Gruffydd ap Llywelyn was born about 1010, the elder of two sons of Llywelyn ap Seisyll, who had been able to rule both Gwynedd and Powys. On Llywelyn’s death in 1023, a member of the Aberggraw dynasty, Iago ab Idwal ap Meurig, became ruler of Gwynedd. Gruffydd, according to an early story, had been a lazy youth, but one New Year’s Eve he was driven out of the house by his exasperated sister. Leaning against the wall of another house, he heard a cook who was boiling pieces of beef in a cauldron complain that there was one piece of meat which kept coming to the top of the cauldron, however often it was thrust down. Gruffydd took the comment to apply to himself, and began his rise to power.
In 1055 Gruffydd ap Llywelyn killed his rival Gruffydd ap Rhydderch in battle, and recaptured Deheubarth. Gruffydd now allied himself with Aelfgar, son of Earl Leofric of Mercia, who had been deprived of his earldom of East Anglia by Harold Godwinson and his brothers. They marched on Hereford and were opposed by a force led by the earl of Hereford, Ralph ‘the Timid’. This force was mounted and armed in the Norman fashion, but on 24 October Gruffydd defeated it. He then sacked the city and destroyed its Norman castle. Earl Harold was given the task of counter-attacking, and seems to have built a fortification at Longtown in the Golden Valley of Herefordshire before refortifying Hereford. Shortly afterwards Aelfgar was restored to his earldom and a peace treaty concluded.
About 1056 Gruffydd married Ealdgyth, daughter of Aelfgar. They had three children, of whom their daughter Nesta would have progeny. Around this time Gruffydd was also able to seize Morgannwg and Gwent, along with extensive territories along the border with England. In 1056 he won another victory over an English army near Glasbury. He now claimed sovereignty over the whole of Wales – a claim which was recognised by the English.
Gruffydd reached an agreement with England’s King Edward ‘the Confessor’, but the death of his ally Aelfgar in 1062 left him more vulnerable. In late 1062 Harold Godwinson obtained the king’s approval for a surprise attack on Gruffydd’s court at Rhuddlan. Gruffydd was nearly captured, but was warned in time to escape out to sea in one of his ships, though his other ships were destroyed. In the spring of 1063 Harold’s brother Tostig led an army into north Wales while Harold led the fleet first to south Wales and then north to meet with his brother’s army. Gruffydd was forced to take refuge in Snowdonia, but at this stage his own men killed him, on 5 August 1063 according to the _Bruy y Tywysogion_ chronicle.
(The _Ulster Chronicle_ states that in 1063 he was killed by Cynan ap Iago, whose father Iago ab Idwal had been put to death by Gruffydd in 1039. Gruffydd had probably made enemies in the course of uniting Wales under his rule. Walter Map had preserved a comment from Gruffydd himself about this: ‘Speak not of killing; I but blunt the horns of the offspring of Wales lest they should injure their dam’.) Gruffydd’s head and the figurehead of his ship were sent to Harold Godwinson.
Following Gruffydd’s death, Harold married his widow Ealdgyth, though she was to be widowed again three years later. Gruffydd’s realm was divided again into the traditional kingdom. Bleddyn ap Cynfyn and his brother Rhiwallon came to an agreement with Harold and were given the rule of Gwynedd and Powys. Thus when Harold, as King Harold II of England, was defeated and killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Normans reaching the borders of Wales were confronted by the traditional kingdoms rather than a single king. In 1069 Gruffydd’s two sons challenged Bleddyn and Rhiwallon at the battle of Mechain in an attempt to win back part of their father’s kingdom. However they were defeated, one being killed and the other dying of exposure after the battle.
(Avid historian & family historian, Ky White is an 8 generation Texan and from early English, Scottish, & Scots-Irish stock. I have a mechanical engineering degree from the U.S. Military Academy and a masters degree in History from Sam Houston State U. I try to post a daily diary of medieval events on FB.)