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Sir Aaron ap Rhys
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Parents and Children of the Lord Rhys
                      SIR AARON ap RHYS, KNIGHT OF THE SEPULCHRE
                                           By Darrell Wolcott
 
          Some 4 generations after Cadifor Fawr of Dyfed, he had a descendant named Aaron who is said to have joined with England's King Richard I for the Third Crusade, which embarked for the Holy Lands in 1191.  The early pedigree manuscripts mention men named both Aaron ap Rhys [1] and Aaron ap Bledri [2], with both men styled "Sir".  The military reference is to at least one citation [3] which mentions Sir Aron "Marchog Bedd Krist" ap Rhys ap Bledri.  While the literal translation of that title is "Knight of the Tomb of Christ", it is usually rendered as "Knight of the Sepulchre".
 
          The title was apparently given as an honorific to various men who were "knighted" in or near Jerusalem during the crusades, and was NOT an organized group chartered by the Roman Catholic Church, such as the Knight Templars or Knight Hospitallers.  While several, even dozens, of men under the command of Richard the Lion-hearted, who came near but did not enter Jerusalem, may have been so "knighted", it did NOT confer an English knighthood equivalent to a Knight Bachelor or Knight of the Bath.  It was merely a religious honor given for their service in the crusade, not an elevated rank in English society.
 
          In 1188, Gerald of Wales had escorted Archbishop Baldwin on a tour through Wales [4], exhorting all who would listen to "take up the cross" and join in a great crusade to retake the holy city of Jerusalem from the Saracens who had taken it by force.  One would suppose many young Welshmen did respond to the call, given their love for combat.  Yet few men are mentioned in early Welsh pedigrees as being a "Knight of the Sepulchre".  We wish to suggest a reason for that fact.
 
          Unlike their English neighbors to the east, whose class system was built upon acquired wealth and royal favors, the Welsh noble class was wholly determined by one's ancestry.  A child born into a non-noble family could never earn his way into nobility, and would forever remain in the class of "common people".  Thus, you can imagine the reaction of those young Welsh warriors in the crusade when they saw the "Knight of the Sepulchre" being conferred upon dozens of young Englishmen of the lower social ranks.  While it didn't make those Englishmen into "peers of the realm" it also didn't make them a group of men with whom the Welshmen wished to be socially recognized. [5] This is a feeling much like "if those folks are in the club, I wouldn't want anyone to know I was a member of it."
 
          So why did young Aaron of Wales accept the accolade?  We think the answer goes back to his grandfather, a man called Bledri the Latimer.  Probably a base son of Bledri ap Cadifor Fawr, he was born c. 1095 during a period when hundreds of Normans were streaming into southwest Wales, whose King Rhys ap Tewdwr had been killed by Normans in 1093.  We suggest the putative unmarried mother of young Bledri ap Bledri was a Norman lady. [6] The boy, we suggest, grew up in a Welsh home but learned to speak French from his mother.  Outside his home, many of his boyhood friends were sons of the Norman invaders.  As a young adult, he was hired by the local Norman Earl's retinue as an interpreter for their meetings with the Welsh leaders.  The Welsh called the job "latimer".  We think he later took a young Norman lady as his wife and, in 1130, they had a son, Rhys.
 
          Nothing is known of this Rhys, but he had sons Aaron in 1160 and Hywel in 1165.  By this generation, the family was rather fully aligned with the Normans, and even their leading Welsh prince, the Lord Rhys, was acting as an ambassador for the English King.  We aren't told of what lifetime role young Aaron the crusader played within the Norman establishment in southwest Wales, but our last mention of him came in the year 1223.
 
          After several years of family in-fighting between the sons and grandsons of Lord Rhys, King Henry III had seen enough.  He ordered Prince Llewelyn ap Iorwerth of Gwynedd to step in and impose a settlement between the Deheubarth contenders, and to make a fair and final distribution of the lands formerly controlled by Lord Rhys.  In order for the arbiter's ruling to be as fair and unbiased as possible, it was agreed the matter would be decided by a 12 man committee composed of 6 Welsh elders chosen by Prince Llewelyn and 6 English elders selected by King Henry. [7]
 
          Representing the Welsh were the Bishop of Bangor, the Abbot of Talyllychan, Ednyfed Fychan, Einion ap Gwalchmai the bard, Bleddyn ap Meurig ap Rhahawd, and Iorwerth ap Ednywain.   The English representatives were the Abbot of St Dogmaels, the Prior of Cardigan, Warren fitz Gilbert, Gilbert de Valle, Robert de la Roche and Aaron ap Rhys.   Of those men which we can identify from our prior research, all were men in their mid-to late 50's, and included various sectors of society.   Given our posited background for this "Knight of the Sepulchre", it should not come as a surprise that he was an English appointment to the committee even though he was born a Welshman.
 
          This is the ancestry we chart for Sir Aaron ap Rhys ap Bledri, Knight of the Sepulchre:
                               1030  Cadifor Fawr (a)
                                                  l
                                   1065  Bledri, Baron of Cil y Sant  (b)
                                                  l
                               1095  Bledri Latimer (c)
                                                  l
                                     1130  Rhys (d)
                                                  l
                                  1160  Sir Aaron [8]
 
 
     (a)  Head of a Noble, but non-Royal, family directly descended from the ancient Irish Deisi tribe [9]
     (b)  One of 5 brothers, he acquired his manor (the Saint's corner) from his mother [10]
     (c)  Probably a base son by a Norman mistress, he became fluent in both Welsh and French [11]
     (d)  His uncle, Rhys ap Bledri ap Cadifor Fawr, inherited the manor of Cil y Sant. [12]  The two men called Rhys ap Bledri are conflated by all sources.

