The Birth of Nations: WALES

The Welsh did not exist before the arrival in Britain of the Anglo-Saxons![*] It was these Germanic incomers who called the native Britons Wealas or Walas, which translates into modern English as ‘Welsh’ – and from the same root comes the country-name ‘Wales’.[*]

The history of early medieval Wales is poorly documented. Giraldus Cambrensis, writing at the end of the 12th century, provides the nearest insight into the character and attitudes of the Welsh of that time.[*]

This people is light and active, hardy rather than strong, and entirely bred up to the use of arms; for not only the nobles, but all the people are trained to war, and when the trumpet sounds the alarm, the husbandman rushes as eagerly from his plough as the courtier from his court … They anxiously study the defence of their country and their liberty; for these they fight, for these they undergo hardships, and for these willingly sacrifice their lives; they esteem it a disgrace to die in bed, an honour to die in the field of battle …
No one of this nation ever begs, for the houses of all are common to all; and they consider liberality and hospitality amongst the first virtues. So much does hospitality here rejoice in communication, that it is neither offered nor requested by travellers, who, on entering any house, only deliver up their arms… The young men move about in troops and families under the direction of a chosen leader. Attached only to arms and ease, and ever ready to stand forth in defence of their country, they have free admittance into every house as if it were their own…
The Welsh esteem noble birth and generous descent above all things, and are, therefore, more desirous of marrying into noble than rich families. Even the common people retain their genealogy, and can not only readily recount the names of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers, but even refer back to the sixth or seventh generation, or beyond them … Being particularly attached to family descent, they revenge with vehemence the injuries which may tend to the disgrace of their blood; and being naturally of a vindictive and passionate disposition, they are ever ready to avenge not only recent but ancient affronts …
Giraldus Cambrensis Descriptio Cambriae I, 8, 10 & 17

Wales was not, however, a single political entity. It was divided into a number – which varied over time – of separate kingdoms.

The Early Kingdoms

The foundation of Gwynedd is traditionally associated with a certain Cunedda, who, according to the Historia Brittonum, travelled from the British kingdom of Gododdin, in what is now south-eastern Scotland, to what would become north-west Wales, with his eight sons, in order to expel Scots (i.e. Irish) invaders, round about the year 400.

The Harleian Genealogies (§§32–33) represent Cunedda’s sons, and a grandson, as the eponymous founders of various sub-divisions of Gwynedd (for example: Meirionydd named from his grandson Meirion). Ceredigion, too, is given a son of Cunedda, Ceredig, as its eponymous founder.


The Harleian Genealogies name nine sons of Cunedda: Tybion, Osfael, Rhufon, Dunod, Ceredig, Afloeg, Einion Yrth (the Impetuous?), Dogfael and Edern. Tybion, the eldest, is said to have died before Cunedda’s migration to Wales, and so was represented by his son, Meirion. The divisions of Gwynedd associated with them are:
Meirion = Meirionydd (1)
Osfael = Osfeilion (2?)
Rhufon = Rhufoniog (3)
Dunod = Dunoding (4)
Afloeg = Aflogion (5)
Dogfael = Dogfeiling (6)
Edern = Edeirnion (7)
Einion Yrth does not have a district named from him, but his purported lands are identified (in a late-medieval genealogical tract: Achau Brenhinoedd a Thywysogion Cymru, §25) as Rhos (8).
The Harleian Genealogies provide a line of descent from three of the above: Meirion (§18), Dunod (§17) and Einion Yrth (§3).
In A History of Wales (1993), Chapter 3 (p.51), John Davies writes:
Early Welsh literature contains a wealth of stories seeking to explain place-names, and doubtless the story is propaganda aimed at justifying the right of Cunedda’s descendants to territories beyond the borders of the original kingdom of Gwynedd. That kingdom probably consisted of the two banks of the Menai Straits and the coast over towards the estuary of the river Conwy, the foundations upon which Cunedda’s descendants created a more extensive realm.
Though its origins may well be earlier, the kingdom of Ceredigion does not actually appear in the historical record until the beginning of the 9th century. The entry corresponding to the year 807 in the Annales Cambriae: “Arthen king of Ceredigion dies.”  Arthen features as the 7xgreat-grandson of Cunedda in the Harleian Genealogies (§26).
In the years following the death of its last known king, in 872, control of Ceredigion was acquired by the rulers of Gwynedd. Kari Maund (The Welsh Kings, 2000, Chapter 1, p.27) suggests:
The affiliation of Ceredig to the line of Cunedda in the pedigree may be an attempt by a pro-Gwynedd writer in the ninth or tenth centuries to prove that Ceredigion belonged by right to the heirs and descendants of Cunedda.

In his diatribe, De Excidio Britanniae (On the Ruin of Britain), written around 545(?), the British cleric Gildas picked out five contemporary kings for particular criticism.[*] Glildas’ Cuneglasus is usually equated with Cynlas (Cinglas), who appears in the Harleian Genealogies (§3 – a pedigree associated with the Rhos sub-division of Gwynedd) as great-grandson of Cunedda, grandson of Einion Yrth, son of Owain Danwyn (White-Tooth), and may, therefore, have been king of Rhos.[*]

Another of the kings singled out by Gildas, Maglocunus “the island dragon”, is almost universally equated with Maelgwn, king of Gwynedd (the island being Anglesey). Maelgwn is also shown as Cunedda’s great-grandson and Einion Yrth’s grandson in the Harleian Genealogies (§1 – showing the descent of Owain ap Hywel Dda from the kings of Gwynedd), but his father is named as Cadwallon Lawhir (Long-Hand). According to Gildas (§33), Maelgwn – “exceeding many in power and at the same time in malice … superior to almost all the kings of Britain, both in kingdom and in the form of thy stature” – had become king as a young man, after he had defeated the incumbent king, his unnamed uncle, in battle.[*] The Annales Cambriae, indicating a date of 547, report: “The great death [i.e. plague] in which Maelgwn, king of Gwynedd died.”

In south-west Wales, the tribal area of the Demetae evolved into the kingdom of Dyfed. According to an ancient Irish tale, the area was settled by a displaced Irish people, the Déisi, led by one Eochaid. The first ruling dynasty of Dyfed does, indeed, appear to have Irish roots. Vortipor, “tyrant of the Demetae” (as he is addressed by Gildas), is said to be great-great-great-grandson of Eochaid in genealogical material attached to the Irish tale. Vortipor also features in the Harleian Genealogies (§2 – showing the descent Owain ap Hywel Dda from the kings of Dyfed) along with two previous and nine subsequent generations that match the Irish genealogy. This same Vortipor may be commemorated on a memorial stone (which originally stood at Castell Dwyran – some 5 miles north-west of Carmarthen, where it is now on display in the County Museum) which is inscribed in both Latin and Irish ogham.

The kingdom of Brycheiniog is attested in the mid-8th century (Llandaff charters). Traditionally, its eponymous founder, Brychan, also has Irish links, indeed, he is said to have been born there – son of a Welsh princess and an Irish king. An Irish connection is substantiated by a cluster of ogham inscribed stones, of around the 5th and 6th centuries, that have been found in the area.


Brychan’s story is told, with some variations, in two short Latin texts: De Situ Brecheniauc (The Situation of Brycheiniog – in British Library MS Cotton Vespasian A xiv), which was apparently copied in the early-13th century from an 11th century, or earlier, manuscript; and Cognacio Brychan (The Family of Brychan – in British Library MS Cotton Domitian A i), which was apparently copied in the early-16th century from a 13th century manuscript. The two texts, with English translations, were published by A.W. Wade-Evans in 1906, in a paper entitled: ‘The Brychan Documents’ (Y Cymmrodor Vol. 19, freely available online).
According to ‘The Brychan Documents’, Tewdrig, king of Garthmadrun – in the area that would become Brycheiniog – despatched his daughter, Marchell, to Ireland, where she married the king, Anlach. Anlach swore that, if they had a son, he would return to Britain with her, so that their boy could claim his ancestral kingdom. In the fullness of time, Brychan, was born, Anlach kept his word, and the family settled in Marchell’s homeland. Anlach apparently ruled until his death, at which time the kingdom’s nobles elected Brychan as king. Thenceforth the kingdom was called Brycheiniog.
Brychan is purported to have had a large number of children (different sources provide various names and numbers[*]), and many saints are said to be descended from him. For instance, in his Itinerarium Cambriae (I, 2), Giraldus Cambrensis comments:
A powerful and noble personage, by name Brychan, was in ancient times the ruler of the province of Brycheiniog, and from him it derived this name. The British histories testify that he had four-and-twenty daughters, all of whom, dedicated from their youth to religious observances, happily ended their lives in sanctity. There are many churches in Wales distinguished by their names, one of which, situated on the summit of a hill in Brycheiniog, not far from the main castle of Aberhodni [Brecon], is called the church of St Eluned, after the name of the holy virgin, who, refusing there the hand of an earthly spouse, married the Eternal King, and triumphed in a happy martyrdom …
The “Lineage of Brychan Brycheiniog” is the third of the three presented by Welsh Triad 81: “Three Saintly Lineages of the Island of Britain” – the other two being those of Joseph of Arimathea and Cunedda (who is here given the epithet ‘Wledig’, which is possibly related to modern Welsh gwlad, i.e. ‘land’, and is evidently the title of a powerful military leader).

Before he became king, Brychan is said to have been given, by his father, to the king of Powys, one Benadel, as a hostage.[*] Actually, the name of Powys does not appear in the historical record until the start of the 9th century, when the Annales Cambriae announce the death of “Cadell king of Powys[*]” (808).  The Annales, however, record the death of “Selyf son of Cynan”, at the battle of Chester (c.615/16), and Selyf ap Cynan is the subject of §22 of the Harleian Genealogies – a pedigree which belongs to Powys.

The Annales Cambriae don’t actually say who Selyf’s opponent at Chester was, but evidently it was, the Anglo-Saxon king, Æthelfrith of Northumbria. Bede (HE II, 2) mentions the battle, but he doesn’t mention Selyf. Indeed, Bede’s interest is not in the battle proper, but in a preliminary attack that Æthelfrith, a pagan, made on a band of monks from Bangor Is-coed (Bangor-on-Dee) who had assembled to pray for a Welsh victory. Bede reports that a certain Brocmail (i.e. Brochfael), whose duty it was to protect the praying monks, promptly fled the scene. As a result: “About twelve hundred of those that came to pray are said to have been killed, and only 50 to have escaped by flight.”  Irish annals record the battle of Chester, the slaughter of the monks and Selyf’s death – Selyf is titled: “king of the Britons”. The Annals of Tigernach additionally report the death of another king, Cetula (who is otherwise unknown), in the battle, and that Æthelfrith was the victor, but that he died soon after. In fact, Æthelfrith was killed in battle, in 616, by forces supporting his exiled rival, Edwin. In the fullness of time, Edwin: “ruled over all the inhabitants of Britain, both English and Britons, except only the people of Kent; and he reduced also under the dominion of the English, the Mevanian Islands of the Britons [Anglesey and the Isle of Man], lying between Ireland and Britain” (HE II, 5).

