Hywel ap Cadell


Hywel the Good (or Hywel Dda and Hywel ap Cadell) was king of Dehubarth in the 9th Century. He is recorded in the Annales Cambriae and the Annals of Ulster as ‘King of the Britons’. He ruled from Pembroke to Prestatyn and went on to rule the majority of modern Wales. He is defiantly not a person that can be ignored as important as I learn more about the early Welsh kingdoms and kings.

Hywel was born around 880 AD and he was the son King Cadell of Seisyllwg. He also had a brother Clydog, who was the younger of the two. Hywel is said to have married Elen, who was the heiress to Dyfed through her father King Llywarch.

Hywel’s father Cadell became king of Seisyllwg through his own father Rhodri the Great of Gwynedd following the death of the previous King Gwgon in 872 AD. Gwgon was drowned and Rhodri was married to the dead king’s sister, Angharad which led to him becoming steward of Seisyllwg.   From here he was able to appoint his son Cadell as a subject king.

Cadell died around 911 AD and Seisyllwg appears to have been split and ruled together by the brothers, Hywel and Clydog. Hywel probably ruled Dyfed by this time also. Llywarch had died in 904 AD and no other king is recorded and with Hywel’s marriage to Llywarch’s only surviving heir it can be easily presumed he had taken control after the death. Jointly Hywel and Clydog submitted to the English King Edward the Elder. In 920 AD Clydog died and Hywel took control of solely of Seisyllwg.

Hywel now with control of Dyfed and Seisyllwg amalgamated the two kingdoms creating Denhubarth.

In 928 AD he went on pilgrimage to Rome, becoming the first Welsh prince to do so and return from such trip. Upon his return from Rome he forged close relations with Athelstan, King of England. Athelstan at this point had plans of securing the submissions of all the different territories from around Britain. Hywel submitted and used this to his advantage whenever he could.

In 942 his power was able to grow further when his cousin Idwal Foel, King of Gwynedd tried to throw off the over lordship of the English king’s. Idwal took up arms against Edmund, King of England. Idwal and his brother were killed in battle by Edmund’s forces. By custom the kingship should have passed to Idwal’s sons but Hywel intervened sending Iago and Ieuaf, the sons of Idwal into exile taking Gwynedd for himself. This would of lead to him also taking control of Powys, which at the time was under the power of Gwynedd.

Now Hywel had control of all of Wales except for the two southern regions of Morgannwg and Gwent. This consolidation of the kingdoms allowed Hywel to pursue the codification of Welsh law. He had studied legal systems during his trip to Rome which aided him in his pursuit of formulating ideas about law. The Hywel ‘law’ book was written in parts in Latin and is about laws of court, law of country, and laws of justice.

A conference held at Ty Gwyn ar Daf near Whitland, Carmarthenshire was an assembly in which Welsh law was codified and written down in writing for posterity. The council had the task of compiling and enacting the codes of law which are still known as ‘the laws of Hywel the Good’. Traditions say that most of the work was completed by a clerk called, Blegywryd.

Hywel had gained such an understanding with Athelstan of England that Hywel was able to use Athelstan’s mint at Chester to produce his own silver pennies.

Following Hywel’s death in 950 AD his kingdom was split into three. Gwynedd was reclaimed by the sons of Idwal Foel and Deheubarth was split between his own sons. His lasting legacy though will always be his work with the law. Some of his laws remained in place until the implementation of the Laws of Wales Acts in 1535-1542 during the reign of Henry VIII.   A Latin copy of the text is held in The National Library of Wales.

The office building and original home of The National Assembly of Wales is named Ty Hywel (Hywel House or Hywel’s House) in honour of Hywel. Also the original Assembly chamber, now known as Siambr Hywel (Hywel’s Chamber) is used for educational courses and for children and young people’s debates.

It is clear to see that Hywel is an important figure and not only nearly unified the whole of Wales; he set in stone some of the laws that would govern the country for nearly the next six hundred years.


Cunedda and the foundation of Gwynedd

Welsh history is something that so far has escaped my attention but this all changed recently when coming across the Annals Cambriae recently transcribed online.


After reading the transcription it defiantly peaked my interest and I quickly found one person that caught my eye with his movement from one troubled area to another.

Cunedda ap Edern or Cunedda Wledig was an important 5th Century early Welsh leader and pivitol to the royal dynasty of Gwynedd. The name Cunedda derives from the Brythonic kunodagos meaning good hound. Cunedda’s genealogy can be traced back to Padarn Beisrudd which translates as Paternus of the Scarlet robe. This would imply a possibly Roman connection.

One tradition places Padarn as a Roman or Romano-British official of reasonably high rank who had been placed in command of Votadini troops in the Clackmannanshire area in Scotland in the 380’s or possibly slightly earlier. Alternatively he may have been a chieftain who was granted military rank for fighting across the frontier. Padarn’s command after his death passed to his, Edern and then to Edern’s son Cunedda.

