King of Deheubarth (1079-1093)
born c 977 died 1093
The Road to Mynydd Carn
Both the previous kings of Deheubarth, Maredudd ab Owain and Rhys ab Owain had had died at the hands of the brutally ambitious Caradog ap Gruffudd, from south east Wales; as a result of which, as Brut y Tywysogion rather baldly states for 1079,
In this year Rhys ap Tewdwr began to rule.
His claim to rule in Deheubarth was somewhat tangential as there were others with a better claim. However he could claim descent from Hywel Dda 1 and simply took advantage of cirumstances in order to seize power for himself. His grip on Deheubarth was however not secure; Caradog ap Gruffudd still coveted the kingdom and he had a powerful ally in Trahaern ap Caradog of Gwynedd.
Fortunately for Rhys he had a ready ally in one Gruffudd ap Cynan, who himself had designs (and a valid claim on) the throne of Gwynedd. Fortunate indeed, as in 1081 Caradog came west with an army, and togther with Trahaern sought to carve up Deheubarth between them. After the resulting Battle of Mynydd Carn Caradog and Trahaern were dead, Gruffudd was soon in prison which left Rhys ap Tewdwr as the most powerful king in Wales.
The agreement with William I
Later in 1081, after the dust of battle had settled somewhat, William I made a visit to Wales. Ostensibly for the purposes making a pilgrimage to St Davids (which lay within the territory of Deheubarth), but in reality for the combined purposes of military reconnaissance and political diplomacy. The main result of this diplomatic mission was an agreement reached between William and Rhys.
Unfortunately we know little of the detail of this agreement. We do know that William acknowledged Rhys as ruler of Deheubarth, in return for which Rhys agreed to pay William the sum of forty pounds as an annual tribute, and from subsequent events it seems likely that they made some sort of deal regarding their respective spheres of influence in the border country between Wales and England.
What William gained from this alliance was stability on his western border; Rhys ap Tewdwr was to act as a counter balance to the power of the border barons of the March 2; what Rhys gained was recognition of his position as leader of the Welsh, a recognition that helped stabilise and strengthen his position.
The wisdom of his course of action is reflected in the fact that the western frontier of England received little mention in the chronicles of the latter years of William's reign. 3
After the death of William
For the policy of maintaining a balance of power to work effectively, one thing was required, a strong king on the English throne able to restrain the marcher lords. Unfortunately William Rufus, William's successor was not quite cut from the same mould as his father, there was opposition to his rule, much of it centered on the March, and in 1088 the Marcher Lords led a revolt against the crown.
The exact conduct and outcome of this revolt is unclear; but it seems to have led to a patched up compromise between the two sides, with William Rufus effectively buying off the rebels with a promise of a free hand in Wales.
The pressure on Rhys now began to grow; he was the main obstacle to further expansion in the south by the marcher lords of the borderlands.
It is probable that there was Norman support for the invasion of Deheubarth in 1088 by the sons of Bleddyn ap Cynfyn who ruled in Powys. Rhys was driven out and fled to exile in Ireland; but he soon returned with a fleet and at the Battle of Llech-y-crau defeated the invaders and killed two of the sons of Bleddyn4
In 1091, another attack was launched this time by Gruffudd ap Maredudd, son of Maredudd ab Owain, ruler of Deheubarth between 1063 and 1072, and therefore some would say the rightful ruler of the kingdom. 5Rhys met this Gruffudd in
battle near Llandudoch, where he drove him to flight and pursued him and at last he slew him6
Despite these victories Rhys' position was weakening; on his eastern border he faced a serious threat. The Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog was under sustained assault by the Norman Bernard of Neufmarche, who was busy building a castle there to confirm his grip on the territory. (An action that was no doubt in clear breach of the agreement of 1081.)
Rhys had no choice other than to come to the aid of the beleagured king of Brycheiniog. During Easter of the year 1093 Rhys moved against the Norman forces occupying Brycheiniog; just outside Aberhonddu he was defeated and killed. And so Brut y Tywysogion lamented
In this year Rhys ap Tewdwr, king of the South, was slain by Frenchmen who were inhabiting Brycheiniog - and with him fell the kingdom of the Britons.
Rhys ap Tewdwr was really the last king of Deheubarth. On his death his two sons were under age, with the Normans already in possession of most of the south east, Brycheiniog and the north, there seemed to be nothing or no one to stand in their way and to prevent a complete Norman takeover of Wales.
After the death of Rhys, the Norman onslaught began.
1His father was Cadell ab Einion, his grandfather Enion ab Owain, (brother of Maredudd and Rhys) son of Owain ap Hywel Dda.
2As would be seen later, those earls of Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford were potentially as much a threat to the kings of England as they were to those of Wales
3Lynn H. Nelson see Sources
4Rhirid ap Bleddyn and Meilyr ap Bleddyn were killed, effectively leaving Powys in the hands of Cadwgan ap Bleddyn.
5Since Gruffudd ap Maredudd held no authority in Wales at the time, (he had been granted an estate in Herefordshire by the Norman crown) and clearly operated with Norman backing and consent.
6Brut y Tywysogion
The Normans in South Wales, 1070-1171 by Lynn H. Nelson (University of Texas Press, 1966)
The Welsh Kings by Kari Maund (Tempus, 2000)
A History of Wales by John Davies (Allen Lane, 1993