History Files
 

 

Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Cymru

 

 

 

Map Gwynedd (Kingdom of North Wales)

Located in northwest Wales in the former British territories of the Deceangli and Ordovices. A group of Votadini Picts (nominal Britons from the Pictish border area of the Venicones) under Cunedda Wledig were transferred by Magnus Maximus to secure Western Britain from Irish raiders, moving from the Manau Guotodin kingdom. In Wales, Cunedda governed most of the north (hence 'King of North Wales'). His father and grandfather bore Roman names and in true Celtic fashion, Cunedda could trace his lineage back to Beli Mawr.

FeatureFollowing that Celtic tradition, upon Cunedda's death the territory under his control was divided between his sons. Most of these were 'regained' by the main Gywneddian kingdom within a generation or two. Ceredigion, along the upper west coast of Wales, remained independent for much longer.

FeatureThe name of Gwynedd either derives from the Latin Venedotia, or more probably from Cunedda (=Weneda =Gwynedd).

British women enjoyed a high status that is rare in any society before the modern age. They were the equals of men not only in the home, but also in government and war. Some Britons were regularly ruled by queens, and the matrilineal descent of kings was a very strong feature of Pictish rule of the far north of Britain, where each king was chosen through his relationship with his mother, not his father. The Manau Gododdin who moved to north Wales also practised this form of inheritance until the ninth century, reflecting their northern heritage. It was probably Gwriad ap Elidyr, the heir of South Rheged who ended this practice thanks to his very different heritage.

(Additional information by Hywel George, Edward Dawson, and Brian Gibb, from The Landscape of King Arthur, Geoffrey Ashe, and from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, and from External Link: DNA Cymru.)

c.380s

Constantine / Custennin Fawr (Great)

'King of North Wales'. Son of Magnus Maximus.

c.390

FeatureCunedda and his branch of Romanised Venicones are transferred from the Manau dependency of the Guotodin kingdom, traditionally by Magnus Maximus. They are moved to the former territory of the Deceangli in western Wales to secure the region from Irish raiders, and it is here that they found the kingdom of Gwynedd.

Some historians dispute the traditional view of Cunedda being moved by a central British authority and instead claim that he sails down the Irish Sea and invades north Wales of his own volition, forming a kingdom at a time when there is no one left to stop him. However, the fact that his father had clearly been a Romanised Celt who had held a position of authority is too important a factor to miss (note his grandfather's appellation, 'of the Red Robe', something that was so notable and such a family high point that it had become a nickname). Cunedda is clearly the son of an important figure in Roman Fife.

Gwynedd
The mountains of North Wales provided a powerful refuge for the rulers of Gwynedd in times of trouble and a wonderfully scenic backdrop to Cunedda's victories over the Irish raiders who were plaguing the region in the late fourth century

Cunedda's campaigns to clear the Irish raiders from western Wales may extend far outside the territory he claims as his domain. The existence of Allt Cunedda in the territory that falls under the kingdom of Dyfed in South Wales, seems to be a link to him.

In 2014, the ScotlandsDNA project discovers the ancestral Y chromosome marker of the Venicones, R1b-S530. At that point, a new project known as CymruDNAWales is also being prepared. A marker that is very Welsh-specific and which accounts for about 0.8% of all Welshmen is found to have close links with the 'Pictish' (ie. far-north British) marker of the Venicones. In fact, it is found to occur downstream of R1b-S530 in the descendants of men who have carried it - men who have also come to Wales. When this news is announced in 2016, it is theorised by the project's scientists that this notable genetic link is a relic of the coming of Cunedda's forces and perhaps a substantial number of associated migrants.

Cunedda Wledig's name is a fairly typical Brythonic play on words, taken from 'cuno' meaning dog (ie. servant) and 'dda' meaning the god Da or Dagda, making him the 'servant of Dagda'. The title 'wledig' is later Welsh for 'prince'. His son, Typaun, is presumed to follow him on his move southwards, but apparently receives no subsequent mention, suggesting his death (probably in battle) before the kingdom can be fully established.

c.390 - c.445

Cunedda Wledig / Cunedag

King of North Wales. Venicone Pict. m Gwawl ferch Coel.

c.420

Immediately prior to Vortigern's apparent rise to power as High King, the country is subjected to raids along its coastline. In the west, Irish raiders sail up the Severn during a successful raid on Cernyw. Later chroniclers record that it is around this time that Cunedda and his sons drive out the Irish from large areas of the territory which has been made their responsibility, recovering the greater part of South Wales and the whole of North Wales except Anglesey and parts of central North Wales (modern Denbighshire).