                This Sir Aaron had a brother, Hywel, whose descendants were living in the cantref of Pedidiog in Dyfed in the 14th century.  His wife is unknown [13] and his only known children were two daughters.  Sioned ferch Aaron was born c. 1190 and she married Rhydderch (1175) ap Cadifor (1135) ap Dyfnwal of Castell Hywel. [14]  Efa ferch Aaron was born c. 1195 and married Iorwerth (1180) ap Gwrgeneu (1150) ap Uchdred (1115) ap Aleth (1085) of Dyfed. [15]
 

 
NOTES:
[1]  Dwnn i, 52, 65, 227 & 294 all mention an Aron ap Rhys ap Bledri
[2]  Dwnn i, 21 mentions an Aron ap Bledri
[3]  Dwnn i, 114
[4]  Gerald of Wales, in 1214, completed his journal "The Journey Through Wales", describing his tour with the Archbishop of Canterbury.  One modern translation of this manuscript was made by Lewis Thorpe and published by Penguin Books in 1978
[5]  The 1995 book "The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades" edited by Jonathan Riley-Smith, on page 12, describes this social outlook by saying that English noblemen were wary of having themselves described as milites without added grandiose adjectives, and while they did feel themselves a part of the overall militarization of society, "did not consider it fitting to identify themselves wholeheartedly with their brothers-in-arms of lesser status, many of which were third or fourth-generation peasants made good."
[6]  No citations identify the mother of Bledri Latimer nor confirm that he was born out of wedlock
[7]  John E. Lloyd, "The History of Carmarthenshire", 1935, vol 1, page 175.  This historian expresses amazement at finding Aaron ap Rhys on the English side of this commission, but did not seek the reasons why.
[8]  Pen 176, 203 and Pen 134, 137 both cite "Sir Aron ap Rhys ap Bledri Latimer" but contnue directly to Cadifor Fawr.  Any great-grandson of Cadifor Fawr would occur near 1130 and would have been past age 60 when the 3rd crusade began in 1191.  The crusading Aaron must have been one more generation distant from Cadifor Fawr.
[9]  ABT 18b cites his pedigree back to the 7th century.  The ByT entry for 1091 contains his obit
[10] The brothers were adults fighting on the battlefield in 1091 when their father died. Bledri ap Cadifor is also cited in ABT 18b
[11] see Note 8 above
[12] Rhys ap Bledri of Cil y Sant is cited in Pen 131, 299 and Harleian 5835, 189
[13] The wife Bartrum charts for him was born c. 1195 and married Aaron ap Rhys ap Bledri ap Rhys ap Bledri ap Cadifor Fawr
[14] Dwnn i, 38, 52, 65 & 227
[15] Dwnn i, 294

 
APPENDIX - OTHER AARONS IN THIS FAMILY:
aaronchart.jpg

AARON #2:
 
         This Aaron ap Bledri had a daughter, Mawd ferch Aaron (1195). who married Owain (1180) ap Rhydderch Ddu (1145) ap Dafydd (1115) ap Cadwgan (1085) ap Drymbenog (1050), the latter being a brother of Bleddyn ap Maenyrch, as cited by Harl. 5835, 46.  He is also the Aaron who had a son, Bledri (1195), who was the father of Robert (1225) ap Bledri.
 
AARON #3:
 
         This Aaron ap Rhys married, as her second husband, Gwenllian (1195) ferch Ednyfed Fychan (1165) of Gwynedd.  The marriage is cited in Dwnn ii, 53. In addition to the two sons shown in our chart, he had a son, Gruffudd.
 
AARON #4:
 
         This Aaron ap Bledri had a son, Rhys, and two daughters.  Catryn (1285) ferch Aaron, according to Dwnn i, 20 & 21, married Cadwgan (1270) ap Gruffudd (1235) ap Cadwgan Fawr (1205) descended from Llewelyn ap Gwrgan of Cydwili.  Gwenllian (1290) ferch Aaron is cited in Bradney's "History of Monmouthshire", vol 1(2a), page 199 as married to Jenkin (1290) ap Adam (1255) ap Cynhaethwy (1220) ap Adam of Gwent (1185), this family being the paternal ancestors of the Herbert family of Gwent.  This source wrongly calls Aaron "ap Rhys ap Bledri".
 
AARON #5:
 
          This Aaron ap Maredudd had a daughter, Dyddgu (1325).  Pen. 131. 304 cites her as marrying Ieuan (1320) ap Maredudd (1285) ap Robert (1250) ap Hywel Fychan (1220) ap Hywel Goch (1185) ap Cynwrig (1155) ap Cadifor (1125) ap Bledri Latimer (1095).  She then named her son Aaron, who named his daughter Dyddgu.
 
CONFLATED LINES:
 
          While not the place to sort them out, we call your attention to the families on the far left and far right of our chart.  Bartrum has conflated them on his family charts, but the repeated names are all a full generation younger in the copycat branch of the family.