In 974, Hywel ab Ieuaf managed to expel his uncle, Iago ab Idwal Foel, with whom he had been sharing the rule of Gwynedd. Iago's return (and, indeed, a great deal else) is not reported by Welsh annals, but he evidently succeeded in re-establishing himself in the kingdom, seemingly before 978. In 978, Hywel, with English assistance, raided the monastery of Clynnog Fawr. Presumably this, otherwise unaccountable, attack was directed at Iago. The following year, Iago was captured. The C-text of the ‘Annales Cambriae’ says it was by Vikings, but, if so, they may well have been in cahoots with Hywel, since he promptly conquered Iago's territories. Iago is never heard of again. Iago's son, Custennin, allied himself with the Viking Guthfrith Haraldsson, and, in 980, they attacked Môn (Anglesey) and the Llŷn peninsula. (Guthfrith was no stranger, having ravaged Anglesey before, in 972.) Custennin was later killed in battle against Hywel. Guthfrith pillaged Dyfed, the westernmost province of Deheubarth, in 982.
The picture presented by Welsh annals is very sketchy indeed, but it seems that Owain ap Hywel Dda was still king of Deheubarth. He had last been mentioned in 960, and is not mentioned again until his death is recorded twenty-eight years later. There is, though, no suggestion that he had abdicated. Owain's son, Einion, however, does feature in the record. He had attacked Gower in 970 and again in 977, and would at some stage appear to have permanently wrested it from Morgannwg.* Anyway, in 983, Hywel ab Ieuaf, in alliance with Ælfhere, ealdorman of Mercia, harried Deheubarth's eastern territories – described in the annals as: “Brycheiniog and all the territory of Einion ab Owain” – but Einion inflicted heavy losses on the invaders.* Now, the probability is that Einion's grandfather, Hywel Dda, had annexed Brycheiniog some time after 934 (he died in 950), so Brycheiniog was part of, not separate from, “all the territory of Einion ab Owain”, which phrase indicates that Einion was ruling in that area. Perhaps, because of advancing years, Owain had delegated the rule of Deheubarth's more recent acquisitions in the east to Einion, whilst he ruled the homelands in the west.
The following year, i.e. 984, Einion was killed: “through treachery by the nobles of Gwent.” These nobles of Gwent (Morgannwg's eastern province) would have had reason to be concerned by Deheubarth's territorial ambitions, Einion having apparently already seized Gower.
Hywel ab Ieuaf's English ally, Ealdorman Ælfhere, had died in 983. In 985, in unspecified circumstances, Hywel was killed by “the English”. There appears to have been a brief dispute over the succession, between Hywel's brother, Cadwallon, and his cousin, Ionafal ap Meurig. Within the year, Cadwallon had killed Ionafal. At this point, Einion's brother, Maredudd ab Owain appears in the record. In 986 he marched against Cadwallon. Cadwallon was killed, and Maredudd took control of Gwynedd.
In 987, Guthfrith Haraldsson, once more, ravaged Anglesey. Guthfrith's raiders are reported to have taken two thousand captives. Maredudd and his remaining forces were compelled to retreat into Ceredigion and Dyfed. During the next year, Vikings (seemingly not Guthfrith's band*) plundered around the Welsh coast from Ceredigion to Morgannwg.* In 989 Maredudd made a payment to Guthfrith's accomplices, possibly to redeem some of the captives taken two years previously.*
In the meantime, in 988, Maredudd's father, Owain, had died. Maredudd evidently succeeded him as king of Deheubarth, and now ruled all but southeastern Wales – as his grandfather, Hywel Dda, had done before him. In 991, Maredudd ravaged Maes Hyfaidd (the district around New Radnor). No details are recorded, but the location suggests that the attack may have been directed at encroaching Englishmen. The next year, 992, Maredudd faced a challenge from his nephew, Edwin ab Einion. Edwin, aided by English forces, attacked “the territories of Maredudd”, which are listed as Dyfed, Ceredigion, Gower and Cydweli. Brycheiniog is conspicuously absent from the list, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to suppose that Edwin was, like his father had seemingly been, based there. It would appear that Maredudd overcame Edwin – no more is heard of him.* In the same year, perhaps bolstered by this success, Maredudd hired a Viking band, and launched a raid into Morgannwg.
