Dafydd ap Llywelyn: The Shield of Wales

Dafydd ap Llywleyn was the first to use the title: Prince of Wales. He was the eldest child and only son of Llywelyn the Great and Joan, Lady of Wales, born in Flintshire at Castell Hen Blas, with European blood flowing in his veins on his mother’s side. Joan was an illegitimate daughter of King John of England.

But this did not easily determine who would succeed Llywelyn as Prince of Gwynedd, Welsh succession law differed to that of the English. By Welsh law illegitimate children could claim their parents lands and title, thus Dafydd’s elder half-brother, whose mother was Tangwystyl, had a strong claim to the principality. To increase Dafydd’s claim to the throne, his mother, Joan was legitimtied by papal decree, and with the agreement of King Henry III of England, her half-brother, in 1226, by Pope Honorius III. When Joan died, Dafydd lost a staunch supporter for his claim to the Welsh lands.


Llywelyn the Great with his sons Gruffydd and Dafydd by Matthew Paris (1259). From Wikimedia Commons

Dafydd’s father died of a stroke in 1240 and succeeded him as Prince of Gwynedd. Henry III knighted Dafydd at Gloucester, the same day the English king was paid homage. A year later, the homage was broken and Dafydd led a failed campaign against Henry. The twenty-nine year old was forced so submit to his uncle and agree to the Treaty of Gwerneigron. In the treaty Dafydd was forced to relinquish his rights to the territories that his father had held, though he was able to officially retain Rhos, Rhufoniog, and Dyffryn Clwyd, lands that all lay East of Conwy, the prince also agreed that he would be under the mandate of the Bishops of Bangor and St Aspah, and that, if he were to be excommunicated, it is the bishops of these two parishes that would carry it out. Furthermore Dafydd’s brother, Gruffydd would be kept as a hostage.

Three years later, Gruffydd died while attempting to escape the Tower of London. Making use of sheets and ropes, he fell to his death from one of the tower windows. Henry, in response to Gruffydd’s death, released Dafydd from his imprisonment at Cricieth Castle. Furious when he heard the news of his brother, the freed prince summoned all the lords and other princes from around Wales, in preparation to march on Henry III once again. Many influential lords anaswered the call, some of those included: Iorweth ap Gwrgunan, Tudur ap Madog, and Edynfed Fychan (who Dafydd made seneschal). The only two who did not join the ‘Shield of Wales’ was Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn and Gruffudd ap Madog.

In 1245, the conflict began, and Henry III marched into Gwynedd, and after being the vicitms of an ambush led by some of Dafydd’s men, the English marched past Conwy and built a castle at Deganwy. While the conflict was ongoing, Dafydd contacted Pope Innocent IV, appealing to him to recognise Dafydd as Prince of Gwynedd, which he did. The confict was short-lived, Henry quickly ran out of supplies in Gwynedd and another treaty was agreed.

The following Winter, Dafydd suddenly died at Abergwyngregyn and was buried alongside his father at the abbey. Dafydd had no children with his wife, Isabella de Braose, and Llwelyn ap Gruffydd and Owain Goch ap Gruffydd, Dafydd’s nephews succeeded him as Prince of Gwynedd.

The Plantagenets by Dan Jones (William Collins: London, UK, 2013)
Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families by Douglas Richardson & Kimball G. Everingham (Genealogical Publishing Co Inc: Baltimore, Maryland, USA, 2004)
Llywelyn ap Gruffudd: Prince of Wales by J. Beverley Smith (University of Wales: Cardiff, Wales, 2001)
Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families by Douglas Richardson & Kimball G. Everingham (Genealogical Publishing Co Inc: Baltimore, Maryland, USA, 2004)

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