THE CHILDREN OF LORD RHYS
By Darrell Wolcott
The father of Lord Rhys, Gruffudd
ap Rhys ap Tewdwr, had failed to reconstitute the south Wales kingdom of Deheubarth once ruled by his father,
and had been forced to give fealty to King Henry I. When he died in 1137, he held the rank and title Prince of
South Wales but was only in possession of the single commote of Caeo in the eastern part of Cantref Mawr, Ystrad Tywy.
His wife, Gwenllian ferch Gruffudd ap Cynan, had been killed in 1136 as she led an army against the Normans while her husband
was temporarily away in Gwynedd. With her were sons Morgan and Maelgwn; Morgan fell in battle and Maelgwn was taken
prisioner, never to be heard from again.
Thus there were six orphan sons,
aged about 2 to 22, who survived Gruffudd. The younger boys, Rhys, Maredudd, Owain and Rhys Fychan were probably
taken in by one or more of their father's former barons. Anarawd was the eldest of the surviving brothers, followed
by Cadell. These men set out to recover the lands over which their grandfather had ruled. But Anarawd was killed
in 1143 and, in 1152, Cadell was ambushed while out hunting in Dyfed. He was badly injured and left for dead; while
he did survive, he went on a pilgrimage to Rome and probably never recovered his health, finally passing away in 1175 after
"a long infirmity". He entrusted his lands to brothers Maredudd and Rhys, who took over the family's quest to restore
Welsh rule over Deheubarth. Maredudd died of natural causes in 1155 at the age of 25, and Rhys continued the quest alone.
Historians, with much more conjecture than evidence, claim Rhys was younger than Maredudd and thus born after 1130.
We suggest he was born nearer 1125, married about 1155 and died in 1197 past the age of 70.
During the period 1155
until his death in 1197, Rhys proved to be a valiant warrior and skilled diplomat as he both conquered all of the
original lands of Deheubarth and was so well-regarded that Henry II named him his justiciar for south Wales in 1172. It
is doubtful, however, that he was widely known as "the Lord Rhys" during his lifetime. That epithet, likely coined by
later Welsh bards is, during his lifetime, absent from the Brut...it simply calls him Rhys ap Gruffudd.
It seems certain that
it was Rhys' intention to keep Deheubarth intact after his death and not become fragmented by the Welsh custom of equal division
among his sons. The first of those sons mentioned by the Brut was Maelgwn, who in 1187 ravaged and burned the town of
Tenby in Dyfed. One suspects it was about this time that Maelgwn learned that his father intended to make his brother
Gruffudd his sole heir. We are told that in 1189, Lord Rhys imprisoned Maelgwn in Dinefwr castle "who was then in rebellion
against him". Shortly afterwards, Gruffudd ap Rhys took his brother from the keep at Dinefwr (without his father's knowledge)
and gave him over to the custody of William de Braose, the father-in-law of Gruffudd. While Lord Rhys liberated Maelgwn
in 1192, the two brothers were thereafter bitter enemies.
With this background, we now
turn to the chore of identifying each of the children of Lord Rhys, who did in fact dissolve his life's work by fighting to
obtain separate shares of Deheubarth.
By his wife Gwenllian,
born c. 1140, ferch Madog ap Maredudd of Powys, Lord Rhys had 4 sons and two daughters:
1. Maelgwn Hen, born c. 1155. We suggest he was the eldest son but
not the choice of his father to succeed himself. He is described as fairly short in stature with an impetious temper.
Most would make Gruffudd the eldest son since the Brut says he succeeded to the rule of Deheubarth when Lord Rhys died.
Peter Bartrum and others claim Maelgwn Hen and Maelgwn Fawr were two names for a single son of Lord Rhys by a mistress. Dwnn
ii, 99 lists separate men as Maelgwn Fawr and Maelgwn Hen, saying both were the offspring of mistresses. One source
says "graig Maelgwn Hen ap yr arglwydd Rhys oedd Wenllian verch Madog ap Meredydd" and that "she was mam" Maelgwn Ifank mab
Maelgwn Hen". Since that lady was the wife of Lord Rhys, we think "graig" should read "mam" and "she was mam" should
read "he was tad" Maelgwn Ieuanc. Based on this flawed citation, Bartrum claims this was a base son of Lord Rhys who
must have married his widow after 1197. But his widow would have been nearing age 60 and could not have subsequently
given birth to a son. Everything we know of the Maelgwn ap Lord Rhys from the Brut is consistent with him being a legitimate
son and full brother of Gruffudd. And an elder brother who was furious that
his father passed him over as his sole heir, favoring Gruffudd instead. Almost immediately after their father died,
Maelgwn seized Gruffudd and gave him as a prisioner to the Normans. Maelgwn ap Rhys died in 1231; his actual wife is
2. Gruffudd, born c. 1157. The same year Lord Rhys died, Gruffudd was captured
and imprisoned by his brother Maelgwn. In 1198, Maelgwn turned him over to the "Saxons" (read Normans). Later
that year, he was set free...likely because the Normans delighted in dividing the Welsh by setting brother against brother.
