Llywelyn, the Greatest Prince of Wales
IN THE TURBULENT CENTURIES after the Roman withdrawal from Britain, the northwest Welsh province of Gwynedd emerged among the most powerful of the Welsh petty principalities. In the early 13th century, it became the center of Welsh political life under its ambitious prince, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, known from that time to this as Llywelyn Fawr, or Llywelyn the Great.
The ancient Celtic principality had been split between his uncles on the death of Llywelyn’s grandfather. The young prince took power the old-fashioned way; he seized it violently from his kin. Llywelyn was in his mid-20s when he won sole authority over Gwynedd in 1200. For the next 40 years Llywelyn was the dominant figure in Wales, becoming its first true national leader. He is recognized today as the ablest Welsh political and military figure of the Middle Ages.
In 1201 Llywelyn signed a treaty with England’s King John. In return for the Welsh prince’s sworn fealty and pledge to do homage, the English king acknowledged Llywelyn’s position and conquests. Llywelyn’s marriage to John’s illegitimate daughter, Joan, in 1205 further cemented their relationship. The arrangement allowed Llywelyn to expand his power base east and south into Powys and Ceredigion.
When relations between Llywelyn and King John deteriorated in 1210, there were several years of intermittent warfare in the northern Welsh Marches. But John, as we recall, had other problems attracting his attention. Llywelyn allied himself with the barons in rebellion against the king in 1215. At the signing of the Magna Carta, Llywelyn won several provisions for Wales. From that time, he received homage and allegiance as the leader of the independent Welsh princes.
The Treaty of Worcester, signed with John’s successor Henry III in 1218, confirmed Llywelyn in his territorial conquests. Though there were periodic outbreaks of hostilities and armed conflict with the Marcher border lords, Llywelyn remained the dominant political and military force in Wales until his death in 1240.