Gruffudd ap Llewelyn
In the period following the death of Hywel the Good, Wales once more came under attack from the Danes. From bases in Ireland and the Isle of Man, the Northmen ravaged the coast of Wales.
Anglesey, as usual, took the brunt of the Danish attacks, but they also established colonies along the south coast near Cardiff and Swansea. One clear reminder of the presence of these Danish marauders lies in the legacy of place names like Bardsey, Fishguard, and Anglesey itself.
The Danes attacked in force in the late 10th century, and Hywel's grandson Maredudd ap Owain was forced to buy them off in 989. The attacks of the Danes were perhaps the most noticeable event of an age that was notable for its instability. The Chronicle of the Princes (Brut y Tywysogyon) recounts no less than 28 murders of rulers in the two centuries between 950 and 1150.
Into the maelstrom that was Wales in the early 11th century now marches one of the most remarkable of Welsh historical figures, Gruffudd ap Llewelyn. Gruffudd was the grandson of Maredudd ap Owain, and he inherited the kingdom of Seisyll from his father (who had gained it by the simple expedient of force).
In 1039 Grufudd killed the king of Gwynedd and Powys, Iago ab Idwal, and gained that kingdom as well. He made a bid for Deheubarth and was repulsed by Gruffudd ap Rhydderch, but that setback was only temporary.
In 1055 Gruffudd ap Llewelyn took Deheubarth and the following year he expelled Cadwgan of Glamorgan and took that kingdom too. For the last seven years of his life (1057-1063), all of Wales was united under the rule of one man, Gruffudd ap Llewelyn.
Gruffudd's gathering strength occurred at the same time as England came under the control of a weak leader, Edward the Confessor (1042-1065). Edward, though no-one disputed his saintly spirit, was the wrong man for the demanding, violent job of medieval kingship.
Under Edward's lenient rule the nobles of England descended into petty bickering and private feuds. Gruffudd ap Llewelyn decided that the time had come to extend Welsh control beyond Offa's Dyke into the fertile farming areas of the lowlands.
Early in his reign Grufudd defeated Leofric of Mercia in a battle near Welshpool. Leofric's son Aelfgar was later exiled and allied with Gruffudd to attack Hereford. The combined forces were successful, and large portions of the borderland fell under Welsh control. The English could not be expected to accept this loss without riposte; in 1063 Harold, Earl of Wessex, led a fresh army to defeat Gruffudd.
The Welsh leader was forced to flee, pursued eagerly by the English. On August 5, 1063, he was cornered somewhere near Snowdonia and killed - possibly by treachery within his own ranks.
Three brief years later Harold was crowned king of England after the death of Edward the Confessor. Harold smartly married Grufudd's widow Ealdgyth, thus allowing himself to claim both the kingdoms of Wales and England.