Death of Llywelyn

Llywelyn Ein Lliw Olaf’s death at Cefn-y-bedd and burial

Within the present boundaries of Cilmeri village [Cefn-y-bedd] is the site of one of the most traumatic events in the history of our nation. It is the site of the assassination of our last native king - Llywelyn ap Gruffudd [or Llywelyn III].

At Cefn-y-bedd on the lands of Cilmeri

This standing stone was erected in l956 to the memory of Prince Llywelyn III “our last defender.” (Ein Lliw Olaf), killed near here on 11th December 1282 (‘Llywelyn’s Day’) and who is remembered each year at the ceremonies which we hold at this place.

Who was Llywelyn ap Gruffudd?

Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was grandson of Llywelyn the Great, and ruled Gwynedd, and most of Wales, for 36 years, from 1246 to 1282. He was acknowledged as Prince of Wales by Henry III of England in 1258. However, Henry III’s son Edward I, was determined to conquer Wales, Ireland and Scotland. A united, independent Wales, with Llywelyn at its head had to be destroyed. The Marcher Lords were used to continually provoke Llywelyn with small annoyances, but complained when, in order to establish control of Cydewain? he built a castle at Dolforwyn near Newtown. The lord of Glamorgan attacked the land of the princes of south Wales, and commenced building castles there. When this earl started building Caerffili castle in 1267, in territory recently conquered from the local princes, Llywelyn attacked and demolished it. The other Marcher Lords also found ways of provoking Llywelyn into attacks, so that the English King had an excuse to raise a huge army to over-run the whole of independent Wales.

Llywelyn was forced by the war to increase the tax burden on his people and a number of Welsh lords complained, which was of course exploited by Edward I. Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn prince of Powys and Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd tried, but failed to assassinate him in 1274, and excaped to Edward’s court. Llywelyn complained to Edward that he was harbouring Llywelyn’s enemies, but to no avail. This meant that Llywelyn feared to leave Wales for his life, and refused to travel to England to pay homage to Edward I. Llywelyn was a bachelor, and had made Dafydd his heir, but when Dafydd turned against him, he was forced to marry, and chose Eleanor, daughter of Simon de Montfort. In 1275, on her way to be married, Edward captured her and held her for 3 years as a prisoner in Bristol Castle, to coerse Llywelyn into leaving Wales. This ploy also failed and Edward eventually declared war on Wales invading the country in 1277.

Llywelyn’s forces were defeated and he was forced to submit, travelling to the English court in London at Christmas 1277. He was then allowed to marry Eleanor on the steps of Worcester Cathedral in 1278. There were, however, no children born until Eleanor gave birth to little Gwenllian, in June 1282.

The Death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd

Llywelyn was forced to grant all of NE Wales to Dafydd, and lost heart in the struggle. However, it was now the turn of Dafydd to feel the provocation of Edward’s Marcher Lords, and on Palm Sunday 1282 he attacked Hawaden Castle. Edward retaliated immediately, invading Wales with three huge armies.

Llewelyn’s army defeated Edward’s southern army in the Tywi valley near Llandeilo in the summer, and Edward’s northern army in a great victory on the Menai Straits in the autumn.

The Archbishop of Canterbury spent early November in Gwynedd, negotiating a deal, which would have made Llywelyn an English nobleman, with lands across England, if Llywelyn would give up his kingship of Wales. Llywelyn refused, on the grounds that the people of Wales would be defenceless against the harshness of Edward’s rule.

The negotiations broke down and Llywelyn led his army south towards Builth. Archbishop John Peckham did not go home to Canterbury or London, but moved first to Stretton Sugwas, near Hereford, a day’s horse-ride from Cefn-y-bedd [Cilmeri] and Aberedwy, and then to Pembridge, in Herefordshire, also only a day’s ride from the Builth area.

According to the chronicle of Peterborough, on 10th December Llywelyn and his army of 160 cavalry and 7,000 foot soldiers spent the night at Abbey Cwm Hir, and the next day, he left his main force on the north side of the Irfon in Langaten, and with a party of 18 men (who were his councilors - not his bodyguard) he moved (to Aberedw - according to some) to keep a rendezvous, but with whom is not clear. According to letters from the Archbishop of Canterbury, it would appear that many of the Marcher lords of what is now Powys were there.

