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Dafydd ap Llywelynlocked

(c. 1215–1246)
  • J. B. Smith

Dafydd ap Llywelyn (c. 1215–1246), prince of Gwynedd, was the son of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (d. 1240) and Joan (d. 1237), illegitimate daughter of King John. Llywelyn was promised Joan's hand in 1204 and the marriage probably took place the next year. Dafydd had not been born in August 1211 when Llywelyn submitted to King John and was forced to concede that, if he were to have no son with Joan, his lands would be ceded to the king who would provide for Llywelyn's bastard son Gruffudd ap Llywelyn (d. 1244) as he wished.

Early career

Dafydd may have been born c.1215. He is first mentioned in May 1220 when, at a meeting at Shrewsbury with the justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, Archbishop Stephen Langton, and the papal legate, Pandulf, royal approval was given to Llywelyn's decision that he should be succeeded by Dafydd rather than by Gruffudd. Two years later Llywelyn secured papal approval for an ordinance declaring his wish to set aside the custom of his country by which, he said, in words with a clear reference to Galatians 4: 30, 'the son of the handmaiden should be heir with the son of a freewoman and illegitimate sons possess the inheritance like the legitimate' (CEPR letters, 1.87). He provided that Dafydd, his son with his wedded wife, should succeed him by hereditary right. He secured the consent of the magnates of Wales in 1226, a year in which Dafydd and his parents met the king at Shrewsbury. Llywelyn had had no success in his efforts to secure royal recognition of the supremacy over Powys and Deheubarth that he had established during the conflicts of the reign of John, but he evidently hoped that his son would be able to succeed not only to Gwynedd but to his wider dominion. When, however, Dafydd did homage to the king in 1229 (possibly upon his coming of age at fourteen years), he did so for the 'rights and privileges' to which he would succeed upon his father's death (CPR, 1225–32, 269). This was a form of words which would be interpreted in accordance with the king's wishes in due course. During William (V) de Briouze's imprisonment following his capture in 1228 Llywelyn secured a promise of the marcher lord's daughter, Isabella, as Dafydd's wife, with the lordship of Builth as her marriage portion. In May 1230, following his affair with Joan, Briouze was hanged by Llywelyn, but the prince immediately wrote to the marcher's widow, Eva, conveying his wish that the marriage should still take place. Dafydd and Isabella were probably married before the end of 1232 when arrangements were made for the assignment of a portion of the Briouze inheritance. Llywelyn had already secured possession of the lordship of Builth.

Struggle with half-brother Gruffudd

From 1231 onwards, sometimes in association with his mother or his father's seneschal Ednyfed Fychan (d. 1246), Dafydd was engaged on diplomatic missions to the king. Adversely affected by Llywelyn's offensives in the march between 1231 and 1234, undertaken on the prince's sole initiative or in association with Richard Marshal, earl of Pembroke, Henry III repeatedly intimated his readiness to discuss not only a truce but the treaty of peace by which Llywelyn sought formal acknowledgement of his broad supremacy. Successive attempts at negotiation produced no more than a truce and by 1237, when Llywelyn endured a paralytic stroke, Dafydd's role in the quest for a permanent settlement was greatly enhanced. There is probably some substance in Matthew Paris's account, that the two princes' search for a permanent peace was made urgent by the recalcitrance shown by Gruffudd ap Llywelyn. Gruffudd had suffered two periods of imprisonment but was now at liberty and represented a challenge to his brother's succession. Anxieties in Gwynedd may explain Llywelyn's decision early in 1238 to summon the princes of Wales to an assembly at which they would do homage to Dafydd. Henry III reacted with a firm order to Llywelyn and Dafydd, and to the princes of Powys and Deheubarth, forbidding the homages. The marchers were alerted and summoned to a meeting at Oxford. No more was heard of the issue of homage and the Welsh chronicle Brut y tywysogyon is probably correct in recording that, at a gathering at the Cistercian abbey of Strata Florida in the autumn of 1238, the Welsh princes swore fealty to Dafydd, making no mention of homage.

