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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Cymru

 

 

 

MapEwyas

Founded as a kingdom of the Silures Britons, Ewyas was situated on the eastern edge of mid-south Wales (now in the English county of Herefordshire and probably also including eastern portions of Gloucestershire). Also sometimes known as Ewias or Euas, the latter being a version of the name that may have been in use by the ninth century, it seems to have been as well-established and as early to find its independent feet as Dumnonia to the south. Its capital was the Roman city of Caerwent (Caer Gwent). Very typically, its rulers traced their lineage to some of the greatest figures of Celtic British history, the list of ancestors dating back to the landing of Julius Caesar in 55 BC. Much of this until the fourth century is semi-legendary, but may well have been based on some element of fact.

c.AD 22

Alan ap Bran

Second son of High King Bran Fendigaid. King of the Silures.

c.24

Sadwr ap Bran

Third son (amongst 9 others from AD 26). Also king of the Silures.

c.65

Eurgain

Sister. Returned from Rome to spread Christianity.

c.60

Coellyn ap Caradog

Could he and his successors also be titular Silures kings?

c.100

Owain ap Beli

2nd century

In the early part of the century, the Silures are finally granted civitas status and a capital at Venta Silurum (the post-Roman Ewyas, and modern Caerwent).

Venta Silurum (Caerwent)
The fourth century walls of Venta Silurum (Caerwent) once stood up to 5.2 metres (seventeen feet) high, and survived as part of the later medieval town

c.140

Meirchion Fawdfilr ap Owain

Son.

c.180

Cwrrig Fawr / Goruc Mawr (the Great)

c.215

Gwrddwfn ap Cwrrig

Son.

3rd century

The territory of the Silures, or at least eastern parts of it, is known as Ewyas by the third century, but when this name is first used is unknown. Ewyas later evolves into Gwent. The Roman fort at Leucarum is reoccupied late in the century and remains operational until the early fourth century, a span of perhaps forty or so years, before being permanently abandoned.

c.250

Einudd ap Gwrddwfn

Son.

c.283

Eudaf Hen (Octavius the Old)

FeatureKing of Ewyas & High King of Britain.

c.283

St Elen Lwyddog (of the Host)

Dau. m Magnus Maximus, Western Roman Emperor d.388.

c.285

Gereint ap Einudd

Son of Einudd. Father of Conan Meriadog of Dumnonia.

c.300 - 306

Around the very start of the fourth century, changes take place at Caerwent. A great deal of refortification is undertaken, not only here but also at Glevum (in the former Dobunni tribal territory) and Caerleon (in the remainder of the former Silures territory), as preparations to face a possible threat from the River Severn. The threat is probably presented by a sudden increase in Irish raids, but whether the defences are ever put to the test or not is unknown. Perhaps linked to this threat, and others, in 305-306, Britain is sub-divided into four provinces within the Diocese of the Britains. Ewyas falls within Britannia Prima.

c.320

Arthfael ap Einudd

Brother. King of Ewyas?

c.340

Gwrgant ap Arthfael

Son. King of Ewyas?

c.380

Meirchion ap Gwrgant

Son. King of Ewyas?

383 - c.430

A territory which encompasses mid-south Wales is created by High King Magnus Maximus as part of his defensive restructuring of many of the country's regions to ensure its protection while he pursues his imperial ambitions overseas. He places his son, Eugenius, in command of the new territory with a capital in the territory or district of Cernyw. It is possible that it incorporates Ewyas, which would explain the lack of rulers for this period.

c.430

By this time, although Ewyas may still form part of the territory of mid-south Wales under Eugenius, it appears to fall under the control of High King Vortigern, now the most powerful man in Britain. He grants the territory to his eldest son, Vortimer, while the remainder of the mid-south Wales territory quickly evolves into Cernyw. Vortimer's new kingdom is renamed, eventually emerging as Gwent.

