Gruffudd ap Llywelyn: the unwanted son

Gruffudd was born to the royal princes of Gwynedd, but as an illegitimate son, he would see his inheritance snatched away. But, although he would never be Prince of Wales himself, his legacy lies in his son.

Details about Gruffudd’s early life are missing from history. We know that his mother was Tangwystl (b c1182), the daughter of Llywarch Goch Lord of Rhos. It is possibly that she had as many as five children[i]  with Gruffudd’s father Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd, despite never marrying him. At least one of his sisters, Gwladus Ddu[ii], is thought to have been older than him and it is likely that he was the youngest of the children born sometime between 1195 and 1205. His mother is recorded as dying from a fall during pregnancy that caused a fatal bleed whilst other historians have concluded that Tangwystl died in childbirth.

King John
King John

For the first few years of Gruffudd’s life, his illegitimacy remained irrelevant. The principles of primogeniture were still forming in Welsh law and Gruffudd was fully entitled to be his father’s heir, even if further, legitimate children were born. This came a step closer in 1206 when Llywelyn married Joan, the illegitimate daughter of King John of England, but it is likely that there were still no children in 1211 when Gruffudd was accepted by the English to act as hostage to ensure Llywelyn’s good behaviour.

Gruffudd remained in England until freed under the terms of the Magna Carta in 1215, by which time a legitimate son, Dafydd, had been born to his father and Joan. What the eldest boy made of it we cannot know, but by May 1220 it was clear that Gruffudd was no longer his father’s heir. Over the next nine years, Llywelyn continued to ensure that it was Dafydd that would succeed him, including having Joan declared legitimate in 1226 by Pope Honorius III and having the boy pay homage to King Henry III in London in 1229.

Gruffudd was not totally forgotten, but his life had now taken a very different turn. He was given lands in Meirionnydd and Ardudwy but after a quarrel with his father, during which war was only averted after clerical intervention, Llewelyn reversed the decision and removed them from him in 1221.

Gruffudd ap Llewelyn
Llewelyn ap Iorwerth and his two sons, Gruffudd and Ddafydd

He made a good marriage to Senana ferch Caradog the daughter of the Lord of Anglesey, and their first child Margred was probably born around the same time as the loss of his lands. By 1223 he was entrusted by his father to lead an army against William Marshall, the English Earl of Pembroke, but their relationship had unravelled again by 1228 and, unable to accept his father’s plan for the succession, Gruffudd was imprisoned for six years.

Criccieth Castle
By Dee Harding - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Perhaps Llywelyn thought that the matter of the succession was settled when he released Gruffudd in 1234 and returned him to his lands, but Gruffudd remained popular with the Welsh lords who saw no reason to change Wales’ laws of succession and preferred the mab y Gymraes (the Welshwoman’s son) to the half-English Dafydd. When Llywelyn suffered a stroke in 1237 and was unable to rule, Dafydd saw his chance, stripping his brother of his lands and imprisoning him and his son Owain in Criccieth Castle[iii].

There was one last glimmer of hope for Gruffudd. Dafydd became Prince of Gwynedd in April 1240 but in August 1241 he was forced to submit to Henry III when, in a deal with Gruffudd’s supporters (including his wife who paid 600 marks and gave custody of her two youngest sons as surety), the English king invaded on Gruffudd’s behalf.

Or so they thought.

Henry immediately reneged on his deal and instead insisted that Gruffudd and his son be handed over to him. Gruffudd would never know freedom again. In August 1241 he and his three sons, Owain, Dafydd and Rhodri, were all taken to the Tower of London where Senana was allowed to visit. Only Llewelyn ap Gruffudd remained free. Henry’s intention was to use Gruffudd against Dafydd should the Prince of Gwynedd step out of line.

Gruffudd was treated well and provided with half a mark a day for his keep, but on 1 March 1244, after two-and-a-half years as a prisoner of the English king, he made an attempt to escape. How well thought out the plan was and how he intended to get back to Wales is unclear; unfortunately for Gruffudd he never made it further than the Tower. Using his bed linen as a rope he attempted to climb down from the top of the Tower, but it snapped under his weight and he fell, breaking his neck.

Gruffudd ap Llewelyn
Gruffudd ap Llewelyn falling to his death
Llewelyn ap Gruffudd
Gruffudd's son Llywelyn ap Gruffudd

If his son Llewelyn ap Gruffudd held any grudges against his uncle Dafydd ap Llewelyn then he quickly put them aside. Gruffudd’s death left Henry III without a card to play and in 1245 Dafydd rose up against the English king with Llewelyn in support. Owain, the eldest son, was freed from the Tower but stayed in England, leaving Llewelyn to seize the throne when Dafydd died in 1246.

A hundred years earlier and Gruffudd would probably have become Prince of Gwynedd. It was his misfortune to have a half-English half-brother and a father who stuck doggedly to his decision to secure a political alliance with England. Gruffudd could have built himself a life under his brother’s rule, but it’s hard to settle for second best when you know what could have been.


[i] how many children Llywelyn had and with whom is still debated.

[ii] Gwladus Ddu is now thought to be the child of Joan and not Tangwystl.

[iii] There is still some doubt as to whether the imprisonment happened in 1239 or 1240.

Further Reading

Jones Pierce, Thomas. Graffudd ap Llewelyn. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved 1 March 2022. 

