MINIMUM AGE FOR WELSH KINGSHIP IN THE 11th CENTURY
By Darrell Wolcott
Since the role of king of a
Celtic tribe required a man capable of defending its territory, and since the rule of primogeniture was not practiced, the
Welsh kingdoms did not recognize child kings. But at what age was an otherwise eligible heir deemed old enough to become
All we are told in the
old laws of Hywel Dda is that a son of noble birth, on his 14th birthday, was sent by his father to his "lord" who thereafter
was responsible for the boy's education and maintenance. We also find that the son does not receive a share of his
family lands until his father dies, at which point he ascends to his father's status as an uchelwr...a land-owning nobleman.
We are not told of any earlier point where the young man becomes free to leave the bed and board of the lord and establish
an independent household.
which alleges that at age 21, a man is entitled to land from his lord in exchange for his military service is of medieval
authorship; it may refer to knight's fees granted by the Norman feudal system, but is of no assistance in determining the
law or custom of eleventh century Wales. Our examination of actual examples, while anecdotal rather than written evidence,
shows men did not take a wife and begin a family while their father was still alive. We have thus assumed young men
were still in service to the lord until they ascended to the privileges of their father.
The only evidence seen
in the old laws that sons of the ruling or royal family were treated differently is found in the "edling", the young man declared
next to rule after the present king. That boy, whether a son or nephew of the king, was an official member of the king's
household. But this "heir apparent" did not always succeed to the kingship immediately upon the king's death, although
he might have later on when he attained "full age". If no eligible successor was yet of the required age, the
leading men of the tribe named an interim king...typically a man maternally related to the royal family.
We begin assembling our anecdotal
evidence with the death of Llewelyn ap Seisyllt in 1023. It appears that an interim king had to be chosen to rule Powys
and Gwynedd. His son, Gruffudd, was yet a child and his mother remarried Cynfyn ap Gwerystan. By 1033, a representive
of the royal family in Gwynedd reclaimed it's kingship in the person of Iago ap Idwal. And Gruffudd ap Llewelyn became
king of Powys in 1039. Our question is why those years? Did they perhaps represent the earliest either man had
attained the requisite age to become king?
Our reconstruction of the
timeline for the pedigrees of the Gwynedd and Powys families points to a birthdate c. 1005 for Iago and 1011 for Gruffudd.
Admittedly either date might vary a couple years, but both men appear to have ascended to kingship around age 26/30 and certainly
not as young as age 21.
Gruffudd would likely
have taken a wife shortly after becoming king, bearing children by 1040/41. When he was killed in 1063, he left sons Ithel
and Maredudd. But neither of those sons staked a claim to his kingdom until 1069. Again, were they forced to wait
until the elder of them had attained a minimum age? Even then, was it particularly wise for them to challenge Rhiwallon
and Bleddyn, the sons of Cynfyn who in 1063 had divided Powys and Gwynedd between them with the blessing of King Edward the
Cynan, son of Iago, would
have (under our timeline) attained full age about 1063. Is it only a coincidence that was the year Gruffudd ap Llewelyn
was killed, or was Cynan required to act then if he wanted to restore rule of Gwynedd to his lineage? Certain Irish
annals actually name him as Gruffudd's killer. In any event, we are told the sons of Cynfyn took rule in both Powys
and Gwynedd; any reign of Cynan was short indeed.
One could posit from the
examples of Iago, Gruffudd, the sons of Gruffudd and the son of Iago, that not only was an heir required to attain
a minimum age to become king, say 28, but was actually required to stake his claim at that time or forfeit his right.
We cite other examples which tend to support this requirement in our paper relating to Gruffudd ap Cynan in the eleventh century.
An incident wholly
unexplained by modern historians occurred in 1042 when the Brut noted that Gruffudd ap Llewelyn was "captured" by the "men of
Dublin". Two years later, he is reported attacking Hywel ap Edwin and killing him; clearly his confinement was brief
and did not affect his ability to retain and expand his kingdom. We would note that when Gruffudd took power in 1039 by killing
Iago ap Idwal of Gwynedd, a surviving member of that family named Cynan fled to Ireland. If that man attained "full
age" in 1042, could the Brut entry be a record of his attempt to remove Gruffudd and restore Gwynedd to its dynastic
family? If so, his coup was short-lived. Unfortunately, history is silent as to why Gruffudd was seized or
how he escaped. But the timeline we posit for the Gwynedd family does include a Cynan brother of Iago born c. 1014.
It is not our purpose here to argue
that age 28 was precisely the time a man attained "full age", but we have selected that number as both fitting the approximate
age when rightful heirs staked their claim and one other consideration: for the first 14 years of his life, a male
was considered a child; perhaps the next 14 years was devoted to his education and training under his lord. Only when
that apprenticeship was completed, we suspect, was he eligible to wield the powers of kingship.