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25 November 2007
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Wales at the beginning of the 13th century

King John signing the Magna CartaIn 1200, the March of Wales consisted, to use the old county names, of the fringes of Flintshire and Montgomeryshire, most of Radnorshire, Breconshire and Glamorgan, Monmouthshire almost in its entirety, the southern part of Carmarthenshire and virtually the whole of Pembrokeshire.

At the time, the leading families of marcher lords were those of Breos, Mortimer, Fitzalan and Marshall. In Pura Wallia, the major figures of the 12th century Madog of Powys, Owain of Gwynedd and Rhys of Deheubarth had left the scene.

Powys had been divided between two branches of its ruling family. The northern part (eastern Meirionnydd and southern Denbighshire and Flintshire) became known as Powys Fadog; the southern part (Montgomeryshire) as Powys Wenwynwyn.

Deheubarth was also on the verge of division, for the sons of the Lord Rhys were a quarrelsome brood. Gwynedd also seemed prone to division, although Llywelyn, grandson of Owain Gwynedd, was poised to re-establish the power of his grandfather.

The rise of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd

In 1205, Llywelyn married Joan, the illegitimate daughter of King John of England. By then he was master of Gwynedd. He expanded his power southwards, seizing Powys Wenwynwyn and northern Ceredigion.

John sent an army to Gwynedd and Joan succeeded in making peace between her father and her husband. John's troubles, which led in 1215 to the sealing of the Magna Carta, allowed Llywelyn to capture royal castles, Carmarthen and Cardigan among them.

In 1216, Llywelyn presided over a meeting of Welsh rulers at Aberdyfi where he was recognized as their overlord. In 1218, through the Treaty of Worcester, the English crown recognised his position. Thereafter, his power was rarely challenged. He died in 1240 and would be hailed as Llywelyn the Great.

The problem of the succession

Llywelyn and Joan had one son, Dafydd. Llywelyn had another son, Gruffudd, but he was determined to ensure that his entire principality would be inherited by his legitimate son. Before his death, the pope, the king of England and the lesser Welsh rulers, recognised Dafydd as Llywelyn's heir.

On inheriting, Dafydd found that his uncle, Henry III, King of England, was prepared to accept him as Prince of Gwynedd. The king would not, however, allow him the wider role won by Llywelyn. In 1246, before the matter was fully resolved, Dafydd died childless.

Power in Gwynedd passed to the sons of Gruffudd, with Llywelyn the most prominent among them. Henry sought to limit their authority; his aim was to transform the ancient kingdoms of a distinct people into no more than ordinary lordships of the realm of England.

The rise of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd

Llewelyn ap GruffuddBy 1256 Llywelyn had ousted his brothers. He undertook campaigns similar to those of his grandfather. He secured the allegiance of the Lords of Powys Fadog, seized Powys Wenwynwyn and secured that the authority in Deheubarth was is in the hands of those loyal to him. He became not only the leader of Pura Wallia but also its lord.

By 1258, he was referring to himself not as Prince of Gwynedd but as Prince of Wales. To give full substance to his title he needed also to be lord of Marchia Wallie. In 1263 he led his forces into the heart of the March and was welcomed by the Welsh of Brecon, Abergavenny and upland Glamorgan. His advance was assisted by the barons' revolt in England, whose leader, Simon de Montfort, allied with Llywelyn in 1264.

Three years later, through the Treaty of Montgomery, Henry III recognised Llywelyn as Prince of Wales and Llywelyn, in turn, recognised the King of England as his suzerain. The prince was to be overlord of the lesser Welsh rulers. He was allowed to retain a chain of lordships extending from the borders of Powys to Brecon and gains an ill-defined authority over the Welsh of upland Glamorgan and Gwent.

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