St Davids
Merfyn Frych*
Rhodri Mawr
Hywel Dda
Idwal Foel
Southern Branch
Northern Branch

Dynastic Disputes

In 974, Hywel ab Ieuaf managed to expel his uncle, Iago ab Idwal Foel, with whom he had been sharing the rule of Gwynedd. Iago's return (and, indeed, a great deal else) is not reported by Welsh annals, but he evidently succeeded in re-establishing himself in the kingdom, seemingly before 978. In 978, Hywel, with English assistance, raided the monastery of Clynnog Fawr (on the coast, south of Caernarfon). Presumably this, otherwise unaccountable, attack was directed at Iago. The following year, Iago was captured. The C-text of the ‘Annales Cambriae’ says it was by Vikings, but, if so, they may well have been in cahoots with Hywel, since he promptly conquered Iago's territories. Iago is never heard of again. Iago's son, Custennin, allied himself with the Viking Guthfrith Haraldsson, and, in 980, they attacked Môn (Anglesey) and the Llŷn peninsula. (Guthfrith was no stranger, having ravaged Anglesey before, in 972.)  Custennin was later killed in battle against Hywel. Guthfrith pillaged Dyfed, the westernmost province of Deheubarth, in 982.

The picture presented by Welsh annals is very sketchy indeed, but it seems that Owain ap Hywel Dda was still king of Deheubarth. He had last been mentioned in 960, and is not mentioned again until his death is recorded twenty-eight years later. There is, though, no suggestion that he had abdicated. Owain's son, Einion, however, does feature in the record. He had attacked Gower in 970 and again in 977, and would at some stage appear to have permanently wrested it from Morgannwg.* Anyway, in 983, Hywel ab Ieuaf, in alliance with Ælfhere, ealdorman of Mercia, harried Deheubarth's eastern territories – described in the annals as: “Brycheiniog and all the territory of Einion ab Owain” – but Einion inflicted heavy losses on the invaders.* Now, the probability is that Einion's grandfather, Hywel Dda, had annexed Brycheiniog some time after 934 (he died in 950), so Brycheiniog was part of, not separate from, “all the territory of Einion ab Owain”, which phrase indicates that Einion was ruling in that area. Perhaps, because of advancing years, Owain had delegated the rule of Deheubarth's more recent acquisitions in the east to Einion, whilst he ruled the homelands in the west.

The following year, i.e. 984, Einion was killed: “through treachery by the nobles of Gwent.”  These nobles of Gwent (Morgannwg's eastern province) would have had reason to be concerned by Deheubarth's territorial ambitions, Einion having apparently already seized Gower.

Hywel ab Ieuaf's English ally, Ealdorman Ælfhere, had died in 983. In 985, in unspecified circumstances, Hywel was killed by “the English”.  There appears to have been a brief dispute over the succession, between Hywel's brother, Cadwallon, and his cousin, Ionafal ap Meurig. Within the year, Cadwallon had killed Ionafal. At this point, Einion's brother, Maredudd ab Owain appears in the record. In 986 he marched against Cadwallon. Cadwallon was killed, and Maredudd took control of Gwynedd.

In 987, Guthfrith Haraldsson, once more, ravaged Anglesey. Guthfrith's raiders are reported to have taken two thousand captives. Maredudd and his remaining forces were compelled to retreat into Ceredigion and Dyfed. During the next year, Vikings (seemingly not Guthfrith's band*) plundered around the Welsh coast from Ceredigion to Morgannwg.* In 989 Maredudd made a payment to Guthfrith's accomplices, possibly to redeem some of the captives taken two years previously.*

In the meantime, in 988, Maredudd's father, Owain, had died. Maredudd evidently succeeded him as king of Deheubarth, and now ruled all but south-eastern Wales – as his grandfather, Hywel Dda, had done before him. In 991, Maredudd ravaged Maes Hyfaidd (the district around New Radnor). No details are recorded, but the location suggests that the attack may have been directed at encroaching Englishmen. The next year, 992, Maredudd faced a challenge from his nephew, Edwin ab Einion. Edwin, aided by English forces, attacked “the territories of Maredudd”, which are listed as Dyfed, Ceredigion, Gower and Cydweli. Brycheiniog is conspicuously absent from the list, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to suppose that Edwin was, like his father had seemingly been, based there. It would appear that Maredudd overcame Edwin – no more is heard of him.* In the same year, perhaps bolstered by this success, Maredudd hired a Viking band, and launched a raid into Morgannwg.