The A-text of the Annales Cambriae tags onto its notice of the battle of Chester, and Selyf’s death in it: “And Iago son of Beli slept [i.e. died].”  Iago ap Beli features as the great-grandson of Maelgwn, king of Gwynedd, in Harleian Genealogies §1. It would seem that he passed away peacefully in the same year as Chester.[*] However, in the B-text of the Annales both Selyf and Iago are said to have been killed at Chester, whilst according to a Welsh Triad that records “Three Hatchet-Blows” (Triad 33W): “And the third, one of his own men struck upon Iago, son of Beli, with a hatchet, on the head.”  The circumstances of Iago’s death, then, remain obscure. Iago’s son, King Cadfan (Catamanus rex), is commemorated as “the wisest and most renowned of all kings” in the Latin inscription on his memorial stone, which is now built into the church wall at Llangadwaladr, Anglesey. Cadfan’s son, Cadwallon, is Bede’s “Cædwalla, king of the Britons” who, apparently after a period of protracted, indecisive, warfare, enlisted the support of Penda of Mercia, to defeat and kill Edwin, king of Northumbria, at Hatfield Chase (near Doncaster) on the 12th of October 633[*].  Cadwallon “occupied the provinces of the Northumbrians for a whole year, not ruling them like a victorious king, but ravaging them like a furious tyrant” (HE III, 1), before being killed by Edwin’s eventual successor, Oswald.

In their rhymed songs and set speeches they [the Welsh] are so subtle and ingenious, that they produce, in their native tongue, ornaments of wonderful and exquisite invention both in the words and sentences. Hence arise those poets whom they call Bards, of whom you will find many in this nation, endowed with the above faculty …
Giraldus Cambrensis Descriptio Cambriae I, 12

The pedigree of Selyf ap Cynan (Harleian Genealogies §22) presents Cadell Ddyrnllug, i.e. Cadell Gleaming-Hilt, as the dynasty’s founder – hence the dynasty is known as the Cadelling. A yarn in the Historia Brittonum purports to tell how Cadell became a king[*].  Cynan, Selyf’s father, is featured in a poem attributed to Taliesin (fl. late-6th century): Trawsganu Cynan Garwyn mab Brochfael (Eulogy[?] for Cynan Garwyn son of Brochfael). From its record of Cynan’s activities, his homeland seems to have been north-east Wales[*].

Another Powysian leader, Cynddylan, features in two pieces of Welsh poetry. Generally dated to the 9th or 10th century is Canu Heledd – the 113 verses are presented as the laments of Heledd, Cynddylan’s sister – in which the destruction of “Pengwern’s court” and the death of “Cynddylan of Powys”, son of Cyndrwyn, at the hands of the English, are mourned:

11Stand outside, maidens, and look on
The land of Cynddylan.
Pengwern’s court is a blazing fire.
Woe to the young who'll beg for a cloak.
12Cynddylan of Powys, cloaked in purple,
Guests’ hostel, lordly life,
For Cyndrwyn’s cub there’s keening.
31The hall of Cynddylan, dark is its roof,
Since they were slain by the English,
Cynddylan and Elfan [Cynddylan’s brother] of Powys.[*]

From the places mentioned during the work, it is apparent that Cynddylan’s domain included Shropshire, in, what is now, England. Indeed, Giraldus Cambrensis (Descriptio Cambriae I, 4) asserts that: “the country now called Shropshire formerly belonged to Powys, and the place where the castle of Shrewsbury stands bore the name of Pengwern, or the Head of the Alder Grove.”[*]

Marwnad Cynddylan is widely held to have 7th century origins. According to one interpretation, the poem is addressed to the king of Gwynedd (which is somewhat odd, since Cynddylan was a Powysian chieftain), whom it does not name, but calls “Dogfeiling’s prince, scourge of Cadell’s line” – Dogfeiling being the sub-division of Gwynedd purportedly founded by Cunedda’s son, Dogfael – and implies that Cynddylan belonged to a dynasty that rivalled the Cadelling. Other interpretations, though, suggest that Cynddylan himself was the ruler of Dogfeiling, and that he belonged to the Cadelling. The poem also seems to suggest that Cynddylan was a willing ally of Penda of Mercia[*]. Further, a reference in Canu Heledd indicates that Cynddylan fought alongside Penda at Maes Cogwy:

111I saw on the ground of Maes Cogwy
Hosts, and strife of battle.
Cynddylan gave assistance.[*]

Maes Cogwy is the Welsh name for the battle site that Bede calls Maserfelth – generally, though not with absolute certainty, identified as Oswestry, Shropshire – where Oswald, king of Northumbria, was defeated and killed by Penda on 5th August 642. Eventually, on 15th November 655, Penda himself was defeated and killed by Oswiu, Oswald’s brother, in a battle near an unidentified river, the Winwæd, evidently in the vicinity of Leeds, Yorkshire. Bede notes that: “the 30 royal commanders, who had come to Penda’s assistance, were almost all of them slain” (HE III, 24).  Perhaps Cynddylan was one of them – indeed, the Historia Brittonum (§§64–65) refers to “the kings of the Britons” who accompanied Penda on his final campaign against Oswiu, and indicates that all but one of them, the king of Gwynedd, were killed in the battle at the Winwæd (called “the slaughter of Gai Campi [the Field of Gai]” by the Historia).  For the next three years, Oswiu ruled Mercia. It seems reasonable to suppose that he would mount retaliatory attacks on the territory of Penda’s erstwhile supporters: “Pengwern’s court is a blazing fire.”  According to Marwnad Cynddylan, Cynddylan “died unwed”, so there were no heirs to continue his line. In due course, possibly during the reign in Mercia of Penda’s son, Wulfhere, the land that would become Shropshire came under Anglo-Saxon control.

Cadwallon, the king of Gwynedd who had been killed by Oswald in 634, had a son, Cadwaladr, but for some reason – maybe he was simply too young – he had apparently not succeeded his father. Instead, one Cadafael ap Cynfeddw became king. Welsh Triad 68 names “Cadafael son of Cynfeddw in Gwynedd” as the second of “Three Kings who were [sprung] from Villeins”.  As already mentioned, the Historia Brittonum intimates that only one of the British kings who were with Penda on his last campaign wasn’t killed at the Winwæd: “Cadafael, king of the region of Gwynedd, was the only one to escape with his army, by rising up in the night” (§65).  As a consequence of which, Cadafael received the derogatory epithet ‘Cadomedd’ (Battle-Dodger).  At some stage Cadwaladr succeeded Cadafael. The A-text of the Annales Cambriae, indicating the year 682, reports: “A great plague in Britain, in which Cadwaladr son of Cadwallon dies.”[*]  However, according to the Historia Brittonum (§64), the plague in which Cadwaladr died happened during Oswiu’s reign (Oswiu died in 670) – almost certainly a reference to the “sudden pestilence” of 664, reported by Bede (HE III, 27), that raged in Britain and Ireland with great loss of life.

The Vita Sancti Samsonis (Life of St Samson – of Dol, Brittany), possibly dating from the early-7th century, written by an anonymous author, relates that:

Saint Samson, then, was of the country of Demetia [i.e. Dyfed], and as regards worldly rank was born of distinguished and noble parents… The father of the same St Samson was, as I have said, of Demetian stock, Amon by name, and his mother, of Gwent, the next province to Demetia, Anna by name. In the providence of Almighty God they were honourably married by mutual agreement and with the common consent of their fathers, who were of the same station in life. Moreover, we certainly know that the parents of the same married couple were court officials of the kings of their respective provinces …
Vita Sancti Samsonis I, 1

The year of Samson’s birth is not known for certain, though c.485 is widely suggested. Gwent takes its name from Venta Silurum (Caerwent) – Roman civitas capital of the Silures tribe. Charters in the Book of Llandaff place one Iddon, king of Gwent, “in the very late sixth century”, according to Wendy Davies, who is well known for her analysis of the Llandaff charters: “the same charters reveal the existence of a kingdom of Ergyng (Ercic[g]) for at least two generations in the late sixth century, and further west a minor royal enclave – unnamed – in the region of Cardiff, and another in Gower in the seventh century. Other kings are named but they cannot be precisely located.”[*]  It would appear that by the second quarter of the 8th century these minor south-eastern kingdoms had been absorbed into Glywysing, the influence of which, under the direction of one Meurig ap Tewdrig (early-to-mid-7th century[*]) and his descendants, gradually spread from the vicinity of the mouth of the River Wye. A tale incorporated into one of the charters tells how Tewdrig (St Tewdrig) abdicated and became a hermit at Tintern. Later, however, he came to his son Meurig’s assistance, and they repelled the invading English at “the battle on the banks of the Wye, near the ford of Tintern”.  Tewdrig, though, was fatally wounded. Meurig erected an oratory on the site where he died (Mathern), and granted the surrounding territory to the bishops of Llandaff.[*]


