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Ancestors and Children of the Lord Rhys

                                       By Darrell Wolcott
       While much excellent data can be found in many Wikipedia entries, the online free encyclopedia descends to pure unsupported conjecture in its treatment of the 9th century king of Gwynedd in Wales.  Most of what is said of Rhodri ap Merfyn Frych comes from the early Welsh historians whose works were perhaps 10% history and 90% myth, all presented as "factual", and none supported by source footnotes.
       The opening paragraph alleges "he was the first Welsh ruler to be called "Great".  In fact, both Cynog Mawr ap Idnerth of Arwystli (c. 820) and Gwrgan Fawr ap Cynfyn of Gwent/Ewias (c. 515) were called "Great".  But in Rhodri's case, the earliest he was called "Mawr" was in the mid-1200's, some 350 or more years after his death[1].  He is cited in both the Brut y Tywysogyon and Annales Cambriae as merely "Rhodri" and those early manuscripts never attached "Mawr" to him.  Even when it became fashionable to call him Rhodri Mawr, this does not confirm his "greatness" in any political sense. Mawr also means "large"; perhaps he was thought to have been physically bigger than the average man of his era.
         The Wikipedia quote continues "and the first to rule most of present-day Wales".  Before the Edwardian conquest of 1282, only one Welsh king ruled most of present-day Wales...Gruffudd ap Llewelyn from 1056 to 1063.  Rhodri ap Merfyn Frych ruled the single kingdom of Gwynedd.  His grandson, Hywel Dda, ruled a larger area but still only about half the land area now called Wales. 
          The biography now becomes absurd with his Lineage and inheritance:  "The son of Merfyn Frych, King of Gwynedd, and Nest ferch Cadell of the Royal line of Powys, he inherited the kingdom of Gwynedd on his father's death in 844".  There is no mention of a Nest ferch Cadell of Powys earlier than c. 1400 and it is exceedingly doubtful any such lady existed[2].  The first medieval manucripts to mention this lady are contradictory, one making her the mother of Merfyn Frych and the other Merfyn's wife.  Both were drafted by authors seeking to show that Rhodri inherited Powys via this Nest.  It is also unconfirmed that Rhodri even inherited Gwynedd at his father's death in 844.  If he was born c. 820 as estimated by the author of the Wikipedia biography, he would not have attained sufficient age in 844 to claim a Welsh kingship[3].  Either he was born 4/5 years earlier, or he did not become king earlier than c. 848.  There is no anecdotal evidence of a Welsh kingdom ever elevating a 24 year old to kingship, but many cases where an interim king was appointed to serve until the rightful heir attained his "full-age"[4].
          The biography continues: "When his maternal uncle Cyngen ap Cadell ruler of Powys died on a pilgrimage to Rome in 855, Rhodri inherited Powys.  In 872 Gwgon, ruler of Seisyllwg in southern Wales, was accidently drowned, and Rhodri added his Kingdom to his domains by virtue of his marriage to Angharad of Seisyllwg, Gwgon's sister and heiress".  Rhodri never inherited Powys whether or not Cyngen ap Cadell was his maternal uncle[5].  When Cyngen died without sons, the son of his first-cousin became King of Powys.  And Gwgan was King of Ceredigion, not some legendary larger area called Seisyllwg[6].  The Brut records his death by drowning but calling it accidental is pure conjecture.  Some have suggested Rhodri had a hand in it, not to take his kingdom, but merely his manor.  In any event, the Kingship of Ceredigion probably went to a man paternally related to Gwgan: Einion ap Meurig of a cousin line also descended from Ceredig ap Cunedda.  That family continued to hold Ceredigion for another 200 years until it became extinct in the male line[7].
          The final section of this biography is titled "Succession".  Here, we read "Rhodri died leaving three sons: his heir, Anarawd ap Rhodri, who became the king of Gwynedd; his son Cadell ap Rhodri, who conquered Dyfed....; and his son Merfyn ap Rhodri, who became king of Powys."
