Dafydd ap Gruffudd, a Greedy Idiot

On 3 October 1283 Dafydd ap Gruffydd was the first British peer to suffer the execution of hanging, drawing and quartering. It wouldn’t have happened if the greedy idiot had been loyal to his brother.

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the second oldest grandson of Llywelyn the Great, the Tywysog Cymru who fought off the English and kept Welsh autonomy for decades, wished to emulate his forebearer but he was sorely hampered by the ambition and stupidity of his siblings and keep the kingdom intact. Llywelyn defeated both his elder brother Owain Goch (Owen the Red) and his younger brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd in the summer of 1255 at the Battle of Bryn Derwin and became the singular Prince of Gwynedd, a kingdom in North Wales.


Owain Goch was henceforth kept in comfortable house arrest until 1277, when he was freed by the terms of Llywelyn’s treaty with King Edward I of England, known as the Longshanks, who was trying to annex Wales into England, as his father, Henry III, had sought to do. By freeing Owain, Edward hoped Owain would start a civil war in Gwynedd and therefore compromise Llywelyn’s abilities to defend his lands. Owain, however, was smart enough to see that Llywelyn was doing a good job as Tywysog Cymru and had no desire to weaken Wales for his own profit. Owain thus retired quietly to his estates the country.

Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd, however, was too short-sighted and selfish to see how the English threat was more important than making sure he got his “fair share” of Gwynedd. In all honesty, Dafydd was right under Welsh law because, unlike the English, the Welsh tended to divvy up lands among all the sons when a ruler died, but legally correct isn’t the same thing as wise. Llewelyn saw that splitting the land weakened the Welsh defences and wanted to consolidate governing and military authority, but Dafydd was discontented to be merely a rich landowner. Nope. Dafydd wanted power too.  Instead of backing his brother and helping make Wales a strong, united nation, Dafydd defected to Edward in 1263 on the promise that he would be given a large chunk of the former kingdom of Gwynedd once Edward defeated Llywelyn.

At first, it seemed to Dafydd that the Longshanks would indeed help set him up a ruler of Welsh lands, and perhaps even as the new Prince of Wales. Edward, canny as always, sweetened the pot and cemented the alliance with Dafydd by offering him a rich English wife, Elizabeth Ferrers, who was the daughter of the 5th Earl of Derby. Elizabeth gave birth to two sons, Llywelyn ap Dafydd (b. 1267) and Owain ap Dafydd (b.1275), and a daughter, Gwladys ferch Dafydd (b. unknown).  Dafydd was given Rhufoniog and Dyffryn Clwyd when Edward forced Llywelyn to the peace table, and the truculent younger brother became a quasi-ruler in his own right.


Then Edward started showing his true colors. It became obvious that Longshanks was determined to unite the whole island under his rule and wanted make Wales just another part of England. Unhappy with the English governance, the Welsh leaders of the smaller territories began to ally themselves with Llywelyn.  Yet before Llywelyn could plan and gather supplies to take on the English, his younger brother Dafydd attacked a stronghold of one of the Marcher Lords on Easter day of 1282. The move was as foolish as it was rash and, frankly, reveals David to have been as thick as a yard of lard. Llywelyn did not leave Dafydd to be hoist on his own petard while he continued his preparations for a large-scale land war. It what appears to be motivated by love for a very unlovable brother, Llywelyn and those loyal to him joined the battle against Edward.

For several months it looked as if the Welsh would be successful in driving out the English, but the Welsh lost their best hope when Llywelyn was ambushed and killed shortly before Christmas. The new-minted Prince of Wales, Dafydd, fought bravely but failed as a strategist and leader. Unlike Llywelyn, Dafydd could not hold the Welsh together or find a way to stave off Edward’s massive invading army. By the summer of 1283 Dafydd and his teenage son were captured and Welsh resistance was fragmented beyond repair.

Edward’s wrath was immense. From his perspective, Dafydd had betrayed him. As a rebel against the crown, Dafydd ap Gruffydd was hanged, drawn, and quartered for treason, a gruesome fate that even a turncoat and idiot like Dafydd did not deserve.

Almost as bad was the fate of his sons. The boys were imprisoned in Bristol Castle under Edward’s orders, and there Llywelyn died “mysteriously” in 1287 or 1288. Owain lived, but this was not such a blessing for the child, since he was forced to live in extreme captivity for the next the forty or so years, even having to sleep in “a wooden cage bound with iron”. Dafydd’s daughter Gwladys, and her unnamed illegitimate older sisters, were consigned to convents for the rest of their lives. They were lucky, inasmuch as Edward would show himself to be happy to put young girls and women into cages after he invaded Scotland.

Dafydd ap Gryffudd is remembered as the last independent Prince of Wales, but I always think of him as the twit who all but guaranteed that the English would subsume Wales due to his craving for a kingdom of his own.

3 thoughts on “Dafydd ap Gruffudd, a Greedy Idiot

  1. I always get Daffyd ap Gruffudd mixed up with Daffyd ap Llewelyn who died in 1225 by falling from one of the towers in the Tower of London when trying to escape. Now that’s what I call silly, or maybe just unfortunate.

    1. It was Gruffyd ap Llewelyn, i.e. Daffyd’s daddy, who fell to his death in the Tower of London 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *