WAS YSPWYS IN WELSH HISTORY?
By Darrell Wolcott
The male name Yspwys occurs in two family pedigrees and one folk tale, the latter likely to have been the same man in one
of those pedigrees. The tale is set about the year 445, when Ambrosius successfully challenged Vortigern for the overking
position which, by birthright, belonged to Ambrosius. Custinnen ap Maxen Wledig had been Britain's overking when he
was killed by Picts about 425. His son, Ambrosius, was only 16 years old, so Vortigern, the son-in- law of Custinnen,
was appointed to the position on an interim basis.
When Ambrosius turned age 28 in 437, Vortigern refused to step aside. Ambrosius tried and failed to remove him militarily,
and was rescued only by supporters who gave him shelter in Brittany on lands the Welsh called Llydaw. Eight years later,
with Vortigern's allies unhappy with his Saxon giveaways, Emyr Budic of Llydaw provided Ambrosius with an army led by his
brother, Yspwys, which entered Britain to depose Vortigern. The latter, now near age 60, fled for safety to Powys, while
Ambrosius was finally installed as overking. 
The earliest written version of the tale appears in the now-lost Llanforda Ms written c. 1300. William Llyn (obit 1580) had seen the manuscript, and described it as an old book
containing a copy of the Ancient Welsh Laws, in which its copyist identified himself as David, the scrivenor for Iorwerth
ap Llewelyn ap Tudor ap Gwyn. This David had inserted the following gloss after the text describing the Choosing of
Llewelyn ap Tudor ap Gwyn ap Bradwen ap Mael ap Bleddyn ap Morudd ap Cynddelw ap Cyfnerth ap Cadifor ap Rhun ap Morgynhor
ap Cynfawr ap Hefan ap Cadifor ap Maeldaf hynaf ap Unhwch Unarchen ap Yspwys ap Yspwch. And Yspwys
and Yspwch, father and son, came into this island out of Spain with Uther and Emrys and first inhabited Moel Ysbidion.
When Emrys had recovered his crown from Vortigern the usurper, he rewarded those men, being his retinue, with the whole hundred
of Tal-y-bont and part of Ystumanner in Meirionydd, where their posterity flourish today."
While we earlier
discussed the matter in our paper on "Bradwen of Llys Bradwen in Meirionydd" , there are problems with the tale other than
its reference to Bradwen and Meirionydd:
1. Yspwys and Yspwch were NOT
father and son. This was a single man named Yspwys whose nickname "yspwch" means "the buck" (male deer).
2. Unhwch Unarchen was not a
man's name, it was a nickname assigned to a man either having little material possessions, or leaving his battle opponents
with little, and literally means "one sow, one shoe". His birth name is unknown, but we suggest he WAS a son of Yspwys
Yspwch and served as his battle leader.
3. Yspwys and crew did NOT come
to Britain from Spain, they came from Llydaw in Brittany. We believe this particular Yspwys was a younger son of Aldroen
ap Selyf ap Gradlon of Llydaw in north Wales. This family was closely related to Custinnen ap Maxen Wledig and had sheltered
his son, Ambrosius, in Brittany, when Vortigern became his enemy.
4. Ambrosius did not reward Yspwys
and his army with any land in Meirionydd, nor elsewhere in Wales. Yspwys already owned land in north Wales as a direct
descendant of the dynasty who held Llydaw in Wales. There is no evidence Yspwys ever even visited Meirionydd.
The tale calls his son "Uther" meaning "awful" in the sense of "formidable".
5. The "Hefan ap Cadifor" in
the Bradwen pedigree actually descended from the family of Meirion ap Cunedda. We have no idea why the 13th century
scrivenor inserted part of the family of this 5th century Yspwys into the Bradwen pedigree.
We would chart
the following relationships between the families of Yspwys and Ambrosius, as:
270 Cynan Meriadog
Constantine the Great 274
330 Selyf 329 daughter=/=Constans
360 Aldroen* Maxen
395 Yspwys Yspwch Custinnen 371
430 Unhwch Unarchen Ambrosius 409
460 Maeldaf Hynaf**
from Llydaw in north Wales to Llydaw in Brittany c. 405
** called "the ancient" since he was yet alive when Maelgwn was
named King c. 525, and played some role in his appointment
We believe is was
this same Yspwys who is mentioned in the early pedigrees of St Tecfan  and St Elian , both of which incorrectly conflate
him with a later man named Yspwys. When we detach him from Cadrod Calchfynydd (whom the pedigrees call the father of
Yspwys), these two pedigrees show:
Hywel I 420
455 Carcludys Tewdwr
490 St Tecfan
485 Alltu Redegog===Thenaf 495
St Elian Geimiad
*These names do not actually appear in the pedigrees of the
The only other
men called Yspwys, who are found in Welsh pedigrees, occur in the pedigree of Marchudd ap Cynan. These occur in the
period 665-725 and do include a man named Yspwys ap Cadrod. While Cadrod Calchfynydd of c. 540 WAS an earlier ancestor
of this line, it might have been a later Cadrod who was father to a Yspwys. As the pedigrees  now stand, they are
missing 3 generations (about 100 years) somewhere between Cadrod Calchfynydd and Marchudd ap Cynan of c. 880. The citations
ap Yspwys ap Mwyntwrch ap Yspwys ap Cadrod Calchfynydd" although some copyists of the lost Hengert Ms 33 deleted
the "ap" preceding Mwyntwrch, apparently because "mwyntwrch" can mean "a torc made from metallic ore". Thus, some argue
it was merely the nickname of a Yspwys who was son of another Yspwys. If we accept that explanation, then we have 4
generations missing from the pedigree. Our proposed solution does not insert wholly made-up names into the pedigree, but assumes
a copying error which omitted a group of names which seemed to be duplicated. Accordingly, we offer this pedigree:
ap Cynan (850) ap Elyfyw (820) ap Mor (790) ap Mynan (760) ap Yspwys (730) ap Mwyntwrch (700) ap Yspwys (670) ap Cadrod (635) ap Cynwyd (605) ap Cynfelyn (575) ap Cadrod Calchfynydd (540) ap Cynwyd Cynwydion (510) ap
Cynfelyn (480) ap Athrwys (450) ap Mar (415) ap Ceneu (380) ap Coel Hen (340).
The names shown
in red can be regarded as "space fillers", but most of the names in the pedigree are also men not known for anything historic,
simply space-fillers supplied by what we deem to be credible sources.
 This basic story is cited piecemeal by Nennius, but calls the opponent
of Ambrosius in 437 "Vitalinus", who might be either Vortigern or his battle leader. It is also told in the words of
the novelist by Geoffrey of Monmouth, who inserts many imaginary flourishes and incorrect relationships
 See this paper at the following link:
 Aneurin Owen, editor "Ancient Laws and Institutes of Wales",
1841, vol 2, pp 49/51
 ByS 46
 ByS 47
 ABT 9(a); HLG 7(a & b)