There were two kings in Wales with the title,'The Great.' Llewellyn the Great, 1173 to 1240 and Rhodri the Great 820 to 878 AD. Both were rulers in their own right, but Llewellyn was the king we were taught about in school, probably because of the folk tale that was linked to him, concerning his favourite dog, Gellert. More of Gellert later.
Rhodri the Great
Rhodri the Great, 820 to 878 AD, was the son of Mervyn Frych King of Gwynedd. He became the Gwynedd monarch on his father's death in 844. When his uncle Cyngen ap Cadell, ruler of Powys, died on a pilgrimage to Rome, he inherited Powys as well.
Rhodri's wife was Angharad sister of the ruler of South Wales, Gwgon. In 872 Gwgon was killed in a drowning accident and Rhodri then added South Wales to his kingdom. He was now the ruler of the greater part of Wales.
Rhodri faced pressure both from the English and increasingly from the Danes who were recorded as sacking Anglesey in 854. In 856 Rhodri won a great victory over the Danes, killing their leader, Gorm. Two poems written at the court of Charles, King of the Western Franks celebrate the victory of "Roricus" over the Norsemen, in Britain
In 877 Rhodri fought another battle against the Norse invaders on Anglesey, but this time he lost and he had to flee to Ireland.
On his return the following year, he and his son Gwriad were said to have been killed by the English, though the precise manner of his death is unknown. When his son, Anarawd ap Rhodri, won a victory over the Mercians a few years later, it was feted in the records as 'God's vengeance for Rhodri.'
Rhodri died leaving three sons. Anarawd became king of Gwynedd.
Cadell ap Rhodri, who conquered Dyfed
and Merfyn ap Rhodri, who became the king of Powys.
Llywelyn the Great, 1173 to 1240 was a Prince of Gwynedd in North Wales, and eventually the ruler over the majority of Wales. By a combination of war and diplomacy he dominated Wales for forty years.
Llywelyn's royal palace and court, Ty Hir, was at Garth Celyn on the north coast of Gwynedd, between Bangor and Conwy, overlooking the port of Llanfaes. 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. Throughout the thirteenth century, Garth Celyn was in effect the capital of Wales.
During Llewellyn's boyhood Gwynedd was ruled by two of his uncles, who had agreed to split the kingdom between them following the death of Llewellyn's grandfather, Owain Gwynedd, in 1170. Llewellyn had a strong claim to be the legitimate ruler and began a campaign to win power. He was the sole ruler of Gwynedd by the year 1200. Llewellyn made a treaty with King John the British King during that year and his relations with John remained good for the next ten years. He married John's daughter Joan in 1205.
A neighbouring nobleman and bitter rival of Llewellyn, Gwenwynwyn ap Owain, ruled Powis and Ceredigion, and when King John arrested Gwenwynwyn for illegal activities in 1208, Llewellyn took over his territories extending his rule over the most of Wales.
In 1210 relations between King John and Llewellyn deteriorated and John invaded Gwynedd in 1211. Llewellyn was forced to seek terms and to give up all his lands east of the River Conwy, but was able to recover these lands the following year when Llewellyn's wife, John's daughter Joan negotiated between the two monarchs, and John withdrew. Llewellyn later joined the barons who forced John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. By 1216 he was the dominant power in Wales, holding a council at Aberdyfi that year to apportion lands to the other princes.
Following King John's death, Llewellyn concluded the Treaty of Worcester with his successor Henry 3rd, in 1218. During the next fifteen years Llewellyn was frequently involved in fighting with rebellious lords and sometimes with the king himself, but he also made alliances with several of the major powers in the borders. The Peace of Middle in 1234 marked the end of Llewellyn's military career.
He maintained his position in Wales until his death in 1240.
Llewellyn had a favourite hunting dog called Gellert who was a very docile and loving dog at home but who was extremely fierce when hunting. When he called the dogs to hunt one day Gellert did not come to his call. He called again and still the dog did not come so he finally went without him. The hunting was poor that day, made worse because Gellert was not there with him.
Llewellyn returned to his castle in a rage, and as he came to the gate, who should he see but Gellert come bounding out to meet him. But when the hound came near him, the prince was startled to see that his lips and fangs were dripping with blood. Llewellyn shouted and the greyhound crouched down at his feet, surprised or afraid at the way his master greeted him. Prince Llewellyn had a little son a year old with whom Gellert used to play, and a terrible thought crossed the prince's mind that made him rush towards the child's nursery. The nearer he came to the nursery the more blood and chaos he found in the rooms. He rushed into his son's room and found the child's cradle overturned and covered with blood. Llewellyn grew more and more terrified, and sought for his little son everywhere. He could find him nowhere but only signs of some terrible conflict in which much blood had been shed. At last he felt sure the dog had destroyed his child, and shouting at Gellert, 'You have killed my child,' he drew out his sword and plunged it into the greyhound, who fell dead with a deep yelp.
As Gellert raised his dying yelp, a little child's cry was heard from beneath the cradle, and there Llewellyn found his child unharmed and just awakened from sleep. But just beside him lay the body of a great gaunt wolf all torn to pieces and covered with blood. Too late, Llewellyn learned what had happened while he was away. Gellert had stayed behind to guard the child and had fought and slain the wolf that had tried to destroy Llewellyn's heir.
Llewellyn buried him outside the castle walls within sight of the great mountain of Snowdon, where every passer by might see his grave, and raised over it a great cairn of stones. And to this day the place is called Beth Gellert, or the Grave of Gellert.