c.424

Ceretic / Corotic / Ceredig

Son. King of Ceredigion.

c.441

During this time of great unrest in Britain, when the Saxon revolt is wreaking havoc on the country and Britons in the south and west are emigrating to Armorica in droves, Irish raids on the west become heavier. They are driven away from Gwynedd by the strong rule of Cunedda and his sons, so the Pagenses probably looks an even sweeter target right now. One powerful Irish band captures the capital and the ruler is is forced to go into hiding.

c.445

MapFollowing the death of Cunedda, his son Einion Yrth succeeds as king or magistrate. Gwynedd remains politically whole under his governance, but the land within it is divided between Cunedda's surviving sons, who then operate as sub-kings to Einion Yrth. Ceredig ap Cunedda already rules in the independent district or kingdom of Ceredigion. Cunedda's eldest son, Typaun, had died on Ynys Manau, but his son Merion is granted the cantref of Merion. A further sub-kingdom, Rhos, is added around 480.

c.445 - c.470

Einion Yrth (the Impetuous)

Brother. Leaves Rhos to his youngest son, Owain Ddantgwyn.

c.445

Afloyg ap Cunedag

King of Afflogion.

FeatureSee the feature and map on the sub-kingdoms of Gwynedd for further information.

c.445

Dynod ap Cunedag

King of Dunoding.

c.445

Edeyrn ap Cunedag

King of Edeyrnion.

c.445

Rhwfon ap Cunedag

King of Rhufoniog.

c.445

Osfael ap Cunedag

King of Osmaeliog.

c.445

Dogfael ap Cunedag

King of Dogfeilion.

c.445

Meirchion ap Typaun ap Cunedag

King of Meirionydd.

c.470 - 517

Cadwallon Lawhir (Long Hand)

Son of Einion Yrth. 'King of North Wales'.

As well as being the Arthurian King Cradelmant of Northgalis (North Wales), Cadwallon is also the Cadwallo, 'King of North Wales', who appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain at the 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.

c.480

Owain Ddantgwyn (White-Tooth)

Brother. King of Rhos.

517 - 549

Maglocunus / Maelgwyn Gwynedd Hir

High King of Britain. Died of the widespread mid-century plague.

517

FeatureOwain Ddantgwyn of Rhos is murdered by Maelgwyn Gwynedd at the very start of the latter's kingship. Maelgwyn is perhaps better known during his own lifetime as Maglocunus. A proto-Celtic root word, 'magus' (meaning young, a servant, a boy), from the Indo-European *maghu (a young person), seems to acquire an 'l' somewhere along the way to produce 'maglo', from which derives the Gaelic 'mael' (the 'mal' in Malcolm), and the Venedotic 'mael' (as in dogmael which becomes dogfael - early Welsh 'm' becomes modern Welsh 'v' in the middle of words). Amusingly, this would make Maglocunus mean 'dogboy'.

549 - 586

Rhun Hir (the Tall)

Son. Fought two great battles against Alt Clut.

c.550

MapRhun has to fight off an attempted invasive takeover by his brother-in-law, Prince Elidyr of Alt Clut. Elidyr thinks his claim is stronger because Rhun is illegitimate, but he fails to recognise Gwyneddian law which gives equal accession rights to both legitimate and illegitimate offspring. Elidyr is killed in battle on the Cadnant Brook in Gwynedd.

c.560

Rhos loses any autonomy it might possess as Rhun Hir draws the kingdom under his direct control. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Rhun has a brother named Ennianus, and it is he who is the father of Beli, and not Rhun.

586 - 599

Beli ap Rhun

Son (although Geoffrey of Monmouth says he is the son of Ennianus).

599 - 613

Iago ap Beli

Son. Killed by Aethelfrith of Bernicia at Caer Legion.

613?

In one of the bloodiest and hardest fought battles of its time, several British kings form a coalition to halt Æthelfrith of Bernicia at the Battle of Caer Legion (Chester). Cearl of the Mercians could also be involved on the British side (according to scholarly theory). Iago ap Beli of Gwynedd and Selyf of Powys are both killed, and the battle is a disastrous British defeat.

