THE UNOFFICIAL "HISTORY" OF GRUFFUDD, NEPHEW OF IAGO
By Darrell Wolcott
We initially posited the
existence of a Gruffudd ap Cynan who was the nephew of Iago and lived a generation earlier than the more familiar Gruffudd
ap Cynan ap Iago. Next we discussed the brother of the earlier Gruffudd who was known as Maredudd
ap Cynan. Additional research now permits us to offer a speculative scenerio which connects other events to the first
Gruffudd. We begin with a brief summary to set the stage.
In 1033, Iago ap Idwal
of the royal dynasty of Gwynedd had become of full age and was ready to assume his birthright. His father, Idwal ap
Elisedd ap Meurig, had ruled Gwynedd from 1003 until he was deposed by the usurper, Aeddan ap Blegoryd, about the year 1017.
Iago was not yet a teenager when the King of Powys, Llewelyn ap Seisyllt, used this pretext to annex Gwynedd to his own kingdom
by killing Aeddan and his sons. Then Llewelyn himself was slain in 1023, probably by the men of Deheubarth.
Iago had to wait another 10 years to become eligible for kingship and had to endure life under an interim Powysian king,
Cynfyn ap Gwerystan. So Iago's first act in 1033 to stake his rightful claim to Gwynedd was to attack and kill Cynfyn,
usurping rule over Powys as well.
The progeny of the Powys
royal family, including it's designated heir Gruffudd ap Llewelyn...then in his early 20's...went into hiding lest Iago eliminate
them as well. But when Gruffudd attained his full age in 1039, he gathered the men of Powys and attacked Iago in Anglesey.
With Iago dead, Gruffudd retook Gwynedd and went looking for the remnant of its royal family, intent on wiping them out.
Iago's own son, Cynan, was but a toddler and Gruffudd was no child-killer. But Iago's brother, also named Cynan and
second son of Idwal ap Elisedd, was a man of 25 and the natural target of Gruffudd. The ambition of the latter was not
only to rule Powys and Gwynedd, but the whole of Wales.
A man from Cynan's
"cousin" line, Meurig ap Iddon, arranged shelter for the young man with Sitric Silkbeard in Dublin, Ireland, and sent
his own son, Llychwy, to accompany Cynan. Within a year or so, Sitric offered a grandaughter, Rhanillt ferch Olaf,
to be Cynan's wife. Their first child was born about 1041 and was named Gruffudd. When Cynan attained sufficient
age to contend for his Welsh kingdom in 1042, he recruited a few friends in Dublin to assist his venture. All this was
without sanction of Sitric who did not favor attacking the king of Powys. Not only was he now an elderly man, but he
had sent another of his granddaughters to be the wife of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn in 1039. Sitric's own daughter had
been the first wife of Cynfyn and mother of three of his daughters, but died in childbirth when having the one called Iwerydd.
Acting in stealth, both
at home and in Wales, Cynan and his friends sailed to Wales and began tracking the movements of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn
and his vaunted warband. At last they found him alone with his wife, his household and warband not close enough to intervene.
When they burst into the room, Gruffudd's wife clung tightly to him and swore if they meant to kill him then they'd have to
kill her too. Since the lady was sister to his own wife, Cynan compromised by taking the couple captive and sailing
back to Ireland. There he was sure he would now be allowed to raise an army to sail triumphantly for Anglesey.
But the aging king Sitric was not amused when he learned what had occurred. He ordered Cynan to provision a ship and
release the couple to sail back to Rhuddlan. Thus ended Cynan's ambition to reclaim his rightful kingdom of Gwynedd.
Sitric died a few short months later, but permission to assemble men for an attack on Gwynedd was still denied.
By his inaction,
the legal right to claim Gwynedd for its royal family had shifted to his young nephew Cynan ap Iago, still a child living
in Anglesey. Over the next few years, the elder Cynan remained in Ireland and produced another son, Maredudd.
