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                               GENERATIONAL GAPS AND THE WELSH LAWS
                                                By Darrell Wolcott
         Many poorly-conceived family pedigrees of Welshmen prior to the twelfth century have been strung together with absurd gaps of 16 to 20 years between cited generations.  This is particularly true when an attempt is made to connect a family to an ancestor whose approximate floruit is known from history.  When the number of generations required to be inserted seems to demand it, we see four and even five generations cited per hundred years.  But an understanding of the customs of the early Celts, codified into law in the ninth century, makes those assumptions wholly unreasonable.
         From the Laws of Hywel Dda[1], we find the following obligations imposed upon young men:
         "From the time when a boy is born, until he shall be fourteen years of age, he is to be at his father's platter, and his father lord over him, and he is to receive no punishment but that of his father; and he is not to possess one penny of his property during that time, only in common with his father; and no marw-dy[2] accrues with his dying within that period; for his father owns all his property which may be in his custody; since his father during that time is to be responsible for him for every thing."
        "At the end of the fourteen years, the father is to bring his son to the lord[3] and commend him to his charge; and then the youth is to become his man, and to be on the privilege of his lord; and he is himself to answer to every claim that may be made on him; and is to possess his own property[4]; thenceforward his father is not to correct him, more than a stranger; and if he should correct him, upon complaint made by the son against him, he is subject to dirwy[5], and is to do him right for the saraad[6]."
         "If the son die after fourteen years of age, and leave no heir, his lord is to possess all his property, and to be in the place of a son to him.....From that age onward, he is of the same privilege with an innate boneddig[7] for he has no privilege, excepting his descent, as he ascends not to the privilege of his father until his father's death; and no one is a marchog [8] until he shall ascend"
         The same Welsh laws imposed the following restrictions on a daughter:[9]
         "In her twelfth year a woman ought to menstruate, as we have said before, and from her twelfth unto her fourteenth year, she ought to continue without pregnancy; from her fourteenth year unto her fortieth year she ought to bear children...."
         "From her twelfth year onward...she is become of age to be given to a husband; and from that time forward, if she have not had a husband, she is to possess her own property[10], and is not to remain at her father's platter unless he shall will it..." 
          These provisions make it clear that a young man, on his 14th birthday, leaves home to enter the service of his father's lord, who thereafter assumes full responsibility for him until he ascends to his father's status (and inherits his share of his father's lands).  To suppose a young man of 16 or even 25 years of age who owns no land and depends on his lord for bed and board could take a wife and begin a family is unrealistic.  For this reason, few men should be assumed to have fathered legitimate sons while their father was alive. An obvious exception seems to apply to men who outlived their normal expectancy; it would appear that such men retired to a monastic life near age 65 so that their sons could succeed to their lands before they too grew old.
          The length of the generational gap from mother to son, however, was often as little as 15 years. From these societal customs, we should expect the typical first marriage occurred between a man near 30[11] to a girl under 14.  Only with those marriages made by a widower should we expect the wife to be near the same age as her husband.
          When we apply this theory to the descendants of Merfyn Frych, whose obits are recorded, we find apparent validation:
          Merfyn Frych, born c. 790, married c. 820; obit 844
          Rhodri Mawr, born c. 820, married c. 849; obit 878
          Cadell, born c. 851, married c. 878; obit 909
          Hywel Dda, born c. 879, married c. 905; obit 949          
          While all dates except the obits are estimates, each child seems not to have been born during the lifetime of his grandfather. Similar patterns are noted in other Welsh families of the era.  Our extending this custom to much earlier Celt families is based on the belief the laws of Hywel Dda merely codified long-time practices; that these were not new customs dreamed up in the tenth century.  But there is no basis for assigning them to any but purely Cymric families; the Roman and Irish families in the old pedigrees may well have began having children at an earlier age.

[1] Aneurin Owen: "Ancient Laws and Institutes of Wales", 1841, London, vol i, pp 203
[2] Literally, "death house"; the concept of escheat of the property of a man who dies without sons.
[3] The Lord of the father may be the king or one of the king's lesser lords, depending on the location and/or status of that father.
[4] Property is used here to mean movables; clothing, implements, livestock, etc.
[5] A fine payable for various wrongs done to a person
[6] An insult or disrespect shown to someone
[7] A person with known Welsh lineage in both parents; a potential nobleman
[8] One permitted to enter battle on horseback; a knight.  All but "uchelwrs" (noble-born land owners) were foot soldiers. 
[9] ibid note 1, pp 205/207
[10] See note 4
[11] Typical life-expectancy for a man was under 65 years, when his sons were in their 30's.