In 993, the Northern Branch of the Line of Merfyn Frych, in the form of “the sons of Meurig”, apparently launched a come-back.* The following year, 994, the unnamed and unnumbered brothers defeated Maredudd in battle near Llangwm, of which there are several, but the only one in the north of Wales, some twenty-five miles southeast of Conwy, is the usual identification. Tewdwr ab Einion, Edwin's brother, was apparently killed in the battle – presumably he was on Maredudd's side.* One of the “sons of Meurig”, Idwal, was killed in 996. Who did the killing, and in what circumstances, are not mentioned. It could be that Idwal's death was the result of a feud within the Northern Branch, rather than by continuing conflict with Maredudd. Idwal is the only one of Meurig's sons to be named (apart from Ionafal who had been killed back in 985). How many brothers he had is unknown, but after his death nothing more is heard of them.
In 999 Maredudd died. At the time of his death he was king of Deheubarth, but it is difficult to say with any degree of certainty whether or not he still ruled Gwynedd. His obit in the ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ calls him: “the most celebrated king of the Britons”, which may be suggestive that he had managed to retain control of the North. If that was the case, it certainly reverted to the Northern Branch after his death. Just a year later, i.e. in 1000, Welsh annals report that Gwynedd was being ruled by Cynan ap Hywel. Cynan was killed in 1003, but, once more, no details are supplied.
After the record of Cynan's killing, the Welsh annals have nothing noteworthy to offer for fourteen years, with one, albeit unexplained, exception. In 1012 Eadric Streona, ealdorman of Mercia since 1007, and another, unidentifiable, ‘Saxon’, managed to ravage St Davids. Perhaps this was a seaborne assault – it might be expected that a land-force would have had other annal-worthy encounters on the way.
In 1018 Llywelyn ap Seisyll killed Aeddan ap Blegywryd and his four sons. Quite who Aeddan was is open to speculation, but Llywelyn was probably king of Gwynedd – he certainly was four years later. Llywelyn's background is obscure. Later genealogists contrived to make his mother, Prawst, the daughter of Elise, an otherwise unknown son of Anarawd ap Rhodri Mawr*. It is not unreasonable to suppose that both Prawst and Elise are inventions. It is, though, known from a mention in the 'Brut y Tywysogion' that Llywelyn was married to Angharad, a daughter of Maredudd ab Owain, of the Southern Branch*. In 1022 an Irishman called Rhain, claiming to be the son of Maredudd, gained acceptance as king of Deheubarth:
“And Llywelyn ap Seisyll, supreme king of Gwynedd, and the chief and most renowned king of all the Britons, made war against him.”‘Brut y Tywysogion’ (Red Book)
Rhain was defeated at Abergwili (on the northeastern outskirts of Carmarthen) – he fled, never to be seen again.* Llywelyn followed up his victory by ravaging, and presumably taking into his control, Deheubarth.
Later the same year, Dyfed was plundered and St Davids was ruined by one Eilaf. Eilaf is almost certainly King Cnut's earl of that name.* A passage (§40), seemingly inserted during the 12th century, into a Latin ‘Life’ of St Cadog originally composed, by Lifris of Llancarfan, c.1090, suggests that Eilaf raided southeast Wales as he was passing through:
“... a certain sheriff of the English, very strong in troops, called by the name Eilaf, came to Morgannwg with a large company of followers to plunder and devastate.”
The attempts of Eilaf's men to steal the shrine of St Cadog acquire legendary trappings.
At some stage during the early-11th century, another obscure figure, one Rhydderch ab Iestyn rose to power in Morgannwg. Again, Rhydderch was, much later, given a link to the Line of Merfyn Frych*. His father, Iestyn, is said to have been a son of Owain ap Hywel Dda, but there is no historically attested Iestyn ab Owain. The Llandaff Charters tend to indicate that Rhydderch's power-base was in Gwent.*
In 1023 Llywelyn ap Seisyll died, and Rhydderch ab Iestyn seized control of Deheubarth. According to the ‘Brut y Tywysogion’, Gwynedd reverted to the Line of Merfyn Frych, in the person of Iago ab Idwal ap Meurig. In the Llandaff Charters, however, it is claimed that Rhydderch ruled all of Wales except Anglesey, which was held by Iago*.