However, Æthelfrith does not occupy the territory around Chester. Just who does is unknown, and the entire history of this region from the post-Roman period to the tenth century is extremely sketchy. One possibility is that the line of the River Dee is successfully defended by the people living just to the west of it - the Dogfeilion - who are able to claim great prestige from being the victorious defenders of the western Britons. Another possibility is that groups of Angles not under Bernicia's control settle the region to the east of the Dee, and are later subsumed within Mercia.

613 - 625

Catamanus / Cadvan / Cadfan ap Iago

Son. High King.

617

Cadwallon (and probably his father too) already holds a claim on the crown of Deira as part of his domains. He now apparently includes Elmet in this claim, following the kingdom's conquest by Edwin of Deira.

625 - 634

Cadwallon ap Cadfan / Cadwallo

Son. High King. Allied to Penda of Mercia.

632/3 - 634

King Edwin of Bernicia and Deira is killed at Hatfield Chase (just outside the western borders of Lindsey) by Penda of Mercia while the latter is allied to Cadwallon. Cadwallon repays many years of defeats, deaths, rapes and pillaging at Northumbrian hands by conducting a year-long campaign of revenge throughout the two kingdoms. However, the campaign ends in his death at the hands of Oswald at the Battle of Heavenfield near Hexham. For the British in general, Cadwallon's death is a disaster. It virtually ends any realistic, historical claim to any level of high kingship, and also robs the Britons of the only native king to overthrow an English dynasty. The Britons never find an equal leader.

634 - 664

St Cadwaladr Fendigaid (the Blessed)

High King.

664

FeatureCadwaladr is probably killed by the great plague that hits the country. Swithelm of the East Saxons is also a victim. A case has been argued for identifying Cadwaladr with Arthur, the fifth century battle leader of the Britons who, for convenience, has been placed in the list of high kings of post-Roman Britain. The link is not particularly convincing and the original theory has since been discarded by its author.

664 - 684?

Ifwr ap Cadwaladr

681 - 685

MapCadwaladr is defeated by the West Seaxe and Dumnonian Somerset is fully occupied as a direct result of this defeat.

684? - 712

Idwal (Idwallon) Iwrch (the Roebuck)

m Afadda ferch Alain II, King of Brittany.

712 - 754

Rhodri Molwynog (the Bald & Grey)

754 - 798

Caradog ap Meirchion

Nine generations removed from Cynlas Goch, king of Rhos.

798

Caradog, the heir to the throne of Rhos, is killed by 'Saxons', presumably the half Welsh, half Angles of Mercia. His son, Hywel ap Caradog, continues to rule in Rhos.

798 - 816

Cynan Tyndaethwy (ap Rhodri)

No heir. His daughter married Gwriad, nominal king of Ynys Manau.

816 - 825

Gwriad ap Elidyr

Heir to South Rheged. King of Manau. m Essylt ferch Cynan.

825 - 844

Merfyn Vrych / Frych (the Freckled)

Son. Moved from Manau (or North Britain). Descendent of Coel Hen.

830 - 880

MapWales, self-isolated after High King Cadwallon ap Cadfan's death in 634, now begins a long period of growth as it renews contacts with the Continent, and makes new ties with Wessex. Merfyn marries the sister of Concenn of Powys, and adds that territory to Gwynedd upon the king's death. His successor, Rhodri Mawr, marries Angharad, the sister of Gwgon, the drowned king of Seisyllwg. Rhodri's sons continue this policy of intermarriage.

844

During the reign of Merfyn Vrych those Britons residing in England are obliged to renounce their British ancestry or leave the country and their homes within three months. Perhaps it is this insult that prompts the king to engage in battle against Beorhtwulf of Mercia (whom the Welsh annals name Berthwryd). The battle at Cyveiliawc (otherwise called Ketill or Cetyll), is apparently very severe and the king is killed. In the same year another battle is fought at Fferyllwg, 'between the Wye and the Severn', although it is unknown who commands the Welsh forces. It is they who carry the day this time (a further battle is fought on the same site about two years later, which ends in stalemate).

844 - 878

Rhodri Mawr (the Great) ap Merfyn

Son. King of Gwynedd, Powys & Seisyllwg. United all of Wales.

854 - 855

Concenn of Powys goes on a pilgrimage to Rome and in 854 drops dead along the way. His nephew, Rhodri Mawr, the son of Concenn's sister and Merfyn Vrach, takes Powys for himself to form part of a united Wales. To highlight his credentials to be a new breed of great king in Wales, in 856 Rhodri deals with the threat posed by Viking raids from Dublin by killing Orme, the leader of a raiding party. He keeps the Vikings at bay thanks to this victory.

