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Llywelyn Fawr, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, or as he is known in English ....Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Wales. History and Heritage holidays in Wales
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Click to zoom into a map of Conwy showing Heritage SitesLlywelyn Fawr, or as he is known in English: Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Wales, ( Llewelyn ) was born in 1172 AD, reputedly in Dolwyddelan Castle in the Lledr Valley, North Wales. Although Llywelyn's father, Iorwerth, was heir to Owain Gwynedd, the ruler of North Wales, and could trace his ancestry through Rhodri Fawr to King Maelgwyn ( Maelgwn ) of Gwynedd none of this guaranteed the young Llywelyn a position of power in those troubled times. Indeed the internecine struggles of the age were more likely to guarantee him a violent death than a crown. His chief protagonist in his early years would prove to be his uncle Dafydd. Dafydd would not hesitate to kill in his Click to enlarge Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Llywelyn the Greatquest for power, and by the time Llywelyn was 22 years old Dafydd had already killed his own brother and had seized the lands of his kith and kin while taking control of Gwynedd in North West Wales. But he seems to have antagonised one too many and in 1194 Llywelyn led a successful coup against Dafydd and defeated him in battle at Aberconwy.
In victory the young Llywelyn showed a wisdom beyond his age and in 1197 Llywelyn, having captured and imprisoned Dafydd, banished him to retirement over the border in Ellesmere, and, showing early signs of his diplomatic skills, shared the ruling of Gwynedd with his cousins Gruffudd and Maredudd, his cousins ruling the lands to the west of the Conwy River and Llywelyn ruling Dafydd's lands to the east of the Conwy.
In the year 1200 Gruffudd died at Aberconwy and Llywelyn felt he now had the power to move against Maredudd, expelling him from Llyn, and at the same time staking his claim to being overlord of the whole of North Wales by capturing the castle at Mold. This action was a real threat to the powerful Marcher Lords of England and indeed the English King. But Llywelyn was undeterred and opened up yet another front by invading Southern Powys the territory of Gwenwynwyn another Welsh adversary.

By 1205 even the English King John had to recognise the power of Llywelyn and offered him the hand of his daughter Joan in marriage. The alliance with King John played into Llywelyn's hands, and in 1207 the King arrested Gwenwynwyn at Shrewsbury enabling Llywelyn to annexe Genwynwyn's lands. Llywelyn took southern Powys, northern Ceredigion and rebuilt Aberystwyth Castle.
King John belatedly realised he had gone too far in his support of Llywelyn ..... and the Earl of Chester, one of the powerful Marcher Lords rebuilt Deganwy Castle ...... an English Castle in the heart of Llywelyn's domain ........but by 1210 things were moving rapidly in Llywelyn's favour. Llywelyn brazenly attacked the lands of the Earl of Chester and King John was left with no option other than war with Llywelyn.

King John's English army, supported by Gwenwynwyn, (and other Welsh overlords worried about Llywelyn's rise to power) headed for Deganwy. But Llywelyn's army had disappeared, and more importantly so had the food. The Welsh had used the classic guerilla tactics of retreating to the hills, and taking the supplies with them. This was a costly mistake for King John as he had made no provision for supplying Deganwy (Degannwy) Castle by sea, and he was left with no options other than of returning to England or starvation in Wales.

But King John did not give up and he was back in Wales within three months with an even greater army. This time he was fully provisioned and instead of heading to Deganwy he decided to cross the Conwy River higher up the Valley. Taking the old Roman Road he cut through to Aber Garth Celyn, (Abergwyngregyn) on the Menai Strait and occupied the Welsh royal palace Garth Celyn (Pen-y-Bryn) for a brief period; his troops went on to burn Bangor ........ the English Army had cut right into the heart of Gwynedd.
Aberystwyth Castle Gatehouse. Click for information on Aberystwyth townLlywelyn now had no option other than to send his wife Joan, King John's daughter, to sue for peace on any terms.
The terms of the peace were a serious set back for Llywelyn and he lost the right to lands east of the Conwy River. He was also made to forfeit 20,000 cattle and 40 horses to the English. King John was rightly jubilant but he then proceeded to meddle too much in Welsh affairs and he ordered Foulke, viscount of Cardiff and warden of the Marches, to take the Castle at Aberystwyth and garrison the castle with English troops. This act demonstrated to the previously divided Welsh (some of whom had thought that John would leave them in peace and return to England) his true intention of annexing Wales. The Welsh united under Llywelyn to rid themselves of the English. They captured all the English Forts and, eventually, the Castles of Deganwy and Rhuddlan fell into Welsh hands.