In 1027 Llywelyn's brother seems to have mounted an unsuccessful bid to take control of Gwynedd, since the killing of a Cynan ap Seisyll is recorded in Welsh annals.
In 1033 Rhydderch ab Iestyn was killed, by the Irish – typically, Welsh annals do not record the circumstances.* If he held any authority in Gwynedd, it died with him – Iago ab Idwal was indisputably king of Gwynedd. The rule of Deheubarth reverted to the Line of Merfyn Frych, in the persons of Hywel and Maredudd, sons of Edwin ab Einion.
Rhydderch's sons, apparently, succeeded him in Morgannwg, and were clearly not content to lose control of Deheubarth without a contest. The following year, i.e. in 1034, “the sons of Edwin” and “the sons of Rhydderch” fought the battle of Irathwy (location unknown). The outcome is not recorded, but Edwin's sons would appear to have been the victors since they remained in power, though Maredudd did not live to enjoy it for long – he was killed the next year by “the sons of Cynan”. Presumably (?) the Cynan in question is Cynan ap Seisyll.*
In the same year that Maredudd ab Edwin was killed, 1035, Rhydderch's sons suffered another set-back – one of them, Caradog, was killed by the English.
“... Iago, king of Gwynedd, was slain; and Gruffudd ap Llywelyn ap Seisyll, governed in his stead; and he, from beginning to end, pursued the Saxons, and the other gentiles [i.e. Vikings], and killed and destroyed them, and overcame them in a multitude of battles.”‘Brut y Tywysogion’ (Red Book)
It would appear that Gruffudd ap Llywelyn had Iago ab Idwal, of the Northern Branch of the Line of Merfyn Frych, killed, and seized the throne of Gwynedd.* The same year, noted by Manuscript C of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’:
“... the Welsh slew Edwin, the brother of Earl Leofric [of Mercia], and Thorkell, and Ælfgeat, and very many good men with them.”
Although he is not named, it is clear that “the Welsh” were the forces of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, and, according to a later reference (s.a. 1052) by Florence of Worcester, they had ambushed Edwin's army. The ensuing battle is generally equated to the first victory attributed to Gruffudd (his opponent is not named) in Welsh annals, at a place called Rhyd-y-Groes (‘Ford of the Cross’) on the river Severn – probably near Buttington, Powys.
Still in 1039, Gruffudd struck southwards, beginning what turned out to be a protracted campaign to wrest Deheubarth from the Southern Branch of the Line of Merfyn Frych, in the person of Hywel ab Edwin. Having ransacked the monastery of Llanbadarn (on the southeastern outskirts of Aberystwyth), Gruffudd proceeded to drive Hywel into exile. Hywel evidently recovered his position, however, and, in 1041, Gruffudd launched another attack on him. They met in battle at Pencader (about 10 miles north of Carmarthen). Gruffudd was victorious. He captured Hywel's wife and took her for himself, but he failed to dislodge Hywel.
In 1042, Edward, remembered by posterity as Edward the Confessor, became king of England. His father was English, but in all other respects Edward was Norman.*
Also in 1042, at Pwlldyfach (about 5 miles northwest of Carmarthen), Hywel ab Edwin defeated a Viking band that had been ravaging Dyfed. In the same year, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn was captured by Vikings: “the gentiles of Dublin”. Clearly his captivity was brief, since in 1044 we discover that Gruffudd has managed to, once more, expel Hywel, who has employed a fleet of Irish Vikings to help him recover his kingdom:
“And against him was opposed Gruffudd ap Llywelyn. And after a cruel battle, and a vast slaughter of the army of Hywel and of the Irish at the mouth of the Tywi, Hywel fell and was slain, and Gruffudd was victorious.”‘Brut y Tywysogion’ (Red Book)
It would appear that the remaining “sons of Rhydderch”, i.e. Gruffudd, king of Morgannwg, and his brother, Rhys,* had been allies of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn during the fight against Hywel, but then, after Hywel's death, the alliance crumbled – Welsh annals talk vaguely of great treachery between these parties in 1045 – and a new contest for Deheubarth ensued. Gruffudd ap Llywelyn seems to have formed an alliance with Earl Swein (his earldom included Gloucestershire and Herefordshire), eldest son of Earl Godwine of Wessex, to oppose Rhydderch's sons. Manuscript C of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ notes, s.a. 1046:
“In this year Earl Swein went into Wales, and Gruffudd, the northern king, went forth with him; and hostages were given him.”*
Swein, however, brought disgrace on himself and was obliged to leave England in 1047, so his alliance with Gruffudd was short lived.
