Rhys ap Gruffydd (1132 – 28 April 1197) was the ruler of the kingdom of Deheubarth in south Wales. Rhys was one of the most successful and powerful Welsh princes, and after the death of Owain Gwynedd of Gwynedd in 1170 was the dominant power in Wales.
He is now commonly known in histories as The Lord Rhys (in the Welsh Yr Arglwydd Rhys), but there is insufficient evidence that this title was used during his lifetime. He usually used the title "Prince of Deheubarth" or "Prince of South Wales", but two documents have been preserved in which he uses the title "Prince of Wales" or "Prince of the Welsh" :- in a charter concerning a grant to Chertsey Abbey he uses princeps Wall[ie] while a charter dated 1184 concerning Strata Florida Abbey uses Walliar[um] princeps.
Genealogy and early life
Rhys was the second son of Gruffydd ap Rhys, ruler of part of Deheubarth, and Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd, daughter of Gruffydd ap Cynan, king of Gwynedd. His elder brother was Maredudd ap Gruffydd, and there were two younger brothers, Morgan and Maelgwn. He also had two older half-brothers, Anarawd ap Gruffydd and Cadell ap Gruffydd, and at least two sisters, Gwladus and Nest.
Rhys's grandfather, Rhys ap Tewdwr, was king of Deheubarth, and was killed at Brecon in 1093 by Bernard de Neufmarche. Following his death, most of Deheubarth was taken over by the Normans. Rhys's father, Gruffydd ap Rhys, was eventually able to become ruler of a small portion of the kingdom (in Cantref Mawr), and more territory was won back by Rhys's older brothers after Gruffydd's death.
Rhys became ruler of Deheubarth in 1155. He was forced to submit to King Henry II in 1158, losing most of his patrimony. He spent the next few years engaged in a series of petty wars, winning it back again by force of arms, but in 1163 Henry invaded Deheubarth, stripped Rhys of all his lands, and took him prisoner. A few weeks later he was released (having done homage to Henry) and given back a small part of his holdings. Rhys made an alliance with Owain Gwynedd and, once again, after the failure of another invasion of Wales by Henry in 1165, Rhys was able to win back most of his lands.
In 1171 Rhys made peace with King Henry (who faced problems in his French territories, as well as the Becket matter) and was confirmed in possession of his recent conquests. He was also named Justiciar of South Wales, quite probably to balance out some of the Norman Marcher lords (De Clare especially) who were threatening to become kings in their own right in Ireland, through dynastic marriages. The princely line in Gwynedd (the major northern Welsh territory) was presently in dispute, among the sons of Owain Gynedd, so Rhys was paramount ruler in native Wales.
In 1174 Rhys led troops to assist Henry to suppress a rebellion at Tutbury; in 1179 the king imprisoned a Marcher lord, Roger Mortimer, to assist Rhys in keeping feuding to a minimum; in 1184 the two met, again to discuss border feuding and Rhys was able to hold the king off from invading again. In fact Rhys maintained good relations with King Henry until the latter's death in 1189.
Rhys and Richard
Following Henry's death and the succession of Richard I, Rhys took the opportunity to attack certain of the Norman lordships surrounding his territory, capturing a number of castles. Richard's brother John came to Worcester to try to make peace, and Rhys travelled to Oxford to try to meet the king, but returned home unsatisfied, and continued to try to build his power-base.
In his later years Rhys had trouble keeping control of his sons, particularly Maelgwn and Gruffydd, who maintained a feud with each other. Gruffydd went so far, in 1194, as to capture and imprison his father, but released him before the year was out. The next year, it was Rhys who did the incarceration, of two further sons, Maredudd and Rhys Gryg, after they had seized two castles. Rhys launched his last campaign against the Normans in 1196 and captured a number of castles.
The following year he died unexpectedly and was buried in St David's Cathedral.
By that time he was master of South Wales and was probably the first native Welsh ruler who had been recognised by the English as a power in his own right. He had fostered the Church and the arts in his lands (incldudung founding two religious houses (Talyllychau and Llanllyr) and holding a gathering in 1176 which has since been claimed as the first Eistedfodd, had maintained the law in his territories, and had held them together. Sadly his sons were unable to maintain unity and sawed Deheubarth up between them.
Rhys married Gwenllian verch Madog, daughter of Madog ap Meredudd, last Prince of all Powys, in about 1155. He had a large family, with at last three of his sons being named Meredudd, and two daughters Gwenllian. Gruffydd, his eldest legitimate son, married Matilda De Braose, daughter of a Norman baron; his son Rhys Gryg married Joan de Clare; and one of the Gwenllians married Llewellyn the Great's senechal, Edynfed, and thus became an ancestor of the Tudors
[Based on the Wikipedia article with additions and editings]