In 1063, his nephew in Anglesey attained his full years and looked for his opportunity to retake Gwynedd from the seemingly
invincible Gruffudd ap Llewelyn. The latter had gained strength since the kidnapping incident; with a powerful ally
in Mercia, he had subdued every kingdom in Wales and was even striking at England. Harold Godwinson, acting on orders
from King Edward the Confessor, advanced an army to Rhuddlan but Gruffudd slipped from his grasp by sea. Withdrawing
temporarily, Harold next arranged for the English fleet to block the mouth of the Clwyd on the Irish Sea and then brought
his army back to Wales. Gruffudd's leading men were having their lands and manors laid waste by the English, and resolved
to save what they could by any means possible. A volunteer stepped forward and offered to kill Gruffudd if his men agreed
to let him approach the king. The deed was done by Cynan ap Iago, who thereby evened the score against the man who'd
killed his father. But alas, when he sought Harold's permission to claim his birthright of Gwynedd, it was not to be.
The sons of Cynfyn had won his favor by standing down their warbands to allow Harold's army to cross their lands and approach
Rhuddlan. And those men, Rhiwallon and Bleddyn, also asked for the local kingships of both Powys and Gwynedd and their
requests were granted. Cynan returned home to Anglesey empty-handed, thwarted by the now superior power of the English.
As he dared not attack their sub-king Bleddyn, he abdicated his claims to the next Gwynedd heir. This was his younger
first-cousin in Ireland, Gruffudd ap Cynan ap Idwal, a man now just reaching his 21st year. Within the next few years,
Cynan in Gwynedd would have his own son whom he named Gruffudd. The child's namesake in Ireland finally attained full
age in 1069 and appealed to the king of Dublin for an army to invade Anglesey. Sitric son of Olaf was now ruling there
and he was brother to Rhanillt, thus the uncle of Gruffudd. He had married the sister of the man who would soon rule
Deheubarth, Nest ferch Tewdwr, and counseled Gruffudd not to plan a campaign that would rile the new English king, William
I, and was not supported by powerful Welshmen. It happened that his younger brother, Maredudd, had just turned
14 and wished to train for priesthood, so Gruffudd volunteered to escort the boy to Meifod where he could train under Sulien
He used this visit to Powys to meet
with Ithel and Maredudd, sons of former king Gruffudd ap Llewelyn. Ithel had also just come of full age and was preparing
to challenge Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn for rule in Powys. Gruffudd was assured that the brothers had no interest in Gwynedd
and once their lands of Powys had been taken back from the usurpers, he would receive their support to unseat Bleddyn and
claim his own birthright. Having no army with which to assist, Gruffudd returned to Ireland with high hopes for the
future. When news arrived of the battle at Mechain, he was dismayed to learn his promised allies were dead and Bleddyn
ap Cynfyn was in full control of all north Wales. And contacts with his cousin in Anglesey found little support
from the uchelwrs there for a war with Bleddyn.
The following year, Gruffudd married
the daughter of his boyhood friend and longtime companion in Ireland, Llychwy ap Meurig. Soon the new couple had two
new daughters, Gwenllian and Malli. He refused to relinquish his determination to take back Anglesey, constantly asking
his uncle Sitric for an army to help him overthrow Bleddyn. No
sooner had news of Bleddyn's death in 1075 reached Gruffudd, he was raising troops for his attack. Still his uncle Sitric
withheld all-out support, but did allow him to take a small warband and make a landing on Anglesey. If the local
men rebel against the new leaders which have been installed over them, they will join you and you will have a large army,
Sitric told him. And if they don't, your ambitions will be crushed by the might of England. His cousin Cynan ap
Iago, whose own hopes for restoration in Gwynedd had been dashed in 1063, introduced Gruffudd to a few of the uchelwrs who
agreed to assist. The Arwystli cousins, Trahaearn ap Caradog and Cynwrig ap Rhiwallon had received England's sanction to exercise local rule over Gwynedd under the oversight of Earl Hugh of Chester and his
nephew, Robert of Rhuddlan. Trahaearn was presently visiting with his power base in Arwystli, but Cynwrig was found
enjoying his favorite sport of hunting in the woods of Lleyn. A small band of men loyal to Gruffudd fell upon the
party by surprise and quickly killed Cynwrig, but one of his companions was able to flee the scene and report the incident
to Trahaearn. Within the space of a few days, Trahaearn was in Gwynedd at the head of an army which included both men
from Powys and Norman calvery dispatched from Rhuddlan by Robert. The
uprising was quelled, the locals who had ambushed Cynwrig were rounded up and put to the sword and new hostages taken from
the uchelwrs who had quickly renounced any revolt. Gruffudd and his Irishmen were routed at Bron-yr-erw and fled to
their ships and sailed home to Ireland.
