THE 5 PLEBIAN TRIBES OF WALES
By Darrell Wolcott
The earliest extant manuscript
which mentions this tribal grouping dates from 1531-1544 , but it can be found in 4 other sources written in the second-half
of the 16th century.  The 5 men named are consistent in all sources:
1. Y Blaidd
Rhudd of Gest in Efionydd
2. Adda Fawr
of Deheubarth 
4. Alo of
In his "Notes on
Early Powys" printed in the 1879 volume of Archaeologia Cambrensis, Rev. D.R. Thomas mentions this group as "Five Plebian
or Servile Tribes" which he translates from the Welsh phrase "Pump Kystadlwyth or Costawglwyth". His explanation is
"whom we may conclude to have been the descendants of a noble race, fallen through war or misfortune to an inferior position".
While "pump" means
"five", the key descriptive word is spelled "kostowglwyth", "kostowgllwyth" and "kosdoglwyth" in the medieval sources.
"llwyth" is Welsh for "tribe" while "costog" has the meaning of "cur" i.e. mongrel or inferior. We shall return to Rev.
Thomas' alternative word "kystadlwyth" momentarily.
First, we should
look at the men assigned to this group for any possible reasons why they might have been called "plebian", "inferior"
1. Y Blaidd Rhudd of Gest in
Efionydd was born c. 1010 and his daughter, Haer, married Powys king Bleddyn ap Cynfyn and was the mother of later
Powys king Maredudd ap Bleddyn.  One source  says this Haer was a daughter of Cyllin ap y Blaidd Rhudd, but
Peter Bartrum would amend that by deleting the "ap" and making her father "Cyllin who was called the red wolf". This
assumption is questioned in Peniarth Ms 128, 62 where this c. 1565 manuscript of Edward ap Roger gives the pedigree of
the men of Penllyn copied from the ancient lost Hengwrt 33 manuscript. That pedigree, also copied by other medieval
genealogists before Hengwrt 33 was lost, begins "Meirion ap Llenweu ap Koed" and traces back to the 5th century Pebid
Penllyn. Edward ap Roger added a gloss which says "this Meirion is the man called y Blaidd Rhudd of Gest". 
Allowing for standard generational gaps for Welsh families, that Meirion might have been born c. 1010 . However,
it should be noted that the c. 970 manscript, Harleian 3859, cites a "Meiriaun map Loudogu" who must have been born no later
than the mid-10th century. Other copyists of Hengwrt 33 rendered the name of the father of its Meirion as "Llenoddeu"
or "Lleuodeu" so whether or not the same Meirion in Hengwrt 33 also appears in Harleian 3859 is uncertain. We suspect
some of the 16th century copyists of Hengwrt 33 thought they were the same man, while others including Edward ap Roger did
Other pedigrees copied
from the lost Hengwrt 33 manuscript say that the c. 1155 Rhiryd Flaidd of Penllyn was the maternal grandson of the c. 1100
Cynfyn Hirdref and his wife Haer ferch y Blaidd Rhudd.  Clearly this c. 1100 Cynfyn could not have married the same lady
as the c. 1025 Bleddyn, but there is no reason why a grandson of the c. 1010 Blaidd Rhudd could not also have been called
"the red wolf". Also, the earlier Blaidd Rhudd could have had a son named Cyllin who was cited as "Cyllin ap y Blaidd
1010 Meirion y Blaidd Rhudd
1040 Haer===Bleddyn 1025
1080 y Blaidd Rhudd
1155 Rhiryd Flaidd
With this construction,
no emendment is needed for the text "Rhiryd Flaidd was the son of Gwrgeneu by a daughter of Cynfyn Hirdref, and that lady's
mother was a daughter of y Blaidd Rhudd".  Obviously, the female name "Haer" was a popular choice among the
descendants of y Blaidd Rhudd during the 11th and 12th centuries. The man we chart as Cyllin ap y Blaidd Rhudd may have
also had a daughter named Haer who was mistaken for his sister of the same name in one pedigree of Maredudd ap Bleddyn.
While the ancestries cited
for y Blaidd Rhudd, Cynfyn Hirdref and Rhiryd Flaidd ap Gwrgeneu are all less than certain , these men were all accepted
as Welsh noblemen by their contemporaries who freely married into their families.
2. Adda Fawr was probably
the Deheubarth man born c. 1235 who had a son, Ieuaf, and whose descendants married into noble families in South Wales, mainly
those in the Dyfed/Ystrad Tywy area. However, there were other men called Adda Fawr who various modern sources identify
as the one included in this list. Typically, Peter Bartrum's charts roll them all into a single man. But the Adda
Fawr of c. 1245 who had a son called Einion Felyn was a man of Anglesey whose known descendants all resided in the commote
of Llifon. We exclude him since we are told the Adda Fawr who numbers among the 5 "Plebian Tribes" was from Deheubarth.
