Welsh Princes 1

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Wife of Oakley Leigh (I). dau of John Prichard & descendant of Welsh knights and princes

Welsh Princes 1

 We begin the history of ?MARGARETTA PRICHARD’s ancestry with the Welsh rulers of the 9th and 10th centuries whose pedigrees are well known, including the two most famous kings, RHODRI MAWR and HYWEL DDA (Rhodri the Great and Hywel the Good). Numerous princes were among their descendants, and famous figures also appeared in collateral lines as uncles and cousins including the two Llywelyns, the Great and the Last, the death of the latter in 1282 marking the end of the long effort by the princes to retain an independent kingdom and preserve Wales from English rule.

Two distinct lines lead from RHODRI MAWR to our PRICHARD family as shown in the pedigrees below (and as detailed in the AC Branch Chart giving the VAUGHAN and LEWIS lines). These two lines come through the two sons of RHODRI. The VAUGHAN line goes through CADELL and the Princes of Powys to the illegitimate son EINION EFELL ap MADOG. The LEWIS line goes through multiple branches from both sons, the line from ANARAWD including the princes of Gwynedd and the line from CADELL dividing with HYWEL DDA’s two grandsons EINION and MAREDUDD. The latter LEWIS line from MAREDUDD merges for five generations with the VAUGHAN line through the Princes of Powys, and then separates to join EINION’s line of the Princes of Deheubarth leading to the LORD RHYS and his son MAREDUDD GETHIN. For assistance in reading the Welsh names, see Pronunciation & Patronymics in WELSH NAMES.

Our focus here in the HISTORICAL NARRATIVE is on the personal biographies of the princes so far as they are known now, and secondarily on the pervasive historical question about early Wales, i.e. how did the Welsh princes work to create a unified Welsh kingdom separate from England, and why was their effort not successful? Among external events of this epoch, most grievous were doubtless the recurring waves of ravaging attacks by the pagan Vikings, and surprisingly we have a marriage to a Norse princess in the Viking city of Dublin. We also found a few possibly Norman connections, as yet unexplored.

Pedigree of the Princes 790 – 1201

II-99,647,488.MERFYN FRYCH (d.844)

This dynasty of Welsh rulers over all or much of the land of Wales was started by MERFYN FRYCH ap GWRIAD (est b.790 - d.844). J. E. Lloyd sets the scene for the house of MERFYN FRYCH (Merfyn the Freckled): “In Wales, as in other parts of Western Europe, the attacks of the [Vikings] shook society to its foundations and in particular did fatal injury to the work of culture carried on at the religious centers, but, as the crisis produced a deliverer [among the English] in the person of Alfred, so among the Welsh it brought to the front a new dynasty, which henceforth sways the destinies alike of the North and the South until the extinction of native rule” (p.324).

Contemporary records show that MERFYN FRYCH appeared in 825 and put an end to the confusion following the death of the last ruler of Gwynedd (north west Wales), and he established himself at the royal seat of Aberffraw in Anglesey. For nineteen years he maintained his power in Gwynedd against all rivals and against the waves of Vikings attacking from the sea. He must have been both a soldier and a diplomat to have persuaded local magnates to support him. He may have formed an alliance with Powys (north east Wales), as two pedigrees say that he married the sister of Cyngen, the last king of Powys. On the other hand, this may reflect only an attempt by his descendants to justify their intrusion into Powys.

II-49,823,744.RHODRI MAWR (d.878)

RHODRI MAWR (Rhodri the Great; est b.820 – d.878) succeeded his father MERFYN as king of Gwynedd at a relatively peaceful time when the neighboring kingdom of Mercia was distracted from Wales by pressure from another English tribe, so that he had time to consolidate his kingdom. He may have taken possession of Powys in 855 when its ruler died on a pilgrimage to Rome. Later pedigrees say that he married the sister of the last of the kings of Ceredigion (Cardiganshire) who died in 872, whereupon RHODRI added Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire to his realm. More than any other Welsh king, RHODRI was revered and given a unique place in history with his epithet MAWR as RHODRI the Great. Lloyd said that he earned the title in part by his success in uniting most of Wales, which had been so long divided into petty states (p. 325). It was difficult to achieve this unity, because Wales does not form a natural geographic unit: it has no natural center, as more than half of the country lies at over 600ft, and the population was concentrated in separate regions around the coasts, along the eastern border, and in the river valleys. The unified kingdom RHODRI founded, though it did not retain its unity for long, afforded future ages an instance of what could be achieved. Even though historical sources are slight, later generations kept fresh his lasting significance. Henceforth, it became necessary for anyone who aspired to rule over Wales to claim descent from RHODRI the Great.