Glywysing is, supposedly, named after a King Glywys. The Preface of a Vita (Life) of St Cadog, composed by Lifris of Llancarfan round about 1090, describes the division of the kingdom amongst nine of Glywys’ ten sons – his third son, Pedrog, chose to devote himself to God, went to Cornwall, and became St Petroc. In the now familiar manner, each son’s territory was named after him. Gwynllwg was named after Gwynllyw, the eldest. The Vita continues with a Prologue, which tells how Gwynllyw wanted to marry Gwladus, the beautiful daughter of Brychan (founder of Brycheiniog). Brychan, however, refused to allow the match. Gwynllyw mounted a raid, with 300 men, and snatched Gwladus from Brychan’s court. Brychan gave chase:
Gwynllyw, when he had seen them, ordered that the oft-mentioned girl should be brought up to him, and he made her ride with him. He, carrying the girl cautiously with him on horseback, preceded the army not indeed for flight, but to await his soldiers and to exhort them manfully to war. But Brychan with his men, boldly attacking the savage king and his satellites, slew two hundred of them and followed them up as far as the hill, which is on the confines of either country, which in the Britannic tongue takes the name Boch Rhiw Carn, which means the cheek of the stony way. But when Gwynllyw had arrived at the borders of his land, safe in body with the aforesaid virgin, although sorrowful at the very great slaughter in the fight with his adversaries, lo, three vigorous champions, Arthur with his two knights, to wit, Cai and Bedwyr, were sitting on the top of the aforesaid hill playing with dice. And these seeing the king with a girl approaching them, Arthur immediately very inflamed with lust in desire for the maiden, and filled with evil thoughts, said to his companions, “Know that I am vehemently inflamed with concupiscence for this girl, whom that soldier is carrying away on horseback.”  But they forbidding him said, “Far be it that so great a crime should be perpetrated by thee, for we are wont to aid the needy and distressed. Wherefore let us run together with all speed and assist this struggling contest that it may cease.”  But he, “Since you both prefer to succour him rather than snatch the girl violently from him for me, go to meet them, and diligently inquire which of them is the owner of this land.”  They immediately departed and in accordance with the king’s command inquired. Gwynllyw replies, “God being witness, also all who best know of the Britons, I avow that I am the owner of this land.”  And when the messengers had returned to their lord, they reported what they had heard from him. Then Arthur and his companions being armed they rushed against the enemies of Gwynllyw and made them turn their backs and flee in great confusion to their native soil. Then Gwynllyw in triumph through Arthur’s protection together with the aforesaid virgin Gwladus, reached his own residence, which was situated on that hill, which thenceforward took from his name the British appellation Allt Wynllyw, that is, Gwynllyw’s Hill.
St Cadog is the son of Gwynllyw (who is also a saint: St Woolos) and Gwladus (also a saint: St Gladys). Gwynllyw’s mother is said to be a daughter of, Cunedda’s son, Ceredig (the eponym of Ceredigion).  Incidentally, later in the Vita – in the part (§§40–44) devoted to miracles attributed to Cadog after his death – are references to the kingdom of Rheinwg (appearing as Reinuc and, presumably identical, Reinmuc).[*] Additionally, according to the C-text of the Annales Cambriae, Offa, king of the Mercians, ravaged Rheinwg (Rienuch) in 795. There is some uncertainty regarding the location of Rheinwg (‘the country of Rhain’) – it could be Brycheiniog (after King Rhain, son of Brychan, who ravages Gwynllwg in §25 of the Vita of St Cadog), or it could be Dyfed (after Rhain ap Cadwgan, who features in the Harleian Genealogies, §2, showing the descent Owain ap Hywel Dda from the kings of Dyfed, and who would have reigned in the early-8th century; or after Rhain ap Maredudd, king of Dyfed, whose death the Annales Cambriae place in 808).

It would appear that at the time the Historia Brittonum was composed (c.829), one Ffernfael was ruling a kingdom, Builth (Buellt), which also incorporated the district called Gwrtheyrnion – said to be named from Gwrtheyrn, i.e. Vortigern. The Historia asserts that Builth and Gwrtheyrnion had been given to Vortigern’s son, Pascent (from whom Ffernfael is said to be descended), to rule after his father’s death.[*] Nothing further is known of the kings of Builth.

Giraldus Cambrensis:

Not addicted to gluttony or drunkenness, this people [i.e. the Welsh] who incur no expense in food or dress, and whose minds are always bent upon the defence of their country, and on the means of plunder, are wholly employed in the care of their horses and arms. Accustomed to fast from morning till evening, and trusting to the care of Providence, they dedicate the whole day to business, and in the evening partake of a moderate meal; and even if they have none, or only a very scanty one, they patiently wait till the next evening; and, neither deterred by cold nor hunger, they employ the dark and stormy nights in watching the hostile motions of their enemies.
Descriptio Cambriae I, 9
This nation [the Welsh] conceives it right to commit acts of plunder, theft, and robbery, not only against foreigners and hostile nations, but even against their own countrymen. When an opportunity of attacking the enemy with advantage occurs, they respect not the leagues of peace and friendship, preferring base lucre to the solemn obligations of oaths and good faith …
In war this nation is very severe in the first attack, terrible by their clamour and looks, filling the air with horrid shouts and the deep-toned clangour of very long trumpets; swift and rapid in their advances and frequent throwing of darts. Bold in the first onset, they cannot bear a repulse, being easily thrown into confusion as soon as they turn their backs; and they trust to flight for safety, without attempting to rally … Their courage manifests itself chiefly in the retreat, when they frequently return, and, like the Parthians, shoot their arrows behind them; and, as after success and victory in battle, even cowards boast of their courage, so, after a reverse of fortune, even the bravest men are not allowed their due claims of merit. Their mode of fighting consists in chasing the enemy or in retreating. This light-armed people, relying more on their activity than on their strength, cannot struggle for the field of battle, enter into close engagement, or endure long and severe actions … Though defeated and put to flight on one day, they are ready to resume the combat on the next, neither dejected by their loss, nor by their dishonour; and although, perhaps, they do not display great fortitude in open engagements and regular conflicts, yet they harass the enemy by ambuscades and nightly sallies. Hence, neither oppressed by hunger or cold, nor fatigued by martial labours, nor despondent in adversity, but ready, after a defeat, to return immediately to action, and again endure the dangers of war; they are as easy to overcome in a single battle, as difficult to subdue in a protracted war.
Descriptio Cambriae II, 2–3

Felix, author of a Vita of St Guthlac (a Mercian hermit who died in 714), seemingly writing around 730–740, notes that, during the reign of Cenred, king of the Mercians (704–709): “the Britons, the implacable enemies of the Saxon race, were troubling the English with their attacks, their pillaging and their devastations of the people[*]” (Ch.34).  The Annales Cambriae, indicating the year 722, record three battles: “the battle of Hehil among the Cornish, the battle of Garth Maelog, the battle of Pencon among the south Britons, and the Britons were the victors in those three battles.”  The site of none of the battles is known with certainty, but, clearly, the English were the defeated enemy. Since it was the Cornish Britons who were the victors at Hehil, it would have been the West Saxons who were the losers. The “south Britons” are the southern Welsh, and the English beaten at Pencon and Garth Maelog would have been the Mercians – at the time ruled by Æthelbald.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that, in 743, Æthelbald, together with the West Saxon king, Cuthred: “fought against the Welsh.”  South-east Wales, i.e. Glywysing, was ruled by descendants of Meurig ap Tewdrig. King at this time was Ithel ap Morgan (c.715–45[*]). One of the Llandaff charters talks of “great tribulations and plunderings” during Ithel’s reign: “which were committed by the most treacherous Saxon nation, and principally on the borders of Wales [Britannia] and England, towards Hereford, so that all the border country of Wales was nearly destroyed, and much beyond the borders in both England and Wales, and especially about the river Wye, on account of the frequent diurnal and nocturnal encounters which took place between both countries. After a time, peace being established, the land was restored to its owners and its former authority”[*].  Ithel restored a number of properties in Ergyng to his bishop, Berthwyn. Another charter refers to a parcel of land, purchased “in the presence of King Ithel and the principal seniors of Ergyng”, at a cost of: “24 [cows?], a Saxon woman, a valuable sword, and a powerful horse”[*].  Following the reign of Ithel, the kingship appears to have been shared by his sons.

The 9th century king of Powys, Cyngen ap Cadell, of whom more later, erected a cross (the surviving remnant of which is known as Eliseg’s Pillar), to the north-west of Llangollen, in memory of his great-grandfather, Elise. Elise probably flourished in the mid-8th century. His military successes against “the English” (i.e. the Mercians), in which he evidently made territorial gains, were recorded in an inscription on the cross. Presumably it was such Welsh advances that prompted Offa, king of Mercia (757–796), to build the massive frontier earthwork that bears his name: Offa’s Dyke.

The Annales Cambriae record:

[760]A battle between the Britons and the Saxons, that is the battle of Hereford …
[778]The devastation of the South Britons by Offa.
[784]The devastation of the Britons by Offa in the summer.
[795][In C-text only]  The devastation of Rheinwg by Offa.[*]

Land-grants made in Ergyng under Welsh kings, end during the time of Ithel’s son, Ffernfael – whose death the Annales Cambriae indicate occurred in 775. Eventually, perhaps by the end of Offa’s reign (796), Ergyng came under English control – known in English as Archenfield, it is now in south-western Herefordshire. The Annales Cambriae (A-text) concludes the annal in which it records Offa’s death with the somewhat enigmatic remark: “and the battle of Rhuddlan [in Gwynedd].”  And then two years later (i.e. in 798) the Annales note that: “Caradog king of Gwynedd is killed by the Saxons.”  The ‘Saxons’ would be the Mercians under Cenwulf, who, after a short hiatus, had succeeded Offa.

Altered States

This nation [the Welsh] is, above all others, addicted to the digging up of boundary ditches, removing the limits, transgressing landmarks, and extending their territory by every possible means. So great is their disposition towards this common violence, that they scruple not to claim as their hereditary right, those lands which are held under lease, or at will, on condition of planting, or by any other title, even although indemnity had been publicly secured on oath to the tenant by the lord proprietor of the soil. Hence arise suits and contentions, murders and conflagrations, and frequent fratricides, increased, perhaps, by the ancient national custom of brothers dividing their property amongst each other. Another heavy grievance also prevails; the princes entrust the education of their children to the care of the principal men of their country, each of whom, after the death of his [i.e. the child’s] father, endeavours, by every possible means, to exalt his own charge above his neighbours. From which cause great disturbances have frequently arisen amongst brothers, and terminated in the most cruel and unjust murders; and on which account friendships are found to be more sincere between foster-brothers, than between those who are connected by the natural ties of brotherhood. It is also remarkable, that brothers shew more affection to one another when dead, than when living; for they persecute the living even unto death, but revenge the deceased with all their power.
Giraldus Cambrensis Descriptio Cambriae II, 4

The early-9th century saw a power struggle for control of the north-western kingdom of Gwynedd. The Annales Cambriae:

[813]Battle between Hywel and Cynan. Hywel was the victor.[*]
[814]Hywel triumphed over the island of Môn [Anglesey] and he drove Cynan from there with a great loss of his own army.
[816]Hywel was again expelled from Môn. King Cynan dies.[*]


The Annales Cambriae doesn’t say what the relationship between Hywel and Cynan was, but the Brut y Tywysogion identifies them as brothers, and this has been widely accepted by historians. There is, though, another possibility that seems just as likely.
The Irish Annals of Ulster record Cynan’s death in the entry for 816. He is titled “king of the Britons”, and is also given a patronym – his name appears in an Irish form: Conan mac Ruadhrach, i.e. Cynan ap (‘son of’) Rhodri. In the Harleian Genealogies (§1), Cynan ap Rhodri’s line is traced back, via Einion Yrth ap Cunedda, to terminate with “Amalech, who was the son of Beli the Great, and Anna his mother, whom they say was cousin to the Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  Cynan ap Rhodri is the 12th generation after Cunedda. The death, in 754, of “Rhodri king of the Britons” is noted by the Annales Cambriae, by which token, if Hywel and Cynan were brothers (and it was, indeed, this Rhodri who was their father) they both must have been in the region of, at least, 60 years-old at the time of their contest – which hardly seems credible. However, Hywel ap Caradog is the subject of §3 of the Harleian Genealogies, which traces his descent back to Einion Yrth ap Cunedda. Hywel ap Caradog is also the 12th generation after Cunedda. The death of “Caradog king of Gwynedd”, in 798, is noted by the Annales Cambriae. It certainly seems reasonable to conjecture, therefore, that a youthful Hywel ap Caradog was intent on overthrowing his elderly distant cousin, Cynan ap Rhodri.
John Edward Lloyd, in A History of Wales Vol. 1 Second Edition (1912, Chapter 8); Wendy Davies in Wales in the Early Middle Ages (1982, Chapter 4); John Davies, in A History of Wales (1993, Chapter 4); Kari Maund, in The Welsh Kings (2000, Chapter 2) all present Hywel and Cynan as brothers – sons of Rhodri.
 Saxons invaded the mountains of Eryri [Snowdonia] and the kingdom of Rhufoniog.[*]
[817]The battle of Llan-faes [on Anglesey].

