Orderic Vitalis (‘HE’ V: ii, 218) reports that after, Mercian brothers, earls Edwin and Morcar, had been defeated, “Edwin being dead, and Morcar languishing in prison”, i.e. in late-1071*, William I, the Norman king of England (best known as William the Conqueror): “divided up the chief provinces of England amongst his followers, and made the humblest of the Normans men of wealth, with civil and military authority.” Orderic continues:
“He gave William fitz Osbern, steward of Normandy, the Isle of Wight and county [i.e. earldom] of Hereford ....
.... and set him up in the marches with Walter de Lacy and other proved warriors, to fight the bellicose Welsh. Since his followers would dare anything, fitz Osbern made a first attack on Brecknock [Brycheiniog], and defeated the Welsh kings Rhys, Cadwgan, Maredudd, and many others. The king had already given the city and county of Chester to the Fleming Gerbod, but he was continually molested by the English and Welsh alike.* At length he received a message from the men he had left behind in Flanders to administer his hereditary honour, urgently requiring his return, and obtained permission for a short visit from the king. But there by misfortune he fell into the hands of his enemies; and loaded with fetters and deprived of all earthly happiness he learned through long wretchedness to compose songs of lamentation. Meanwhile the king granted the county of Chester to Hugh d’Avranches, son of Richard called Goz, who with Robert of Rhuddlan, Robert of Malpas, and other fierce knights, wrought great slaughter amongst the Welsh....
.... He [Earl Hugh] was more prodigal than generous; and went about surrounded by an army instead of a household. He kept no check on what he gave or received. His hunting was a daily devastation of his lands, for he thought more highly of fowlers and hunters than husbandmen or monks. A slave to gluttony, he staggered under a mountain of fat, scarcely able to move. He was given over to carnal lusts and had a numerous progeny of sons and daughters by his concubines; but almost all of them died miserably in one way or another... King William gave Roger de Montgomery first of all Arundel castle and the town of Chichester; and afterwards granted him the county of Shrewsbury, a town standing on a hill above the river Severn....
.... He was a wise and prudent man, a lover of justice, who always enjoyed the company of learned and sober men. For many years he had in his household three learned clerks, Godebald, Odelerius, and Herbert, whose advice was very profitable to him. To Warin the Bald, a man small in body but great in spirit, he gave his niece Amieria and the sheriffdom of Shrewsbury, employing him to crush the Welsh and other opponents and pacify the whole province under his rule.”Orderic Vitalis (‘HE’ IV: ii, 218–20)
Entries in the Domesday Book show that William fitz Osbern, earl of Hereford (d.1071), planted a line of castles along his earldom’s border with Wales, and extended Norman control into Gwent.* At this time, Caradog ap Gruffudd (son of Gruffudd ap Rhydderch*) was, apparently, the dominant force in south-east Wales.*
In 1072, reported in Welsh annals, Caradog, with assistance from “the French”, defeated and killed Maredudd ab Owain of Deheubarth (south-west Wales) in a battle on the banks of the Rhymney.* (Maredudd and his brother Rhys – of whom more shortly – would be two of the Welsh kings said by Orderic Vitalis to have been defeated by William fitz Osbern.) Who were “the French”, i.e. Caradog’s Norman allies? Well, in 1075 William fitz Osbern’s son, and successor as earl of Hereford, Roger, rebelled against King William.* The rebellion failed, and as a consequence, says Orderic Vitalis (‘HE’ IV: ii, 264), Earl Roger was: “condemned to perpetual imprisonment after forfeiting all his earthly goods.” King William did not appoint a successor, and the earldom of Hereford lapsed. A ‘Vita’ of St Gwynllyw (composed round-about 1130), though not naming Earl Roger, is clearly referring to his rebellion when it says that the knights involved in the attempted coup fled for safety to Caradog, “king of the Glamorgan folk”. Caradog, who is presented as King William’s vassal:
“... received them honourably, and promised that he would never by the command of the king injure them, although he should lose all which he held of the king.”‘Vita Sancti Gundleii [Gwynllyw]’ §15
King William, angered by Caradog’s refusal to give-up the fugitive knights, sent his son, William Rufus, to ravage Glamorgan.* It would appear, then, that Caradog was a client-king of King William, and his ally at the battle of the Rhymney in 1072 would seem to have been Earl Roger. In the Llandaff Charters King Caradog is said to have been present at the consecration of the church of Monmouth Castle, which was after Earl Roger’s downfall,* so kings Caradog and William were evidently soon reconciled.