By 1214 the wheel had turned full circle and it was King John of England who was now in serious trouble. The English Barons were plotting against him and surprisingly he turned to the Welsh for support, unsurprisingly they did not give him support and indeed they sided with his enemies. Llywelyn attacked and captured Shrewsbury and then proceeded into South Wales. By 1215 he had taken South Wales and turned north to Mid Wales capturing Cardigan and Cilgerran.
In 1216 Llywelyn consolidated his gains by making an alliance with one of the powerful Anglo Norman Marcher families by marrying one of his daughters to Reginald de Breos. This was probably helped by the fact that King John had been in dispute with the Breos family and indeed had cruelly murdered the wife and son of William de Breos some years previously. This alliance of the Welsh and Anglo Normans ensured peace on the borderlands for some time, and when King John died in 1216 Prince Llywelyn was able to make another treaty with the new King Henry 111 of England.

Llywelyn Fawr was now 44 years old and the undisputed ruler of Wales. He had learnt through his troubled life of the necessity of diplomacy and he used all his skills to create a system of government that enabled peace to flourish albeit for a short period. Instead of the internecine troubles of the past Llywelyn called a Parliament at Aberdovey and shared the districts of Wales among the several Princes and overlords who had supported him in his battles. Keeping for himself the position of Overlord of All.

Life for Llywelyn was never easy however and he was in dispute with the Earl of Pembroke for many of his later years. In 1223 Pembroke brought an army over from Ireland and captured Cardigan and Carmarthen, Llywelyn dispatched an army under the command of his son Gruffudd in an attempt to reverse the misfortune. Gruffudd however was unsuccessful and the dispute rolled on for many years until the death of the Earl of Pembroke in 1231.
Never slow to seize an opportunity of diplomacy Llywelyn formed an alliance with the new Earl of Conwy Castle, an English Castle to be built over the tomb of Llywelyn FawrPembroke in 1234 which committed the two of them to an alliance against the English King. Luckily Henry 111 had need to be conciliatory and a truce was arranged, the terms of which were renewable each two years enabling Llywelyn to have a relatively peaceful last few years till his death at the age of 68 in 1240.

Prince Llywelyn died at the abbey of Aberconwy, which he had founded, and he was buried there. (The original abbey church is now St Mary's the parish church of Conwy, still to be found within the ancient walled town and though much rebuilt over the centuries some parts of the original church remain)
But Llywelyn, Wales' greatest leader, was not allowed to rest in peace. Forty three years later in 1283 King Edward 1 and his English army completed another expedition to suppress the Welsh. Edward set about building an iron ring of fortresses, one of which, Conwy Castle, was to be built on the site of the abbey of Aberconwy, the spiritual heart of Gwynedd and the burial place of Llywelyn the Great,
Click to view Wynn Chapel LLanrwst and the tomb of LlywelynThe Abbey was destroyed and removed with Llywelyn's remains to Maenan some 8 miles away. The monks continued to care for the coffin but Maenan Abbey too was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries and for a time the tomb of Llywelyn was lost. It was later recovered and is now preserved in the Wynn Chapel at Llanrwst Church. Although the "splendid sarcophagus of Llewelyn now lies on display within the harmonious sanctuary of these holy walls" the whereabouts of Llywelyn's bones remain a mystery.

 

 

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Heritage map showing Llywelyn Fawr trail .
This map shows:
Castles
Main Roads
Click on the towns to find holiday accommodation nearby, or scroll down the page.
Heritage Map of Conwy. Move the cursor over the attractions and towns Click for Great Orme Prehistoric Copper Mines where to stay in Llandudno where to stay in  Colwyn Bay where to stay in Abergele Rhuddlan Castle where to stay in Bodelwyddan where to stay in Rhyl where to stay in  Conwy where to stay in Deganwy where to stay in Llanrwst where to stay in Maenan where to stay in Pentrefoelas where to stay in Betws y Coed where to stay in Bylchau Conwy Castle, original site of the tomb of Llywelyn Fawr Maen y Bardd burial chamber Bwlch y Ddeufaen Standing Stones Click for Llangelynin Church and Holy Well Llandrillo yn Rhos Church Hendre Waelod ancient burial chamber Click for Bodnant Gardens Dolwyddelan Castle, built by Llywelyn the Great, and close to the original Castle that was birthplace of Llewelyn Click for Ty Mawr Bishop Morgan's House Click for Great Orme Country Park Click for Deganwy Castle Click for Ty'n y Coed Uchaf Click for St Gwyddelan's Church, dates from about 1500AD Nature reserve accommodation in Blaenau Ffestiniog Go to Snowdonia Gwynedd Map Go to Snowdonia Gwynedd Map Capel Garmon Burial Chamber St Grwst's Church, Llanrwst, final resting place of Llywelyn's tomb Jump to Denbighshire St Trillo's 6th Century Chapel and Holy Well in Rhos on Sea St Hilary's Church Llanrhos


For a holiday in the Conwy Valley on the Llywelyn Fawr trail choose from this list of accommodation providers in Conwy Valley and vicinity. Please note the properties listed are not specifically offering Heritage holidays.
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