Back home, Gruffudd sought
the counsel of his brother-in-law as to his next move. He was told it had not been wise to attack Trahaerarn on his
home turf where assistance from Powys and the Normans were near at hand. Surely an opportunity would come when Trahaearn
was campaiging far away from home and when that day came, Gruffudd would be provided with a large army to accompany him back
A few years later, in
1079, the brother of Sitric's wife was installed as king of Deheubarth. Rhys ap Tewdwr represented the southern branch
of Gruffudd's family, both claiming Rhodri Mawr as a paternal ancestor. Rhys had enjoyed a good relationship with the
Welsh kingdoms to his north and even married a daughter of Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn. But the kingdom of Gwent to his east
was seeking to expand its control to Gower and Ystrad Tywy, the latter being the heart of Rhys' kingdom. Caradog ap
Gruffudd of Caerleon brought his army west in 1081 to test the new Deheubarth king and met with quick successes. Married
to a daughter of Bleddyn ap Cynan, Caradog sent word to Trahaearn in Gwynedd that all of Deheubarth was ripe for the taking;
if he brought his warband south to join the campaign, he could have Ceredigion as his share of the spoils. With no
unrest occurring in his own lands, Trahaearn rode south with his warband accompanied by his cousin Meilyr ap Rhiwallon,
younger brother of the slain Cynwrig.
When Rhys ap Tewdwr
and his forces found themselves facing the combined warbands of Gwent and Gwynedd, he declined to fight a pitched battle but
retreated slowly westward. His men fell back to conduct a stalling guerella campaign, hiding in the woods only to emerge
when enemy squads were out foraging for food. A messenger was sent to Ireland where Sitric was informed of the situation
and his aid sought. The latter sent for Gruffudd and told him his opportunity had finally presented itself; his foe
was far from its home territory and accompanied by fewer than 300 men. An army of 1000 Irish mercenaries was quickly
assembled and set sail with Gruffudd...not to invade Gwynedd, but to land in Dyfed and join Rhys.
Contrary to the
tale spun by the early biographer, his arrival at Menevia was expected by Rhys who, being a legitimate Welsh king, took
command of the entire force. While Gruffudd was anxious to face his hated rival, Rhys planned the campaign carefully
and only when his 3 to 1 advantage in men had encircled the high ground called Mynydd Cairn, where the enemy had
made camp, did he sound the call to battle. The kings of Gwent and Gwynedd were badly outnumbered and their escape path
blocked, yet their battle for survival lasted over a week before the last of them was slain. As Rhys took his men
to reclaim his court at Dinefwr, Gruffudd allowed his mercenaries to
claim their pay by looting the countryside. When they had their fill, all but his most loyal Irish entourage were
sent back to their boats to return home. Gruffudd made his way to his cousin's manor in Anglesey with the news that
he had killed Trahaearn and was ready to assume the kingship which had long been denied to his family. Yet the leading
men were reluctant to annoint a king who had not as yet been sanctioned by their Norman overseers. Word was sent to
Robert at Rhuddlan to seek his approval, who seemed agreeable to accepting Gruffudd as the rightful lord.
But when the self-proclaimed "king" met with Robert, he'd been tricked; he and his entourage were bound in chains and delivered
to the keep in Chester where they would live out the remainder of their lives. Robert then established Owain
ap Edwin of Tegeingl as his local ruler over Gwynedd. Thus ends the saga of Gruffudd nephew of Iago, of whom history
hears no more.