Deheubarth was targeted by unspecified Normans (“the French”) in 1073, when they ravaged Ceredigion and Dyfed. The following year, 1074, Ceredigion alone was raided by “the French”, but this time the B-text of the ‘Annales Cambriae’ names the perpetrator – Hugh, the son of, the earl of Shrewsbury, Roger de Montgomery. In 1075, Rhys ab Owain (brother of Maredudd), king of Deheubarth, killed Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, king of Gwynedd (northern Wales) – the ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ commenting that Bleddyn’s death was brought about “through the deceit of the evil minded chieftains and noblemen of Ystrad Tywi”. The ‘Brut’ claims that Bleddyn, following in the footsteps of, his half-brother, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn,* had: “nobly supported the whole kingdom of the Britons.” So maybe Bleddyn was Rhys’ overlord. Maybe Rhys had lured him south – possibly requesting his assistance against the Norman raiders or against Caradog ap Gruffudd, who apparently had ambitions to take-over Deheubarth – and then, treacherously, killed him:
“... Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, who was the mildest and most merciful of the kings, and would injure no one unless offended, and when offended, it was against his will that he then avenged the offence. He was gentle to his relations, and was defender of the orphans, the helpless, and the widows; was the supporter of the wise, the honour and stay of the churches, and the comfort of the countries; generous to all, terrible in war, and amiable in peace, and a defence to every one.”‘Brut y Tywysogion’*
Anyway, it would appear that none of Bleddyn’s sons was old enough to succeed him, since the rule of Gwynedd passed to his cousin, Trahaearn ap Caradog. Trahaearn, however, immediately faced opposition from Gruffudd ap Cynan – a grandson of Iago ab Idwal, king of Gwynedd 1023–39*. According to the ‘History of Gruffudd ap Cynan’ (anonymous, probably mid-12th century), Gruffudd was born and raised in Ireland – his mother being the daughter of an erstwhile Hiberno-Norse king of Dublin.* In 1075, Gruffudd arrived in Anglesey. The ‘History’ says he landed at Abermenai, and sent requests that the worthies of Anglesey, Arfon and Llŷn hurry to meet with him. This they did, and were persuaded “to help him to obtain his patrimony, because he was their rightful lord”.
“When the meeting was over and the council dispersed, he [Gruffudd] again voyaged by sea towards the castle of Rhuddlan to Robert of Rhuddlan, a renowned, valiant baron of strength, a nephew [actually, a cousin] of Hugh earl of Chester, and he besought him for help against his enemies who were in possession of his patrimony. And when Robert heard who he was, and for what he had come, and what his request was, he promised to support him.”‘History of Gruffudd ap Cynan’
The ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ mentions that one Cynwrig ap Rhiwallon was killed by “the men of Gwynedd” in 1075. In the ‘History of Gruffudd ap Cynan’, Cynwrig ap Rhiwallon, “a petty king of Powys” (Powys had been annexed by Gwynedd some two centuries previously*), and Trahaearn ap Caradog are joint rulers – “ruling over all Gwynedd unjustly and contrary to right” – Cynwrig being Trahaearn’s “kinsman”. Gruffudd sends out a force of his new allies, who take Cynwrig by surprise – killing him and “many of his men”. Gruffudd, at the head of a “large host”, then marches against Trahaearn. At “the place called in Welsh Gwaed Erw, or the Bloody Field, because of the battle which took place there”, in Meirionnydd, Gruffudd defeats Trahaearn – “many thousands fell on Trahaearn’s side” – though Trahaearn himself, “and a few with him”, manages to make a getaway. The ‘History’ declares:
“Because of that Gruffudd was exalted from that day forth, and deservedly acclaimed king of Gwynedd... Gruffudd began to settle his kingdom and to organize its people, and rule them with an iron rod gloriously in the Lord.”
