Principality of Wales

Principality of Wales

Infobox Former Country
native_name = "Tywysogaeth Cymru"
conventional_long_name = Principality of Wales
common_name = Wales|
titlestyle = background: #D4AF37;
width = 250px|
continent = Europe
region = British Isles
country = Wales
history =
government_type = Monarchy|
event_start = Treaty of Aberdyfi
year_start = 1216
event_end = Annexed by England
year_end = 1282
date_end = Current|
p1 = Kingdom of Gwynedd
flag_p1 = Flag of Gwynedd.pngp2 = Deheubarth
flag_p2 = Flag of Deheubarth.svg
p3 = Powys Fadog
flag_p3 = Flag of Powys Fadog.svg
p4 = Powys Wenwynwyn
flag_p4 = Flag of Powys.svg
s1 = Kingdom of England
flag_s1 = Flag of England.svg|

flag_type = Banner of the Prince of Wales

symbol_type = Historic Arms of the ruling Aberffraw dynasty

image_map_caption = Principality of Wales (1267-1277) illustrating the lands ruled directly by the Prince of Wales (green) and his vassals (blue)
capital = Garth Celyn and Dolwyddelan
demonym = Welsh, Cymreag|
common_languages = Welsh|
government_type = Principality, Monarchy
title_leader = Prince
leader1 = Llywelyn I the Great
year_leader1= 1216-1240
leader2=Dafydd I
year_leader2= 1240-1246
leader3 = Llywelyn II the Last
year_leader3= 1246-1282
leader4 = Dafydd II
year_leader4= 1282-1283
leader5= English holders, British holders, titular holders
year_leader5= 1301- "present"
leader6= Madoc
year_leader6= 1294-1295
leader7= Owain IV Glyndŵr
year_leader7= 1400-1415|
year_start = 1216
year_end = 1542
date_start =
date_end = 1535-1542
event_start = Council of Aberdyfi
event_end = Laws in Wales Acts
event1= Treaty of Worcester
date_event1= 1218
event2= Treaty of Montgomery
date_event2= 1267
event3= Treaty of Aberconwy
date_event3= 1277
event4= Statute of Rhuddlan
date_event4= 3 March 1284
event5= Welsh Revolt
date_event5= 1294-1295
event6= Welsh Revolt
date_event6= 1316
event7= Welsh Revolt
date_event7= 16 September 1400-1415
footnotes = Note|1
The Principality of Wales ( _cy. Tywysogaeth Cymru) covered the lands ruled by the Prince of Wales directly, and was formally founded in 1216 at the Council of Aberdyfi, and later recognized by the 1218 Treaty of Worcester between Llywelyn the Great and the English Crown.Davies, John "A History of Wales", Penguin, 1994, ISBN 0-14-014581-8, "Aberffraw vassalizes Welsh lords" pg 138] Lloyd, J.E., "A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest", Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004 ISBN 0-7607-5241-9, "vertual parliament" pg 199] [ The emergence of the principality of Wales] ] The treaty gave substance to the political reality of 13th century Wales and England, both part of the Angevin Empire.

Encompassing two-thirds of modern Wales, the principality retained a great degree of home rule, characterized by a separate legal jurisprudence based on the well established laws of "Cyfraith Hywel", and by the increasingly sophisticated court of the Aberffraw dynasty.

Though part of the Angevin empire, and thus owing fealty to the king of England, the principality’s existence was proof that all the elements necessary for the growth of Welsh statehood were in place, and was independent "de facto", wrote historian Dr. John DaviesDavies, John, "A History of Wales", Penguin, 1994, "emerging defacto statehood" pg 148] . The principality was as much a part of the Angevin empire as was Scotland, wrote Davies.


The Principality of Wales was created in 1216 at the Council of Aberdyfi when it was agreed between Llywelyn the Great and the other sovereign princes among the Welsh that he was the paramount ruler amongst them and they would pay homage to him. Later he obtained recognition, at least in part, of this agreement from the King of England who agreed that Llywelyn's heirs and successors would enjoy the title "Prince of Wales" but with certain limitations to his realm and other conditions including homage to the King of England as vassal and adherance to rules regarding a legitimate succession. Llywelyn has been at pains to ensure that his heirs and successors would follow the "approved" (by the Pope at least) system of inheritance which exluded illegitimate sons. In so doing he excluded his elder bastard son Gruffydd ap Llywelyn from the inheritance, a decision which would have later ramifications. In 1240 Llywelyn died and Henry III of England (who succeeded John) promptly invaded large areas of his former realm usurping them from him. However, the two sides came to peace and Henry honoured at least part of the agreement and bestowed upon Dafydd ap Llywelyn the title of Prince of Wales. This title would be granted to his successor Llywelyn in 1267 (after a campaign by him to achieve it) and was later claimed by his brother Dafydd and other members of the princely House of Aberffraw. In 1400 it was claimed for a final time by Owain Glyndwr who led a vigorous but ultimately doomed campaign to secure independence for Wales.

