• A London Student

The Tragic Fate of Wales

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

You may have noticed by now but these past few weeks have had a focus on the history of Wales, Gwynedd and other names that I have no hope in ever learning how to pronounce. Today's is another... The fate of Wales. This is skipping ahead a little from the posts on Llywelyn Fawr, but is no less important.

These are the figures who will be mentioned in the story of Wales' loss of freedom:

Llywelyn ap Gruffudd - Grandson to Llywelyn Fawr through his eldest, illegitimate son Gruffudd and his wife Senana. He is often called Llywelyn the Last. (Note - If you want to look up Gruffudd, then look up Gruffudd ap Llywelyn Fawr and not just Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, otherwise you will be bombarded information about the last Welsh king who lived over a century before (I learned the hard way))

Eleanor de Montfort - Daughter of Simon de Montfort and Eleanor de Montfort, and wife of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, a cousin to King Edward I

Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn - Daughter of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and Eleanor de Montfort

Dafydd ap Gruffudd - Another grandson of Llywelyn Fawr, and a younger brother to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd

Elizabeth Ferrers - Wife of Dafydd ap Gruffudd, cousin to Edward I and the daughter of the 5th Earl of Derby, William de Ferrers

Llywelyn ap Dafydd - Eldest son of Dafydd ap Gruffudd and Elizabeth Ferrers

Owain ap Dafydd - Second son of Dafydd ap Gruffudd and Elizabeth Ferrers

Gwladys ferch Dafydd - Daughter of Dafydd ap Gruffudd and Elizabeth Ferrers

Before we start with the real tragedy, lets set the scene....

Llywelyn the Last had become the Prince of all of Wales before having to give most of it up to the English crown, after a military defeat, and the treaty of Aberconwy. The Welsh people are getting fed up of English rule and laws in their land, so Dafydd ap Gruffudd starts the final war against England, a war which they can't afford to loose. However, it has been started before Llywelyn was ready, giving the English the advantage and putting Llywelyn in a perilous position...


Eleanor de Montfort

Although Eleanor wasn't Welsh or had anything much to do with the collapse of the native Princes, she deserves to be on here as much as anyone. This is why. Eleanor was the youngest child and only surviving daughter of Eleanor and Simon de Montfort, and at first had a probably happy childhood, with five doting elder brothers. That was however, until Evesham. Her world was turned upside-down, with her father and brother Henry dead, Guy badly injured and Simon the younger ridden with guilt. Her betrothal to Llywelyn was called off, having been made for political reasons which now didn't exist. She was just thirteen and had no future. She was exiled to France with her mother and youngest brother. That was until Viterbo, where her brothers Simon the Younger and Guy killed their cousin Henry and got excommunicated. Her brother Simon the Younger had died in Siena in 1271, and her mother in 1275. Yet Llywelyn decided to upheld the betrothal between him and Eleanor made many years before and they were married by proxy in France.

Eleanor then set out by sea to Wales, trying to avoid travelling through England with her brother Amaury who was a priest. However, her ship was captured by pirates, paid by Edward who was very displeased by the marriage. Eleanor was taken as a prisoner to Windsor where she was held for three years until she was released at the signing of the Treaty of Aberconwy, in which Llywelyn's lands were greatly reduced. She finally got married at Winchester in October 1278, and went to Gwynedd with her husband. In June 1282, Eleanor died, aged between twenty-nine and thirty, after giving birth to a daughter, Princess Gwenllian of Wales. She was buried in the Franciscan Friary in Llanfaes, Anglesey, next to her Aunt, Joan who wife of Llywelyn Fawr. She had such a short time in Wales, but it could be seen as a good thing that she wasn't there to see the collapse of her husband's kingdom.


Llywelyn ap Gruffudd

And so, still overwhelmed by grief by the loss of his young wife, Llywelyn joined in a war for Wales that he still wasn't ready to fight. Initially, it didn't look too bad: the Welsh captured the castles of Ruthin, Aberystwyth and Builth, defeated the royal forces in the south led by Gilbert de Clare, defended the uplands between the rivers Wye and Severn, destroyed Edwards plans to quickly cross the Perfeddwlad, and best of all, destroyed Luc de Tany's army as they tried to cross the Menai Straight. Builth was a very important and strategic castle, you can see on the map that it was one of the centre pieces of Wales, and so victories like that were essential. On 3-6 November, John Pecham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was at Llywelyn's court, trying to negotiate peace, however, Llywelyn said no (they basically involved him giving up and leaving Wales). And so the war went on.

