A Tale of Two Gruffudds

In 1039, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, apparently in a coup during which the incumbent king was killed, became ruler of Gwynedd. From the outset, it is clear that Gruffudd had no intention of restricting his authority to Gwynedd. Still in 1039, he defeated the English at Rhyd-y-Gors, on the River Severn.

Manuscript C of the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' adds a detail not mentioned by Welsh annals: that Earl Leofric of Mercia's brother, Edwin, was amongst the dead.

In the same year, Gruffudd struck southwards - "depopulating" Llanbadarn, in Ceredigion, and driving King Hywel ab Edwin, of Deheubarth, into a temporary exile. Two years later (1041) Hywel and Gruffudd met in battle at Pencadair. Gruffudd was victorious. He captured Hywel's wife and took her for himself. Hywel appears, however, to have retained control of Deheubarth, since, in 1042, at Pwlldyfach, he defeated a Viking band who were ravaging Dyfed. In the same year, Gruffudd was captured, temporarily as it turns out, by the Dublin Vikings. In view of subsequent events, it is possible that Hywel had a hand in Gruffudd's capture.

It would appear that Gruffudd had, once again, managed to expel Hywel from Deheubarth. In 1044:

"... Howel [Hywel], son of Edwin, meditated the devastation of Deheubarth, accompanied by a fleet of the people of Ireland, and against him was opposed Gruffudd, son of Llywelyn. And after a cruel battle and a vast slaughter of the army of Howel and of the Irish at Aber Tywi, Howel fell and was slain, and Gruffudd was victorious."
Brut y Tywysogion

It seems likely that Gruffudd ap Llywelyn had been in cahoots with Rhys and Gruffudd (sons of Rhydderch ap Iestyn - see: Dynastic Disputes), rulers of Morgannwg, in the fight against Hywel, but, now that Hywel was dead, the allies fell-out - the annals refer, unspecifically, to treachery - and the sons of Rhydderch seized control of Deheubarth. Gruffudd ap Llywelyn appears to have reacted by forming an alliance against them with Earl Swein, eldest son of Earl Godwine of Wessex, since, in 1046, Manuscript C of the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' notes that:

"This year went Earl Swegn [Swein] into Wales; and Griffin [Gruffudd], the northern king, with him; and hostages were delivered to him."

Swein's subsequent disgraceful behaviour, however, ensured that the alliance was short lived.

In 1047, about 140 of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn's "family" (i.e. war-band) were killed in Ystrad Tywi (eastern Deheubarth). Presumably Rhydderch's sons were responsible. At any rate, Gruffudd responded by ravaging Dyfed and Ystrad Tywi. At this point, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn disappears from the record for a few years. In 1049, however, Gruffudd ap Rhydderch allied himself with a marauding Hiberno-Norse fleet. Florence of Worcester reports that:

"In the month of August of the same year, some Irish pirates with thirty-six ships entered the mouth of the river Severn, and landed at a place called Wylesceaxan, and in unison with Griffin, king of the South Britons, plundered the neighbourhood and did considerable damage. Then the king and they joined their forces, and crossing the river called Weage [Wye], burned Dymedham [Tidenham?], and put to death every one whom they found therein. They were quickly opposed by Aldred [Ealdred], bishop of Worcester, and a few of the natives of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. But the Welsh who were with them, and who had promised to be faithful to them, sent a messenger privately to king Griffin, requesting him to attack the English as quickly as possible. Griffin flew to their assistance with his own men and the Irish pirates, and rushing at day-break on the English, slew many of them and put the rest to flight."

In 1052:

"... Griffin, the Welsh king, plundered in Herefordshire till he came very nigh to Leominster; and they gathered against him both the landsmen and the Frenchmen from the castle; and there were slain very many good men of the English, and also of the French. This was on the same day thirteen years after that Edwin [brother of Leofric] was slain with his companions."
'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' Manuscript D

The King Griffin ravaging Herefordshire on that occasion was probably Gruffudd ap Llywelyn. The following year (1053), however:

"Res [Rhys], the brother of Griffin [ap Rhydderch], king of the South Welsh, was, on account of his frequent incursions, put to death by order of king Edward at a place called Bulendun; and on the vigil of our Lord's Epiphany [5th January] his head was brought to the king at Gloucester."
Florence of Worcester

Manuscript C of the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' notes, in its entry for 1053, that:

"The Welshmen this year slew a great many of the warders of the English people near Westbury."

Westbury might be Westbury on Severn (Gloucestershire) or Westbury (Shropshire). If it was the former, then it might be supposed that the villain of the piece was Gruffudd ap Rhydderch, whereas, if it was the latter, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn would be the obvious candidate.

The, inevitable, showdown between the two Gruffudds occurred in 1055. Gruffudd ap Rhydderch was killed, leaving Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, effectively, in control of the whole of Wales - a feat achieved by no other Welsh king. He appears, however, to have been a ruthless ruler. The Norman-Welsh author, Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales, c.1146-c.1223) wrote the 'Itinerarium Cambriae' (Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales) soon after 1188. He notes that Gruffudd "by his tyranny, for a long time had oppressed Wales". Story-teller, Walter Map, who hailed from the Welsh marches (probably born in or near Hereford) and was a friend of Gerald of Wales, writes that Gruffudd:

"... held under his sway all the territory of Wales, and in peace except for such persecution as he visited upon his own people. For he was like Alexander of Macedon and all those whom insatiable desire hath set free from all check - prodigal, watchful, active, bold, quick-witted, affable, lickerous, wicked, treacherous, and pitiless.   This man, whenever he saw any youth showing a promise of goodness and strength, either treacherously slew him, or else, with his own safety ever in mind, weakened his body that he might not grow into a strong man. Having suddenly become supreme lord of all, he would say, "I slay no one, but I dull the horns of the Welsh that they may not harm their mother.""

In King Edward's England, meanwhile, Earl Godwine had died. His earldom passed to his son Harold, and Harold would be Gruffudd's nemesis.

'Brut y Tywysogion' by Rev. John Williams ab Ithel
'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' by Rev. James Ingram/Dr. J.A. Giles
Giraldus Cambrensis 'Itinerarium Cambriae' by Sir Richard Colt Hoare
Walter Map 'De Nugis Curialium' by Frederick Tupper Ph.D and Marbury Bladen Ogle Ph.D
Florence of Worcester 'Chronicon ex Chronicis' edited and in part translated by Joseph Stevenson