‘Unconquered from his youth’
Declares the ‘Chronicle of the
Princes’ or ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ – one of the most important primary sources for
Born on the island of Anglesey around the year 1100; by the age of twenty, Owain was successfully leading the forces of Gwynedd into battle.
After his father’s death in 1137, he inherited a portion of the princedom, but had to share it with his brother, Cadwaladr. In 1143, Cadwaladr was implicated in a murder, and sensing an opportunity, Owain sent his son Hywel to strip his brother of his lands.
Now firmly in control over most of North Wales, Owain leveraged the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda across the border in England; expanding Gwynedd’s boundaries east. In 1146 he captured the castle of Mold, and six years, Rhuddlan.
Owain rode the crest of this wave for another four years, until the accession in 1154, of King Henry II of England. Henry invaded Gwynedd in 1157 with the support of Madog, Prince of Powys and Owain’s brother Cadwaladr. Henry’s forces ravaged eastern Gwynedd and destroyed many churches in the region forcing Owain to come to terms with the English king; surrendering Rhuddlan and his other conquests in the east.
A period of relative calm was broken in 1165, when King Henry once more invaded Gwynedd. Met by an alliance of Welsh Princes, with Owain at their head. King Henry was defeated by the raiding and ambushing tactics of the Welsh, despite possessing great advantage of numbers.
Henry did not invade Gwynedd again and Owain regained his eastern conquests; culminating in the recapture of Rhuddlan Castle in 1167, following a three-month siege.
The latter years of Owain’s life
were spent in disputes with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, over
the appointment of a new Bishop of Bangor; the archbishop refusing to accept Owain’s
nominee, Arthur of Bardsey. The Prince
of Gwynedd had Arthur consecrated in Ireland anyway.
Under pressure from Thomas Becket and Pope Alexander to put aside his second wife, Cristin, (his first cousin, making the marriage invalid under church law) Owain refused and was excommunicated for his defiance. This great Welsh Prince died circa. 1170. Despite his excommunication, he was buried in Bangor Cathedral by the local clergy.
The years following Owain’s death were marked by squabbles between several of sons, all vying to become leader of Gwynedd. It was not until, his grandson, Llewelyn the Great ascended to the throne in 1200 that a leader worthy of Owain Gwynedd’s legacy emerged.