Llywelyn ap Gruffudd is also known as Llywelyn the Last, as it was after his reign that the English conquered Gwynedd. He was the grandson of Llywelyn the Great and he came to power in 1246 after the death of his uncle, Dafydd ap Llywelyn. Over the next 20 years he expanded and consolidated his inheritance, until his domain covered much of modern Wales. By 1258 Llywelyn was styling himself ‘Prince of Wales’, a title acknowledged by the English king Henry III at the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267.
This was to be the high point of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s reign. Henry III died in 1272 and the prince found himself sharply at odds with his successor, Edward I – not least because of his marriage to Eleanor, daughter of Simon de Montfort, the English rebel. De Montfort had fought Edward (then Prince) at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, in which he was killed.
In 1274 Llywelyn refused to travel to do homage to Edward in England, and in 1277 the English king marched on Gwynedd at the head of a huge army. Having taken control of Anglesey, ‘the granary of Wales’, the English forces effectively starved Llywelyn and his men into submission. Later that year at Aberconwy another treaty was signed in which Llywelyn was forced to accept the sovereignty of the English king. He kept the title ‘Prince of Wales’, but his own lands and status were dramatically reduced.
In 1282 the Welsh, spurred on by Llywelyn’s brother Dafydd, rose against the English for the last time. This uprising began without Llywelyn’s knowledge, but when he was offered an earldom in England if he renounced his claims on Gwynedd, he refused and took up arms himself. While Dafydd resisted the English in the north of Wales, Llywelyn travelled south to garner support. He was killed, apparently by treachery, outside Builth Wells on 11th December 1282. Llywelyn’s head was cut off and sent to London, where it was put on public display.