Kingdom of Gwynedd

Mediaeval kingdoms of Wales.
Mediaeval kingdoms of Wales.

Gwynedd was one of the kingdoms or principalities of medieval Wales. Traditionally covering an area between the rivers Dyfi and Dee in the north-west of the country around Snowdonia and including the island of Ynys Mon, its rulers—such as Maelgwn Hir, Owain Gwynedd, Llywelyn the Great and Llywelyn the Last—usually held ascendancy over their rivals. The region's geography made it difficult for English kings to impose their will on the local rulers. In honor of the kingdom's founder, its royal family is sometimes called the House of Cunedda.

Gwynedd covered part of the territory of the Ordovices, but tradition traced the kingdom's foundation to Cunedda, who migrated with his sons and followers from what is now southern Scotland. The territory was originally known, in Latin, as Venedotia[1], a name which mutated to Gwynedd over the next two centuries. A gravestone from the late 5th century now in Penmachno church seems to be the earliest record of the name. It is in memory of a man named Cantiorix and the Latin inscription is: "Cantiorix hic iacit/Venedotis cives fuit/consobrinos Magli magistrati", ("Cantiorix lies here. He was a citizen of Gwynedd and a cousin of Maglos the magistrate"). The references to "citizen" and "magistrate" suggest that Roman institutions may have survived in Gwynedd for a while after the legions departed.

The heart of Gwynedd was originally at Deganwy, where Maelgwn Gwynedd (died 547) had his stronghold, but later moved to Aberffraw on Anglesey. The ruler of Gwynedd was often described as "Prince of Aberffraw" or "Lord of Aberffraw".


Gravestone of Cadfan ap Iago, King of Gwynedd c615-625
Gravestone of Cadfan ap Iago, King of Gwynedd c615-625

Among the more powerful of the early kings of Gwynedd were Cadwallon ap Cadfan who invaded Northumbria and briefly controlled it, and Rhodri the Great (844 - 878) who was able to add Powys and part of southern Wales to his realm, becoming the first ruler to control the greater part of Wales. Rhodri eldest son Anarawd ap Rhodri would establish the princely house of Aberffraw, that would come to rule Gwynedd until the 13th century. Hywel Dda of Deheubarth was able to annex Gwynedd to his own kingdom between 942 and 950, but the previous dynasty regained power on his death. The coastal areas, particularly Anglesey, were now coming under increasing attack by Viking raiders, particularly Danish raids in the period between 950 and 1000. Godfrey Haroldson is said to have carried off two thousand captives from Anglesey on 987, and the king of Gwynedd, Maredudd ab Owain is reported to have redeemed many of his subjects from slavery by paying the Danes a large ransom.

Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, originally king of Gwynedd, was able to make himself king of most of Wales by 1055 and also held parts of England near the border after several victories over English armies. However in 1063 he was defeated by Harold Godwinson and killed by his own men. Bleddyn ap Cynfyn and his brother Rhiwallon came to terms with Harold and took over the rule of Gwynedd and Powys.

Shortly after the Norman conquest of England in 1066 the Normans began to extert pressure on the eastern border of Gwynedd. They were helped by internal strife, for following the killing of Bleddyn ap Cynfyn in Deheubarth in 1075, his cousin Trahaearn ap Caradog seized the throne but then was immediately challenged by Gruffydd ap Cynan who had been in exile in Ireland. Gruffydd briefly gained control of Gwynedd, but was then forced to flee back to Ireland. Trahaearn ruled until 1081, when Gruffydd launched another invasion. Trahaearn was defeated and killed at the Battle of Mynydd Carn and Gruffydd again ruled Gwynedd briefly. However he was then lured to a meeting with the Earl of Chester, seized and kept a prisoner at Chester for many years. By around 1086 the Norman Robert of Rhuddlan had gained control of most of Gwynedd, but eventually Gruffydd ap Cynan was able to escape and helped lead a Welsh revolt in 1094 which won back many of the occupied territories. Gruffydd ap Cynan was again forced to flee to Ireland in 1098 when the Earl of Chester and the Earl of Shrewsbury invaded Gwynedd and took possession of Anglesey. However the Norman forces were then attacked near the eastern end of the Menai Straits by a fleet led by King Magnus Barefoot of Norway, and the Earl of Shrewsbury was killed. The Normans evacuated Anglesey, and Gruffydd was able to return once more after coming to an agreement with the Earl of Chester. Gruffydd ruled until his death in 1137, and though he himself had become to old to lead the forces of Gwynedd by about 1120, his sons Cadwallon, Owain Gwynedd and Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd were able to extend Gwynedd's borders eastwards at the expense both of the Normans and of Powys. In 1136 they defeated the Normans at the Battle of Crug Mawr near Cardigan, and Ceredigion, traditionally a part of Deheubarth, was annexed to Gwynedd.

