MEIRION MEIRIONYDD, "GRANDSON" OF CUNEDDA
By Darrell Wolcott
Virtually every scholar
and historian who speaks of the man for whom the cantref of Meirionydd is named assures us he was the son of Tybion ap Cunedda.
But in our study of the daughters of Brychan, we found problems with the chronology of the marriage match between Marchel
ferch Brychan and Gwrin Barbdrwch ap Cadwaladr ap Meirion. Since it seemed to point to a Meirion born c. 420, he should
be contemporary with the sons of Cunedda and not a whole generation younger. The claim that he was the son of Tybion
rests on the following language found in Harleian Ms 3859,32:
"Hec sunt nomina
filiorum cuneda quorum numerus erat ix Typipaun primogenitus quimortuus
inregione que uocatur manau guodotin et non uenit huc cum patre suo
cum fratribus suis predictis meriaun filius eius diuisit possessiones
inter fratres suos ii Osmail iii rumaun iiii dunaut v Ceretic vi abloyc vii enniaun girt viii docmail ix etern"
All the underlined letters
are missing from the Latin manuscript which uses an abundance of abbreviations. Those words as fleshed out above were
provided by Egerton Phillimore and we have no quarrel with his reading. Peter Bartrum offers the following as
"These are the names of
the sons of Cunedda, whose number was nine: Tybion, the firstborn, who died in the region called Manaw Gododdin and did not
come hither with his father and his aforesaid brothers. Meirion, his son, divided his possessions among his brothers.
2, Ysfael, 3. Rhufon, 4. Dunod, 5. Ceredig, 6, Afloeg, 7. Einion Yrth, 8. Dogfael, 9. Edern" Bartrum further indicates
his belief that "among his brothers" means among Tybion's brothers. He does not specifically tell us here that he takes
the antecedent of the pronoun "his" in "Meirion his son" to be Tybion, but everywhere else that Meirion is mentioned, he is
called "ap Tybion".
If we were to agree with this
meaning, we must believe that Tybion ap Cunedda died before the family went to Wales and that Tybion's son Meirion divvied
up his property among his uncles, keeping nothing for himself. To us, this was a novel concept not seen elsewhere in
families we have studied. Why would a son not inheirit his father's possessions outright and retain them for his own
future heirs? Under what law was it necessary for the son to divide them with the brothers of his father? An alternate
reading of the passage might say that Meirion divided his dead father's property with Meirion's brothers (who were unnamed).
Yet if that were the case, why would that common practice be mentioned in what, after all, was merely a list of Cunedda's
sons? Why was Meirion even mentioned when none of the children of the other sons were? We suspect the reason lies
with the pedigree of Meirion found in this same manuscript:
"Cinan map brochmail map Iutnimet map Egeniud
map Brocmail map Sualda map Iudris map Gueinoth map Glitnoth map Guurgint barmb truch map Gatculart map Meriaun map Cuneda"
Both Phillimore and Bartrum cite the very
passage which we find capable of multiple meanings as their reason to emend this pedigree by inserting "map Tybion" between
Meirion and Cunedda. Under his entry for Meirion in his Welsh Classical Dictionary, Bartrum admits there is
some confusion with the use of the Latin words "eius" and "suos" to mean "his" but claims the passage is to be interpreted
"Meirion, his [Tybion's] son divided the possessions among his [Tybion's] brothers" and further admits there is no mention
of Meirion getting any portion. He then points to a centuries-later manuscript which says he divided the possessions with
his uncles, and the cantref of Meirionydd came as his own portion.
Obviously Bartrum believed the 15th
century genealogists over the 10th century pedigree, but we must wonder if his reading of the "erratic" (his word) passage
which confuses us was not biased by what earlier men believed. Has no one before us asked the obvious question "how
did Meirionydd come to be among Tybion's possessions which Meirion divided and took as his portion, when Tybion was dead before
the family came to Wales and never owned ANY land there?"
Whether you follow Bartrum in dating
Cunedda to AD 370 or, like us, place him nearer 380, the sons who did follow him to Wales must have been young adults at minumum.
They conceivably could have been in their 30's, but if much older than that, Cunedda would have been too old to help
them on the battlefields of Wales. Any grandson of Cunedda would have been a mere toddler at the time they
went to Wales even if Tybion had married while his father was still alive. Thus, we must also wonder which of Meirion's
uncles had to give up a cantref of his lands to a nephew when the child came of age. If the reader finds this all hard
to square with what is known of Welsh laws of inheiritance, we are not surprised.
We do know what the law provided for
the division of a man's property among his sons. "....the youngest son is to divide...and the eldest is to chose; and
each in seniority choose unto the youngest". There is no provision in the law which shares a dead man's possessions
with his brothers, whether or not he had a son. Since Meirion is said to be the one making the division, should we not
expect he was the youngest brother among those receiving shares?
In fact, nothing more is
required to achieve consistency between the two sections of Harleian Ms 3859 than to assign a different antecedent to one
"Meirion, his [Cunedda's]
son divided the possessions [in Wales] between his [Meirion's] brothers".
We would further
note that the passage began by saying Cunedda had 9 sons, but the numbering of them began with 2. The number 1 did not precede
the name Tybion. We think it is reasonable to conclude that the 9th son was Meirion and that Tybion was mentioned only to
say there had been a firstborn son who was not being counted because he died early and without issue. It is not known
who actually was the eldest of these (we would opt for Einion Yrth based upon his lineage becoming kings of Gwynedd) but we
find his role as the divider of the possessions marks Meirion as the youngest.
For those who recall Ninnius
saying Cunedda came to Wales with 8 sons, we would point out that eight territories were named for his "crew" and
none of them bears Einion Yrth's name. Did his sources also read the ancient passage to omit Meirion? In the same passage
from Ninnius, it was claimed the emigration occured 146 years before Maelgwn reigned. Maelgwn's reign was c. 525-547
according to most accounts, while modern historians place Cunedda's emigration to c. 430/440. Subtracting 146 from 525
yields 379; perhaps the reference was to the birth of Cunedda, not his move to Wales. In any event, it shows that Ninnius
is not an infallible authority as to Cunedda and his sons.
We think the sense of Harleian
Ms 3859 pedigree #32 is this reading:
"These are the names of
the sons of Cunedda, which numbered nine: (not counting Tybion the first-born because he died in Manaw Gododdin before his
father and brothers went to Wales) 1. Meirion, his youngest son who, following the death of Cunedda, divided the
lands in Wales between his brothers;2. Ysfael; 3. Rhufon; 4. Dunod; 5. Ceredig; 6. Afloeg; 7. Einion Yrth; 8. Dogfael; 9.