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DAVYDD I (d. 1203), prince or king of North Wales, was the son of Owain Gwynedd [q. v.], by his cousin Crisiant or Christiana, whose affinity to Owain caused the stricter churchmen to deny the legality of their marriage, and to denounce Davydd as a bastard (Giraldus Cambrensis, Itinerarium Kambriæ in Opera, vi. 134, Rolls Series). He first appears in history in 1157, on the occasion of Henry II's first expedition into Wales. Owain Gwynedd had arrayed his army at Basingwerk, and Henry set out by a difficult road to encounter his enemy. While in the midst of the trackless wood of Cennadlog, Davydd and his brother Cynan suddenly attacked the king with such energy that he had great difficulty in retreating to the open country, and this exploit helped to defeat the English expedition. In 1164 Davydd ravaged the district of Tegeingl, and removed the inhabitants with their cattle to the Vale of Clwyd. Henry II's third expedition to Wales in 1165 was partly occasioned by this vigorous act.

In 1169 Owain Gwynedd died, and there was much dispute among his large family by different mothers as to who should succeed him. At first Howel, Owain's eldest son by an Irish lady named Pyvog, managed to grasp the inheritance of his father (Gwentian Brut, s. a. 1169). But his fame as a bard could not compensate for his foreign origin and connections. In 1170 Davydd slew Howel, and made himself lord of Gwynedd. The bard Llywarch Llaety lamented the fate of the slain Howel, and prophesied woe to the false sons of Crisiant, whose treachery had destroyed their half-brother (Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales, i. 418, ed. 1801). But the other sons of Owain still withheld from Davydd much of Gwynedd. Yet in 1173 he drove one brother, Maelgwn, out of Anglesey, which he then annexed to his dominions. Next year Maelgwn returned from his refuge in Ireland, but was seized and imprisoned by Davydd, who now managed to put in prison all his brothers and uncles, and thus to gain actual possession of all Gwynedd. The death of Cynan, his old comrade in arms, was also in his favour. But in 1175 Rhodri, the other son of Crisiant, escaped from the strict fetters into which Davydd had thrown him, and before the end of the year had permanently conquered Anglesey and the Snowdon district. Before long the sons of Cynan obtained possession of Meirionydd. Iorwerth, the only one of Owain's sons that the church acknowledged as legitimate, escaped about 1176 from Gwynedd, and was a possible rival with formidable claims. South Wales and Powys were held by hostile marchers or rival Welsh chieftains. In the vain hope of holding or recovering all Gwynedd, Davydd threw himself into the hands of the English. In 1173 and 1174 he faithfully adhered to Henry II during the great feudal revolt (Benedictus Abbas, i. 51). Davydd had long importuned Henry for the hand of his bastard sister Emma, the daughter of Geoffrey Plantagenet, by a lady of Maine. At length in 1174 Henry consented grudgingly to the match (Diceto, Ymagines Historiarum, i. 397). In 1177 Davydd appeared with Rhys son of Gruffudd, Owain Cyveiliog, and other Welsh princes at the general council held by his brother-in-law at Oxford, in which John was made king of Ireland. All the Welsh chieftains took oaths of fealty to Henry. Davydd was one of the three who are described by Benedictus as ‘reges,’ by Hoveden as ‘reguli.’ He also received from Henry a grant of Ellesmere in the marches (Hoveden, ii. 133–4; Benedictus Abbas, i. 162). But this friendliness to his English overlord did Davydd little good in Gwynedd. The Welsh chronicles are silent as to his acts during the next few years. In 1188, when Archbishop Baldwin made his famous crusading tour through Wales, the sons of Cynan still reigned in Meirionydd, and Rhodri still ruled Mona and the lands west of the Conwy. Davydd entertained the archbishop at Rhuddlan Castle, which seems to have been his residence and the centre of his power (Giraldus, Opera, vi. 134). But Owain Cyveiliog, Gruffudd of Bromfield, and the Earl of Chester must have pressed him nearly on the south and east. The nominal king of Gwynedd's actual sway extended little beyond the Vale of Clwyd, and was there probably dependent on the support of the English. But even within these narrow limits Davydd's power was soon destroyed. Llewelyn, son of Iorwerth, Davydd's half-brother, was only twelve years old when his partisans began to harass Davydd. Their success soon proved, as Giraldus thought, that Providence was on the side of the legitimate stock against the offspring of an incestuous union. In 1194 Llewelyn, in alliance with Rhodri and the sons of Cynan, completely overpowered Davydd. He first drove him out of all his lands but three castles, and finally compelled him to take refuge in England. Some manuscripts of the ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ mention him as defeated and imprisoned along with Llewelyn in 1197 by Gwenwynwyn of Powys, when that chief conquered Arwystli; but this seems very unlikely. In 1200 King John undertook the protection of his aunt Emma and her lands and possessions, among which he specially mentions Ellesmere and Hales, the gifts of Henry II (Rotuli Chartarum, p. 44 a). In those places Davydd probably spent the rest of his life. He granted with his wife's consent some charters to the abbot of Pershore at the expense of the church of Hales, but before long the abbot surrendered the charters to the crown (Abbreviatio Placitorum, p. 24 a). In 1203 Davydd died. He left by his wife one son, Owain, from whom John took into his own hands Ellesmere Castle on his father's death (Rotuli de Liberate, p. 56), compensating him with other possessions in Lincolnshire (Rotuli de Finibus, p. 330) and elsewhere. In 1212 John granted Owain the three cantreds of Rhos, excluding Gannock Castle, Rhuvyniog, and Duffryn Clwyd, his father's old possessions, to be held of the crown in capite, and encouraged him to assail the already great power of Llewelyn ab Iorwerth (Rotuli Chartarum, p. 188 b, cf. Wynne, History of the Gwydir Family, p. 17, ed. 1878). But with Owain's failure the house of Davydd ab Owain Gwynedd disappears from history.

Despite his English sympathies Davydd's praises were sung by more than one Welsh bard. Gwilym Ryvel addressed two poems to him (Myvyrian Archaiology, i. 274), and the more famous Llywarch ab Llewelyn wrote a long ode to him, in which he praised him very highly. The same bard composed in his honour two pieces styled ‘Bygwth Dauyt’ and ‘Kyuarch Gwell Dauyt’ (the threatening and the gratulation of Davydd) (ib. i. 279–282). The Gwentian chronicler attributes Davydd's unpopularity to his ‘cruelty and atrocity in killing and putting out the eyes of those opposed to his will after the manner of the English’ (Gwentian Brut, s. a. 1192). Giraldus, who tells a story of Davydd's amours to illustrate the ready wit of the Welsh, mentions him with his contemporary Howel, son of Iorwerth of Caerleon, as relying equally on the Welsh and English, and thus maintaining his good faith and reputation (Opera, vi. 145).

[Brut y Tywysogion and Annales Cambriæ (Rolls Series); Gwentian Brut, Cambrian Archæological Association; Chronicles of Hoveden and Benedictus Abbas, and Diceto's Ymagines Historiarium, all edited by Bishop Stubbs in the Rolls Series; Giraldi Cambrensis Itinerarium Kambriæ in vol. vi. of the Rolls edition of his Opera; Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales, vol. i. ed. 1801; Stephens's Literature of the Kymry.]

T. F. T.