THE "SONS" OF CYNGEN AP CADELL
By Darrell Wolcott
Best known as the king of Powys who erected the Pillar of Eliseg in the early ninth
century, Cyngen was born c. 775 and died in Rome in 856. The succession of the Royal Family, and indeed of the kingship
of Powys, has been obscured by the paucity of data covering that period and by evidence of bias in those accounts which have
come down to us. At least one modern attempt to clarify things actually made the situation even more difficult to unravel.
The tenth-century genealogies contained in Harleian
Ms 3859, compiled at the request of Owain ap Hywel Dda, are the earliest known pedigrees which mention the Powys family.
In them, Cyngen ap Cadell is the starting place; no later decendants are named. Seizing upon this as possible evidence that
the Royal family had failed when Cyngen died without a son, the medieval genealogists introduced a sister named Nest and asserted
that she was the heiress of Powys and carried the kingdom to her husband or son. That claim is examined in another paper
on this site and will be laid aside to consider the "sons" of Cyngen conjured up in the late 19th century.
Egerton Phillimore, editor of the scholarly journal
"Y Cymmrodor", published a translation and analysis of Harleian Ms 3859 in its Vol ix in 1888. In that article, he suggested
various emendations which he believed were necessary to "correct" the pedigrees. Subsequent scholars have accepted his
changes. But before we discuss what he changed and why, we should first look at the Powys lines as they actually
appear in the manuscript. For identification, we shall use the pedigree numbers adopted by Phillimore.
27. Cincen map Catel map Brocmayl map Elitet map Guilauc.....
30. Maun, Artan, Iouab, Meic, filli Grippi filli Elized
31. Elized, Ioab, Aedan, filli Cincen filli Brocmail filli Elized
For uniformity in our discussion, we shall modernize
the spellings of those names and note that pedigree #27 actually extends several more generations beyond what is
required for the needs of this paper; the omission we have noted with a line of dots. Thus:
27. Cyngen ap Cadell ap Brochwel ap Eliseg ap Gwylog.....
30. Maun, Arthun, Iago, Meig, sons of Gruffudd ap Eliseg
31. Eliseg, Iago, Aeddan, sons of Cyngen ap Brochwel ap Eliseg.
Phillimore recast #31 to read "Cyngen ap
[Cadell ap] Brochwel ap Eliseg and pointed to #27 as his justification. There is more, but it seems to us that if the same
Cyngen was meant in both #27 and #31 why was #31 necessary at all? The names of the 3 sons could have simply been placed
in front of #27. We shall return to this emendation presently, but first let us look at his second "correction".
He next cast #30 to read "Gruffudd ap [Cyngen
ap Cadell ap Brochwel ap] Eliseg. With this, Phillimore suggests that the Gruffudd of #30 was a fourth brother of the
three named in #31. I would agree that if he were right, a further pedigree would be required since Gruffudd had
4 sons and it would have made for awkward wording to include all this information in a single pedigree.
We now come to the real reason Phillimore
thought the final two pedigrees both should refer to sons and grandsons of the Cyngen from #27. He points to the
814 entry in the Brut y Tywysogyon where we learn that "Griffri ap Cyngen was slain through the treachery of Elise, his brother".
He identifies the murdered Griffri with the Grippi of pedigree #30 and Elise his killer with the first Elized of
pedigree #31. And his emendations thus portray those pedigree names as brothers. But were the men in the 814 Brut
entries actually sons of Cyngen ap Cadell? No patronym is given the Brut Cyngen; we really don't know who his father
might have been. Lest we think the name Cyngen was unique in that era, the same Brut tells us that in 852 "the Pagans
slew Cyngen" and in 856 "Cyngen, king of Powys, died in Rome". Clearly the latter entry meant Cyngen ap Cadell, but
who was the one killed in 852? We need not seek that answer for our discussion; it was mentioned only to show there
were other men named Cyngen around in the ninth century.