The brothers resumed their hostilities, with Gruffudd getting the upper hand until his untimely death in 1201, apparently
from natural causes. He married Maltilda (c. 1170), daughter of William de Braose, Lord of Brycheiniog. He was survived
by sons Rhys Ieuanc and Owain, who took up their father's feud with Maelgwn.
3. Rhys Fychan aka Gryg, born c. 1165. He was first noticed in the
Brut in 1195 when he and his brother Maredudd took the castle at Dinefwr. He battled against his nephews, the sons of
Gruffudd, for several years...sometimes as an ally of Gwynedd's Llewelyn Fawr and sometimes siding with King John. In
1213, he was placed in the king's prison but released in 1215 after giving his son Rhys Fychan as a hostage. Thereafter,
he was called Rhys Gryg and his son later become known as Rhys Mechyll who also named a son Rhys Fychan, usually called Ieuanc.
He married (1) a daughter (c. 1180) of Gilbert de Clare III; (2) Ellyw (c. 1170) ferch Trahaearn ap Gwgan ap Gwgan ap Bleddyn
ap Maenyrch; and (3) Gwenllian (c. 1165) ferch Elidyr ap Owain ap Idnerth ap Cadwgan ap Elystan Glodrydd. Rhys
Gryg died in 1233.
4. Maredudd Gethin, born c. 1170. After assisting his brother Rhys
take Dinefwr in 1195, the Lord Rhys seized both sons and placed them in his prison. While Rhys Gryg was released when his
father died, nothing more is heard about Maredudd until he was killed in battle in 1201. He is said to have married
Gwenllian Fychan (c. 1185) ferch Sir Hywel ap Iorwerth ap Owain Wan of Caerleon in Gwent. He left a daughter, Gwenllian,
and a son, Gruffudd.
5. Marged ferch Lord Rhys, born c. 1169. She married Gwenwynwyn (c.
1155) ap Owain Cyfeiliog of southern Powys about 1182. Nothing more is known of her, but she was not the mother
of Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn.
6. Gwenllian ferch Lord Rhys, born c. 1180. She married Ednyfed Fychan
(c. 1165) the seneschal of Llewelyn Fawr of Gwynedd. Her death is recorded in 1236. Most sources claim she
also married Rhodri ap Owain Gwynedd, but we believe that was a different lady whose name was probably Annes. (see below)
Children of Lord
Rhys by various mistresses were:
7. Maelgwn Fawr, born c. 1150. His mother was Gwerfyl (c. 1135) ferch
Llewelyn ap Rhys ap Morda Frych ap Cydrich ap Gwaithfoed of Cantref Bychan. Some sources claim he married Gwenllian,
his step-mother, the wife of Lord Rhys. That lady was a half-generation older than Maelgwn Fawr and would have been
about 57 years old when Lord Rhys left her a widow. Those sources also say this couple were the parents
of Maelgwn Ieuanc. However, the deeds of Maelgwn Ieuanc appear to identify him as a son of Maelgwn Hen and born during
the lifetime of Lord Rhys. This base son, also called Maelgwn, is probably wholly absent from the Brut and may have
been called "Fawr" simply to describe him as a man large in stature, or because he was the eldest of Lord Rhys' sons.
The Brut never calls its Maelgwn ap Lord Rhys by any nickname; we arbitrarily call the legitimate Maelgwn "Hen" since he had
a son Maelgwn Fychan or Ieuanc (the younger). Accordingly, we think Lord Rhys had both a base son and a legitimate
son named Maelgwn, but nothing except the name of his mother is known about the base son. The fact that his mother was
a near neighbor of Lord Rhys' paternal home in Caeo argues for this child to have been conceived before his marriage.
8. Maredudd Ddall (the blind), born c. 1157. He was, as a child,
given to King Henry II as a hostage to insure the fidelity of Lord Rhys. When Rhys joined the other Welsh princes in
rebellion and defeated the king's army at Corwen in 1165, an angry Henry II had the boy blinded and sent back to his father.
His mother was Gwenddydd ferch Cynddelw ap y Bochawc of Emlyn, but one source says Cynddelw ap Brochwel. Her
further ancestry is unknown. This Maredudd was a natal sister of Tangwystl mentioned below. He lived a long,
but uneventful life, dying in 1239.
9. Cadwaladr Lwgr, born c. 1158. He is often identified as the son
born of a niece of Lord Rhys, whom we call Meurig (see below). But Cadwaladr's obit is recorded in 1186 and
he left a son, Einion ap Cadwaladr of Brycheiniog, so he could hardly be the son born in 1173.
