OF GRUFFUDD AP LLYWELLEN
This great king had married Ealdgyth, daughter of Aelfger, earl of Mercia, who was accounted the most beautiful woman in these islands. He loved her ardently but this meant he was bursting with jealousy.
A young noble of those parts had a dream in which he imagined that he slept with the queen. That might have been of no great matter but then the foolish young man boasted to others in the court of what he had accomplished, if only in sleep.
Naturally the king got to hear of it. He was as enraged as if the thing was real. He had the young man seized and, but for the man’s kin, would have killed him. The man’s family offered themselves as surety for him but the king refused. Eventually he was persuaded to seek the judgement of a wise seer.
This man considered the matter. “We must follow the laws of the land.” he said. “By the laws of Hywel Dda anyone who outraged the king’s consort must pay a fine of one thousand cows.” Neither the king or the young man were greatly pleased by the judgement but both agreed to be bound by it. The seer ordered the young noble to bring the cattle to be delivered to the king at Lake Brychieniog and this was done. As the cows stood at the edge of the lake the seer spoke again. “A dream is merely the reflection of reality. Therefore, let the reflection of the cows belong to the king and the real cows belong to the man. The king was incensed but could do nothing.
When Gruffudd was young he was lazy and sluggish. He thought to do nothing more than to sit at his father, King Llywelyn’s, hearth and stare into the fire. This annoyed his sister who, on the 1st November, the time of omens, came to him in tears. “You are bringing great shame on our father; you have become a byword for sloth and a source of scorn. You never do anything that is without risk. Listen, on this, the first night of the year, it is a time for young men to go out and raid and steal and make a name for themselves, yet you steam by the fire like a pudding.”
The boy’s soul was aroused by this speech. He called a few companions and stole off to a nearby house, where they waited to see if any mischief could come their way. Inside was a good company, waiting for the cooking of a bullock that had been cut up and put in a pot. They heard the cook say, “I have found one very strange piece amongst the rest. I am always pushing it down into the water but it always rises to the top again.”
“That,” said Gruffudd, “is myself.” Gladdened by so plain an omen, he left his father’s court, proclaimed war on his neighbours and became noted as a crafty and formidable raider so that other scoundrels flooded to him and he was soon feared even by his father. So he eventually became king.
Lywarch, his nephew, was a young man noted for many fine abilities that also led to great successes. This meant that Gruffudd began to fear him. Lywarch, realising his danger, absented himself from the court but Gruffudd sought him out.
“Don’t fly from me, I am your refuge.” said Gruffudd. “Name as many sureties as you like.”
“I name Hoel, whom you caused to be smothered in secret when he was on an errand, Rotheric, whom you embraced and slew with a knife, Tewdws, who was walking with you on a cliff side when you tripped him, causing him to fall to his death and Meilun, your own nephew, whom you seized by guile and left him to die loaded with chains in a dungeon.”
Admiring the young man’s courage, the king appointed him to the post of chamberlain and he became Gruffudd’s most trusted counsellor.
Inevitably King Edward the Confessor came against him. After the requisite fighting and deaths, negotiations on establishing a new peace were opened, with the two leaders either side of the Severn, Edward at Aust Cliff and Gruffudd at Beachley. Their nobles went to and fro in boats and the question was long debated which of ruler should cross the estuary to meet the other.
It was a difficult crossing, owing to the roughness of the water. Gruffudd argued that he ought to take precedence, since the Welsh had taken the land from the giants while Edward argued that he should take precedence because the English had taken the land from the Welsh; neither wanted to admit that they were nervous of making the dangerous crossing.
Eventually, tiring of the delay and against his counsellors’ advice, Edward got into a boat and set off, even though at this point the Severn is a mile broad. Gruffydd, seeing him approach, was so moved that he cast off his cloak and dived into the water and swam to the boat.
“Wisest of kings,” he cried, “your modesty has vanquished my pride, your wisdom has triumphed over my foolishness.”
Then Gruffydd took Edward on his shoulder and carried him to land. From then on negotiations continued well.