Who fought at Llan-faes is nowhere recorded. Perhaps it is most likely to have been the men of Gwynedd and the ‘Saxons’ (i.e. the Mercians, ruled at this time by Cenwulf), but a continuation of Hywel’s campaign to take power is also a possibility – seemingly he did succeed in acquiring the throne after Cynan’s death.

Apparently there was also a family feud in Powys during this period – the Annales Cambriae noting: [814]  “Gruffudd son of Cyngen is killed by treachery by his brother Elise”.  Now, a Cyngen, the son of Cadell (the Annales indicate that “Cadell of Powys” died in 808), became king of Powys at some stage, but, since he died in 854, it is, perhaps, unlikely (he would have been about eighty years-old when he died) that he was the father of Gruffudd and the murderous Elise. A possible scenario is that Gruffudd, son of some other Cyngen, succeeded Cadell in 808, and was then murdered by Elise, so that he could be king, in 814 – Cyngen ap Cadell becoming king some time later.

The Annales B-text reports that: [818]  “Cenwulf devastated the regions of Dyfed.”  Cenwulf may well have been planning further action against the Welsh when, in 821, he died at Basingwerk, on the Dee estuary, at the northern end of, the less well-known relative of Offa’s Dyke, Wat’s Dyke. The Annales indicate that in the following year, 822: “The fortress of Degannwy [near Conwy, in Gwynedd] is destroyed by the Saxons and they took the kingdom of Powys into their own control.”[*]  Powys probably wasn’t under Mercian control for very long. In 825 the Mercian army was roundly defeated by the West Saxon forces of King Egbert, which precipitated a chain of events that would see two Mercian kings killed in action and their successor expelled from his kingdom.

The Annales Cambriae: [825]  “Hywel dies.”  It is assumed that this is the Hywel who contended with Cynan for the rule of Gwynedd. Hywel’s successor was one Merfyn. He is the “King Merfyn” in whose fourth year the principal text of the Historia Brittonum was evidently compiled. Merfyn was an intruder – he was not directly descended from Cunedda. In Harleian Genealogies §1 it is claimed that he was the son of Esyllt, who was the daughter of, Hywel’s opponent, Cynan. The Jesus College MS 20 genealogies (§22) also present Esyllt as Merfyn’s mother, but additionally (§§17&19) name his father: Gwriad. In §17 Merfyn is given the epithet by which he is usually distinguished, ‘Frych’ (the Freckled), and his descent is traced back along the direct male line, via Gwriad and, the 6th century hero of 9th/10th century Welsh poetry, Llywarch Hen, of the erstwhile north-British kingdom of Rheged, to Coel Hen.

A poem found in the Llyfr Coch Hergest (Red Book of Hergest, c.1400), Cyfoesi Myrddin a Gwenddydd ei Chwaer (Colloquy of Myrddin and Gwenddydd his Sister), refers to “Merfyn Frych from the land of Manaw”.  The ‘land of Manaw’ could be Manaw Gododdin, a region on the south bank of the Forth (purported homeland of Cunedda), or it could be the Isle of Man. A piece of evidence came to light in 1894, however, which certainly tips the balance in favour of the latter possibility. A short inscription was noticed on the edge of a fallen stone monument near Ramsey on the Isle of Man: crux guriat (the cross of Gwriad). Even if this Gwriad was not actually Merfyn’s father, he was clearly someone of importance, and could well be a member of the same family (Merfyn had a son or grandson also called Gwriad).

For a short time, 829–830, Egbert, king of the West Saxons, ruled Mercia directly. In 830: “King Egbert led an army against the North Welsh”, says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, by which the Welsh proper, rather than the Cornish Britons, are meant: “and he reduced them to humble obedience.”[*]  Also in 830, Wiglaf, the Mercian king expelled by Egbert, recovered his throne.

The Annales Cambriae: [844]  “Merfyn dies. The battle of Cetill.”  The location of the battle is unidentified, and whether it is linked to Merfyn’s death is unclear.  According to the genealogies in Jesus College MS 20 (§18), Merfyn had married Nest, sister of Cyngen, king of Powys. Their son, Rhodri, succeeded Merfyn in Gwynedd.


The Harleian Genealogies – the earliest Welsh royal genealogies – make no mention of Nest, but they do show Esyllt to be Merfyn’s mother. The later, Jesus College MS 20 also presents Esyllt as Merfyn’s mother and, additionally, Nest as Rhodri’s mother (hence Merfyn’s wife). Genealogies in other later texts (than the Harleian Genealogies), however, transpose Nest and Esyllt, making Nest Merfyn’s mother and Esyllt Rhodri’s. It is generally supposed that the Harleian Genealogies are correct in respect of Esyllt, and that by default, since it agrees with the Harleian Genealogies in respect of Esyllt, so is Jesus College MS 20 in respect of Nest.
In a paper titled ‘Historical Need and Literary Narrative: a Caveat from Ninth-Century Wales’ (The Welsh History Review Vol. 17 No. 1, June 1994, freely available online), Patrick Sims-Williams writes:
While Esyllt of Gwynedd’s marriage to Merfyn’s father (Gwriad) is probably authentic, the historicity of Merfyn’s marriage to Nest, and indeed the very existence of this sister of Cyngen of Powys, is open to doubt; it could be an invention of any period up to the fourteenth century, designed retrospectively to justify or explain the ninth-century incorporation of Powys into greater Gwynedd.

Cyngen had acceded to the throne of Powys sometime after the death of his father, Cadell, in 808. Cyngen erected a cross, to the north-west of Llangollen, in memory of his great-grandfather, Elise. An inscription on the cross commemorated Elise’s reclamation of Powysian territory from the English. In the inscription, which is no longer legible, Elise’s name apparently took the form Eliseg, hence what remains of the cross is known as Eliseg’s Pillar.

The rule of Glywysing, which incorporated Gwent, was apparently shared by multiple kings, all descended from one Meurig ap Tewdrig (early-7th century). With their usual less-than-illuminating terseness, the Annales Cambriae record: [848]  “Ithel king of Gwent was killed by the men of Brycheiniog.”  The following year: [849]  “Meurig was killed by Saxons.”

The Annales announce: [850]  “Cyngen is killed by the gentiles.”  Who this particular Cyngen was is not known, but the ‘gentiles’, i.e. heathens, are the Vikings. This is the first notice of Viking activity in Wales, which does not mean it was actually the first Viking raid on Wales. By this time, the British Isles had been subject to Viking predation for more than half-a-century – the Annals of Ulster, s.a. 794, had recorded: “Devastation of all the islands of Britain by gentiles.”  At any rate, the next report of Vikings by the Annales Cambriae states: [853]  “Môn [Anglesey] laid waste by Black Gentiles.”  Anglesey was, of course, the heartland of Gwynedd.

Asser reports that, in 853:

Burgred, king of the Mercians, sent messengers to beseech Æthelwulf, king of the West Saxons, to come and help him in reducing to his sway the midland Britons [i.e. the Welsh], who dwell between Mercia and the western sea, and who were struggling against him beyond measure. So without delay, King Æthelwulf, on receipt of the embassy, moved his army, and advanced with King Burgred against Britain [i.e. Wales], and immediately upon his entrance he ravaged it, and reduced it under subjection to Burgred. This being done, he returned home.
Vita Alfredi §7

The Annales Cambriae indicate that in the following year, i.e. in 854: “Cyngen king of Powys died in Rome.”  It is entirely possible that Cyngen had simply decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome – which is what Æthelwulf did in 855. Cyngen, however, was apparently the last king of the ancient ruling dynasty of Powys, the Cadelling. It is possible that he was ousted and exiled by his purported nephew, Rhodri ap Merfyn, king of Gwynedd. The means by which it was achieved is not clear, but if it was not Rhodri himself who gained control of Powys, then it was his sons.