Succession and submission to Henry III

The chronicle states that in 1239, before the death of Llywelyn, Dafydd ap Llywelyn seized Gruffudd and his eldest son, Owain, and imprisoned them in the castle of Cricieth. Matthew Paris, however, in an informed account of the course of events following the death of Llywelyn on 11 April 1240, offers a different interpretation according to which Gruffudd was at liberty at that time. Acting swiftly Dafydd came to Henry at Gloucester on 15 May and did homage for his right in Gwynedd. Lands which other barons claimed against him were made subject to arbitration and it was clearly stated that the homages of all the princes of Wales should remain with the king of England. The Tewkesbury chronicler, who states that Dafydd came before Henry wearing the coronet of Gwynedd and that he was knighted by the king, conveys that Dafydd was allowed to do homage only for the lands that Llywelyn had held by right (de jure), revealing the humiliating extent to which he had surrendered to the king. Fortified none the less by Henry's endorsement of his succession to Gwynedd, Dafydd was able to return to his patrimony to confront the challenge presented by his half-brother. Gruffudd was probably seized, as Paris indicates, in the early autumn of 1240. The capture was alleged to have been accomplished by treachery and on this account, possibly among others, Dafydd incurred the unrelenting wrath of Richard, bishop of Bangor. Dafydd's support in lay society in Gwynedd was less than complete, but, with the adherence of Ednyfed Fychan and a number of key lineages, he strengthened his position in the patrimony. A new confidence came to be reflected during the following months in a marked intransigence in his relations with the crown over the arbitration procedures to which he was bound by the treaty of Gloucester.

By the summer of 1241 Henry was resolved upon a military campaign as a means of imposing discipline upon the prince of Gwynedd. Dafydd was already bereft of adherents among the Welsh princes who, promptly upon Llywelyn's death, had done as they were bidden and returned to the king's fealty. His position was undermined by Henry's decision, contrary to his endorsement of Dafydd's succession in 1240, to take up the cause of Gruffudd. Prompted by an initiative on the part of Gruffudd's wife, Senana, who sought his release from imprisonment, Henry undertook to secure his release and make a judgment of his court, according to Welsh law, concerning the portion of his father's patrimony which belonged to him but which Dafydd denied him. The list of Welsh princes and marcher lords who pledged the agreement between Henry and Senana on 12 August provides a graphic indication of the powerful influences that converged to bring Dafydd to submission. Confronting the king's army in the four cantrefs of Perfeddwlad (the lands between the Conwy and the Dee) Dafydd could not offer effective resistance and found withdrawal beyond the Conwy to Snowdonia impossible. On 29 August, at Gwerneigron on the banks of the Elwy near St Asaph, he accepted terms that reflected his dire plight. He was required to hand over Gruffudd to the king and agree to accept the judgment of the king's court concerning the portion of the patrimony due to Gruffudd. The agreement raised the prospect that Gwynedd would be divided into two parts, to be held by the two brothers as tenants-in-chief of the crown. Dafydd yielded Englefield (north-east Wales from the River Clwyd to the Dee) and accepted that the lands that Llywelyn had possessed by might, and that should have been subject to arbitration, be restored to their lords. It was emphasized again that the homage of the Welsh lords of Wales ought by right to belong to King Henry. At Rhuddlan two days later he agreed to place himself under ecclesiastical jurisdiction if he were ever to renounce his fealty to the crown and acknowledged that breach of faith would incur the forfeiture of his entire inheritance. In another document executed in London in the autumn, when the essential features of his submission were rehearsed once more, he made a further concession that if he were to die without heir his patrimony would be ceded to the king.

Resistance to English power, and death

Gruffudd was transferred to the Tower of London in September 1241 but Henry made no attempt to divide the patrimony. In 1243–4 the brothers brought actions in the king's court alleging breach of the king's peace but Dafydd did not appear, excusing himself because he suffered an illness that caused him to lose the hair of his head and the nails of his toes and fingers. The issue of Gruffudd's share of the inheritance is not known to have been broached in legal action. While Gruffudd remained in his custody Henry had the means of keeping Dafydd under restraint. The king may also have been prepared to tolerate the fact that Gruffudd's second son, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (d. 1282), had established lordship in Dyffryn Clwyd, one of the three of the four cantrefs which formed part of Dafydd's dominion. However, Gruffudd's death on 1 March 1244, in an attempt to escape from captivity, released Dafydd from the constraints placed upon him. Presenting himself as the avenger of his brother, Dafydd quickly summoned the princes of Wales to a new alliance in resistance to the English king and won a good measure of support. Henry sent Gruffudd's eldest son, Owain ap Gruffudd, to Chester with a view to releasing him so that he could draw support away from Dafydd when opportunity arose. But, though he won complete freedom before the end of 1244, Owain did not enter Gwynedd while Dafydd lived. By then Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, setting aside the animosities that had riven the lineage, had joined forces with Dafydd. Henry was confronted with a broad Welsh alliance founded upon a new-found unity in Gwynedd.