Gruffudd then turns on Robert of Rhuddlan – managing to torch the bailey of his castle. The men of Llŷn, however, rebel against Gruffudd, killing some of his Irishmen. Taking heart from this, Trahaearn gathers reinforcements from Powys – he is joined by one Gwrgenau ap Seisyll, to whom the ‘History’ accords the title “king of Powys” – and, together with the men of Llŷn and other dissidents, marches against Gruffudd:
“And when Gruffudd heard of the treachery and alliance against him by his own men together with his enemies, he proceeded against them, and with him the men of Anglesey and Arfon and a few of the men of Denmark and the Irish, and a mighty battle ensued. There was great slaughter on both sides, many fell from the host of King Gruffudd, and many were captured in the battle ... King Gruffudd, however, was seated on his horse in the midst of his army, with his flashing sword mowing down both his traitors and enemies, like Agamemnon, king of Phrygia, of yore fighting Troy. And then there attacked Gruffudd Tudur, a youth from Anglesey, the arch-traitor, brandishing a spear, and he turned aside to attack him behind his saddle-bow. When Gwyncu, a baron from Anglesey, saw that, he took him [Gruffudd] against his will from the battle to his ship, which was in Abermenai. And then they went to the island of Adron, namely the island of the seals. Then they voyaged to Wexford in Ireland. That encounter from then till today is called Bron yr Erw, or Erw yr Allt from then till today....
.... Let not the people, however, be surprised that there is sometimes victory and sometimes defeat for the leaders according to chance, because there has been treachery from the beginning.”
The story may have been embellished, but there is no disguising the outcome – Gruffudd’s bid for the throne of Gwynedd had failed.*
Also in 1075, in the South, there took place the battle of Camddwr. Two brothers, Goronwy and Llywelyn (sons of one Cadwgan ap Elystan), in alliance with Caradog ap Gruffudd, fought against Rhys ab Owain and Rhydderch ap Caradog (evidently a cousin of Caradog ap Gruffudd), who were sharing the rule of Deheubarth. Rhys and Rhydderch were victorious, but in the next year Rhydderch was killed, “through treachery”, by his cousin Meirchion. In 1077, at the battle of Gweunytwl, Goronwy and Llywelyn were again defeated by Rhys. It is an indicator of the security of Trahaearn’s position in the North, that, in 1078, he could turn his attention to the South, and tackle Rhys:
“... the battle of Pwllgwdig took place, when Trahaearn, king of Gwynedd, prevailed, and by the grace of God, avenged the blood of Bleddyn ap Cynfyn ... And there all the family of Rhys fell, and he himself became a fugitive, like a timid stag before the hounds, through the thickets and rocks.”‘Brut y Tywysogion’
Late in the year, Rhys and his brother, Hywel, were slain by Caradog ap Gruffudd. It seems likely that Trahaearn and Caradog were in cahoots, and, presumably, Caradog hoped to get his hands on Deheubarth after Rhys’ death. This, however, was not to be – the Welsh annals recording that, the next year (1079): “Rhys ap Tewdwr began to reign.”