872 - 873

The death of Gwgan ap Meurig of Seisyllwg allows his brother-in-law, Rhodri Mawr, to swiftly marry into the family and gain the kingdom for himself. Rhodri is now king of much of north and central Wales. In 873 he institutes a form of devolved government in which three of his sons control parts of the country in his name. Anarawd is granted Deheubarth, Cadell governs Seisyllwg, and Merfyn commands in Powys.

878

Upon the death of Rhodri Mawr, and according to his wishes, Wales is officially divided between his sons. Anarawd succeeds him in Gwynedd and retains Deheubarth, ruling from the Gwyneddian palace of Aberffraw on Mona, Cadell is confirmed in Seisyllwg, and Merfyn in Powys.

878 - 916

Anarawd ap Rhodri / Anaraut

Son. King of Deheubarth (passed to Hywel Dda).

878

Cadell ap Rhodri

Brother. Ruled Seisyllwg as a sub-kingdom of Gwynedd.

878

Merfyn ap Rhodri

Brother. Ruled Powys as a sub-kingdom of Gwynedd.

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.

916 - 942

Idwal Foel (the Bald) ap Awarawd

Son of Anarawd. King of Gwynedd.

934 - 937

MapThe grand alliance including the Scots, Northumbrian Danes at York, Dublin Danes, and the Welsh of Gwynedd and Cumbria, mass their forces north of the Humber in a bold attempt to destroy Æthelstan of Wessex. The plan fails, however, when the West Saxons and Mercians of the south destroy the alliance at the Battle of Brunanburh in 937.

942

Hywel Dda of Deheubarth gains Gwynedd upon the death of Idwal Foel, making him sole ruler of all Wales. He has already acknowledged the late Athelstan of Wessex as his overlord and has associated himself closely with the English king, witnessing Athelstan's grants of lands and charters (the British Museum possesses a charter which records a grant of land by Athelstan at Luton in 931, and which bears the testimony: 'Ego Howael subregulus consensi et subscripsi' (Sub-King Hywel hereby consents and agrees')).

It is clear that Wales is now sharply divided between a strong anti-English party, based chiefly in the north and led by the sons of Rhodri Mawr in Gwynedd, and a South Welsh party which favours union with England. Hywel is the leader of the latter, and his epithet 'dda' is given to no other Welsh king. It is probably first given to him by the South Wales 'unionists'; the epithet 'mawr' that had been applied to Rhodri Mawr had probably arisen as an expression of the traditionally more exclusive nationalist policy of the North Welsh. These conflicting views dominate Welsh politics for the next couple of centuries.

942 - 950

Hywel Dda (the Good) ap Cadell

King of Deheubarth since 916 (Seisyllwg reunited).

949

Cadwgan, son of Owain and grandson of Hywel Dda, is killed by the Saxons of England. In the same year a battle takes place at Carno between the sons of Idwal Foel of Gwynedd and the sons of Owain ap Hywel Dda. The men of Gwynedd manage to devastate areas of Dyfed in Deheubarth, presaging a great deal of future conflict between the two greatest states of Wales.

950

The death of Hywel Dda of Deheubarth, king of all Wales, leaves the country divided. While Hywel's sons, Owain, Rhun, Rhodri and Edwyn, take possession of his estates in South Wales, Iago and Ieuaf, the sons of Idwal Foel, seize North Wales as their birthright (Gwynedd and Powys). The two sides disagree strongly over the break-up of a united Wales, but the joint kings of Gwynedd cannot be removed, despite a raid into Dyfed which sees many of their men cut down by a force from Ceredigion. Morgannwg continues to retain its independence under its own line of kings.

950 - 979

Iago ap Idwal Foel

Son of Idwal Foel. King of Gwynedd & Powys. Died without an heir.

950 - 969

Ieuaf ap Idwal Foel / Ievav

Brother and co-ruler.

952 - 953

As part of the ongoing conflict between Deheubarth and Gwynedd, Owain, prince of Ceredigion (Seisyllwg), leads an army into the North Wales kingdom and engages its men at the Battle of Aberconwy. The fighting is so fierce that both sides are forced to withdraw, having sustained heavy losses. The following year, Gwynedd repays the compliment, invading and devastating Ceredigion and being driven out by more fierce fighting.

979 - 985

Hywel Foel (the Bald) ap Ieuaf

Son.

985 - 986

Cadwallon ap Ieuaf

Brother.

986 - 999

Maredudd ap Owain (of Deheubarth)

King of Gwynedd & Deheubarth.