According to Old Welsh traditions Cunedda came from Manaw Gododdin, the modern Clackmannanshire in Scotland. The Manaw Godd was a sub branch from the main Goutodin. They occupied the land just beyond the Antonine Wall around the River Forth. Cunedda’s ancestors more and likely formed part of the Venicones tribe in the 1st and 2nd centuries.

Cunedda and his ancestors led the Votadini against the Picts and Irish raids south of Hadrian’s wall and from here they migrated and settled in North Wales to defend the area against the Irish, specifically the Ui Liathain as mentioned in the Historia Brittonum. Cunedda established himself in the area and this went on to become the kingdom of Gwynedd.

There are two theories of how this happened. The first was that he was acting on instructions from the Roamans or Vortigern, the high king of the British immediately after the Roman period in Britain. Arguments have been given why the instructions could not have come from Rome. The political state in sub-Roamno Britain at the time would of meant that a centralised government giving orders for a foederati moving from Scotland to Wales as unlikely. Magnus Maximus died in 388 and Constantine III departed from Britain in 407. With the date range for Cunedda’s move south from 370 to 440 it can be seen that it would only be the early part of this that would have been Roman in command.

Maximus or his successors may have handed control of Britain frontiers over to local chieftains at an earlier date. In the 370’s the Chester was evacuated (believed to possibly be Cunedda’s base in the region) and archaeological evidence showing Irish settlement on the Llyn Peninsular and possible raids as west as Wroxeter by the late 4th Century it is difficult to believe that either Roman or British forces presented any affective defence of Wales at this time.

Some say that Vortigern could have given the orders for Cunedda to move further south and assist with the defence of Wales. We have seen with the establishment of Kent that Vortigern had form for requesting others to come to his aid with the invite of the Saxon’s to assist with defending his territories. It could be that the same welcome was extended to Cunedda. This would then place Cunedda and his Votadini’s move no later than 442 when Vortigern’s former Saxon allies started rebelling.

Cunedda’s said grandson Maelgwn Gwynedd was a contemporary of Gildas and according to the Annals Cambriae died in 547. Working this back it would support the suggestion that Cunedda’s intervention to the Irish raids would have been the middle of the 5th Century.

Cunedda secured a very good political marriage to Gwawl, who was the daughter of Coel Hen, the Romano –British ruler of Eboracum (York) and it is claimed they had nine sons. These were, Osmail, Rumanus, Dunautus, Eternus, Ceretic, Abloyc, Enniaun Girt, Docmail and Typiaun. It is said that the early kingdoms of Ceredigion and Meirionnydd were named after Ceredig and Meirion.

For a starting point into reading about early Welsh history I do believe I have picked a good character in Cunedda and with nine sons forming some of the early Welsh kingdoms there will be plenty more to learn about.

The map below shows the position of Gwynedd at the time of Gildas.

Map at Gildas time

Guthrum, the Viking godson of Alfred the Great

So after having a look at Alfred around the time where he was fighting against Guthrum and hiding and planning on the Somerset Levels, I thought it would only be fair to have a quick look at Guthrum himself.

Guthrum was a powerful Danish Viking chieftain who had managed to gain overlordship of the Vikings that had settled in the North and East part of England, otherwise known as the Danelaw.

In 875 Viking forces under the command of Guthrum and Halfdan Ragnarsson divided. Halfdan let his troops north to Northumbria and Guthrum quartered in Cambridge for a year. By 876 Guthrum had consolidated his power and gained territory in both Northumbria and Mercia and had decided to turn his attention now to Wessex.

Guthrum sailed with his army around Poole Harbour and joined up with another Viking army that was skirmishing between the Frome and Piddle rivers. Asser wrote that Guthrum won the initial battle against Alfred and he captured the castellum as well as the ancient square earthworks known as Wareham where there was a convent of nuns.

A peace agreement between Guthrum and Alfred was made but by 877 this was shattered and Guthrum led another raid into Wessex. This then lead to a number of small skirmishes which seemed to go in the favour of Guthrum with a series of victories. At Exeter, which had also been won by Guthrum another peace treaty was agreed.

On the 6th January 878 Guthrum broke that treaty as well. A surprise attack as Alfred was at his court in Chippenham led to Alfred fleeing to the marshes of Somerset. Alfred led low for four months before raising his army and leading it to Edlington. Alfred won the battle and Guthrum’s army was routed. Alfred’s army besieged Guthrum at Chippenham for two weeks before the Treaty of Wedmore was negotiated.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states the following;

‘Then the raiding army granted him hostages and great oaths that they would leave the kingdom and also promised him that their king would receive baptism; and they fulfilled it. And three weeks later the king Guthrum came to him one of thirty of the most honourable men who were in the raiding party, at Aller and that is near Athelney, and the king received him at baptism and the chrism loosing was at Wedmore.’

Alfred stood as Guthrum’s sponsor and godfather and also under the Treaty of Wedmore the border between their lands was established. Guthrum took the Christian name Aethelstan.