Rhys’ first year as king seems to have passed relatively uneventfully – a Viking raid on St Davids being the only recorded incident* – but in 1081 he was attacked by Trahaearn and Caradog. In the ‘History of Gruffudd ap Cynan’, Gruffudd, with “a royal fleet from Waterford”, lands at Porthclais, near St Davids. Rhys rushes to meet him (addressing him as “king of the kings of Wales”), and beg his aid. Gruffudd does not know who Rhys is, nor why he is requesting assistance. Rhys informs him that he is the king of Deheubarth, and that he is on the run from “three kings from the chief lands of Wales”. The three are Trahaearn and Caradog, of course, and also Meilyr ap Rhiwallon, to whom the rule of Powys is assigned.* Rhys promises half his territory to Gruffudd, and to do homage to him also, in return for his help. The terms are agreeable to Gruffudd, and they march to war. After “a full day’s journey” they arrive at the place where the enemy kings are camped. It is evening, and Rhys advises delaying the fight until the morning. Gruffudd, though, pooh-poohs Rhys’ caution, and battle is joined:
“Gruffudd was the first fighter to go into battle like a giant and a lion, without respite scattering his opponents with a flashing sword. He instilled vigour into his men to engage in conflict with their enemies bravely, so that they should not show them their backs in any manner. Then there was a battle greatly to be remembered by the descendants after their forbears. The shouts of the combatants were raised to the sky: the earth resounded with the tumult of horses and foot soldiers: the sound of conflict was heard from afar: the clash of arms sounded often: the men of Gruffudd fiercely putting on the pressure, and their enemies submitting to them: the sweat of their toil and the blood forming running streams. Amidst that, Trahaearn was stabbed in his bowels, until he was on the ground breathing his last, chewing with his teeth the fresh herbs and groping on top of his arms*: and Gwcharki the Irishman made bacon of him as of a pig. And in that place there fell around him of his own guard twenty-five horsemen. Some others of them were killed in the front troop. Many thousands of them were killed, and others showed their backs to Gruffudd’s men, and turned in flight... the mountain on which the battle was fought the people of the land call Mynydd Carn, namely the Mountain of the Cairn; because there is a huge cairn of stones under which a hero was buried formerly in olden times.”
The ‘History of Gruffudd ap Cynan’ does not mention that Caradog and Meilyr were also killed at Mynydd Carn (location uncertain).* According to the ‘History’, after the battle, Rhys begins to fear for his own safety, and slips away. Gruffudd is not amused and has his men ravage Rhys’ territory. Gruffudd then marches north to secure Gwynedd, ravaging Arwystli, which was Trahaearn’s homeland, and Powys in the process:
“And there was rest and peace in Gwynedd for a few days.”
Then, unfortunately for Gruffudd, he is betrayed to the Normans, who:
“... put him in the gaol of Chester, the worst of prisons, with shackles upon him, for twelve years.”*
With Gruffudd out of the way, the Normans overrun Gwynedd.
The Domesday Book, compiled in 1086, records that: “Robert of Rhuddlan holds of the king [William I] North Wales [i.e. Gwynedd] at farm for £40”, and that the hundred (an administrative sub-division of a shire) of “Arvester”, i.e. Arwystli (Trahaearn’s homeland), was held by Roger de Montgomery, but was claimed by Robert of Rhuddlan, because: “The Welsh testify that this hundred is [one] of those of North Wales.”*
After the death of William I, in 1087, an independent Powys, ruled by the descendants of Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, emerges from the Welsh annals.
Gruffudd ap Cynan did manage to get out of prison, but exactly when is not clear – the ‘History of Gruffudd ap Cynan’ cannot agree with itself, giving the duration of his incarceration as twelve years, which would have made him free in 1093, and also sixteen years, which would have made him free in 1097. He reappears in Welsh annals in 1098, and until his death in 1137 (aged eighty-two and blind, according to the ‘History’), his time was spent rebuilding the kingdom of Gwynedd.
“... Gruffudd ap Cynan died – the king and sovereign and prince and defender and pacifier of all the Welsh, after many dangers by sea and land, after innumerable spoils and victories in war, after riches of gold and silver and costly garments, after collecting together into Gwynedd, his own country, those who had been before scattered into various countries by the Normans, after building in his time many churches, and consecrating them to God, and after habiting himself as a monk, and receiving the communion of the Body of Christ, and extreme unction.”‘Brut y Tywysogion’
