Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd

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Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd
Prince of Gwynedd
Hywel ab Owain memorial from Pentraeth, Anglesey
King of Gwynedd
Reign 1170
Predecessor Owain Gwynedd
Successor Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd
Born c. 1120
Gwynedd, Wales?
Died 1170
Pentraeth, Ynys Mon, Wales
House House of Aberffraw
Father Owain Gwynedd
Mother Ffynod Wyddeles

Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd (died 1170) Wales Prince of Gwynedd in 1170, a Welsh poet and military leader. Hywel was the son of Owain Gwynedd, prince of Gwynedd, and an Irishwoman named Pyfog. In recognition of this, he was also known as Hywel ap Gwyddeles (Hywel son of the Irishwoman). Hywel was also known as the Poet Prince for his bardic skills.


Hywel's father Owain and uncle Cadwaladr came to blows in 1143 when Cadwaladr was implicated in the murder of Prince Anarawd ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth, Owain's ally and future son-in-law, on the eve of Anarawd's wedding to Owain's daughter.[1][2] Owain followed a diplomatic policy of binding other Welsh rulers to Gwynedd through dynastic marriages, and Cadwaladr's border dispute and murder of Anarawd threatened Owain's efforts and credibility.[3]

As ruler of Gwynedd, Owain stripped Cadwaladr of his lands, and dispatched Hywel to Ceredigion where he burned Cadwaladr's castle at Aberystwyth.[1] Cadwaladr fled to Ireland and hired a Norse fleet from Dublin, bringing the fleet to Abermenai to compel Owain to reinstate him.[1] Taking advantage of the brotherly strife, and perhaps with the tacit understanding of Cadwaladr, the marcher lords mounted incursions into Wales.[2] Realizing the wider ramifications of the war before him, Owain came to terms and reconciled, with Cadwaladr restored to his lands.[1][2] Peace between the brothers held until 1147, when an unrecorded event occurred which led Owain's sons Hywel and Cynan to drive Cadwaladr out of Meirionydd and Ceredigion, with Cadwaladr retreating to Môn.[1] Again an accord was reached, with Cadwaladr retaining Aberffraw until a more serious breach occurred in 1153, when he was forced into exile in England, where his wife was the sister of Gilbert de Clare, 2nd Earl of Hertford and the niece of Ranulph de Gernon, 2nd Earl of Chester.[1][2]

In 1146 news reached Prince Owain ap Cynan of Gwynedd that his favoured eldest son and heir, the elding, Rhun, died. Owain was overcome with grief, falling into a deep melancholy from which none could console him, until news reached him that Mold castle in Tegeingl (Flintshire) had fallen to Gwynedd, "[reminding Owain] that he had still a country for which to live," wrote historian Sir John Edward Lloyd.[4]

As the eldest surviving son and Edling, Hywel succeeded his father in 1170 as Prince of Gwynedd in accordance with Welsh law and custom.[5][6] However, the new prince was immediately confronted by a coup instigated by his step-mother Cristin, Dowager Princess of Gwynedd.[7] The dowager princess plotted to have her eldest son Dafydd usurp the Throne of Gwynedd from Hywel, and with Gwynedd divided between Dafydd and her other sons Rhodri and Cynan.[5] The speed with which Cristen and her sons acted suggest that the conspiracy may have had roots before Owain's death. Additionally, the complete surprise of the elder sons of Owain suggests that the scheme had been a well kept secret.

Within months of his succession Hywel was forced to flee to Ireland, returning later that year with a Hiberno-Norse army and landing on Môn, where he may have had Maelgwn's support.[8][9] Dafydd himself landed his army on the island and caught Hywel off guard at Pentraeth, defeating his army and killing Hywel.[8][9] Following Hywel's death and the defeat of the legitimist army, the surviving sons of Owain came to terms with Dafydd. Iorwerth was apportioned the commotes of Arfon and Arllechwedd, with his seat at Dolwyddelan, with Maelgwn retaining Ynys Môn, and with Cynan receiving Meirionydd.[5][10][11][12] However, by 1174 Iorwerth and Cynan were both dead and Maelgwn and Rhodri were imprisoned by Dafydd, who was now master over the whole of Gwynedd.[5][13]

The seven sons of Hywel's foster-father, Cadifor, were killed while defending him in this battle, and were commemorated in verse:

The sons of Cadifor, a noble band of brothers
In the hollow above Pentraeth
Were full of daring and of high purpose
They were cut down beside their foster-brother.

