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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Cymru

 

Brycheiniog (Romano-Britons) (Wales)

FeatureWith the expulsion of Roman officials in AD 409 (see feature link), Britain again became independent of Rome and was not re-occupied. The fragmentation which had begun to emerge towards the end of the fourth century now appears to have accelerated, with minor princes, newly declared kings, and Roman-style magistrates all vying for power and influence while also facing the threat of extinction at the hands of the various barbarian tribes which were encroaching from all sides.

FeatureIn the west, largely in what would become modern Wales, this process seems to have started earlier and taken place more quickly. Even by the start of the fifth century it is apparent that several territories had emerged here. The process seems to have been triggered by the reorganisations of Magnus Maximus in the late fourth century (see feature link), with what later tradition would claim as the creation of the 'kingdoms' of 'North Wales', 'South Wales', and 'Mid-South Wales'.

The 'South Wales' territory quickly became Demetia and then Dyfed, owing to an influx of Irish Déisi. The small kingdom of Brycheiniog was founded as an offshoot of Dyfed. It was centred on Garth Madryn in the modern Brecon Beacons, with a chief settlement at Talgarth (or 'Talgar' in the twelfth century), and it gained its name from that of its first independent ruler. Its territory in south-eastern Wales was neighboured to the north by Powys, to the east by Gwent, to the south by Cernyw (and later Glywyssing), and to the west by Dyfed.

The modern word 'Brecon' is the English form of Brycheiniog. As mentioned, the kingdom was named after King Brychen, which was taken from the word 'briych', meaning 'freckled'. The '-iog' suffix is roughly equivalent to the English '-ed', so the people here were roughly (and amusingly) the 'freckled of the freckled' - in other words, Brychen's followers.

Traditionally, Brychen himself was born in Ireland, the son of a minor tribal king named Anlach, and he moved with his parents to Wales. This ties in with the settling of the Irish Déisi in south-west Wales who took over command of the British territory of Demetia, although Anlach's pedigree would suggest that he was already in Wales, given that his grandfather had been the son of the leader of the Déisi exodus from Ireland.

Instead, Anlach's own 'moving to Wales' could perhaps be seen more within the context of his recent ancestors having moved there and his own grandfather having migrated farther east into Garthmadrun (although see an alternative at circa 450, below). When Brychen was made ruler upon the death of his father, the area of Garthmadrun (or Garth Madrun, both older spellings of the modern Garth Madryn) was renamed Brycheiniog in his honour. This suggests that Anlach himself was not the territory's ruler. Instead he was probably a sub-king, governing Garthmadrun for the core Déisi to the west.

The kingdom's early capital was on a crannog at Llangorse, built by an Irish master builder to display the ruler's proud Irish heritage. Crannogs were unknown at this time outside Pictland (modern Scotland) or Ireland, and this is the only one of its kind in all of Wales. Luxury goods from around the world were imported here, and the principality's treasure was discovered in the waters around the crannog as recently as the 1970s. Unfortunately, the settlement was destroyed by an Anglo-Saxon raid just two decades after being built, and was abandoned (if only temporarily).

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from A Study of Breconshire Place-Names, Richard Morgan & R F Peter Powell 1999, from Llyfr Baglan (The Book of Baglan), from Welsh Genealogies AD 300-1400, Peter Bartrum, from the BBC documentary series, The Story of Wales, first broadcast 3 October 2012, from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from the Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons), Nennius, from the Annales Cambriae, James Ingram (taken from the Harleian manuscript, the earliest surviving version, London, Everyman Press, 1912), from A History of the English Church and People, The Venerable Bede (Leo Sherley-Price translation - revised by R E Latham), and from External Links: St Catwg's Church, and Catholic Online, and Ancient Wales Studies.)

fl c.405

Urb mac Aed

Son of Aed Brosc, leader of the Déisi in Demetia.

fl c.410

Cormac mac Urb / Cornac

Son. Migrated into Garthmadrun from Dyfed with his father.

c.420

Anlach marries Marchel, whom Celtic works describe as the 'heiress of Garthmadrun'. The same works give Anlach's father as Cornac or Coronac, who is generally linked to Cormac mac Urb of the Déisi. Given the calculation that the Déisi had arrived in Dyfed around AD 300, this would give them ample time to become integrated into the regional nobility and for their leading sons to marry the offspring of the surviving Brito-Welsh nobility, hence Anlach's marriage to Marchel.

