Who was Llywelyn the Great? Which Welsh castles did he conquer?

Llansteffan Castle in Wales
Llywelyn the Great conquered Llansteffan Castle. Credit: Crown copyright (2008)

Llywelyn ap Iorwerth was the greatest Welsh statesman of the Middle Ages. He ruled from 1195-1240

Born in Dolwyddelan Castle, near Conwy, around 1173, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth was the greatest Welsh statesman of the Middle Ages. By his death in 1240, he would rule most of Wales as Llywelyn the Great.

In Gwynedd, he seized power from his uncle. By 1200, he had control of Deheubarth, and signed a treaty the following year with King John of England, in return for recognition of his territorial gains. Llywelyn even married a daughter of King John in 1205. But the alliance floundered and Llywelyn found his lands invaded and he was restricted to ruling west of the Conwy. But, as King John became ever more unpopular, Llywelyn swept again through the territories.

With King John preoccupied with his rebellious barons, Llywelyn was busy earning his epithet, conquering castles at Carmarthen, Kidwelly, Llanstephan, Cardigan and Cilgerran. He was now leader of the free princes of Wales and de facto ruler of the majority of modern Wales. In 1218, John’s successor King Henry III, confirmed Llywelyn’s possessions, which he would rule until his death.

Key dates

  • 1215 – Magna Carta is drafted by King John to make peace with rebel barons
  • 1237 – The Treaty of York establishes the Anglo-Scottish border as it remains today

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