Owain Gwynedd (DNB00)

OWAIN GWYNEDD or Owain ap Gruffydd (d. 1169), king of Gwynedd or North Wales, was the eldeat son of Gruffydd ap Cynan [q. v.], king of Gwynedd, and his wife, gharad (d. 1162), daughter of Owain ap Edwin [q. v.] In 1121 he was sent by his father with a large army against Meirionydd. His brother Cadwaladr [see Cadwaladr, d. 1172] accompanied him on this expedition. They succeeded in transplanting many of the men of Meirionydd with their property in Lleyn (Brut y Tywysogion, p. 150). In 1186 a similar predatory expedition against Ceredigion was also conducted by the two brothers, in the course of which Aberyatwith Castle was burnt. At the end of the year the brothers led a second invasion of Cereiligion, and won a victory over 'the French and Flemings' at Aberteivt (Cardigan), whereupon they returned with great spoil and many prisoners to Gwynedd (ib. p. 160; cf. Annalles Cambriæ, p. 40, which gives the right date). In 1137 the death of Gruffydd ap Cynan gave Owain the succession to the throne of North Wales. He immediately led a third expedition to Ceredigion and, marching through the land until he reached the shores of the Bristol Channel, burnt Ystradmeurig, Llanstephan, and even Carmarthen itself. But he soon sought to make peace with his South-Welsh rivals, and promised to give his daughter in marriage to his nephew Anarawd, son of Gruffydd ap Rhys (d. 1137) [q. v.], the late prince of South Wales. But Cadwaladr, who had for his portion the former conquests made by him and Owain in Ceredigion, resented this alliance, killed Anarawd in 1143, and carried off his niece. Owain now sent his son Howel to take possession of Cadwaladr's lands. In 1144 Cadwaladr, who had fled to Ireland, appeared off the Menai Straits with a Fleet of Irish Dane. But Owain prudently reconciled himself with Cadwaladr, whereupon the pirates blinded their treacheroua ally. Owain fell upon the Danes, and drove them back to Dublin. But in 1140 Owain's sons were again attacking Cadwaladr, until he was forced to take refuge with the English.

The confusion which prevailed in England under the reign of Stephen gave Owain Gwynedd an unequalled opportunity for the extension and consolidation of his power. Despite his constant struggles with his kinsmen, Owain seldom lost sight of this object, and the prowess of his sons, Howel and Cynan, ably seconded his efforts. In 1147 Owain lost his favourite son Rhun; but the ‘insufferable sorrow’ into which this calamity threw him was soon ‘turned to sudden joy’ by the news of the capture of Gwyddgrug (Mold). ‘And when Owain our prince heard of this, he became relieved of all pain and from every sorrowing thought, and recovered his accustomed energy’ (Brut y Tywysogion, p. 172). In 1148 Owain built a castle in Yale, very near the English border. Both Randulf, earl of Chester, and Madog ap Maredudd [q. v.], prince of Powys, resented this, and in 1149 Madog joined with the earl to attack Owain, but was signally defeated at Counsillt. But Owain's power was still diminished by family feuds. In 1149 he was forced to imprison his son Cynan. In 1151 he drove his brother Cadwaladr from his refuge in Anglesea, and blinded and mutilated his brother Cadwallon, and his nephew, Cadwallon's son, Cunedda. Such vigorous and bloodthirsty measures secured his hold more firmly over Gwynedd. In 1155 he was able to lead an expedition against Ceredigion.