RHODRI’S second great role, however, lay in his resistance against the Danes, which Lloyd called strenuous and gallant. Vikings had been attacking and ravaging the seacoasts of Britain, Ireland, and Normandy for at least seven decades, and had begun colonizing inland. John Davies says that it was RHODRI’S “great victory over the Northmen in 856 which brought him international acclaim” as seen in French and Irish chronicles (p.81). The Danes had ravaged Anglesey in 853, but in 856 RHODRI avenged himself by killing their leader Horn, and this loss may have discouraged further attacks. The Irish Chronicles tell us that in 877 he was briefly expelled from his kingdom by Viking raiders, but he was back in Wales the following year. Like the two other European kings of his time who were given the same epithet, the English Alfred the Great and the Germanic Charlemagne, RHODRI united his people and also defended them against the pagan tribes threatening his united homeland. He died in battle, apparently fighting the traditional enemies from Mercia in England in 878.

RHODRI was also renowned for the cultural level of his court and that of his sons. It is claimed that the poems of Aneurin and Taliesin and the histories of Nennius were first written down at this time (J.Davies p.84). An anecdote was told as an example of the high linguistic level of the court, when Irish visitors were given for entertainment a cryptogram which could be solved only by transposing the letters from Latin into Greek. Clearly Wales was experiencing a high level of education and culture by 880 when King Alfred summoned a scholar from St David’s to become his advisor and biographer and “help to civilize his kingdom” (J.Davies p.85).

II-24,912,000.ANARAWD ap RHODRI (d.916)
II-24,911,872.CADELL ap RHODRI (d.907)

RHODRI MAWR had unified the greater part of Wales, and his two sons who shared the rule founded medieval dynasties, ANARAWD of the house of Aberffraw in the north of Wales, and CADELL of the house of Dinefwr in the south. Both were ancestors of JANE LEWIS, and CADELL was also the ancestor of HUGH VAUGHAN.

ANARAWD ruled Gwynedd in the north west and Powys in the north east. He won a battle against the Mercians from England at the mouth of the Conway river in 881, and to secure himself against further attacks he entered into an alliance with the Danish kingdom of York, but this bore little fruit. Instead he turned to the English King Alfred of Wessex, paying him a ceremonial visit at his court. He was received as befitted his rank, and Alfred stood as godfather at his confirmation.

CADELL and his brother had taken over Dyfed (roughly equivalent to modern Pembrokeshire), and he held it with Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire as one unit known as Deheubarth (“the southern part”). It covered the whole of south west Wales (Maund p.45), and seven centuries later our LEIGH and NASH families lived there. CADELL also apparently asked for and received the support of king Alfred of Wessex, who having just defeated the Norsemen and united much of England, enjoyed great renown and power. This Welsh desire for support by Alfred was later construed as homage and acceptance by the Welsh kings that Alfred was overlord of Wales. As such, in later years homage was regularly demanded from all Welsh princes by the English crown. It played a crucial role for centuries in the political history of Wales and England and became a major factor in the unsuccessful Welsh effort to retain their independent kingdom (J.Davies p.85).

ANARAWD died in 916, and the Welsh Chronicles commemorated him as King of the Britons. In doing so they were commemorating the Britons from whom the Welsh were descended, and who had occupied the whole of England before being displaced by the Anglo-Saxons in the period 450-650 AD. We shall return to ANARAWD, as his descendants became important again after the life of CADELL’S son, the next great king of Wales HYWEL DDA, who was given his unique epithet, the Good, by his descendants.

