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The Execution of Dafydd ap Gruffydd

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

Today is October 3rd, and on this date, in 1283, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Wales, was executed.

Dafydd was one of four sons of Gruffyddd ap Llywelyn. His brothers were Owain, Llewelyn, and Rodri.

Their father, Gruffydd, was surrendered as a hostage to the invading English King Henry III by his own brother, Dafydd, in 1241. He died whilst attempting to escape from the Tower of London in 1244 by way of tying his bedsheets into a rope and climbing out the window. Of course, the bedsheet rope broke and he fell to his death.

Two years after their father died, so too did their uncle, and control of Wales fell to the four brothers. Owain, Llewelyn, Dafydd, And Rhodri competed with each other for consolidation of power, which culminated in Llywelyn defeating the combined forces of Owain and Dafydd in 1246 to cement his rule.

Llewelyn would reign until 1282, when his younger brother Dafydd sparked a revolt against the English, now led by Edward I (also known as Edward the Longshanks, the villain of Braveheart, which is a terrible historical film, for the record). This revolt prompted Llewelyn to choose to support the ill-conceived revolution. Llewelyn was killed in the Battle of Orewin Bridge in December of 1282.

Of the remaining three brothers, only Dafydd maintained a thirst for power. Owain, who had soured on politics, died around this time, and Rhodri had sold off all of his claims and titles.

And so Dafydd ap Gruffydd became the unchallenged Prince of Wales in 1282.

On September 30, Dafydd was sentenced to death, and Edward the Longshanks wanted to send a clear message throughout his kingdom. Dafydd ap Gruffydd became the first person to be tried and executed for crimes fitting the definition of high treason, and was the first nobleman to ever be hanged, drawn and quartered.

The punishment was fourfold. For treason he was dragged through Shrewsbury ‘at the horse’s tail’ to a scaffold. For his homicides, he was hanged alive. For committing crimes in Holy Week, he was disembowelled and his entrails burnt on a fire. For having plotted the king’s death, his body was cut into quarters and the parts distributed to the four corners of the kingdom. One of his limbs was displayed at Bristol, where his sons Llywelyn and Owain were imprisoned for life. The head was impaled next to that of his brother, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, near the Tower.

Dafydd was the third man to be executed in this manner in England. His predecessors were a nameless assassin who tried to murder Henry III, and a man named Walter Scoteney who tried to poison the Earl of Gloucester.

Dafydd was the first high-status individual to suffer in this way, and the first to be hung, drawn and quartered for treason. Treason had existed as a notion for some time, but never been used as a penalty for rebellion. The manner of execution was also different. Henry III’s victims were torn apart by horses, while Dafydd was hanged and cut apart by executioners.

Dafydd ap Gruffydd’s gruesome fate was carried out on October 3, 1283 by Geoffrey of Shrewsbury, who was paid 20 shillings for his role as executioner. Twenty shillings, in modern times, would be valued at around £5000.

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