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1137-1282 AD

Under Owain Gwynedd and Madog ap Maredudd, the kingdoms of Gwynedd and Powys were gradually freed from Norman influence and became re-established as major political units under Welsh rulers, enjoying Welsh law, and where the Welsh language flourished. Owain defeated an army led by Henry II at Coleshill on the Dee Estuary in 1157. Though eventually Owain was forced to recognize Henry's control over lands to the east of the River Clwyd (Tegeingl, part of the old Earldom of Chester), he refused to acknowledge the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Wales, holding the consecration service for the new Bishop of Bangor, not in that northern Welsh city, but across the Celtic sea in Ireland. After inflicting another humiliating defeat on the English forces in the steep-sided Ceiriog Valley and now in full control of the whole of native Wales, Owain took as his title "the Prince of Wales" (Princeps Wallensium).

According to a popular Welsh legend (see my Facts about Wales), Prince Madog of Gwynedd, accompanied by a group of followers, made landfall on what is now Mobile Bay, Alabama some time in 1169. The explorers then traveled up the Missouri, where a remnant inter-married with the Mandans and left behind some of their customs and their language.

Gerald of Wales was born at Manorbier, in Pembrokeshire around 1146 into a Norman-Welsh family. His prolific writings include "Itinerarium Kambriae" and "Description Kambriae", both of which contain the only sources for much early Welsh history and folk tales.

The "Brut y Tywysigyon" records the following anonymous entry for the year 1176:
"At Christmas in that year the Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd held court in splendour at Cardigan (Aberteifi) . . . And he set two kinds of contests there: one between bards and poets, another between harpists and crowders and pipers and various classes of music-craft. And he had two chairs set for the victors."
The above entry is the first known mention of the Eisteddfod, the much beloved festival that has become so much a part of Welsh culture and tradition. The word itself (one of the very, very few words of Welsh origin that are found in an English dictionary), can be translated as "a chairing" and chairs are still awarded for the winners of poetry contests. Modern eisteddfodau [pl.] include the National Eisteddfod of Wales, held in a different venue in Wales each year during the first week in August; and the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, held on the banks of the River Dee in Clwyd each July. Other well-attended Esteddfodau take place at various times in towns and villages all over Wales as well as at such far-flung places of Welsh influence as Edwardsville, Pennsylvania; Queensland, Australia; and Trelew, Patagonia.

Late 12th Century: THE COURT POETS
The general growth of European court culture in the late 12th century also found its counterpart in Wales where a new flourishing of the court poets accompanied military successes against the Anglo-Normans. The main poetic form was the "awdl", the short monor-hymed piece involving use of one or more intricate meters. Dominant poets were Cyndelw Brydydd Mawr (Cyndelw the Great Poet); Llywarch ap Llywelyn; Gwalchmai; Hywel ap Owain Gwynedd; and Gruffudd ap yr Ynad Coch, whose elegy on the death of Prince Llywelyn must be one of the most moving and powerful laments ever written in the Welsh language.

Following his wars against the Welsh under Llywelyn and the Treaty of Aberconwy, Edward began his major castle-building campaign, starting with Flint, Rhuddlan, Aberystwyth and Builth. After the death of Llywelyn in late 1282., Edward's second phase of castle-building began, including the mighty strongholds of Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech, Cricieth, and Beaumaris.

Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (son of Iorwerth) was the grandson of Owain Gwynedd. Under his dynamic leadership and military prowess, his lands were again united as a single political unit for one of the few times in their long, checkered history. In 1204, the Prince married Joan, the daughter of King John of England. In the "Brut", it is stated that Llywelyn "enlarged his boundaries by his wars, gave justice to all according to their deserts, and by the bonds of fear or love bound all men duly to him." He was further recognized as pre-eminent in Wales by the new king Henry III.

Llywelyn's long reign of 46 years brought an era of relative peace and economic prosperity to Wales. Welshmen were appointed to the Bishoprics of St. David's and Bangor. The bards referred to LLywelyn as the Prince of Aberffraw and Lord of Eryri, but to posterity, as Gwynfor Evans proudly points out, he became known as Llywelyn Fawr (Llewelyn the Great).

After he death of Llywelyn the Great, quarrelling between his two sons Dafydd and Gruffudd undid most of what their father had accomplished. In 1254, Henry II of England gave the young Prince Edward control of all the Crown lands in Wales.

The situation was restored under the brilliant leadership of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd whose success led to the acceptance of his claim to be called "Prince of Wales" by King Henry at the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267. This was the high water mark of Welsh political independence: the people of Wales had their own prince, governed their own lands under their own laws and were able to conduct their own affairs in their own language. Their country was poised to take its place among the developing independent nation states of Europe.

Then it all unraveled. Edward I took the throne in 1272 determined to crush all resistance to his rule in Wales. Not only did Llywelyn have to face the forces of the king of England but he was also faced with resistance among the minor Welsh princes as well as the powerful Marcher Lords.

Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was forced to give up most of his lands, being confined to Gwynedd, west of the River Conwy. Harsh measures undertaken against his people by King Edward, who began building English castles garrisoned by English mercenaries and settlers, led to a massive revolt led by Llywelyn.

At first, things went well for the Welsh prince, but a chance encounter with an English knight near Cilmeri, near Builth in Powys, ended the Welsh dreams. Llywelyn was killed, effective resistance ended, and for all practical purposes, Wales was henceforth forced to live under an alien political system, playing only a subordinate role in the affairs of Britain.


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