In 1047, some 140 of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn's “family”, i.e. his warband, were killed through the treachery of the chief-men of Ystrad Tywi. Gruffudd responded by ravaging Ystrad Tywi and Dyfed. At this point, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn disappears from the record for a few years.
Welsh annals report that all of Deheubarth was laid-waste in 1049. The C-text of the ‘Annales Cambriae’ implies that the ravaging was done by the people themselves “from fear of the gentiles”, i.e. in a scorched-earth policy designed to forestall Viking attack. Presumably the Vikings in question were those that Gruffudd ap Rhydderch allied himself with. Florence of Worcester reports:
“In the month of August of the same year [i.e. 1049], some Irish pirates with 36 ships entered the mouth of the river Severn, and landed at a place called Wylesceaxan [the Welsh Usk], and in unison with Gruffudd, king of the South Britons, plundered the neighbourhood and did considerable damage. Then the king and they joined their forces, and crossing the river called Wye, burned Dymedham [Tidenham?], and put to death every one whom they found therein. They were quickly opposed by Ealdred, bishop of Worcester, and a few of the natives of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. But the Welsh who were with them, and who had promised to be faithful to them, sent a messenger privately to King Gruffudd, requesting him to attack the English as quickly as possible. He flew to them with his own men and the Irish pirates, and rushing at day-break on the English, slew many of them and put the rest to flight.”*
It is widely suggested that Gruffudd ap Rhydderch, titled “king of the South Britons” by Florence of Worcester, had by now established himself as ruler of Deheubarth,* which could indeed be the case, but Welsh annals provide no direct confirmation of this notion.*
Florence of Worcester, s.a. 1052:
“In the same year Gruffudd, king of the Welsh, laid waste a great part of Herefordshire, the natives whereof, and many Normans from a castle, went up against him; but he got the victory, slaying many of them and carrying off great booty. This battle was fought on the 13th anniversary of the day when the Welsh slew in ambush Edwin, the brother of Earl Leofric.”*
Presumably the “Gruffudd, king of the Welsh” (no mention of ‘South’) ravaging Herefordshire in 1052 was Gruffudd ap Llywelyn. In 1053, however:
“Rhys, the brother of Gruffudd, king of the South Welsh, was, on account of his frequent incursions, put to death by order of King Edward at a place called Bulendun; and on the vigil of our Lord's Epiphany [5th January] his head was brought to the king at Gloucester.”*Florence of Worcester
Manuscript C of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ notes, in its entry for 1053, that:
“Also the Welshmen slew a great number of English folk of the guard, near Westbury.”
It is generally thought that Westbury is Westbury-on-Severn, around 8 miles southwest of Gloucester, and that “the Welshmen” were the forces of Gruffudd ap Rhydderch taking revenge for Rhys' execution. It is, though, possible that Westbury in Shropshire is meant, in which case Gruffudd ap Llywelyn would likely be the perpetrator.
Gruffudd ap Llywelyn killed Gruffudd ap Rhydderch in 1055. It is only recorded by Welsh annals, and no detail is provided. Gruffudd ap Llywelyn now ruled all Wales – a feat achieved by no other Welsh king.
In King Edward's England, meanwhile, Earl Godwine had died. His earldom passed to his son Harold, and Harold would be Gruffudd's nemesis.