But his young namesake,
Gruffudd ap Cynan ap Iago, now became the legitimate claimant of his family birthright. Not yet a teen, he had several
years of maturing to do before he could present a formal claim to kingship. As he waited, the sons of Bleddyn had attained
their full ages and were anxious for a return to the glory days of their father, free of Norman control. Cadwgan, Madog
and Rhiryd ap Bleddyn began their revolt far away from the Norman power bases at Rhuddlan and Chester...they invaded Deheubarth
in 1088 where Rhys ap Tewdwr had, following his victory at Mynydd Cairn, pledged fealty to William I of England and paid the
crown a fee for his lordship over south Wales. Initially successful, the brothers forced Rhys to flee to Ireland but
he returned with a fleet of Irish mercenaries and battled them at Llech-y-crau. Madog and Rhiryd were killed, but Cadwgan next
surfaces in Anglesey where he found powerful friends whose fathers had served his father. Robert of Rhuddlan
had died about 1093 and Cadwgan quickly filled the vacuum of leadership in that part of Gwynedd farthest from the Tegeingl
seat of local king Owain ap Edwin.
In 1094, Earl
Hugh of Chester sent an army of Normans to reestablish control over Anglesey, but Cadwgan's men defeated them and forced
them off the island. A second foray a year later by the army of William II also failed, as Cadwgan declined to
meet it head-on, preferring to fight isolated battles then retreat into the woods and wilderness, emerging only when he
had a numerical advantage. These two Norman failures in 1094 and 1095 may have secured Cadwgan a lasting respite
from Norman aggression, but he was bound by the Welsh laws of succession. In 1098, Gruffudd ap Cynan ap Iago attained
full age and claimed his right to rule over Anglesey. He had been living at Cadwgan's manor where he was designated
the edling. Although she was now dead, Cadwgan had in 1083 married Gwenllian, a daughter of the first Gruffudd
ap Cynan and second cousin to the young prince-in-waiting. Although the ancient biographer knew that Cadwgan was
the son-in-law of a Gruffudd ap Cynan, the latter was not the man of that name who emerged into history in 1098.
The actual relationships, we think, were:
1005 Iago ob 1039 1014 Cynan==Rhanillt Llychwy
1070 Gruffudd ob
1137 1055 Cadwgan==Gwenllian 1070
the "coronation" of Gruffudd in Anglesey, the Normans reacted by resolving to bring Cadwgan and his new "king" to heel once
and for all. The combined armies of Earl Hugh of Chester and Earl Hugh of Shrewsbury were dispatched to Anglesey.
Outnumbered, but mostly fearing treachery by the men of Gwynedd, Cadwgan and Gruffudd fled to Ireland. Acknowledging
they were no match for the power of England, the men opened negotiations with King William II seeking the kind of treatment
befitting of men of their royal births yet pledging loyalty to the crown. Since Gruffudd ap Cynan was yet unmarried
and Cadwgan was widowed, it was proposed the men take wives from subjects loyal to the King. Owain ap Edwin
was ruling in mainland Gwynedd and it was hoped that if Gruffudd took one of his daughters to wife, the two men would
not attempt to expand their lordships by battling each other. With this agreement, Gruffudd was taken into the king's
favor and granted the lordship of Anglesey. Cadwgan, who had taken a series of mistresses since his wife's death, was
given a daughter of Picot de Say and the lordship of Ceredigion. Both men were allowed to return to Wales in 1099 and
claim their new wives and lands, together with an audience with King William Rufus where they pledged their fealty to the
crown of England.
Although the foregoing scenerio is
not "history", neither was the work of Dr David Powell which gave us much conjecture and few real facts...basically a
fleshing out of the ancient chronicles with his best guess of what really happened. In our case, we make it clear that
our enhancement of the bare facts is only a reasonable guess. And not the only possible scenerio, but one which we believe
to be more likely than those offered to date by other scholars.