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The year - 1172. The time - early summer. The place - the Lledr valley in north Wales. The event - the birth of a Prince into the royal household of Gwynedd. His name - Llywelyn, Llywelyn ap Iorworth who in his own lifetime would become known far and wide as ' Llywelyn Fawr - Llywelyn The Great',
Dolwyddellan Castle in the Lledr valley

Living in the Lledr valley as Llywelyn did, even his early life was fraught with danger, for it was a place that the Anglo/Norman was keen to control. The valley was the eastern gateway to the mountains of Snowdonia and whoever controlled the valley, soon controlled the mountains of Snowdonia, ( the 'Eyrie' or the 'Home of the Eagles' as Snowdonia was more than often, and still is, called). So at a very young age the young prince became proficient in the use of arms, which is not surprising for he was after all the grandson of the great warrior of Gwynedd, Owain ap Gruffudd, 'Owain Gwynedd'.

With battle honed skills hard earned while protecting the Lledr, Llywelyn soon began to gain a reputation as a war leader. In 1194 at the age of twenty two he won partial control of Gwynedd at the battle of Aberconwy, when during a bloody

battle he forced his uncle Dafydd to lay down his arms and surrender. His action that day was soon followed by others, for other Gwynedd princes were keen to gain the title 'Prince of Gwynedd'. There was however, no other prince that could match his battle skills, all engagements enter into resulted in Llywelyn being the victor.

It was a time for consolidation not rivalry, for incursions into Gwynedd by Norman forces were becoming more and more frequent as they tried to establish a strong hold upon the kingdom now that the great Owain Gwynedd was dead. Llywelyn however, was having none of it. By February of 1199, with most of the minor princes and their forces of eastern Gwynedd at his call, he planned a campaign to reduce the Norman incursions into Gwynedd from castles situated on the English/Welsh border.

When the mild autumn of that year turned into the atrocious winter, he set out to attack the powerful border fortress of Mold, a distance of some seventy to eighty miles as the crow flies from Dolwyeddlan castle. His chosen route was the high mountain one, it was however a treacherous journey. Men and horses slipped in the snow and ice and many fell to their death from the high mountain 'roadway'. Nevertheless, it was the use of this way across the high mountain 'roadway' which kept the presence of Llywelyn and his men from prying Norman eyes.

When Mold castle was finally attacked, it turned out to be for the English garrison, a bloody and costly affair. It was when the garrison succeeded in beating of the initial attack that Llywelyn's tactical awareness came to the fore. Whilst one section of his men kept up the attempt to break in at the original position, his reserves, having manoeuvred into position undercover of the nearby trees, attacked simultaneously two new positions of the castle's defences.

Successful entry soon caused the Anglo/Norman garrison to surrender. Even then for them, with the fighting over, there was little relief from the rigours of war. Determined to reduce the use of Mold as a staging post for any further advances westward by English troops, on beginning his withdrawal from the castle Llywelyn ordered it to be burnt. The smoke of which, seen in the sky from the mighty castle of Chester some twenty miles away to the east, served as a warning to anyone thinking of an incursion into eastern Gwynedd.

As 1199 began to slide into the annals of history, so Llywelyn began incursions into western Gwynedd. He was here, there and everywhere in a bid to bring it under his control. His attacks were ruthless, no quarter was asked and none given as one after another local leaders were brought under control. Slowly but surely his grip tightened on the north. Then when the celebration of the birth of Christ was over in 1199, and the first warm air of Spring 1200 began to melt the snow on the mountains of the 'Eyrie', he achieved his ultimate goal. That to become the Prince of Gwynedd.

When Llywelyn's cousin, Gruffydd ap Cynan donned the mantle of death Llywelyn, before his son Hywel ap Gruffudd could gather his thoughts and prepare the defence of the region, took advantage of the situation. Accompanied by some three hundred men he crossed the mountains of the 'Eyrie', and descended onto the coastal plain around Bangor. Soon the area was secured and when he added the Llyen peninsular to his acquisitions the following year, then did he cross the Menai Straits and enter Aberffraw, the historical home of the Kings and Princes of Gwynedd on Anglesey. Now the year was 1202 and when Hywel ap Gruffydd swore allegiance to him, Llywelyn was the Lord of of everything north of a line from the river Dovey in the west to the estuary of the river Dee in the east.

Llywelyn's ambition however, was not sated with the acquisition, for he had expansionist plans that involved the whole of Wales. As the autumn leaves began to show that winter was approaching in 1202, so Llywelyn with all the princes of Gwynedd, except for one, advanced south to the Gwynedd/Powys border. His intended adversary was to be prince Gwenwynwyn of Powys of which he had a pure hatred that was to remain so throughout his life.

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