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Introduction ~ Owain ap Gruffudd ~ Rhys ap Gruffudd ~ Llywelyn ap Iorwerth ~ Llywelyn ap Gruffudd ~ Owain Glyndwr
Owain ap Gruffudd ~ page one
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Up until the eleventh century in Wales the nation had been devoid of a great national leader, resulting in most of the country being overrun. Nearly all over Wales the invader's castles were appearing on the skyline at an alarming rate, that was except for the north, for among the mountains of Snowdonia was the ancient home of the Princes of Gwynedd; warlike among themselves, but defenders of their ancient home unto death.

When Owain ap Gruffudd - 'Owain-Gwynedd' succeeded to his father's throne so began a period in my country's history that saw much blood spilled and four of the country's greatest princes reign in almost succession over the land.

Owain ap Gruffudd: The lion of Gwynedd

In his youth Owain ap Gruffudd was a restless, impulsive, quick to suspect and hasty to strike soul and woe betide anyone through their disloyalty that drew his wrath. He was the son of Gruffydd ap Cynan and the brother of Gwenllian, the wife of Gruffudd ap Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth, It was she who was slain and her head thrown into the Twyi river as she led an army in an attempt to hold off a Norman invasion of Deheubarth, whilst her husband was in Gwynedd for a meeting with her father'

Owain's father taught him well of the dangers of family feuding and treachery that was as often as not afoot in those times. Usually these acts were aided and abetted by those Norman's who were always looking for an opportunity to expand the territory which they had already seized. However, nothing had prepared him for the treachery committed by his own brother.

Hoping to strengthen bonds and alliances between Gwynedd and Deheubarth Owain had offered his daughter in marriage to Anarawd ap Gruffudd, the prince of Deheubarth. However, Owain had a brother called Cadwaladr who was both headstrong and quick to temper. In 1143 he had a disagreement with Anarawd over some land. Instead of seeking to have the matter resolved through arbitration, as was usually the way, he set forth from his castle at Aberystwyth to secure the disputed land by the force of arms. Coming across Anarawd while he and his men were patrolling the northern border of Deheubarth, Cadwaladr ordered his men to attack. During the engagement which followed Anarawd was killed.

News of the disaster was slow to reach Gwynedd, however when it did Owain ordered his son Hywel to march south with an army from Gwynedd and bring Cadwaladr to book. Once across the Aeron river Hywel attacked and burnt Cadwaladr's castle of Aberystwyth, but he failed to achieve his objective. During the attack, Cadwaladr realizing he could not hold his nephew at bay for long, escaped through a tunnel situated under the castle's walls and fled to Ireland, where he was given refuge. Cadwaladr was to remain in conflict with his brother Owain, often as not as an English ally, right up until the time of his death.

Owain's early reign consisted of a frenzy of attacks against English held fortifications across north Wales. His successes were such that had succeeded in obtaining much of the land as far east as the the river Clwydd and a little beyond; and by 1152 Ruddland castle was also in his hands. His attentions had also been turned towards the south and much of northern Powys had capitulated to his control, but still he continued to expand his territory eastward. Indeed when Henry II obtained the crown of England at the end of 1154, Owain's acquisition had already brought him within sight of the red towers of the great City of Chester on the river Dee.

By the Autumn of 1156, because of what he had acquired by the force of arms, Owain was in dispute with Henry II. Upon hearing that Henry intended to invade north Wales and capture him, Owain marched east out of the mountains to engage him. Having crossed the Conway and the Dee rivers he and his sons next swept over the Clwydian hills to reach the foreshore of the Dee estuary south of Basingwerk Abbey. Here he had his men throw up a great defensive ditch in the sand between the foreshore and the forest, thus barring the coastal road to Rhuddlan. His sons Hywel and Dafydd were deployed with their forces in the great forest to the west, thus becoming a barrier should the king attempt to outflank their father.

Henry supported by Cadwaladr, Owain's brother, on hearing that Owain was prepared to engage him advanced west across the river Dee from Chester before swinging north down the estuary foreshore. Henry however, knowing nothing of how Owain would fight, even from his own brother, swept into the trap. Having ordered the main part of his army to continue to advance north, Henry with a lightly armed escort of some two hundred men plunged into the forest with thoughts of an outflanking movement, just what the two brothers from Gwynedd were lying in wait for. Death and disaster soon followed for the King's men, Henry himself and some of his close followers retreated east towards the estuary through the trees

When Henry and the remnants of his escort broke out of the trees just in front of Owain, thinking that his sons had suffered a major defeat Owain withdrew from his position and retreated into the forest; leaving the way clear for the king to continue his advance down the foreshore of the Dee estuary and thus on to Rhuddlan castle by way of the north Wales coastal roadway. So with his chance of victory gone Owain came to terms with the king in the great hall of Rhuddlan; in doing so lost his newly gained lands east of the river Clywdd.

So with terms finally settled Henry II of England was confident that in 1157 he had finally broken Welsh resistance; and so it seemed that this was the case for during the next six years Owain remained at peace with the English crown. Things however, were not all they seemed, for in the south it was the turn of Rhys of Deheubarth to cause trouble; many times he raised the banner of revolt, but when Henry returned to England from France in 1163 and set out for south Wales with a vast army; Owain advised Rhys to surrender for as yet the country could not raise a big enough army to meet and challenge that of the English crown. Rhys dully obliged, but as soon as the king was back across the border he began raiding again.

As Rhys entered into conflict in Ceredigion so Owain began to renew his attacks against English possessions in the north, soon once again there was little if any of English holdings left in west or north Wales.; Henry once again began to prepare for war. At the Council of Northampton he asked for, and got, a promise of a large levy of foot soldiers suitable for a war in Wales. But by this time England was a divided nation for Henry had had a disagreement with his Archbishop. Thomas could take no more persecution from the king and quit the realm. It was such a division the princes in Wales had been waiting for; now Gwynedd, Deheubarth and Powys burst into open revolt and threw off the Norman yoke of suppression

Henry now realized that this was no mere revolt by one prince, but a general mobilization by the people of Wales. He requisitioned troops from Normandy, Anjou, Scotland, Poitou and Aquitaine. Mercenaries came from Flanders and everywhere that they could be induced to fight for a substantial reward of money and material. Knowing that both the castle of Ruddland and Basingwerk were just managing to hold, Henry led a hurried expedition in the hope of relieving them and arrived at Shrewsbury at the head of a vast army.

The preparation and advance to Shrewsbury by Henry had not gone unnoticed in Wales, for Owain had spies at the English court. He was informed of every last detail of the king's preparation, indeed he even received information on the king's intended line of march into Wales. Armed with such information he positioned his mountain troops at Corwen and was joined by the troops of Owain Cyfeiilog, Iorwerth the Red and the sons of Madog ap Maredudd from Powys. From the land between the upper Severn and Wye rivers came Cadwallon ap Madog and his brother Einion Clud. Now Owain settled down to await Henry's arrival.

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