Henry II had now succeeded to the English throne, and put down the anarchy of the last reign. Cadwaladr and Madog urged him on to resist the successful aggressions of Owain Gwynedd, and in July 1157 there took place Henry's first expedition against North Wales. While the English army encamped on the frontier of Cheshire, Owain and his sons took up their position at Basingwerk, which they fortified with entrenchments (ib. p. 184). The dark wood of Cennadlog separated the two armies. Henry sent part of his army by the coast, while the rest threaded the dense forest. But the sons of Owain attacked the English amidst the wood with such success that Henry of Essex, the constable, dropped the king's standard and fled in despair. The king, however, rallied his troops, and successfully pushed through the wood; whereupon Owain fled from Basingwerk to a place called Cil Owain, while Henry II occupied Rhuddlan, and sent the fleet to land the second army in Anglesea. The English suffered severely, but Owain was in great danger of being crushed between the fleet and the army. Neither party was in a condition to push matters to extremities, so that peace was easily patched up. Owain performed homage to Henry as his liege lord, surrendered hostages as a pledge of his future loyalty, and restored Cadwaladr, Henry's ally, to his former territory. The English boasted that the Welsh were subdued to the English king's will, but Henry's expedition was no very brilliant success, and Owain's power was as strong as ever, as soon as the English host had recrossed the Dee (Gervase, i. 165–6; Will. Newb. in Howlett's Chron. Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I, i. 107-9; Robert of Toriqhi in ib. iv. 193; Brut y Tywysogion, pp. 186–8; Annales Cambr. pp. 46–7; Gir. Cambr. Itin. Will. in Opera, vi. 130, 137. Miss Norgate's good modern account of the expedition is only vitiated by her partial reliance on the so-called ‘Caradoc of Llancarvan,’ really Powel's sixteenth-century ‘History of Cambria’).

In 1159 Owain's son Morgan was slain by craft; but the next few years were a period of comparative peace, as his nephew Rhys ab Gruffydd [q. v.], commonly called the Lord Rhys, prince of South Wales, now attracted most of the English attention through his vigorous resistance to the marchers in South Wales. Owain himself seems to have been on the side of the French against his South-Welsh rival, and his brother Cadwaladr and his sons Howel and Cynan actually fought with the Earls of Chester and Clare against the Lord Rhys (Brut y Tywysogion, p. 194), while Owain handed over a Welsh prisoner to the marchers (ib. p. 194). In 1162 Owain was engaged in war with Howel ap Ieuav, lord of Arwystli, who got possession of the castle of Talawern in Cyveiliog through treachery (ib. p. 196). But Owain invaded Arwystli, and his ‘insupportable sorrow’ for the loss of the castle was changed to ‘sudden joy’ when his army almost annihilated the forces of his rival and went home with a vast booty. In 1163 he had the satisfaction of seeing Henry direct his second Welsh expedition against Rhys and the South-Welsh; but the complete triumph of the invading army seems to have tightened the bonds that bound Owain to his overlord. It was through Owain's intervention that his nephew Rhys was induced to make his submission to Henry II at Pencader (Gir. Cambr. Opera, viii. 216). In the summer of 1164 Owain appeared at the council of Woodstock along with his nephew Rhys and some of his chief nobles, where, on 1 July, they all renewed their homage to Henry (Ralph de Diceto, i. 311).

The restless chieftain did not, however, long keep the peace. In 1165 both Owain and his nephew Rhys of South Wales had renewed their plundering inroads (Robert of Torigny in Howlett iv. 222). In this year Owain's son Davydd [see Davydd I] devastated Englefield, the district between the Clwyd and Chester, and removed the inhabitants into the vale of Clwyd. This action seems to have brought Henry II again to Wales, but he advanced no further than Rhuddlan, where he remained three days (probably in May 1165; Eyton, Itinerary of Henry II, p. 79; Bridgman, Hist. of the Princes of South Wales, pp. 48–9). In July, however, the king led a more formidable expedition against South Wales, where Rhys, like Owain, had been devastating the English border. For the first time the rival Welsh chieftains joined together in resisting the English invaders. Owain marched with Cadwaladr at the head of the men of Gwynedd to join Rhys. Even the men of Powys, now led by Owain Cyveiliog [q. v.], joined in the national resistance. The united host of the three Welsh districts encamped at Corwen to oppose Henry. The king marched through the vale of Ceiriog, where he lost many men in the woods, and at last got entangled amidst the Berwyn mountains. Rain and tempest completed the discomfiture of the English (‘parum vel nichil profecit,’ Gervase, i. 197), and, provisions falling short, Henry was forced to return without having encountered the enemy. In his rage Henry ordered the hostages that were still in his hands to be blinded. Among them were Cadwallon and Cynvrig, two of Owain's sons. Another son, named Llywelyn, died during the same year.

