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Gruffudd ap Rhyslocked

(d. 1137)
  • T. F. Tout
  • , revised by Huw Pryce

Gruffudd ap Rhys (d. 1137), ruler in south Wales, was brought up in Ireland, where in his childhood he had fled with his kinsfolk after the defeat and death of his father, Rhys ap Tewdwr (d. 1093), at the hands of Bernard of Neufmarché in 1093. On that fatal day nearly all Rhys's old kingdom was seized by Norman adventurers. Nest, Rhys's daughter, became the bride of Gerald of Windsor, steward of Pembroke.

When Gruffudd had grown up to manhood he became weary of exile and about 1113 he returned to Dyfed. For two years he wandered about the country, staying sometimes with his brother-in-law, Gerald of Windsor, sometimes with his own kinsmen. His return seems to have inspired the conquered Welsh with the hope of regaining their liberty under his rule. 'At last', says the Welsh chronicle, Brut y tywysogyon, 'he was accused before the king, and it was alleged that the minds of all the Britons [that is, the Welsh] were with him, scorning the royal power of King Henry'. His request for a part of his father's lands was refused.

Gruffudd now escaped to Gwynedd in north Wales and sought refuge with its king, Gruffudd ap Cynan. His brother Hywel ap Rhys, who had escaped maimed from the prison of Arnulf de Montgomery, went with him. Gruffudd ap Cynan treated them well at first, but was persuaded by Henry I to give up the fugitives. Gruffudd ap Rhys discovered his treachery, and managed to escape to the sanctuary of the church of Aberdaron in Llŷn, whence he returned to the south and went to Ystrad Tywi. For the rest of 1115 he led fierce attacks on the French and Flemish settlers in his father's realm. In the spring of 1116 he burnt Narberth Castle, and soon after attacked the castle of Llandovery, but he succeeded only in burning the outworks. Soon afterwards he failed equally at 'a castle that was situated near Swansea'. Then he was joined, in the words of Brut y tywysogyon, by 'many young imbeciles from all sides, lured by desire for booty or by an urge to restore and renew the Britannic kingdom' and 'made great depredations round and about him'. Gruffudd subsequently became so formidable that William of London abandoned his castle of Ogmore. Gruffudd was thence invited by his kinsmen into Ceredigion and, after defeating the Flemings, destroyed the castle of Ralph (or Razo), the steward of Earl Gilbert, at Peithyll, and marched against Aberystwyth. Owain ap Cadwgan was now inspired by Henry I to put down 'the petty thief Gruffudd', but he was slain by the Flemings. This failure seems to have secured Gruffudd a position in Deheubarth.

The chroniclers make no further mention of Gruffudd for several years. By 1127 he was in possession of a portion of land which the king had given him. According to Gerald of Wales, who was the grandson of Gruffudd's sister, in the days of Henry I, Gruffudd was 'lord of a single commote, that of Caeo in Cantref Mawr'. Gruffudd abated nothing of his wider claims to Deheubarth, and Gerald tells how even the wildfowl of Llan-gors Lake testified that he was the rightful prince of south Wales.

In 1127 Gruffudd was expelled even from his modest estate and fled to Ireland, but seems soon to have returned, and was probably in the dense forests of Cantref Mawr when the death of Henry I and the weak rule of King Stephen inspired the Welsh to make a great attempt to recover their freedom. Gruffudd was now again in close alliance with Gruffudd ap Cynan and his sons, and had married as his second wife Gwenllian, eldest daughter of the northern Welsh king. In January 1136 a great Welsh host attacked Gower. Gerald of Wales relates that Gruffudd hurried to Gwynedd to obtain the assistance of his brothers-in-law, while his wife Gwenllian, 'like an Amazon and a second Penthesilea', commanded his followers in the south. She was slain in battle near Kidwelly by Maurice of London, lord of Kidwelly; Morgan, one of her and Gruffudd's four sons, perished with her, and a second, Maelgwn, was taken prisoner. But Owain and Cadwaladr, sons of Gruffudd ap Cynan, now came down from the north, destroyed Aberystwyth Castle, and on a second expedition in the second week of October they fought along with Gruffudd ap Rhys a great battle at Crug Mawr near Cardigan, in which they won a decisive victory over Stephen, constable of Cardigan, 'all the Flemings, all the knights and all the French from the estuary of the Neath to the estuary of the Dyfi' (Brut y tywysogyon). No help came to the vanquished from England.

In 1137 Gruffudd led an expedition against the cantref of Rhos in Dyfed. He died soon afterwards—according to John of Worcester, 'through the treachery of his wife' (whom he had presumably married after the death of Gwenllian). His place of burial is unknown. He was, says Brut y tywysogyon, 'the light and strength and excellence of the men of the south'. In recording his death the monks of the Glamorgan abbey of Margam describe him as 'king of the men of Dyfed'. His sons Cadell (d. 1175) and Anarawd (d. 1143) (from his first marriage) and Maredudd (d. 1155), and the Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd (d. 1197) (the two surviving sons from his marriage to Gwenllian) each sought in turn to maintain and expand his power.


  • T. Jones, ed. and trans., Brut y tywysogyon, or, The chronicle of the princes: Red Book of Hergest, 2nd edn (1973)
  • T. Jones, ed. and trans., Brenhinedd y Saesson, or, The kings of the Saxons (1971) [another version of Brut y tywysogyon]
  • T. Jones, ed. and trans., Brut y tywysogyon, or, The chronicle of the princes: Peniarth MS 20 (1952)
  • J. Williams ab Ithel, ed., Annales Cambriae, Rolls Series, 20 (1860)
  • The chronicle of John of Worcester, 1118–1140, ed. J. R. H. Weaver (1908)
  • Florentii Wigorniensis monachi chronicon ex chronicis, ed. B. Thorpe, 2 vols., EHS, 10 (1848–9)
  • R. R. Davies, Conquest, coexistence, and change: Wales, 1063–1415, History of Wales, 2 (1987)
  • R. S. Babcock, ‘Imbeciles and Normans: the ynfydion of Gruffudd ap Rhys reconsidered’, Haskins Society Journal, 4 (1992), 1–9
  • R. R. Davies, ‘Henry I and Wales’, Studies in medieval history presented to R. H. C. Davis, ed. H. Mayr-Harting and R. I. Moore (1985), 133–47
English Historical Society
Giraldi Cambrensis, ed. J. S. Brewer, J. F. Dimock, & G. F. Warner, 8 vols., RS, 21 (1861–91)