POWYS SUCCESSION AFTER 823
By Darrell Wolcott
In previous articles on
this site, it has been argued that Cyngen ap Cadell had no sons to succeed him and that he probably didn't have a sister named
Nest either. And even if he did, the kingship of Powys did not merge into Gwynedd but was continued by the dynastic
family...the heirs of Brochwel Ysgithrog. So who did rule Powys after Cyngen?
Cyngen ap Cadell had come
to power at his father's death in 808. It was probably fairly early in his reign when he commissioned the Pillar of
Eliseg and had it erected, according to traditional lore, over the grave of his ancestor, Eliseg ap Gwylog. But
it would seem no sooner than he had created a memorial to honor the man who had "annexed the inheritance of Powys from the
power of the English", that old foe was about to reverse his fortunes. The 823 entry in the Brut y Tywysogyon tersely
reports "the Saxons....took the kingdom of Powys for their own." There is no hint of how this occurred, but one might
assume Cyngen had suffered a defeat on the battlefield that was more overwhelming than a normal skirmish, yet the king survived
What exactly did it mean that
the Saxons took Powys for their own? Did they station an army in Powys? Send in droves of settlers to occupy the land? Slaughter
thousands of its residents and seize their homes and possessions? We doubt any of those drastic things happened.
The objective of controlling land in that era was not in the physical possession of it, but in receiving the rents, taxes,
tolls and other income which people pay to use it. The outside conqueror would not want to remove the residents nor
take over the burden of routine governmental and judicial chores; they would simply want the income these people formerly
rendered to their king and his lesser Lords. The fact that Cyngen survived whatever untenable situation he faced suggests
a deal was struck with the Saxons. Something along the lines of either agreeing to serve as their puppet underking or stepping
down in favor of another man who would.
Although we cannot know the
agreements reached between the Powys family and the Saxons (almost certainly under Coelwulf, king of the Mercians), the
transition did not seem to affect everyday life among the people or surely we would find some hint of rebellions,
retaliation and suffering in the chronicles. And whether Cyngen immediately went into exile in Rome or remained in place
until old age overtook him, his successor must have also agreed to the puppet role. No doubt the royal warband was dissolved
or disarmed and replaced by a Saxon military contingent to make sure the taxes and rents were collected and turned over to
the Saxon king. We can only speculate on these matters, but there are slivers of data in the chronicles which may provide
For about 20 years after
the capitulation of Powys, no military events or even isolated murders of Welshmen are recorded. The Saxons appear to
have controlled north Wales all the way to the River Conwy. Egbert had succeeded to the kingship in Mercia, forced
Wessex and Northumberland to recognize him and by 830, was proclaimed king over the whole realm of Britain. In 844, king
Merfyn Frych of Gwynedd died; the battle of Cedyll is recorded the same year but it is unclear if the two events are related.
Other battles now became more frequent; one would see this as evidence the Welsh had began to reassert their independence.
Rhodri Mawr was now directing the resistance in Gwynedd and fighting was noted in South Wales as well.
We shall pause here to
introduce a wholly speculative scenerio, but one which may have led to the recovery of Powys' kingdom. The year is 863;
the peace in much of Wales has been broken by renewed war with their neighbors. Rhodri Mawr is making a name for
himself as a power on the battlefield. He is joined by the local king in Rhos, a man named Caradog and called "Freich
Fras". The puppet king in Powys was the eldest son of Aeddan ap Cyngen ap Brochwel and his name was Cadweithian. Life
was good for him as the Saxon regent in Powys; he declined to join the rebellion which was afoot elsewhere in Wales.
But his younger brother, Brochwel ap Aeddan, was ready to throw off the yoke of the Saxons. Entering into an alliance
with Rhodri Mawr of Gwynedd and Caradog Freich Fras of Rhos and Tegeingl, they confronted Cadweithien with a choice;
exile from Powys or death. He gathered his loyalists and left the country for an unknown destination; the combined forces
of the three north Wales warbands were now able to battle the Saxons on even terms for the first time in a generation.
Rule in Powys was restored to the dynastic family in the person of Brochwel ap Aeddan, a man who was revered by his descendants
for many generations. Thus ends our diversion into pure speculation.
The Brut does record for the
year 863 "Cadweithian was expelled" but does not say who he was, what part of Wales he lived in, what title he may have held,
or why he was expelled. Our portrayal of him was suggested by the following: (1) The name is phonetically similar to
both Gwaeddan and Aeddan and he might well have belonged to the Powys family; (2) the fact that this man was expelled
suggests he stood in someone's way, someone not necessarily wanting to kill him; and (3) a brother might react in that manner
more readily than other men seeking his removal. So far as I am aware, no previous attempts have been made either to
identify Cadweithian nor to explain why Brochwel ap Aeddan was venerated by his descendants. Nor even to suggest how
and when Powys slipped out from under the rule of the Saxons.