Map of Britain AD 450-600
This map of Britain concentrates on British territories and kingdoms which were established during the fourth and fifth centuries AD, as the Saxons and Angles began their settlement of the east coast (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Marchel's status as 'heiress' would suggest that Garthmadrun is a parcel of territory which has been assigned to her from a larger territory, most likely the 'kingdom' of 'Mid-South Wales'.

fl c.420

Anlach mac Cormac

Son. 'King'.

c.450

Anlach has probably not been a ruler in his own right in Garthmadrun, but a sub-king or regional governor for the core Déisi rulers of Dyfed to the west. His death means that he is succeeded by his son, Brychen, and it is now that the territory seemingly becomes an independent principality. Garthmadrun is renamed Brycheiniog to show that it is now firmly the land of Brychen and his followers.

Celtic works generally state that Brychen is born in Ireland and that his father brings the family to Wales. While this seems to be more of a generalised remembrance of the Déisi exodus from Ireland six generations previously, at least one large group of Déisi had remained in Ireland. This is the Déisi of southern Munster, and some of those Déisi who had been expelled from Tara had joined their southern cousins.

It is possible that links have survived between them and those Déisi who have migrated to Dyfed, and that families could easily pass between both settlements. That would certainly allow Anlach's father or grandfather to return to Ireland and for Anlach, and later Brychen, to be born there and yet still be in Wales at a later date.

Brecon Beacons
The fluctuating fortunes of the principality of Brycheiniog took place in the dramatic landscape of the Brecon Beacons in south-eastern Wales

c.450 - c.490

Brychen Brycheiniog (St)

Son. State founder. Daughter married Gwynlliw of Gwynllg.

c.470

It is said that the royal domain at Llangorse, built on a crannog which still survives in Brecenan Mere, is attacked by a Saxon raid and is destroyed. Brychen is forced to abandon it, probably for the better-known Talgarth (although it is later re-occupied by the royal family).

However, Saxon raiders this far west in this century are extremely unlikely unless they arrive by sea and venture up the valleys from the direction of the Bristol Channel. The Britons are already fighting a war on the east coast, after losing Ceint, so there is little chance of Saxons being able to roam across the countryside.

Much more likely is a raid by Irish warriors, who still roam the coastline picking off unwary victims. Even their raid up into the hills of Brycheiniog would be a considerable effort though. Alternatively, this event could be a later misremembering or confusion of or with the Mercian raid of 916 - see below.

Whilst the Roman Church describes Brychen as a saint, relevant literature does not, instead referring to him as a patriarch. Even in the earliest sources he is credited as being the father of at least twelve children, with later sources claiming well over twenty, many of whom become saints with links to Manau or Cornwall.

Bishop Cerula
The fifth century fresco of Bishop Cerula in the San Gennaro catacomb, Naples, destroys the myth that only men ministered to the faithful in the early church and instead adds support to the theory that women played a vital role in the church's early success

fl c.480s?

Rein ap Brychan?

Son (?).

The timeline for the rulers of Brycheiniog is largely calculated from a rough approximation of generation succession. Peniarth Ms 131, 299 contains the second known ruler, Rhain Dremrydd (or Dremrudd, a potential earlier version), but specifies him as Rhain, son of an unnamed son of Brychen, inserting an extra generation between them.

Brychen himself is given dates as variable as AD 400 and 490, so there seems to be plenty of room for an extra generation. The researcher and genealogist Peter Bartrum (1907-2000) in his Welsh genealogies removes this extra generation in his work, thereby supplying the more normally-quoted pedigree for the principality. His many daughters are married off to his peers, such as one who goes to Gwynlliw of Gwynllg, or Meleri who marries Ceretic of Ceredigion.

De Situ Brecheniauc does mention a Rein ap Brychan who is usually taken as Rhain Dremrudd but who could equally be that Rhain's father, himself the son of Brychen. The appellation 'Dremrydd' could be used to distinguish the son from the similarly-named father.

fl c.495

Rhain Dremrydd 'Red-Faced'

First son. Uncle of Cadwg, ruler of Gwynllg & Penychen.

fl c.510

Rigenew / Rigenau ap Rhein

Son.

fl c.540

Llywarch / Llowarch ap Rigenew

Son.

fl c.580

Idwallon ap Llywarch

Son.

fl c.620

Rhiwallon ap Idwallon

Son. Last male lineal descendant of Brychen.

c.640 - c.650

Ceindrych / Ceindrec ferch Rhiwallon

Daughter. Second marriage to Cloten of Dyfed.

c.650

Ceindrych (Ceindrec, modern 'Catherine') marries her distant cousin, Cloten, ruler of Dyfed. For the space of three generations the two principalities are united, creating a more united south-west Wales.