In what is described, as an act of treachery, Llywelyn was captured, either at Aberedw or Cefn-y-bedd, the 18 were put to death by beheading, and his unsuspecting army was killed - almost to a man. There is a strong likelihood that he was lured to the place by trickery and killed. The chronicle of the princes of Wales (“Brut y tywysogion”), states that …”And then was effected the betrayal of Llywelyn in the belfry at Bangor by his own men”. (Madoc Min was not a blacksmith in Aberedwy as legend states, but the Archdaecon of Bangor). The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote a letter 6 days after the event, in which he said that a list of local dignitaries (given false names) who were prepared to change sides and support Llywelyn, had been found on his body.

Llywelyn’s head was sent to Rhuddlan to Edward and then to London and paraded through the streets, crowned with ivy in mockery of the ancient Welsh prophecy, which said that a Welshman would be crowned king of the whole of Britain (which happened when Henry Tudor became King in 1485). It was still on the Tower of London 15 years later.

Legends

Because uncertainty surrounds the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd: local traditions have grown up. A 15th century poem suggests that Llywelyn was caught coming from a tryst with a girl (it is said that a local family claims to descend from the results of that tryst!). Theophilus Jones the County Historian of Brecon in 1812, attempted to put all the stories together to make sense of them, explaining how Llywelyn had been pursued from Aberedw and fled to Builth where he was refused entry within the walls and so fled up the Irfon valley where he employed a blacksmith (sometimes given the name Madog Min) to reverse the shoes on his horse to deceive his pursuers in the snow, but the blacksmith later betrayed Llywelyn to the English and he was caught. A story is also told of how Llywelyn hid in a field of broom and cursed it for not having hid him better!

The end of hope

The beheading of Llywelyn, the imprisonment of his family, the melting down of the crown jewels and the destruction of the royal mausoleums, would all have been calculated to oppress the Welsh people. The building of the huge castles of the north from 1284 to 1308, would have compounded the oppression. Llywelyn’s treatment represented absolute defeat. The Elegies sung at Llywelyn’s death depicted this as “the end of the world”. However, this was not the end, there was a revolt in 1287, 1291, 1294-5, 1316, 1369, 1372-3, 1400-1415 and 1485, when Henry Tudur became king of England. Modern historians (especially from 1979 to 1997), have inferred that 1282 and the death of Llywelyn represented the end of any chance that Wales would develop as an independent unit.

Records [see also 4 Llywelyn - 10.1281-10.1283 The background to the conflict of 1282 - What did happen that year] above :

11.11.1282] Llywelyn was in the north negotiating with Peckhan until Nov.11- his final letter to the archbishop is dated Garthcefn, Nov.11 {Peckhan, Letters,ii.468-9}

CAC- XIX.9. ROGER LESTRANGE TO KING EDWARD [I]

after 11.11.1282] (after 11.11.1282) Second half of Nov.1282.

Informs the king that he has visited the Marches in his neighbourhood from place to place, and endeavoured to remedy that which seemed to him going amiss. In reply to the king’s letter ordering him to attack the enemy, he informs the king that the enemy in his district is beyond Berwen and beyond Morugge, which mountains are so difficult and repellent that no army could safely pass without putting the troops in great peril, and this the king has forbidden. He will do his best to do what damage he can to the Welsh. The greatest damage that can be done to them from this time onwards is to guard the March carefully so that supplies do not pass to them, and he has given orders for such guard as best he could. But it is necessary for the king to tell Earl Warenne to keep watch at Brumpfeude, for much supplies enter the land without any one’s knowledge; and also to order Roger Mortimer the son that he guard well the land which the king has given him, in order that victuals may not pass. Requests the king to send the same message to Lady Mortimer and her son Edmund, and so the baliff of Buelt and Brekeneu. On the night when this letter was written, news has come to him that Llywelyn has come down to the land of Gruffudd (ap Gwenwynwyn), and therefore Roger is going directly. (Not dated.) French.

(The reference to Lady Mortimer and Edmund Mortimer

26.10.1282] indicates that the letter was written after the death of Roger Mortimer on Oct.26.1282.