In 993, the Northern Branch of the Line of Merfyn Frych, in the form of “the sons of Meurig”, apparently launched a come-back.* The following year, 994, the unnamed and unnumbered brothers defeated Maredudd in battle near Llangwm, of which there are several, but the only one in the north of Wales, some twenty-five miles south-east of Conwy, is the usual identification. Tewdwr ab Einion, Edwin's brother, was apparently killed in the battle – presumably he was on Maredudd's side.* One of the “sons of Meurig”, Idwal, was killed in 996. Who did the killing, and in what circumstances, are not mentioned. It could be that Idwal's death was the result of a feud within the Northern Branch, rather than by continuing conflict with Maredudd. Idwal is the only one of Meurig's sons to be named (apart from Ionafal who had been killed back in 985). How many brothers he had is unknown, but after his death nothing more is heard of them.

In 999 Maredudd died. At the time of his death he was king of Deheubarth, but it is difficult to say with any degree of certainty whether or not he still ruled Gwynedd. His obit in the ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ calls him: “the most celebrated king of the Britons”, which may be suggestive that he had managed to retain control of the North. If that was the case, it certainly reverted to the Northern Branch after his death. Just a year later, i.e. in 1000, Welsh annals report that Gwynedd was being ruled by Cynan ap Hywel. Cynan was killed in 1003, but, once more, no details are supplied.

After the record of Cynan's killing, the Welsh annals have nothing noteworthy to offer for fourteen years, with one, albeit unexplained, exception. In 1012 Eadric Streona, ealdorman of Mercia since 1007, and another, unidentifiable, ‘Saxon’, managed to ravage St Davids. Perhaps this was a seaborne assault – it might be expected that a land-force would have had other annal-worthy encounters on the way.


In 1018 Llywelyn ap Seisyll killed Aeddan ap Blegywryd and his four sons. Quite who Aeddan was is open to speculation, but Llywelyn was probably king of Gwynedd – he certainly was four years later. Llywelyn's background is obscure. Later genealogists contrived to make his mother, Prawst, the daughter of Elise, an otherwise unknown son of Anarawd ap Rhodri Mawr*. It is not unreasonable to suppose that both Prawst and Elise are inventions. It is, though, known from a mention in the 'Brut y Tywysogion' that Llywelyn was married to Angharad, a daughter of Maredudd ab Owain, of the Southern Branch*. In 1022 an Irishman called Rhain, claiming to be the son of Maredudd, gained acceptance as king of Deheubarth:

“And Llywelyn ap Seisyll, supreme king of Gwynedd, and the chief and most renowned king of all the Britons, made war against him.”
‘Brut y Tywysogion’ (Red Book)

Rhain was defeated at Abergwili – he fled, never to be seen again.* Llywelyn followed up his victory by ravaging, and presumably taking into his control, Deheubarth.

Later the same year, Dyfed was plundered and St Davids was ruined by one Eilaf. Eilaf is almost certainly King Cnut's earl of that name.* A passage (§40), seemingly inserted during the 12th century, into a Latin ‘Life’ of St Cadog originally composed, by Lifris of Llancarfan, c.1090, suggests that Eilaf raided south-east Wales as he was passing through:

“... a certain sheriff of the English, very strong in troops, called by the name Eilaf, came to Morgannwg with a large company of followers to plunder and devastate.”

The attempts of Eilaf's men to steal the shrine of St Cadog acquire legendary trappings.

At some stage during the early-11th century, another obscure figure, one Rhydderch ab Iestyn rose to power in Morgannwg. Again, Rhydderch was, much later, given a link to the Line of Merfyn Frych*. His father, Iestyn, is said to have been a son of Owain ap Hywel Dda, but there is no historically attested Iestyn ab Owain. The Llandaff Charters tend to indicate that Rhydderch's power-base was in Gwent.*

In 1023 Llywelyn ap Seisyll died, and Rhydderch ab Iestyn seized control of Deheubarth. According to the ‘Brut y Tywysogion’, Gwynedd reverted to the Line of Merfyn Frych, in the person of Iago ab Idwal ap Meurig. In the Llandaff Charters, however, it is claimed that Rhydderch ruled all of Wales except Anglesey, which was held by Iago*.