999 - 1005

Cynan ap Hywel

King of Gwynedd & Deheubarth.

1005 - 1023

Llywelyn ap Seisyll

King of Gwynedd & Deheubarth. Son-in-law to Maredudd.

1023 - 1039

Iago ap Idwal ap Meurig ap Idwal Foel

King of Gwynedd & Deheubarth. Second cousin to Cadwallon.

1039 - 1063

Gruffydd ap Llywelyn

King of Gwynedd & Deheubarth, Gwent, Morgannwg, and Powys.

1045

Gruffydd ap Rhydderch of Morgannwg is able to seize Deheubarth and hold onto it for a decade until the tables are turned by Gruffydd ap Llywelyn. With this act, Gwynedd has lost control of all of south Wales.

1055

Gruffydd invades and conquers the mid-south Welsh kingdoms of Morgannwg and Gwent, subjugating them and drawing them directly under his control along with Deheubarth as part of a united Wales.

1063

After uniting all of Wales and becoming the first recognised Prince of Wales, Gruffydd is killed by disaffected Welshmen. His head is sent to Harold Godwinson and King Edward the Confessor of England as the price of peace following attacks on England by Gruffydd.

Rhuddlan Castle
Rhuddlan Castle was the seat of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn at the time of his death

1063 - 1075

Bleddyn ap Cynfyn

King of Powys, Gwynedd & Deheubarth. Detached Powys for sons.

1075 - 1081

Trahaern ap Caradog

King of Gwynedd & Deheubarth. (de facto ruler.)

1075

Although Trahaern holds power in Gwynedd, during this time he is subjected to continuous raids by the rightful ruler, Gruffydd ap Cynan.

1081

Attempting to emulate the achievements of his father and grandfather and become king of south Wales, Caradoc ap Gruffydd of Morgannwg drives Rhys ap Tewdwr Mawr of Deheubarth from his throne. He is immediately faced by the threat of that king returning in alliance with Gruffydd ap Cynan, who is pursuing his own claim for the throne of Gwynedd. Gruffydd also gains the cooperation of his nemesis in Gwynedd, Trahaern ap Caradog, and Meilir ap Rhiwallon of Powys. Caradoc is killed at the Battle of Mynydd Carn, as are Trahaern and Meilir, allowing Gruffydd to seize his birthright in Gwynedd and Rhys to regain Deheubarth.

1081 - 1137

Gruffydd ap Cynan ap Iago

King of Gwynedd (b.1055).

1137 - 1169

Owain Gwynedd

Son. Prince of Wales (1160). Died Dec.

1170

Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd

Died soon after accession.

1170 - 1194

Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd

Ruled from Jan. Exiled to England.

1194 - 1195

Rhodri ab Owain Gwynedd

Gained the throne with help from the king of Manau.

Madog ab Owain Gwynedd

Feature Emigrated with his followers to the Americas.

Gruffudd ab Cynan ab Owain

Grandson. Died 1200.

1195 - 1240

Llywelyn Fawr ab Iorworth ap Owain

Prince of North Wales. Remains of South Powys annexed in 1208.

1240 - 1246

Dafydd ap Llywelyn Fawr

Prince of Wales (d.25 Feb).

1246 - 1282

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd ap Llywelyn

Prince of Wales.

1282 - 1283

Dafydd ap Gruffydd ap Llywelyn

Last native Prince of Wales.

1282 - 1283

With the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282 and his brother Dafydd the following year, 400 years of dominance by the house of Gwynedd comes to an end. Gwynedd had survived intense rivalries from its neighbours, as well as outside threats from Irish, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Norman raiders and would-be-conquerors. It had done so through a combination of might and well-placed diplomacy that nevertheless failed to withstand the final, determined assault from the English in the person of Edward I.

Llywelyn is beheaded and the grisly trophy taken by Roger Mortimer of Chirk to Rhuddlan. This he presents to a thankful King Edward who dispatches it at once to be displayed on the Tower of London to the great mirth of the townsfolk. Llywelyn's infant daughter, Gwenllian, now an orphan (her mother had died giving birth to her), is snatched from her cradle and taken to a monastery in England to spend her entire life locked away, 'safe' from producing any heirs to the Gwyneddian throne. She dies at the age of fifty-four in 1337.

Gwenllian is not the last representative of the House of Gwynedd, however. The English have to put down several rebellions despite their control of Wales, and the first of these is led by a distant cousin of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.