The medieval period could be a brutal time but even by its standards the events of October 9, 1401 in Llandovery were gruesome. 

Local landowner Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan, from Caio, was dragged to the gallows at the front of the castle, the 12th century fortification, and disemboweled for everyone to see before being dismembered.

His salted, or pickled, body parts were then sent to be exhibited in other Welsh towns and his head, apparently, spiked at the Tower of London. 

According to some accounts he had, in the style of the time, been hung, drawn and quartered. 

The purpose of his very public execution, on the orders of the English King Heny IV, and the displaying his remains across Wales was to deter the unfortunate captive’s countrymen from following him in supporting Owain Glyndwr’s guerrilla warfare campaign against Henry. 

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Much as anti-terror legislation today is often described as “the greatest recruiting segreant for '***' terror organisation”, the triumphalist and sadistic exhibition was thought to have backfired as some believe it achieved the opposite of what his tormentors intended. 

Indeed Glyndwr’s campaign, which had started in September the previous year, would continue for another 14 before eventually running out of steam. But the Welsh prince was never captured, which only further enhanced his near legendary status and his enduring place in Welsh history. 

His loyal compatriot Llywelyn though had become an almost forgotten figure and there is actually very little information about him. 

He had incurred Henry’s wrath after leading the king's men on a wild-goose chase across the uplands of Deheubarth (the name for some of the realms of the south) kingdom, searching for Glyndwr. It bought the hunted prince vital time to make his escape to his Gwynedd stronghold. 

Llywelyn, who was otherwise known for his hospitality, according to the chronicler Adam of Usk, who said he used “fifteen pipes of wine” a year in his household, is thought to have had two sons fighting with Glyndwr at the time. 

That Llywelyn hasn’t been lost entirely to history is thanks to a dedicated band of enthusiasts in his native Carmarthenshire, led by the late, retired Llangadog art teacher Rhobert ‘Castro’ ap Steffan. He had wanted to commemorate a local hero with a statue in Llandovery, which would also become a local attraction. 

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It was unveiled in October 2001, which marked 600 years since his barbaric killing in the town. 

The impressive 16 foot stainless steel structure of an empty helmet with cloak and armour portrays a faceless, unknown “brave nobody” as described by the renowned Welsh sculptor David Petersen. 

 

The sculpture that stands on a base of 17 tonne of local stone and gleams in the rural Tywi valley was, in part, funded by the Arts Council of Wales. 

But the work, which one art critic has described as “the most prestigious and stunning piece of modern artwork in rural Wales”, isn’t David’s but that of his sons Toby and Gideon. 

David, whose father was the former Welsh and British heavyweight boxing champion Jack Petersen, described the statue as of the “brave nobody” in a 2006 interview with America’s renowned National Geographic magazine. 

Llywelyn has also been described as a "Welsh Braveheart". 

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The magazine had come to explore the “Celtic realm” where the “old language bubbles up in schools, pubs, grocery stores, and on television”. 

The sculptor, and documentary film maker, had taken the journalist to Llandovery, where he explained how the almost ghost-like figure with the empty cloak symbolises the horrific form of death of being disemboweled. 

David’s son, sculptor Gideon, told The National, both he and his older brother Toby are very proud of the statue, which is the last project they had worked on together. It had been chosen by the public from a shortlist of five maquettes displayed at the Llandovery Heritage Centre. 

Gideon, who yesterday collected his father from hospital so that he can continue his recovery from a mild stroke at home in Saint Clears in Carmarthenshire, said the public vote was an unusual approach. 

“I think it’s the best process though as the public has ownership of it rather than abstract people.” 

Its popularity endures as it recently placed at number 16 in a poll for Sky Arts to find the 20 best public artworks in Britain, that placed Llywelyn alongside such famous works as Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North and Akse’s mural of Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford. 

The National Wales: Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan. Photo: Ruth Sharville CC BY-SA 2.0Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan. Photo: Ruth Sharville CC BY-SA 2.0

The statue was also used on the Cover of the Ordnance Survey’s Landranger map. 

However Gideon said he and his brother felt the statue had a somewhat muted response after its unveiling: “It was sort of political, we didn’t want it to be. He’s a hero figure but he’s a Welsh hero. 

“We thought after it had gone up the phone wouldn’t stop ringing but I think it rubbed a few people up the wrong way, as people aren’t keen to promote Welsh history and that’s possibly why; and what an English king did to this local guy, okay a long time ago. 

“There are lots of statues of English kings around but not many to local heroes who stood up to them.” 

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One of the most striking elements of the statue is that it’s made from stainless steel, a workable solution by the brothers as the commission required that it be maintenance free. 

The empty cloak was also a practical response: “We decided to do something that didn’t have the body in it and it was more in keeping with the spirit of Llywelyn Fychan and also we couldn’t get a picture of him but we wanted to portray that spirit with the empty cloak and helmet. 

“We had him facing the spot in the town where he’d been hung, drawn and quartered. 

“The whole idea was for the statue to be a focal point for the town and an attraction for tourists and to remember Welsh history. He wasn’t a fictional character and the idea was that he wouldn’t be forgotten to the sands of time.” 

More than 600 years on from Llywelyn's body being pulled apart his spirit remains in the town with the power to provoke conversations and curiosity.

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