In 1027 Llywelyn's brother seems to have mounted an unsuccessful bid to take control of Gwynedd, since the killing of a Cynan ap Seisyll is recorded in Welsh annals.

In 1033 Rhydderch ab Iestyn was killed, by the Irish – typically, Welsh annals do not record the circumstances.* If he held any authority in Gwynedd, it died with him – Iago ab Idwal was indisputably king of Gwynedd. The rule of Deheubarth reverted to the Line of Merfyn Frych, in the persons of Hywel and Maredudd, sons of Edwin ab Einion.

Rhydderch's sons, apparently, succeeded him in Morgannwg, and were clearly not content to lose control of Deheubarth without a contest. The following year, i.e. in 1034, “the sons of Edwin” and “the sons of Rhydderch” fought the battle of Irathwy (location unknown). The outcome is not recorded, but Edwin's sons would appear to have been the victors since they remained in power, though Maredudd did not live to enjoy it for long – he was killed the next year by “the sons of Cynan”. Presumably (?) the Cynan in question is Cynan ap Seisyll.*

In the same year that Maredudd ab Edwin was killed, 1035, Rhydderch's sons suffered another set-back – one of them, Caradog, was killed by the English.

In 1039:

“... Iago, king of Gwynedd, was slain; and Gruffudd ap Llywelyn ap Seisyll, governed in his stead; and he, from beginning to end, pursued the Saxons, and the other nations, and killed and destroyed them, and overcame them in a multitude of battles.”
‘Brut y Tywysogion’ (Red Book)
See: Altered States.
It may well have been Ealdorman Ælfhere who assisted Hywel in his attack on Clynnog Fawr in 978.
Usually, ap (Old Welsh map, equating to the Gaelic mac*), meaning ‘son of’, is used, but if the name it precedes begins with a vowel, this becomes ab.
See: Celtic languages of the British Isles.
The Vikings are said to have raided several important monasteries: Llanbadarn (near Aberystwyth), Llandudoch (St Dogmaels), Mynyw (St Davids), Llanilltud (LLantwit Major) and Llancarfan.
After 977, the next time Gower is mentioned by Welsh annals is in 992, at which time it is in the possession of Deheubarth.
Guthfrith's confederates at this time are referred to as “black gentiles”.  The Vikings who raided during 988 are simply “gentiles”.  Guthfrith Haraldsson was actually a Viking of considerable standing (see here).
Only the B-text of the ‘Annales Cambriae’ specifies that the payment made to the “black gentiles” (Guthfrith Haraldsson is not mentioned, indeed, he was killed in this same year) was to buy-back an unspecified number of captives. Possibly the captives were not those taken in 987 (two years seems a long time to have kept them when there was a ready market for slaves), or perhaps the payment was not ransom at all – Maredudd could have simply been buying peace.
The Red Book version of the ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ refers to an attack on Gwynedd by the sons of Meurig, but the Peniarth MS 20 version has it that some sons of Meurig were hostages in Gwynedd. The ‘Brenhinedd y Saesson’ says the sons of Meurig besieged Gwynedd. These vernacular annals have been translated from Latin, and the Peniarth MS 20 interpretation may result from a confusion of obsideo (to besiege) and obsides (hostages). The existing Latin ‘Annales Cambriae’ have no equivalent entry to clarify the situation.
The B-text of the ‘Annales Cambriae’ names Edwin's English ally Edelisi, and accords him the title dux. It is thought that Edelisi (the name is variously rendered in the vernacular annals) represents the Anglo-Saxon name Æthelsige, but this worthy can't be certainly identified.
Edwin ab Einion does not appear again in Welsh annals, but he is probably Edwine Enneawnes sunu, who features in an Old English charter (S1462), from King Cnut's reign (1016–35), in dispute with his unnamed English mother over land in Herefordshire. Interestingly, a thegn called Æthelsige the Red (Ægelsig þe Reada) also appears in the charter.
