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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Cymru

 

Guenta / Gwent / Gwerthefyriwg (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'.

Gwent in what is now southern Wales seemingly evolved in the fifth century AD as a combination of the former Ewyas territory and an extension of that 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 century in the form of a principality, 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 principality's name originated from the name of its capital, just as has been proposed for many of the much more obscure kingdoms in southern and eastern Britain (such as Caer Went).

It should be noted that the Brythonic language has gone through five stages to reach modern Welsh: 'Primitive' (in the 500s-700s), Old Welsh (in the 800s-1000s), Middle Welsh (in the 1100s-1400s), 'Early Modern' (in the 1400s-1700s), and 'Late Modern' thereafter. Until the 'Middle', the word 'caer' was actually 'cair', from the Brythonic 'cajr', meaning 'fort, fortified place'.

Guenta, or Gwent, also inherited much of Silures cultural heritage. Its small Roman-built capital remained in use throughout the medieval period, having been heavily refortified at the start of the fourth century (see Ewyas), and the modern village grew up around the original Roman buildings, preserving them very nicely for later generations of scholars and archaeologists.

The principality seems to have been part of the ancestral lands of Vortigern of the Paganes. While one of his other lands, Gwrtheyrnion, bore a variation of his name in its medieval 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. Perhaps the two names were interchangeable, in the way that 'Britain' and 'United Kingdom' are today.

The Roman city of Caerleon ('fortress of the legion', or Caerllion in Welsh) also formed a major administrative centre for the kingdom. Again, falling within former Silures tribal territory, this was also heavily refortified at the start of the fourth century in preparation to face a possible threat from the River Severn, perhaps in the form of Irish raiders.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Hywel George, Edward Dawson, & Trish Wilson, 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), from Wales and the Britons, 350-1064, T M Charles-Edwards (Oxford University Press, 2013), from Atlas of British History, G S P Freeman-Grenville (Rex Collins, London, 1979), from Etymological Glossary of Old Welsh, Alexander Falileyev, and from External Link: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.)

fl c.430 - c.455

Vortimer / Gwerthefyr Fendigaid 'Blessed'

Son of Vortigern of Britain. State known as 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 Vortimer is poisoned and his death allows Vortigern to reclaim leadership of the council of Britain 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

fl c.455?

St Madrun ferch Gwerthefyr

Dau. m Honorius.

fl c.455 - c.480

Honorius / Ynyr Gwent

Grandson of Demetius of Demetia? m St Madrun.

c.474

At this time, Gwerthefyriwg, formerly Ewyas, and perhaps known once again as Guenta, becomes divided into Gwent and Ercing. Honorius (mangled by later Welsh into 'Ynyr [of Gwent]') 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. Died without an heir?

c.490

It appears at first sight that the original ruling family dies out with Iddon. The powerful Caradog Freichfras secures the principality, and later pedigrees claim him as the founder of Gwent's royal house.

fl c.490 - c.540

Caradog Freichfras 'Strongarm' ap Ynyr

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

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.

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)

It is possible that Caradog Freichfras is named in honour of Caratacus, the heroic resister of Roman occupation for the Silures tribe at the start of the Roman invasion of Prydein.

His family may come from the 'decuriones' of Venta, making him a descendant of the aristocracy which had existed amongst the Silures. Caradog is also remembered as Carados Briefbras, one of the Arthurian 'Knights of the Round Table'.

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 English 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.

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

Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain mentions a magnificent Whitsun ceremony at Caerleon-upon-Usk in south-eastern 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 which had been 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).

c.540 - c.590

Meurig ap Caradog

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

fl c.540

Cawrdaf ap Caradog

Brother. Sub-ruler in Elfael.

fl c.540

Gereint

Sub-ruler of Orcheus in Gwent. m gnd-dau of Brittany's Budig II.

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 early English attackers.

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 principality which, together with those two, had previously formed the principality of Cernyw.

The third region is Gorfynedd (as Meurig is claimed as ruler of Gower, which is in the western arm of Cernyw), and his marriage to the daughter of Glywys of Ercing (presumably a second marriage after that with Dyfwn of Cernyw) means that his son inherits that territory. His grandson, Erb ap Erbic, in holding onto these territories is dubbed 'King of South-East Wales'.

fl c.590

Erbic ap Meurig

Son. Ruler 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.

Peel Castle on the Isle of Man
Shown here is Peel Castle, home of the latter-day 'Kings of the Isle of Man' on an island which had long been buffeted between overlords

c.610

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

fl c.610

Nynnio ap Erb

Son. Ruler of Gwent & Glywyssing.

fl c.620

Llywarch ap Nynnio

Son. Ruler of Gwent & Glywyssing.

? - c.625

Theoderic / St Tewdrig ap Llywarch

Son. Ruler of Gwent & Glywyssing. Abdicated in favour of son.

fl c.625 - c.665

Meurig ap Tewdrig

Son. Ruler of Gwent, Glywyssing, & Ercing.

c.630

MapGwent is subjected to a large-scale raid by ' Saxons' which kills Tewdrig even though he successfully defends the principality after having returned from his hermitage.

The fall of territories such as Caer Gloui (Glevum) has opened up the Welsh border to the direct attention of the Anglo-Saxon invaders, as by now they control much of what is becoming England. Also, by marrying the daughter of Ercing's ruler, Meurig himself effects a final reunion of the two territories.

Gloucester's Roman walls
Despite the focus of settlement now being away from the old fort, Glevum's Roman walls were still very much in use in the sixth century, at least until the city's fall to the West Seaxe

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.

fl c.680 - c.685

Athrwys ap Meurig

Son. Ruler of Gwent, Glywyssing, & Ercing.

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, this 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.

fl c.715

Morgan ap Athrwys

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

fl c.735

Ithel ap Morgan

Son. 'King of S-E Wales' (Gwent, Glywyssing & Ergyng).

745?

MapIt is probable that Ithel divides the joint principality between his sons. Rhys ap Ithel becomes ruler of Glywyssing. The name of Ercing (or Ergyng in its later form) 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.

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.755

Brochwal (ap Ithel?)

Son? Ruler of Gwent.

? - 775

Ffernfael ap Ithel

Brother? Ruler (Annales Cambriae)?

775

FeatureFfernfael ap Ithel, possible brother of Brochwal, is mentioned only briefly, in the Annales Cambriae, and then only to note his death (see feature link). Details regarding Gwent are hard to come by for this period.

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 Elisedd ap Tewdr of Brycheiniog, perhaps sparking a feud which soon draws in Glywyssing's ruler, Hywel ap Rhys, who is probably Ithael's father (or perhaps cousin).

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)

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', ruler 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 Annales Cambriae 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 principalities 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 ruler 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 principality 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-led 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 have 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 ruler.

Glamorgan rams head pottery vessel
This thirteenth century pottery vessel was unearthed in the Vale of Glamorgan and is thought to indicate a thriving local craft, one which may have antecedents in Morgan's time

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.

Medieval Stow Hill
Medieval Newport was greatly expanded under its new Norman masters but Norman rule in Wales could be extremely harsh

1045 - 1055

Meurig ap Hywel

Son of Hywel ap Owain of Morgannwg.

1055 - 1063

Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Gwynedd invades and conquers the principality, 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, this united Wales breaks up and independent control of Morgannwg and Gwent is re-established.

1063 - 1074

Caducan / Cadwgan ap Meurig

Son. Ruled Greater Morgannwg (Glywyssing & Gwent).

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-eastern Wales in 1090 and the principality falls. The last of the native 'Princes of Wales' are killed in 1282, ending Welsh independence. Gwent eventually becomes the county of Monmouthshire.

 
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