MapGwent / Guenta (Gwerthefyriwg)

Gwent in what is now southern Wales evolved as a combination of the former Ewyas and an extension of territory to the west. It was bordered on that side by Cernyw, from which it was divided by the River Usk. Perhaps appearing around a quarter of the way through the fifth century AD, Gwent was soon divided in two with the eastern half becoming Ercing. The western section continued to use the capital of the Silures tribe, Venta Silurum, as its own capital, although language shifts altered 'Venta' into 'Guenta' and then 'Gwent' so that it was known as Caer Gwent (the fort of Gwent, now known as Caerwent). In effect, the kingdom's name originated from the name of its capital, just as has been proposed for many of the much more obscure kingdoms in southern Britain. It also inherited much of the Silures' cultural heritage. Its small Roman-built capital remained in use throughout the medieval period, and the modern village grew up around the original Roman buildings, preserving them very nicely for later generations of scholars and archaeologists.

The kingdom seems to have been part of the ancestral lands of Vortigern of the Pagenses. While one of his other lands, Gwrtheyrnion, bore a variation of his name in its Welsh form, Gwent was for a time known as Gwerthefyriwg in honour of his son (using the Welsh version of his Romanised name). This may only have been a temporary renaming though, as its true name, Venta, or Guenta, quickly re-emerged. Perhaps Vortigern's subsequent disgrace in the eyes of his countrymen helped in this. The Roman city of Caerleon ('fortress of the legion', or Caerllion in Welsh) also formed a major administrative centre for the kingdom.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Hywel George and Edward Dawson, from The Landscape of King Arthur, Geoffrey Ashe, from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from Llyfr Baglan (The Book of Baglan), from the Annales Cambriae, James Ingram (taken from the Harleian manuscript, the earliest surviving version, London, Everyman Press, 1912), from Gwent In Prehistory and Early History: The Gwent County History, Vol 1, Miranda J Green & Raymond Howell (Eds, University of Wales Press, 2004), and from External Link: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.)

c.430 - c.455

Vortimer (Gwerthefyr) Fendigaid (Blessed)

Son of High King Vortigern. Kingdom renamed Gwerthefyriwg.

c.455

As the east of the island is engulfed by the chaos of the foederati revolt that sees the loss of Ceint, later tradition states that High King Vortimer is poisoned and his death allows Vortigern to reclaim the high kingship temporarily before he is faced by Ambrosius Aurelianus. Vortigern flees to his ancestral lands, 'at the fortified camp of Genoreu (Ganarew in later Welsh), on the hill called Cloartius (Little Doward, with its hilltop camp)', in Ercing, by the River Wye. There he meets his end when Ambrosius sets fire to his fortress with him inside it.

Caerleon Roman amphitheatre
This artist's illustration offers a reconstruction of the Roman amphitheatre at Caerleon, although it may not have been in quite this condition by the fifth century when many other amphitheatres had either become disused or had been repurposed

c.455 - c.480

Honorius (Ynyr Gwent)

Grandson of Demetius of Demetia? m St Madrun ferch Gwerthefyr.

c.474

At this time, Gwerthefyriwg, formerly Ewyas, and perhaps known once again as Gwent, becomes divided into Gwent and Ercing. Honorius and his wife, St Madrun, daughter of Vortimer Fendigaid, continue to govern Gwent. Ercing is governed by Gwrfoddw Hen, son of Anblaud, 'The Imperator'.

fl c.480

Iddon ap Ynyr

Son.

c.490

It appears at first sight that the original ruling family dies out with Iddon. The powerful Caradog Freichfras secures the kingdom, and later pedigrees claim him as the founder of Gwent's royal house. However, some archaeologists have linked Caradog Freichfras with Caradoc ap Ynyr of Gwent around this time, and it may well be that the two figures are one and the same man, or father and son. If this is the case then Caradog is not a usurper or the founder of a new royal house at all, he is the son of Honorius Ynyr Gwent and is based at Caer Gwent as the rightful successor.