The arms of the royal house of Gwynedd, also known as the Aberffraw dynasty
The arms of the royal house of Gwynedd, also known as the Aberffraw dynasty

On Gruffydd's death his son Owain Gwynedd took over the throne and continued to build up the kingdom's power and extend its boundaries. Although both Deheubarth and Powys were led by very able rulers in Owain's time, Gwynedd was the dominant force in Wales and Owain was the undisputed leader of the coalition of all the Welsh rulers who opposed King Henry II of England's invasion in 1165. The invasion failed, and Owain's position was not threatened for the remainder of his reign. On Owain's death in 1170 war broke out between his sons. His designated heir, Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd was killed in battle the same year, and the kingdom was split between three of Owain's other sons. For a while Gwynedd lost its position as the most powerful of the Welsh kingdoms to Deheubarth under Rhys ap Gruffydd.

By 1188 one of Owain Gwynedd's grandsons Llywelyn ap Iorwerth had begun to challenge his uncles, and by the end of the 12th century had gained control of Gwynedd. Llywelyn, later known as Llywelyn the Great, went on to become ruler of most of Wales. On his death in 1240, the rule of Gwynedd passed to his son Dafydd ap Llywelyn, but Dafydd died without an heir in 1246 and the kingdom was split between the sons of another son of Llywelyn the Great, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn. One of these, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, eventually defeated his brothers and became ruler of all Gwynedd, later extending his rule to other parts of Wales.


The extent of the kingdom varied with the strength of the current ruler. Gwynedd was traditionally divided into "Gwynedd Uwch Conwy", "Gwynedd Is Conwy" (with the River Conwy forming the dividing line between the two) and "Môn". The kingdom was administered under Welsh custom through thirteen Cantrefi each containing, in theory, one hundred settlements or Trefi.

Ynys Môn


Perfeddwlad (also known as Gwynedd-Is-Conwy)

End of Independence

Following the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282, and the execution of his brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd the following year, eight centuries of independent rule by the house of Gwynedd came to an end, and the kingdom, which had long been one of the final holdouts to total English domination of Wales, was annexed to England. Under the terms of the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 the realm was broken up and re-organised into the English county model which created the traditional counties of Anglesey, Carnarvonshire, Merionethshire, Denbighshire and Flintshire. This administrative model would last until the re-organisation of 1974.

There were many Gwynedd based rebellions after 1284 with varying degrees of success with most being led by members of the old royal house. In particular the rebellions of Prince Madoc in 1294, Owain Lawgoch (the great-nephew of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd) between 1372-1378, and Owain Glyndŵr in 1400 are most notable. Because of this the old royal house was purged and any surviving members went in to hiding.

The Wynn family of Gwydir proved their royal ancestry, some say by manipulating ancient pedigrees in order to consolidate their legitimacy, in the 16th Century and Sir John Wynn, 1st Baronet and his descendants was recognised across north Wales as the de jure Princes of Gwynedd until the male line died out, probably in the late 18th Century. Another claim could come from any surviving male descendants of Dafydd Goch the alleged illegitimate son of Dafydd ap Gruffudd.

"Gwynedd" is pronounced like the modern personal name "Gwyneth" except that the Welsh "dd" is pronounced like the voiced English "th" in "this" (not as in "thin").

List of Kings/Princes

Princes of Aberffraw & Lords of Snowdon

Fictional reference

The Deryni novels and stories written by Katherine Kurtz take place in a fictional Gwynedd which occupies an alternative version of western Europe during the Middle Ages.

Traci Harding has written a trilogy of books set in the Kingdom of Gwynedd featuring Maelgwn.

Edith Pargeter has written four historical novels set in 13th-century Wales that are published together as The Brothers of Gwynedd.


    • John Edward Lloyd (1911) A history of Wales from the earliest times to the Edwardian conquest (Longmans, Green & Co.)
    • Frances Lynch (1995) A guide to ancient and historic Wales: Gwynedd (HMSO) ISBN 0-11-701574-1
    • David Stephenson (1984) The governance of Gwynedd (University of Wales Press) ISBN 0-7083-0850-3

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