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                                          NEFYDD HARDD OF NANT CONWY
                                                   By Darrell Wolcott
 
          Virtually the only time you will encounter the 12th century Gwynedd man, Nefydd Hardd (the handsome), is when you read the names of the 15 men honored as "Founders of the Noble Tribes of Gwynedd."  Even then, the only thing said about the man is what was claimed in a medieval tale.  First found in the c. 1590 Wrexham Ms I, 45, and expanded by various 17th to 19th century writers, the tale is a mythical explanation of how Cwm Idwal in Nant Conwy was named. A typical account [1] reads:
 
            "He was of Nant Conway, and lived in the time of Owain Gwynedd, who gave Idwal his son to be fostered by him; but he, for what reason I know not, caused Dunawt his son to kill the young prince at a place called of him, Cwm Idwal; wherefore Nefydd and his posterity were degraded, and of gentlemen were made bondsmen.  His son, Rhyn, to expiate that murther, gave the lands whereon the church of Llanrwst was built, whose grandchild was steward to Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Wales."
 
          Early pedigrees [2] cite Nefydd Hardd as the "son of Ieuan ap Ysbwys ap Sir Iestyn" but continue corruptly with Cadwgan ap Elystan Glodrydd. A much earlier pedigree [3] cites the men of Nant Conwy as including a "Rychwyn ap Heilyn ap Glannog".  When charted, the two name-strings align to produce Nefydd Hardd born c. 1105:
 
                                                915  Glannog  [4]
                                                             l
                                                  950  Heilig
                                                             l
                                                985  Rychwyn
                                                             l
                                             1015  Sir Iestyn
                                                             l
                                               1045  Ysbwys
                                                             l
                                                1075  Ieuan
                                                             l
                                           1105  Nefydd Hardd

          It is true that Owain Gwynedd had a base son named Idwal who would have been perhaps 3/4 years younger than Dunod, son of Nefydd Hardd.  It may have been true that Idwal was sent to be reared by Nefydd Hardd, a man whose ancestors had long been Lords of Nant Conwy and who were descended from the First Gwynedd Royal Dynasty. [5]  It is, however, unreasonable to suppose Nefydd Hardd played any role in the death of young Idwal.  No credible source confirms that Idwal was killed as a youngster, but since he is never mentioned among those who divided up the lands owned by Owain Gwynedd after his 1170 death, it is likely that Idwal did not outlive his father.  But Nedydd Hardd did have sons and grandsons who sired families, all of whom married into noble Welsh families.  While a nobleman could have his lands seized for committing a serious crime against his king, the punishment might include death or exile but not loss of nobility.  That rank was ancestral, not a mere privilege granted by the king.  Thus, we reject the claim that Nefydd and his posterity were made into mere bondsmen.  Even the mythical tale claims a descendant of his became a steward to the Prince of Wales, but that prince could NOT have been Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, who died in 1240.
 
          Other sources [6] claim that Madog Goch ap Iorwerth of this family served as steward to an unnamed "Lord of Wales".  But he was not a grandchild of any son of Nefydd Hardd. He is cited [7] as Madog Goch (1270) ap Iorwerth (1235) ap Gwrgeneu (1200) ap Cyfnerth (1170) ap Rhufon (1140) ap Nefydd Hardd (1105).   We suggest that son called "Rhyn" in the tale was actually Rhufon.  The only "Lords of Wales" whom this Madog Goch could have served were kings of England or their appointed governors
 
          We do think it likely that after the death of Nefydd Hardd (probably before 1170), that Owain Gwynedd gave the Lordship of Nant Conwy to his own son, Iorwerth Drwyndwn, since that man's "disability" [8] prevented him from ever becoming king even though he was Owain's eldest in-wedlock son.  He was also given the manor at Dolwyddelan in Nant Conwy. 
 
          It is thus possible that the loss of the Lordship to the family of Nefydd Hardd helped create the legend that Nefydd must have committed a grievous crime against the king, and the existence of a Cwm Idwal in Nant Conwy provided a logical "scene of the crime".  A Welsh "cwm" was a mountain valley which had no river or stream flowing through it.  Cwm Idwal does contain a Lake Idwal, but there is no credible source which identifies which Idwal gave it its name.
 
          The question which is nowhere answered is "Why was Nefydd Hardd named as founder of one of the 15 Noble Families of Gwynedd?".   Had he been disgraced like the tale claims, surely the honor would have been assigned to an earlier ancestor of his family, perhaps his father or grand-father. We suspect he was honored by this designation for something both notable and laudable about his life, which was unknown to those who originated the tale about him, and remains unknown today. 

NOTES:
[1]  Philip Yorke, "Royal Tribes of Wales", 2nd edition, 1877, pp 188/189, in the material added by Richard Williams on "The 15 Tribes of North Wales"
[2]  Pen. 287, 799; Harl. 1977, 182
[3]  ByS 42
[4]  His ancestry is shown in our paper at the link below:
[5]  The descendants of Cunneda, which daughtered-out with Cynan Dindaethwy in the 9th century
[6]  Inscription on his tombstone in the churchyard at Llanrwst, which calls him "Chief steward of the Lord of Wales"
[7]  Pen. 177, 157
[8]  He was born with nasal holes in his face, but no nose.  His nickname means "broken nose" but he was actually "flat nosed"