11.12.1282] As Llywelyn was himself slain on Dec.11,1282, the letter falls between these dates. Lestrang’s statement that Llywelyn had just come down to the land of Gruffudd [ap Gwenwynwyn] doubtless means that Llywelyn was already marching south towards Builth. Llywelyn was in the north 11.11.1282] negotiating with Peckhan until Nov.11- his final letter to the archbishop is dated Garthcefn,

11.11.1282] Nov.11 {Peckhan, Letters,ii.468-9}-so he presumably would not move southwards until a little later. The present letter may therefore be fairly safely assigned to the second half of
11.1282] Nov.1282.)

24.11.1282] PRTh.228) Before Edmund Mortimer received his lands on 24 November, (Gruffudd ap Maredudd) was recorded as a fugetive of the Barony of Wigmore {Excerpta E Rotulis Finium, 1216-1277, 174; P.R.O. S.C. 6/1209/1.
(Haslam’s Powys tud 218) Aberedw Castle was the last refuge of Llywelyn the Last.

24.11.1282] CAC - XXIV.110. ROGER SPRINGHOSE TO ROBERT, BISHOP OF BATH AND WELLS. Shortly before Nov.24,1282.

Reports that he has surveyed and finished the castles which belonged to Roger Mortimer, and has negotiated the inhabitants into the king’s peace so far as he was able, in accordance with the king’s instructions. But he found the inhabitants very fickle and haughty, as though they were on the point of leaving the king’s peace, because they have no definate lord: and he believes that they will not long remain in peace if their liege lord does not come to them. Moreover, there has been great expense in the castles, and much outlay, with little profit, so that it seems to Roger that it would be a good thing both for the king’s profit and for the security of the land that the business of the heir were hastened. (Not dated.) French.

24.11.1282] (Springhose was ordered on Nov.24,1282, to give seisin to Mortimer’s heir Edmund; C.Fine R.i.174. The present letter is presumably not very long before that date. See also the note XXIV.109.)

12.1982] In December, Llywelyn III came south, arriving in the parish of Llangantern near Llanfair ym Muellt

11.12.1282] (Builth) on 11.12.1282. Over the next 48 hours or so the events are uncertain, but by the end of that period Llywelyn III was dead, and his head was on its way to Edward I at Rhuddlan. This 48 hours has been one of the most written-about of any of the periods of Wales history. The debate is still in full swing.

The likely places where Llywelyn was killed include Cefn y Bedd (Cilmeri) and his own castle at Aberedwy (Aberedw). The events are even more uncertain, but the most reliable chronicles suggest that Aberedwy is more likely than Cefn y Bedd. It is likely that Llywelyn III was lured into a situation where only a small number of his body-guard, who could easily be overpowered were present with him. The men of this corps were killed by le Strange’s men and then Llywelyn himself was killed by either Simon de Francton or Robert Body, or both. Apparently Llywelyn was convinced that he was safe to leave his main army, because he was to expecting to discuss with the other magnates who were present, terms for them changing sides to support him. It is likely that this plot, and the resulting assassination were carried out in the presence of Roger and Edmund Mortimer, Roger le Strange, John Giffard (custodian of Builth Castle), and Possibly Maude de Longespee.

11.12.1282] CAC - XIX.8. ROGER LESTRANGE TO KING EDWARD [I]

Immediately after Dec.11,1282.

Informs the king that the troops under Roger’s command fought with Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in the 11.12.1282] land of Built on Friday next after the feast of St. Nicholas [Friday, Dec.11,1282], that Llywelyn ap Gruffudd is dead, his army defeated, and all the flower of his army dead, as the bearer of the letter will tell. (Not dated.) French. [E.H.R.xix.507.]

The Peterborough Chronicle gives a reference to Cwmhir in its account of the events:

“The Friday before the Feast of St Lucy, in the tenth year of the reign of king Edward, Llywelyn the prince of Wales came to the land of Roger Mortimer, in the territory called Gwrthrynion (Aberedwy is in Elfael Is Fynydd not Gwrtheyrnion, and Cefn y Bedd is in Buellt), situated between an abbey of the Cistercian order called Cwm Hir and a town called ‘Ynlanmake’ (Llanfair ym Muellt or Llangamarch), with 160 horsemen and 7000 foot, to gain possession of the men of the said Roger Mortimer. And there came a garrison from Montgomery (Trefaldwyn) and Oswestry (Croes Oswallt), namely lord Roger le Strange, the captain appointed by the king, Lord John Giffard, the three sons of the lord Roger Mortimer, the two sons of lord Gruffudd Gwenwynwyn, lord John le Strange, lord Peter Corbet, lord Reginald fitz Peter, lord Ralph Basset of Drayton, lord Simon Basset of Sapcote, and lord Andrew le Esteleye, with all the might of the March of Wales. In the aforenamed place they met Llywelyn and his comrades a about evening time, and confounded him and all his army, so that he was killed in that same place; and his head was cut off and taken to the king at Rhuddlan, and from there was sent to London and placed on a tower. Not one of the prince’s horsemen escaped death, and three thousand foot soldiers were killed; and three magnates from his terretories died with him, namely, Almafan, who was lord of Llanbadarn Fawr, Rhys ap Gruffudd, who was steward of all the prince’s lands, and the third, it is thought, was Llywelyn Fychan, who was lord of Bromfield; whereas it is said, that none of the English was killed or wounded there.”