The conversion to Christianity sealed Guthrum’s place and recognition by Christian community. It gave him a stronger hold over the lands that he already controlled. Taking the name of Alfred’s elder brother would of given his subjects belief they were now ruled by a Christian king instead of a pagan chieftain.

Guthrum stuck to his side of the treaty and left Wessex unmolested and instead looked east to consolidate his own kingdom. He lived out the remainder of his life here until his death in 890. According to the annals of St Neots, Guthrum was buried at Headleage usually identified as Hadleigh in Suffolk.

Guthrum coin

Alfred the Great, the cakes, a battle and an island

I always seem to find on many different topics one of the hardest part is deciding where to start. That is no different for Alfred the Great. Who would expect anything different for the only king in England to be called ‘the Great’? I began wanting to know more about the story about the cakes and quickly ended up on different tangents in Chippenham, Athelney and Edington. Below I have tried to give a quick synopsis of what was going on in Alfred’s life around this time.

Alfred had taken control of Wessex following the death of his brother Aethelred and had managed to keep an uneasy peace with the Vikings. At the time they were being led by Guthrum. On 6th January 878 Guthrum lead his band of warriors on a surprise attack at Chippenham. The town was overrun and Alfred just managed to escape with his family and flee.

Alfred headed out to the Somerset Levels, which was a marsh land at the time. He set up his base on the island of Athelney. Athelney was surrounded by marsh except for a causeway that led from the settlement of East Lyng. The name Athelney translates to ‘Prince’s Island’ which may mean that it already had a royal link. Evidence confirms that a previous Iron Age fort existed on the site and Alfred began to bolster the defences with a semi-circular stockade adding to the ditch.   Archeologically evidence proves that metal work took place during this time, which leads one to think that weapons were being forged and an army readying for battle.

It was also during this time that the tale of Alfred and the burnt cakes comes from. The tale tells of how Alfred whilst wandering comes across a hut belonging to a peasantry woman. Alfred took shelter and rested and ate without the woman knowing who he was. She asked him to watch some ‘cakes’ which would have been small breaded loaves. Alfred was distracted from his task with his own worries about how to fight back against the Vikings and let the cakes burn. To which when she noticed the woman scolded Alfred saying that he was happy to eat her food but not watch her cakes in the oven.

alfred cakes

Alfred continued to improve his defences and forge more weapons at Athelney and also began to make raids against the Vikings using a kind of guerrilla tactic. Once he had grown strong enough he sent out messengers calling the levy to Egbert’s stone. Many of the fighting men from Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire answered the call. The next day Alfred’s army moved to Iley Oak and then the day after to Edlington. Here they fought the battle of Edlington against Gthrum’s force.

King Alfred's Tower (1772) on the supposed site of Egbert's Stone, the mustering place before the Battle of Edington.[17]

King Alfred’s Tower (1772) on the supposed site of Egbert’s Stone, the mustering place before the Battle of Edington.

The below quote is from the life of Alfred, by Asser

“Fighting ferociously, forming a dense shield-wall against the whole army of the Pagans, and striving long and bravely…at last he [Alfred] gained the victory. He overthrew the Pagans with great slaughter, and smiting the fugitives, he pursued them as far as the fortress.”

After victory the Vikings took refuge in Chippenham and this is presumed the fortress mentioned by Asser. During the talks for peace it was agreed that Guthrum would be baptised with 30 of his men. Alfred acted as Guthrum’s godfather. Under other parts of the Treaty of Wedmore Guthrum was to leave Wessex. They left Chippenham and went to Cirecncester where they stayed for a year. After that they went to East Anglia where they then settled.

Alfred built an Abbey at Athelney in 888 in recognition of how the island had served him so well during this time. It survived till the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. The site is today marked by a small monument which was erected in 1801.

Alfred monument at Athelney

Alfred monument at Athelney

Alfred the Great the slayer of the Vikings held out as the last bastion of hope against the invaders. Constant raids had pushed the lands that would become England back and the established kingdoms had all but crumbled. For this Alfred will always be remembered in history and according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle by 886;

‘all the English people acknowledged Alfred as their king except for those who were still under the rule of the Danes in the north and east.’

Sigered of Essex

Title : King of Essex

Reign : 798 – 825

Born :

Died :

Spouse :

Parents : Sigeric, King of Essex

The last of the Kings of Essex as his rank was reduced to duke by his Mercian overlords in 812. This then saw Essex join Hwicce and Sussex in becoming Mercian provinces.

In 825 Essex joins Kent and East Anglia in revolting against Mercia and Sigered then disappears from the records.

Sigeric of Essex

Title : King of Essex

Reign : 758 -798

Born :

Died :

Spouse :

Parents : Saelred, King of Essex

The longest ruler of the Kingdom of Essex.  He was more and likely vassal to King Offa of Mercia.

Abdicated to go on pilgrimage to Rome.

Was succeeded by his son Sigered.