The tragic tale of Gelert the trusted hound of King Llwelyn The Great

These days people travel to Snowdonia in North West Wales for the incredible old castles and villages and particularly the rugged, wild landscapes and outdoor pursuits.

It was a lot different in the thirteen-century when as with much of Britain and indeed the world, anywhere outside the city walls was seen to be a devilishly dangerous place full of highway bandits and fearsome wild animals.

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A fine statue of King Llwelyn The Great

Though there are plans to bring them back, wild Bears and Wolves can’t be found in the British Isles and the most dangerous predator you might find in Wales might be an overly amorous sheep.

Gelert was the faithful companion of Prince Llwelyn The Great.  Llwelyn through his feats in battle and clever diplomacy went on to dominate much of Wales for around 45 years and was so important he was one of those that brought about the the famed Magna Carta with bad King John which was signed in 1215 in Runnymede, near Windsor Castle.

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The areas in yellow were directly ruled by King Llywelyn the Great whilst those in great were tributary.

However Llwelyn wasn’t entirely infallible and one day Prince Llywelyn the Great departed from his palace at Beddgelert in Caernarvonshire to spend a day out hunting.  Like most royalty and noblemen then and now,  the Prince was a keen hunter and he enjoyed spending his time in the surrounding countryside. Llywelyn had many hunting dogs, but one day when he summoned them as usual with his horn, his favourite dog Gelert didn’t appear, so regretfully Llywelyn had to go hunting without him.

On his return from the hunt, the prince  was greeted by Gelert who came bounding and leaping towards him and his jaws were dripping with blood.

The Prince was appalled and instantly feared the blood covering the dogs face belonged to his baby boy. Rushing in to the nursery room,  his worst fears were realised when he saw in the child’s nursery, an upturned cradle, and walls spattered with blood.  A quick search around for his son and heir revealed there was no sign of him and naturally  Llywelyn was convinced that his favourite hound Gelert had killed his son.

Distraught and angry with grief, Llywelyn  took his sword and plunged it into Gelert’s heart and as the poor hound howled in agony,  Llywelyn heard a child’s cry coming from underneath the upturned cot. It was his son, and he was totally unharmed!

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Llywelyn with his baby boy and poor Gelert.

Next to the crying child though lay the dead body of  an enormous wolf.  Brave and faithful Gelert had saved the baby and killed the wolf in a terrible battle to the death.

Overcome with grief and regret, Llywelyn went outside and buried Gelert with honour and majesty so that we could all remember his faithful and innocent hound for the rest of time.

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A bronze statue of Gelert on the path to his resting place.

You can still go and see the cairn of rocks under a small copse of trees amongst the beautiful green countryside.

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The grave of Gelert

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If you look closely then you can see an account of the tragic events in both English and Welsh.

There is a further twist on this story and that is that it may not be entirely true.  The account of Llywelyn and Gelert goes back through the ages but  in 1793, a man called David Pritchard came to live in the Welsh village of Beddgelert. He was the landlord of the Royal Goat Inn and knew the story of the brave dog and created the burial site as we see it today to benefit his trade at the inn.  Probably wrongly believing that the village name is based upon the the name of Gelert… whilst possible is thought by specialists not to be the case.

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Nevertheless it’s a spiritual place to visit and one can’t help but feel sad for Gelert even if his final resting place may not be as it seems.

If you think Welsh dogs are brave then check out my old post on when the last French Invasion of Britain was foiled by a small group of Welsh lady villagers and one in particular armed only with a pitchfork.

And in the interest of equality, here is a post about those brave old men of Harlech and the film Zulu commemorating the Battle of Rorke’s Drift which is comparable in British history to The Alamo.

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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5 Responses to The tragic tale of Gelert the trusted hound of King Llwelyn The Great

  1. Francis says:

    Been there and know the story. Whether true or false it still makes us ponder over decisions we take and jumping to fictitious conclusions quite apart from realising how selfless one’s dumb companions can be.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rosemarie says:

    Such a sad story. I have been to Snowdonia and that part of Wales and am familiar with the tale.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Contractions of Fate says:

    I’d actually never heard this about Llewellyn the Great, and I’m Welsh (although from Glamorgan)!

    This is surely pure myth and legend? It’s exactly the same as the American story of “Old Yeller”. But I am not surprised tourism has grown up around it.

    “Only a Matter of Time” is a radio play about Fanshawe (representing Brunel) being killed by Meredith, a local farmer, when Fanshawe comes to Wales to bring London time and standardise the time zone for trains etc. 180 years later, their descendants meet, and the modern Meredith is a train conductor and Fanshawe is investigating whether there are any sites of historical importance, before building all over it (something like that).

    The rail rack passes the site of Glyndŵr’s Fountain, a spring where Owain Glyndŵr is said to have drunk and rested during his uprising against Henry IV.

    Meredith tells an incredulous Fanshawe, “We are a Celtic people. We PREFER Legend”.

    🙂

    Like

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