December 11, 1282: Who killed Llywelyn, the last Prince of Wales?

House of Aberffraw (Sodacan)

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last true Prince of Wales, was killed on December 11, 1282 near Builth, Powys. This provides the first turning point in my book Spirit Sight.

As a novelist, it seemed simple enough to write — until I discovered several different versions of Llywelyn’s death.

Llywelyn was the only Welsh ruler to be recognized by the English crown as the Prince of Wales, and the only prince to fully unite the country.

According to some sources, he was killed during the Battle of Orewin (or Irfon) Bridge near Builth Wells. He was thought to be mustering forces to resume the war against Edward 1, King of England. During a ceasefire in the fall, while the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Llywelyn at Garth Celyn, the English broke the peace and tried to attack across the Menai Strait. They were defeated by the Welsh. Llywelyn may have tried to take advantage of this setback, by gathering as many as 7000 troops to attack the English.

However, an English knight named Stephen de Frankton (or Francton) attacked and killed him with a spear. But Llywelyn wasn’t wearing his armour, and no one recognized him as the Prince of Wales. Without him, the Welsh army was quickly massacred.

There are problems with this version of the story. Why — if he was going to battle — wasn’t Llywelyn wearing armour? Also, most versions say Llywelyn had separated himself from his warriors, which seems unlikely during an attack. And if the Welsh army was massacred, where did several thousand bodies go — and who fought off the English for the next year, before Edward won the war?

In his book, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd: Prince of Wales, J. Beverly Smith says Llywelyn may have left Garth Celyn because of a message he received from Edmund Mortimer, the new Baron of Wigmore Castle. Llywelyn rode to meet him with only a small force of warriors. Mortimer and several others ambushed and murdered Llywelyn in Cilmeri field near Builth. Smith says Stephen de Frankton may have killed him, or a knight named Roger Body may have beheaded him, but it’s most likely that Edmund Mortimer played “a particularly important role” (p. 566) in Llywelyn’s death.

Without conclusive evidence, the mystery remains: who really killed Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, and how did it happen? For my young adult fantasy Spirit Sight, I had to make some decisions about how it happened.

For more about the various versions of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s death, check out these sources:

J. Beverly Smith. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd: Prince of Wales. University of Wales Press, 2014.

FelinFach: “Cilmeri and the Last Prince of Wales” (Dec 7, 2020)
https://www.felinfach.com/blogs/blog/cilmeri-holy-ground

Encyclopedia Britannica online: Llywelyn-ap-Gruffudd
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Llywelyn-ap-Gruffudd

Sarah Woodbury: “December 11, 1282”
https://www.sarahwoodbury.com/december-11-1282/

BBC: “The Last Stand of Llywelyn the Last”
https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/wales/entries/285c1c27-6bed-3c14-8953-55c4ef6e405d

Image attribution: Traditional arms of the House of Aberffraw, rulers of the Kingdom of Gwynedd, attributed to Llywelyn the Great (d. 1240). Recorded in the Chronica Majora (c. 1250). Sodacan – Creative Commons –https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Llywelyn_ap_Gruffudd#/media/File:Arms_of_Llywelyn.svg

What version of the story would you choose?

5 thoughts on “December 11, 1282: Who killed Llywelyn, the last Prince of Wales?

  1. Was he killed by Stephen de Frankton or Adam de Frankton? Some say they were both there and were brothers , some say Adam was a knight but Stephen was a man at arms or spearman?
    Stephen later appears at the siege of drylswyn castle in charge of 240 foot soldiers from Ellesmere Shropshire but still no promotion.
    I’ve also just read a piece from the national library with Stephens son asking for his father’s land to be given back by le Strange.
    Would be good to know the truth

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    1. That’s a great question, Simon. It would indeed be good to know the truth. The consensus of what I’ve read points to Stephen (although I have read Adam too, so he may have been there or involved). I’ve really enjoyed having Stephen de Frankton as a character in Last of the Gifted, and I plan to have him appear again in my new series. For research, I usually default to J. Beverley Smith, who says Stephen “is the soldier named by Guisborough and other chroniclers as the one who struck the blow which felled the prince” (p. 566 — Gotta love Smith!) Smith verifies that Stephen served Lestrange. In a footnote on that page, Smith refers to Lestrange pardoning de Frankton (CPR 1272-81 p. 104). Smith and Morris (Welsh Wars of Ed I) also say de Frankton led Lestrange’s “men of Ellesmere” in 1287. According to a Welsh “urban myth” I read, de Frankton was remorseful and was killed a few years later when his horse threw him, but Smith says he was killed in 1295. Smith also says Sir Robert Body might have been the one who cut off Llywelyn’s head. I tried to read between the lines to create a realistic scene in Spirit Sight. One of the problems with this invasion and this period is that the records are sketchy and often contradict each other. Also many sources were deliberately burned at the time, so we may not know — until the time machine is invented and we can go check it out for ourselves! (Sorry for the long answer. I could go on and on!)

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      1. I appreciate the reply Marie ! Funny theres an English Frankton and a Welsh Frankton near Ellesmere, 240 men of Ellesmere at the time would of been some feat !

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  2. My family tree says my 22nd Great Grandfather, Sir Anthony de Tipton, killed Llywelyn and was knighted by Kind Edward I for killing the “last prince of Wales.” Was a Tipton even there? I love how stories are told down through the generations!

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    1. Thanks for the question, Connie! What an intriguing family history! I love how our family stories are passed down, too. I’ve found at least five different versions of Llywelyn’s death, but I think J. Beverley Smith’s book “Llywelyn ap Gruffudd: Prince of Wales” covers most of them. Smith mentions Stephen de Frankton, Roger Lestrange and Robert Body (p. 566-567). He doesn’t mention Sir Anthony Tipton, but that doesn’t rule him out. Smith ends with: “…we can only conclude that, probably somewhere near Llanganten, above the Irfon in Buellt, on the feast of St. Damasus in the heart of winter, Lllwwelyn ap Gruffudd died by the hand of a soldier serving the King of England” (567). I hope that helps!

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