THE 1039 BATTLE AT RHYD Y GROES
By Darrell Wolcott
Both the Brut and the Welsh
Annals report a battle shortly after Gruffudd ap Llewelyn came to power in 1039, saying it was at "Rhyd y groes ar Hafren",
or in Latin, at "vado Crucis super Sabrinam". Both simply mean "ford of the cross upon the Severn River". No one really
knows where along the Severn such a ford was located , and we are not told who Gruffudd fought there or why. These
early sources continue, saying that later the same year Gruffudd expelled Hywel ap Edwin from Deheubarth.
The Saxon Chronicle for 1039
reports that "the Welsh slew Edwin, brother of Earl Leofrig, and Thurkil and Elfget and many good men with them." While
no more details are given, it is agreed by later historians that "the Welsh" meant the warband of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn.
The Chronicles of Florence
of Worcester for 1039 relates the same bare-bones story of the Saxon men being killed by the Welsh, but that event is again
mentioned in retrospect in the 1052 entry. In that year, we are told that Gruffudd laid waste to Hereford "on the same
day 13 years earlier" that he had slain Edwin brother of Leofrig "by ambush".
to describe the two 1039 battles, disagree as to whether Edwin the Saxon was killed at Rhyd y Groes or in the later action
to dispossess Hywel from Deheubarth.
The earliest historian
to express an opinion was Dr. David Powell , who says that scarcely had Gruffudd ap Llewelyn settled in his domain, when
the English and Danes entered Wales in a hostile manner and advanced as far as Cross Ford on the Severn, where Gruffudd met
them and forced them to retire with utmost speed. From there, Powell continues, Gruffudd went to Llanbadarn Fawr and
laid it in ashes. He then marched through South Wales receiving the oath and fealty of the people as their new king.
Meanwhile, Deheubarth king Hywel ap Edwin fled to Edwin, brother of Earl Leofrig, and pursuaded him to bring a Saxon army
to assist him against Gruffudd. Powell does not name a place for the subsequent battle, but says Gruffudd killed Edwin
and many other Saxons, forcing Hywel to flee for his life.
COMMENTS: In Powell's view, the two battles in 1039 were not connected;
the first was against unknown invaders and the second for control of Deheubarth, where its king enlisted Saxon help but lost
the battle anyway. But the ancient sources do not identify the enemy at Cross Ford, nor say this was an invasion of
Wales. The Severn flows through both Powys and Mercia, and for a few miles, forms the border between the two kingdoms.
Nor do they say anything about a Saxon force under Edwin coming to assist Hywel of Deheubarth, only that such an army was
defeated by the Welsh.
Jane Williams  would have it that both battles involved Saxon forces in support of Hywel of Deheubarth. She places
Cross Ford somewhere in Powys, saying that Gruffudd then passed from Powys to Deheubarth where he made a military progress
to receive the submission of the subordinate rulers. Meantime, Williams says Hywel ap Edwin fled to Earl Leofrig's brother
Edwin, and prevailed upon him to raise an army for the purpose of placing Hywel back on his throne in Deheubarth. In
the ensuing battle, she says, Gruffudd killed most of the Saxons, Hywel fled the battlefield, and Gruffudd took his wife for
COMMENTS: Miss Williams is the only historian to say that both the 1039
battles were against Saxon armies in support of Hywel ap Edwin of Deheubarth, but doesn't explain why one such battle would
have occurred in Powys and the other in Deheubarth. Her text also places Llanbadarn Fawr near Cross Ford, saying Gruffudd
sacked it because the monks there had rooted for his foes at the Cross Ford battle. In fact, Llanbadarn Fawr is in Ceredigion
(part of Deheubarth) while no part of the Severn River is within 15 miles of it. Indeed, others who seek to place Cross
Ford geographically would site it over 40 miles from Llanbadarn Fawr. Finally, she conflates the 1039 battle with Hywel
and his Saxon allies, with a 1041 battle where Hywel was again defeated and Gruffudd took his wife.
Historian B.B. Woodward
 tells a far different story, much of which has been adopted as the "academic" view. His opinion is that the battle
at Cross Ford was between Gruffudd and Edwin the Saxon, having nothing to do with Hywel of Deheubarth. He does admit
that others claim Gruffudd did not battle Edwin until after Hywel had been depossessed of Deheubarth, but continues his narrative
by saying Gruffudd later attacked Llanbadarn and drove Hywel out of his kingdom.