Cyngen may not have regarded himself as Cadelling. Eliseg’s Pillar, for which Cyngen himself was responsible, apparently presents Vortigern (Guarthigirn) as the founder of his dynasty, rather than Cadell Ddyrnllug (Cadell Gleaming-Hilt) – hence Cadelling – though, since the inscription is so badly preserved, it cannot be ruled out that it originally included a link between Vortigern’s line and Cadell’s. The Harleian Genealogies show no link, but the later genealogies of Jesus College MS 20 (§18) make a direct link, showing Cadell as Vortigern’s grandson, though via a son called Cateyrn (Cadern), rather than the Pillar’s Brydw (Britu).[*]
Around about the same time that Eliseg’s Pillar was erected in Powys, the Historia Brittonum was compiled in Gwynedd. In the Historia, Vortigern and Cadell are contemporaries – there is no suggestion that they are related. Whilst the Pillar depicts Vortigern as the husband of a daughter of Magnus Maximus, and their son being blessed by St Germanus, the Historia tells a lurid tale in which Vortigern has a son by his own daughter, and as a result is pursued and destroyed by St Germanus[*].  Another yarn tells how Cadell, good-hearted servant of “a certain wicked and extremely tyrannical king whose name was Benlli”, becomes king himself after Benlli is destroyed by St Germanus[*].  Some historians regard the picture painted by the Historia as indicative of Gwynedd’s (i.e. Merfyn Frych’s) hostility towards Powys. For instance, Kari Maund asserts that the Historia Brittonum (HB):
… was written in Gwynedd, under the influence of the aggressive royal dynasty of that kingdom. Its negative portrayal of Vortigern reflects the ambitions and desires of the royal house of Gwynedd in the ninth century. Alongside its negative portrait of Vortigern, HB gives an unflattering account of another figure who featured as the ancestor of a ruling house of Powys, Cadell Ddyrnllug (Cadell of the gleaming hilt). Cadell is depicted as a good and honest man, but of servile, rather than noble birth, and owing his promotion to the ranks of kingship to piety, and to the intercession of St Germanus, rather than to inheritance or military prowess (the approved routes to legitimate kingship in early Wales). This image of Cadell is less negative than that of Vortigern, but it too raises questions over the status of his descendants – they belong, by implication, to the servile class, and their claims to high lineage are problematized. The testimony of HB tells us more about the political agenda of Gwynedd in the early ninth century than about the realities of the fifth and sixth centuries.
The Welsh Kings (2000) Chapter 1 (pp.18–19)
On the other hand, T.M. Charles-Edwards points out that, far from being disparaging about Cadell, the story in the Historia is analogous to the Bible story of Samuel the prophet (played by St Germanus), Saul the king (Benlli), and David the shepherd-boy (Cadell, Benlli’s servant), in which David is chosen by God to rule:
To interpret the claim that Cadell was a slave as a Gwynedd attack on the dynasty of Powys, which, perhaps, it already proposed to supplant, is to ignore an Old Testament parallel that would have sprung immediately to the mind of many early medieval clerics. We can indeed use the Pillar of Eliseg to show that beliefs were current in ninth-century Wales about the post-Roman history of Britain other than those advanced in the Historia Brittonum; but we cannot use it to uncover some supposed political propaganda on behalf of Merfyn, the new king of Gwynedd.
Wales and the Britons, 350–1064 (2013) Chapter 14 §1 (pp.451–2)

The Annals of Ulster report that, in 856, Rhodri ap Merfyn, who is referred to as “king of the Britons”, succeeded in killing one Horm “chief of the Black Gentiles”.  But in 865: “The Britons were driven from their land by the Saxons and were placed in bondage in Maen Chonain.”  Another Irish source, the Three Fragments (§315), describes what is evidently the same event: “the Saxons came into British Gwynedd, and the Saxons drove the Britons out of the country.”  The ‘Saxons’ would have been Burgred’s Mercians, and Maen Chonain is widely supposed to be Anglesey.[*]

The Annales Cambriae indicate that in 872 the king of Ceredigion, Gwgon, drowned – the circumstances are unrecorded. Like Cyngen ap Cadell is to Powys, Gwgon is the last known king of the ancient ruling dynasty of Ceredigion. The Jesus College MS 20 genealogies claim (§18) that Rhodri ap Merfyn’s mother was Nest, sister of Cyngen ap Cadell, king of Powys, and also (§42) that he was married to Angharad, sister of Gwgon, king of Ceredigion. In these genealogies Rhodri is given the epithet by which he is usually distinguished, ‘Mawr’ (the Great). Like Powys after Cyngen’s departure, control of Ceredigion was acquired by Rhodri or his sons at some stage after Gwgon’s death.


Harleian Genealogies §26 is a pedigree of Gwgon, tracing his descent from Cunedda via, the latter’s son, Ceredig (eponymous founder of Ceredigion). Just as in the case of Nest, the sister of Cyngen ap Cadell who, the later, Jesus College MS 20 genealogies present as Rhodri’s mother, Angharad, the sister of Gwgon who Jesus College MS 20 presents as Rhodri’s wife, is not to be found in the Harleian Genealogies.
In his paper ‘Historical Need and Literary Narrative: a Caveat from Ninth-Century Wales’ (The Welsh History Review Vol. 17 No. 1, June 1994, freely available online), Patrick Sims-Williams writes:
Without this later genealogical information one would suppose merely that if the line of Ceredigion came to an end in 872 it was as a result of conquest by Rhodri, with no dynastic link being involved. There is no way of disproving that Merfyn [Rhodri’s father] married a sister of the last recorded king of Powys and that Rhodri married a sister of the last recorded king of Ceredigion; but it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that these sisters and marriages in the Jesus College genealogies are later inventions, designed retrospectively to justify the annexation of Powys and Ceredigion in or about the time of Rhodri Mawr.

The autumn of 865 had seen the arrival of a large Viking force in East Anglia. After a sojourn in East Anglia, they moved to Northumbria, where a civil war was taking place between two rival kings. The rivals joined forces, but in March 867 the Vikings killed both kings at York, and took control of Northumbria. In late-869 they killed the king of East Anglia (St Edmund), and took control there also. In 874 they conquered Mercia. King Burgred having been driven into exile (he died in Rome soon after), they appointed one Ceolwulf – “a foolish king’s thegn”, says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – to rule, on their terms, in his stead. (In fact, other evidence suggests that Ceolwulf was not simply the Viking puppet he appears to be in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.)

Indicating the year 877, the Annales Cambriae record: “The battle of Sunday in Môn.”  It seems likely that this was an encounter with the Vikings that Rhodri lost, since the Annals of Ulster note, s.a. 877, that: “Rhodri son of Merfyn, king of the Britons, came in flight from the Black Foreigners to Ireland.”  Evidently, Rhodri soon returned to Wales. In the next year (878), the Annals of Ulster announce that: “Rhodri son of Merfyn, king of the Britons, was killed by the Saxons.”  Whilst the Annales Cambriae state: “Rhodri and his son Gwriad are killed by the Saxons.[*]”  In 877 the Vikings had partitioned Mercia – roughly speaking, they settled in the east, whilst the west was left to Ceolwulf. Presumably it was Ceolwulf who was responsible for Rhodri’s death.[*] Rhodri was survived by a number of sons, the senior of whom was called Anarawd.

Also in 878, reported by Asser:

… the brother of Ivar and Halfdan, with 23 ships, came, after many massacres of the Christians, from the region of Dyfed, where he had wintered, and sailed to Devon, where with 1,200 others he met with a miserable death, being slain, while committing his misdeeds, by the king’s thegns [the king in question being Alfred, king of Wessex], before the fortress of Cynuit, in which many of the king’s thegns, with their followers, had shut themselves up for safety.[*]
Vita Alfredi §54

At this time, King Alfred (Alfred the Great) himself was on the run from a Viking army that had invaded Wessex at the beginning of 878. He managed to rally his forces and inflicted a decisive defeat on the Vikings in the May of that year. In the autumn, the Viking army withdrew to Mercia, and a year later moved to East Anglia, where it settled – the army’s leader, Guthrum, establishing himself as king of East Anglia.

The Annales Cambriae: [881]  “The battle of Conwy. Vengeance for Rhodri at God’s hand.”  By now, Ceolwulf has disappeared from history. There is some, but not compelling, evidence to suggest he ceased to rule in 879. The next ruler of English (i.e. western) Mercia was not a king, but an ealdorman, Æthelred ‘lord of the Mercians’, who was certainly in place in 883, and who ruled with Alfred as his overlord. It would perhaps seem likely, then, that it was Æthelred whose defeat at Conwy was seen as revenge for the killing of Rhodri.

Asser, biographer of Alfred the Great, writes:

At that time [c.885], and long before, all the regions of the right-hand [i.e. southern] part of Wales [Britannia] belonged to King Alfred, and still [in 893] belong to him. For instance, King Hyfaidd, with all the inhabitants of the region of Dyfed,[*] compelled by the violence of the six sons of Rhodri,[*] had submitted to the dominion of the king. Hywel also, son of Rhys, king of Glywysing, and Brochfael and Ffernfael, sons of Meurig, kings of Gwent, compelled by the violence and tyranny of Ealdorman Æthelred and of the Mercians,[*] of their own accord sought out the same king, that they might enjoy rule and protection from him against their enemies. Elise, also, son of Tewdwr, king of Brycheiniog, driven by the violence of the same sons of Rhodri, of his own accord sought the lordship of the aforesaid king; and Anarawd, son of Rhodri, with his brothers, at length [by 893] abandoning the friendship of the Northumbrians [i.e. the Vikings of York], from whom he had received no good, but rather harm, came into King Alfred’s presence, and eagerly sought his friendship. The king received him with honour, adopted him as his son by confirmation from the bishop’s hand, and bestowed many gifts upon him. Thus he became subject to the king with all his people, on condition that he should be obedient to the king’s will in all respects, in the same way as Æthelred and the Mercians.
Nor was it in vain that they all gained the friendship of the king. For those who desired to augment their worldly power obtained power; those who desired money gained money; those who desired his friendship acquired his friendship; those who wished more than one secured more than one. But all of them had his love and guardianship and defence from every quarter, so far as the king, with all his men, could defend himself.
Vita Alfredi §§80–81

Asser’s failure to mention Powys and Ceredigion would seem to imply that by c.885 they were under the control of Gwynedd, i.e. Rhodri’s sons.

Not found in the Latin Annales Cambriae, but appearing in vernacular Welsh annals, known as the Brut y Tywysogion, is an assault on Gwynedd by “the Black Northmen” in 892 (probably).[*]

In 892 two new Viking armies arrived in England[*].  In 893, combined Viking forces – comprising the new arrivals, augmented by Vikings already resident in Northumbria and East Anglia – were besieged on an island in the Severn, by an alliance of English and Welsh forces. Eventually, the Vikings broke out, and in the ensuing battle many of them were killed, whilst the remainder fled to Essex. Before the end of the year the Vikings had rebuilt their numbers. They made a nonstop dash to Chester, and ensconced themselves inside the old Roman walls before English forces could catch them. The English employed a scorched-earth policy – clearing the surrounding area of all sources of food. Early in 894, the Vikings were obliged to abandon Chester. They crossed into Wales. Later the same year, laden with booty, they left Wales, and returned to Essex, minimizing their exposure to English forces by travelling through Viking held Northumbria and East Anglia. At harvest-time 895, Alfred flushed the Vikings from a fortress they had built on the river Lea (possibly at Hertford). They made another cross-country dash – to Bridgnorth, on the Severn, where they built another fortification. English forces had chased after them, and the Vikings spent the winter of 895/6 and spring 896 at Bridgnorth, but the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has no record of what transpired. In the summer of 896, the Viking band disbanded and dispersed: “some to East Anglia, some to Northumbria; and they who were moneyless got themselves ships, and went south over sea to the Seine.”