10. Owain, born c. 1159. His mother is cited as Isabel ferch Iorwerth
Fodrychan and as Sabel ferch Ivan Hir, neither of which has been further identified. He received lands in Caerwedros,
Ceredigion and died in 1191, leaving a son named Maredudd. His wife is unknown.
11. Maredudd, born c. 1160. His mother was a daughter (c.
1145) ferch Dafydd Fras ap Maredudd Fras ap Rhydderch ap Tewdwr Mawr. He was appointed Archdeacon of Ceredegion
and dedicated his life to the church, dying in 1227. His wife is not cited, but children are assigned to him.
12. Hywel Sais, born c. 1165. His mother was Ystedur (c. 1150) ferch
Caradog ap Llowrodd Dyfed ap Gwynfardd Dyfed. This lady is called a "foster sister" of Lord Rhys since, as an orphaned child,
Lord Rhys had been reared by Caradog. Hywel was given as a hostage to King Henry II when yet a child, but was released
back to his father in 1171. In 1175, Lord Rhys hoped to curry favor with the king and sent Hywel to serve Henry
II while the latter was attending to his lands in France. After returning from that assignment, he was dubbed "Sais"
because he could speak the language of the "Englishmen". He held lands in Dyfed where he took the castle of Wizo the
Flemish man in 1193. The following year, in an attempt to control his rebellous sons, Lord Rhys attacked Hywel
Sais and Maelgwn in Dyfed but was captured by those sons. Without the knowledge or consent of Maelgwn, Hywel Sais
set their father free. In 1204, Hywel Sais was killed by Maelgwn's men. He left behind three sons: Cynan, Madog
and Rhys and a daughter, Angharad. His wife is unknown.
13. Cynwrig, born c. 1165. His mother was Nest (c. 1150) ferch Gruffudd
ap Gwyn ap Gwalchmai ap Cydrich ap Gwaithfoed of Cantref Bychan. Her brother, Cadifor, and his 4 sons were captured
and slain by Maelgwn ap Lord Rhys in 1205. Cynwrig met Gerald of Wales during his 1188 Journey Through Wales, who described
him as tall, handsome and with fair curly hair. Gerald preached a sermon to Lord Rhys and his sons Maelgwn, Gruffudd
and Cynwrig but none of them elected to "take up the cross" when implored to do so. One version of the Brut claims
Cynwrig was also blinded with his brother Maredudd, but the text was corruptly translated. He was in fine spirits
and leading a small warband of "lightly armed young men" when Gerald encountered him in 1188. In his 1978 translation
of Gerald's Tour, Lewis Thorpe footnoted Cynwrig as Lord Rhys' third son, probably because only 3 sons met with Gerald.
14. Morgan, born c. 1170. His mother was Nest (c. 1155) ferch Caradog
Fychan ap Caradog descended from Cynddelw ap Einion of Widigada. This Morgan served as penteulu for his half-brother
Gruffudd during the period 1198 to 1201. He died in 1251 of old age at Strada Florida. No issue is known.
15. Meurig, born in 1173. His mother was Gwenllian (c. 1155) ferch
Maredudd ap Gruffudd ap Rhys ap Tewdwr, thus a daughter of Lord Rhys' brother. She was likely a base daughter, possibly
born posthumously since her father died in 1155 at age 25. He is the only son of Lord Rhys whose date
of birth is recorded in the Brut, probably because the cleric who wrote the entry for 1173 wished to emphasize the incestual
nature of the relationship between Lord Rhys and this Gwenllian. Most historians say he is the same man as Cadwaladr
Lwgr mentioned earlier, but offer nothing credible to overrule the earliest source. Nothing is known of Meurig
save his birth.
16. Rhys Gochyn, born c. 1175. This man in known only from the medieval
pedigree manuscripts, where his son Rhys Goch (c. 1205) is cited as the husband of Gwen (c. 1220) ferch Angharad (c. 1200)
ferch Hywel Sais. This Gwen was a daughter of his (Rhys Goch's) first-cousin who had married a grandson
of Sir Roger of Powys.
17. Catryn, born c. 1151. This lady was given as wife to Cadifor
ap Dyfnwal, a warrior for Lord Rhys who, it is said, took the castle at Cardigan by scaling its walls in 1164. Cadifor
was born c. 1140.
18. Unnamed daughter, born c. 1155. She married Lucas de Hoda of
Cemais, a Norman knight born c. 1145 said to be a follower of Martin of Tours. Her mother is unknown, and she
might have been the same lady as one of Lord Rhys' known daughters.