COMMENTS: Woodward rejected earlier views that Earl Leofrig's brother Edwin
engaged in battle against Gruffudd as an ally of Hywel of Deheubarth, either at Cross Ford or later in Deheubarth. He
did not say whether he thought the Saxon contingent invaded Gruffudd's kingdom or Gruffudd invaded Mercia. With no reason
advanced for such a battle, it seems like a wholly pointless venture which was in no way followed up by Earl Leofrig to avenge
Historian John E. Lloyd  mostly followed Woodward, but wrote that Cross Ford was near Welshpool where it forms the border
between Powys and Mercia; that Gruffudd crossed into Mercia and fell upon Edwin's troops without warning, killing Edwin and
many of his men. Lloyd assumes this was just Gruffudd flexing his muscles and Earl Leofrig was cowed into doing nothing
to retaliate; that Gruffudd knew he would not, so immediately went about his attack on Hywel in Deheubarth. Lloyd reported
that the later battle against Hywel was "for the moment successful" but devoted only a single sentence to this second
COMMENTS: While his history is highly regarded as scholarly and backed
by footnotes to ancient sources, Lloyd offered no sources for placing Edwin the Saxon at the battle of Cross Ford. His
guess, which he offered as "history", was that Gruffudd's strike against England was so terryfying and complete a victory
that all England was cowed by his invincibility "against whom reprisals were of little avail".
ANALYSIS: Nothing but conjecture of various historians identifies the foe
whom Gruffudd defeated at Cross Ford, nor whether that battle took place on Mercian or Welsh lands. But it seems unreasonable
to believe that Gruffudd, newly installed as a king, would strike a gratuitous blow at Mercia before beginning his quest to
take Deheubarth. And even more incredulous to think that a single ambush by a new and unproven Welsh king would
cause Earl Leofrig or King Edward to roll over in fear, with no retalitory strike.
the battle at Cross Ford did occur along the Severn in the vicinity of Welshpool, but wholly on Powys lands. And that
it did not involve either Edwin the Saxon or any non-Welsh invaders. We think that Gruffudd reached full age for kingship
in 1039, that he claimed Powys and Gwynedd, killing Iago ap Idwal, and intended to immediately take Deheubarth...these were
the lands which his father had ruled 16 years earlier. But an unplanned matter arose which required his attention.
It may have been
the intention of Llewelyn ap Seisyll that his son succeed him, but Gruffudd's
father had not been the king during the preceeding 16 years. The following chart shows other men of the Powys Royal Family
who had birthright claims to rule:
910 Brochwel II (a)
940 Cadell (b)
945 Seisyll 945
970 Nest 979
Llewelyn(c) 975 Aeddan III 980 Beli II
985 Cynfyn(d) 1011 Gruffudd 1005 Brochwel
III 1015 Gruffudd
(a) ap Aeddan II ap Selyf
I ap Brochwel I ap Aeddan I ap Cyngen ap Brochwel ap Eliseg
(b) Succeeded his
father as king c. 970 but had no sons. His daughter married Gwerystan ap Gwaithfoed and had, among others, a son Cynfyn.
(c) When Cadell
died c. 1010, his nephew Llewelyn ap Seisyll was chosen as the new Powys king. It is not known why his first-cousins,
Aeddan and Beli sons of Selyf, were passed over; perhaps Seisyll was older than Selyf
(d) At the death of Llewelyn
ap Seisyll in 1023, neither his son nor his cousin's sons were old enough to rule; Cynfyn was not only a maternal descendant
of Cadell, he also married the widow of Llewelyn ap Seisyll and was named interim king of Powys.