Kramer, Kyra. The Death of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn Fawr

Smith, JB. Llewelyn ap Gruffudd. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 1 March 2022.

Tout, TF (revised by A. D. Carr). Gruffudd ap Llewelyn. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 1 March 2022.

Copyright: Samantha Arrowsmith Greenhare History 1 March 2022


Charles III or George VII – a brief history of regnal names

When you have been known by your family and the world as Charles for 73 years, why would you suddenly want to change it so late on in life? For the Prince of Wales, this is not a hypothetical question. New monarchs will make one of the most important decisions of their reign at the very beginning: what regnal name will they and their legacy be known as? With his mother now 95, it is a question which is also becoming more pertinent and may need an answer soon. Will he be Charles III?

There was a time when a monarch’s regnal name did not vary from their birth name. It was a given that William of Normandy would be called William I and that James VI would keep his Scottish name when he became King of England, even if he adopted a new regnal number.

William I
William I
James VI and I regnal
James VI and I

When Edward I named his eldest son John, he did so with the full intention that he would become King John II. There was no negative connotations with the name then as there is now to make him think that his son would  change his name on accession. Similarly, Henry VII carefully named his firstborn, fully expecting that he would become King Arthur I. 

Edward I and his children including John and Alphonso

Names have been given to heirs which would have greatly widened the variety if they had lived. Edward III’s third son was heir apparent for 9 years and would have become King Alphonso I. Had Edward II died in childhood like his older four brothers we would have had a King Thomas I. If Henry IV hadn’t usurped the throne, Richard II would have been succeeded by King Edmund I. There was also nearly a King Frederick I (known colloquially as Fred) and a Queen Charlotte I.

regnal names
Princess Charlotte
regnal names
Frederick, Prince of Wales

The tradition of automatically accepting the birth name as the regnal name changed with Queen Victoria, or rather, Alexandrina Victoria of Kent, who opted to take her second name as her regnal moniker when she became queen in 1837. One reason may have been because she was never actually meant to be called Alexandrina. Her parents had proposed Victoire Georgiana Alexandrina Charlotte Augusta but the final decision lay with the Prince Regent. He immediately objected to Georgiana due to its placement before Alexandrina which was being given in honour of the Russian Tsar. He then left the parents waiting until the christening before he gave a pronouncement on the other names, and then only reluctantly. Brusquely, he agreed to Alexandrina first and then, when the baby’s mother began crying, ‘Give her the mother’s name also, then, but it cannot precede that of the emperor.’ It was hardly an auspicious start and although they at first called her ‘Drina’ she became known as Victoria from about the age of four.

There was talk that she should change her name to something other than Victoria when she became queen – Elizabeth and Charlotte were suggested by Parliament in 1831, but Victoria decreed she wanted to keep her own name.

regnal names
Queen Victoria with her son Albert, the future Edward VII

Two other kings have followed her example – her son and great-grandson. Coincidently, or maybe not, both were called Albert. The first chose the very traditional English name, Edward, to become Edward VII, although there had also been an Anglo-Saxon king with that name. It tied this very German family to the deep roots of the English nation. If Victoria had intended for him to carry his father’s name to the throne as Albert I, she would not have been not amused (sorry, couldn’t resist!). Edward proclaimed:

‘I have resolved to be known by the name of Edward, which has been borne by six of my ancestors. In doing so I do not undervalue the name of Albert, which I inherited from my ever-to-be-lamented, great and wise father, who by universal consent, is, I think, deservedly known by the name of Albert the Good, and I desire that his name should stand alone.’

Thirty-five years later Albert, duke of York, made the same decision, choosing to be named George in honour of his father, George V.

So what about Charles, Prince of Wales? After so many years as Charles there is a lot to be gained by keeping the name. For one, there would be a sense of continuation if he stayed by the name we all know, at a time when the country will be in the process of such huge change. But Charles has always said that he sees the roles of Prince of Wales and King as very distinct entities and so a change of name might be just the thing to reflect that. Besides, would we all get a bit confused if we start having to call him something else?

It’s also been suggested that his causes might suffer if they are no longer identified with Charles, but his passion is so public that it is unlikely that people will suddenly stop recognising his support if he answers to another name. It’s also possible that some of those causes might retain their connection with the designation of the Prince of Wales through William rather than transferring to the king.

regnal name
By Dan Marsh - Flickr: Prince Charles (derivate by crop), CC BY-SA 2.0,

The most obvious reason why he might change his name is because of the legacy of its previous incumbents. Charles I lost his crown and his head during the War of the Three Kingdoms/English Civil War, and, given some of the problems that the family have been facing over the last few years, he might not want to give anyone ideas. But, as The Guardian reported, a lot of people won’t be familiar with the history, whilst others won’t necessarily marry one man’s fate with another.

Charles I
Charles Stuart who styled himself Charles III

There is, of course, one other motive for choosing not to be known as Charles III – it has already been taken. Charles Stuart, grandson of the ousted James II, claimed the throne and title until his death in 1788. It was never acknowledged, and you wont find him called it in any history book, but the current Charles might want to stay clear of the name all the same.

Philip, Arthur and George are seen as the most likely contenders for an alternative. George VII will probably have it in honour of his grandfather, although Prince Philip’s death might make him stop and think for a bit. But he can chose any name he wants – so maybe there is still a chance of us getting a King Alphonso I after all.

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