Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Death of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn Fawr

Although very little is known about Gruffydd ap Llewelyn Fawr, it's clear that he wasn't the sort of man to let a namby-pamby little thing like incarceration in the Tower of London keep him down; having been a prisoner for much of his life, on this day in 1244 he'd clearly had enough.

PhotobucketThe first-born - albeit illegitimate - son of Llywelyn the Great came into this world at the outset of the 13th Century, at a time when the Kings of England (especially Henry III and his son Edward I) were trying mightily to subdue the rugged land and equally rugged populace to their immediate west, in Wales. Offered as a prisoner to King John while still a boy, upon his father's death Gruffydd was released, only to be taken prisoner thereafter by his legitimate half-brother Dafydd (by King John's daughter Joan), who for a time was recognized as Prince of Wales.

Following his internment in 1240 Gruffydd's own wife Senena petitioned Henry III for her husband's release, going so far as to pay 600 marks, which was a very princely ransom indeed; the King considered the petition, pocketed the money, then reneged on the deal - and to think it's the Welsh who have the reputation of welshing (in other words, not keeping their end of the bargain)!

And so it was that on this day in 1244 - the feast day of St. David, patron saint of Wales - that Gruffydd ap Llewelyn Fawr fashioned himself a rope out of whatever fabric he could find and attempted to lower himself out of the window of his cell in the White Tower; a sturdily built man, a hastily improvised method of escape... The outcome is pretty obvious.

He was found - dead - the following morning by the Yeoman of the Guard, and his body was transported to Aberconwy and the behest of the abbott, where he was buried beside his father; in the years following his death Gruffydd's sons - Owain, Llywelyn, Dafydd and Rhodri - would scrap over Wales in between their tussles with the English, and in the end it would be Llewelyn who emerged the victor.

Alas, he is remembered to history as Llewelyn Ein Llyw Olaf, or Llewelyn Our Last Leader, the last Welsh-born Prince of Wales before the conquests of Edward I rendered Wales unto the control and fealty of the British Crown, which took his august title and bestowed it henceforth upon the eldest son of its wearer.
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