The ‘Annales Cambriae’ report that Tewdwr was killed, but do not directly link it to the battle. That link is, though, made in the ‘Brut y Tywysogion’.
Shown on map
Late-medieval genealogical tract ‘Achau Brenhinoedd a Thywysogion Cymru’, §7f.
‘Brut y Tywysogion’ s.a. 1113 (= 1116).
According to the B-text of the ‘Annales Cambriae’, Rhain was killed in the battle.
A charter (S1424) associates Earl Eilaf with Gloucestershire. (See: Cnut the Great.)
‘Heraldic Visitations of Wales’, written by Lewys Dwnn between 1586 and 1613.
Whilst it is clear that Rhydderch was supreme ruler of Morgannwg, the old ruling dynasty evidently continued to rule in a subservient capacity. Hywel ab Owain, from that old dynasty, appears as a sub-king (subregulus) under Rhydderch in the Llandaff Charters*. (It is from Hywel's grandfather, Morgan Hen, that Morgannwg, alternatively Gwlad Morgan – Anglicized as Glamorgan – i.e. ‘Morgan's land’, is named.)
Another upstart, a certain Edwin ap Gwriad, features, in a Llandaff Charter of about 1015, as king of Gwent*. About two decades later, Hywel's son, Meurig, king of Gwlad Morgan, is said to have imprisoned this same Edwin, now called king of Gwent Iscoed (Gwent Below the Wood), and blinded him*.  Meurig was apparently sharing the rule with his father at this time. Hywel did not die until 1043 – in his obit, the ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ titles him ‘king of Gwlad Morgan’ and stresses that he was old. Meurig was captured by Vikings in 1039, but presumably bought his freedom – if the Llandaff Charters are to be believed, he was still king in the late-1050s*.
Page 249 in the 1893 Evans & Rhys edition of the ‘Liber Landavensis’.
Page 252 in the 1893 Evans & Rhys edition of the ‘Liber Landavensis’.
In ‘The Welsh Kings’ (2000), Chapter 3, Kari Maund suggests that Llywelyn and Cynan ap Seisyll's origins were in Powys (which had been annexed by Gwynedd almost two hundred years previously). Llywelyn's widow, Angharad, married a nobleman of Powys, Cynfyn ap Gwerystan, and they founded a new royal dynasty (the second dynasty of Powys). Dr Maund writes of Maredudd's killers: “most likely they were the sons of Cynan ap Seisyll, with a power-base in Powys, raiding and fighting in the northern borders of Deheubarth and in Ceredigion (control of Ceredigion was to be a long-term goal of the second dynasty of Powys).”
Pages 255–6 in the 1893 Evans & Rhys edition of the ‘Liber Landavensis’.
It is, in fact, only at this stage, i.e. after the report of Rhydderch's death, that the ‘Brut y Tywysogion’ states that Iago ab Idwal ruled Gwynedd after Llywelyn ap Seisyll. If this seemingly explicit statement can be overlooked, then a different scenario presents itself:
In 1023 Cynan ap Seisyll succeeded his brother Llywelyn in Gwynedd.
When Cynan was killed, in 1027, Rhydderch ab Iestyn took over Gwynedd (Rhydderch need not have been responsible for Cynan's death), except for Anglesey, which was held by Iago ab Idwal.
After Rhydderch's death, in 1033, Iago acquired all Gwynedd.
This sequence of events is preferred by T.M. Charles, in ‘Wales and the Britons, 350–1064’ (2013) Part III 17.2.
Page 253 of the 1893 Evans & Rhys edition: “this Rhydderch, I say, was a pacific and mild man ... in whose time there was no desolation throughout all Wales, either on the mountains or the plain, except in three villages which were in a solitary situation.”  (Translation by W.J. Rees.)
Page 266 in the 1893 Evans & Rhys edition of the ‘Liber Landavensis’.
Anglo-Saxon charters are referred to by their number in Sawyer's catalogue.
Available online: The Electronic Sawyer.
A collection of 149 charters in the ‘Liber Landavensis’ (Book of Llandaff), a manuscript dating from the 12th century. Relating to south-east Wales, they cover a period from the very-late-6th to the late-11th centuries. Though they are preserved in a corrupt form, and are undated, it is possible to detect later additions, and to infer rough dates for most. Having said that, their reliability is the subject of continuing debate.