History Files
 

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 84

Target: 400

2023
Totals slider
2023

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Cymru

 

Meirionnydd (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'.

Apparently originally a Roman district which later became a Welsh cantref, Meirionnydd was the name given to a small sub-kingdom of Venedotia which was initially ruled by Marianus. He was one of the grandsons of Cunedda Wledig (sometimes shown in later Welsh texts as Cunedag). His territory was neighboured to the north by Dunoding, and to the north-east by Edeyrnion.

FeatureAs with Cunedda, Marianus' name is often shown in its later Welsh format as 'Meirchion', but its origins reveal the very Latinised bias which would have been current in the fifth century AD. He would have gained his territory upon Cunedda's death, probably in the mid-fifth century (see feature link). By this time the name 'Venedotia' was being altered by time and very rapid language shift towards 'Gwynedd'.

For a time Meirionnydd became well known and fairly important, especially under Idris Gawr at the end of the sixth century. Ultimately, after about three hundred years of semi-independence within Gwynedd's overall borders, the sub-kingdom was apparently drawn back under the direct control of its Gwyneddian overlord.

Cunedda's eldest son was Tibion (Typipion, or Typaun to give it its later form). He had already died in Manau Gododdin, Cunedda's Venicones homeland, long before any territorial inheritance could be handed out. Instead his son, Marianus, Meichion, or Meirion, was granted this cantref in this south-western section of Gwynedd. The name Meirion was given the suffix of '-ydd' to form the territory's name, Meirionnydd (or Meirionydd in older works), meaning 'Meirion's land'.

Cunedda, his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all bore Latinised names, showing a level of Romanisation in this border territory even though it was not directly part of the Roman empire. With Meirion also being ascribed the Latinised name of Marianus it is likely that 'Meirion' was either the local interpretation of this or was a later version of it. If the latter, then the territory may not even have been known as Meirionnydd during his lifetime.

In fact, this strongly Welsh form suggests an origin at least a century later, during the period in which the Brythonic of western Britain rapidly mutated into early Welsh. Possibly it had no name of its own early on but was just a subset of Gwynedd which had its own governor in the form of Marianus, just like the other Gwyneddian sub-territories. A later name - Cantref Orddwy ('cantref of the Ordovices') - had its origins in the pre-Roman period and perhaps was also used by Marianus.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, 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), from Welsh Genealogies AD 300-1400, Peter Bartrum, 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), from The Arthur of History: A Reinterpretation of the Evidence, August Hunt, and from External Links: Ancient Wales Studies, and Cunedda Wledig (Dictionary of Welsh Biography), and A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest, John Edward Lloyd (Longmans, Green and Co, 1912), and Sarah Woodbury, and Fabulous Pedigree.)

fl c.445

Marianus / Meirchion ap Typaun

Son of Tibion and grandson of Cunedda of Venedotia.

c.455

According to later British tradition, Vortigern is removed from office by the council after trying to settle yet more foreign laeti in Britain, this time in the north-east, within the territory of the 'Kingdom of Northern Britain'. Leadership of the council is given to his eldest son, the able and popular Vortimer. The mercenary leader, Hengist, seeing that he no longer has a malleable ally, revolts and the territory or kingdom of Ceint is quickly overrun.

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)

477

Newly arrived Saxons under Ælle and his sons land at Cymens ora and beat off the Britons who oppose their landing (part of the proposed British kingdom of Rhegin), driving them to take refuge in the great forest called Andredesleag (The Weald). These Saxons quickly become known as the Suth Seaxe.

fl c.480

Catgualart / Cadwaladr ap Meirchion

Eldest son.

FeatureCadwaladr (also known by the earlier form of Catgualart) is sometimes put forward as a candidate for filling the boots of Arthur, dux Britanniarum and possibly even an emperor of Britain in the style of several Romans before him (see feature link).

One of the main supporters of this theory (at least until 2003), August Hunt, has since pursued his research in a different direction, making this particular theory less favourable these days.

