yr Arglwydd Rhys
Rhys ap Gruffudd

Lord Rhys


Rhys ap Grufydd was the second son of Gwenllian ferch Gruffudd, daughter of Gruffudd ap Cynan, king of Gwynedd. He ruled the kingdom of Deheubarth in south Wales from 1155 to 1197.

Shortly after becoming ruler of Deheubarth –  Rhys heard rumours that Owain Gwynedd was planning to invade Ceredigion in order to reclaim it for Gwynedd. Rhys responded by building a castle at Aberdyfi in 1156. The threatened invasion did not take place, it is thought that Owain's intention may have been to test the resolve of the new ruler.

King Stephen, of England, had died in October 1154, bringing to an end the long dispute with the Empress Matilda. With disunity within the English realm no longer a problem, the new king of England, Henry II, soon turned his attention to Wales. He began with an invasion of Gwynedd in 1157. This invasion was not entirely successful as Owain Gwynedd routed the English army at Ewloe but was later induced to seek terms and to give up some territory in the north-east of Wales.

The following year, Henry prepared an invasion of Deheubarth. Rhys made plans to resist, but was persuaded by his council to meet the king to discuss peace terms. The terms were much harsher than those offered to Owain: Rhys was stripped of all his possessions apart from Cantref Mawr, though he was promised one other cantref. The other territories were returned to their Norman lords.

Among the Normans who returned to their holdings was Walter de Clifford, who reclaimed Cantref Bychan, then invaded Rhys's lands in Cantref Mawr. An appeal to the king produced no response, and Rhys resorted to arms, first capturing Clifford's castle at Llandovery then seizing Ceredigion. King Henry responded by preparing another invasion, and Rhys submitted without resistance. He was obliged to give hostages, probably including his son Hywel.

The king was absent in France in 1159, and Rhys took the opportunity to attack Dyfed and then to lay siege to Carmarthen, which was saved by a relief force led by Earl Reginald of Cornwall. Rhys retreated to Cantref Mawr, where an army led by five earls, the Earls of Cornwall, Gloucester, Hertford, Pembroke and Salisbury, marched against him. The earls were assisted by Cadwaladr, brother of Owain Gwynedd. However they were forced to withdraw and a truce was arranged. In 1162, Rhys again attempted to recover some of his lost lands, and captured Llandovery castle. The following year Henry II returned to England after an absence of four years and prepared for another invasion of Deheubarth. Rhys met the king to discuss terms and was obliged to give more hostages, including another son, Maredudd. He was then seized and taken to England as a prisoner. Henry appears to have been uncertain what to do with Rhys, but after a few weeks decided to free him and allow him to rule Cantref Mawr. Rhys was summoned to appear before Henry at Woodstock to do homage together with Owain Gwynedd and Malcolm IV of Scotland

In 1164 all the Welsh princes united in an uprising. Warren suggests that when Rhys and Owain were obliged to do homage to Henry in 1163 they were forced to accept a status of dependent vassalage instead of their previous client status, and that this led to the revolt. Rhys had other reasons for rebellion, for he had returned to Deheubarth from England to find that the neighbouring Norman lords were threatening Cantref Mawr

The Welsh revolt led to another invasion of Wales by King Henry in 1165. Henry attacked Gwynedd first, but instead of following the usual invasion route along the north coast he attacked from the south, following a route over the Berwyn hills. He was met by the united forces of the Welsh princes, led by Owain Gwynedd and including Rhys. According to Brut y Tywysogion: ... King Henry gathered an innumerable host of the selected warriors of England and Normandy and Flanders and Gascony and Anjou ... and against him came Owain and Cadwaladr the sons of Gruffudd with all the host of Gwynedd, and Rhys ap Gruffudd with all the host of Deheubarth and Iorwerth the Red son of Maredudd and the sons of Madog ap Maredudd with all the host of Powys.

Torrential rain forced Henry's army to retreat in disorder without fighting a major battle, and Henry vented his spleen on the hostages, having Rhys's son Maredudd blinded. Rhys's other son, Hywel, was not among the victims. Rhys returned to Deheubarth where he captured and burned Cardigan Castle. He allowed the garrison to depart, but held the castellan, Robert Fitz-Stephen, as a prisoner. Shortly afterwards Rhys captured Cilgerran castle.

In 1167 he joined Owain Gwynedd in an attack on Owain Cyfeiliog of southern Powys, and spent three weeks helping Owain besiege the Norman castle of Rhuddlan. In 1168 he attacked the Normans at Builth, destroying its castle. Rhys benefited from the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169 and 1170, which was largely led by the Cambro-Norman lords of south Wales. In 1167 the King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada, who had been driven out of his kingdom, had asked Rhys to release Robert Fitz-Stephen from captivity to take part in an expedition to Ireland. Rhys did not oblige at the time, but released him the following year and in 1169 Fitz-Stephen led the vanguard of a Norman army which landed in Wexford. The leader of the Norman forces, Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, known as "Strongbow", followed in 1170. According to Warren:

They were prompted to go by a growing suspicion that King Henry did not intend to renew his offensive against the Welsh, but was instead seeking an accommodation with the Welsh leaders.

The departure of the Norman lords enabled Rhys to strengthen his position, and the death of Owain Gwynedd in late 1170 left him as the acknowledged leader of the Welsh princes.

Rhys built a number of stone castles, starting with Cardigan castle, which was the earliest recorded native-built stone castle in Wales. He also built Carreg Cennen castle near Llandeilo, a castle set in a spectacular position on a mountain top. He held a festival of poetry and song at his court at Cardigan over Christmas 1176. This is generally regarded as the first recorded Eisteddfod. The festival was announced a year in advance throughout Wales and in England, Scotland, Ireland and possibly France. Two chairs were awarded as prizes, one for the best poem and the other for the best musical performance.

Rhys founded two religious houses during this period. Talley Abbey was the first Premonstratensian abbey in Wales, while Llanllyr was a Cistercian nunnery, only the second nunnery to be founded in Wales and the first to prosper. He became the patron of the abbeys of Whitland and Strata Florida and made large grants to both houses.

In April 1197 Rhys died unexpectedly and was buried in St David's Cathedral. The chronicler of Brut y Tywysogion records for 1197:

... there was a great pestilence throughout the island of Britain ... and that tempest killed innumerable people and many of the nobility and many princes, and spared none. That year, four days before May Day, died Rhys ap Gruffudd, Prince of Deheubarth and unconquered head of all Wales.

Today, he is commonly known as The Lord Rhys, in Welsh yr Arglwydd Rhys, although this title may  not have been used in his lifetime. He usually used the title "Proprietary Prince of Deheubarth" or "Prince of South Wales", but two documents have been discovered in which he uses the title "Prince of Wales" or "Prince of the Welsh". Rhys was one of the most successful and powerful Welsh princes, and, after the death of Owain Gwynedd in 1170, the dominant power in Wales.

Source: Wikipedia

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