“... Earl Hugh [of Chester] came to his territory with a multitude of forces, and built castles and strongholds after the manner of the French, and became lord over the land. He built a castle in Anglesey, and another in Arfon ... He built another in Bangor and another in Meirionnydd.”In Domesday Book (1086), though, it is Robert of Rhuddlan who is holding “North Wales” directly from King William I (d.1087). Geffrei Gaimar, the 12th century poet-chronicler, says William I’s son and successor, William II (William Rufus), gave Earl Hugh “North Wales ... to advance his honour” (Lines 6043–6044), but in whimsical circumstances at a grand court that actually took place in 1099, which Gaimar has moved earlier in Rufus’s reign for dramatic effect. Modern historians John Edward Lloyd and Frank Barlow (for example) have ‘North Wales’ pass to Earl Hugh following Robert of Rhuddlan’s death, at which time Hugh builds the castles mentioned in the ‘History’.* Orderic Vitalis (‘HE’ VIII: iii, 284–6) tells the story of Robert of Rhuddlan’s death. According to Orderic, on 3rd July in the year, by implication, 1088, Robert attacked a pirate band, led by “Gruffudd, king of the Welsh”, which had landed at the Great Orme. Robert was killed, and his head was mounted atop a ship’s mast as a trophy. Robert’s men set-off after the pirate ships, but abandoned the chase when Gruffudd and his men threw Robert’s head into the sea. Problematically, Gruffudd ap Cynan was a prisoner in Chester between 1081 and 1093 or 1097. Orderic, however, says that Robert’s body was recovered and buried at St Werburgh’s Abbey, Chester, which had been recently built by Earl Hugh. The point being that Hugh did not begin the process of transforming the church dedicated to St Werburgh at Chester, which was served by secular canons, into a Benedictine abbey until autumn 1092. In consequence, the date of Robert of Rhuddlan’s death is widely given as 3rd July 1093. By this token, it is possible for Gruffudd ap Cynan to have been responsible for the death, as indicated by Orderic, but there is a major objection – it is not mentioned in the ‘History of Gruffudd ap Cynan’, nor by Gruffudd’s court poet, Meilyr Brydydd, in his elegy – and some scholars find it difficult to accept.*
Meanwhile, in the South, in the aftermath of the battle of Mynydd Carn, William the Conqueror (as he is now known), himself, made an appearance:
“And then William the Bastard, king of the Saxons and the French and the Britons, came for prayer on a pilgrimage to Menevia [St Davids].”‘Brut y Tywysogion’*
King William didn’t traverse south Wales simply to visit St David’s relics, as the only entry for the year 1081 in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ makes clear:
“In this year the king led a force into Wales, and there freed many hundred men.*”
It would appear that a deal was struck between William and Rhys ap Tewdwr – William recognizing Rhys as ruler of Deheubarth; Rhys accepting William as his overlord. The Domesday Book (1086) records that: “Rhys of Wales renders to King William £40.”* £40 being the same rent that Robert of Rhuddlan paid for Gwynedd.
King William died in 1087. Soon after, Bernard de Neufmarché (from Herefordshire) began his conquest of Brycheiniog. In 1093, Rhys met his death at the hands of Bernard’s Norman forces:
“... Rhys ap Tewdwr, king of Deheubarth, was killed by the French who inhabited Brycheiniog.”'Brut y Tywysogion'
“Rhys, king of the Welsh, during Easter week, was slain in battle near the castle of Brecknock [Brecon].”
The vacancy in south-east Wales, i.e. Morgannwg, left by the death of Caradog ap Gruffudd at Mynydd Carn, seems to have been filled by an obscure figure called Iestyn ap Gwrgant (of whom more shortly). The ‘Margam Annals’ – 13th century, Latin, produced at Margam Abbey, Glamorgan (founded in 1147) – record the building of Cardiff, “under King William the First”, in 1081. Presumably William ordered the construction of Cardiff Castle, within the walls of a Roman fort, when he travelled through on his return from Deheubarth. In the Domesday Book, the westernmost Norman outpost is the castle at Caerleon,* built adjacent to the Roman fort, on the west bank of the Usk. To its east, i.e. Gwent, King William has the overlordship of Norman and Welsh magnates.* Probably at about the time Bernard de Neufmarché began his conquest of Brycheiniog, Robert fitz Hamo (from Gloucestershire) began his take-over of western Morgannwg (Glamorgan) – an undertaking that was evidently unnoticed by either Welsh or English chroniclers. This historical void is filled by a ‘tradition’ (not found before the 16th century*). There are variations on the theme, but, essentially, Iestyn ap Gwrgant, who is ruling Morgannwg, obtains Robert fitz Hamo’s services to help him defeat Rhys ap Tewdwr. It is Iestyn and Robert who defeat and kill Rhys (obviously incorrect). Iestyn then reneges on the deals he has made with his allies. Iestyn is defeated by the Normans – Robert and his companions take the best lands, leaving the residue to the Welsh.