The title "Prince of Wales" is interesting because it pertains to a broad yet divided geographical area rather than a nation of people. Previous Welsh rulers had styled themselves in a variety of ways, usually in relation to a certain patrimony like "Lord of Ceredigion" or "King of Builth". The most powerful of which were often referred to (by others at least) as "King of the Britons". As Wales was a defined geographical area with agreed borders yet outside the bounds of England anyone bestowed with the title Prince of Wales would have suzerainty over any local Welsh ruler but without the territorial ambitions on England of a "King of the Britons" - which implied "liberating" the Britons who still resided in places long considered a part of England such as Devon, Cornwall, Cumberland and other places, all be it in fewer and fewer numbers.


The 13th century Principality of Wales was based on the historic lands ruled by the Aberffraw family, lands in north Wales traditionally including Ynys Môn, Gwynedd-Uwch-Conwy ("Gwynedd above the Conwy", or "upper Gwynedd"), and the Perfeddwlad ("the Middle Country") also known as Gwynedd-Is-Conwy ("Gwynedd below the Conwy", or "lower Gwynedd"). Additional lands were acquired through vassalage or conquest, and by regaining lands lost to Marcher lords, particularly that of the Perfeddwlad, Powys Fadog, Powys Wenwynwyn, and Ceredigion.

The Aberffraw family had long claimed primacy over all other Welsh lords, including of Powys and of Deheubarth. Davies, John, "A History of Wales", Penguin, 1994, "Aberffraw primacy" pg 116, "patron of bards" 117, "Aberfraw relations with English crown" pg 128, 135] Lloyd, J.E. "A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest", Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, "Aberffraw primacy" pg 220] In "The History of Gruffydd ap Cynan", written in the late 12th century, the family asserted its rights as the senior line of descendants from Rhodri the Great who had conquered most of Wales during his lifetime. Gruffydd ap Cynan's biography was first written in Latin and intended for a wider audience outside of Wales.

The significance of this claim was that the Aberffraw family owed nothing to the English king for its position in Wales, and that they held authority in Wales "by absolute right through decent," wrote historian John Davies.

The Princes of Wales

The traditional numbering of the Princes of Wales (according to Welsh sources) begins with Owain Gwynedd who ruled from 1137 until 1170. He was never acknowledged as Prince of Wales, and in fact never used that title, however he was "considered" by later chroniclers to have been the first Welsh prince to unite Wales. This was demonstrated when Owain Glyndwr was explicitly crowned as Owain IV of Wales in 1404. The English viewed it very differently and considered the title to be bestowed by them and with their grace on only Dafydd ap Llywelyn in 1240 and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1267. After 1301 the title was granted to the eldest son and heir of an English sovereign.

Owain I of Wales 1137-1170

The prodigious Owain I of Wales managed to maintain the primary position in Wales for his family which his father had achieved. In 1154 he defeated an English and Powysian invasion but was forced to give up some territory bordering the River Dee, In later years he recaptured these areas and achieved a dominant position for Gwynedd in Wales which had not been seen for centuries. During Owain's reign he chose to change his title from "King of Gwynedd" to "Prince of the Welsh" (J. B. Smith, 'Owain Gwynedd', 14-16).

Dafydd I of Wales c.1170-1195

Dafydd I had usurped the crown from his siblings in a debilitating civil war within Gwynedd. He married the half-sister of King Henry II of England in 1174. He was eventually ousted in 1195 from his much reduced domain by his nephew Llywelyn.