The marcher lords who took part in the events of Llywelyn III’s killing, were all his cousins and were as likely to support him against Edward I as support Edward against him. It was Roger le Strange, who wrote to Edward I announcing Llywelyn’s death, which probably accompanied Llywelyn’s head northward to Rhuddlan.

17.12.1282] Archbishop Peckham, in his first letter to Robert Bishop of Bath and Wells, dated 17th December 1282, described a list which had been found on Llywelyn’s body with the names of people ready to support him; and could easily have included the above. Peckham’s letter was written in the following terms:

“As he desires to protect the king against plots of his enemies, he sends to the Bishop, enclosed in this letter, a certain schedule, expressing in obscure words and with fictitious names, a copy of which, which Edmund Mortimer has, was found in the breeches of Llywelyn, formerly Prince of Wales, together with his small seal, which the archbishop is causing to be kept safely to send to the King, if he so wishes. From this schedule the bishop can sufficiently guess that certain magnates, neighbours of the Welsh, either Marchers or others, are not too loyal to the king; where-fore let the king be warned lest he come to some danger. The archbishop is greaved to hear that certain clerks at Rhuddlan, in contempt of the church, are put to death along with robbers and malefactors: he prays the bishop to use his influence to stop this. He is greatly grieved about he clerks who are homeless in Snowdon (Eryri): the archbishop would gladly have brought them with him, if the king of his clemency had allowed it. Prays the bishop to let him know if anything can be done to help them.”….

…”If the king wishes to have the copy found in the breeches of Llywelyn, he can have it from Edmund Mortimer, who has custody of it and also of Llywelyn’s privy seal and certain other things found in the same place.”

After Llywelyn III had been killed his head was sent to Edward I at Rhuddlan and then to Môn (Angelsey) to be shown to the troops there. It was then taken to London and after being paraded throuth the streets, was erected on a pole above the Tower of London, for public view. It w as still there 15 years later, according to eye-witnesses.

A Victorian interpretation of events:
Owen Rhoscomyl - Flamebearers of Welsh History 1905 [pages 197-209]

The Plot to Destroy Llywelyn

Now the Norman lords of Cymru - the lords-marcher as they were called - hated the Cymric Prince always, but neither did they love the King of England. They looked upon themselves as independent princes, each in his own domain.

So long as there were Princes of Cymru, however, to make war on the King of England, then the kings of England would have to encourage the lords-marcher in their independence, that they might haress the Prince of Cymru. Once the Princes of Cymru were extinguished, then the next step of the Kings of England would be to crush the lords-marcher. Some of the Norman lords saw that, and they at least had no great wish to see Llywelyn crushed utterly.

Llywelyn knew this. Already some of the barons were in secret correspondence with him, and when he received word from Edmund Mortimer of Wigmore, one of the great lords-marcher saying that he wished to come over to his side, he believed it. For the Mortimers were his cousins, descended from his father’s sister, Gladys, daughter of Llywelyn the Great.

Now an English chronicler of that day tells us that Edmund Mortimer did this thing to please King Edward. Llywelyn had always believed that Edward would deal treacherously with him. Edward, therefore, to throw Llywelyn off his guard, chose Edmund Mortimer for his work, for Llywelyn had once spared the life of the father of this Mortimer, because of the kinship between them. He would never suspect treachery, then, from the Mortimers, who were his kinsmen and sons of the man whose life he had spared.

But there was another man in this dark plan who should stand forefront in the blame. That man was John Giffard, a baron whose lands lay close to those of the Mortimers, and had just been appointed Constable of the new castle of Builth.

