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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Cymru

 

Elfael / Ferlix (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 later principality of Powys which bordered these regions derived its existence from the earlier and much larger territory of the Paganes, named when Latin was still in use by the country's upper class. Elfael was a minor sub-kingdom (or rather, principality) of Powys throughout the medieval period in Wales. It was bordered to the south by Brycheiniog, to the west by Buellt, to the north-west by Gwrtheyrnion, and to the north by Maelienydd. By the eighth century the kingdom of Mercia formed its eastern border.

It was principally a cantref of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren ('Between Wye and Severn'), a political entity which is referred to in the poems of Taliesin. Later writers have termed it a 'kingdom' (not a term which was used by the Welsh principalities), although it may in fact have enjoyed a less exalted status during its existence.

According to tradition it owes its beginnings to Caradog Freichfras ('Strongarm') ap Ynyr, ruler of Gwent in the early sixth century AD, and seemingly a powerful figure. He is credited with founding the principality of Bro Erech towards the end of the main period of migration to Brittany by the natives of southern and western Britain during the chaos of Germanic invasion in the east of the land, One of his sons, Cawrdaf, was granted Elfael, probably upon the king's death around 540 but perhaps earlier given the dating calculations below, while Meurig became ruler of Gwent itself and therefore Cawrdaf's overlord.

The same tradition, although perhaps recorded much later, also suggests that the cantref of Maelienydd could have been part of Ferlix. This is despite Maelienydd being a division of the early Paganes territory to the north of Gwent, and with Brycheiniog between it (and Ferlix) and Gwent. Even so, Ferlix itself appears to have been created out of a union between Elfael and Maelienydd, both initially Paganes territories. The family lost Ferlix (Fferlys) when Elystan Glodrydd (born about 985) took it from Dryffin ap Hwgan around 1020, by which time it was part of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren.

The names of the princes of Elfael all stem from a basic pedigree which is given in Llyfr Baglan (120), and in Jones' History of Brecknock (pages 51-56). The former omits the pair 'Hydd Hwgan ap Gwenddy' while the latter omits 'Hwgan ap Gwynngy', both assuming there was a single Hwgan, and that Gwenddy was identical to Gwynngy. The possibility does exist that four generations repeated names, but this cannot be substantiated. Marriages are also conjectural and all dates are estimates.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Mick Baker, with additional information by Peter Kessler, from Llyfr Baglan (Book of Baglan), John Williams (Compiler) & John Bradney (Ed, a collection of Welsh manuscripts which includes a good deal of genealogical information and which was composed by Williams between 1600-1607 and edited together by Bradney in 1910), from A History of the County of Brecknock, Theophilus Jones (William & George North, Booksellers, 1805), from Welsh Genealogies AD 300-1400, Peter Bartrum, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from Ancestry of the Kings and Princes of Wales (genealogical document in Old Welsh), from Wales and the Britons, 350-1064, T M Charles-Edwards (Oxford University Press, 2013), and from External Link: Ancient Wales Studies.)

fl c.540

Cawrdaf ap Caradoc

Son of Caradog Freichfras of Gwent. First ruling prince.

fl c.570

Caw ap Cawrdaf

Son.

fl c.605

Gloyw ap Caw

Son.

613?

Shortly after the fall of South Rheged, and 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).

Map of Britain AD 550-600
At the start of this period, the Angle and Saxon kingdoms on the east and south coasts were firmly established. Many of the rapidly-formed Romano-British territories in those areas had been swept away in the late fifth century (click or tap on map to view full sized)

FeatureIago ap Beli of Gwynedd and Selyf of Powys are both killed, and the battle is a disastrous British defeat. As lords of Gwynedd, Isaag ap Einion of Dunoding, Idris Gawr of Meirionnydd, and Cadwal Cryshalog of Rhos would also be expected to involve themselves with their own bands of warriors (see one of Geoffrey of Monmouth's more accurate entries about this campaign via the feature link).

fl c.625

Hoyw ap Gloyw

Son.

c.650

Ceindrych ferch Rhiwallon of Brycheiniog 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.

