THE BATTLE OF MYNYDD CARN
By Darrell Wolcott
The 1081 engagement
at Mynydd Carn has been described as one in which "all the leading figures of the period took part, and which left its impress
permanently on the history of Gwynedd and Deheubarth". The second part of that assessment is certainly true, but
far from all the leading figures of the period were present and at least one of the combatants was then an
obscure leader of nothing. There is a widespread belief that the side led by Rhys ap Tewdwr and Gruffudd ap Cynan
refers to Rhys ap Tewdwr ap Cadell of Deheubarth, and to Gruffudd ap Cynan who sought the kingship of Gwynedd.
And that the losers included Trahaearn ap Caradog ap Gwyn, then king of Gwynedd; Caradog ap Gruffudd ap Rhydderch, king of
Gwent; and Meilyr ap Rhiwallon, of uncertain descent. To separate legend from history, let us consider what is recounted
in ancient manuscripts.
1. If genuine, the earliest account of the battle is contained in what
is claimed to be an Ode to Trahaearn and Meilyr. Those verses conclude:
the second time they have come, the savage people, the Gwyddelians, black demons, the Scots, half men, half brutes.
In Carn Mountain is a battle and Trahaearn in slain, and the son of Rhiwallon, lord of the seas, from the conflict
will not return. On Thursday, at the end of three weeks, toward night, wert thou slain"
The title was supplied by a medieval
copyist, who added this explanation: "Meilyr the bard sang this ode during the campaign in which were slain Trahaearn, the
son of Caradawg, and Meilyr son of Rhiwallon, son of Cynfyn".
COMMENTS: No other source claims the battle
lasted three weeks and it is not the poem but a later copyist who identifies Meilyr ap Rhiwallon as a son of Rhiwallon
ap Cynfyn. The attribution of the poem to Meilyr the bard (this Meilyr, father of Gwalchmei, was bard to Gruffudd
ap Cynan at the death of the latter) raises serious doubt as to the dating of the work. If we credit the ancient pedigrees,
that man was, at best, a mere toddler in 1081. As likely as not, this work was composed hundreds of years after
the battle and cannot be seriously considered as an eyewitness account.
2. Meilyr Brydydd's Elegy for Gruffudd ap Cynan is
believed to have been composed shortly after that king's death in 1137. The relevant verses of it read:
"The Lord of Mon
fought with their chiefs midday, where Trahaearn was slain at Carn Fynydd. On the two princes, the kings of Powys and
their Gwent-tribe, he wrought vengeance with his host..."
COMMENTS: Here the bard names only Trahaearn, but surely the other two
kings must be Meilyr ap Rhiwallon and Caradog ap Gruffudd. Unlike the other work claimed to have been written by Meilyr Brydydd,
it speaks of no three-week battle. Since his patron, the Gruffudd ap Cynan who died in 1137, was probably not the the
Gruffudd at Mynydd Cairn, we suspect this elegy was composed in the mid-13th century and attributed to the earlier bard to
add "authority" to its claims.
3. A long account of the battle is included in Historia Gruffud fab
Kenan, thought to have been written within 30 years of the death of Gruffudd in 1137, but more likely not composed
until c. 1230. It identifies the opponents of Gruffudd ap Cynan and Rhys ap Tewdwr as "Caradog son of Gruffudd from
Gwent Uch Coed and Is Coed, and with him his men of Gwent, the men of Morgannwg, and many Norman cross-bowmen; Meilyr son
of Rhiwallon with his men of Powys; king Trahaearn and the men of Arwystli."
COMMENTS: This was a fight over supremacy in Deheubarth; Caradog had moved
his army west from Gwent as far as Dyfed, forcing Rhys ap Tewdwr to retreat. Trahaearn was apparently secure in
Gwynedd if he could join his ally in this land-grab. It is not known who was then king in Powys nor which Rhiwallon
was the father of Meilyr. Earlier in Historia, there was a mention of Cynwrig ap Rhiwallon who shared rule in Gwynedd
and who was killed in 1075. That man is called a "brenhinyn" or petty king of Powys and might well have been a brother
4. The original text of Annales Cambriae reads "The Battle
of Mynydd Carn in which Trahaearn ap Caradog and Caradog ap Gruffudd and Goethi ap Rhiwallon and Rhys ap Tewdwr and Gruffudd ap Cynan were killed".
COMMENTS: Except for the name given to the son of Rhiwallon, this account
seems to correctly recite the principal men at the battle but the final two named certainly were not killed at that time.
5. A later text of Annales Cambriae  reads "The Battle
of Mynydd Carn in which Trahaearn ap Caradog and Caradog ap Gruffudd and Meilyr ap Rhiwallon and Rhys ap Tewdwr and Gruffudd
ap Einion ap Iago were killed".