II-12,455,936.HYWEL DDA ap CADELL ap RHODRI (d.950)

HYWEL the Good’s two great accomplishments were to restore the unified kingdom of his grandfather RHODRI MAWR and to codify the body of Welsh law. He was also pragmatic and expedient with his powerful English neighbors and thus managed to live in peace with them.

Contemporary records show that he married ELEN, daughter of LLYWARCH ap HYFAIDD, the last of the royal line of Dyfed, who had died in 904. Her line is one of our earliest, being known back for five generations to II.398,589,988.MAREDUDD ap TEWDWS (d. 796), and this Dyfed line descended from members of an Irish tribe, the Déisi who migrated to Wales in the 4th century (Maund pp.23-24). HYWEL became the sole ruler of Deheubarth when his younger brother and coheir died in 920. With this brother and ANARAWD’s son IDWAL FOEL (the bald), he had earlier offered submission to Alfred’s son Edward the Elder in 918, and throughout his life he maintained peace with the English kings. His name is frequently mentioned in the English charters, and there is little doubt that he visited the Wessex court. In this respect he differed from his cousin IDWAL FOEL, who was uneasy in his alliance with the English. HYWEL remained sufficiently independent to mint his own silver pennies, and his pilgrimage to Rome in 928 was undertaken while in the prime of life, not as a “deathbed” repentant. When his cousin IDWAL FOEL finally revolted against the English and was defeated and killed in 942, HYWEL invaded Gwynedd and Powys, expelled his cousin’s sons, and took possession himself. By 944 he also conquered Breconshire, and thus became king of all Wales apart from Glamorgan and Monmouthshire.

This royal status prepared the way for the crowning achievement of HYWEL’s life, the codifying of Welsh law, i.e. collecting and reducing the varying royal and tribal usages that had accumulated over the centuries, into a uniform and consistent legal system. In his travels to England and abroad, HYWEL would have seen the need for such codification. He is said to have summoned six representatives from each commote to a great conference at Whitland in Carmarthenshire to undertake the task. Though no contemporary manuscripts resulting from this conference are still extant, later manuscripts are evidence of HYWEL’S work and its continuation by legal scholars.

John Davies expressed the significance of this Whitland conference: “The Law is among the most splendid creations of the culture of the Welsh. For centuries it was a powerful symbol of their unity and identity, as powerful indeed as their language, for – like the literary language – the Law was the same in its essence in all parts of Wales ..... The Law of Wales, therefore, was folk law rather than state law, and its emphasis was upon ensuring reconciliation between kinship groups rather than upon keeping order through punishment. It was not concerned with the enforcement of criminal law by the apparatus of the state.” As a result, it was humane and sensitive in unusual ways (p.88).

One of the laws held that a person’s rights and responsibilities depended on kinship, and it contained elements of mercy, common sense, and respect for women and children that would be lacking in English law until recent times. A pedigree giving the kinship group was a matter of economic and social necessity, and from the earliest times the bards were the keepers of the pedigrees. Marriage between cousins was allowed, and an illegitimate son could inherit if recognized by his father.

The type of inheritance specified in the law is called gavelkind, whereby all possessions were distributed equally among all the sons. The daughters would receive a dowry from the family when they married, so they did not inherit unless they had no brothers. The estate was divided into equal parts by the youngest son. The eldest son then had first choice, followed by the next eldest, and so on until the last part was left to the youngest. This system ensured that the subdivision was performed in a scrupulously fair manner by the latter, otherwise he would receive an inferior share. The obvious disadvantage of the gavelkind process is that over time the property became fractionated into uneconomic portions.

HYWEL’S reign had been peaceful, but after his death in 850 his sons OWAIN, Rhodri and Edwin were defeated in Gwynedd by the sons of his cousin IDWAL FOEL. Gwynedd and Deheubarth once more had different rulers. In the south, Rhodri died in 953 and Edwin in the following year, and OWAIN became the ruler of Deheubarth.

