Gruffudd ap Cynan (aka, Gruffydd ap Cynan, c.1055–1137) is a remarkable historical figure for a number of reasons: his mixed-ethnicity ancestry, his trans-Celtic life, and his ability to re-establish his family’s authority in Gwynedd to the point of holding off the invasions of Norman lords and Henry I. This history of his life was commissioned by his son Owain, originally written in Latin and then translated into Welsh.
The following text was adapted by Michael Newton from The History Of Gruffydd Ap Cynan. trans. and ed. Arthur Jones. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1910.
§1. Gruffydd’s Descent from the Royal Houses of Wales, Ireland, and Norway.
In the days of Edward King of England and of Toirdelbhach King of Ireland, Gruffydd King of Gwynedd was born in Ireland in the city of Dublin, and he was reared in the commot of Colum Cille, a place which is called among the Irish “Swords” (this is three miles from the place where his mother and his foster-mother lived). His father was Cynan, King of Gwynedd, and his mother was Ragnaillt, daughter of Olaf, King of the city of Dublin and a fifth part of Ireland. Therefore this Gruffydd was a man most nobly born, of royal race and most eminent lineage, as testifies likewise the pedigree and descent of his family.
For Gruffydd was a son of King Cynan, son of Iago, son of Idwal, son of Elissed, son of Meuryc, son of Anarawt, son of Rhodri, son of Etill daughter of Cynart of Castell Dindaethwy, son of Idwaire, son of Catwalader Vendigeit, son of Catwallawn, son of Catvan, son of lago, son of Beli, son of Run, son of Maelgwn, Son of Catwallawn Llauhir, son of Einnyawn Yrth, son of King Cuneda, son of Edern, son of Padern Peisrud son of Tagit, son of Iago, son of Guidauc, son of Kein, son of Gorgein, son of Doli, son of Gwrdoli, son of Dwuyn, son of Gorduwyn, son of Anwerit, son of Onuet, son of Diuwng, son of Brychwein, son of Ewein, son of Auallach, son of Aflech, son of Beli Mawr, etc. […]
Here is the pedigree of Gruffydd on his mother’s side: King Gruffydd, son of Ragnaillt the daughter of Olaf, king of the city of Dublin and a fifth part of Ireland and the Isle of Man which was formerly of the kingdom of Britain. Moreover he was king over many other islands, Denmark, and Galloway and the Rinns [of Islay], and Anglesey, and Gwynedd where Olaf built a strong castle with its mound and ditch still visible and called “The Castle of King Olaf.” In Welsh, however, it is called Bon y Dom. Olaf himself was a son of King Sitriuc, son of Olaf Cuaran, son of Sitriuc, son of King Olaf, son of King Haarfager, son of the King of Denmark. […]
With regard to this, while King Gruffydd is commended by an earthly pedigree and a heavenly one, let us now proceed to the prophecy of Merddin, bard of the Britons, concerning him. Merddin foretold him to us as follows: “A leaping wild animal that shall be the subject of prophecy has gone away to our gain; a waylayer from over the sea; corrupter [is] his name, [for] he shall corrupt many people.”
O dearly beloved brother Welshmen, very memorable is King Gruffydd, who is commended by the praise of his earthly pedigree and the prophecy of Merddin as above. And since this is finished, let us hasten to his own particular actions as has been promised by us through ancient history. Let Christ be the author and counsellor in this matter, not Diana or Apollo.
§2. Gruffydd defeats Cenwric, Son of Rhiwallon, and Trahaiarn, Son of Caradoc, and becomes King of Gwynedd.
When Gruffydd was still a boy, well mannered and delicately reared, and attaining to. the years of youth in his mother’s house and moving amidst her people, during this time his mother related to him every day who and what manner of man was his father, what was his patrimony, and what kind of kingdom and what sort of tyrants dwelt in it. When he heard this heaviness seized him and he was sad for many days. Consequently he went to the court of King Murchad and complained to him in particular and to the other kings of Ireland that a strange people were ruling over his paternal kingdom, and in sport besought them to give him help to seek his patrimony. They took pity upon him and promised to help him when the time should come. When he heard the answer he was glad and gave thanks for that to God and to them, immediately embarked in a ship, and raised the sails to the wind, and journeyed over the sea towards Wales, and reached the port of Abermenai. At that time there were ruling, falsely and unduly, Trahaiarn, son of Caradoc, and Cenwric, son of Rhiwallon, Kings of Powys and all Gwynedd, which they had divided between them.
