King of Wales

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Map of the extent of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn's Conquest
  Gwynedd, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn's kingdom

King of Wales was a very rarely used title, because Wales never achieved the degree of political unity that England or Scotland did during the middle ages. While many leaders in Wales called themselves king, the country was only truly united under the rule of one man from 1055–1063.

Early use of the title[edit]

Following the departure of the Roman legions from Wales, the country had become fractured into divided territories, each with their own leaders. The first known person to actually call himself king was Rhodri Mawr, and being from Wales he was by extension called the King of Wales, although he did not control all of the country. Nonetheless, he did unite much of the land under his power, thus demonstrating that it could be possible for Wales to exist independently from the rule of other countries. Though he died in 878,[1] the legacy of what he had accomplished was significant enough to act as motivation for future Welsh leaders to aspire to. This would eventually lead to the rule of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, the first true Welsh king.

The first and last King[edit]

From the smaller kingdoms of Wales eventually emerged four major powers: Powys, Gwynedd, Dyfed/Deheubarth and Glamorgan. With Wales now developing into a more consolidated entity, it ultimately set the stage for Gruffudd ap Llywelyn in the mid-11th century. Alliances with Anglo-Saxan dynasties and Vikings helped him unite the country, and even conquer land belonging to the English. "In 1055 he absorbed Deheubarth (i.e., southern Wales) as well, thus becoming in effect King of Wales".[2] John Davies states that Gruffydd was "the only Welsh king ever to rule over the entire territory of Wales... Thus, from about 1057 until his death in 1063, the whole of Wales recognised the kingship of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn. For about seven brief years, Wales was one, under one ruler, a feat with neither precedent nor successor."[3] After his betrayal and death at the hands of his own men, Wales fell into civil war from other leaders seeking to fill the void of power and become king.

Gruffydd ap Llywelyn was, however, not referred to as King of Wales at the time, but rather as "King of the Britons". He was the last of a long line of paramount rulers among the insular Britons to have this title bestowed upon him, and possibly the only one to truly rule over all the (independent) Britons. For by this time, if not earlier, Wales was the only part of Britain remaining under Brittonic rule.[3]

After Gruffydd ap Llywelyn's death[edit]

According to Dr Sean Davies, “in these straitened circumstances, and with outside observers ridiculing the status of Welsh kings, ambitious native nobles adopted the novel title of prince (W. tywysog, L. princeps) in order to set them apart from their fellow ‘kings’.[4] However, the title King of Wales was used by at least one later Welsh ruler, Owain Gwynedd. "In his first two letters to Louis, Owain described himself as 'king of Wales' and 'king of the Welsh'"[5] His direct rule was however limited to Gwynedd. Owain was also the first Welsh ruler to be known as Prince of Wales. He ruled over much of Northern Wales, but a lack of success in military campaigns limited his ability to extend his control. After the death of Owain Gwynedd in 1170, the mantle of paramount Welsh ruler was taken up by Rhys ap Gruffydd, who was called "Head of all Wales" by the Brut y Tywysogion on his death in 1197. His direct rule was limited to Deheubarth. For a list of Welsh rulers upon whom titles such as these were bestowed (leading ultimately to the title Prince of Wales), see King of the Britons.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “GO BRITANNIA! Wales: Royals Families of Wales.” Accessed February 1, 2013.
  2. ^ Fletcher, Richard (1989). Who's who in Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England. Shepheard-Walwyn. p. 245. ISBN 0-85683-089-5. 
  3. ^ a b Davies, John (1993). A History of Wales. London: Penguin. p. 100. ISBN 0-14-014581-8. 
  4. ^ ”“Why Does Wales Have Princes and Not Kings? « The History Press.” Accessed February 1, 2013.
  5. ^ Carpenter, David. The struggle for mastery.