Llywelyn I of Wales 1195-1240

By 1200 Owain Gwynedd's grandson Llywelyn I Fawr (the Great) ruled over all of Gwynedd, with England endorsing all of Llywellyn I's holdings that year Davies, John, "A History of Wales", Penguin, 1994 "Llywelyn I relations with English crown" pg 136] ] . England's endorsement was part of a larger strategy of reducing the influence of Powys Wenwynwyn, as King John had given William de Breos license in 1200 to "seize as much as he could" from the native Welsh Davies, John, "A History of Wales", Penguin, 1994 "English policy in Wales" pg 136, "Hangs Welsh hostages" pg 137] . However, de Breos was in disgrace by 1208, and Llywelyn seized both Powys Wenwynwyn and northern Ceredigon.

In his expansion, the Prince was careful not to antagonise King John, his father-in-law . Llywelyn had married Joan, King John's illegitimate daughter, in 1204. In 1209 Prince Llywelyn joined King John on his campaign in Scotland.

However, by 1211 King John recognized the growing influence of Prince Llywellyn as a threat to English authority in Wales. King John invaded Gwynedd and reached the banks of the Menai, and Llywelyn was forced to cede the Perfeddwlad, and recognize John as his heir if Llywelyn I's marriage with Joan did not produce any legitimate successors. Succession was a complicated matter given that Welsh law recognized children born out of wedlock as equal to those in born in wedlock Davies, John, "A History of Wales", Penguin, 1994, "Welsh law succession" pg 136] . Llywelyn had several children by then with a mistress.

Many of Llywelyn I's Welsh allies had abandoned him during England's invasion of Gwynedd, preferring an overlord far away rather than one nearby. Davies, John, "A History of Wales", By John Davies, Penguin, 1994 "Welsh lords" pg 135-136] These Welsh lords expected an unobtrusive English crown, however King John had castles built in Ystryth, and John's direct interference in Powys and the Perfeddwlad caused many of these Welsh lords to rethink their position.

Llywelyn capitalized on Welsh resentment against King John, and led a church sanctioned revolt against him. As King John was an enemy of the church, Innocent III gave his blessing to Llywelyn's revolt. Early in 1212 Llywelyn had regained the Perfeddwlad and burned the castle at Ystwyth.

Llywelyn's revolt caused John to postpone his invasion of France, and Philip Augustus, the King of France, was so moved as to contact Prince Llywelyn I and proposed they ally against the English kingDavies, John, "A History of Wales" Penguin, 1994 "Relations with France" pg 136] King John ordered the execution by hanging of his Welsh hostages, the sons of many of Llywelyn's supporters

Llywelyn I was the first prince to receive the fealty of other Welsh lords with the 1216 Council of Aberdyfi, thus becoming the "de facto" Prince of Wales and giving substance to the Aberffraw claims.

Dafydd II of Wales 1240-1246

On succeeding his father Dafydd immediately had to contend with an English invasion. He achieved peace and was acknowledged by the English crown as "Prince of Wales", although within a realm restricted to Gwynedd-uwch-Conwy. He died unexpectedly in 1246 without issue.

Owain II of Wales 1246-1253 (d.1282)

Following Dafydd's death, Gwynedd was divided between Owain Goch and his younger brother Llywelyn. This situation lasted until 1252 when their younger brother Dafydd ap Gruffudd reached his majority. Disageement about how to further divide the realm led to conflict in 1253 in which Llywelyn was victorious. Owain II spent the remainder of his days a prisoner of his brother.

Llywelyn II of Wales 1246-1282

After achieving victory over his brothers Llywelyn II went on to reconquer the areas of Gwynedd occupied by England (the Perfeddwlad and others). His alliance with Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester in 1265 against King Henry III of England allowed him to reconquer large areas of mid Wales from the English Marcher Lords. At the Treaty of Montgomery between England and Wales in 1267 Llywelyn was granted the title "Prince of Wales" for his heirs and successors and allowed to keep the lands he had conquered as well as the homage of lesser Welsh princes in return for his homage own homage to the King of England and payment of a substantial fee. Disputes between him, his brother Dafydd and English lords bordering his own led to renewed conflict with England (now ruled by Edward I) in 1277. Following the Treaty of Aberconwy Llywelyn was confined to Gwynedd-uwch-Conwy. He joined a revolt instigated by his brother Dafydd in 1282 in which he died in battle.

Dafydd III of Wales 1282-1283

Dafydd III assumed his elder brother's title in 1282 and led a brief period of continued resistance against England. He was captured and executed in 1283.