COMMENTS: This closely repeats the oldest version in which all 5 men were
said (incorrectly) to have been killed. It corrects the name of Rhiwallon's son to Meilyr, but substitutes "Einion"
for "Cynan" as the father of Gruffudd. It also makes Gruffudd the grandson of Iago, a common but probably incorrect
identification of the man.
6. One version of the Brut y Tywysogyon  reads "A year after
that was the battle of Mynydd Carn. And there Trahaearn ap Caradog and Caradog and Gruffudd and Meilyr sons of Rhiwallon
and Rhys ap Tewdwr were slain. For after him came Gruffudd, grandson of Iago, together with Irish to help him".
COMMENTS: In this version, the "ap" in Caradog ap Gruffudd was rendered
as "and" making it appear that three sons of Rhiwallon were present. It incorrectly has Rhys being killed, but does
give the impression that this was essentially his fight and Gruffudd was there only in a support role.
7. Another version of Brut y Tywysogyon  says "And then there
was a battle on Mynydd Carn. And then were slain Trahaearn ap Caradog and Caradog ap Gruffudd, grandson of Iago, and
Irish along with him to help him."
COMMENTS: A whole line seems to be missing in this text. Apparently
one line ended with the Gruffudd who was father to Caradog and the copyist picked up with Gruffudd the grandson of Iago.
The intervening line probably identified the other men present.
8. A third version of Brut y Twywsogyon  reads "Gruffudd
ap Cynan came a second time to Wales, accompanied by a great host of Scots from Ireland. He joined Rhys ap Tewdwr and
went against Trahaearn ap Caradog; and a battle took place between them in which Trahaearn was killed, together with Gruffudd
and Meilyr ap Rhiwallon ap Gwyn ap Collwyn. This battle took place on the mountain of Carno, and was very severe and
bloody, and the slain on both sides were countless. This battle was called the action of Carno".
COMMENTS: This account, like an earlier version, omits Caradog ap Gruffudd
and replaces him with a "Gruffudd ap Rhiwallon, brother of Meilyr". It further mistakes Mynydd Carn with Carno in Arwystli.
And it is the only extant account which identifies Meilyr ap Rhiwallon as a first cousin of Trahaearn ap Caradog (ap Gwyn
9. The text of Brenhinedd y Saesson  reads "The battle of
Mynydd Carn took place. And there Trahaearn ap Caradog and the sons of Rhiwallon, Caradog and Gruffudd and Meilyr, were
slain by Rhys ap Tewdwr; for Gruffudd, nephew of Iago, and fierce Irish came to his aid".
COMMENTS: Apparently borrowing from earlier texts, this version repeats
the error making Caradog ap Gruffudd into two brothers of Meilyr. Calling Gruffudd (ap Cynan) a nephew of Iago rather
than grandson, this version may be the only source to correctly identify him as a different man from the Gruffudd ap Cynan
grandson of Iago who first occurs in 1098.
The author of Historia Gruffud
vab Kenan would like for us to believe that this was a battle instigated by Gruffudd ap Cynan to defeat Trahaearn ap
Caradog and install himself as the rightful king of Gwynedd. He tells us that Gruffudd set sail from Ireland with a
large contingent of "Danes, Irish and Britons". He landed in Dyfed near the church of St. David where he found Rhys
ap Tewdwr hiding from his enemies. When he learned that the armies which had driven Rhys from his kingdom of Deheubarth
included his own nemesis, Trahaearn ap Caradog, Gruffudd offered to help Rhys. The unknown author goes on to say that
on that same day, the two men set out to find the camp of the enemy; Gruffudd with his large Irish contingent plus another
160 from Gwynedd led by Cynddelw ap Cwnws, and Rhys with a pitiful few men of Deheubarth.
We pause here to note
the obvious absurdities. Gruffudd assembled an army in Ireland but did not sail for Gwynedd, the kingdom which he has
twice before tried and failed to take from Trahaearn. Instead, he sailed to Dyfed where he just happened to meet
Rhys hiding in the church. And reinforcements from Gwynedd also awaited his landing so they could immediately head into
battle with him. For his part, Rhys merely tagged along with no real army of his own and even promised Gruffudd half
of his kingdom to defeat his enemies. While such a scenerio clearly fit the the author's goal of exaggerating the exploits
of Gruffudd ap Cynan, we rather suspect it unfolded more like the following:
Rhys ap Tewdwr had ruled Dehuebarth
since 1079 and Caradog ap Gruffudd of Gwent was intent upon expanding his own kingdom across all of south Wales.
In 1081, aided by an old ally (Trahaearn ap Caradog), he drove deep into Deheubarth as Rhys ap Tewdwr retreated.
