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Ancestors and Children of the Lord Rhys
                           MAELGWN GWYNEDD, THE DRAGON OF ANGLESEY
                                              By Darrell Wolcott
         The casual student of early Welsh History will recognize this man, sometimes called Maelgwn Hir, as a powerful 6th century ruler of Gwynedd.  He was one of 5 contemporary rulers singled out for scorn by Gildas in his c. 540 The Ruin of Britain.  Much has been written about him by later men, some probably accurate but much clearly fables.  Leaving aside the preachy condemnation directed at him by Gildas, he tells us several specific things about his life[1]:
         a.  As a youth, he "dispatched his uncle the king with sword and spear".
         b.  Soon afterward, he repented his wickedness and entered a monastery, vowing to remain a monk forever.
         c.  Later, he violated that oath and returned to his evil ways.
         d.  After leaving the monastery, he took a wife.
         e.  After enjoying his wife "for some little time", he spurned her and sought another.
         f.  The object of his affections was a young lady already married to his nephew.
         g. To have that lady, he killed her husband and his own lawful wife.
         To learn who this Maelgwn was, we must turn to the early pedigree manuscripts...none written before c. 970.  Here, we learn that he was a son of Cadwallon Lawhir ap Einion Yrth ap Cunedda[2].  His mother was Meddyf ferch Maeldaf ap Dylan Traws of Nant Conwy[3].  His father had cleared the last of the Irish squatters from the island of Anglesey[4], a task begun by Cadwallon's grandfather, father and uncles about 435/440AD.  Cadwallon had an elder brother, Owain Ddantgwyn[5], who seems to have succeeded their father as king of Gwynedd. 
        Marriages cited for Maelgwn include an unknown Gwallen ferch Affleth[6]; while she was the mother of his eldest son, Rhun, most sources say she was merely a mistress of young Maelgwn, but the boy was acknowledged by his father and became his heir[7].  Maelgwn did marry a lady named Nest ferch Samuel Penisel ap Pappo ap Ceneu ap Coel Hen[8], by whom he had a son Einion[9] and a daughter Eurgain.  The other lady cited as his wife was Sanan ferch Cyngen Glodrydd[10], a sister of Brochwel Ysgithrog of Powys.
        Our chart of his family, together with probable birthdates looks like this:
                                     385  Cunedda
                                                  l                     Dylan Traws  395
                                   415  Einion Yrth                      l
               ___________________l______             Maeldaf  430
               l                                            l                   l
447  Owain Ddantgwyn    450  Cadwallon Lawhir==Meddyf  465
                                                        480  Maelgwn Gwynedd
            The consorts assigned to Maelgwn and mothers of his children are:
            340  Coel Hen
            380  Ceneu
            415  Pappo*
      450  Samuel Penisel     ? Afallach     475  Cyngen Glodrydd
                       l                       l                            l
              490  Nest         ?  Gwallwen           510  Sanan
        Einion and Eurgain      Rhun, c. 505       no issue known 
            c. 515/520
       *This is NOT Pabo Post Prydain whose son was Sawl Penuchel; the Samuel Penisel line is cited in Harleian Ms 3859, 19. See APPENDIX II
         The "king, his uncle" whom Maelgwn slew in his youth is nowhere named.  Gildas referred to him as "avunculus" or "mother's brother", so this seems to rule out Owain Ddantgwyn... his father's brother.  Thus, the deposed king must have been a son of Maeldaf ap Dylan Traws of Nant Conwy[11].  We suggest some of the men Gildas called "kings" were merely rulers of appanages of larger kingships[12]. This man likely ruled Nant Conway, a part of Gwynedd subject to its king.  Likewise, Cadwallon Lawhir ruled only Anglesey (and possibly Arfon) while his brother was overall king of Gwynedd[13].
          Since Gildas first took notice of Maelgwn when he was in his youth, i.e. early 20's, we should describe his world as he might have seen it in the period AD500-505.  The battle of Baden had recently defeated the main Saxon army and Wales was no longer threatened by outside invaders.  It is quite likely that Maelgwn, and his cousins, had been among Arthur's warriors at Baden. His father and uncle were in their 50's, probably still capable of leading a warband to defend their own lands, but a bit old to be active on the battlefield far from home.  Flush with victory in his first campaign, Maelgwn may have chafed under the constraints imposed back home.  He would not step into his father's shoes until Cadwallon Lawhir either died or retired to a monastery in his old age, but he had a following of noble youths that had fought with him; they saw him as a born leader and powerful warrior and gladly joined him in an attempt to unseat the neighboring ruler in Nant Conwy.  The coup was successful, his mother's brother fell to their swords and spears as the band of youths despoiled his lands, taking loot and young maidens.  Maelgwn took over the Lord's manor and took to his bed a young lady, Gwallwen ferch Afallach.  It was about the year 505 when she bore a son, Rhun, whom Maelgwn saw as a mirror image of himself (and indeed the boy did grow up to be taller and stronger than the average man). In seeking to identify this lady, we note that Maelgwn's mother would have been born c. 465 and her brother perhaps c. 460.  A daughter of that brother would have occurred c. 490 and thus be of child-bearing age in 505. The timeline is wholly consistent with identifying the slain Lord of Nant Conwy as Afallach ap Maeldaf and Gwallwen as his daughter.  We further suggest that family was among the descendants of Eudaf Hen who had ruled Gwynedd prior to the arrival of Cunedda.  Dylan Traws fits as a younger son of Tudwal ap Turmwr Morfawr ap Gaedon ap Cynan ap Eudaf Hen, and may have received the Lordship of Nant Conwy when his brother, Cynfawr, succeeded to the overall kingship. 