The "received" view that the
Powys dynasty ended during the ninth century rests upon similar speculation and conjecture made by other historians.
Not only is there no credible evidence that Merfyn ap Rhodri Mawr inherited Powys, there is evidence that he actually lived
on the Lleyn Peninsula in Gwynedd. The anti-Powys bias was so infused into the early accounts that even after
acknowledging it stood as a territory wholly apart from Gwynedd, it's kings were given false pedigrees to show they obtained
their position only through maternal descent from Rhodri Mawr. The first genealogical invention was Llewelyn
ap Merfyn ap Rhodri Mawr; Triffyn is the only son is listed for Merfyn in the first manuscript to cite the prodigy of Rhodri. And
if the Brut entry for 904 which reports "the son of Merfyn was slain by his own folks" was speaking of Merfyn ap Rhodri as
most suppose, we suggest that son would have been named if Merfyn had more than one. The only use the genealogists had for
this Llewelyn was to assign a daughter to him and claim that daughter married Owain ap Hywel Dda and delivered Powys
to her son, Maredudd ap Owain. When Llewelyn ap Seisyllt came to power early in the 11th century, all these genealogical
fictions now bore fruit: his only claim to the rule of Powys, said the Rhodri Mawr faction, had been obtained by his
marriage to the daughter of Maredudd. We would agree his claim to Deheubarth came from that marriage since Maredudd
was not survived by any sons. And since no paternal pedigree of Llewelyn has yet surfaced, he was further linked to Rhodri
Mawr maternally. His mother is cited as Prawst ferch Elise ap Anahard. This appears to be the same Elisedd
who was brother to Idwal Foel ap Anarawd; both were reported slain in 942. This lady seems to occur a full generation or
more too early to be the mother of Llewelyn (c. 980-1023) but it is biologically possible if she were newly-born when
her father was killed. See Appendix I below.
When we combine these late genealogical
fictions with the sources who report that the family of Brochwel Ysgithrog was not usurped of Powys until 1063, it might
be well to consider that Llewelyn ap Seisyllt actually inheirited Powys from his paternal ancestors. The search
for them has long been delayed and thought unnecessary by the claims his rights were obtained maternally.
We shall conclude
this segment of our discussion with a chart which suggests the actual dynastic succession following the reign of Cyngen ap
Brochwel ap Eliseg
745 Cadell (obit 808)
775 Cyngen (obit 856) 785
815 Cadweithian 820 Brochwel
850 Selyf 855 Gwaeddan 855 Rhodri
of ancestor of
Sir Gruffudd Fychan Evan Blayney
 Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1872, pp 289
 Brut y Tywysogyon entries for 816 and 823 record Saxon victories in Rhufoniog
and at Degannwy on the Conwy in Rhos. These territories would lie in the path of a westward push from Chester toward the heartland
 British Museum Cotton Ms Clepoatra B v under date 830 as translated by Thomas
Jones in "Brenhinedd y Saesson", 1971, Cardiff.
 Brut y Tywysogyon entry for 848 records hostile activity between Brycheiniog
 This man and his descendants has long been confused with the sixth-century
Caradog Freich Fras of Gwent. Even though separate coats of arms have been assigned to the two men, most people still
continue to confound them. The Life of St. Collen as told in Llanstephan MS 34 clearly says his ancestor was the Caradog
Freich Fras who was the son of Llyr Merini, not the one of the same name who suffered a broken arm in battle at Hiraddug in
Rhos. The epithet actually means "large arm", not "strong arm", and refers to injuries which caused one arm to be larger than
 ABT 7(o) describes Triffyn ap Merfyn as "of the lineage of the men of Rhiw
in Lleyn". Rhiw is a parish encompassing the southern tip of the peninsula.
 ABT 7(f)
 ABT 20 calls Selyf "ap Brochwel ap Aeddan ap Elisse ap Gwylawg" while HLG
2(f) calls him "ap Brochfael ap Aeddan ap Kyngen ap Elisse ap Gwylawg". Using Harleian Ms 3859 to resolve these differences,
we believe the "Cincen filli Brochmail filli Elized" who has a son "Aedan" provides us with all the missing generations in
the later sources. This would make Selyf "ap Brochwel ap Aeddan ap Cyngen ap Brochwel ap Eliseg ap Gwylog".
 Dwnn i, 299 and Dwnn ii, 23 cite "Gwaeddan ap Brochwel ap Aeddan ap
Cyngen ap Eliseg". Like the preceeding note, we believe Cyngen ap Brochwel ap Eliseg is meant.