King Arthur in film
The list of candidates which have been put forward as a potentially historical 'King' Arthur is extensive, although many are without substantial backing, including the claim for Cadwaladr ap Meirchion to take the honour

fl c.500

Gurguit / Gwrin Farfdrwch 'Cut-Beard'

Son. m Marchell ferch Brychan of Brycheiniog.

Gurguit of the 'cut-beard' is presumably either clean-shaven or wears his beard trimmed. He would appear to be the historical version of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Gurguit Barbtruc of pre-Roman Britain.

Geoffrey has him married to a Queen Marcia (in fact Marchell ferch Brychan, daughter of the king of Brycheiniog), and the couple have a son who succeeds the father, Guithelin (in history this is Gwyddno 'Long-Shanks'). Gurguit is supposedly buried in Caer-Legion-upon-Uisc.

fl c.540

Gwyddno Garahnhir 'Long-Shanks'

Son. Geoffrey's High King Guithelin?

c.550

Rhun Hir of Gwynedd 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. Are the Gwyneddian sub-kings called upon to bolster Rhun's forces against this outside threat? Almost certainly.

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)

c.580 - 632

Ider / Iudris / Idris Gawr 'the Big'

Son. Killed by Oswald of Bernicia on the Severn.

c.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).

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).

632 - c.645

Sualda / Swalda ap Idris

Son.

c.645 - 662

Brochfael ap Swalda

Son.

Possibly named after the better known Brochfael Ysgythrog of the sixth century Paganes, the name is an intriguing one. The second part of it is the familiar 'fael', which can also be shown as 'mael' in other variations and 'maglo' going further back in time. It means 'servant, slave, follower', and so on.

Map of Gwynedd
Despite, or because of, the very fringe involvement with Rome of the Votadini British, Venedotia looked very heavily to Roman influences until well into the sixth century, with it being here that one of the last signs of the concept of Roman citizenship could be found, on a gravestone where a 'cousin' of Maelgwn Gwynedd proudly proclaimed himself a 'Venedotis Cives', a citizen of Venedotia

The first part is rather more puzzling. 'Broch' seems to derive from proto-Celtic 'broko', meaning 'anger', which also means 'badger' ('angry animal'). It still means both in modern Welsh, but its origins as a name are unknown.

Was there some (local) deity who was a personification of anger? Or was there some family emblem from tribal days, a badger totem perhaps? Its re-use in seventh century Meirionnydd and eighth century Dunoding suggests that it had been popularised to an extent by the earlier Powysian king.

fl c.675

Einudd Bach 'the Short'

Son.

fl c.705

Ednyfed ap Einudd

Son.

fl c.735

Brochfael ap Ednyfed

Son. Another use of 'Brochfael'.

754

Caradog ap Meirchion is a ninth generation descendant of Cynlas Goch, prince of Rhos. Now with the death of Rhodri Molwynog, he is able to seize a greater throne and pronounce himself Prince Caradog ap Meirchion of Gwynedd.

fl c.765

Cynan ap Brochfael

Son. Killed in battle?

c.785

This Cynan is not to be confused with the better-known Cynan Garwyn ap Brochfael of Powys. The line of descent of Meirionnydd's princes apparently ends with Cynan, so the territory is fully merged back into Gwynedd under the rule of Caradog ap Meirchion.

Harlech Castle
Harlech lies on Meirionnydd's Irish sea coastline, although the imposing stone castle is a Norman creation of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries

Meirionnydd later re-emerges as a cantref which is governed by lords who are vassals to Gwynedd. Their relationship to Meirionnydd's previous princes (if any) is unknown other than through the known genealogy of Gwynedd. Cantref Meirionnydd appears to be a somewhat different construction.

Cantref Meirionnydd (Wales)

FeatureThe expulsion of Roman officials in AD 409 (see feature link), meant that Post-Roman Britain struggled on without support from continental Europe. It faced plague, mercenary revolt, civil war, and a general break-down in trade, communications, and unity. Over the course of about three centuries the Britons gradually lost the entire west and centre of the island to Germanic invaders.