By this point, Edward was running out of soldiers and money, which would have vast implications on the feudal system in general, and cause money issues later in Edwards reign, but he would not give up (so intent on killing the native princes he was). From his base at Builth, Llywelyn had taken a small proportion of his army possibly trying to meet Roger de Mortimers sons and was killed in a skirmish by a Shrewsbury soldier. He was gone. The Prince of Wales was dead, and with it, Wales' freedom.


Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn

Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn was born in June 1282, as I have mentioned, and was an orphan before she was a year old. She was the heiress to the royal family of Aberffraw, was first cousin once-removed to Edward I, her Grandfather was Llywelyn Fawr and Great-grandfather was King John (her aunt and grandmother was Joan, Lady of Wales). At her fathers death in December 1282, her guardianship was given to her uncle, Dafydd ap Gruffudd, but was captured along with him, her aunt and cousins in June 1283. She was sent to a convent in Lincolnshire where she was a prisoner to the English Crown, kept away from her homeland in case of rebellion.


Dafydd ap Gruffudd

Now, I have already said that Dafydd started the final war, and you know the fate of Llywelyn (a tragic death of a Great Prince who deserved better). But I am sure that you have a final question: How was the war lost from the good position that Llywelyn had left it in? And there the answer is. Llywelyn left the war (not by choice as you can imagine!). Although Llywelyn the Last wasn't the last Welsh Prince, Wales died with him. All was lost. But Dafydd, never lacking guts, carried on, initially operating from Dolwyddelan, and when that became indefensible, Castell y Bere. The castle was put under siege in April, but Dafydd escaped to Dolbadarn castle before the small garrison surrendered. In May he was forced to move again, to the mountains above Abergwyngregyn. In June they he and his son Owain was captured in Nanhysglain, a secret hiding place in a bog by Bera Mountain, and was taken to Rhuddlan, then Chester, then Shrewsbury.

At Shrewsbury, he was convicted with high treason (the first person to have been done so) and was given the gruesome death accordingly (to be hanged, drawn and quartered).


Elizabeth Ferrers

As a cousin to the King and a daughter of an Earl, it would be easy to imagine that Elizabeth had an easy life (or as easy as it gets for a medieval woman) however, as with most things this was not the case. Her father was the Earl of Derby, who was tainted with treason and was even imprisoned by Simon de Montfort, but Edward made sure that she had a good marriage to Dafydd ap Gruffudd, where she seems to have been happy. Yet being married to a Welsh nobleman, at this time was dangerous, even more so with Dafydd being Dafydd. So when Llywelyn died, and she became Princess of Wales her life was turned upside-down (you might begin to see a theme here!). The English were closing in on her and her family as they made a final retreat. The war was lost without Llywelyn, something she knew well, and was captured with her family, where she was separated from her sons, new-born daughter and husband. It is unlikely that she saw any of them again.

Her fate is unknown, but she was only aged around 33 in 1283. She is thought to have been buried in Caerwys, although when she died is unknown. So like Eleanor de Montfort, being a cousin of the King didn't solve her problems.


Llywelyn ap Dafydd

As the eldest son of Elizabeth and Dafydd, you could imagine that he had a bright future, but it wasn't. After being captured when he was about sixteen, he was taken with his brother Owain to custody in Bristol Castle where he died four years later, still as a prisoner.


Owain ap Dafydd

Although Owain lived for longer than Llywelyn ap Dafydd, he still never regained his freedom, and remained a prisoner for all his life. However in 1305, he was locked in a cage at night to prevent his escape, and continued to live like that until his death which was after 1325, although the exact date is unknown. He was at least in his fifties when he died, and had spent much of that as a prisoner.


Gwladys ferch Dafydd

Now there is very little that I can say about Gwladys, like Gwenllian she was sent to a priory in distant Lincolnshire, and never allowed her freedom and probably not to see her mother if she was still alive.


And so that was that. Wales' principality was given to the heir to the throne, Edward, and the native princes were demolished. But there was one hope. The heir of Wales, descended from the Great Princes and all the princes in the complex family tree that was Welsh Nobility. This man, Owain Glyn Dŵr. (But that to unfortunately failed.)

Images courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources include:

A history of Wales by John Davies

A Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris

Thank you for reading!