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.