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This story formed the basis for several English poems, including 'Beth-Gelert' by the Hon William R Spencer. It was first printed in a private broadsheet around 1800 and then in a collection of Spencer's poems in 1811. He stated that: "The story of this ballad is in a village at the foot of Snowdon where Llewellyn the Great had a house. The Greyhound named Gelert was given him by his father-in-law, King John, in the year 1205, and the place to this day is called Beth-Gelert, or the grave of Gelert." It also featured in poems by Richard Henry Horne, Robert Spencer, Francis Orray Ticknor and the dramatic poem ‘Llewellyn’ by Walter Richard Cassels. It is recorded in Wild Wales by George Borrow, who notes it as a well-known legend. Every year thousands of people still visit the grave of this brave dog!
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Llywelyn ab Iorwerth was Prince of Gwynedd in north Wales and eventually ruler over most of Wales. It is believed that David Pritchard attached the story to Llywelyn because of the Prince's connection with the nearby Abbey. It also helped that he was a nobleman and one of the most powerful ever to rule in Wales, thereby adding another dimension to the story - that even the powerful were fallible and could make mistakes.
Llywelyn was born about 1173, the grandson of Owain Gwynedd, who was of Prince of Gwynedd until his death in 1170. By combining war with diplomacy, Llywelyn dominated Wales for 40 years. During Llywelyn's boyhood, the rule of Gwynedd was split between two of his uncles. Llywelyn began a campaign to win power and by 1200 was the sole ruler of Gwynedd. He made a treaty with King John of England that year and he married John's natural daughter, Joan, in 1205. In some versions of the story, Gelert is given to him by King John. When John arrested Gwenwynwyn ab Owain of Powys in 1208, Llywelyn took the opportunity to annex southern Powys. However, in 1210, relations with the King deteriorated, and John invaded Gwynedd in 1211. Llywelyn was forced to seek terms and to give up all lands east of the River Conwy. Never one to be defeated for long, he recovered them the following year in alliance with the other Welsh princes. He then allied himself with the barons who forced John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. By 1216, he was the dominant power in Wales, holding a council at Aberdyfi to apportion lands to the other princes. Following King John's death, Llywelyn concluded the Treaty of Worcester with his successor, Henry III, in 1218. During the next fifteen years, Llywelyn was frequently involved in fights with the Marcher lords (rulers of the Welsh Marches) and sometimes with the king, but also made alliances with major powers. The Peace of Middle agreed between Llywelyn and the king in 1234 saw the end of Llywelyn's military career. It was an agreed truce of two years but was extended, year by year, for the remainder of his reign until his death in 1240.
Nevertheless, despite all these achievements, outside Wales, Llywelyn probably remains best known for his actions towards a legendary dog.
He did not write the plays in the order in which the Kings themselves ruled: Richard II -- one play
Henry IV -- two plays
Henry V -- one play
Henry VI -- three plays
Richard III --one play In one of the early history plays, a character offers this view of history which would have been accepted as a "given" by a Renaissance audience: This implies a didactic view of history not shared by moderns.