Whether Edward set him to work with the Mortimers, or whether, as seems more probable, the Mortimers themselves took him into council and set him on the work does not matter here. But, by the rewards which Edward gave him afterwards, it is certain that the actual plot which closed around Llywelyn was his.

For he was even more the right man to decieve the intended victim than the Mortimers themselves. Firstly and foremost, he was one of those barons who had joined Simon de Montfort in the struggle for English liberty. He was, indeed, one of the busiest under de Montfort - as long as he thought it would pay. In those old days, when the champions of English liberty looked to Llywelyn for the ready help he always gave, Ciffard must have professed himself a great friend of the Prince.

Further, Giffard had married Maud Longsord (Longspee) who was also a cousin of Llywelyn, for whom she had a warm affection, as she proved afterwards. And that marriage, moreover, made him a lord-marcher, in right of his wife’s possessions.

Lastly, Llywelyn, knowing him personally, would know him to be quite unscrupulaus, as his whole record shows him to have been. He had deserted Montfort in the old days, when he thaught the hero’s star was waning, and he was always ready to steal lands and revenues, wherever he thaught he could do it.

In fact, as the documents of his life show, John Giffard was always for himself, no matter who was king or prince. He had fought against Edward and his father, when he thought it would pay. He was capable of fighting against Edward again if he thaught that would pay. He was therefore just the man to change sides once more, after the defeat of Luke de Tany had so altered all the prospects of the war. On all counts, then, he would be just the man to be the fittest tool in this affair.

The letters of Edmund Mortimer brought Llywelyn down the valley of the Wye, with a little band of warriors from Gwynedd. John Giffard, Constable of Builth Castle, made him believe that Builth Castle would be, given up to him. Never repeat that old phrase about ‘The Traitors of Builth’. The Men of Builth, fair play to them, were always as ready as the rest to come out for freedom. And the bard who composed the wild and fiery lament for Llywelyn speaks of Saxon, not Cymric, trechery. The only Saxon there was John Giffard.

Giffard had only just been appointed to the command of Builth. Before him, Roger L’Estrange, lord-marcher of Ellesmere and Knockyn, two Cymric lordships in what is now Shropshire, had been commandingthere. The Cymry from Ellesmere and Knockyn were still at Builth under Giffard when Llywelyn came down.

Now a year or two before this, when the castle was being built, Edward had commanded the father (Roger de Mortimer) of the Mortimers to cut four roads in different directions from Builth. One of these roads was to a place which he called, in the document, by a name which it still bears, Cevn Bedd, or, as we now say, Cevn y Bedd. It was called Cevn Bedd because of the bedd or grave of some mighty chief of old, who lies buried at the foot of a stone on Waun Eli there.

The road from the castle was cut accordingly. On the way it had to cross the river Yrvon, by a wooden bridge, of the sort still seen spanning the Upper Wye. From the bridge, of the sort still to be seen spanning the Upper Wye. From the bridge it continued along the ridge, following an ancient path, to the homestead of Cevn y Bedd, two miles from Builth. There one ancient trackway branched to the right, north-west, to Llanavan Fawr, and beyond; while another, one which the road had followed to this point, kept on foreward for a little way, till it passed the head of a little dingle, with a clear spring in it, bubbling out in a tiny stream. There it turned to the left, south-west, to cross the Irfon at another woodden bridge, within bow-shot of a ford which no man would think existed unless someone pointed it out to him.

When Llywelyn came down he posted his little force on the high ground above the end of the road, between the two trackways. In front of him the road ran on to Builth, but the bridge that should carry it across the Irfon had been destroyed, probably by Roger L’Estrange, after the defeat at Llandeilo had put all the lords-marcher on their defence. The lack of a bridge, however, would trouble Llywelyn little, and it was at this camp on the Cevn y Bedd, at the edge of Waun Eli, that the final phase of the plot against him was set in motion.

LV. When The Eighteen Fell

Prince of romance from the first hour of his power, Llywelyn now entered on that scene which beggars all the sober inventions of romances. Tradition-vivid, lasting, living tradition - still tells the tale of it, though in so wild a tangle that it needs much time and patience to straighten it out. But here is the story, partly from tradition and partly from ancient documents.

