GRUFFUDD AP RHYS, THE HOMELESS PRINCE
By Darrell Wolcott
Rhys ap Tewdwr, king of
Deheubarth, was killed in 1093 in Brycheiniog as he sought to assist its king resist the invasion by the Norman knight, Bernard
Newmarch. While Brycheiniog was not a part of his own territory, the ruling family there were allies of Rhys and his
sister, Elen, had married its king, Bleddyn ap Maenyrch.
The fall of Rhys was followed
by an influx of Norman barons, sent by William Rufus to bring Deheubarth firmly under control of the crown. Rhys had
been survived by at least 4 sons; while we are told that relatives sent young Gruffudd ap Rhys to Ireland for his safety,
the immediate fate of the other sons is unknown. In 1102, Gronwy ap Rhys was seized and died in prison. Hywel
ap Rhys was, at some unknown date, placed in the prison of Arnulf fitz Roger of Montgomery where he was castrated.
A fourth son, called Llewelyn the Destitute, is absent from the chronicles but families descended from him are found in the
pedigree material down to the 16th century.
When Gruffudd ap Rhys
emerged on the scene in 1113, it is not known if he had been the eldest son or was simply the eldest still living. By
now an adult (we suggest he had been born about 1085 and was under the age of 10 when sent for safety to Ireland), the Brut
accounts for 1115 paint this rather sad picture:
"But at last, wearied
by an exceedingly long exile, he returned to his patrimony. And he remained for about two years, sometimes with Gerald
steward of Pembroke Castle, his brother in law (for his sister was Nest, daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, wife of the said Gerald),
and other times with his kinsmen, sometimes openly, sometimes unacknowledged from place to place."
Historian John E. Lloyd
adds "The figure of the forlorn scion of an ancient race of kings, stripped of wealth and power and wandering from this to
that hospitable roof-tree, touched the imagination of the men of South Wales, and Henry was warned that the homeless lad was
beginning to be dangerous to his authority."
The Brut account continues
"And at last he was accused before the king, and it was alleged that the hope of all Welshmen was with him". Another
version adds the Welshmen were "scorning the royal power of king Henry". The men of Deheubarth, it would appear,
were ready to rally behind this homeless prince in the hope to cast off the foreigner's yoke. But before waiting for
Henry to react, we are told that Gruffudd sent messingers to his distant kinsman, Gruffudd ap Cynan the Lord of Anglesey,
asking for shelter. They were assured that he would receive him gladly, so off to Anglesey journeyed Gruffudd ap Rhys, "with
his brother Hywel and others along with them" and were kindly received by Gruffudd ap Cynan. Hywel had apparently recently
"escaped from prison in a maimed state"; other versions of the chronicles suggest Hywel had been released from prision after
being castrated and may have been living quietly with relatives.
It is not known how many
months the small entourage of Gruffudd ap Rhys remained with the Lord of Anglesey, but we are told that Henry I summoned Gruffudd
ap Cynan to come for a royal appearance at court. The king, to whom the Lord of Anglesey owed his fealty, promised great
rewards if Gruffudd ap Cynan would either kill Gruffudd ap Rhys or deliver him as a prisioner to the king.
The Brut next tells
this story about what happened when Gruffudd ap Cynan returned home from his royal summons:
"And promising that, he
returned to his land. And forthwith he asked where Gruffudd ap Rhys was staying, and Gruffudd ap Rhys was informed that
Gruffudd ap Cynan had come from the king's court and that he was seeking to get him into his power. And some who were
staying with him in goodwill said 'shun his presence until thou know how matters may go'. As they were saying that,
lo, one coming and saying 'Behold horsemen coming at speed'. And scarcely had he gone through the doorway when, lo,
the horsemen coming to seek him. And he could do nothing but make for the church of Aberdaron for sanctuary. And
after Gruffudd ap Cynan had heard that he had escaped to the church, he sent men to drag him out of the church. But
the bishops and elders of the land did not allow that lest the sanctuary of the church be violated. And after he had been
[left alone] , he fled to the south and came to Ystrad Tywy. And when the news of that had been heard, many gathered
around him from all sides. And he made a fierce attack upon the French and the Flemings until that year ended."