Owain III of Wales 1372-1378

Owain III was the great-nephew of Llywelyn II and Dafydd III. He claimed the title in exile in France and loyalists revolted in his name across Wales. He was assassinated before being able to return to Wales to lead them.

Owain IV of Wales 1400-c.1415

Owain IV was crowned at Machynlleth in 1404 during a highly successful revolt against the usurper Henry IV of England. He claimed descent from Rhodri Mawr through the House of Powys Fadog. He went on to establish diplomatic relations with foreign powers and liberated Wales from English rule. He was ultimately unsuccessful and was driven to the mountains where he led a guerilla war. When and where he died is not known, but it is believed he died disguised as a friar in the company of his daughter, Alys, at Monnington Straddle in Herefordshire.

The Principality as a subject of the English Crown

Following the conquest of Gwynedd and the Statute of Rhuddlan which divided the former princely realm into counties as in England, the whole of Wales was thus divided between the "Principality of Wales" (which was ceded forever to the English Crown) and the "March of Wales" which remained under the rule of autocratic Anglo-Norman Marcher Lords. In 1284 Edward (the future King Edward II) was born at Caernarfon Castle. According to legend Edward I is said to have presented his son to the Welsh claiming here is a prince who speaks no English. However this story does not appear until the 16th century and is more than likely a fabrication. The value of the position is contested in modern politics. [cite web|url=|title=Plaid Cymru objections to Prince of Wales |access date 2008-08-20]

The Council of Wales

After the accession of Henry Tudor (known as Henry VII of England) in 1485 a Council of Wales and the Marches was established at Ludlow to oversee the administration of the "Principality of Wales" ruled directly by the King's son, Prince Arthur Tudor. Despite the early death of the propheticaly named Arthur, this institution would continue to administer the lands of the former principality and later also those of the former Welsh Marches in 1534 when the Marcher Lordships were abolished. This enlarged council would continue to support the eldest son of the English sovereign in administering Wales until it was abolished in 1689.

Wales as part of England

For the period following 1689 and ending in 1948 there was no differentiation between the government of England and government in Wales. All laws relating to England included Wales and Wales was considered by the British Government as an indivisible part of the Kingdom of England within the United Kingdom. A notable exception was the Welsh Church Act 1914, which disestablished the Church in Wales in 1920 (which had formerly been part of the Church of England).

Establishment of the Welsh Office and a Separate Legal Identity

In 1948 the practice was established that all laws passed in the United Kingdom Parliament were designated as applicable to either "England and Wales" or "Scotland", thus returning a legal identity to Wales which had not existed for hundreds of years following the Act of Union with Scotland in 1707 after which all laws passed at Westminster had been designated as applicable to either England or Scotland without any designation for Wales. Also in 1948 a new Council of Wales was established as a parliamentary committee. In 1964 the Welsh Office was established, based in London, to oversee and recommend improvements to the application of laws in Wales. This situation would continue until the devolution of government in Wales and the establishment of the autonomous Welsh Assembly in 1998.

Government, administration and law

The political maturation of the principality’s government fostered a more defined relationship between prince and the people. Emphasis was placed on the territorial integrity of the principality, with the prince as lord of all the land, and other Welsh lords swearing fealty to the prince directly, a distinction with which the Prince of Wales paid yearly tribute to the King of England.Davies, John "A History of Wales", Penguin, 1994, "Tribute to England" pg 129, "Treasury" pg 153] . By treaty the principality was obliged to pay the kingdom large annual sums. Between 1267 and 1272 Wales made a total payment of $11,500, "proof of a growing money economy... and testimony of the effectiveness of the principality’s financial administration," wrote historian Dr. John Davies. Additionally, modifications and amendments to the Law Codes of Hywl Dda encouraged the declined of the galanas (blood-fine) and the use of the jury system.

Additionally, the Aberffraw dynasty maintained vigorous diplomatic and domestic policies; and patronized the Church in Wales, particularly that of the Cistercian Order.