II-5,227,968.OWAIN ap HYWEL with sons EINION and MAREDUDD

OWAIN had a long reign, and apart from his political position as ruler, he earned genealogists’ eternal gratitude when he ordered an important intellectual program. J. Davies describes it: “Some time around 960, a collection was made—probably at St David’s—of a variety of documents, pedigrees and annals. It is believed that the pedigrees were drawn up at the request of Owain ap Hywel Dda and they are central to an understanding of the early history of the Welsh kingdoms” (p.46). Elsewhere Davies calls OWAIN a “man of historical interests, for it would appear that the genealogies and the Annales Cambriae were compiled at his request” (p.95).

As OWAIN aged during the 970s and 980s he became too infirm to play a major role. His elder son EINION took over as military leader of Deheubarth and seems to have been accepted in that role. He made repeated attacks on Gower, which appears to have fallen into his hands, but he died in 984, and his brother MAREDUDD took over, then became sole ruler on OWAIN’s death in 988. He had already annexed Gwynedd in 986, but in 994 he was defeated there by his cousins, the sons of MEURIG ab IDWAL (see below). The last years of his life are obscure, and he died in 999, still king of Deheubarth (Maund, p.58). As his only son had died in 992, Deheubarth passed to EINION’s son CADELL (est b. 970), but these decades are thinly documented.

MAREDUDD had been a prominent figure for years, and his achievement is summarized by J. Davies: “From 986 to 999 Maredudd, the grandson of Hywel, succeeded in recreating the kingdom of his grandfather, but the years of his supremacy were troubled ones. The attacks of the Northmen [Vikings] recommenced; it was probably in that period that Scandinavian names.... were given to … coastal locations such as Anglesey … and Swansea … From their strongholds in Dublin and the Isle of Man, they mercilessly ravaged the coasts of Wales. Once again, it was Anglesey which suffered the worst, and it was recorded in 987 that two thousand of the men of the island were seized and sold as slaves.” (p.98). In 989 MAREDUDD was obliged to raise a penny poll-tax and pay the Vikings not to attack.

Yet such violence was not the only characteristic of Welsh life. Despite the fighting between families and the Vikings’ attacks, and in the very same period, Welsh literature and stone cross carving continued, and social development still occurred during MAREDUDD’s reign. J.Davies tells us of other sources that show “violence was not the totality of the experience of the Welsh in those years. While the chronicler at St. David’s was reporting carnage and mayhem, a craftsman at Penally was carving an elaborate cross in memory of ... the man who restored the line of Rhodri to the throne of Deheubarth” (p.99).

Now we turn back to the descendants of ANARAWD, RHODRI MAWR’S son who ruled the northern kingdom named Gwynedd.

his sons, and grandson IDWAL ap MEURIG

We have seen that ANARAWD’s son IDWAL FOEL ruled Gwynedd until he was killed by the English in 942 and his kingdom seized by HYWEL DDA in reconstituting RHODRI’S unified kingdom, and that on HYWEL’S death in 950, the sons of IDWAL FOEL again secured their father’s land. These sons, Rhodri, Iago, Idwal Fychan, and MEURIG, had defeated HYWEL’s sons who were trying to retain Gwynedd, and the years that followed were filled with provincial feuds and family quarrels. Rhodri was killed in 968, and Iago briefly became sole leader but was harassed repeatedly by Viking attacks. He made an alliance with king Edgar in 973, but was forced to share power with a nephew and then was captured by the Vikings in 979 and disappeared from the records. Idwal Fychan died in 980, and when MEURIG died in 986, Gwynedd was annexed by MAREDUDD ab OWAIN of Deheubarth, as we have seen.

MEURIG’s son IDWAL defeated MAREDUDD in Gwynedd in 994, but he died only two years later, leaving a minor son IAGO, and MAREDUDD himself died in 999. Subsequent events are not well recorded until in 1018 a newcomer of unknown origin called Llywelyn ap Seisyll appeared as king of Gwynedd.