Then Gruffydd sent messengers to the men of Anglesey and Arvon and the three sons of Merwyd of Lleyn, Asser, Meirion, and Gwgan, and other noblemen to ask them to come quickly to confer with him. Without delay they arrived and saluted him and said to him, “Your coming is welcome.” Then he besought them with all his might to aid him to obtain his patrimony, for he was their rightful lord, and to fight on his side valiantly with arms to repel their usurping rulers who had come from another place. After the conference was ended and the council dispersed, he went back to the ocean towards Rhuddlan Castle to Robert of Rhuddlan, a baron famous, brave, and strong, nephew to Hugh, Earl of Chester, and besought help of him against his enemies who were in his patrimony. When he [Robert] heard who he was, and wherefore he had come, and what was his request of him, he promised to be his supporter.
Hereupon there came a prophetess, Tangwystyl by name, a relation of his, the wife of Llewarch Olbwch, to greet Gruffydd her relation, and to foretell that in the future he would be king, and to present to him the fairest of shirts and the best of tunics made from the pelisse of King Gruffydd, son of King Liewelyn, son of Seisyll (for Llewarch, her husband, was chief chamberlain and treasurer to Gruffydd, son of Llewelyn). Then Gruffydd embarked and returned from his journey to Abermenai. Then he despatched the soldiers of the sons of Merwyd, who were in sanctuary in Clynnog from fear of the men of Powys who were threatening them, and other noblemen and their kinsmen, and sixty picked men of Tygeingl from the province of the above-mentioned Robert, and eighty men from Anglesey to the cantred of Lleyn to fight with King Cenwric, their oppressor. Then they departed by strategy, and came upon him unawares, and slew him and many of his men. Gruffydd at the time was. in Abermenai, that is to say, in the harbour which has been mentioned above, awaiting [to see] what fate should happen to them. Then straightway there set out in haste a youth of Arvon, Eineon was his name, the first to tell him the happy tidings, that is, the slaughter of his oppressor, and to request as a particular reward for the news a beautiful woman, Delat by name, formerly King Bleddyn’s mistress: as of old, there came to David to Philistia a certain young man, a son of an Amalekite bearing the sceptre and ring of King Saul and running from the battle that had taken place on Mount Gilboa: and David gave the armlet to him gladly as his reward for the joyful news. Then followed victoriously the troop he had sent to the attack. At once they urged him to advance, upon this good omen, to conquer Anglesey and Arvon and Lleyn and the cantreds of the marches of England, and to receive homage from their inhabitants, and so to go and perambulate all Gwynedd, the true possession of his father which God from his mercy had delivered into their hands.
When these things had been done, at their instigation he took a huge host towards the cantred of Meirionydd (where was Trahaiarn) against his other conqueror. A battle took place between them in a narrow valley, a place which is called in Welsh Gwaet Erw “The Bloody Land,” by reason of the battle which took place there: and God granted victory over his enemies in that day, and many thousands fell the part of Trahaiarn, and he, lamenting, escaped with difficulty and a few [men] with him from the battle. Gruffydd and his host pursued him through plain and mountain to the borders of his own land. Therefore Gruffydd was exalted from that day forth, and was rightfully called King of Gwynedd; and he rejoiced as a strong man to run his course, freeing Gwynedd from the rulers who came to it from another place, who were ruling it without a right; as Judas Maccabeus defended the land of Israel against the kings of the pagans and neighbouring nations who frequently made an inroad among them. After so accomplishing everything Gruffydd began to pacify the kingdom and to organize the people and to rule them with a rod of iron gloriously in the Lord.
§ 3. He Attacks Rhuddlan Castle.
Thereupon after a little time had elapsed, at the instigation of the noblemen of the country a great host gathered and advanced to Rhuddlan Castle to fight with Robert the governor of the castle and with other fierce knights of the (Norman) French, who had come lately to England and then came to rule the confines of Gwynedd. After he had assembled them and had raised the flags, he took possession of the bailey and burnt it and took great plunder. Many French knights, armoured and helmeted, fell from their horses in the fight, and many footmen [likewise perished], and a few of them scarcely escaped into the tower. And when the King of Ireland and his barons heard that such good luck as this had come [to] their kinsman and foster-son, they rejoiced mightily.