Marloes Sands
The coast of Pembrokeshire, part of the territory of the Demetae and the later principality of Dyfed, is a mixture of sandy beaches and daunting rocks (as at Marloes Sands, shown here), but there would have been many places for the Déisi to land and seize some territory

fl c.650

Cloten ap Nowy

Husband. Ruler of Dyfed & Brycheiniog.

fl c.670

Caten ap Cloten

Son. Ruler of Dyfed & Brycheiniog.

fl c.690

Cadwgan Tredylig ap Caten

Son. Ruler of Dyfed & Brycheiniog.

fl c.715

Rhein ap Cadwgn

Son. Ruler of Dyfed & Brycheiniog.

c.720

During the mid-eighth century, Dyfed is invaded by Seisyll, ruler of Ceredigion. He takes Ystrad Towy, and the dual principality of Dyfed's Rhein ap Cadwgn is split in two. Rhein is forced to divide the territory and the ruler's (possible) younger brother is granted Brycheiniog.

fl c.720

Awst / Aust ap Cadwgn

Brother? Granted Brycheiniog as his own domain.

fl c.730

Tewdos / Teuder / Tewdr ap Rhein

Second son of Rhein. Same as Tewdos of Dyfed?

c.730

The precise status of the principality at this time is open to some question. Three of the sons of Rhein ap Cadwgn of Dyfed appear to divide Brycheiniog between themselves (probably following the death of Rhein himself). Some of their immediate descendants are referred to as ruling, but seem more likely to be lords of cantrefi (districts which contain a hundred settlements) or commotes (one third or a half of a cantref).

Battle in Brecon
Cantref Selyf contains the small settlement of Battle, but despite misconception this was not named for the battle between the Norman lord, Bernard de Neufmarché, and three Welsh princes in 1070 but for the bequest of the land to Battle Abbey in Sussex

Naufedd Hen is known to hold Cantref Selyf and probably also has Cantref Talgarth, these forming the northern and eastern sections of Brycheiniog. Tewdos is more usually shown as the ruler of Brycheiniog, although in light of this division of territory he may hold no more right to such a grand claim than either of his peers and apparent equals.

Instead he may only hold Cantref Mawr, lying to the west of Talgarth and forming southern Brycheiniog. Elisse probably holds his father's manor plus scattered manors within the lordships of his brothers, making him the junior lord out of the three.

fl c.735

Naufedd Hen 'the Old' ap Rhein

Brother. Cantref Selyf and probably Talgarth.

fl c.735

Elisse ap Rhein

Brother. Various scattered manors in Brycheiniog.

fl c.735

Elwystl / Elisse ap Awst

Cousin and rival claimant. Murdered by Tewdos.

c.735 - c.750

Elwystl is a bit of a problem as he often seems to be confused with an Elisse ap Tewdwr, son of the Tewdos shown above. There is also an Elisse ap Rhein, brother of Tewdwr, just to make matters even more confused.

Which leaves the question of just what is held by Elisse ap Awst. An Elisse is shown in Jesus College MS 20 with a daughter named Sanant, but his father is not shown, meaning that he could be any of the three candidates (although more probably the two elder candidates only).

Map of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms AD 700
The former Britons, their post-Roman civilisation having collapsed to a very large extent, had transformed in just two centuries into the Early Welsh, their language changing considerably to reflect their increasing isolation, even from British kingdoms outside of western Britain (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Sanant marries Noe of Powys (born about AD 735), who has also been referred to as Nowy Hen ap Teuder (son of Teuder, or more probably son-in-law, given the marriage just mentioned).

Could both instances of an Elisse be one and the same man? This is the most likely explanation given the similarities in their dates. Both would have been old enough in 730 to already have a daughter who could marry the successor of all of the various ruling Dyfed rulers and princes of their generation.

Under Nowy Hen the principality seems to return to a single supreme ruler (if this had not already been the case under the sons of Tewdos, with one of them holding superiority over the others).

fl c.750

Nowy Hen 'the Old' ap Tewdr

Son of Teuder. Descendant of Cadell Ddyrnllwg of Powys.

c.770

The son (with reservations - see circa 735) of Tewdos ap Rhein, Nowy Hen is a ninth generation descendant of Cadell Ddyrnllwg of fifth century Paganes, via his son Cyngen Glodrydd. Nowy has three sons by Sanant ferch Elisse, these being Gryffydd, Tewdos, and Cathen or Caten.

