THE OTHER GWENWYNWYN
By Darrell Wolcott
Virtually all secondary sources
tell us that the man for whom Powys Gwenwynwyn (pronounced wen-UN-wen) was named was the son of Owain Cyfeiliog and was succeeded
by a son, Gruffudd. The medieval genealogists assign him 2 wives: Marged ferch Lord Rhys  and Margaret, daughter
of Robert Corbet of Caus.  They say he died about 1218, leaving a single legitimate son who was yet a child.
Older manuscripts make Owain Cyfeiliog a son of Gruffudd ap Maredudd ap Bleddyn ap Cynfyn by Gwerfyl ferch Gwrgeneu ap Hoedliw,
the same lady who was the mother of Cadfan ap Cadwaladr ap Gruffudd ap Cynan.
Since the Brut records the obit
of Gruffudd ap Maredudd in 1128, Owain Cyfeiliog could not have been born later than 1129. But Owain had a younger brother,
Meurig, so his own birth must have been somewhat earlier. We would fix it near 1125 and Meurig near 1128 since the brothers
were jointly granted the cantref of Cyfeiliog in 1149 (probably when the youngest of them turned 21). Owain Cyfeiliog
married Gwenllian ferch Owain Gwynedd, a lady born c. 1135. This marriage likely occurred near 1150 soon after Owain
first acquired any lands of his own.
Gwenwynwyn was the eldest
son of this marriage, probably born near 1155. He had at least 6 sisters and 4 brothers, and would have been in his
early 60's when he died. One cited wife, the daughter of Lord Rhys, was probably born c. 1165 and was age-appropriate
for him. The other cited wife, the daughter of Robert Corbet of Caus, was born nearer 1195 and was the mother of
Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn. That son is first noted in the records in 1224 when King Henry III granted him a half-mark.
In this grant, he was called "Griffen filio Wenhunweni infirmio". It is unclear whether this signified that Griffen
or his father was "infirmio", i.e. weak and feeble. During his boyhood, all the Welsh lands he stood to inherit were
in the custody of Llewelyn Fawr of Gwynedd...first taken by force in 1216 and later confirmed as the custodian for the heirs
of Gwenwynwyn. Due to contention between the sons of Llewelyn Fawr, these lands were withheld from Gruffudd until 1241
when Henry III ordered them restored.
In 1200, King John had granted
to Gwenwynwyn the manor of Ashford in Derbyshire which was later placed in the custody of the king's retainer, Brian de
Insula. In 1232, this man was ordered to deliver custody of Ashford to Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, except for the 1/3
dower right previously released to Gruffudd's mother. Thus, we assume Gruffudd turned 21 in 1232, having been only
13 when he first appeared in the records. He would have been about 30 when he finally obtained his Powys lands.
He died about 1286 at an advanced age.
Thus far, our chronology
assumes that every entry in the official records which names "Gwenwynwyn filio Owain Cyfeiliog" or "Gwenwynwyn Cyfeiliog"
or "Gwenwynwyn Walensis" all refer to a single man. If that is true, the family chart would look like this:
Maredudd ap Bleddyn, ob 1132
1093 Gruffudd, ob 1128
Owain Cyfeiliog, ob 1197
Gwenwynwyn, ob 1218, married Margaret Corbet born
1211 Gruffudd, ob c. 1286
We immediate become
sceptical of the chronological timeline of the family. Even should we accept a man taking a wife some 40 years younger
than himself, it remains unusual that his only legitimate son was born when he was past age 55. The typical Welsh prince
got about the task of producing sons to continue his dynasty when in his late 20's or early 30's. Our first thought
is that an entire generation is missing from the chart: a man also named Gwenwynwyn and born c. 1183, thusly:
1125 Owain Cyfeiliog
f. Lord Rhys 1165
1183 Gwenwynwyn Cyfeiliog===Margaret Corbet 1195
While we accept that every
Brut entry (the last in 1216) is consistent with a single Gwenwynwyn...one active as a warrior between 1187 and 1212...we
are less certain about the evidence provided by the Patent Rolls. Eyton cites one entry dated 1209 where King John gives
Robert Corbet 20 marks to convey to "Woenwnoen Walensis". Was this money meant for a Prince or Baron having considerable
wealth, or perhaps for an invalid who was in Corbet's care? We note that Gwenwynwyn's ancestor, Gruffudd ap Maredudd,
had died from unknown causes about age 35. And that either young Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn or his father was called "infirmo"
in 1224. Was there perhaps a gene in this family which predisposed the men to some fatal illness?
We suggest the following
scenerio which would account for each of the oddities noted. It was the elder Gwenwynwyn who married a daughter of Lord
Rhys about 1180 and had a son about 1183 named after his father. That son was frail as a child and as a young man; he
was sent as a hostage to King John in 1208 who placed him in the care of Robert Corbet at Caus Castle. In 1209,
he was given a daughter of Corbet for his wife; the 20 marks sent him by the king might have been a wedding gift, conveyed
by his new father-in-law. But his illness worsened, so that by 1218 when the elder Gwenwynwyn died, he was not mentally
fit to take seisin of even the English manor of Ashford. We suggest he lingered until 1222 or 1223 before he finally
died. It was in 1223 when his widow was given her dower interest in Ashford, the remainder held until her son turned
21. If Margaret Corbet had been a very young wife of the elder Gwenwynwyn (who died in 1218), we suggest she would not
have waited 5 years to claim her English dowry...particularly since her Welsh dowry was then in the hostile hands of Llewelyn
While Llewelyn Fawr was granted
legal custody of Gwenwynwyn's lands later in 1218, and agreed to hold them "to the full age of the heirs of Gwenwynwyn" and
to provide reasonable sustenance for said heirs and to pay the dower of his widow, those heirs were not called "sons"...
perhaps because they were grandsons. That Llewelyn Fawr did not keep this agreement can be seen by (a) King Henry
III having to grant young Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn 5 marks in 1229 "for sustenance of him and his men" and (b) the lands
of Powys Gwenwynwyn were still in his hands when he died in 1240 even though Gruffudd had turned 21 long before then. We
suggest that in 1218, Gwenwynwyn's only legal son lay at Caus Castle awaiting death, unaware even of his father's passing.
In addition to son and
heir, Gruffudd, the younger Gwenwynwyn apparently had 2 base sons born before his marriage. An "Owen son of Wenwynwyn"
was, in 1225, given a royal grant of 2 marks to buy himself a "runcinum". This was a woodworking tool likely needed
by the young man to practice a trade. This Owain thereafter disappears from the records. Another base son, Madog,
was given a life estate in the commote of Mowddwy, to be held of his brother Gruffudd. This man occurs in official
records in 1245 and 1258 and apparently lived a full life. He is credited with a single daughter, Efa.