The Annales Cambriae has a couple of significant entries to slot into the period 892–896, but its dating apparatus is not conducive to precision.[*] One entry states: “The Northmen came and laid waste Lloegr [England] and Brycheiniog and Gwent and Gwynllwg [all in south-eastern Wales].”  There seems to be little consensus amongst scholars whether this comment should be placed in 894, when Viking forces are certainly known to have raided in Wales (though they evidently entered and left at the northern end), or in 896, during the time when Viking forces were based at Bridgnorth (in reasonable proximity to the south-eastern quarter of Wales).[*]  The entry for the preceding year, i.e. 893 or 895, notes that: “Anarawd came with the Angles and laid waste Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi.[*]

Why Anarawd and his English allies ravaged Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi (Vale of Towy, to the south of Ceredigion) is not clear – indeed, the status of Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi is not clear. Such evidence as there is (circumstantial only) is conventionally interpreted as indicating that Ceredigion was already in the hands of the sons of Rhodri Mawr – having been acquired by Rhodri soon after the death of Gwgon, the last known king of Ceredigion in 872. (The Annales say Gwgon “was drowned”, which might suggest warfare.) Later tradition implies that the region of Ystrad Tywi had been added to Ceredigion by Gwgon’s great-great-grandfather, Seisyll, around the mid-8th century, and that the enlarged realm was called Seisyllwg in his honour.[*] Another later tradition has it that Rhodri’s realm had been divided on geographical lines between his sons. The earliest extant appearance of this claim is in the Descriptio Cambriae of Giraldus Cambrensis. In an error-strewn story (I, 2–3), Giraldus says that Rhodri ruled all Wales and that he divided it between his three sons: Anarawd, who got Powys, Merfyn, who got Gwynedd, and Cadell, who got the South. Taking these two traditions on board has led to the idea that Cadell ruled Seisyllwg and that it was he who was the target of Anarawd and his English colleagues. There is, however, no corroboration for this notion in 9th century sources:

  • The Annales call Gwgon “king of Ceredigion” in 872, and Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi are named separately in 893/5.
  • Asser says that the kings of “all the regions” of south Wales had sought an alliance with Alfred by c.885 and that nothing had changed by 893. Ystrad Tywi is not excluded, which tends to suggest it was part of Dyfed at this time. He presents Rhodri’s sons operating in unison over a wide area, not as individuals within a particular region.


In a paper titled “The ‘Six’ Sons of Rhodri Mawr: A Problem in Asser’s Life of King Alfred” (Britons and Anglo-Saxons in the Early Middle Ages, 1993) David Dumville asks:
Why did Anarawd in that year [895] have English help in harrying Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi? Had the Scandinavians seized control? Were these areas not under Venedotian control [i.e. of Gwynedd] until that date? (But we may ask how the sons of Rhodri could be putting pressure on Hyfaidd [king of Dyfed] a decade or more before, if they did not control Ceredigion and, consequently, a common frontier.) Or was this, as Lloyd conjectured, an attack by Anarawd on one of his brothers, presumably Cadell? Only the first of these solutions is devoid of obvious difficulties, and that is because of our ignorance of Scandinavian activities in this area.
John Edward Lloyd:
The second acquisition of importance made by Rhodri [the first being Powys] was that of Seisyllwg, the state formed rather more than a century earlier by the union of Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi. This addition to his realm must have been made soon after 872, when Gwgon, the last of the kings of Ceredigion, met his death by drowning; Rhodri’s marriage to Angharad, the dead king’s sister, while it gave him no sort of legal claim to the province, made it easy for him to intervene and invested his sons with rights there which would be more generally recognised… Six sons were left by Rhodri to carry on his line, and, after a fashion which, to the injury of the country, widely prevailed in mediaeval Wales, his broad realm, so laboriously built up, was divided between them… it is clear that Anarawd, as the eldest, took possession of Anglesey and the adjacent parts of Gwynedd, and most probable that Cadell received as his share a substantial domain in South Wales, where his descendants ruled for many generations… [In 895, Anarawd] plundered Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi, a blow directed most probably at his brother Cadell.
A History of Wales Vol. 1 Second Edition (1912) Chapter 10 (pp.325–30)

According to the Annales Cambriae, Hyfaidd, king of Dyfed, died two years before the attack of Anarawd and his English associates on Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi (which adds weight to placing the attack in 895, since Asser, evidently writing in 893, was seemingly unaware of Hyfaidd’s death). Presumably he was succeeded by his son, Llywarch, whose death the Annales indicate occurred in 903. In the same year, Merfyn, Rhodri’s son, was killed by Vikings.[*]

In the previous year, i.e. in 902, the Irish had succeeded in driving the Vikings out of Dublin. One of the displaced chieftains, Ingimund, attempted to establish a base on Anglesey. The Annales Cambriae report: “Ingimund [Igmunt] came to Môn [Anglesey] and took Maes Osfeilion.”

It would seem likely that Merfyn ap Rhodri was killed battling against Ingimund. According to a story told in the Three Fragments, Ingimund (Hingamund) was eventually ejected from Wales, and was allowed to settle near Chester – by Æthelflæd, wife of Ealdorman Æthelred (who was at the time, say the Fragments, on his deathbed) – but then hatched a plan to capture the city[*].

Meanwhile, it appears that Rhodri Mawr’s remaining sons, Anarawd and Cadell, took advantage of the death of Llywarch ap Hyfaidd to invade Dyfed. Llywarch’s brother, Rhodri, seems to have opposed them, but after a year (i.e. in 904) he was, say the Annales Cambriae, “beheaded in Arwystli”, and there ends Dyfed’s royal line. It seems likely that at this stage Anarawd and Cadell divided their extensive territories: Anarawd ruling Gwynedd and Powys; Cadell ruling Ceredigion/Seisyllwg and Dyfed, which would become known as Deheubarth (literally: ‘southern part’). Cadell’s son, Hywel, married Elen, Llywarch’s daughter (Harleian Genealogies §1).

Annales Cambriae A-text: [906]  “The battle of Dinmeir and Mynyw was broken.”[*]  Mynyw (Latin: Menevia), in Dyfed, is now St Davids. It might well be assumed that this typically terse annal is referring to a Viking raid, but that isn’t necessarily the case.[*]

Annales Cambriae A-text: [909]  “King Cadell dies.”[*]  Rule of the ‘southern part’ evidently passed to two of Cadell’s sons, Hywel and Clydog.

Alfred the Great had died in 899, and been succeeded by his son, Edward. In 914, as reported by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a large Viking force sailed from Brittany: “and went west about until they arrived in the mouth of the Severn; and they harried on the Welsh everywhere by the sea, where it pleased them; and took Bishop Cameleac [Cyfeilliog] in Archenfield [i.e. Ergyng; now south-western Herefordshire], and led him with them to the ships; and then King Edward afterwards ransomed him with 40 pounds.[*]”  The Viking force suffered heavy losses at the hands of English forces. Edward was determined they should not get a foothold, and, eventually, they: “went to Dyfed, and then out to Ireland”.

Ealdorman Æthelred, ‘lord of the Mercians’, had died in 911, and been succeeded by his wife, the daughter of Alfred the Great, Æthelflæd, ‘lady of the Mercians’. Æthelflæd was a formidable leader, working in tandem with her brother, King Edward, to bring the Scandinavian occupants of south-Humbrian England to submission.  The, so called, Mercian Register of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that, on 16th June 916, a certain “guiltless” Abbot Egbert was killed, along with his companions. The culprits were evidently Welshmen, since: “three nights after, Æthelflæd sent a force into Wales, and broke down Brecenanmere, and there captured the king’s wife as one of four-and-thirty.”  This annal is believed to refer to the destruction of royal buildings standing on the crannog (artificial island) that still exists in Llangorse Lake, near Brecon.[*] The king of Brycheiniog whose wife was captured may have been Tewdwr, son of the Elise who had submitted to Alfred in the early 880s.[*]

Annales Cambriae: [916]  “King Anarawd of the Britons dies.[*]”  Anarawd was evidently succeeded by his son, Idwal, who is distinguished by the epithet ‘Foel’ (the Bald).

Dublin had been reoccupied by Vikings in 917. The Brut y Tywysogion reports that: “Ireland and Môn were devastated by the people of Dublin.”  The same annal then announces the death of “Queen Æthelflæd”.[*] Æthelflæd, not ‘queen’, but ‘lady’ of the Mercians, died in June 918, at Tamworth. “And then he [King Edward] took possession of the burh [stronghold] at Tamworth; and all the nation in the Mercians’ land, who had before been subject to Æthelflæd, turned to him; and the kings of the Welsh, Hywel, and Clydog, and Idwal, and all the Welsh race, sought him for lord.[*]” (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Manuscript A).

Annales Cambriae A-text: [920]  “King Clydog was killed.”  The Annales Cambriae give no further detail, but the Brut y Tywysogion, says that he: “was killed by his brother Meurig.”  This could be the Meurig that the Annales indicate died in 938. There is no evidence to suggest that he was a king, however, nor Clydog’s son, Hyfaidd, who died in the same year – neither are said to have been killed. It seems that, after Clydog’s death, Hywel (remembered by posterity as Hywel Dda, i.e. Hywel the Good) became sole ruler of Deheubarth.

By the end of 918 King Edward had secured control south of the Humber, and could turn his attention to Northumbria, where the situation had been complicated by the arrival of Vikings from Ireland.

