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Gwynedd was one of the kingdoms or principalities of medieval Wales. Covering an area in the north-west of the country around Snowdonia and including the island of Anglesey, its rulers - such as Owain Gwynedd, Llywelyn the Great and Llywelyn the Last - tended to gain the ascendancy over their rivals. The region's geography made it difficult for English kings to impose their will on the local rulers.

During the period of the Norman conquest of Wales, between the years 1066 and 1282, Gwynedd was a centre of national resistance, the last stronghold of the native Welsh princes against the kings of England.

In the local government reorganisation of the early 1970s, the name Gwynedd was revived and given to one of the eight new administrative counties. Although one of the biggest in terms of geographical area, it was also one of the most sparsely populated. A large proportion of the population being Welsh-speaking, it became once again a centre of nationalism, with Plaid Cymru gaining a toehold which helped the party on to greater successes.

In the latest round of local government reorganisation, in 1996, Gwynedd County Council was reconstituted to cover most of the old county of Caernarfonshire (less the part in the borough of Conwy) and Merionethshire, but it no longer includes Anglesey.