Llywelyn Bren (died 1318), or Llywelyn ap Gruffudd ap Rhys or Llywelyn of the Woods (English), was a nobleman who led a revolt in Wales during the reign of King Edward II of England in 1316. The revolt would be the last serious challenge to English rule in Wales until the attempts of Owain Lawgoch to invade Wales with French support in the 1370s. Hugh Despenser the younger's unlawful execution of Llywelyn Bren helped lead to the eventual overthrow of both Edward II and Hugh.
Llywelyn Bren was a Welsh nobleman of the minor royal house of the cantref of Senghenydd (previously known as Cantref Breiniol) and a descendant of Ifor Bach, his great-great grandfather. His father was Gruffudd ap Rhys. Llywelyn is conjectured to have been born some time before 1267, as Gruffudd was dispossessed of the lordship of Senghenydd in that year by Gilbert de Clare and subsequently imprisoned in Ireland; there is no record of him returning to Wales. Llywelyn married Lleucu (d. 1349), and they produced at least seven sons, who also participated in the revolt.
Prior to the outbreak of Llywelyn's revolt in 1316, there had been a recent outbreak of violence in Anglo-Norman south-east Wales. The death of Gilbert de Clare, the Lord of Glamorgan and the most prominent landowner in the south, at the battle of Bannockburn in June 1314, left a power vacuum in the region, and the heavy-handed response of the English Crown towards overseeing de Clare's lands there, combined with the death of several hundred men of Glamorgan at Bannockburn, precipitated a revolt in the lordship in late summer of that year. Llywelyn seems not to have participated in this revolt, which seems to have been brought to an end when the king of England, Edward II, appointed Bartholemew de Badlesmere as royal custodian in Glamorgan.
The beginning of the revolt: the siege of Caerffili (Caerphilly) Castle
In 1315, Edward II, who was guardian of the three sisters and heiresses of the estate of Gilbert de Clare replaced de Badlesmere with a new English administrator, Payn de Turberville of Coity, who persecuted the people of Glamorgan, then (like many in northern Europe at the time) in the throes of a serious famine. In coming to the defence of his people, Llywelyn incurred the wrath of de Turberville, who charged him with sedition. Llywelyn then appealed to King Edward II to call off or control his self-interested agent. But Edward ordered Llywelyn to appear before Parliament to face the charge of treason. The king promised Llywelyn that if the charges were found true, he would be hanged. Llywelyn then fled and prepared for war. On 28 January 1316, Llywelyn began the revolt by a surprise attack on Caerphilly Castle. He captured the Constable outside the castle and he and his men captured the outer ward but could not break into the inner defences. They burned the town and slaughtered some of its inhabitants and started a siege. The revolt quickly spread through Glamorgan and Gwent; Kenfig castle was sacked, as was the castle at Llantrisant, and several others were attacked, including St Georges-super-Ely, Llangibby and Dinefwr Castle. Towns including Cardiff were raided and buildings burned. Edward ordered Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and Lord of neighbouring Brecon to crush the revolt and he gathered overwhelming forces supported by the men of the chief Marcher Lords like Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster and Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. Troops came from Cheshire, north Wales, and also some Welsh soldiers from west Wales. In March, forces advanced from Cardiff and in a brief battle at Castell Mor Graig forced Llywelyn and his men to break off the siege of Caerffili after 6 weeks. The Welsh retreated higher up the north Glamorgan plateau where Hereford and his men were moving south from Brecon.
Betrayal and death
Realising the fight was hopeless, Llywelyn surrendered unconditionally to the Earl of Hereford at Ystradfellte on 18 March 1316, but pleaded that only he should be punished and his followers should be spared. This gallant behaviour earned him the respect of his captors, including Roger Mortimer, one of the witnesses to his surrender and Hereford and Mortimer both promised to try to intercede on Llywelyn's behalf. Bren was sent as a prisoner first to Brecon and then to the Tower of London along with his family. Both Hereford and Mortimer urged the King to pardon Llywelyn and it seems likely that their influence won a pardon for many of Llywelyn's men.
In 1318 Llywelyn became the prisoner of the ruthless Hugh the younger Despenser, one of King Edward's favourites at court who had become Lord of Glamorgan in November 1317 and thus the largest land owner in South Wales, and was a great rival of Mortimer. Without the king's direction, he took Llywelyn Bren to Cardiff Castle where he had him hanged, drawn and quartered without a proper trial. After the parts of his body were exhibited in various part of the county he was buried in the Grey Friars at Cardiff. Llywelyn's lands were seized by Despenser. This action was condemned at the time and later used as example of the Despensers' growing tyranny. Despenser also imprisoned Lleucu and some of her sons in Cardiff.
As dissatisfaction with the Despensers grew Llywelyn's death united the native Welsh and marcher Lords. In 1321 a baronial revolt developed, the barons, led by the earl of Hereford, and others like Hugh D'Audley and Roger D'Amory, petitioned the king to dismiss Despenser, the murder of Llywelyn Bren was prominent in their list of complaints. When the King refused, an alliance of local Welsh men and Marcher Lords raided Despenser's lands in Glamorgan over some ten days. It may have been then that Lleucu and her sons were freed—-certainly Hereford took all of Llywelyn's sons into his service around this point. Edward was forced to exile the Despensers for a time until he gathered enough forces to defeat the barons at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322 where the Earl of Hereford died.
With the Despensers' return to Edward's court Lleucu and her sons were again imprisoned (now in Bristol Castle). But the Despensers' actions soon aroused more resistance. In October 1326 following the successful rebellion led by Roger Mortimer the Despensers and Edward had further cause to regret their actions in Glamorgan after they were forced to flee there. Edward and the Despensers' attempts to raise troops locally were (understandably) a dismal failure. This led to their capture in November; then Hugh endured the same death he inflicted on Llewelyn when he too was hung, drawn and quartered.
With the overthrow of Edward II, the estates in Senghenydd were restored (11 Feb. 1327) to Llywelyn Bren's sons — Gruffydd, John, Meurig, Roger, William and Llywelyn. The Earls of Hereford continued to pay at Brecon an allowance to their mother Lleucu until 12 April 1349.
- Mortimer, Ian. The Greatest Traitor. (March 2006) Thomas Dunne Books ISBN 0-312-34941-6
- R. A. Griffiths, Conquerors and conquered in medieval Wales (1994)
- Craig Owen Jones, Llywelyn Bren (2007), Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst. ISBN 978-1-84527-098-8