It is possible that Caradog Freichfras is named in honour of High King Caratacus, a heroic resister of Roman occupation for the Silures tribe in this region four hundred years earlier. His family may come from the 'decuriones' of Venta, making him a descendant of the aristocracy which had existed among the Silures. Caradog is also remembered as Carados Briefbras, one of the Arthurian Knights of the Round Table.

c.490 - c.540

Caradog Freichfras (Strongarm) ap Ynyr

Brother. Gwent & Bro Erech. Bro-in-law was Cado of Dumnonia.

c.490

Caer Gwent is Caradog's original base, but later stories have him handing his headquarters (suggested as the Roman basilica in the heart of the town) over to St Tathyw so that he can found a monastery. Caradog moves his court to Portskewett, which may be the hill fort of Sudbrook Fort, which had also housed a Roman outpost, making it easy to repair and fortify. Following his accession he also sails across the Channel to found the kingdom of Bro Erech, which forms the heartland of Vannetais and serves as its largest kingdom. One of his descendants is Bleddyn ap Maenyrch ap Driffin of eleventh century Brycheiniog.

Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain mentions a magnificent Whitsun ceremony at Caerleon-upon-Usk in south-east Wales (within the territory of Gwent). Nothing at the site of this former Roman legionary fortress of Isca Silurum suggests post-Roman occupation, so Geoffrey doubtless picks the place because it is close to his home town and at one time had plainly been a centre of population grand enough to suit Arthur. The guests include Cadwallo, 'King of North Wales', Cado, the early sixth century king of Dumnonia, King Lot of Guotodin, and the British Church archbishops of London, York, and Caerleon (Dubricius being the last of these three).

fl c.540

Gereint

Sub-king of Orcheus in Gwent. m gnd-dau of Budig II of Brittany.

c.540 - c.590

Meurig ap Caradog

Son of Caradog. m Dyfwn, dau of Claudius of Cernyw.

577

The sub-divided state of Caer Gloui and its daughter kingdoms, Caer Baddan and Caer Ceri, all fall to the West Seaxe. The defeat is a disaster for all Britons of the west of the country, dividing as it does those of Gwent and Pengwern from those in Dumnonia. It also leaves Caer Celemion totally isolated, surrounded on all sides by Saxons.

Caerleon Roman amphitheatre
The amphitheatre of the legionary fortress at Caerleon survived as an earthwork and was known as 'King Arthur's Round Table', being excavated amid a blaze of publicity in 1926-1927 and subsequently being preserved for public view

580

FeatureMentioned at this time during his reign, Meurig is passed the combined kingdom of Gwynllg & Penychen by his nephew by marriage, Catocus. He may well also gain the other minor kingdom which, together with those two, had formed the kingdom of Cernyw, the third region being Gorfynedd (as Meurig is claimed as the ruler of Gower which is in the western arm of Cernyw), and his marriage to the daughter of the king of Ercing (presumably a second marriage after that with Dyfwn of Cernyw) means that his son inherits that kingdom. His grandson, holding onto these territories, is dubbed the 'King of South-East Wales'.

fl c.590

Erbic ap Meurig

Son. King of Gwent, Glywyssing & Ercing.

fl c.595

Erb ap Erbic

Son. Gwent, Glywyssing & Ercing. 'King of South-East Wales'.

c.600 - 610?

It appears that at the start of the seventh century, Ynys Manau is invaded by Dál Riatan Scotti. Dingad ap Nudd and his family are reputed to flee their kingdom (although Manau is not specifically named) and take refuge in Gwent, where they settle in the role of minor chieftains.

c.610

Upon Erb's death the unified kingdom of Gwent and Ercing is divided between his sons, nullifying the achievement of unification. Nynnio gains Gwent, while Pebiaw gains Ercing.

fl c.610

Nynnio ap Erb

Son. King of Gwent & Glywyssing.

fl c.620

Llywarch ap Nynnio

Son. King of Gwent & Glywyssing.

? - c.625

St Tewdrig ap Llywarch / Theoderic

Son. King of Gwent & Glywyssing. Abdicated in favour of his son.

c.625 - c.665

Meurig ap Tewdrig

Son. King of Gwent, Glywyssing, & Ercing.

c.630

MapGwent is subjected to a large-scale Saxon raid. The fall of kingdoms such as Caer Gloui has opened up the Welsh border to the direct attention of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, as by now the invaders control most of what is becoming England. Also, by marrying the daughter of the king of Ercing, Meurig effects a final reunion of the two kingdoms.

