GWYN DDISTAIN - SENESCHAL FOR LLEWELYN FAWR
By Darrell Wolcott
We first encounter Gwyn
in 1198, but it is his mention in 1209 as a witness to Llewelyn's charter to Cymer where we learn he was "Gwyn filius
Eduyweyn senescallus noster" or "Gwyn ap Ednowain, our seneschal". The seneschal or steward at the court of a Welsh
king was much more than the "person who placed the crown on the king's head" for ceremonial occasions; he was the king's business
manager, overseeing his far-flung holdings which often included dozens of leased manors, mills, woodlands and mines.
In that era, we are told the king's steward "held his position by hereditary right".
The earliest known pedigree
to mention Gwyn is usually claimed to be in the section called "Hen Lwythau Gwynedd a'r Mars" from the now-lost Hanesyn Hen
manuscript cataloged as Hengwrt Ms 33. A number of men produced copies of the work before the original was lost, mostly
in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The original is believed to date from c. 1400 or earlier (the latest men mentioned
lived during the reign of Llewelyn Fawr who died in 1240 and it may have been written as early as the mid-13th century).
Gwyn is mentioned in pedigree 9, item g, but that entire item is absent from two of the earliest copies and suggests it may
have been added by a 15th century copist who was not working from the original. The item makes 3 claims:
(1) Gwyn, the ddistain, ap Eginir
ap Collwyn ap Tangno
(2) A daughter of this Gwyn was the
wife of Richard ap Calwaladr ap Gruffudd ap Cynan
(3) The men of the parish of Beddgelert
sprang from Gwyn ap Eginir ap Collwyn ap Tangno
Since Collwyn ap Tangno was born
c. 1010 and Gwyn Ddistain was born c. 1150, clearly this pedigree contains a gap of 75/80 years. Peter Bartrum would emend
it to "Gwyn ap Ednowain ap Eginir" to correspond with the 1209 charter he witnessed, but adding a single generation
does not close the time gap.
The Richard ap Cadwaladr who is
said to have married a daughter of Gwyn is actually a great-great grandson of the first Gruffudd ap Cynan and was born c.
1180; the marriage does fit for a daughter of the c. 1150 Gwyn Ddistain whose father was Ednowain, not Eginir.
The "men of Beddgelert" include the
bard Rhys Goch Eryri (c. 1375-1445) who is buried there. Located in the cantref of Arfon and the commote of Is Gwyrfai,
Beddgelert is situated roughly between the straits of Menai and the Snowdonia mountains. But the Gwyn ap Ednowain
who was the seneschal was a man of Efionydd. Both the chronological problem and the differing locations makes us
wonder if two different men named Gwyn have not been confused....one whose father was named Eginir and one whose father
was Ednowain. That such is the case seems even more likely when we consider that Gwyn Ddistain's successor as seneschal
to Llewelyn Fawr was Ednyfed Fychan. The latter began his service c. 1215 (probably at the death of Gwyn) and was
certainly not related to Gwyn. The fact that no son or grandson of Gwyn succeeded him as seneschal seems to
be clear evidence he had no son. The "men of Beddgelert" must have descended from another Gwyn.
The standard pedigree of Rhys
Goch Eryri looks like this when you add estimated birthdates:
1275 Ieuan Lloyd
1375 Rhys Goch Eryri
*most manuscripts omit
this generation, but Pen. 139(2), 326 cites it and we agree with Bartrum that it belongs
The Gwyn ap Ednowain
in this chart could chronologically have been identical to Gwyn Ddistain, but the fact that none of his descendants ever held
the "hereditary" office of seneschal to the king argues against that identification. And a Gwyn of 1175 probably
could not have a daughter born early enough to marry a man born c. 1180. Note also that the Eginir at the top of the
chart could not be a son of Collwyn ap Tangno, born 100 years earlier.
We would emend the item (g) in HLG
9 to show that two different men named Gwyn are mentioned, as follows: First, we would strike "ddistain" in the first
statement and would NOT insert "ap Ednowain" after Gwyn as Bartrum did. Secondly, we would substitute "Gwyn Ddistain
ap Ednowain" for "this Gwyn" in the next statement. The third statement we would leave as is, with no emendation inserting
"ap Ednowain". This would result in the following chart which is chronologically possible:
1140 Ednowain Gwyn
(men of Beddgelert)
(a) The Gwyn cited
in HLG, 9g as written, a man of Beddgelert
(b) The son of Tangno
cited in HLG 9c, but given the wrong sons in that citation
(c) The Eginir at
the top of the pedigree of Rhys Goch Eryri
(d) Seneschal to
Llewelyn Fawr until 1215, father to a daughter but no son
In our earlier paper, we
showed chronologically that the only brothers Asser, Gwgan and Meirion found in other pedigree material must have been
sons of Merwydd ap Collwyn ap Tangno; HLG 9c assigns sons of those names to a Meurig ap Tangno. By our making a Collwyn
his son, the pedigree of Gwyn Ddistain is now chronologically stable; it would have been easy to confuse one Collwyn with
the other by men who cast pedigrees with no regard to a timeline.
We will end this paper with the suggestion
that Gwyn Ddistain did inherit his office from his father. When the second Gruffudd ap Cynan (the one born c. 1070)
expanded his ruled territory beyond the island of Anglesey in 1124, we suggest he named Eginir ap Collwyn ap Meurig ap Tangno
as his seneschal. Since this Gruffudd did not succeed a father king, no hereditary line of seneschals existed for Gwynedd. (It
had been ruled by Powys men since 1039.) Eginir probably outlived Gruffudd and served Owain Gwynedd until his own death
c. 1145. His son, Ednowain took the office and continued to serve Dafydd ap Owain Gwynedd after the later died in 1170.
Ednowain would have been followed by Gwyn about 1180, who served Dafydd and then Llewelyn Fawr. When Gwen died without
sons around 1215, a new and non-hereditary seneschal was chosen: Ednyfed Fychan.
 Record of Caernarfon pp 148
 ibid pp 201
 J.E. Lloyd "A History of Wales", 1912, vol ii, pp 622, note 54
 P.C. Bartrum, "Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts", 1966, pp 118
 See our paper "The Children of Gruffudd, Nephew of Iago" for the identification
of this Richard, at the link below:
 Dict of Welsh Biography, pp 842
 Record of Caernarfon, pp 39/40
 One might argue the Gwyn ap Ednowain of 1175 may have died around age 40
when his son was too young to perform the office, but we think an interim appointment would have been made until the son came
of full age. Ednyfed Fychan was no interim replacement, his sons and grandsons succeeded to the office.
 See the paper "The 'Betrayal' by Meirion Goch Revisited" at the link below:
 The citation reads "Asser and Gwgan and Meirion were sons of Meurig ap Tangno
and nephews of Collwyn". We suspect the original said "Collwyn was the son of Meurig ap Tangno and his cousins
were Asser, Gwgan and Meirion sons of Collwyn ap Tangno". Thus, we make Collwyn ap Meurig a nephew of Collwyn ap Tangno.
A copyist of the lost manuscript may have rearranged the relationships to conform with the History of Gruffudd ap Cynan claim
that the three brothers were adult men in 1075; in fact they were infants under 5 years old on that date.