Category Archives: Wales

Brychan Brycheiniog

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Brychan Brycheiniog was born circa 419 AD and was the King of Brycheiniog. He was the son of King Anlach of Garthmadrun and Marchel. He was born in Ireland but soon after his birth moved with his parents to modern day Wales. At the age of four he was tutored by a holy man called Drichan by the River Ysgir

He was schooled for seven years and this is where a legend surrounding his future comes from. Just before the blind Drichan died he asked Brychan to bring with him his spear. With it he pointed to a nearby boar and stag that had come from the forest to stand with a fish by the river by a beech-tree dripping with honey and Drichan predicted a happy and abundant future for the young Brychan.

A few years later war broke out between Anlach and Banadl (the usurping Irish King of Powys). The fight didn’t go well for Anlach and Brychan was sent to Powys as hostage in order to protect their lands. Brychan was treated well at the Irish man’s court and fell madly in love with Banadl’s daughter Banhadlwedd. The match though was not a good one and not reciprocated. Brychan ended up taking Banhadlwedd by force. They had a son Cynog and Brychan gave the child a golden armilla as a sign of paternal recognition.

Back in Garthmadrun, Anlach had died and the Brychan was crowned the new king. His reign was a success just as Drichan had predicted and due to this success the people decided to rename the kingdom Brycheinog in Brychan’s honour. Brycahn married three times and it is said that he had 24 sons and 24 daughters. Together they are known as the ‘Holy Families of Britain. Brychan was known as a saintly king full of piety.

Despite his piety, Brychan was fierce warrior and known for defending his lands if the need arose. One of his eldest daughters Gwladys was abducted by King Gwynllyw of Gwynllwg. Brychan and his armies pursued them. A battle took place where it is said that many lives were lost. It is then said that the High-King Arthur intervened and acted as mediator between the two and they became reconciled.

On another occasion the King of Dyfed tried to raid Brycheiniog. When Brychen found out he raised his army and led them to victory expelling the raiding army from his lands. After the battle the dismembered limbs of the enemy were collected as trophies.

In old age Brychen is said to have abdicated the throne to become a hermit. He was succeeded in Brycheiniog by his eldest son Rhain Dremudd. Rhain’s line then ruled over the kingdom uninterrupted until the mid of the 7th Century.

So much of the stories of Brychen are shroud in legend and myth. It is hard to try and establish the fact from the fiction. An important note is that Brychen is important to the Arthurian story with him being mentioned as the reconciler in one of Brychen’s disputes.

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Hywel ap Cadell

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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.

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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.

http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/annalescambriae.asp

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