           Probably never his intent to rule these conquered lands to the benefit of their occupants, he and his rowdy group of friends simply took what they wanted from the people of Nant Conway.  We suggest these people appealed to the clergy to assist them in their woes, and asked St. Illtud to intercede with Maelgwn.  Illtud was then the most respected bishop in Wales[14], a first-cousin of Arthur[15] and probably maternally related to Maelgwn[APPENDIX I].  Early writers identify Illtud (born c. 460/465) as the "teacher" of Maelgwn, so we think he is the holy man who convinced Maelgwn to renounce his selfish and evil past and enter a monastery to train for a peaceful life as a spiritual leader.  Maelgwn was wholly won over and Illtud promised to see that the infant Rhun was cared for and raised to be a fine man of whom a father could be proud.
          After some few years as a monk, during which time he ministered to the weak and poor and comforted the ill, and indeed led an exemplary life, his father finally died near age 65.  When it became evident that other male kinfolks were prepared to assume rule over his own paternal lands, Maelgwn renounced his vows and left the monastery.  He returned to become Lord of Anglesey, was reunited with his young son, and took a wife.  Gildas called this marriage "illegal", but we aren't sure if he meant Maelgwn already had a "wife" in the eyes of the church...the mother of Rhun...or he meant Maelgwn had taken the celibacy oath of a monk.  We suggest this wife was Nest, a lady about 10 years younger than himself.  Maelgwn was now about 35 years old, so Nest likely was a 25 year old widow or divorcee. 
         By this lady, Maelgwn had a son Einion and a daughter Eurgain, probably in the years 516/520.  We suggest he did not emerge from the monastary and immediately resume the evil ways of his youth.  But an event around the year 525 changed him forever; he was selected to be the interim king of all Gwynedd.
         His cousin, the king of Gwynedd, had fallen in battle that year...a man in his mid-40's[16].  The king's eldest son was but a teenager so the leading men of the realm gathered to select an interim king to rule until the legal heir came of his full age.  There were several eligible candidates, but it was Maelgwn who received the nod[17].  He moved from Anglesey to occupy the royal manor at Degannwy, and all the trappings of power went to his head.  Becoming as ruthless as when a youth, but with all the authority and power of kingship, Maelgwn indeed returned to iniquities "like a sick dog returns to his vomit".  Disdaining his wife, now in her 30's, he became enamored of a much younger lady whom we would identify as the 16 year old wife of his own nephew[18]...Sanan ferch Cyngen Glodrydd.
          Unable to induce the lady to leave her husband and come to his bed, he killed that man leaving her a widow.  Apparently his wife Nest objected to having the younger woman take her place in Maelgwn's bed, so she too was slain.  Maelgwn was a man near age 41 at the time he wed the pretty teenage widow.  By the account of Gildas, he went downhill from there so far as decency and honor were concerned.  It is known, however, that he made many generous gifts and landgrants to various churches throughout Wales.  Whether these were proof that he had a strong spiritual nature, or were simply bribes he offered the holy men to offset the offenses he committed against them and his fellow men, is anyone's guess.
          But his heady ride as the most powerful man in north Wales ended, we suggest, about 545.  The rightful heir was now of full age and the "regency" of Maelgwn was declared over.  Nearing age 65, Maelgwn reverted to simply Lord of Anglesey.  Rather than accept this demotion, he installed his son Rhun, now about 40, in his manor of Afferfraw and retired back to monastic life.  He was still there in 547 when the ''yellow plague" swept over Gwynedd, and he died as he sought shelter from it in the nearby church[19].

[1] From "Gildas, The Ruin of Britain", edited and translated by Michael Winterbotton and published in 1978 as book 7 in History from the Sources.  Both Latin text and English translations are given
[2] Harleian Ms 3859, 1
[3] Bonedd yr Arwyr section of now lost manuscript Hengwrt 33, item 28(e) printed in Peter Bartrum's "Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts", 1966, pp 84-94
[4] Ibid, item 29
[5] Harleian Ms 3859, 3
[6] Bonedd yr Arwyr, 28(d)
[7] Peniarth Ms 181. pp 265-273 says after the death of Maelgwn, his daughter Eurgain's husband, Elidyr Mwynfawr, came to Gwynedd to contest Rhun's inheritance, claiming Eurgain was the only legitimate heir due to Rhun being born out of wedlock.  Rhun killed Elidyr in the ensuing battle. 
