GLAST AND THE GLASTENING
By Darrell Wolcott
Two early manuscripts cite
a Glas ap Elno ap Dogfael ap Cunedda as ancestor to brothers Cynwrig and Meurig ap Elaeth ap Elud ap Glas. Most
would identify this "Glas" with the "Glast" cited centuries earlier as the father of Morfael and ancestor of Idnerth ap
Morien of the 9th century. A final early source says this Idnerth had a brother named Ednyfed.
Based wholly on generational
gaps found to exist in other Welsh families of the era, the entire known family descended from Dogfael ap Cunedda can be
charted and dated as:
Cynwrig 585 Botan 580
* Although this line descended from Glast
is included in Bartrum's A Classical Welsh Dictionary", it is wholly missing from his charts in Welsh Genealogies
While the 5th century
family probably resided in Dogfeiling, a commote in Dyffryn Clwyd, no credible ancient sources tell us anything at all about
the subsequent men. Much of what is conjectured about Glast and his family can be traced to this phrase which follows
his name in the extant copy of Harleian Ms 3859:
"Glast unu st Glastenic qui vener q vocat loyt coyt"
Before discussing the
various ways in which that Latin phrase has been translated, we should point out that it is probably a copyist's gloss added
to the manuscript long after its original composition. The spelling of the placename "llwyd coed" has been rendered
in it's phonetic form "loo-it coe-it" (meaning no more than "grey woods") and we suspect the copyist was unfamiliar with
the Welsh language. Whether the legendary tales which associate Glast with Llwyd Coed were the source of the gloss,
or the tales were fashioned by those trying to explain the gloss, is not known. Perhaps the "standard" translation
"Glast, one of those
who came to Glastening from the place called Loyt Coyt"
accepting that translation next identified "Glastening" as Glastonbury and Loyt Coyt as the "Cair luit coyt" found in the
Nennius list of 28 Cities of Britain. Two tales are mentioned in the oral history of Glastonbury. In
the first, Glast has left his patrimony of Dogfeiling and migrated south. Along the way, he begins following a pregnant
sow which leads him to an apple tree near an old church. There the sow gives birth and begins to suckle her piglets.
Taking this as a sign, Glast establishes his residence at that spot and the place was later named Glastonbury after him.
A second tale claims that during the Saxon wars, Glast was a warrior defending a place called "Loyt Coyt" when Arthur
came to his assistance. After dispatching the Saxon raiders, they moved on
toward Bath where Arthur expected to find the main Saxon army enroute to Glastonbury. Unsure of the outcome of that anticipated battle, Arthur told Glast to take his men and go to the protection of
the "home of his ancestors" whereupon Glast went to Glastonbury.
The first tale is clearly
a legend devised to support one of the several theories concerning how Glastonbury got its name. It probably should
be rejected outright since earlier tales trace the church there back to the first century, suggesting the Glastonbury
area was well established long before the era of Glast. Nothing beyond
a similiarity of names indicates that Glast ever was connected with Glastonbury.
The Arthurian tale provides
a scenerio whereby Glast might have "gone to Glastonbury from the place called loyt coyt". But unless he actually
had resided at Llwyd Coed and moved to Glastonbury from there, the Latin phrase attached to his pedigree (at least as
translated above) would tell us little worth knowing about Glast. His ancestors were from Dogfeiling, not Glastonbury;
if "loyt coyt" was located elsewhere, it would have been more helpful if the pedigree mentioned him going from Dogfeiling
to loyt coyt rather than going somewhere from that place. Perhaps those who place the family in Glastonbury can
explain why a Somerset family was included in the Welsh pedigrees of the 10th century.
In fact, no one knows
where "loyt coyt" is located. Henry of Huntingdon thought that name in the Nennius list of cities could be identified
with Lincoln, a guess that held academic favor until the late 19th century. Then H. Bradley guessed loyt coyt was "Letocetum",
a city in Staffordshire now called Lichfield. This remains the prevailing thought of academia today. In order
to locate a Welsh family from Dogfeiling that far east, the old Glast tales took on added baggage.
Finding a son of Glast called Elud in the
pedigrees, some said he was identical to the Eliudd who was king of Powys after the death of Selyf ap Cynan in 616.
Ignoring the fact that Elud ap Glast lived 100 years earlier than
Eliudd ap Cynan of Powys, the tale claimed that he was a king of Dogfeiling who conquered the Powys territory called
Pengwern and that the eastern part of Pengwern extended into Staffordshire. Thus, according to this tale, Elud and Morfael
were brothers of Cynddylan ap Cyndrwyn, the man of Llys Pengwern celebrated in Canu Heledd and other heroic poetry.
