I is for Iorwerth

Ok this may be stretching it a bit, but that’s because its so hard to find an i in North West Wales, besides I’m a history student so its only natural some history should be involved in this challange.

Iorwerth ap Owain Gwynedd (also known as Iorwerth Drwyndwn, Drwyndwn meaning flat-nose in Welsh) was one of the sons of the great Welsh ruler Owain Gwynedd. Owain ruled the kingdom of Gwynedd following his father’s death in 1137; under Owain’s rule Gwynedd would come to recover much of its traditional territory, which had been previously lost to the Normans lords. Owain was helped in part by the civil unrest that had engulfed England (known as the Anarchy) following the coronation of King Stephen.

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For almost a millennia, Gwynedd was its own independent kingdom, encompassing most of North Wales

However with the accession of Henry II to the English throne that unrest came to an end and the Normans set about attempting to reclaim their territory. Unable to decisively defeat the Welsh, Henry organised a major campaign in 1165 with the aim of finally crushing Welsh resistance. In the face of this Owain organised a untied front against the English, bringing together most of the royal houses of Wales, with Owain as their leader. As the English army crossed the Berwyn Mountains they were ambushed by the Welsh and King Henry would have lost his life if a knight hadn’t quickly stepped in front of an oncoming arrow. However ultimately the battle turned into a washout, with the English forced to retreat due the torrential rain and wind, but this didn’t stop the Owain proclaiming a great victory over the English.

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The Berwyn Mountains, where Henry II’s campaign was defeated

However after Owain’s death in 1170 things began to fall apart. In Welsh law all sons (illegitimate or not) can inherit land, not only the first born son. This meant relations often ended up taking control of piecemeal amounts of land and subsequently fought with each other in order to gain larger territories. While Owain had only one brother to contend with, Iorwerth had  around 15 brothers (both illegitimate and legitimate). Less than a year after Owain’s death, Hywel (Owain’s heir apparent) was killed by his brothers Dafydd and Rhodri. Another brother, Maelgwn, took control of Anglesey but was subsequently captured and imprisoned by Dafydd.

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Red Wharf Bay, where Hywel was killed in battle against his brothers. The bloody battle earned the beach its red name

Throughout all this Iorwerth stood at the sidelines, despite being a legitimate son, his nose defect meant he was exempt from the crown succession (the Welsh strongly believed a potential leader had to be genetically perfect looking). While Dafydd and Rhodri divided Gwynedd between themselves and continued to fight their nephews, cousins, brothers, different Welsh kingdoms, the English and each other; Iorwerth inherited humble lands around modern day Betws-y-coed.

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The lands of Iorwerth

Sadly this quiet life didn’t spell longevity and Iorwerth was soon killed  during an incursion into the rival Welsh kingdom of Powys at some time around 1175.

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The Berwyn Mountains, site of Iorwerth’s untimely death

However Iorwerth’s lasting impact came not via his own achievements but through those of the son he bore. In 1173, less than three years before his own death, Iorwerth’s son Llywelyn was born at Dolwyddelan. By 1194 Llywelyn had defeated his uncle Dafydd at the battle of Aberconwy and then went on to become the greatest of all the Welsh rulers and the last true Prince of Wales, earning him the name Llwelyn Fawr (meaning Llwelyn the Great).

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Dolwyddelan, built by Llwelyn near the place of his birth

If you enjoyed this feel free to write in the comments, or leave like and thanks for reading.

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13 Comments

    1. I’d love to see something like that, maybe a whole series focusing on different Welsh princes every season, there’s so many its hard to pick. Unfortunately I think the long timescales between events means it’d be pretty hard to film

      Like

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