[8] Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, Vol 18, p. 57
[9] Peniarth Ms 127, 76 cites Einion as a uterine brother of Rhun, but this seems unlikely
[10] De Situ Brecheniauc 11, 9
[11] The mother of Maelgwn was a daughter of Maeldaf, thus her brother was a son of that man.  The source shown in note 3 above cites that family as "of Nant Conwy"
[12] Among the 5 "kings" excoriated by Gildas were Cynlas and Maelgwn, both of Gwynedd; Cynlas ruled only the portion east of the Conwy
[13] Bonedd y Saint, 9 cites a son of Owain Ddantgwyn as "brenhin", suggesting this was the kingly family of Gwynedd, not that of his brother Cadwallon Lawhir
[14] While Gildas did not give us his name, his words were "you have had as your teacher the refined master of almost all Britain"
[15] Vita Illtuti Abbatis cites St. Illtud as a son of Reingulid ferch Amlawdd, a sister of the mother of Arthur
[16] Gildas said that while Wales was free of outside invasions for a generation after Badon, there were internal wars.  Since Maelgwn is thought to have become king of Gwynedd c. 525, the previous king must have been killed about that time, at an age when his sons were still youngsters
[17] Aneurin Owen's "Ancient Laws and Institutes of Wales", vol II, pp 49-51 recites the tale of how a contest was held among several kings to determine which would be paramount.  The contestants were to sit in chairs on the beach as the tide came in, with the last to stand up (and avoid drowning) being declared the winner.  Maelgwn brought a chair composed of waxed wings which floated on the tide, thus easily winning.  Few would accept this as anything but medieval folklore, similar to the tale of Arthur becoming king by being the only person who could remove "the sword in the stone"
[18] Gildas calls this nephew the son of Maelgwn's brother. No siblings of Maelgwn appear anywhere in the body of Welsh pedigrees.  But of Maelgwn's consorts, only Sanan was young enough to have been the wife of Maelgwn's nephew
[19] Some accounts of his death place the church in Rhos near his court at Degannwy; we suggest he was in seclusion and no longer king when death overtook him at an unknown location

        While Bonedd yr Arwyr 28(a) says Maelgwn's mother, Meddyf ferch Maeldaf, was the daughter of Tallwch ap Cwch ap Cychwerin, the ancestry of Tallwch is nowhere cited.  We suggest that both Cwch (boat) and Cychwerin (rect cychwr = boat builder) were merely nicknames of men better known by their birthnames.  Of those families already living in northwest Wales before the coming of Maelgwn's ancestors, we would place Tallwch in this chart:
                                   230  Eudaf Hen (a)
                                     265  Cynan
                                    295  Gaedon
                                325  Turmwr Morfawr (b)
                                 355  Ffrwdwr Cychwr (c)
                                 385  Cynwal Cwch
                      l                                                   l
          415  Tallwch                              420  Amlawdd Wledig
                      l                                    ________l______
                      l                430              l                         l
          445  daughter==Maeldaf   455 Eigyr        450  Reingulid
                               l                          l                         l
                   465  Meddyf       475  King Arthur    465  St Illtud
            480  Maelgwn Gwynedd (d)
  (a)  Direct paternal descendant of Caradog ap Bran ap Llyr Llediath, and king of that part of Gwynedd then called Cernyw: lands west of the Conwy and north of the Dyfy
  (b)  Called "of the great sea", he was probably an experienced mariner in service to the Romans and heir to the kingship of Cernyw
  (c)  The boat builder who probably ruled Arfon and Arllechwedd and brother of Tudwal who followed his father as king of Cernyw
  (d)  Our conjectural chart makes his mother the second-cousin of both King Arthur and St. Illtud. 
         This chart displays pedigree citations found in Harleian Ms. 3859, 19 and Bonedd Gwyr y Gogledd, 4 to show the Samuel Penisel and Sawl Penuchel often thought to be the same man:
                                       340  Coel Hen
                                        380  Ceneu
                     l                                                 l
           415  Pappo                                  415  Mar   
                     l                                                 l
     450  Samuel Penisel                         450  Athrwys
                     l                                                 l
           490  Nest                             480  Pabo Post Prydain 
                                                      510  Sawl Penuchel 
                                                          540  St Asaph 
        Nest was a wife of Maelgwn Gwynedd and often said to be the sister of St Asaph by those who think Samuel Penisel and Sawl Penuchel were the same man.  St Asaph died c. 601 and received his early training from St. Kentigern (c. 520 - c. 612).  He clearly lived two generations too late to have been a brother-in-law of Maelgwn.    
        The nickname "Penisel" means "with a low head" or "humble", while Penuchel means the opposite: proud or haughty.  Probably the reason Samuel and Sawl are confused with each other is that a copyist of Harleian Ms 3859 added "p priten" to Pappo ap Ceneu, thinking he was "post prydain".  The "Guitcun father of Cadwallon" cited in this manuscript was a brother of Nest, not of St Asaph.