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Introduction ~ Owain ap Gruffudd ~ Rhys ap Gruffudd ~ Llywelyn ap Iorwerth ~ Llywelyn ap Gruffudd ~ Owain Glyndwr
 The Lord Rhys ~ page one
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It was in a chamber of the castle of Dinefwr on a early cold winter's morning in 1132 that the first cry of Rhys ap Gruffudd could be heard. One of four sons born to Gwenllian a daughter of Owain-Gwynedd, young Rhys had a traumatic childhood even for medieval times.

While only three his mother Gwenllian was killed by Norman forces as she and her men sought to defend the Tywi valley whilst her husband was away in north Wales visiting her father. When the battle was over she was decapitated, her head paraded among the Norman troops then thrown into the river Tywi. Three years later young Rhys became an orphan when his father was also killed while attempting to drive the Normans out of Deheubarth.

With his eldest brother Anarawd also having been killed, young Rhys now came under the guidance and control of his brother Cadell, however it was the ladies of Dinefwr who taught him the finer things such as poetry and verse. Despite their influence the young prince soon began to learn the ways that would be successful when he began to wage war. With his pack of wolfhounds he learnt how to track and kill deer and boar, which abounded in the forest close to the castle, and Cadell on returning from his many patrols to confront the Normans often found Rhys practicing with a wooden sword against the guards in the outer courtyard.

It came as no surprise to anyone at Dinefwr, when at the age of twelve Rhys became involved in his first attack against the Norman enemy. Guarded by his own troop of warriors, he accompanied Cadell and his other brother Maredudd for an attack on the powerful castle of Llanstephan. Indeed had it not been for him leading his troop into the affray, I doubt if the castle would have been overrun

Lord Rhys - Deheubarth

By his twenty first birthday Rhys had become proficient enough in the ways of war for Cadell to allow him to conduct his own campaigns on behalf of the kingdom of Deheubarth. Within days of his birthday celebrations, he joined his troop with that of the one belonging to his brother Maredudd and led the combined force in an attack against the castle of Aberafon. When it had been overrun the glow of the burning castle in the night sky, caused by Rhys himself torching it, could be seen by the men of Maredudd garrison as they guarded Llanstephan castle; some twenty miles to the north across the waters of Swansea bay.

The year of young Rhys's twenty first was a particular good one, for the Normans suffered humiliating losses, as the princes of Deheubarth struck here, there, and everywhere. It appeared that slowly but surely that they were stemming the tide of Norman penetration into their lands. 

Christmas 1152 was one of the major turning points in the life of Lord Rhys. His eldest brother announced he was departing on a pilgrimage to Rome and that he was entrusting his authority to rule the kingdom to both Maredudd and Rhys jointly. In carrying out Cadell's wishes the two brothers were hard but fair in their rule. They continued to attack Norman installations and burn them, then to slip quietly back to Dinefwr castle before setting out on the next raid. In fact they were carrying out the same modus operandi that Cadell had found so rewarding and they saw no need to change.

The situation may have remained the status quo, had not destiny declared her hand once again. First Maredudd was killed when he approached poachers during the hours of darkness on his estate at Llanstephan, then Cadell returned from his pilgrimage crippled by horrific injuries: having been attacked by Norman forces in Normandy while he and his companions were on their way to Rome.

After a few months following his return, because of his injuries, Cadell renounced his rights to the Deheubarth throne. Rhys was persuaded to take over his crown. It was a testing time, now with all his brothers dead, he was left on his own to to defend south Wales and Deheubarth in particular.

The young Lord soon began to have major bloody encounters with the invading Normans, no quarter was asked and certainly none was being given. His tactics in the field were nothing short of brilliant, however, he could also be stubborn and arrogant; it was these last points that at times caused friction between him and his own sons. Many times he went to war against them, as indeed did they against him; again they were bloody encounters with brother fighting brother and father fighting against his own sons.

As Rhys became increasingly powerful, so twice did Henry II, King of England invade Deheubarth in an attempt to curtail his ambitions. Each time on leaving, Henry believed that Rhys would wage war no more. How wrong the English monarch was to believe a man who had a way with words. Each time, Henry had no sooner crossed the Welsh/English border, than Rhys was once again exerting military pressure upon his enemies.

By the end of 1165, with one exception, that of the large and powerful castle of Pembroke, the whole of west Wales and Ceridigion was under the control of the Lord of Deheubarth. It had been a hard and bitterly fought endeavour to achieve what many had considered the unachievable. Never before had there been such a powerful ruling house in the whole of south Wales. It was about this time that Rhys turned his thoughts to the religious happenings in his kingdom. He granted land to the monks of the Cistercian order for the building of an abbey at Strata Florida, and many of his relatives were to be buried there.

The tide of change had swept over north Wales too. With the help of the weather Rhys had combined his forces with those of his uncle 'Owain Gwynedd' at Corwen, before setting out to cause the English King to abandon his attempt to defeat the Welsh force on the Berwyn mountains.

It was this defeat that was to have serious consequences for those Normans who resided in west Wales, for when Henry returned to Shrewsbury castle, he had a hostage son of lord Rhys blinded by his blacksmith, Rhys after his return to Dinefwr struck at Cardigan castle and town with such fervour and hate that it was centauries before people stopped talking of his feat.

The castle and town ran red with blood as Rhys and his men took revenge for his son and killed men, women and children. Then having torched the town himself, the flames of the fire storm could be seen from the little hamlets which dotted the coastline north across Cardigan bay, Rhys observed that there was a sole survivor, blood soaked, dazed and in a total state of shock. The survivor proved to be a cousin, born on the Norman side, Rhys left him there to do what he would.

Rhys again returned to Cardigan in the summer 1171, but this time he set himself the task of rebuilding both the castle and town. As the new castle rose stone by stone from the rubble of the past on high ground overlooking the Tiefy estuary, so it became a visual emblem of the power of Rhys. Relation with the English crown had improved too, for Henry had apologised for the wrong doings to his son.

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