We believe there are more reasons to
NOT believe the murder involved sons of Cyngen ap Cadell than there are reasons to agree with Phillimore. Let's consider
the probable ages of any sons of Cyngen ap Cadell in 814. Since we already estimate him to have lived past age
80 (a rarity in that era), it does not seem reasonable to believe he was born any earlier than 775 and he might well have
been born a few years later than that. Based on societal customs, we should not expect such a man's first child
to occur before c. 805, and probably not until after his father's death in 808. Are we to believe the 814 altercation
took place between two toddlers under 10 years old? Even if we believe a son of Cyngen ap Cadell could have been born
as early as 795, could a boy even 19 years old already have 4 sons? Both assumptions should be rejected as unreasonable
(for a Celtic man in that era) and we are left with the conclusion that Griffri and Elise, whoever they were, could not
have been sons of Cyngen ap Cadell.
Accordingly, the Phillimore emendations
were poorly founded and should be rejected. The manuscript as written in the tenth century does not identify any sons
for Cyngen ap Cadell; it simply cites three different branches of the Powys family. The Gruppi of pedigree #30 would
be an uncle of the Cadell ap Brochwel of pedigree #27 and the four named sons first-cousins of Cadell. And the Cyngen
ap Brochwel of pedigree #31 would be a brother of Cadell, with his three sons being first-cousins to Cyngen ap Cadell.
Whether Elise ap Cyngen ap Brochwel is also the Elise of the 814 Brut entry is speculative. He, at least, would have
been around 30 years old in 814 and his involvement in a sibling murder would not pose chronological difficulties. Perhaps
he did have a brother named Gruffudd who is unmentioned in the pedigrees, but we can't agree with Phillimore that he might
be omitted because he was dead. All of these men were dead by the time the pedigrees were compiled. Now had Phillimore
argued that the Gruppi of pedigree #30 was the son of Cyngen ap Brochwel, we would be hesitant to call him wrong. But
since his first emendation cannot be supported, we see no reason to accept the other. There is, after all, nothing to
connect the 814 men with this family at all other than the similarity of names.
Although this lack of any mention of
sons of Cyngen ap Cadell does not prove none existed, the unemended pedigrees do identify a second son of Brochwel ap Eliseg
through whom the dynasty could have continued in the absence of any such sons. For more discussion of the continuation
of the kingship of Powys after the death or retirement of Cyngen, refer to my paper on "Nest ferch Cadell".
 Obit in Brut y Tywysogyon; the date is 854 in Annales Cambriae. It
is not known when Cyngen left Powys for Rome, but the Brut does record that the Saxons took Powys under their control in 823.
He might have taken sanctuary in Rome at that time, or simply retired as a religious recluse as he grew too old to be an effective
 Notably P.C. Bartrum when he published the manuscript in his work "Early
Welsh Genealogical Tracts", 1966, Cardiff
 This wording is from the Thomas Jones translation of the Peniarth Ms 20 version
of Brut y Tywysogyon, 1952, Cardiff
 A Celtic tribal custom, later codified into law by Hywel Dda, required young
noble-born sons at age 14 to be trained and serve in the warband of their King or local Lord. During that service, they
were wholly dependent on that elder for bed and board. They could not inheirit their share of the family lands until
the death or retirement of their father; until then, they lacked the means to support a wife or family. Life expectancy
was about the length of two generations so a typical male was about 30 years old when he started a family of his own. For
a complete discussion of this subject, refer to our paper entitled "Generational Gaps and Welsh Laws" at the link below:
 The senior line of the decendents of Aeddan ap Cyngen ap Brochwel was continued
through Selyf ap Brochwel ap Aeddan, ancester of the 15th century Sir Gruffudd Fychan of Garth in Guilsfield. A junior
line descended from Gwaeddan ap Brochwel ap Aeddan produced the 15th century Blayney family of Gregynog.