19. Unnamed daughter, born c. 1158. The Brut entry for 1175 lists
several men whom Lord Rhys took to the king's council in Gloucester because they had incurred the king's displeasure.
One man is identified as "Einion ap Rhys, his other son-in-law, of Gwerthrynion". Probably descended from the clan of
Elystan Glodrydd, this Einion is not further identified nor is his wife named. Since that daughter was already married
in 1175, she could not have been born much later than 1160. But she might have been the same lady as one of his base
daughters whose name we know and who later married a second husband.
20. Susanna, born c. 1160. She married Einion of Porth (c. 1150)
ap Einion Clud ap Madog ap Idnerth ap Cadwgan ap Elystan Glodrydd. He was another of the men Lord Rhys took to the king's
council in 1175 and described as "Einion Clud (sic), his son-in-law, of Elfael." But Gerald of Wales, in his 1188 journey,
says "next came Einion, son of Einion Clud, prince of Elfael....who spoke to Rhys who was present and whose daughter he had
married..". While neither early source gives this daughter's name, she is called Susanna in a c. 1280 tract.
Again, the lady could not have been born later than c. 1160 as she was already married in 1175. Her mother is unknown.
21. Tangwystl, born c. 1165. She had the same mother as Maredudd
Ddall, the only known instance where Lord Rhys had two base children by the same mistress. It is possible that after
the lady's son had been blinded, Lord Rhys determined to give her another child; it had been his behavour which
caused King Henry II to blind her son while held as a hostage. She married (1) Maredudd (c. 1155) ap Rhydderch
ap Bleddri Latimer ap Bleddri ap Cadifor Fawr; and (2) Einion (c. 1160) ap Llywarch ap Bran of Menai. While
we assign both marriages to a single lady, it is not impossible that Lord Rhys had two daughters both named Tangwystl.
22. Angharad, born c. 1169. She married William fitz Robert fitz
Martin of Cemais. He died in 1209 and was born c. 1155. A descendant of Angharad and William was David Martin,
Bishop of Mynyw from 1296 to 1328. Her mother is unknown.
23. Lleuci, born c. 1170. She married Owain Foel (c. 1155) ap Caradog
ap Owain Fab ap Rhydderch ap Tewdwr Mawr. Her mother is unknown.
24. Annes, born c. 1174. According to Gerald of Wales, when he met
Rhodri ap Owain Gwynedd in 1188, "only a short time before Rhodri had taken the daughter of Prince Rhys as his mistress". Gerald
did not name the lady. Some medieval genealogists say it was Gwenllian ferch Lord Rhys and that she was married
to Rhodri before she married Ednyfed Fychan. We suggest Gwenllian, who married Ednyfed Fychan about 1195, was under
10 years of age in 1188 and would prefer the source which calls the mistress of Rhodri "Annes". And we
suspect Rhodri, born c. 1140, already had sons her age in 1188, by an unknown wife. One source, which calls this
daughter "Gwenllian", says she was the "graig" (wife) of Cynan ap Rhodri. While that is chronologically impossible,
she may have been the mother of Cynan.
25. Gwladys, born c. 1180. She married Hen William Caentwn, also
called William Cantington and William Canton. He was born c. 1170 and his obit is recorded in the Brut in 1230 as
William Canton. Her mother is unknown.
as children of Lord Rhys include a son Cadwgan which is probably an error for Cadwaladr; daughters Elinor and Marged
who, by their marriages, must have been born before the year 1100 and might have been children of Rhys ap Tewdwr; and a daughter Gwenllian
mentioned in the Brut in 1190 as dying that year "the flower and beauty of all the women of Wales". This might have
been Gwenllian the wife of Lord Rhys; it is difficult to explain the praise given the lady in her obit should she
have been just another base daughter of Lord Rhys (the Gwenllian who was born in wedlock did not die until 1236). This
is particularly true if the daughter we call Annes, but others call Gwenllian, was actually named Gwenllian. It seems
incredulous that such a lady, a mistress of Rhodri ap Owain Gwynedd and in an incestious relationship (Lord Rhys and Rhodri
were first-cousins), would merit such praise from the cleric who penned the Brut entry.
All the estimated birthdates
which we list are merely our guesses based on (1) the probably birthdate of their mother, or (2) the likely birthdate of their
spouse, or (3) events recorded in the Brut in which they participated. Neither these dates, nor the order in which we
list the children, should be taken as more than "probable".
The possibility that one or
more of those children in our list is the same person (under a different name) cannot be excluded. Pedigrees abound where females are called by differing names, depending on the source. A daughter
whose husband died early almost certainly could be expected to wed another. In addition, those 4 names mentioned
at the end of our list might have been children of Lord Rhys if we assume that incorrect spouses were cited for two of
those ladies. Accordingly, there can be no definitive answer to the question "how many children did Lord Rhys have?"