          In fact Rhodri was succeeded by at least 4 sons, the youngest of whom was Tudwal Gloff, a man believed to have been too young to have been in the battle of 878 where Rhodri was killed, but who sustained injuries in the "avenging of Rhodri" battle of 881 which left him lame and unqualified for any kingship.  The eldest son, Anarawd, did succeed Rhodri as King of Gwynedd.  But Cadell ap Rhodri held no known lordship or kingship.  He probably inherited the manor in Ceredigion owned by his mother's brother, along with scattered lands in Gwynedd.  His life was so obscure that he is unmentioned in either the Brut or the Annales, save his obit.  The final son, Merfyn, had nothing to do with Powys and neither did Rhodri.  His lordship was an appanage of Gwynedd which included Lleyn[8] and probably the neighboring lands of Eifionydd and Ardudwy.
          Curiously, this flawed biography cites among its references the J.E. Lloyd "History of Wales", 1911.  But Lloyd says of the distribution of Rhodri's lands: "it is clear that Anarawd, as the eldest, took possession of Anglesey and the adjacent parts of Gwynedd, and most probable that Cadell received as his share a substantial domain in South Wales where his descendants ruled for many generations. What portion 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[9]".  Thus Lloyd merely suggests that Cadell's share was in south Wales based on the fact that his descendants ruled there[10].  And he wholly fails to repeat the medieval myth about Merfyn inheriting Powys.
         The other reference given, Nora Chadwick's "Celtic Britain" is also curious.  While Ms Chadwick is considered an authority in certain narrow aspects of Welsh history, everything she wrote about the era of Rhodri Mawr was taken from other modern historians.  She is not known to have engaged in any search of ancient sources to validate what others wrote about Rhodri or his sons. 
        Most of the flawed data contained in the biography comes from the 16th century History of Wales by Dr. David Powell.  That work was not a scholarly undertaking, merely a reciting of myths, lore and legends now called the "traditional" history of Wales.  Its value as an authentic source of history is near zero as it fails to distinquish between that which is "probably true" and that which is "mere conjecture".  None of its assertions are footnoted as to original source, primarily because there were no earlier sources for most of them.
       The full text of the Wikipedia entry can be seen here:
        NOTE: The Wikipedia entry has been revised since this paper was first published

[1] Probably the oldest manuscript to attach "Mawr" to Rhodri was Peniarth Ms 17, often called The History of Gruffudd ap Cynan, believed to date from the mid-1200's.  The pedigrees contained in a 10th century manuscript, Harleian 3859, simply call him Rhodri.
[2] See the paper "Nest ferch Cadell ap Brochwel" at the link below:
[3] Refer to the paper "Minimum Age for Welsh Kingship in the 11th Century" at the link below:. 
 It is suggested such an age requirement, which can be repeatedly demonstrated in the 11th century to be near 28, had long been required of Celt kings.
[4] Just within the Royal Family of Gwynedd, we find Cadwallon ap Cadfan was killed in 634 when his son and heir, Cadwaladr, was yet a child.  Cadafael ap Cynfeddw, probably a maternal relative of Cadwallon, was named as interim king.  Then when Cadwaladr died in 682, Ifor ap Alan II of Llydaw was named interim king because Idwal ap Cadwaladr was too young to serve.
[5] See the paper "Powys Succession after 823" at the link below:
[6] See the paper "The Legendary Kingdom of Seisyllwg" at the link below:
[7] Owain, the son of Einion ap Meurig, appears to have divided Ceredigion between his sons Teithwalch and Meirchion.  The portion held by Teithwalch ap Owain was carried to Eunydd ap Pyll of Meirionydd by his granddaughter Morfydd ferch Odwin c. 965.  The family headed by Meirchion ap Owain ended in an heiress, Morfydd ferch Llywarch Llwyd, who carried his portion to her husband c. 1045...probably a man of Dyfed.
[8] ABT 7(o) "Plant Rhodri Mawr", a c. 1250 manuscript, describes Merfyn as a man of Rhiw in Lleyn.  We suggest the original belief that Merfyn ap Rhodri Mawr held Powys was a mis-identification of a Powys man, Iarddur ap Merfyn ap Rhodri ap Brochwel ap Aeddan (920-955) as a son of Merfyn ap Rhodri Mawr.  Also see the paper "The Men of Lleyn and How They Got There" at the link below:
[9] J.E. Lloyd "The History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest", 2nd edition, page 326
[10] Cadell's descendants were also the descendants of his son, Hywel Dda, who did by marriage obtain the kingship of Dyfed.  Neither Cadell nor Hywel Dda "conquered" Dyfed; its ruling family became extinct in the male line and Hywel married the heiress.