruf­fudd.

“The book I wrote was to bring him to the fore­front and ask ‘Why is he not bet­ter known?’,” Dr Davies said.

“He achieved what he set out to do by pretty ruth­less means, by go­ing and killing his ri­vals.”

In 1039 King Iago of Gwynedd was killed, prob­a­bly by Gruf­fudd. Al­ready in con­trol of Powys, Gruf­fudd seized the new ter­ri­tory.

After gain­ing power he sur­prised a Mer­cian army at Rhyd y Groes, near Welsh­pool. De­feat­ing it, he killed Ed­win, brother of the Le­ofric, Earl of Mer­cia.

He then at­tacked Dyfed, which was ruled by Hy­wel ab Ed­win. He won and took Hy­wel’s wife.

When Hy­wel tried to re­claim his ter­ri­tory in 1044 Gruf­fudd killed him.

In 1047 Gruffydd ap Lly­we­lyn was ex­pelled from De­heubarth – which en­com­passed mod­ern-day Pem­brokeshire – and Gruffydd ap Rhy­d­derch of Gwent took over.

But Gruf­fudd ap Lly­we­lyn killed Gruffydd ap Rhy­d­derch in bat­tle in 1055 and re­took De­heubarth.

He marched on Here­ford in the same year and around the same time he also seized Mor­gan­nwg, which was be­tween the Afon Ll­wyd and the River Towy, and Gwent. He also took ex­ten­sive ter­ri­to­ries along the bor­der.

In 1056 he was vic­to­ri­ous over an­other English army in Glas­bury, Powys.

He was now recog­nised as the King of Wales.

“Be­cause he mur­dered all his Welsh ri­vals he was not al­ways looked upon as favourably as he might,” Dr Davies said.

“One of the things that came out in a number of sources was his wealth and the fact that he had a fleet of ships.

“There are sto­ries about his own per­sonal ship which was said to have a prow and stern of gold.

“The Domes­day Book does not cover Wales but it does cover the bor­der coun­ties and there is ev­i­dence about a manor he owns in what was then Cheshire.”

When he raided Here­ford it’s thought he came away with “a lot of plun­der”.

“There would have been gold, sil­ver and jew­els and prob­a­bly cash as well,” Dr Davies said.

“I think there was prob­a­bly a mint there that prob­a­bly held cash.

“After these events, things go quiet and there is not so much ev­i­dence about what he is up to in the later 1060s.”

Dr Davies be­lieved he was “prob­a­bly” rest­ing on his lau­rels.

“That might have led to his down­fall,” he said.

“When Harold at­tacked him at Rhud­d­lan he was not ex­pect­ing it.

“That was in Christ­mas 1062. The fact that it is Christ­mas is in­ter­est­ing be­cause it is the mid­dle of win­ter and around the time of fes­tiv­i­ties.”

He would not have been ex­pect­ing a dec­la­ra­tion of war.

“It looks like Gruf­fudd es­caped in the nick of time and he held out in Snow­do­nia,” Dr Davies said.

Gruf­fudd was now on bor­rowed time.

“The cir­cum­stances around his death are sketchy,” Dr Davies said.

“It’s pos­si­ble that Harold had some­how got to some of his men and he might have been mur­dered by one of his own fol­low­ers.

“Be­cause he was im­pli­cated in the death of Iago there were pos­si­bly fac­tions loyal to the dy­nasty out to get re­venge.”

Dr Davies dubbed Gruf­fudd “a force­ful char­ac­ter”.

“But peo­ple were not say­ing he was an evil dic­ta­tor, even though that is how some peo­ple might per­ceive him to­day,” he said.

“He was some­one who pa­tro­n­ised the arts, he had his own court poet.

“He was try­ing to achieve an in­de­pen­dent state of Wales.”

Dr Rhun Em­lyn is a me­dieval his­to­rian at Aberys­t­wyth Univer­sity.

“There were a number of kings and princes dur­ing the pe­riod who con­trolled most of Wales but he was the only one who ruled the whole of what we now know as Wales,” he said.

“He did that for about a decade.”

He was “very suc­cess­ful” un­til Harold – who died with an ar­row in his eye at the Bat­tle of Hast­ings – caught up with him.

“He was be­trayed by his own peo­ple in the end when he turned out to be less suc­cess­ful than they hoped,” Dr Em­lyn said.

“In the cen­turies be­fore him there were a number of other kings.

“He was part of a pat­tern of kings try­ing to unite Wales – peo­ple like Hy­wel Dda, who’s at­trib­uted with get­ting the laws in shape and so on.

“But he was clearly the most suc­cess­ful. No one con­quered Gwent or Glam­or­gan as suc­cess­fully as he did.”

The late Rhondda-born his­to­rian John Davies recog­nised Gruf­fudd’s achieve­ments as a war­rior in his book A His­tory of Wales, writ­ing: “From about 1057 un­til his death in 1063, the whole of Wales recog­nised the king­ship of Gruf­fudd ap Llewe­lyn.

“For about seven brief years, Wales was one, un­der one ruler, a feat with nei­ther prece­dent nor suc­ces­sor.”

He called his method of unit­ing the na­tion “bru­tal”.

Taunted about his readi­ness to kill op­po­nents, sto­ry­teller Wal­ter Map re­ported he replied: “Talk not of killing. I only blunt the horns of the prog­eny of Wales lest they should wound their dam.”

Dam is an an­cient term for mother. Here it refers to Wales it­self.

“His ac­tiv­i­ties aroused the en­mity of other branches of the houses of Rho­dri,” Dr Davies said.

“They also cre­ated con­cern in Eng­land, for Gruf­fudd ap Llewe­lyn was the first Welsh ruler since Cad­wol­lon who had the power to in­ter­fere in the af­fairs of Eng­land.”

In 1042 Ed­ward the Con­fes­sor be­came King of Eng­land but he was not a great leader.

“Eng­land’s weak­ness was Wales’ op­por­tu­nity,” Dr Davies said.

“Gruf­fudd cov­eted the rich lands be­yond Offa’s Dyke which had been in pos­ses­sion of the English set­tlers for 300 years and more.

“In 1039 he de­feated the forces of Le­ofric, earl of Mer­cia, at Rhydy-Groes near Welsh­pool.

“In 1055 he al­lied with Le­ofric’s son, Aelf­gar, who had been ex­iled from Eng­land through the machi­na­tions of the sons of God­win, earl of Wes­sex.

“The al­lies burned Here­ford and ex­pelled a large pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion of the bor­der­land.

“Thus did the Welsh re­pos­sess Whit­ford and Hope, Ban­gor Is­coed and Chirk, Presteigne and Radnor.”

Re­venge came God­wine’s son.

“Gruf­fudd was pur­sued from place to place and he was killed some­where in Snow­do­nia on Au­gust 5, 1063.”

Sources record he was killed either by his own men or by Cynon ap Iago. His fa­ther was Iago ab Id­wal, whom Gruf­fudd put to death in 1039 when he took Gwynedd.

After Gruf­fudd’s slay­ing, Harold mar­ried his widow Ealdgyth. This meant she was Queen of Wales and Queen of Eng­land in suc­ces­sion. Harold did not try to rule Wales. So long as it was not united he was happy. from Harold,

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