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,
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 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 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; 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, and is to do him right for the saraad."
"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 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  until
he shall ascend"
The same Welsh laws imposed
the following restrictions on a daughter:
"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, and is not to remain at her father's platter unless he shall will it..."
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
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 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. 821,
married c. 849; obit 878
Cadell, born c. 850, married
c. 879; obit 909
Hywel Dda, born c. 880,
married c. 910; 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.