Garth Celyn, the princely court

At the end of the twelfth century, beginning of the thirteenth century, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, Llywelyn Fawr, Llywelyn the Great, utilized the promontory to build a royal home, known as Ty Hir, the Long House, in later documents. To the east was the newly endowed Cistercian Monastery of Aberconwy; to the west the cathedral city of Bangor. Between Garth Celyn and the shore, the fertile farmland, provided food for the royal family and the members of the court. The sea and the river had fish in abundance and there was wild game to be hunted in the uplands. In 1211 King John of England brought an army across the river Conwy, and occupied the royal home for a brief period; his troops went on to burn Bangor. Llywelyn's wife, John's daughter Joan, also known as Joanna, negotiated between the two men, and John withdrew.Joan died at Garth Celyn in 1237; Dafydd ap Llywelyn died there in 1246; Eleanor de Montfort, Lady of Wales, wife of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, died there on 19 June 1282, giving birth to a baby, Gwenllian of Wales

Population, culture and society

The 13th century Principality of Wales encompassed three quarters of the surface area of modern Wales; "from Anglesea to Machen, from the outskirts of Chester to the outskirts of Cydweli," wrote Davies.Davies, John, "A History of Wales", Penguin, 1994, "Aberffraw stablilty" and "effects on population", "town-dwellers", "decline in slavery", page 151] Lloyd, J.E., "A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest", "Aberffraw stability" pg 219, 220] By 1271, Prince Llywelyn II could claim a growing population of about 200,000 people, or a little less than three fourths of the total Welsh population.

The population increase was common throughout Europe in the 13th century, but in Wales it was more pronounced. By Llywelyn II's reign as much as 10 per cent of the population were town-dwellers. Additionally, "unfree slaves... had long disappeared" from within the territory of the principality, wrote Davies. The increase in men allowed the prince to call on and field a far more substantial army.

A more stable social and political environment provided by the Aberffraw administration allowed for the natural development of Welsh culture, particularly in literature, law, and religion.Lloyd, J.E., "A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest", Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, "Recovers Gwynedd", "Norman invasion", "Battle of Anglesey Sound", pgs 21-22, 36, 39, 40, "later years" 76-77] Traditon originating from "The History of Gruffydd ap Cynan" attributes Gruffydd I as reforming the orders of bards and musicians Welsh literature demonstrated "vigor and a sense of commitment" as new ideas reached Wales, even in "the wake of the invaders", according to historian John Davies. Contacts with continential Europe "sharpened Welsh pride", wrote Davies in his "History of Wales".

Economy and trade

The increase in the Welsh population, especially in the lands of the principality, allowed for a greater diversification of the economy. The Meirionnydd tax rolls give evidence to the thirty-seven various professions present in Meirionnydd directly before the conquest.

Of these professions, there were eight gold-smiths, four bards (poets) by trade, twenty-six shoemakers, a doctor in Cynwyd and a hotel keeper in Maentwrog, and twenty-eight priests; two of whom were university graduates. Also present were a significant number of fishermen, administrators, professional men and craftsmen. With the average temperature of Wales a degree or two higher than it is today, more Welsh lands were arable for agriculture, "a crucial bonus for a country like Wales," wrote historian Dr John DaviesDavies, John, "A History of Wales", Penguin, 1994, "agriculture" pg 150] .

Of significant importance for the principality included more developed trade routes, which allowed for the introduction of new energy sources such as the windmill, the fulling-mill, and the horse collar (the horse collar doubled the efficiency of horse-power).

The principality traded cattle, skins, cheese, timber, horses, wax, dogs, hawks, and fleeces, but also flannel (with the growth of fulling mills). Flannel was second only to cattle among the principality’s exports. In exchange, the principality imported salt, wine, wheat, and other luxuries from London and Paris. But most importantly for the defense of the principality, iron and specialized weaponry were also imported.

Welsh dependence on foreign imports was a tool that England used to wear down the principality during times of conflict between the two countries

Principality today

The term "principality" is sometimes used in a modern sense to denote all of Wales, but this has no constitutional basis. The Principality of Wales only existed in the northern and western parts of what is now Wales between the 13th and 16th centuries; no principality covering the whole of Wales was ever created. Although the title Prince of Wales (together with Duke of Cornwall) has been a title traditionally granted to the heir apparent to the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, it confers no responsibilities for government in Wales. [ [ History of Wales] ]

The Principality of Wales did not use the modern flag of Wales (which was officialised in 1959). However historians usually agree that a flag with a dragon variant was in wide usage in Wales (and England before the Anglo-Saxon conquest) since post-Roman times. The House of Tudor added the green and white field some time before or after the annexation of this state as it was their own personal livery colours.


*BBC Wales/History, "The emergence of the principality of Wales" extracted 26 March, 2008


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