Hywel was an accomplished poet and eight of his poems have been preserved. The best known is probably Gorhoffedd Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd in which he praises his father's kingdom of Gwynedd, both its natural beauties and its beautiful women. Other poems include the earliest known love poetry in the Welsh language, and may show a French influence. Hywel is known to have sired the following sons;

In fiction

Hywel appears in the historical mystery novel The Summer of the Danes, one of the Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters.[14] Hywel ab Owain is also written about in Sharon Kay Penman's novels When Christ and His Saints Slept, and Time and Chance.

He also appears in the Sarah Woodbury 'Gareth and Gwen Medieval Mystery Series' of books.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Cadwaladr's betrayal, pg 95
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Warner, Philip "Famous Welsh Battles", Cadwaladr and Anarawd pg 80
  3. Warner, Philip "Famous Welsh Battles", Barnes and Noble INC. 1977, Gwenllian pg 69, 79
  4. Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Rhun's death, pg 96
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest Hywel's succession and overthrow by Cristen and Dafydd, pg 134 Dafydd takes Gwynedd by 1074, pg 135, Gwynedd between 1175–1188, pg 145
  6. Davies, John, A History of Wales, Davies argues that following the death of Hywel ab Owain, Iorwerth, as the eldest son, was the legitimate heir of Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd (page 126), as the next senior surviving son of Owain Gwynedd. After Iorwerth's death, his eldest son Llywelyn ab Iorwerth was the legitimate heir to the Crown and Throne of Gwynedd. With the rule of Gwynedd returning to the senior legitimate line of Aberffraw when Llywelyn defeated Dafydd ab Owain in 1194 (page 135)
  7. Cristin was the daughter of Goronwy ab Owain, and was Owain ap Gruffydd's first cousin. The Archbisop of Canterbury excommunicated Owain ap Gruffydd for not putting her away, as well as for disputing the appointed bishop of Bangor.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest
  9. 9.0 9.1 Davies, R.R. The Age of Conquest; Wales 1066–1415
  10. Maelgwn ab Owain secured himself on Ynys Môn following his father's death, and was strong enough to retain the island following Hywel's defeat by Dafydd. Maelgwen may have also been instrumental in supporting his full brother Iorwerth in keeping Arfon and Aellechwedd, for once Maelgwn was captured Iorwerth escaped into exile in Powys, at his wife's kinsmen's court.
  11. Lloyd suggests that despite some traditions, Iorwerth was in control of Arfon and Nant Conwy at least in 1170, given that he was buried at Penmachno. He may later have been expelled after the partition, as had Cynan, only to be buried at Penmachno.
  12. Arllechwedd commote is the west bank of the Conwy river in the modern Conwy local authority area
  13. Llywelyn ab Iorwerth was too young to press for his claim, though under Welsh law would have been prince of Gwynedd on the death of his father Iorwerth ab Owain Gwynedd
  14. Peters, Ellis, The Summer of the Danes, Mysterious Press Books, New York, 1991


  • Kathleen Anne Bramley et al. (ed.), Gwaith Llywelyn Fardd I ac eraill o Feirdd y Ddeuddegfed Ganrif (1994).
  • R R Davies, The Age of Conquest[:] Wales 1063–1415 (1991)
  • John Edward Lloyd (1911) A history of Wales from the earliest times to the Edwardian conquest (Longmans, Green & Co.)
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Owain Gwynedd
Prince of Gwynedd
Succeeded by
Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd
by usurption