Let us pause here
to reflect upon what we are being told. A landless wanna-be prince hangs around Deheubarth for two years, doing nothing
noteworthy and attracting no official notice. Suddenly he's a wanted man because Henry I considers him a potential leader
of a revolt. He and his brother, plus a few friends, are made welcome in Anglesey by its Lord, Gruffudd ap Cynan.
But soon the latter, at the request of Henry, attempts to capture him but fails because a church gave him sanctuary.
Immediately thereafter, Gruffudd ap Rhys is seen leading an army of Welshmen in attacks on various Norman strongholds
in south Wales.
Our question is this:
Did it really happen that way or was this simply the story concocted to appease King Henry? And was the king's desire
to neutralize Gruffudd ap Rhys merely a preventative move, or was there a more tangible threat posed? We are troubled
by the facts seemingly left out of the story. First, Gruffudd ap Rhys was married to Gwenllian ferch Gruffudd
ap Cynan. Based upon the probable ages of his children when they first appear in the chronicles, this marriage likely
took place near 1115. Secondly, if Gruffudd ap Rhys was looked upon as the man to rally the Welsh of Deheubarth against
the Norman oppressors, would he retain that appeal by running away in fear of his own safety and hiding behind his elder kinsman?
And if the Deheubarth prince was in Anglesey under the protection of its Lord, how did it happen that the church in which
he supposedly took refuge was located on the southern tip of Llynmany miles from Anglesey? What became of his entourage
and his brother; did the entire crowd descend upon the church? The accounts make it appear that he was alone.
Gruffudd ap Cynan
had, in 1099, been allowed by the Normans to rule over Anglesey, but the rest of Gwynedd was not any part of his territory.
Until his death in 1105, Owain ap Edwin of Tegeingl had governed mainland Gwynedd on behalf of the Earl of Chester and Owain
was followed in that governance by Gronwy his son. It was not until 1125 that Gruffudd ap Cynan held all of Gwynedd.
The Lord of Llyn, in 1115, was Genillin ap Meirion Goch, great-grandson of Collwyn ap Tangno, and he held his authority from
the Earl of Chester, not the Lord of Anglesey.
We suggest what occurred
in 1115 was something wholly different than what the chronicler reported...his was merely the story for Henry's ears.
We think Gruffudd ap Rhys sought the assistance of his Anglesey kinsman to train and equip an army with which he could endeaver
to reclaim Deheubarth from the Norman occupiers. That a firm alliance between the two Gruffudds was sealed by the marriage
to Gwenllian. Horses and weapons were then bestowed upon Gruffudd ap Rhys and his men. When Gruffudd ap Cynan
was summoned to Henry's court, we think he knew what the king wanted from him and counselled Gruffudd ap Rhys to take his
men to Llyn for training under Genillin so he could assure the king that he was not harboring them.
Returning from court
with a warrant for the arrest for Gruffudd ap Rhys, we suggest Gruffudd ap Cynan sent messingers to Llyn to apprise the
former of the king's position. The cover story about being unable to arrest him due to his taking sanctuary in a church
was conceived to avoid royal wrath directed at Gruffudd ap Cynan; in fact Gruffudd ap Rhys and his army were escorted back
to Deheubarth, probably by sea to avoid having to pass an army through several lordships with whom no hostile
action was intended. The army arrived safely in Dyfed and immediately went on the offensive, attacking and burning
the castle at Narberth.