In the west, largely in what would become modern Wales, the end of national unity seems to have started earlier and taken place more quickly. Several territories emerged here, with later tradition claiming the creation of the 'kingdoms' of 'North Wales', 'South Wales', and 'Mid-South Wales'. North Wales became Gwynedd, while South Wales became Dyfed, and these two states, along with Powys, formed the largest principalities in the surviving western British territories. They never in reality used the English term, 'kingdom'.

FeatureNorth Wales spawned a multitude of minor principalities, most of which still seem to have remained within the overall control of Gwynedd itself (see feature link). Gradually, as these cadet branches of the clan died out, their territories appear to have been subsumed with the greater Gwynedd. The last ruling prince of Meirionnydd, Cynan ap Brochfael, died in the mid-eighth century (although dating here is approximate), and his territory was also drawn into Gwynedd proper.

By the middle of the twelfth century, a north-south division of Powys becomes apparent during the reign of Madog ap Maredudd of Powys - probably due to a (perhaps impermanent) division of territory following the death of his grandfather, Blethyn. Although Maredudd had apparently been over-king of Powys, his brothers Iorwerth and Cadwgan still governed their own regions. Possibly this was only on a semi-independent basis, mirroring Gwynedd's earlier arrangements with its sub-kingdoms. With the death of Madog in 1160, Powys became permanently divided. Madog's son governed Powys Fadog (the renamed north) while South Powys fell under the control of Madog's brother.

By this time Powys Fadog covered territory which, in the pre-1974 county boundaries which were largely inherited from the late medieval period, covered eastern Meirionnydd, southern Denbighshire, and Flintshire. However, this version of Meirionnydd was much larger than the territory which had been formed by the early Gwyneddian sub-kingdom as it also incorporated the greater part of Edeyrnion. It was Edeyrnion which was incorporated into its immediate neighbour - Powys. Meirionnydd remained very much a part of Gwynedd.

Rhuddlan Castle in Wales

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from The Revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn, 1294-5, John Griffiths (Transactions of the Caernarfonshire Historical Society, Vol 16), from Welsh Genealogies AD 300-1400, Peter Bartrum, from A History of Wales, John Davies, 1994, from Welsh Medieval Law, Arthur Wade-Evans, 1909, and from External Links: A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest, John Edward Lloyd (Longmans, Green and Co, 1912), and Sarah Woodbury, and Fabulous Pedigree.)

fl 1170s - 1190s

Cynan ab Owain Gwynedd

Son of Owain Gwynedd, king of Gwynedd & Prince of Wales.

fl 1190s - 1200s

Llywelyn 'Fawr' ap Maredudd

Son. Vassal lord of Meirionnydd? Captured South Powys.

1208 - 1215

With Llywelyn Fawr of Gwynedd having married Joan of England in 1204 - the daughter of King John - the antagonism which is exhibited by South Powys towards Gwynedd has left it politically isolated. Now King John arrests Gwenwynwyn ap Owain of South Powys and Llywelyn takes the opportunity to annexe his territory. Gwenwynwyn is restored in 1210 but is forced to found a new capital at Welshpool.

Dolgellau
Dolgellau served as the county town of Meirionnydd until 1974, but the town was probably only founded in the eleventh century - or a little later - as a maerdref ('serf village')

? - 1255?

Maredudd ap Llywelyn ap Maredudd

Son. Vassal lord of Meirionnydd?

1255? - 1256

Llywelyn ap Maredudd

Son. Last lord of Meirionnydd. Died in a skirmish in 1263.

1256 - 1294

Llywelyn is deprived of his patrimony for his opposition to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of Gwynedd at the at the Battle of Bryn Derwin. He lives the remainder of his life in exile in England, although he is reconciled with Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1262.

In 1284, with the Statute of Rhuddlan having been drawn up to redistrubute Welsh lands, Meirionnydd is joined to adjoining cantrefi to form the county of Merionethshire. In 1294 Llywelyn's eldest son, Madog, leads a short-lived rebellion against the English rule of Wales. Ultimately, like all other Welsh rebellions, it is unsuccessful.

 
Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.