If we assume that Gwynedd's
Iago ap Idwal, when he became old enough in 1033 to become king , also seized Powys with the rational that Llewelyn ap
Seisyll held both kingships at a time when Gwynedd's Royal Family had no heir yet old enough to rule, then why shouldn't Iago
rule Powys when its family heir (Gruffudd) was yet underage. Suppose then, that Brochwel ap Aeddan (who WAS of sufficient
age to rule in 1033) opposed Iago and, in an ensuing battle, both Brochwel, young Gruffudd, and the entire Powys Royal house
were forced to flee to Ireland.  Six years later, Gruffudd had become of full-age, returned to Wales and defeated
Iago then claimed the kingship of both Powys and Gwynedd. But Brochwel now demanded some share of the power, at least
in Powys. His paternal home was in the Dueddwr/Ystrad Marchell area (Gruffudd had resided in the Rhuddlan area with
first his father and later with his step-father Cynfyn ap Gwerystan) and that, we suggest, was the site of the Battle of Rhyd
y Groes or Cross Ford. Perhaps in a meadow on the Powys side of that ford, Gruffudd met Brochwel to answer his
claims. Only after his victory there was he the uncontested king and now could pursue his dreams of taking Deheubarth.
The fact that Gruffudd was wholly unconcerned about any retaliation from Mercia supports our belief that this battle was wholly
a local matter which did not involve the brother of Earl Leofrig.
We next suggest that when Gruffudd
took his men to conquer Deheubarth, its king Hywel ap Edwin did not immediately oppose him. Instead, we think Hywel
appealed to Earl Leofrig for military assistance. We believe Hywel had married a daughter of the Earl about 1035 
when he first became sole ruler of Deheubarth. We further believe that the Earl declined to order official Mercian
troops into battle against a Welsh king to settle a purely family matter. Instead, he asked his brother to assemble
an ad hoc expedition....not carrying the Mercian banner...and go to the assistance of his son-in-law. It was that group
of men, we believe, who Gruffudd came upon by surprise as they camped in Deheubarth and killed most of them. Hywel was
probably not present at this ambush, but fled Deheubarth when he learned what happened to his expected allies. He was
to subsequently engage Gruffudd twice, losing his wife in 1041 and his life in 1044.
 The Mabinogion tale "The Dream of Rhonabwy" says the Plain of Argyngrog led
up to the Severn crossing called Rhyd y groes. This is thought to have been the area called Gungrog found between
Welshpool and the Severn. The tale, however, is filled with anachronisms and dates from about 1200; it could have taken
the name of the ford from the Brut accounts and given it a location to suit the tale
 Dr David Powell, "The History of Wales", 1584, augmented by W.
Wynne and revised by Richard Llwyd in 1832, p 70
 Jane Williams, "A History of Wales", 1869, pp 167/168
 B.B. Woodward, "The History of Wales", 1853, pp 206/207
 John E. Lloyd, "A History of Wales", 2nd edition, 1912, pp 359/360
 Most historians claim that Iago became king of Gwynedd when Llewelyn ap Seisyll
died in 1023, but the Brut does not say he ruled until its 1033 entry. We think he was stilll a teen in 1023, born
 While unconfirmed by early sources, there is a tradition that the first
wife of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn was an Irish lady to whom he was still married when, in 1041, he captured the wife of Hywel
ap Edwin and "took her for himself". Our suggestion that Gruffudd was in exile in Ireland between 1033 and 1039 would
make an Irish wife possible, particularly if her father provided troops which enabled Gruffudd to invade Gwynedd and defeat
Iago in 1039. Mrs. Matthew Hall, "Queens Before the Conquest", 1854, pp 386/387 says the first wife of Gruffudd was
Nest, daughter of Alfred king of Man. She meant Afloed son of Sitric since she then confused Nest with a sister, Rhanullt,
who married Cynan ap Idwal, father of the first Gruffudd ap Cynan.
 Our identification of Hywel's wife as a daughter of Earl Leofrig is based
on several pieces of evidence: First, his family had a history of marrying Mercian princesses. Hywel's father, Edwin
ap Einion, filed a suit in England against his mother (wife of Einion ap Owain) seeking her Mercian estates when she was old
and infirm. Secondly, Leofrig's brother came to Hywel's military assistance as Gruffudd sought to expel him
from Deheubarth, an expedition which has the earmarks of a family matter and not a Mercian attack. Finally, historians
are divided as to whether the Saxon wife of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn was a sister of Alfgar son of Leifrig, or she was Alfgar's
daughter. Clearly, the lady Gruffudd took from Hywel in 1041 was not the same lady Harold Godwinson took from Gruffudd
in 1063. We suggest the first lady was born c. 1020 and a sister of Alfgar, and that Gruffudd's final wife was born
c. 1042 and a daughter of Alfgar. A subsequent paper "The Consorts and Children of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn" will develop
this theory. See at the link below: