The Death of Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf
On this day in 1282 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, known in Welsh as Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf (lit. 'Llywelyn, Our Last Leader') was killed when he was ambushed near Cilmeri in Mid Wales. The son of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr and grandson of Llywelyn the Great, he was Prince of Wales from 1258 until his death and was the last sovereign prince of Wales before its conquest by Edward I of England.
In 1267 Llywelyn had been recognised by the English Crown as Prince of Wales, holding his lands with the king of England as his feudal overlord. However, following the death of Henry III in 1272, the relationship between England and Wales broke down as the new and ambitious King Edward I pressed his ambition to master of the whole island of Great Britain. By 1276 Llywelyn had been declared a rebel and diplomatic pressure was followed by a massive invasion force the following year. Edward forced Llywelyn into submission, confining him to lands above the Conwy.
In 1282 however, many of the lesser princes who had supported Edward against Llywelyn in 1277 had become disillusioned with the exactions of the English royal officers. On Palm Sunday that year, Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd attacked the English at Hawarden Castle and then laid siege to Rhuddlan. The revolt quickly spread to other parts of Wales, with Aberystwyth Castle captured and burnt and rebellion in Ystrad Tywi in south Wales, also inspired by Dafydd according to the annals, where Carreg Cennen castle was captured.
Though he claimed not to have been involved in the planning, Llywelyn felt obliged to join his brother’s ill prepared rebellion. The Archbishop of Canterbury tried mediating between Llywelyn and Edward, and Llywelyn was offered a large estate in England if he would surrender Wales to Edward, while Dafydd was to go on a crusade and not return without the king's permission. In an emotional reply, which has been compared to the Declaration of Arbroath, Llywelyn said he would not abandon the people whom his ancestors had protected since "the days of Kamber son of Brutus". The offer was refused.
Llywelyn now left Dafydd to lead the defense of Gwynedd and took a force south, trying to rally support in mid and south Wales and open up an important second front. On December 11th at the Battle of Orewin Bridge at Builth Wells, he was killed while separated from his army. The exact circumstances are unclear and there are two conflicting accounts of his death. Both accounts agree that Llywelyn was tricked into leaving the bulk of his army and was then attacked and killed. The first account says that Llywelyn and his chief minister approached the forces of Edmund Mortimer and Hugh Le Strange after crossing a bridge. They then heard the sound of battle as the main body of his army was met in battle by the forces of Roger Despenser and Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn. Llywelyn turned to rejoin his forces and was pursued by a lone lancer who struck him down. It was not until sometime later that an English knight recognised the body as that of the prince. This version of events was written in the north of England some fifty years later and has suspicious similarities with details about the Battle of Stirling Bridge in Scotland.
An alternative version of events written in the east of England by monks in contact with Llywelyn's exiled daughter, Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn, and niece, Gwladys ferch Dafydd, states that Llywelyn, at the front of his army, approached the combined forces of Edmund and Roger Mortimer, Hugo Le Strange, and Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn on the promise that he would receive their homage. This was a deception. His army was immediately engaged in fierce battle during which a significant section of it was routed, causing Llywelyn and his eighteen retainers to become separated. At around dusk, Llywelyn and a small group of his retainers (which included clergy) were ambushed and chased into a wood at Aberedw. Llywelyn was surrounded and struck down. As he lay dying, he asked for a priest and gave away his identity. He was then killed and his head hewn from his body. His person was searched and various items recovered, including a list of "conspirators", which may well have been faked, and his privy seal.
There are legends surrounding the fate of Llywelyn's severed head. It is known that it was sent to Edward at Rhuddlan and after being shown to the English troops based in Anglesey, Edward sent the head on to London. In London, it was set up in the city pillory for a day, and crowned with ivy (i.e. to show he was a "king" of Outlaws and in mockery of the ancient Welsh prophecy, which said that a Welshman would be crowned in London as king of the whole of Britain). Then it was carried by a horseman on the point of his lance to the Tower of London and set up over the gate. It was still on the Tower of London 15 years later. The last resting place of Llywelyn's body is not known for certain; however, it has always been tradition that it was interred at the Cistercian Abbey at Abbeycwmhir.
Following these events Dafydd ap Gruffydd proclaimed himself Prince of Wales and attempted to continue the fight. However, he was quickly defeated and, having spent months in hiding, was captured on June 22nd 1283. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in October. It is by this means that Wales became "united and annexed" to the Crown of England as under the auspices of Llewelyn and Dafydd’s ‘treason’, Edward I was able to take possession of the lands and titles of the House of Aberffraw.
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