Northumbrian Struggles
See Dark Ages.
… thou bear, rider of many, and driver of a chariot belonging to a bear’s den, despiser of God and contemner of His decree …
De Excidio Britanniae §32
In place of the highlighted section, the C-text has: “Hywel was again expelled from Môn by Cynan, but later Cynan dies.”
According to ‘The Brychan Documents’ (De Situ Brecheniauc and Cognacio Brychan), Brychan raped Benadel’s daughter, as a result of which she gave birth to a son: Cynog, later St Cynog.
The sense is not clear. The highlighted phrase could read: “and took Cameleac, bishop of Archenfield”.
In the Book of Llandaff (page 237 in the 1893 Evans & Rhys edition), Bishop Cyfeilliog (Cimeilliauc) is said to have died in 927. However, Wendy Davies, who is well-known for her analysis of the Book of Llandaff’s charters, reckons: “it seems likely that he may in fact have died a few years before 927.” (The Llandaff Charters, 1979, p.78).
See Crimes Beyond Description.
There are Harleian pedigrees associated with two other sub-divisions of Gwynedd: Dunoding (§17) and Meirionydd (§18). The Annales Cambriae has entries announcing the deaths of Idris (c.632, at the “slaughter of the Severn”) and Brochfael (c.662). These characters are usually considered to equate to figures who appear in the pedigree associated with Meirionydd. Neither Idris nor Brochfael are given a title by the Annales. It seems, however, that the battle on the Severn was considered noteworthy in Ireland, and the Annals of Ulster, dating the event to 633, report: “The battle of Idris, king of the Britons.”  There are no similar examples of corresponding names from the Dunoding dynasty.
It perhaps seems likely that lurking behind a genealogical fiction, attributing the foundation of sub-divisions of Gwynedd to Cunedda’s progeny, is a historical process in which small independent states were gradually annexed by the kings of Gwynedd, who may, or may not, have been descended from a north-British chieftain called Cunedda.
Giraldus, i.e. Gerald, wrote in Latin. He makes it clear (Descriptio Cambriae I, 7) that “the country [Wales] is properly and truly called Cambria, and its inhabitants Cambri or Cambrenses”, and those are the terms he normally uses. The modern Welsh equivalents are Cymru for the country and Cymry for the people. Gerald calls the English names, Wales and Welsh, “barbarous”.
Six, according to John Davies
(A History of Wales, 1993, Chapter 3).
The highlighted word, ‘king’, is not in the A-text, which simply has: “Cadell of Powys”.
The two earliest lists, De Situ Brecheniauc and Cognacio Brychan, name eleven sons; the former names twenty-five daughters, the latter twenty-four. The two sources are not entirely in agreement regarding the names of the children. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (Fifth Edition Revised, 2011, p.68) notes: “The number of children attributed to him varies from twelve to sixty-three, the number most frequently encountered being twenty-four.”
In his A History of Wales (Vol. 1 Second Edition, 1912), Chapter 6 (p.181), John Edward Lloyd suggests that the word dormitatio (i.e. ‘falling asleep’) that the A-text uses to describe Iago’s death: “is almost always used of the death of an ecclesiastic and suggests that Iago, if at any time king of Gwynedd, had by this time resigned that office and withdrawn to the quiet of a monastery.”
John Davies writes:
It is often claimed that the word ‘Welsh’ is a contemptuous word used by Germanic-speaking peoples to describe foreigners. Yet a glance at a dictionary of any of the Teutonic languages will show that that is not its only meaning. ‘Welsh’ was not used by Germanic speakers to describe peoples living to the east of them; to the English, wealh-stod meant an interpreter, but they had a different word for a translator from Danish. It would appear that ‘Welsh’ meant not so much foreigners as peoples who had been Romanized; other versions of the word may be found along the borders of the Empire – the Walloons of Belgium, the Welsch of the Italian Tyrol and the Vlachs of Romania – and the Welschnuss, the walnut, was the nut of the Roman lands.
A History of Wales (1993) Chapter 3 (p.71)
See detailed account.
Cadell Gleaming-Hilt
Cynan Garwyn son of Brochfael
In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), David E. Thornton writes: “His [Cynan’s] epithet Garwyn or possibly Carwyn means either ‘of the White Thigh’ or ‘of the White Chariot’.”
The identification of Shrewsbury with Pengwern depends on Giraldus. In A History of Wales (1993), Chapter 3 (p.64), John Davies writes: “Pengwern has been identified with Shrewsbury in the loop of the Severn, but a more likely locality is The Berth in the marshes and mosslands to the north of Baschurch.”  In a paper entitled “The ‘Lichfield’ Gospels” (The National Library of Wales Journal Vol. 18 No. 1, 1973: freely available online) Melville Richards states: “Cynddylan’s Hall of Pengwern was, I believe, sited on the Wrekin hill-fort (Din Gwrygon).”
Canu Heledd (Song of Heledd) is found in the Llyfr Coch Hergest (Red Book of Hergest) – named from its red leather binding and, its former home, Hergest Court in Herefordshire, it is now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Jesus College MS 111) – which dates from c.1400.
Marwnad Cynddylan (Death-song of Cynddylan) survives in an early-17th century manuscript (Aberystwyth, NLW MS 4973), which, apparently, is a copy of a no longer extant 13th century manuscript.
Cynddylan: “scourge 
of Cadell’s line”?
Translation by Joseph Clancy,
in Medieval Welsh Poems (2003).
Translation in Wales and the Britons, 350–1064,
by T.M. Charles-Edwards (2013), p.392.
The B-text and C-text follow the yarn told by Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his fanciful pseudo-history, Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), written in the 1130s. According to Geoffrey, in order to escape the plague, Cadwaladr fled to Brittany.
Wendy Davies, Wales in the Early Middle Ages (1982) Chapter 4 (p.93).
In §41, a Maredudd, king of Reinuc, invades Glywysing (called Morgannwg – a term which has no validity prior to the mid-10th century). In §44, a king of Reinmuc is dissuaded from invading Morgannwg after the miraculous intervention of Cadog’s relics. This king of Reinmuc is identified as Cynan Garwyn – the late-6th century Powysian king who, in a poem attributed to Taliesin, is said to have waged: “War in Brychan’s land”.
(See Cynan Garwyn son of Brochfael.)
Historia Brittonum (§47): “… [Vortigern] fled in desperation to the region that is called Gwrtheyrnion after him …”
Historia Brittonum (§48): “He [Vortigern] had three sons … the third Pascent, who ruled in the two regions called Builth and Gwrtheyrnion after his father’s death, by permission of Ambrosius, who was king among all the kings of the British nation.”
Historia Brittonum (§49): “Ffernfael, who rules now in the two regions of Builth and Gwrtheyrnion, is son of Tewdwr. Tewdwr is king of the region of Builth, the son of …”  The Historia traces the descent of Tewdwr back through Pascent and Vortigern (who here appears as Gwrtheyrn Gwrtheneu, i.e. Vortigern the Thin) to Vortigern’s great-grandfather, Gloiu, after whom Caer Gloiu, i.e. Gloucester, is purported to have been named.
See the Alleluia Victory.
Though the indicated year is 601 in the Annales Cambriae, David’s death features in the same annal as that of Pope Gregory the Great, which was actually 604. David Dumville, in an essay entitled ‘St Patrick, the Annales Cambriae, and St David’ (St Patrick, A.D.493–1993, 1993), citing “the ‘Annals of Ulster’ and other Irish chronicles”, notes that Gregory’s death: “in the early middle ages was often attributed to 606.”  The point being that the 1st of March was a Tuesday in 606.
Whilst the ‘Angle’ part of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ provides the familiar generic label applied to the Germanic incomers and their descendants, i.e. ‘English’, the ‘Saxon’ part is also frequently used to the same effect. Here, Felix seems to adopt both conventions in one sentence. The Latin Saxonici generis, translated as “Saxon race”, is evidently being used in the generic sense, and so could be translated into current usage as “English”. According to Bede (HE I, 15), the Mercians were of Angle descent. In the context of Felix’s narrative, it seems as though his use of Anglorum gentem, translated conventionally here as “English”, in this instance, is specifically referring to the Angles of Mercia, rather than the English in general.
The date of Ithel’s rule is as proposed by Wendy Davies, who is well-known for her analysis of the Book of Llandaff’s charters, in Chapter 4 (p.102) of Wales in the Early Middle Ages (1982).
Page 192 in the 1893 Evans & Rhys edition of the Book of Llandaff. Translation by W.J. Rees (1840), Chapter VI §24.
Pages 185–6 in the 1893 Evans & Rhys edition of the Book of Llandaff. Translation by W.J. Rees (1840), Chapter VI §14.
In the A-text, the highlighted section has been omitted, turning the entry into nonsense. The wording here, therefore, is taken from the B-text. (The C-text makes Cynan the victor, but the vernacular Welsh annals, the Brut y Tywysogion, agree with the B-text and make Hywel victorious.)
In all manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the events of 830 are placed s.a. 828.
Highlighted section in B-text. It is absent from the A-text. The C-text omits the reference to Rhufoniog, and has Snowdonia “devastated”, rather than invaded.
Rhufoniog is the sub-division of Gwynedd purportedly named after, Cunedda’s son, Rhufon.
Cenwulf’s immediate successor, Ceolwulf, was overthrown in 823. D.P. Kirby (The Earliest English Kings Revised Edition, 2000, Chapter 9) suggests that, since it would be unlikely for Ceolwulf to have been deposed after such a great military success, this campaign should be assigned to the beginning of the reign of Ceolwulf’s successor, Beornwulf.
Jesus College MS 20 §18 begins with Rhodri, son of Nest, Cyngen’s sister, and Merfyn Frych. It traces the direct, i.e. male, line back from Nest – concluding with the sequence: Pascent (Pascen), son of Cadell, son of Cateyrn (Cadern), son of Vortigern (Gwrtheyrn).
Harleian Genealogies §27 begins with Cyngen, and traces the direct line back, concluding with the sequence: Pascent, son of Cateyrn (Cattegir[n]), son of Cadell (Catel), son of Selemiaun(?).
Harleian Genealogies §27 has twelve generations between this first Cadell (Cadell Ddyrnllug – Cyngen’s father was also called Cadell) and Cyngen. Jesus College MS 20 §18 has ten between Cadell Ddyrnllug and, Cyngen’s sister, Nest. However, the four names before Cyngen/Nest in both these pedigrees and on Eliseg’s Pillar are in agreement (though not in terms of spelling).
Harleian Genealogies §23, a line that begins with a mysterious [H?]essalis, concludes with the sequence: Brydw (Brittu) son of Cateyrn (Cattegirn), son of Cadell (Catell).
According to the Harleian Genealogies, therefore, Brydw and Pascent were brothers – the sons of Cateyrn. In the Historia Brittonum, Vortigern has four sons: Vortimer, Cateyrn, Pascent and also Faustus (the fruit of an incestuous relationship with his only daughter). The Historia alleges that St Germanus baptized and brought-up Faustus, who went on to become, the real historical figure, St Faustus of Riez (in Provence). The name Pascent is also found on Eliseg’s Pillar. In the Historia, Pascent is said to have ruled Builth and Gwrtheyrnion (named after Gwrtheyrn, i.e. Vortigern), southern neighbours of Powys, after Vortigern’s death.
See The Palace in the Lake, on the National Museum Wales website.
See Ruin.
In an article titled “The earliest Welsh genealogies: textual layering and the phenomenon of ‘pedigree growth’” (Early Medieval Europe Vol. 26 Issue 4, November 2018, freely available online), Ben Guy writes: “It is notable that the Cadelling portion of Cyngen’s ‘pedigree’ ends with Selemiaun; perhaps this word (meaning ‘people/descendants/territory of Selyf’) was once a description of the Cadelling portion of the pedigree, which became attached to Cyngen’s pedigree through the erroneous insertion of an additional map [‘son of’].”