On thursday, December 10, 1282, Llywelyn received a message from the plotters, luring him away to Aberedw, some miles down the Wye, below Builth, and on the other side of the stream. The snow was lying white on the world, and the rivers (deeper then than now) were running black and full, but the ford across the Wye at Llechryd was still possible.

Choosing eighteen of his household men, his body-guard, Llywelyn rode to Llechryd, and crossed. There he left his eighteen to hold the ford till he should come back, and then, attended by one squire, young Gorono Vychan, sone of his minister Ednyved Vychan, he pushed on down the valley to Aberedw.

At Aberedw he was to meet a young gentlewoman, who was to conduct him to a stealthy meeting with some chiefs of that district. If it be asked why he rode thus, almost alone and almost unarmed, the answer is that he is on a secret errand in which he must not attract attention to himself until he had seen the local chiefs, and aranged the details of a rising on their part. The more secret and sudden that rising was, the more likely it was to succeed. He was taking one of the risks that a fearless captain takes in such a war. It was like him to do it, for he was a steadfast soul.

At Aberedw, however, the gentlewoman was not there to meet him. In truth, the whole message was part of the plot of Giffard and the Mortimers, though he did not know it yet.

Yet as he waited, he thought of how the snow would betray which way he went, either in going to the secret meeting with the chiefs, or in stealing away for safety from any sudden enemies. Therefore he went to the smith of the place, Red Madoc of the wide-mouth, and bode him take the thin shoes off the horses, and put them on again backwards. Anyone finding his tracks after that would think that he had been coming not going.

Then, as dark fell, he found that the Mortimers, with their horsemen were closing in around the place. Danger was upon him indeed. Swiftly he stole away with his squire, and hid himself in a cave which may still be seen at Aberedw.

All that night he lay hidden, and then as soon as the earliest grey of dawn crept over the snowy earth, he stole away with his squire again, and rode back to Llechryd. He could only go slowly, so he had to go stealthily, for his horse could not gallop, because of its shoes being backwards.

At Llechryd he found his faithful eighteen, but by this time the river was too high for crossing there. They must find some bridge. Now, the nearest bridge was the one at Builth, under the walls of the great castle.

Llywelyn believed that, by the trick of the horse shoes, he had thrown the Mortimers off his track. Also he remembered that Builth Castle was to be delivered to him according to promise. He took his eighteen men and rode back to the bridge at Builth, no great distance down the valley.

He reached the bridge barely in time. The Mortimers at Aberedw had terrified Red Madoc, the smith, into confessing the trick of the horseshoes. Like hounds they were following his trail, and now they caught sight of him, crossing the bridge with his little troup.

The bridge was of wood like the rest of the bridges of that district. Llywelyn turned and broke it down behind him, the black flood of the full Wye mocking the Mortimers as they drew rein on their panting steeds, before the broken timbers. Their hoprd-for victim had escaped for the moment. In their fury they turned and dashed down the valley to cross at Y Rhyd (now called Erwood) eight miles below.

Llywelyn expected the castle of Builth to be given up to him. But the garrison refused, doubtless making some excuse of waiting till the county had risen. He could not waste time; the bridge on the road to Cevn y Bedd was gone; he took his eighteen and led the way along the southern bank of the Yrvon to another bridge, just above the little church of Llanynys. There he crossed, and posted the eighteen to hold the bridge, doubtless feeling himself safely returned from great peril.

In thankfullness for his escape too he caused a white friar to hold a service for him, perhaps at the end of the bridge, perhaps in the little church of Llanynys, beside the dark Yrvon, It does not matter much where the service was held, the whole of the ground was to be made sacred that day.

This done, Llywelyn went up to the grange of Llanvair, a farmstead belonging to the parish church of Builth, doubtless to get food and an hour’s sleep, after the cold watching of that winter’s night in the cave. After a frosty night of scout-work, one’s eyes get very heavy when one gets a warm day, and a great drowsiness stills the blood, even of the stubbornest man.

Meanwhile the Mortimers had crossed the Wye at Erwood, and with Giffard were riding fast for the Bridge of Orewyn, where the eighteen held their post. In headlong haste their leading squadron charged the bridge - but the eighteen had not been chosen in vain. They kept the bridge.

While the clamour was at its hight, Grono Vychan roused Llywelyn and told him of it.

‘Are not my men at the bridge?’ demanded the prince.
‘They are’ answered Grono.
‘Then I care not if all England were on the other side,’ returned Llywelyn proudly.

