Llewellyn ap Gruffydd couldn’t have known it during his tumultuous life, but he would become known to posterity as Llewellyn the Last. He was the last native born Welshman recognised as the sovereign Prince of Wales, before Wales was finally conquered by Edward the 1st in 1282.
Now the title is little more than an honorific bestowed upon the eldest son of the King or Queen of England, a final insult dreamt up by King Edward to make certain that Wales knew its place in the new order. But in Llewellyn’s day, it was not something that came by birth right, but something he took by force of arms, strategic alliances, and breath-taking diplomacy.
Llewellyn came from good stock to claim the title. He was the grandson of Llewellyn ap Lorweth – Llewellyn the Great – who had ruled Wales successfully for nearly 40 years before his death in 1240, and had been one of the many lords responsible for getting King John to sign the Magna Carta. But Llewellyn the Last was no primping heir apparent. While his farther, Gruffydd, was indeed the oldest son of Llewellyn senior, he was an illegitimate child born to the Prince’s mistress. This wouldn’t have been a problem a few years earlier – in Medieval Wales sons were sons, whether born in wedlock or not – but Llewellyn the Great had dedicated the last years of his life to ensuring that only his legitimate son, Dafydd, would follow him as ruler of Gwynedd, even amending Welsh law to make sure this happened.