656

Overrun by Oswiu of Northumbria, the royal family of Pengwern is destroyed and the kingdom terminated. This further exposes the border of Gwent and fully exposes Powys for perhaps the first time. Saxons migrate into the territory from the south to form the minor kingdoms of the Wrocenset and Magonset. These in turn are absorbed by Mercia by the eighth century.

c.680 - c.685

Athrwys ap Meurig

Son. King of Gwent, Glywyssing & Ergyng.

c.685

FeatureAthrwys of Gwent and Glywyssing is sometimes confused with Arthur, dux Britanniarum and possibly even an emperor of Britain in the style of several Romans before him (see feature link). A major addition to the life of Athrwys, however, is the supposition that after Camlann, Arthur/Athrwys abdicates and retires to Brittany where he becomes an important evangeliser. He is known as St Armel (or Arthmael) and his shrine can still be seen at St Armel-des-Boschaux.

Guy Ritchie's Knights of the Round Table
Although cinematic depictions of Arthur and his knights tend to look impressive, they often leave a lot to be desired in terms of historical accuracy, with only John Boorman's interpretation of Le Morte d'Arthur standing the test of time

fl c.715

Morgan ap Athrwys

Son. Over-king of Gwent, Glywyssing & Ergyng.

fl c.735

Ithel ap Morgan

Son. King of South-East Wales (Gwent, Glywyssing & Ergyng).

745?

MapIt is probable that Ithel divides the joint kingdom between his sons. Rhys ap Ithel becomes king of Glywyssing. The name of Ergyng is no longer used, parts of the territory probably having been lost to the Hwicce while the rest has been part of Gwent for more than a century. It seems that, by the ninth century, the greater portion of it has been absorbed by Mercia.

fl c.755

Brochwal (ap Ithel?)

Son? King of Gwent.

? - 775

Ffernfael ap Ithel

FeatureBrother? King (Annales Cambriae)?

775 - ?

Athrwys ap Ffernfael

Son.

? - 848

Ithael / Iudhail ap Hywel or Athrwys

Son or cousin?

c.825 - c.830

Following the death of Arthfael Hen of Glywyssing, his domain is apparently taken back into Gwent, probably during the reign of Ithael of Gwent. However, this is a brief change, and Arthfael's son, Rhys, soon appears to gain control of his birthright.

Ithael and his brother and successor, Meurig, offer a level of confusion regarding their identity. They may be the sons of Athrwys ap Ffernfael or, perhaps more likely, they are the sons of Hywel ap Rhys of Glywyssing. The later dating for Hywel's reign in Glywyssing may not be a problem if Ithael and Meurig are young warriors and Hywel is relatively old.

848

Ithael is killed in battle against King Elisedd ap Tewdr of Brycheiniog, perhaps sparking a feud that soon draws in Glywyssing's king, Hywel ap Rhys, who is probably Ithael's father (or perhaps cousin).

848? - 849

Meurig ap Hywel or Athrwys

Brother. Killed in battle against Brycheiniog.

849

The Chronicle of the Princes reports that 'Saxons' (probably from Mercia) invade Anglesey. Meurig is said to join Rhodri the Great, king of Wales (Gwynedd and Deheubarth), in defeating them but falls during the battle. The Annales Cambriae also record the death of Meurig at the hands of Saxons.

fl c.880s

Ffernfael ap Meurig

Son. Ruled jointly with Brochwel.

fl c.880s

Brochwel / Brochfael ap Meurig

Brother.

881

One 'Edryd Long-Hair' leads a Mercian army into Gwynedd, but is defeated by the sons of Rhodri Mawr at the Battle of the Conwy. The Welsh annals refer to this as 'revenge by God for Rhodri'. Welsh historian Thomas Charles-Edwards equates 'Edryd Long-Hair' with Æthelred, his intention being to re-impose Mercian overlordship in the Welsh principalities, but this setback ends that hope as far as he is concerned. He does however continue to exercise overlordship over Glywyssing and Gwent in the south-east.

