Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd memorial, Pentraeth

Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd memorial, Pentraeth

The memorial by the car park at the western end of Red Wharf Bay commemorates Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd. He was killed by his half-brothers Dafydd and Rhodri at the Battle of Pentraeth in 1170.

There is no contemporary written record of the battle except for poems composed by one of Hywel’s foster brothers, who was on Hywel’s side and survived. Several foster brothers were slain. Hywel’s stepmother Christina was part of the plot, according to this record, which blames Dafydd and says Hywel was killed by a spear.

Historians have puzzled over the battlefield’s location. A study by Gildas Research for Cadw in 2013 concluded that the most likely place was the area where today the road to Rhoscefnhir diverges from the A5052 at Bwlch, about 3km south of the memorial.

Hywel’s father, Owain Gwynedd, ruled much of Wales for decades. Owain gave Hywel the task of overseeing part of Ceredigion in 1139. Over the following 31 years, Hywel sometimes fought on the side of King Henry II but fought against the king in 1157. He was a skilled poet. Eight of his poems survive.

Traditionally Welsh rulers had divided their possessions between their sons, but Owain adopted the modern European practice of leaving his legacy to his eldest son. That son was probably Hywel, whose mother was an Irishwoman named Pyfog. She was in a relationship with Owain before Owain’s first marriage.

Owain died in November 1170. Soon afterwards, Hywel and his foster brothers and supporters were attacked near Pentraeth by men led by Dafydd and Rhodri, Owain’s sons by his second wife, Christina. Hywel’s group was probably taken by surprise. Hywel was buried at Bangor Cathedral, where his father had recently been interred.

The battle wasn’t decisive. Power struggles between Owain’s surviving sons continued for years. Dafydd married the king’s half-sister and settled at the original Rhuddlan Castle but lost his realm to his nephew, Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great), in the 1190s.

Sources include the National Library of Wales and ‘The Battle of Pentraeth 1170’, a report by Gildas Research, 2013

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