He knew what manner of men he had left to hold the bridge.

But down in front of the bridge, where the enemy were shouting in their baffled rage, as they tried in vain to hew a way accross, one of Giffard’s captain spoke out. It was Helias ap Philip Walwyn, from lower down the Wye.

‘We shall do no good here!’ he shouted. ‘But I know a ford, a little distance off, that they do not know of. Let some of the bravest and strongest come with me, and we can cross and take the bridge in rear.’

At once the bravest crowded after Helias to the ford, where the water seems as dark in winter as the rest of the long black pool on either hand. They crossed. The eighteen were charged in rear as well as in front. But they kept faith. Where Llywelyn had posted them, there they died. As men should end, proudly fighting, so they ended.

‘Till the eighteen fell,’ says the bard, ‘it was well with Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.’

Then over their bodies poured all the mass of Mortimer’s men, with Giffard’s, to seek Llywelyn’s little force on the high ground beyond. Fast the horsemen spurred, and as they hastened they came suddenly upon an unarmoured man with one companion, hurrying on foot towards where the bridge was roaring under the trampling host. One of the horsemen, Stephen or Adam of Frankton, in Llywelyn’s old lordship of Ellesmere, dashed forward with his men, and one ran his lance through the younger of the two. The other one was running up through a little dingle, to get back to the army above in time to lead it in the coming battle. On the bank above the little spring at the head of the dingle, grew a great spread of broom (banadl). In that bush of broom Frankton overtook the man and ran his spear out through him in a mortal wound.

That man was Llywelyn. The accident had happened. Go to the spot, and the people will tell you that no broom has ever grown again in Llanganten parish from that dark day to this.

So died Llywelyn ap Gruffudd; a gallanter soul never passes to God.

BURIAL OF LLYWELYN III’S BODY

Llywelyn III had been under interdict from the Pope for his disagreements with Edward I’s supporters amongst the Bis hops in Wales, particularly the Bishop of Llanelwy (St. Assaph). He could not, therefore, be buried in consecrated ground. However Maude de Longespee pleaded on his behalf for a christian burial for his head-less body. Maude was Llywelyn III’s also cousin.

It was said by Roger leStrange that on the morning of his death, Llywelyn III had been blessed by a cistercian monk, and this was used to persuade Archbishop Peckham of Canterbury to allow Llywelyn’s body to be buried at Cwmhir. It is also implied by the statement, that the monk had also been killed, because Roger le Strange was able to show the Archbishop the monk’s vestments as proof that the monk had been involved. The Archbishop was worried that reprisals would be taken against those church-men who had taken Llywelyn’s side, and he wrote to Edward I asking him not to treat the Welsh Church harshly (which also meant the Cistercians).

17-12.1282] The evidence that Llywelyn III’s body was buried in the abbey of Cwmhir comes from a second letter of Archbishop Peckham to Edward I, written from Pembridge in Swydd Henffordd (Herefordshire) on 17th December 1282, in which he said:

“he had been entreated by Dame Maude Lungespeye to absolve Llywelyn, so that he might be buried in consecrated ground, but he had replied that he could do nothing unless it could be proved that Llywelyn had shown signs of true repentance before his death Edmund de Mortimer had informed him that he had heard from his vallets (foot soldiers) who were present at the death, that Llywelyn had asked for a priest, but without complete certainty the Archbishop could do nothing to absolve him. There is no proof that the call had been responded to, or that the requirements had been complied with, but he adds that apparently earlier the same day a white monk (cistercian) chanted a mass for Llywelyn, and Roger Mortimer supplied the vestments.”

CAC - XXIV.45. JOHN, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, TO ROBERT, BISHOP OF BATH AND WELLS.

17.12.1282] [Dec.17,1282]

As he desires to protect the king against the plots of enemies, he sends to the bishop, enclosed in this letter, a certain schedule, expressed in obscure words and with fictitious names, a copy of which, which Edmund Mortimer has, was found in the breeches of Llywelyn, formerly Prince of Wales, together with his small seal, which the archbishop is causing to be kept safely to send to the king, if he so wishes. From this schedule the bishop can sufficiently guess that certain magnates, neighbours of the Welsh, either Marchers or others, are not too loyal to the king; wherefore let the king be warned, lest he come to some danger.