Llywelyn ap Seisyll (d.1023) and Gruffudd ap Llywelyn (d.1063)

Llywelyn ap Seisyll married ANGHARAD, the daughter of MAREDUDD ap OWAIN, who is in our ancestry for her second marriage. He died young in 1023, but their son Gruffudd ap Llywelyn grew up to battle and defeat our ancestors as he became a unique though short-lived Welsh ruler. For a brief six years from 1057 to his death in 1063, he was the only Welshman in history who ruled over the whole territory of Wales. John Davies calls this “a feat with neither precedent nor successor” (p.100).

Gruffudd fought brilliantly as he defeated the ruling princes of all the Welsh lands, one by one. In 1039 he acquired Gwynedd and Powys by defeating and perhaps killing our IAGO ab IDWAL, who had regained Gwynedd after Llywelyn’s early death while Gruffudd was still a minor. In 1055 Gruffudd seized Deheubarth by killing its new ruler, also named Gruffudd (GRUFFUDD ap RHYDDERCH ap IESTYN who will appear again as a LEWIS ancestor in Gentry 2). In 1057 Gruffudd ap Llywelyn took over Glamorgan.

While taking over the whole of Wales, the brilliant, bloody Gruffudd ap Llywelyn ap Seisyll also turned his attention to England. He took advantage of the court factions during the reign of Edward the Confessor by allying himself with one of the families involved, and he repossessed English settlements that had once been part of Wales. He was recognized as a great threat by Harold earl of Wessex, who “led forces over land and sea to defeat Gruffudd” (J.Davies p.101). Harold gained the upper hand, and Gruffudd was killed on 5 August 1063, thus ending the unity of Wales he had created. Ironically Harold’s victory was also short-lived. Within three years he had married Gruffudd’s Mercian widow and been elected king of all England, but then at Hastings in 1066 he was defeated and killed by William the Conqueror, who replaced Harold’s Anglo-Saxon throne with the Norman kingdom (J. Davies pp.100-01).

II-188,416.BLEDDYN ap CYNFYN of Powys (d. 1075) and his sons

Gruffudd’s mother ANGHARAD had married as her second husband CYNFYN, a Powys nobleman who is now known primarily from the patronymic of their sons BLEDDYN and Rhiwallon ap CYNFYN. When Gruffudd died in 1063 his own sons were not old enough to retain power, and Powys and Gwynedd passed to Gruffudd’s half-brothers BLEDDYN and Rhiwallon, while Deheubarth passed to CADELL ab EINION’s great nephews. The final irony of the family story is that in 1070 ANGHARAD’s grandsons rose up against her second pair of sons, BLEDDYN and Rhiwallon, but were killed, and Rhiwallon also met his death in the skirmish (J.Davies p.103). BLEDDYN alone survived and became the sole ruler of north Wales. It would be interesting to know whether ANGHARAD lived to witness these dramatic and deadly conflicts between her two families.

Such fighting occurred also in other families, and in the power vacuum after the downfall and death of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn ap Seisyll there seemed to be an epidemic of internecine Welsh battles. This became a characteristic of BLEDDYN’s time. BLEDDYN attacked Deheubarth in 1075 but was killed by Rhys, one of CADELL’s great nephews, and as his sons were under age, control of Gwynedd and Powys passed to his cousin Trahaearn. BLEDDYN was remembered as a king who had the necessary security from outside threats to devote time to administrative reform, as well as to war, and whose reign in the north was peaceful – perhaps the last major Welsh ruler without harassment or interference from the Norman kings and lords (Maund p.74). According to a later chronicle his virtues were those of the ideal prince; clemency, kindness, affability, liberality to the weak and defenseless, and respect for the rights of the church (DWB).

In the aftermath of the death of BLEDDYN ap CYFFYN, the earlier line of GRUFFUDD ap RHYDDERCH (who had been killed by Gruffudd ap Llywelyn ap Seisyll, as already said) reappeared when his son CARADOG ap GRUFFUDD attempted to seize Deheubarth. In 1072 CARADOG killed the reigning prince Maredudd (CADELL’s great nephew), and six years later killed the prince’s brother Rhys (the same man who had killed BLEDDYN). CARADOG and Trahaearn then threatened the new prince of Deheubarth, but this prince, RHYS ap TEWDWR, took a different stance and fought back successfully with a new ally.

Continued in Welsh Princes 2

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