664

Cadwaladr of Gwynedd is probably killed by the great plague which hits the country. There is no obvious candidate to replace him, and such is the extent of the loss of territory over the past century that there is no longer a 'British' Britain over which to claim any high kingship.

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

fl c.670

Cynfarch ap Hoyw

Son.

fl c.705

Cyndegg ap Cynfarch

Son.

fl c.740

Teithwalch ap Cyndegg

Son.

fl c.775

Tegid ap Teithwalch

Son.

772 - 774

Offa is able to complete the process of Mercian consolidation, ruling a large and extremely powerful kingdom which is addressed on an equal footing with Charlemagne's Frankish empire and which also takes some territory from the Welsh (notably from Elfael during the reign of Tegid ap Teithwalch when Offa's Dyke is built through part of that principality).

fl c.805

Tangwydd ap Tegid

Son.

fl c.840

Anarawd ap Tangwydd

Son.

fl c.875

Gewnddy ap Anarawd

Son.

fl c.910

Hyth Hwgan ap Gwenddy

Son. Not in Llyfr Baglan list. Killed in 914 (or 916?).

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.

Hywel Dda of Deheubarth and Wales
Unusually for the dominant rulers in later medieval Wales, Hywel Dda was a man of the south, having been the driving force behind the creation of Deheubarth out of several smaller states and territories (this 1909 oil imagines the prince's appearance)

Æthelflaed, lady of the Mercians, now invades and captures the royal domain at Llangorse, on 19 June. The queen and various others are taken, this queen presumably being the wife of Gryffydd, although precise dates for most of Brycheiniog's kings are unavailable. What happens to the captives is not known.

Presumably during the same campaign (dating is uncertain), the ruling prince of Elfael is also attacked, primarily for daring to attempt an invasion of Mercia itself. He is defeated and his queen is also taken. The prince himself dies soon afterwards, still defiant.

Brycheiniog's rulers and those of Elfael are sometimes merged by modern scholars into one connected family, even though the list of ruling princes shows different names. The simultaneous capturing of queens could be telling, or it could be Æthelflaed's preferred punishment.

St Oswald's Priory, Gloucester
The Priory of St Oswald was dedicated in 890 by Æthelflaed as a house of secular canons. It was built, probably with stones taken from a nearby Roman temple, in the days when Gloucester was a royal town

fl c.945

Gwynngy ap Hyth Hwgan

Son.

fl c.980

Hwgan ap Gwynngy

Son. Not in History of Brecknock list.

fl c.1010

Dryffin ap Hwgan

Son. Lost Ferlix.

c.1020

Still the ruling prince of Elfael at this time, Dryffin loses control of the greater territory of Ferlix to Elystan Glodrydd. Ferlix is the political union of Elfael and Maelienydd, so it is likely that Dryffin ap Hwgan remains prince of Elfael but has to acknowledge Elystan as his overlord.

By now this entire region appears to be part of the political formation which is known as Rhwng Gwy a Hafren, although this is soon to become part of the Welsh Marches. Even Ferlix possibly breaks up, very soon after the early eleventh century death of Elystan Glodrydd, into its constituent parts of Elfael and Maelienydd. However, a counter-claim has the descendants of Elystan still ruling Ferlix as the main component of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren.

Hafren Forest in Wales
The source of the River Severn on Pumlumon means that it trails through Hafren Forest and the depths of the late medieval territory which was known as Rhwng Gwy a Hafren

fl c.1045

Maenyrch ap Dryffin

Son.

fl c.1075

Bleddyn ap Maenyrch

Son. Lost the principality in 1093.

1093

Bleddyn ap Maenyrch is the final native ruling prince of Elfael. 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. Elfael would seem to suffer the same fate at about the same time.

Castles are built across the Welsh Marches from this point forwards, almost permanently subduing the princely families which become part of the Anglo-Norman ruling elite if they survive at all. In time Elfael becomes part of the historic county of Radnorshire, while today it is in the modern Welsh county of Powys.

 
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