During this period of armed resistance Dafydd endeavoured to break free from his subjection to Henry III by making an appeal to Innocent IV. The enterprise was designed to enable Dafydd to hold his dominion as a papal fief. Innocent's first response shows that Dafydd had argued that his parents had given him as a ward (alumnus) to the Church of Rome, and that on this account he sought to be absolved from the pledges exacted from him upon his submission to King Henry. The pope's letter raised the prospect that the king of England would be summoned to Caerwys and examined on the prince's behalf by the abbots of Aberconwy and Cymer. Nine months later, reflecting both Henry's rebuttal and his alacrity in meeting his financial obligations to the Holy See, Innocent repudiated his previous response and accepted that Dafydd's ancestors had long been vassals of the king.

It appears that during the period when he negotiated with the papal court, excommunicated by the archbishop of Canterbury and his land under interdict, Dafydd styled himself ‘prince of Wales’. His decision to use the style reflected the broad, though not universal, support that he won among the princes of Wales. After prolonged delay an army was summoned to Chester for a campaign on which the king embarked in August 1245. He advanced to the Conwy and encamped for two months in the fortifications of Deganwy. A force from Ireland ravaged Anglesey, but the king was unable to breach the defences of Snowdonia. The soldiers at Deganwy suffered deprivation and by early October, conceding the need to make a truce with Dafydd, Henry withdrew. Before conflict was renewed Dafydd was dead. He died at Aber on 25 February 1246 and was buried at the abbey of Aberconwy. There were already signs of fissure among the prince's adherents in Deheubarth but it was only after his death that the alliance fell apart.

Historians' judgements upon the prince who failed to maintain the supremacy established by his father have tended to be somewhat harsh. Dafydd had come to an unenviable inheritance, his patrimonial dominion wracked by Gruffudd ap Llywelyn's challenge for the succession and his father's broader supremacy necessarily impermanent in the absence of recognition by the crown in a formal peace treaty. Dafydd's strenuous and sustained resistance in 1244–6 undoubtedly won him respect in his time. Two years before he died the poet Dafydd Benfras had commemorated Gruffudd ap Llywelyn in vibrant terms which suggest firm adherence, but in his elegy to Dafydd, in which he proclaimed him to be the rightful ruler of Gwynedd, he composed a deeply moving tribute to a steadfast defender of his land who yielded nothing to the crown of London. He was deemed to be one who had proved entirely worthy of his lineage.

According to the terms of his submission in 1241 Gwynedd would now fall to the king for either of two reasons: Dafydd had rebelled against the crown and he had died without heir. Even so, royal appropriation of Snowdonia was not politically feasible. After the two eldest sons of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, Owain and Llywelyn, had agreed to share the patrimony between them, Henry, by the treaty of Woodstock in April 1247, endorsed the arrangement, but he confined the brothers to the land west of the Conwy. A year later Henry allowed Owain and Llywelyn to remove the body of their father, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, from London to Aberconwy to be laid beside Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Dafydd ap Llywelyn. Dafydd Benfras composed an elegy which, commemorating the three princes together, accorded each one a place of honour in the annals of their dynasty.


  • J. E. Lloyd, A history of Wales from the earliest times to the Edwardian conquest, 2 vols. (1911)
  • J. B. Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, prince of Wales (1998)
  • R. R. Davies, Conquest, coexistence, and change: Wales, 1063–1415, History of Wales, 2 (1987)
  • G. A. Williams, ‘The succession to Gwynedd, 1238–47’, BBCS, 20 (1962–4), 393–413
  • M. Richter, ‘David ap Llywelyn, the first prince of Wales’, Welsh History Review / Cylchgrawn Hanes Cymru, 5 (1970–71), 205–19
  • J. B. Smith, ‘Dynastic succession in medieval Wales’, BBCS, 33 (1986), 199–232
  • Littere Wallie, ed. J. G. Edwards (1940)
  • F. M. Powicke, King Henry III and the Lord Edward: the community of the realm in the thirteenth century, 2 vols. (1947)
  • R. F. Walker, ‘Hubert de Burgh and Wales, 1218–32’, EngHR, 87 (1972), 465–94
  • Gwaith Dafydd Benfras ac eraill o feirdd hanner cyntaf y drydedd ganrif ar ddeg, ed. Y Chwaer Bosco and others (1994)
  • T. Jones, ed. and trans., Brut y tywysogyon, or, The chronicle of the princes: Red Book of Hergest (1955)
  • Curia regis rolls preserved in the Public Record Office (1922–)


  • M. Paris, manuscript drawing, 1259, CCC Cam., MS 16, fol. 132r
W. H. Bliss, C. Johnson, & J. Twemlow, eds., (1893–)
H. R. Luard, ed., , 7 vols., RS, 57 (1872–83)
Chancery records (Public Record Office)
English Historical Review
Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies