Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Welsh Kingdom of Deheubarth

Deheubarth 1190 (Wikimedia)
Deheubarth 1190 (Wikimedia)
The kingdom of Deheubarth was founded by Hywel Dda in 920, and included what is now Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. It also originally included a district called Gwyr. In 1100, Gwyr was conquered by Henry de Beaumont, 1st Earl of Warwick, who called himself the Lord of Gower. 

Rhys ap Tewdwr, king of Deheubarth, was killed in 1093 and following his death, most of Deheubarth was taken over by the Normans. His son, Gruffydd ap Rhys, eventually was able to become ruler of a small portion. When he died, his four sons ruled in turn and were able to win back more territory. Gruffydd's youngest son Rhys became ruler of Deheubarth in 1155. 

Henry II
Henry II (Wikimedia)
 He was forced to submit to King Henry II of England in 1158. Henry invaded Deheubarth in 1163, stripped Rhys of all his lands and took him prisoner. A few weeks later he was released and given back a small part of his holdings. Rhys made an alliance with Owain Gwynedd, ruler of the northern Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd iand, after the failure of another invasion of Wales by Henry in 1165, was able to win back most of his lands. 

Dinefwr Castle
Dinefwr Castle
He was then able to take advantage of the king’s more conciliatory policy in the period after 1171 to maintain stable authority for many years. In 1172 Henry appointed him justiciar, giving him the king's authority to administer Deheubarth. Rhys ap Gruffydd was one of the greatest Welsh leaders of the time. He was known as The Lord Rhys, and ruled from his castle at Dinefwr, which still stands outside Llandeilo today. 

Deheubarth flourished over a period of relative peace and general harmony, with Welsh culture and religious life, as well as legal and administrative affairs, all benefiting from Rhys’s patronage and self-assured governance. In 1176 he held a festival of poetry and music at Christmas, now considered the first Eisteddfodd. 

His remarkable achievement in reversing the fortune of his kingship cannot be underestimated. By 1180 Deheubarth had been reconstituted and was the premier Welsh kingdom, albeit under the overlordship of the English king. Unfortunately the rule of inheritance in Wales was to share out land between the heirs, and after his death his sons fought over it. 

Llywelyn the Great (Wikimedia)
Llywelyn the Great
The English king, Anglo-Norman lords of the March, and native Welsh neighbours, all took advantage until once again the days of independence seemed to be numbered. Finally, it was by the power of the prince of Gwynedd, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, the famous Llywelyn the Great, that a settlement was made. 

In 1216 he persuaded the claimants to accept a tripartite division of Deheubarth. They were all now rulers by the grace of Llywelyn, diminished in stature and relegated to a lesser role in history. Deheubarth was never to recover the status it had enjoyed under the Lord Rhys.

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