For the next
few years, events outside Deheubarth dominate the Brut reports, but one might characterize the activities of Gruffudd and
his army as more directed toward securing recognition from the king of his paternal rights than actually expelling the Normans
from their entrenched positions. He seems to have become more of a nuisance than a real danger, and there is some evidence
this tactic paid off. In 1127, we are told he was "expelled from the portion of the land which the king had given to
him". At some earlier date, Henry must have decided a landless prince was a bigger threat to the crown than one
who was permitted to hold a lordship on some part of his father's lands; with that grant, of course, came a pledge of fealty
to Henry I. It is not known how the king's displeasure in 1127 was ultimately resolved or whether Gruffudd ap Rhys ever regained
favor; he is absent from the Brut accounts until after December 1, 1135.
On that date, Henry I died with
royal succession in great doubt. His only living child was a daughter, Matilda, who was supported by several of Henry's
barons. But another faction favored a nephew of Henry, the son of Stephen of Blois also named Stephen. The Welsh took
immediate advantage of the situation to launch revolts against their Norman lords before the new English monarch
could unite his barons to protect his Welsh holdings. The sons of aging Gruffudd ap Cynan in Gwynedd led the revolt:
Owain Gwynedd and his brother Cadwaladr.
In Deheubarth, Gruffudd ap Rhys was
the titular Prince but lacked an effective organized army; it had "melted away" after he gave fealty to Henry.
Without combat to provide both adventure and stolen booty for his men, they sought more rewarding venues. Thus
Gruffudd went to Gwynedd and sought to pursuade his brothers-in-law to bring their armies south to attack the Normans
in Deheubarth. Although the accounts are too fragmentary for us to know the response of the Gwynedd brothers,
it would appear that Gruffudd was away from home for a rather extended period. Intent on seizing Ceredigion, perhaps
Owain and Cadwaladr had told Gruffudd to first join them in their venture and they would help him once their primary
objective was attained.
Meanwhile back in Deheubarth,
other Welshmen were rising against the Normans. One group, whose leadership is not identified, attacked a Norman stronghold
in south Gower. Maurice of London, the Lord of Kidwelly (Cydweli in Welsh), took his men to defend that position and
was soundly defeated at the Battle of Llwchwr. Seeking to follow-up on that defeat, Gwenllian wife of Gruffudd ap Rhys
assembled the remnant of her husband's men and rode to attack the castle at Kidwelly. Early accounts of that 1136 event
tend to cast Gwenllian as a modern Boudicca, but in her era it was considered most un-ladylike for a woman to enter combat.
Riding with Gwenllian were her eldest sons, Morgan and Maelgwn...both in their late teens.
One account relates
that Gwenllian was approached by Gruffudd ap Llewelyn ap Gwrgan, a man descended from the ancient Deisi tribe which had ruled
Cydweli for over 500 years before Hywel Dda had subsumed it into Deheubarth. This Gruffudd was an experienced field
general, and offered his skills and services to her enthusiastic but amateur soldiers. When she refused to give him
a command position in her army, or to meet his required compensation requests, he went straight to the camp of Maurice
of London with the same offer. Fresh from a battlefield loss, Maurice was not too proud to accept the offer and made
him the field general of his troops.
On a field about a mile
and a half north of Kidwelly, on the west bank of the Gwendrath Fach river, the two armies clashed. Not only were the
Welsh routed, but both Gwenllian and her son, Morgan, were killed. Her other son was captured and never heard from again.
To this day, the battlefield is known as Maes Gwenllian...Gwenllian's Field.
Our last notice
of Gruffudd ap Rhys finds him not in Deheubarth, but with Owain Gwynedd and
Cadwaladr in their renewed assault on Ceredigion late in 1136. According to Florence of Worcester, he took another
wife following the death of Gwenllian but was killed by her treachery in 1137. And far from reestablishing his father's
old kingdom of Deheubarth, Gruffudd ap Rhys is said to have held only the single commote of Caeo in Cantref Mawr when he died.
His only "reward" for assisting his Gwynedd in-laws seems to have been the betrothal of his eldest living son, Anarawd, to
a daughter of Owain Gwynedd. That marriage never occurred....both were too young at the time....because Anarawd
was slain in 1143.