The Princes of Gwynedd
Conwy Borough Council
A series of audio trails exploring the fascinating story of the Princes of Gwynedd, the most powerful rulers in medieval Wales.
Through the audio trails you can walk in the footsteps of the Princes, and discover how their words and deeds shaped the landscape and culture of the Wales we see today.
The Audio Trails...
Llys Rhosyr is a special place. It is a rare example of one of the royal courts of the Princes of Gwynedd; a home, a palace, a meeting place and a centre of governance.
Its foundations are almost intact, enabling us to imagine, with a little help from the experts, the daily life of a busy court.
Abergwyngregyn, ‘estuary of the white shells’, lies between the Menai Strait and the foothills of Snowdonia. It’s best known for the magnificent Aber Falls and the Coedydd Aber National Nature Reserve, both just a short walk from the village.
Llywelyn the Great, one of the most powerful figures in Welsh history, and his grandson Llywelyn the Last, the last sovereign prince of Wales, both had their llys, or court in Abergwyngregyn. The princes stayed here often as they moved around their kingdom and the probable site of the llys can still be seen in the village.
For centuries, Deganwy has been a place of settlement, siege and warfare.
Most of the ruins that are visible here today are those of the castle built by Deganwy’s last occupant, the English king, Henry III, in 1245. And it was while he was building his castle that Henry’s troops shivered and starved in their tents.
But Deganwy’s history goes back a lot further than that. Having been occupied and later abandoned by the Romans, it then became a stronghold of the kingdom of Gwynedd.
After the Romans left Wales in the 5th century, Wales was a land of small kingdoms. One of these was Gwynedd. The ruling princes of Gwynedd grew more powerful with each generation, defying both Saxon and Norman invaders. Today, the remains of their castles, courts and abbeys, together with the music and poetry they inspired, are still very much at the heart of Welsh culture.
The best known Prince of Gwynedd was Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, or Llywelyn the Great. As an outward-looking leader, Llywelyn supported the monasteries of Wales, and by so doing he linked Gwynedd to the wider religious and cultural scene across Europe. With a combination of shrewd diplomacy and warfare, he dominated Wales for 40 years.
Before King Edward I of England invaded Wales and built his formidable iron ring of coastal fortresses at Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech and Beaumaris, the Welsh built lesser known but equally significant castles.
Prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Llywelyn the Great, the mighty Prince of Gwynedd, demonstrated his own power by establishing a series of castles which took into account some of the very latest ideas in castle construction. These native-built structures took advantage of the landscape on which they stood, using rocks and ditches for natural vantage points and defences.
They were skilfully built, often using stone without mortar, providing solid proof of the Prince’s ingenuity. And one of the finest examples of his castles is Dolbadarn.
Dolwyddelan & Tomen Castle
Dolwyddelan Castle is traditionally regarded as the birthplace of Wales’ most powerful medieval prince, Llywelyn Fawr, or Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd and eventual ruler of a large part of Wales.
But it was almost certainly Llywelyn himself who built Dolwyddelan, some time between 1210 and 1240. Dominating the surrounding landscape, this was one of several mountain fortresses in Snowdonia with which Llywelyn established his dominance over the region.
It was an important strategic spot, controlling one of the main routes through Snowdonia, but it also protected a vital part of the royal economy – cattle.
This trail takes us on a journey to the very top of Dinas Emrys, a medieval hill fort which, as well as the setting for myth and legend, has been a place of settlement and fortification dating back to the Iron Age.
But it was after the end of the Roman occupation of Britain that the strategic significance of Dinas Emrys came to the fore, as a centre of control during the time of the Princes of Gwynedd.
Castell y Bere
The lonely fortress of Castell y Bere was once a stronghold of the mighty Princes of Gwynedd. Gruffudd ap Cynan, Owain Gwynedd, Llywelyn the Great, Llywelyn the Last – a lineage of proud warriors and generous patrons of literature & architecture.
After the Romans left Wales in the 5th century, the princes of Gwynedd grew more powerful with each generation.They faced frequent attacks from outside Wales, including the formidable Normans, who had already conquered England but whom the Welsh were determined to repel.
The long and successful reign of Gruffudd ap Cynan was a golden age in Gwynedd’s history. The prosperity and political stability that Gruffudd nurtured continued with his son, Owain Gwynedd. Two generations later, Owain’s grandson proved to be the most outstanding native statesman that Wales had ever seen. His name was Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, Llywelyn the Great.
Conwy Town Walls
Following his victory over Llywelyn the Last, Edward I set about colonizing Wales. He summoned French master-builder and military architect James of St George to design a series of new towns fortified by imposing castles.
In just 20 years he had completed his ‘ring of steel’. The castles were of a new and distinctive design, using some of the most advanced defensive features of the time.
One of the most successful new town ventures was Conwy.
After the Romans left Wales in the 5th century, Wales was a land of small kingdoms and one of these was Gwynedd. The ruling princes of Gwynedd grew more powerful with each generation, defying both Saxon and Norman invaders.
The best known Prince of Gwynedd is Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, or Llywelyn the Great.
Gwydir Chapel & St Grwst’s Church
According to local legend, Saint Grwst founded the ancient market town of Llanrwst in the 7th century. Many leaders and noblemen travelled to Llanrwst to visit the saint and ask him for spiritual guidance.
Around 500 years later, a church was built here to honour Saint Grwst’s memory. Close to the peacefully flowing River Conwy, it provides a tranquil place to stop and reflect.
But the church’s story has not always been a peaceful one.
Criccieth Castle occupies a commanding position, high up on an isolated rocky crag, towering above the town, with stunning views across the Llŷn Peninsular to the west, the peaks Snowdonia to the north and the deep blue waters of Tremadog Bay below.
This was once a stronghold of the mighty Princes of Gwynedd, the first Princes to claim the title “Prince of Wales”. Gruffudd ap Cynan, Owain Gwynedd, Llywelyn the Great, Llywelyn the Last – a lineage of proud warriors who for centuries defied both Saxon and Norman invaders.
Here at Criccieth, a native-built fortress of the Princes of Gwynedd, the Welsh dragon pitted its wits and its strength against the English lion.