28.12.1282] On 28th December 1282 Archbishop Peckham wrote a letter to the Archdeacon of Brecon at Brecon Priory to:

“inquire and clarify if the body of Llywelyn has been buried in the church of Cwmhir (Cwmhir), and he was bound to clarify the latter before the feast of Epiphany, because he had another mandate on this matter, and ought to have certified the lord Archbishop before Christmas, and has not done so.”

Most historians have come to believe that the body of Llywelyn III is buried in the abbey however, and according to local tradition his remains lie buried under the high alter in the nave of the abbey. It is there that a slate slab (from near where Llywelyn III was born at Dolbadarn) now marks the site where his remains are likely to be buried. Unfortunately this tradition does not seem to be older than a 1894] letter from the Marquis of Bute in 1894, to the Cymrodorion Society. In it he said that if Llywelyn’s body was in the abbey, it was most likely that under the altar was the most likely place for it to be buried. The Marquis himself (1895) was of the opinion that that was the case, but it has not been proved archaeologically.

1890] Stephen Williams in 1890 (see below), was unaware of Llywelyn’s burial at Abaty

1896] Cwmhir, but by 1896 he stated that:

“It will be observed that there is nothing in the letters that are quoted to proveLlywelyn’s body was ultimately buried at Cwmhir, and still further, nothing is said thatthe body was buried where it lay, and it is far more likely that the body would becarried to Builth (Llanfair ym Muellt) and there preserved, awaiting the decision of theking and the archbishop as to its ultimate disposal. It would be quite in accordance withthe practice of that period, and of a still later time, to have the body carefully disemboweled and preserve probably with salt, and stitched up in an ox-hide; such rude materials would be available in the small town of Builth. The Mortimers were relatives of Llywelyn, and would not be likely to treat the body of the Prince of Wales with disrespect.”

12.1282] “Peckham in his first letter, written in the beginning of December 1282, signifies his 17.12.1282] conditional assent, and in another letter to the king on 17th of the same month, 28.12.1282] intimates that his condition has been satisfied; and on 28th we find a memorandum in the Archbishop’s register at Lambeth Palace, that the Archdeacon of Brecon was orderedto certify to the archbishop “whether Llywelyn was buried at Cwmhyr.” Would such aquestion have been asked if no consent had been given? And if the body had not beforethat date been interred in the monastery?”

“We have also the testimony of contemporary chroniclers as to the burial at AbbeyCwm Hir. The chronicle of Florence of Worcester referring to the death of PrinceLlywelyn, says; “As for the body of the Prince, his mangled trunk, it was interred in theAbbey of Cwm Hir, belonging to the Cistercian Order;” and the fact is also recorded inthe Historia Anglicana of Bartholemew Cotton.”

He also stated that thought Dugdale got Llywelyn III mixed up with Gruffydd apLlywelyn I (died 1063) when copying the Chronicle of St Werburgh Chester it had alsoreferred to Llywelyn’s burial at Abaty Cwmhir.

Stephen Williams also stated the views of the Marquis of Bute on the matter:

“that the body was laid either;

  1. in the middle of the Chancel or Presbytery,
  2. before the altar or in one of the side chapels,
  3. between two of the piers of the nave,
  4. in a central position in the nave itself.”

“A rude vault was probably constructed below the level of the floor line, and though thetask of excavation would be somewhat difficult, there is the possibility that those whohave previously excavated the ruins may have passed over it, but I much fear thatanything in the nature of a memorial slab, or other indication of its position, has longsince perished, as the entire surface of the church floor level has apparently beenexcavated, and so far as my investigations have gone, no trace of the original pavementremains.”

There are few places in our country which so poignantly testify to the tragic history of this little Nation than this place. Between the crumbling walls of this once proud national cathedral lie the incomplete remains of a once great King and the broken spirit of a once proud nation. Abaty Cwmhir is thus a place of deep emotion for many of the people who know anything of our history, and a place of too many dark spirits for those in Wales who would rather not. Casual visitors to the beautiful and now peaceful place are not aware of the dark shadows of the struggles for the survival of Wales which were played out here. Green leaves, soft grass and warming sunshine lift the spirits even in the somberest of places, and for all its historical gloom Abaty Cwmhir is one of the loveliest locations in Wales.

1283] Gwynedd remained independent with Dafydd III still in control as ‘Prince of Wales’ until 1283.