On this day - 11th Apr 1240: Llywelyn the Great died

Today sees the 775th anniversary of the death of the Welsh Prince, Llywelyn the Great. Whilst he was undoubtedly a great warrior, he was also a great diplomat, negotiating with his English royal neighbours successfully on several occasions and wedding the English King’s daughter into the bargain. Certainly not too shabby.

Llywelyn the Great

Llywelyn the Great
Lampman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

These were bloody times and such successful land acquisition did not come easily. Llywelyn was a fearsome and ambitious warrior who began his conquest early in life in a prolonged and bloodthirsty family squabble. After getting rid of several troubling uncles he emerged as one of the biggest powers in Wales, consolidating his hold on the country by a treaty with the English King and marriage to his daughter, Joan. Not wanting to let the grass grow under his feet, Llywelyn continued his conquest. He was by now the undisputed Prince of Gwynedd but desired to expand his territory, waging war with his direct rival to the south, Gwenwynwyn of Powys. Continuing his friendship with the English King John, Llywelyn took advantage of a disagreement between John and Gwenwynwyn and seized Powys for his own, celebrating by going on a little honeymoon with King John to attack King William I of Scotland. I mean, who wouldn’t want a bloody holiday after all the hard work he’d been putting in?

Wales about 1217: showing lands held by Llywelyn the Great and his client princes
Rhion Pritchard : own work 22/07/2006

Sadly for Llywelyn, despite a lovely honeymoon, it was not to be marital bliss with John and a serious domestic spat soon emerged with Llywelyn coming off pretty badly. Thanks to the timely intervention of an argumentative Joan (see, women back then did things too), Llywelyn was spared from the humiliation of losing everything but he didn’t have much left. 

Joan, Lady of Wales

Joan, wife of Llywelyn the Great and Lady of Wales
By Charles Boutell [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Luckily he wasn’t really a man to sulk and pretty soon he was back on his feet, patching things up with old enemies to make them new friends and ultimately seeking revenge. This culminated in an alliance with the English barons leading to them forcing King John to sign the world famous Magna Carta in 1215 (who saw that coming?!). Llywelyn was now firmly established as the leader of the independent Princes of Wales and ya boo to anyone trying to say otherwise. 


Statue of Llywelyn the Great at Conwy: the statue stands atop a drinking fountain. The work of art was designed by Grayson and Ould during 1895–98, sculpted by E.O. Griffiths, and unveiled in 1898
By Rhion Pritchard (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thus he remained for the rest of his life which, aside from the odd armour clad tiff and a rather embarrassing incident in which another man was found in his wife’s bed chamber (don’t worry, Llewelyn hanged him shortly afterwards), passed off largely without grand upheaval. He remains an icon of Wales and has one of the most colourful (predominately shades of red) life histories I have ever encountered. So raise your glasses and remember with a toast, Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Wales. 

© Isla Robertson 2017