896

Vikings have been wintering at Quatford (near Bridgnorth), but in the spring of this year they ravage the kingdoms of Brycheiniog, Gwent, and the Gwynllg region of Glywyssing. Asser records that Elisedd requests help from Alfred of Wessex, but another reason for this may also be due to pressure from Anarawd ap Rhodri, the powerful king of Gwynedd and Deheubarth who is keen on expanding his areas of control.

Valley of the River Severn
The Vikings found quarters at Quatford in Mercia, occupying a commanding position over the valley of the River Severn (just half a mile from the view shown here), and building a burgh which may have formed the basis of the later Norman castle

c.920s - c.930

MapRule of the kingdom of Gwent appears to pass to Owain ap Hywel of Glywyssing shortly before his death. Then in 927 it becomes tributary to Æthelstan of the West Saxon united English kingdom along with Glywyssing itself. By about 930 it seems to be ruled by Morgan Hen Fawr, which makes him over-king of all of Glywyssing and Gwent under the new name of Morgannwg (modern Glamorgan).

fl c.920s

Arthfael ap Hywel

Brother of Owain ap Hywel of Glywyssing.

The name Arthfael is particularly telling. The first part is clearly in honour of Arthur, the late fifth century hero of the Britons, while the second, 'fael', means 'servant. People had been, and remain, so impressed with Arthur that this servant name which is usually used in relation to deities has been coined from his name.

c.930 - c.955

Morgan Hen Fawr retains control of Glywyssing and Gwent (in the form of Morgannwg) until his death at a grand old age. Subsequently, Gwent appears to regain its independence, either around 955 with the accession of Noe ap Gwriad ap Brochfael ap Rhodri ap Arthfael Hen of Glywyssing, or about 970 when Arthfael becomes king.

fl c.955

Noe / Nowy ap Gwriad

Son of Gwriad, descendant of Arthfael Hen of Glywyssing.

c.970 - c.983

Arthfael ap Nowy

Son.

c.983 - c.1015

Rhodhri ap Elisedd

Cousin.

Griffith ap Elisedd

Brother.

1015 - 1045

Edwin ap Gwriad

Cousin. Imprisoned & blinded by Meurig ap Hywel.

1045 - 1055

Gruffydd ap Rhydderch is able to seize Deheubarth from Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Gwynedd and hold onto it for a decade until the tables are turned. With this act he controls all of south Wales, perhaps using the title of 'King of South Wales' to emphasise his sudden greatness. During the very same period - 1045-1055 - Meurig, son of Hywel ap Owain of Morgannwg, rules Gwent after having disposed of his predecessor.

1045 - 1055

Meurig ap Hywel

Son of Hywel ap Owain of Morgannwg.

1055 - 1063

Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Gwynedd invades and conquers the kingdom, along with neighbouring Morgannwg, subjugating them both and drawing them directly under his control along with Deheubarth as part of a united Wales. Following his death, united Wales breaks up, and independent control of Morgannwg and Gwent is re-established.

1063 - 1074

Caducan / Cadwgan ap Meurig

Son. King of Greater Morgannwg (Glywyssing & Gwent), until 1074.

1066?

Apparently ruling at least part of Brycheiniog at this point in time (and quite possibly earlier) is a fairly mysterious King Bleddyn. His pedigree as given by Llyfr Baglan shows a descent from the fifth century Caradog Freichfras (or Freich Fras) of Gwent. The presence of someone with links to Gwent is unexplained, but the most reasonable theory is that one or more of the three cantrefi of Brycheiniog has fallen into the hands of Gwent's nobility in the period after circa 1045.

Normans
The coming of the Normans to Wales was a blow for the Welsh - the newcomers were tactically and militarily far more powerful than anything seen before by the native princes

1074 - 1090

Caradog ap Gruffydd of Glywyssing manages to overthrow Cadwgan and seize control of Morgannwg (Glywyssing and Gwent combined), which he rules for the remainder of his life. Control of Gwent is passed to his successor, Iestyn ap Gwrgan, and remains in his hands until the Normans overrun south-east Wales in 1090 and the kingdom falls. The last of the Princes of Wales are killed in 1282, ending Welsh independence. Gwent eventually becomes the county of Monmouthshire.