The River Dee
The River Dee probably formed the border between northern Powys and south-western Rheged during the sixth century AD, and until the fall of the latter in the early seventh century

The existence of three sons raises again the possibility of them being granted portions of the principality although nothing is mentioned in surviving texts.

Nowy Hen himself certainly rules in Cantref Selyf and probably in Cantref Talgarth (as long as this is not a confusion with the earlier Naufedd Hen, his uncle). As Gryffydd is the elder of the sons then he inherits Cantref Selyf and probably Cantref Talgarth (if such a division exists). Tewdos may be lord of Cantref Mawr, with Cathen holding the remaining portions.

fl c.770

Gryffydd / Gruffudd ap Nowy

Son.

fl c.800

Tewdr ap Gryffydd

Son.

c.840 - al.896

Elisedd / Ellis(e) ap Tewdr

Son. Asked aid of Alfred of Wessex against Gwynedd.

848

Ithael of Gwent is killed in battle against Elisedd, perhaps sparking a feud which soon draws in Glywyssing's ruling prince, Hywel ap Rhys. The feud develops further in the 850s.

Castell Nos in Glamorgan
Castel Nos, a medieval fortress, was built above the forest to the east of Maerdy in Glywyssing by the Welsh lords of Meisgyn, descendants of the last ruler of Morgannwg

856 - 886

In this period, Hywel ap Rhys of Glywyssing comes into conflict with Elisedd ap Tewdr over the districts of Ystrad Yw (Crickhowell, now in southern Powys but seemingly inside the border of Brycheiniog in the ninth century) and the remnant of Ewyas - adjoining Ystrad-Yw, Gwent had succeeded to Ewyas before its subsequent division as Ercing and then its loss to the Mercians by the ninth century.

The territories are claimed by Hywel as the rightful possession of Glywyssing (although the claim seems dubious as only its eastern neighbour, Gwent, could lay any realistic claim to Ewyas, and Hywel's familial relationship to Gwent's rulers should not change this).

Brycheiniog has already transferred its claim to those lands to Cadell, ruler of 'South Wales' (probably Cadell ap Rhodri of Seisyllwg, who also holds Builth), so Hywel is forced to relinquish his right to them and has to set the boundary of his holdings at Ystrad Yw.

It is here that boundary stones have been raised and the town and castle of Cerrig Hywel (Gerrig Hywel, or 'the stones of Hywel') has been constructed. The latter is later considered to be in Brycheiniog. This forms the boundary between Hywel and Cadell during the former's lifetime.

896

Vikings have been wintering at Quatford (near Bridgnorth in Shropshire, part of western Mercia), but in the spring of this year they ravage the principalities of Brycheiniog, Gwent, and the Gwynllg region of Glywyssing. Asser records that Elisedd requests help from Alfred of Wessex.

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

MapAnother reason for this may also be due to pressure from Anarawd ap Rhodri, the powerful ruler of Gwynedd and Deheubarth who is keen on expanding his areas of control (see map link). Hyfaidd ap Bledrig of Dyfed may be another southern Welsh ruler who, during his lifetime, similarly appeals to Alfred for aid and support to ward off Anarawd.

fl c.900

Tewdr ap Elisedd

Son.

fl c.910

Gryffydd ap Elisedd

Brother.

916

Having submitted to Alfred of Wessex for help in the late ninth century, Brycheiniog has largely been seen as that kingdom's vassal. Now Deheubarth to the west is on the rise and Brycheiniog finds itself being tugged in both directions.

Æthelflaed, lady of the Mercians, now invades and captures the royal domain at Llangorse, on 19 June (the state's initial crannog settlement which has clearly been reoccupied). The queen and various others are taken, she presumably being the wife of Gryffydd, although precise dates for most of Brycheiniog's rulers are unavailable. What happens to the captives is not known.

This event could alternatively be placed in the reign of Gryffydd's successor, Tewdr Brycheiniog. It can also be connected to Elfael, which suffers a similar attack at about the same time.

c.920

MapAfter Brycheiniog has been crushed by Mercia, the increasing supremacy of Deheubarth in southern Wales forces Brycheiniog to submit some of its power with the result that it effectively becomes a sub-kingdom (see map link).

