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Parents and Children of the Lord Rhys

                                     NEST FERCH CADELL AP BROCHWEL
                                               By Darrell Wolcott
 
         Since the original text of the Powys pedigrees found in Harleian Ms 3859 does not cite any sons for King Cyngen ap Cadell, the medieval genealogists appear to have seized upon the opportunity to extend their long-standing bias favoring the supremacy of Gwynedd in north Wales.  The glorification of Gwynedd, and especially its ninth century king Rhodri Mawr, at the expense of Powys had begun early.  The Historia Brittonum attributed to Ninnius was written in the ninth century and paints Vortigern in the role of the villan who invited the Saxons into Britain and set the stage for their eventual conquest of most of the island; the same Vortigern to which the dynasty of Powys proudly traced their roots by an inscription on the Pillar of Eliseg.[1] Ninnius further portrays the fifth century Powys king, Cadell Ddyrnllwg, as a mere servant boy of the evil Goidelic Celt King Benlli; the latter held rule in Powys-north-of-the-Dee early in the fifth century, probably a part of the large movement of tribes from Ireland into north Wales following the withdrawal of the Roman legions.  More Powys belittling is evident in the twelfth or thirteenth century History of Gruffudd ap Cynan. This biographer, anxious to show the supremacy of the lineage of Rhodri Mawr, refers to Cadwgan ap Bleddyn as merely a son-in-law of Gruffudd.  In 1098 the Normans launched an attack across north Wales which caused the kings of Gwynedd and Powys to join hands in defense of their lands.  But instead of calling Cadwgan "king of Powys" and the two men equals, he is relegated to the role of a minor in-law of King Gruffudd.[2] 
 
        Around the final half of the 14th century, a group of pedigrees were set down in Jesus College Ms 20. This is the earliest appearance of a "Nest ferch Cadell m. Brochuael m. Elisse" and she is made the mother of Rhodri Mawr (thus the wife of Merfyn Frych).  A number of years later, about 1400, the manuscripts now called Achau Brenhinoedd a Thywysogion Cymru (often abbreviated as ABT) set down the pedigrees of the dynastic kings and princes of Wales.  Here, "Nest ferch Gadell ap Brochwal ap Elisse" is cited as the mother of Merfyn Frych (thus the wife of Gwriad ap Elidyr).  One might reasonably assume the objective of those medieval genealogists was to introduce a Powys heiress through whom the kingdom of Powys had been inherited by Gwynedd's Merfyn Frych or Rhodri Mawr, and it didn't really matter which. 
 
        The earliest writers of the history of Wales, from Dr David Powell in 1584 to Jane Williams in 1869, adopted the view of ABT that Nest was the mother of Merfyn Frych.  Although she is wholly absent from the Harleian Ms 3859 pedigrees, that manuscript did name the mother of Merfyn Frych as "Etthil merch Cinnan".  Favoring this 10th century citation, Dr. J.E. Lloyd[3] broke with previous historians to identify Nest as the mother of Rhodri Mawr, presumably because someone else was Merfyn's mother.  If Esyllt ferch Cynan Tyndaethwy was not the mother of Rhodri Mawr, Dr. Lloyd must have reasoned that only left Nest ferch Cadell for that role.  He goes on to repeat the traditional tale that after Cyngen ap Cadell had died with no surviving sons, his sister Nest had carried the kingdom of Powys to her son, Rhodri Mawr.  To his credit however, Dr. Lloyd refrained from citing the part of the old tradition which held that Rhodri left Powys to his son, Merfyn, at his death.  Instead he writes "What portion [of his lands] fell to Merfyn can only be conjectured, for he founded no house and nothing is recorded of him in authentic sources save the bare fact of his death".[4]
 
          We should like to advance a reason why no authentic sources can be found to show that Rhodri Mawr left Powys to Merfyn, or to anyone else; the possibility that he never held it in the first place. Ever since the days of Maelgwn Gwynedd of the sixth century, the king seated on Mon (now Anglesey) had not only held the title King of Gwynedd, but "King of the Britons".[5]  The fact that Rhodri Mawr held that office in the mid-ninth century did not mean that any of the "lesser" kings had ceded their lands to him.  While the kings of other lands in Wales may have looked up to him as their "supreme commander" in the wars against the invading Danes and Saxons, we have no reason to believe his vaunted "unification" was anything more than a military alliance to combat a common enemy.  This alliance dissolved upon his death; there was no giant consolidated kingdom to be inherited.  And we believe Powys always had been, and continued to be, ruled by its dynastic Royal Family.
 
        The belief that a Nest ferch Cadell ap Brochwel "carried off the Province" of Powys[6] from its dynastic family probably arose at a point in history long after the era of Rhodri Mawr. There was another lady named Nest who was the daughter of a king of Powys named Cadell ap Brochwel; she was born c. 970.  Her father was Cadell ap Brochwel ap Aeddon and she married Gwerystan ap Gwaethfoed, giving birth to a son named Cynfyn about 985.[7]  Following the death of King Gruffudd ap Llewelyn in 1063, Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn took the kingship of Powys and was succeeded by his brother Bleddyn ap Cynfyn in 1069. This conquest or usurpation of Powys is noted in one version of the Brut which says the brothers Rhiwallon and Bleddyn "took the sovereignty of the land of Powys from the lineage of Brochwel Ysgithrog, which was contrary to right".[8] Thus it would seem the loss of Powys to its dynastic family did not occur until the late 11th century.
 
        We believe the only historical Nest ferch Cadell ap Brochwel was the mother of Cynfyn ap Gwerystan; her name was appropriated and inserted into the medieval pedigrees of Rhodri Mawr to bolster the claim that Powys was merged into Gwynedd in the ninth century.  Its detractors had now delivered the coup de gras; not only was Powys an insignificant kingdom founded by fools and servants, they had made it disappear completely!  To them, it re-emerged as a separate entity only in the era of Bleddyn ap Cynfyn.
 
        In conclusion, we don't believe Cyngen ap Cadell had a sister named Nest but even if he did, she had nothing to do with the kingly succession in Powys.  The dynastic family continued its rule through Brochwel ap Aeddan, the son of Cyngen's cousin Aeddan ap Cyngen ap Brochwel ap Eliseg.  
 
 
NOTES:
[1] Refer to the paper "Vortigern and the Powys Dynasty" at the link below:
[2] The 1116 entry in Brut y Tywysogyon says the mother of Madog ap Cadwgan was Gwenllian vz Gruffudd ap Cynan. But Cadwgan and Gruffudd were both about the same age.  The citation in ABT 8(i) which makes Gwenllian the wife of Madog ap Cadwgan better fits the chronology.  And the possibility that Gruffudd and Cadwgan forged their alliance with the marriage of one's daughter with the other's son would follow the customary manner of cementing an alliance. A third possibility is that it was not Cadwgan ap Bleddyn ap Cynfyn who married Gwenllian, but a later and unrelated Cadwgan ap Beddyn whom the biographer of Historia Gruffudd vab Cynan incorrectly thought was identical to the 1098 man of the same name.
[3] Author of "A History of Wales", 2nd edition, 1912, London
[4] ibid, pp 326
[5] References in the Brut y Tywysogyon describe Cadwaladr (682) and Rhodri Molwynog (754) with the King of Britain title; both were kings of Gwynedd from the line of Cunedda.
[6] Dwnn's "Heraldic Visitations of Wales" edited by S.R. Meyrick, 1846, Llandovery, vol 1, pp 319
[7] Montgomeryshire Collections, vol x, pp 27; Dwnn i, 310
[8] Jones, Williams and Pughe "The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales", 1870, Denbigh, pp 697