From his refuge in the church at St. David's, he sent word to Gruffudd in Ireland that Trahaearn was camped nearby and he
might want to take the opportunity to bring an army to Dyfed to help defeat the king of Gwynedd and possibly allow Gruffudd
to reclaim his "patrimony". The idea appealed to Gruffudd since a battle outside Gwynedd would prevent any of Trahaearn's
loyalists from coming to his aid. Before setting sail, he sent word to one young nobleman in Gwynedd that he trusted;
Cynddelw agreed to set out for Dyfed with as many men as he could pursuade to join him. Alternately, this claim by Historia
may have been included as "proof" that the noblemen of Gwynedd supported Gruffudd's claim as their legitimate king.
It would have been difficult to move an army of that size into Dyfed by land without it being detected and attacked by the
army they supposedly came to fight. Perhaps they also sailed to Dyfed, but perhaps the story of their coming was pure
When everyone assembled
in Dyfed, it would have been Rhys ap Tewdwr who led the army; he was the only king among them. When this group of combatants encountered their enemy camped less than a day's march away,
there was little doubt of the outcome. Gruffudd ap Caradog was leading his warband of about 125 men, while the men from
Arwystli who ruled Gwynedd would not have had more than 200 in their warband. Contrary to the assertions of later writers,
there was no one present representing Powys. The sons of Bleddyn ap Cynfyn were now men in their 20's (his brother
Rhiwallon is not known to have had any sons, but his daughter was married to Rhys ap Tewdwr) but were not present. Nor
was Gwrgeneu ap Seisyllt whom the author of Historia Gruffudd ap Cynan calls "king of Powys" in 1075. Likewise
absent were former Bleddyn officers Eunydd ap Morien and Madog ap Cadwgan. Against these 300-odd warriors came Rhys
ap Tewdwr with perhaps 600 to 900 men, many of them Irish mercenaries. His force overpowered the opposition leaders
and when those three men fell, the remainder of their men fled.
Whether or not Gruffudd
ap Cynan then took his men to ravage Arwystli as claimed by Historia, there is no indication he ever actually held
rule in Gwynedd. He simply disappears from the written accounts. Earl Hugh of Chester and his nephew, Robert of Rhuddlan,
thereafter ruled over Gwynedd for at least a decade. On the death of Robert, we find only Cadwgan ap Bleddyn ap Cynfyn
of Powys holding Anglesey against Earl Hugh. By the year 1098, another
Gruffudd ap Cynan appeared on the scene. Not the father-in-law of Cadwgan as Historia supposes (Cadwgan was
some 15 years older than this Gruffudd), but a second cousin of Cadwgan's wife:
ob 1039 1014 Cynan
1035 Cynan 1041
Gruffudd* Bleddyn 1025
1070 Gwenllian===Cadwgan 1055
* The man who attacked Anglesey in 1075 and fought at Mynydd Cairn in 1081, a nephew of Iago ap Idwal
** The ally of Cadwgan in 1098
who ruled Anglesey in 1099 and all of Gwynedd from c. 1125 until his death in 1137
*** This lady was but one of several children,
born in Ireland, who were taken in by Gruffudd's brother Maredudd, a cleric at Cadwgan's court in Powys.
 J.E. Lloyd "A History of Wales", 1912 edition, vol ii, p. 384
 "Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales", 1870, p. 142
 If we credit the account given in "History of Gruffudd ap Cynan", the battle
lasted mere minutes. In that source, Rhys and Gruffudd arrived at the enemy camp near sundown and killed Trahaearn and
Meilyr before dark. We suggest that author engaged in hyperbole to inflate the battle prowess of his hero
 Meilyr was born c. 1075; he was alive in 1137 to sing an elegy to the Gruffudd
ap Cynan who died that year, and died himself shortly after. See Dictionary of Welsh Biography p. 625
 An English translation appears in "Gruffudd ap Cynan - A Collaborative Biography",
1996, pp. 182/186
 Translation by Arthur Jones, 1910, pp. 125/131
 The author of History of Gruffudd ap Cynan says the king of Powys was Gwrgeneu
ap Seisyllt [ap Ithel ap Gwerystan]; there is no evidence this cousin line of Bleddyn ap Cynfyn ap Gwerystan ever held the
kingship. After the death of Bleddyn in 1075, Trahaearn ap Caradog probably ruled both Gwynedd and Powys
 Annales Cambriae version B
 The obit of Rhys ap Tewdwr is recorded in 1093; a Gruffudd ap Cynan died
in 1137, but not the one present at Mynydd Carn. That Gruffudd simply disappeared from the record soon after 1081
 Annales Cambriae version C
 Peniarth Ms 20 version
 Red Book of Hergest version
 Gwentian Chronicle version attributed to Caradoc of Llancarvan
 Cotton Ms Cleopatra B v
 Brut entry for 1079
 Also see "History of Gruffudd ap Cynan - A New Perspective" and "The Unofficial
'History' of Gruffudd, Nephew of Iago" elsewhere on this site