Another Adda Fawr is cited as "Adda Fawr ap Adda ap Gwrgan ap Rhys ap Tewdwr Mawr"  and should therefore be expected to
reside in Deheubarth, the territory ruled by Rhys ap Tewdwr. Based on that pedigree (and he is unknown to other pedigree
manuscripts), this man would have been born c. 1150 and be contemporary with the sons of Lord Rhys. No families
are known to descend from him, although Bartrum conflates him with the two other men named Adda Fawr born nearly a century
later. If we assume the pedigree given for him has missing generations between Adda Fawr and Rhys ap Tewdwr, then it
is possible he is the same Adda Fawr of c. 1235 who had a son, Ieuaf.  Marriage matches cited for that family
were predominately with spouses descended from Tudwal Gloff's Dyfed families and we noted none at all with spouses descended
from either Rhys ap Tewdwr or any of the Deheubarth families descended from Hywel Dda. While not conclusive, we suggest
there is no good reason to believe the Adda Fawr said to descend from Rhys ap Tewdwr was born 100 years later than his
pedigree would indicate. As to which man was intended to be "honored" by inclusion on the list of 5, there is simply
insufficent information to answer that question. However, 3 of the other men in the list were probably born c.
1240/1270 and the c. 1235 Adda Fawr seems a better fit than a c. 1150 man. (Why the c. 1015 Blaidd Rhudd was grouped
with 4 much later men is puzzling.)
3. Gwenwys of Powys
 was born c. 1250 and was paternally descended from the First Powys Royal Dynasty (who bore the arms of Brochwel Ysgithrog).
His great-great grandson was Sir Gruffudd Fychan (obit 1447) who was believed to represent the senior line of the Powys Dynasty. 
He clearly was not of "common" or "inferior" breeding or status during his lifetime.
4. Alo of Powys was born
c. 1270 and descended from Morgan Hir of Gwent. While Bartrum declined to chart his ancestry any earlier, he does note
that some sources  cite him as "Morgan Hir ap Iestyn ap Gwrgan" and labeled that as "impossible". We
date Morgan Hir to c. 1015 and suggest his father was named Iestyn, but not Iestyn ap Gwrgan. The c. 1075 Iestyn
ap Gwrgan did have a grandson named Morgan, but he would have been born four full generations after the
Morgan Hir in the pedigree of Alo. Like the previous men on the "list of 5", the families descended from Alo (ap Rhiwallon
Fychan) of Powys had no difficulty obtaining spouses from the Welsh gentry in Wales.
5. Heilyn Ysteilfforch
(of the steel fork) has not been positively identified and is the least well-known man in the list. While Peter Bartrum suggests
he was the c. 1150 (our estimate is 1170) Heilyn of Fron Goch ap Cyfnerth ap Iddon descended from Mael, one source 
says he was identical to Heilyn ap Ieuan ap Adda ap Meurig ap Cynwrig ap Pasgen ap Gwyn. That man, also descended from
the First Powys Royal Dynasty, was born c. 1240 and no known family descended from him.
It boggles the mind to
call this group of men plebian, inferior or common; they appear to have freely mingled and married with the Welsh nobility,
a group loath to intermarry with men (or their daughters) considered not as noble and socially-correct as themselves.
Perhaps the key word in the grouping's title has suffered from spelling corruption from the unknown ancient sources used by
the authors of the 16th century manuscripts. He did not say where he found the form "kystadlwyth", but Rev. Thomas thought
it conveyed the same meaning as "kostawglwyth".
Since "tribe" is
"llwyth" and not "lwyth", perhaps the 5 men were not being called any sort of tribe, but another word which ends with that
sound. We suggest the suffix "leuaeth" is phonetically identical to "lwyth". Could they have been described as
five "cystadleuaeth" in the unknown pre-16th century manuscript? Although that word literally means "competition", a
single competitor is a "cystadleuwrydd" and perhaps the original author used a form he thought was plural. Certainly
"The Five Competitors of Wales", whatever else it denotes, would be a more suitable and non-demeaning....even honorable.... grouping
than what the 16th century copyists gave us; the men were NOT curs, commoners, nor inferiors. 
If our translation is correct,
what might these men have competed for? We suggest they each may have competed among their own cousins for the
status of "senior branch of the family", a distinction once thought highly important to many Welsh noblemen. See the
anecdote in the Appendix following the footnotes below.