The English king's decided repulse gave Owain a stronger position than ever, especially as Henry II now absented himself from England for the next six years, and nothing was done by the central power to check the aggressions of the Welsh chieftains, or their constant wars with the marchers. Owain had waged war against Welsh prince and Norman marcher alike. His destruction of Basingwerk in 1166 was a menace to the Earl of Chester. In alliance with Owain Cyveiliog he drove out Iorwerth Goch from Mochnant, upon which the two Owains divided the land between them. But in 1167 the allies quarrelled, and Owain Gwynedd formed a fresh combination with Rhys of South Wales against the lord of Powys. Some sharp fighting ensued. Caereineon was wrested from Owain Cyveiliog and handed over to a vassal prince, Owain Vychan. Talawern was conquered and appropriated by the lord Rhys. But Owain Cyveiliog called in the help of the Norman marchers, destroyed Castell Caereineon, which the two Owains had previously erected, and killed all the garrison. The two Owains and Rhys, however, still kept their forces together, and atoned for their check in Caereineon by a destructive inroad against the English castles of Englefield. They burnt the strongholds of Rhuddlan and Prestatyn, and then ‘every one returned happy and victorious to his own country’ (Brut y Tywysogion, p. 206; Annales Cambr. p. 57). This was almost the last of Owain's warlike exploits.

Owain's declining years were embittered by a long and complicated struggle with the church. He naturally wished to keep his own bishopric of Bangor free from the intrusion of the Norman nominees of the English king, but the struggle for ecclesiastical independence was complicated by the irregular and uncanonical life of the native champion. Owain was, however, a pious man after his fashion; and Giraldus Cambrensis quotes some of his quaint sayings in the matter (Opera, vi. 144). Early in his reign Owain had a sharp contest with Maurice or Meurig, who was consecrated bishop of Bangor in 1139 in succession to David (d. 1139?) [q. v.] Though Maurice had some hesitation in professing canonical obedience to Canterbury, and though he was duly elected by ‘clergy and people’ of Gwynedd, Owain wrote indignantly to Bishop Bernard, the Norman bishop of St. David's, complaining that Maurice had ‘entered the church of St. Daniel not at the door, but like a thief’ (Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, i. 345; cf. Gir. Cambr. Opera, iii. 59), and proposed a meeting with Bernard and the South-Welsh prince Anarawd at Aberdovey, to combine against the intruder. After Maurice's death, however, in 1161, Owain obstinately kept the see of Bangor vacant, despite the vigorous protests of Archbishop Thomas of Canterbury and of Pope Alexander III. After 1164 Thomas's exile complicated the situation, and gave Owain the opportunity of prolonging his resistance to attempts which probably would have resulted in the intrusion of a Norman nominee, as in South Wales. About 1165 he wrote to Thomas, proposing that the archbishop should allow the consecration of a bishop of Bangor elsewhere than at Canterbury, on condition that he professed canonical obedience to Canterbury. Owain added, moreover, that Thomas ought to grant the request, as no law compelled the king of Gwynedd to subjection to Canterbury, but simply his good will ((Haddan and Stubbs, i. 364–5). Thomas naturally refused this request, whereupon Owain seems to have provided a nominee for the see, who sought for consecration in Ireland from the Archbishop of Dublin. This naturally made matters worse; and the dispute was further aggravated by the pope nominating another candidate. But the old prince now married his cousin Crisiant, an alliance that drew upon him the fresh wrath of the church. He was ultimately excommunicated by Thomas, and died in November 1169, without being free from the ban (ib. i. 364-74; cf. Mat. Hist. Becket, 229-39, Rolls Ser.) But the Welsh ecclesiastics cared little for the sentences of Canterbury. Owain duly received the last sacraments of the church (Bruty Tywysogion, p. 206), and was buried in consecrated ground. His tomb was placed beside that of his brother Cadwaladr, in the presbytery of Bangor Cathedral, before the high altar, but on Archbishop Baldwin's visit to Bangor during his crusading tour in 1188, the Bishop of Bangor was directed by the primate to remove the body of the excommunicated king from the sacred precincts of the church (Gib. Cambh. Opera, vi. 133).