Accordingly, the legend reasons, their father was only nicknamed "Glast" and his birth name must have been Cyndrwyn.
And sure enough, the earliest list of "Plant (children of) Cyndrwyn" includes the heroine of the poetry, Heledd, her sister
Ffeuer, a son called Morfael and another called Eluan Powys...close enough to Elud for the fabricators of the tale.
Strangely missing from the list is Cynddylan himself. So by standing time on its head, we are told that a man (Glast)
was living in the days of King Arthur at a place in Staffordshire which his son (Elud ap Glast) took from its Powys rulers
Ths tale is probably referred
to in the heroic poem "Marwnad Cynddylan" (A Lament for Cynddylan). In
it, the people of Dogfeiling are called oppressors of (or oppressed by) the Cadelling (Powys) and Morfael is described as
having taken much loot and killed the chief bishop and many others at "Caer Lwytgoed". But the first bishop of Lichfield
was named in 669, some years after the Saxons had overrun Llys Pengwern and killed Cynddylan and all his siblings
except Heledd. So while one tale has Glast defending Loyt Coyt in the days before the Battle of Badon, another has his
son attacking it 150 years later. The author of Marwnad Cynddylan apparently knew that Morfael ap Glas was a man of
Dogfeiling and that he was cited as an apparent "brother" of Cynddylan, but then wholly ignored chronology to place Cynddylan
When we put Glast, Morfael
and Elud in their correct chronological setting of the mid-6th century, it becomes clear that whatever Llwyd Coed those
men may have lived or fought at, it wasn't Lichfield in Staffordshire. Nor did either conquer the Powys territory of
Pengwern, which was not the name of a kingdom at all...it was merely the name of Cynddylan's manor. Glast was
contemporary with King Arthur, but no ancient sources confirm they ever fought together.
Returning now to the Latin gloss
from Harleian Ms 3859, others would make it read:
"Glast, whence are derived the
Glastening from the place called Llwyd Coed"
In this translation, Glastening
is not Glastonbury and isn't even a place name. It simply calls Glast's descendants "Glastening" much as descendants
of Coel Hen were called "Coeling" and descendants of Cadell were called "Cadelling". And the Latin "vocat" doesn't carry
the meaning of "called" as in "named", but "called" as in "summoned" or "invited". Also, the translation ignores the
word "vener" altogether; it means "respected" or "revered" as in its English version "venerate". Perhaps then, the "gray
woods" where the Glastening lived was once a holy place of the Druids. It is only early conjecture that makes it
identical to the Roman city of " Caer Luit coyt" from Nennius. (irrespective of the name by which that city is called
Bartrum carelessly calls Glast "the eponym of Glastonbury". His estimate of the birth of Glast is 470 which isn't
far from our guess, but placing him in Glastonbury is wholly without ancient authority. Bartrum's rendition of the Latin
phrase is a bit different than the others we have mentioned; he would emend it to add words of his own choosing:
"Whence are the Glastening who came
through the town which is called Loytcoyt"
This meaning is derived by his insertion
of "per villam" into the Latin text, although he doesn't explain why it would have been relevant to describe men as "those
who merely passed through" any place. Like others, however, he omits whatever may have been meant by "vener"
from his translation. It appears Bartrum was following the lead of William of Malmesbury, who mangled the phrase into:
"This is that Glasteing,
who came through the midland Angles, otherwise the town which is called Escebtiorne"
of Malmesbury didn't claim to have been translating Harleian 3859 when making this statement, he offered no other source for
it. Again, any statement that men traveled through some place or other for no stated purpose tells us little worth knowing
about the men. Surely the copyist who added the gloss was trying to say something which would help identify him.
Whether or not Glast
was actually christened as "Cyndrwyn", the old pedigree called Plant Cyndrwyn includes a son named Morfael and several
other children never mentioned in Canu Heledd as brothers and sisters of Cynddylan. At the same time, the "Eluan Powys"
in the list is called a brother of Heledd and Cynddylan (as Elfan) and should not be confused with Elud son
of Glast. Perhaps the list is the combined children of two different men named Cyndrwyn, one of Dogfeiling and one of
Powys. A total of 21 children are listed, and we have found that in other cases where over 20 offspring have been cited,
they aren't siblings at all but children of multiple same-named men.
When we lay aside all
the medieval tales which either led to, or followed after, the Latin phrase in the old pedigree, we really know nothing at
all about the men descended from Dogfael ap Cunedda beyond the names we charted above. On no more authority than we
have seen to date, it is purely conjucture to place the family either in Glastonbury or Lichfield. If yesterday's wild
guesses equal tomorrow's facts, we will guess that the family's manor in Dogfeiling was known as "the gray woods".