There is some uncertainty regarding the location of Rheinwg (‘the country of Rhain’). It could be Brycheiniog (after King Rhain, son of Brychan, who ravages Gwynllwg in §25 of the Vita of St Cadog), or it could be Dyfed (after Rhain ap Cadwgan, who features in the Harleian Genealogies, §2, showing the descent Owain ap Hywel Dda from the kings of Dyfed, and who would have reigned in the early-8th century; or after Rhain ap Maredudd, king of Dyfed, whose death the Annales Cambriae place in 808).
Maen is equated with Môn, the Welsh name for Anglesey. Chonain is an Irish form of the name Cynan, by which token, Maen Chonain, would be ‘Anglesey of Cynan’ – a reference to the Cynan who died in 816?
The B-text says ‘brother’, not ‘son’.
Black Vikings and White Vikings
In the tale ‘Pwyll Prince of Dyfed’, from The Mabinogion, is a reference to: “the three cantrefs of Ystrad Tywi and the four cantrefs of Ceredigion, and those are called the seven cantrefs of Seisyllwch.”  In the Harleian Genealogies (§26), Seisyll is shown as Gwgon’s great-great-grandfather.
Giraldus Cambrensis Descriptio Cambriae I, 4: “The word Cantref is derived from Cant, a hundred, and Tref, a village; and means in the British and Irish languages such a portion of land as contains a hundred vills.”
The ‘fortress of Cynuit’ (arx Cynuit) is generally identified as the Iron Age promontory hillfort at Countisbury, on the north coast of Devon.
Other sources provide other details of this event (see Alfred). Asser used a version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as the basis of his work, but whilst Asser puts the number of dead at 1,200, the Chronicle says it was 840. In fact the Chronicle gives the number of dead in a rather curious fashion, saying that Ivar and Halfdan’s brother: “was slain, and 800 hundred men with him, and 40 men of his army.”  (Manuscripts B and C have lx, i.e. 60, in place of xl, i.e. 40.)
There are conflicting indications regarding Ceolwulf’s relationship with the Vikings. He may have been acting on his own initiative when Rhodri was killed, establishing his own overlordship of Gwynedd, but it is possible he was acting as an agent of the Vikings.
In his original text, Asser may well not have given the number of Rhodri’s sons at all. It is thought possible (perhaps probable) that, somewhere along the line, the Latin word vi (‘by the force/power/violence’) has been misconstrued as the Roman numeral vi (six), and then incorporated into the text as the Latin word sex (six).
The Jesus College MS 20 genealogies (§20) name eight sons – specifying three different mothers. Welsh annals mention only four: Anarawd, Cadell, Gwriad and Merfyn. Gwriad was killed by the English, at the same time as Rhodri himself (878), but he is not a son named in Jesus College MS 20, and the annals are divided over whether he was Rhodri’s son or his brother. Only Anarawd and Cadell are historically significant.
In the surviving text, Æthelred is wrongly called Eadred here (as he is by Wynne in the yarn quoted above). Asser, writing in Latin, does not give him the contemporary English title ‘ealdorman’, but uses the Late Roman title comes, which is translated into modern English as ‘count’. Another Late Roman title employed by Latin-writers, including Asser, as an equivalent of ealdorman is dux, which is translated into modern English as ‘duke’.
Asser was a monk at St Davids, in Dyfed, and he says (§79) that King Hyfaidd: “often plundered that monastery and the parish of St David, and sometimes expelled the bishops who ruled over it, just as, on one of those occasions, he expelled Archbishop Nobis, my relative, as well as myself”.  The Annales Cambriae indicate that Nobis became bishop of St Davids in 840 and died in 874. Nothing more is known of him. It is interesting that Asser titles Nobis ‘archbishop’. According to Lloyd, A History of Wales Vol. 1 Second Edition (1912) Chapter 7 (p.204 f.n.43), the term archi episcopus: “was at this time [in Wales] a title of honour merely and did not necessarily imply metropolitan authority.”
The Invasion of 892
For Instance, Frank Stenton (Anglo-Saxon England Third Edition, 1971, Chapter 8, p.268) favours 894, noting that the Viking expedition launched from Chester, adjacent to the northern end of Wales: “would therefore seem to have ranged across the whole of Wales down to the northern shore of the Bristol Channel.”  Clare Downham (Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland, 2007, Chapter 7, p.206) too prefers 894: “The areas of Wales which were attacked from Chester all seem to have been outside the control of the sons of Rhodri. It is possible that the vikings deliberately avoided their lands through fear of another confrontation.”
On the other hand, John Edward Lloyd (A History of Wales Vol. 1 Second Edition, 1912, Chapter 10, p.330) notes that Bridgnorth: “became the starting-point for the last great raid [of this particular Viking force], in the spring of 896, which devastated not only the adjacent parts of Mercia, but also the Welsh districts of Brycheiniog, Gwent, and Gwynllwg.”  Both Wendy Davies (Wales in the Early Middle Ages, 1982, Chapter 4, p.116) and Kari Maund (The Welsh Kings, 2000, Chapter 2, p.44) prefer 896.
The two main versions of Brut y Tywysogion are in Peniarth MS 20 and the Red Book of Hergest. In the former, the Black Northmen: “came to Gwynedd.”  In the latter, they: “came a second time to Baldwin’s Castle.”  Baldwin’s Castle (Montgomery, Powys), however, did not exist until after the Norman Conquest. Although this annal is clearly labelled 890 in the Peniarth manuscript, the annal immediately before records an event (the death of an Irish worthy) that is dated to 891 by the Annals of Ulster, which would suggest that 892 was the year of the Black Northmen’s raid.
The 890s in Welsh Annals
The A-text of the Annales only records the death of Llywarch ap Hyfaidd. The B-text records the deaths of both Llywarch and Merfyn ap Rhodri. The C-text only records Merfyn’s demise, but says he was “killed by gentiles”.
The Story of Ingimund
Highlighted phrase in B-text only.
Tewdwr ab Elise, king of Brycheiniog, appears in one of the Llandaff charters in association with a Bishop Libiau (pages 237–9 in the 1893 Evans & Rhys edition of the Book of Llandaff). According to the chronology of the charters, this appearance should be dated 927x929 (it is placed between Bishop Cyfeilliog’s obit, 927, and that of Libiau, 929). Wendy Davies, though, dates it c.925 (The Llandaff Charters, 1979, p.124).
In Wales and the Britons, 350–1064 (2013), Chapter 16 §1 (pp.508–9), T.M. Charles-Edwards writes: “Cadell’s final taking of Dyfed could thus have been as late as 906, when a battle is recorded by the Annales Cambriae in the same entry as an attack on St Davids.”
In fact, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle uses the term ‘North Welsh’, but, in modern terms, this is simply the Welsh, i.e. the British inhabitants of Wales – the British inhabitants Cornwall being the ‘West Welsh’.
The Annales Cambriae record the death of “Queen Æthelflæd”, but have no record of the Viking raid on Anglesey.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, again, uses the term ‘North Welsh’, meaning simply ‘Welsh’ in modern terms.
The A-text and B-text of the Annales break with convention, and describe the English as Anglis. The C-text (which, incidentally, makes no mention of Ystrad Tywi) sticks with convention of calling them Saxonibus.
In modern Welsh, ap (Old Welsh: map or mab) means ‘son of’. If the name it precedes begins with a vowel, however, this is generally spelled ab.
Pages 141–3 in the 1893 Evans & Rhys edition of the Book of Llandaff. Translation by W.J. Rees (1840), Chapter IV §3.
The Book of Llandaff presents Oudoceus (St Euddogwy), the bishop to whom Meurig makes his grant, as the third bishop of Llandaff, however:
The arrangement of the charters in the Book of Llandaff was based upon a sequence of twenty-nine bishops from Dyfrig in the sixth century to Herewald in the late eleventh, all of whom were claimed to be bishops of Llandaff. Not far below the surface of the final collection, however, there are clear indications that this sequence was largely false, in the sense that most of the bishops were not of Llandaff; instead they belonged to churches in Ergyng and Gwent.
T.M. Charles-Edwards Wales and the Britons, 350–1064 (2013) Chapter 7 (pp.250–1)
The B-text only reports the destruction at Mynyw; the C-text only reports the “battle of Dynerth”.  Dinmeir/Dynerth has not been satisfactorily identified.
In the B-text and C-text, Cadell is not called ‘king’, but is identified as “Cadell son of Rhodri”.
Wendy Davies’ analysis of the charters suggests that “Meurig’s reign was exceptionally long”, that he was active “c.620–665 or even earlier”. (The Llandaff Charters, 1979, p.76.)
In 1188, Norman-Welsh cleric and scholar Giraldus Cambrensis (c.1146–c.1223) – also known as Gerald of Wales and Gerald de Barri – accompanied Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury on a tour of Wales, to recruit soldiers for the Third Crusade. Subsequently, c.1191, Gerald produced an account of that journey, Itinerarium Cambriae (Itinerary through Wales), and later, c.1194, followed the Descriptio Cambriae (Description of Wales).
The Book of Llandaff (Liber Landavensis), dating from the early-12th century, is noted for a collection of 159 charters that purport to record grants of property made to bishops of Llandaff from the fifth century to the eleventh century. In that respect, the charters are a fiction, designed to provide the diocese of Llandaff, southeast Wales, with an antiquity it did not in fact possess. It would seem, though, that they are generally based on genuine grants made to other churches – that it is possible to detect the later Llandaff accretions, and to infer rough dates for most. Having said that, the charters’ authenticity is the subject of continuing debate.
Triads are linked threesomes – mainly of people or events – that, it is thought, were a device used by medieval bards to enable them to commit narrative detail to memory. Collections of Welsh Triads exist in a number of manuscripts – the earliest from the 13th century. Rachel Bromwich brought them together in Trioedd Ynys Prydein (The Triads of the Island of Britain), first published in 1961.
Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum
(Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation).
The earliest Welsh collection of royal genealogies – contained in Harleian MS 3859. Although the manuscript itself dates from c.1100, the genealogies were probably collected in the later-10th century – during the reign (in Deheubarth, 950–988) of Owain ap Hywel Dda. (Variations and additions are found in the collection of genealogies from Jesus College MS 20 – 14th century.)
Giraldus Cambrensis, in his Descriptio Cambriae (I, 3) says: “It is worthy of remark, that the Welsh bards and singers, or reciters, have the genealogies of the aforesaid princes, written in the Welsh language, in their ancient and authentic books; and also retain them in their memory …”
However, it was clearly in the interests of the ruler on whose behalf a blood-line was prepared – to show that he wasn’t an upstart, to demonstrate his ancient right to rule – to link him with as many illustrious personages from the mists of time as possible, so just how much credence can be given to the early entries in these genealogies is a moot point. Harleian Genealogies §1, purportedly showing a line of descent of Owain ap Hywel Dda, concludes with: “… Amalech, who was the son of Beli the Great, and Anna his mother, whom they say was cousin to the Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
s.a. = sub anno = ‘under the year’.