Tewdr Brycheiniog still exercises regional power though, being witness to an English charter of 934. There seems to be some confusion about his parentage however. Bartrum calls him the son of Elisse, but it is unclear whether this is the Elisse of the period before 885 or a son or grandson of his.

Rhodri Mawr
There never was a king of Wales (a Germanic title, while the Welsh used the Latin princeps) but Rhodri Mawr perhaps came closest to achieving the reality of either, uniting all of the Welsh principalities under his control but then undoing the process by ensuring that they were divided amongst his sons upon his death

c.920 - aft 934

Tewdr Brycheiniog ap Gryffydd

Son. Witnessed an English charter in 934.

fl c.950

Gwylog ap Tewdr

Son.

fl c.970

Elisedd / Elisse ap Gwylog

Son.

? - c.1045

Gryfydd / Gruffudd ap Elisedd

Son. Last ruler of a united Brycheiniog.

c.1045

Upon the death of Gryfydd, his lands are divided between his three sons, as lords of Cantref Selyf, Cantref Tewdos, and Cantref Talgarth. The eldest of those sons, confusingly, is named Selyf. Is he named for the cantref or vice versa, and if the latter then what has been the cantref's name until this point? Effectively, these three cantrefi are now part of the principality of Deheubarth.

c.1045 - ?

Selyf ap Gryfydd

Son. Lord of Cantref Selyf. Possibly also of Talgarth.

?

Dryffin ap Selyf

Son. Lord of Cantref Selyf?

1055 - 1063

Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Gwynedd invades and conquers neighbouring Gwent, along with 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.

Rhuddlan Castle
Rhuddlan Castle was the seat of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn at the time of his death in 1063 at the hands of his own people, with his head being sent to King Edward the Confessor of England

?

Maenrych ap Dryffin

Son. Lord of Cantref Selyf?

1066?

Apparently ruling at least part of Brycheiniog at this point in time (and quite possibly earlier) is a fairly mysterious 'King Bleddyn' of Brycheiniog. 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. Despite the similarity in names, His father and grandfather, Maenrych and Driffin, should not be confused with the Maenrych and Dryffin who are lords of Cantref Selyf in the same century.

1066? - 1070

Bleddyn ap Maenrych ap Driffin

Son of (a) Maenrych. Not paternally related to former rulers.

1070

Earl William FitzOsbern of Hereford invades the principality and defeats 'three kings of South Wales', although none of these hail from Brycheiniog. 'King Bleddyn' of Brycheiniog is defeated by Bernard de Neufmarché (Newmark in its English form). It seems from claims made by Bernard in 1088 that he conquers the entire state and sees it as his own domain (and he apparently goes on to slay Rhys ap Tewdwr Mawr of Deheubarth in 1093).

Normans
The Norman conquest of Britain owed much to good fortune, but once achieved it was enforced by military strength and a prolific castle-building programme

?

Rhiwallon ap Maenrych

Son of Maenrych. Lord of Cantref Selyf?

?

Madog ap Rhiwallon

Son. Lord of Cantref Selyf?

?

Einion ap Madog

Son. Lord of Cantref Selyf?

fl 1095/1100

Trahaearn Fawr ap Einion

Son. The last native lord of Cantref Selyf.

1088 - 1095

The Normans are gradually increasing their involvement in the affairs of southern Wales. By 1088 they have conquered the cantrefi of Selyf (under its last native lord, Trahaearn Fawr), Tewdos, and Talgarth, signalling the end of Brycheiniog. Talgarth is captured before 1088, although a precise date seems to be unknown.

The region's lands and cantrefi are amalgamated into the lordship of Brecknock (the Anglo-Norman approximation of Brycheiniog) which itself is largely subject to the Mortimer family which dominates the Welsh Marches. Castle Dinas is an early Norman fortress which controls entry further into the lordship.

Brecknock later forms the larger southern section of the county of Brecknockshire (from 1535), although the Welsh form of its name, Sir Frycheiniog, is much closer to the original name ('sir' being the Welsh form of 'shire', the Old English word which has been replaced in part by the Norman 'county').

Aberystwyth Castle
Built from 1277 and burned in 1282, a Welsh rebellion witnessed a seige of Aberystwyth Castle in 1294-1295, although it was not reduced to ruins until the English Civil War

The 1974 reorganisation of county councils sees Brecknockshire merged with Powys in modern Wales, although after 1996 it exercises a degree of decentralised regional authority as the borough of Brecknock.

 
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