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King of Gwynedd (878-916)
Born circa 0857 Died 0916


In the year 878 Rhodri Fawr died fighting the English and was succeeded by his son Anarawd. The Annales Cambriae subsequently recorded for the year 881, the battle of Conwy - Vengeance for Rhodri at God's hand - hence Anarawd presumably pursued those English responsible for his father's death and exacted the usual retribution.

Together with his brothers Cadell and Merfyn he continued the aggressive expansionism of his father. By 885 Hyfaidd ap Bleddri king of Dyfed and Elise ap Tewdwr, king of Brycheiniog (presumably the brothers' main targets) had presented themselves at the court of Alfred the Great seeking his protection from the sons of Rhodri.

Anarawd's reaction was to seek an alliance with the Viking kingdom of Jorvik, which was at that time the major rival power to Alfred's enlarged Wessex. According to Asser, Anarawd's alliance with Jorvik was not productive as he remarks that Anarawd "got no benefit, only a good deal of misfortune", although he neglects to explain the nature of the misfortune; presumably the deal brought no protection from Viking raids on Gwynedd.

In any event in 892 a new Viking force arrived in Britain raiding the south and eventually working its way up the Severn valley. It may well have been in reaction to this new threat that in 893 we find that Anarawd was establishing his own alliance with Alfred. Asser records that Anarawd "subjected himself with all his people to King Alfred's lordship on the same condition as Aethelred and the Mercians, namely that in every respect he would be loyal to the royal will"

The Viking raiders established themselves in Chester in 894 and raided north Wales, but it seems that Anarawd's resistance was sufficiently vigorous to turn them aside and persuade them to seek softer targets in England instead. Anarawd was left sufficiently free to launch an assault, with the help of English troops (the first fruits of his alliance with Alfred, on Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi in the next year. The evidence for the period is suitably scant, but it is reasonable to assume that in the following years his brother Cadell was able to take control of the territories of Seisyllwg.1

In 903 another Viking force, this time under Ingimund, who had been expelled from Dublin by the Irish, came to Anglesey and sought to establish themselves there. The following year Anarawd's brother Merfyn ap Rhodri, was killed fighting against the insurgents, but Ingimund was forced to abandon Anglesey and left to colonise the Wirral instead.


When Anarawd died in 916 the Annales Cambriae referred to him as king of the Britons signifying his position as the leading king of Wales. He ruled for thirty eight years relatively unmolested and secure in his control of Gwynedd despite the turbulence of the times. His achievement was to hold together and enlarge Gwynedd at a time when the kingdom was under continual pressure from a variety of sources.

His submission to Alfred marked a turning point in the relationship between Wales and England, when the kings of Wales were forced to accept the reality of the power that now lay in Winchester2. For Alfred and his successors, the greatest threat was now from Jorvik and Denmark and ideas of territorial expansion against the Welsh kingdoms was rejected in favour of the notion of overlordship in view of the mutual interest that existed in preserving their realms from the depredations of the pagan Vikings.


1 Seisyllwg; comprising the territories of Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi whose last native ruler was one Gwgan ap Meurig, who died by drowning in 872, very possibly at the hands of Rhodri Fawr. It is unclear to what extent it was Rhodri or his son Cadell that first imposed their authority on Seisyllwg, but Cadell's son Hywel Dda was unquestionably in control at the time of the former's death in 910.

2 His son Idwal Foel paid the price for defying this power, but his nephew Hywel Dda learnt the lesson well and was ever conciliatory towards the kings of proto-England.


Ann Williams, Alfred P. Smyth and D. P. Kirby A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain (Seaby, 1991)
John Davies A History of Wales (Allen Lane, 1993)
Kari Mundi The Welsh Kings (Tempus, 2000)

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