Giraldus Cambrensis describes Owain as a man of great moderation and wisdom, and combines him with his nephew Maredudd ab Gruffydd and Owain Cyveiliog [q. v.] as the only three men celebrated in the Wales of his time for justice, prudence, and moderation in their rule (ib. vi. 144-6). The 'Brut y Tywysogion' (p. 206, cf. p. 158) speaks of him as 'a man of the most extraordinary sagacity, nobleness, fortitude, and bravery, invincible from his youth, who never denied any one the request he made,' The bard Gwalchmai, in an ode commemorating one of Owain's victories, also extols his generosity, describing him as a prince who will 'neither cringe nor hoard up wealth' (translations of this poem are in Stephens's Lit. of the Kymry, pp. 18-19; Archæologia Cambrensis, 1st ser. lii. 75-76; and the Cambro-Briton, i. 229-33; Gray's well-known 'Triumphs of Owen 'is a free rendering of this ode). Owain was much celebrated by the bards. Five of Gwalchmai's poems are addressed to him (Myvyrian Archæology of Wales, pp. 142-146, Denbigh reprint). Cynddelw also wrote his praises and those of his family (ib. pp. 149-61, 163), while Daniel ab Llosgwrn Mew and Seisyll wrote elegies upon him (ib. pp. 193, 236). Owain's merit was that he continued the successful resistance to marcher encroachment which his father had begun in the reign of Stephen. It required no small pertinacity on Owain's part to make so great a king as Henry II give up in despair his efforts to reduce Gwynedd to satisfaction. Owain seems, however, to have been more bloodthirsty than most men of his time and nation; and the chroniclers record many instances of murders and mutilations, especially of kinsfolk, effected at his command. Yet his career made it possible to preserve a strong Welsh state against the Normans; and but for his strenuous acts the successes of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth in the next generation would hardly have been possible.

Owain's matrimonial relations were of the irregular type common to his age and country, and few of his numerous children were regarded by the stricter churchmen as legitimate. Before the old king died the fierce strife between his sons for his succession had already broken out. He is said to have had seventeen sons (Stephens, p. 26; cf. also Cynddelw's 'Marwnad teilu Ywein Gwynet' in Myvyrian Archæology, pp. 163-4); and the following children of Owain are mentioned in the Welsh chronicles. The name of the mother is also given when known: (1) Howel (d. 1171 ?), whose mother, Pyvog, was an Irish lady, and who was very famous both as a bard and as a warrior [see Howel ab Owain Gwynedd]; (2) Davydd, Owain's ultimate successor [see Davydd I], who was his son by his cousin Crisiant, and therefore looked upon with special disfavour by the stricter churchmen as the son of an incestuous union (Gib. Cakbb. vi. 134); (3) Rhodri (d. after 1194), also a son of Crisiant (Brut y Tywysogion, p. 224; cf. Myvyrian Archaiology, pp. 201-3); (4) Iorwerth, the father of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth [q. v.], the only one of Owain's surviving sons regarded by the church as legitimate; (6) Llywelyn (d. 1166), much eulogised by the chroniclers (ib. p. 202); (6) Cynan (d. 1174), Howel's companion in his earlier exploits; (7) Maelgwn (d. after 1174); (8) Cynvrig (d. 1139); (9) Rhun (d. 1147), 'the most praiseworthy young man of the British nation' (Brut y Tywysogion, p. 170, which minutely describes his personal appearance). He was presumably a son of Pyvog (Gwentian Brut, p. 132); (10) Morgan, killed in 1168; (11) another Cynvrig, who, with (12) Cadwallon, was blinded by Henry II in 1165 (Brut y Tywysogion, p. 202; Gwentian Brut calls them Rhys and Cadwallon); (13) one daughter, Angharad, is mentioned, who was a full sister of Iorwerth, and therefore legitimate (Brut y Tywysogion, p. 212), and who married Morgan ab Seisyll; (14) another daughter, whose name is not given, was betrothed early in Owain's reign to her cousin Anarawd ap Rhys ap Gruflrdd of South Wales. For the reputed son or Owain who is fabled to have discovered America, see Madog ap Owain Gwynedd.

[The fullest details come from Brut y Tywysogion (Rolls. Ser.), or with a better text in Evans's Oxford edition; but the faulty chronology of that chronicle can be in some measure corrected by the more accurate but scantier Latin Annales Cambriæ (Rolls Ser.). The Gwentian Brut (Cambrian Archæological Association) gives hardly any fresh particulars. See also Materials for the History of Archbishop Thomas Becket, especially vol. v.; Giraldus Cambrensis, Opera, Ralph de Diceto, Benedictus Abbas, Gervase of Canterbury; Chronicles of Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I, ed. Howlett (all in Rolls Ser.); Haddan and Stubbs's Councils, i. 364–74; Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales (Denbigh reprint); Stephens's Literature of the Kymry.]

T. F. T.