HISTORY OF GRUFFUDD AP CYNAN - A NEW PERSPECTIVE
By Darrell Wolcott
The earliest "biography"
of a Welsh king is contained in a manuscript called "Historia hen Gruffudd vab Kenan vab Yago" but most often referred to
as simply "The History of Gruffudd ap Cynan". Hereafter, we shall refer to it as Historia. Although John
E. Lloyd accepted it as literal history when writing his classic work "A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian
Conquest" in 1911, modern scholars are less certain.
The oldest extant
manuscript is Peniarth Ms 17 which dates to the middle of the thirteenth century. In his 1910 edit and translation
of the work, Arthur Jones supposes it to be a Welsh translation of an original Latin text written before the death of Owain
Gwynedd in 1170. But the analysis of Kari Maund expresses well-reasoned doubts.
The work appears
to have been written as both a panegyric to the man and an apologia concerning his right to rule. Its extensive genealogies
seek to show a Welsh king could be fully entitled by birth to rule even if his father had not been the king. As Maund
points out, no such arguments would be needed during the lifetime of Owain Gwynedd; his father HAD been the king. While
she opts for an authorship date during the life of Llewelyn ap Iorwerth (thus c. 1200/10) whose father had never been king,
we think it equally likely it was written during the life of Llewelyn ap Gruffudd...another man whose father had not preceeded
him as king. And should we date the work to c. 1250, perhaps the extant Peniarth Ms 17 is, in fact, the original; it
was written for and addressed to an audience called "most beloved brethren of Wales". Mr Jones' reasons for thinking
it was first composed in Latin are as unconvincing as his reasons for dating the work. While clerics of the 13th century
were fluent in Latin, the broader audience...to the extent they could read at all...read only Welsh.
If originally composed
near 1250, the author must have relied on such existing manuscripts as Brut y Tywysogyon, Annales Cambriae, bardic pedigree
lists and oral traditions. Anyone with first-hand information about Gruffudd ap Cynan was long dead. We suspect
the author simply took the terse recitation of events found in the chronicles and annals and expanded them into a narrative
which best portrayed Gruffudd as a brave, heroic and admired king whose military prowess was unequaled. At the
same time he portrayed those men not of his family, but who had ruled over Gwynedd, as reviled usurpers.
We shall not dwell
on the doubts others have expressed about the worth of this manuscript as literal history, but will raise an issue no
earlier scholars seem to have considered. Was the subject of the work a single man named Gruffudd, or two entirely different
men of that name? In order to accomodate all the recounted events into the life of a single man, the author of Historia makes
him die at age 82 and thus born in either 1054 or 1055 (his obit is recorded in 1137). One must wonder if
this unusually long life assigned him by the author was done so in recognition that his first attempt to rule over Gwynedd
was in 1075. But to assume that a man of 20 or 21 could or would stake a kingship claim in eleventh century Wales is
to ignore contradictory evidence. Our own timeline for this family points to a birthdate nearer to 1041 for the Gruffudd
who attacked, besieged or possessed Anglesey in 1075.
The Latin texts of the
Annales Cambriae identify him as "Grifud nepos Iacob" but the Latin "nepos" can mean either "nephew" or "grandson".
Some Welsh translations rendered it "nei" or nephew while others opted for "wyr" or grandson. Since a number
of early pedigrees identify a "Gruffudd ap Cynan ap Iago", modern scholars all ignore the "nephew" possibility and posit that
his name was not rendered in the patronymic form because his father was virtually unknown, while his grandfather had
been king of Gwynedd until 1039. We think it equally likely this Gruffudd ap Cynan was called "Gruffudd nephew of
Iago" to distinguish him from a later Gruffudd ap Cynan. The Gruffudd who assisted Rhys ap Tewdwr at the Battle of Mynydd
Cairn in 1081 is identified in the same manner and, we think, is clearly the same man mentioned in 1075. But not necessarily
the man who first occurs in 1098 and died in 1137.
There is general
agreement today that the pedigrees contained in Historia are flawed; the paternal line omits Idwal Foel ap Anarawd
and Rhodri Molwynog ap Idwal as glaring deficiencies. To find omitted generations in old pedigrees is not unusual; far
rarer are cases where an extra generation has been inserted. The sources available to the author of Historia
included Elisedd ap Meurig as the grandfather of Iago ap Idwal. We have seen no persuasive arguments why this generation
should be deleted. Meurig ap Idwal Foel is known to have had sons named Ionafal and Idwal. The former
was slain in 985, yet Brut entries for 993 and 994 mention the "sons of Meurig" in Gwynedd. Clearly Idwal had a brother
still alive in those years. It appears those genealogists which "ememded" the c. 1250 pedigree to eliminate Elisedd
were influenced by the claimed birthdate of Gruffudd ap Cynan ap Iago as 1055. The early fifteenth-century manuscript
Achau Brenhinoedd a Thywysogion Cymru rendered the pedigree as:
820 Rhodri Mawr ob 878
850 Anarawd ob 916
880 Idwal Foel ob 942
913 Meurig ob 974
945 Idwal ob 996
980 Iago ob 1039
1055 Gruffudd ob 1137
While all birthdates except
the last one are simply used to show standard generational gaps, it can be seen that to leave Elisedd in the chart would not
reasonably allow Gruffudd to occur as early as 1055. But if we recast the pedigree to make the Gruffudd who occurs in
1075 the nephew of Iago, then omitting Elisedd is not only unnecessary but by doing so we obscure the fact there
may have been a second and later Gruffudd ap Cynan:
913 Meurig ob 974
944 Ionafal ob 985
945 Elisedd 943 Idwal ob 996
1005 Iago ob 1039 1014
1070 Gruffudd ob 1137
With this chart,
we posit a nephew of former king Iago contending for Anglesey in 1075 as a man past 30, not a lad barely out of his teens
as given by Historia. And we suggest the man cited in 1098 as an ally of Cadwgan ap Bleddyn was the grandson
of Iago, both men not contending for rule until they had reached the requisite age to become king. Since the
patronymic name of both was Gruffudd ap Cynan, the author of Historia thought they were a single man. But we
should expect the man who married Angharad ferch Owain ap Edwin (she born c. 1085) and fathered Owain Gwynedd near 1100
would himself date from c. 1070, not 1055. However, the man whose mother was Rhanillt daughter of Olaf of Ireland should
occur near 1040. (See APPENDIX following the Notes for citations which were aware of two men called Gruffudd ap Cynan)
A review of events affecting
the kingship of Gwynedd in the eleventh century might be helpful at this point. The last two decades of the tenth century
saw many sons and grandsons of Idwal Foel alternately contend for rule, virtually killing off all but one son of Meurig.
The last of the others, Cynan ap Hywel ap Ieuaf ap Idwal Foel, was killed in 1003; we aren't told who succeeded him but the
next man called king of Gwynedd in the Brut was Llewelyn ap Seisyllt in 1022. It is possible Idwal ap Elisedd ap
Meurig was responsible for the death of Cynan ap Hywel since he likely attained the requisite age for kingship in 1003.
But Idwal must not have survived long and his son Iago was still a youngster when Llewelyn ap Seisyllt of Powys was installed
as king of Gwynedd...sometime between 1003 and 1022.
When Llewelyn was killed
in 1023, his only son Gruffudd was still a child. The men of Powys appear to have selected Cynfyn ap Gwerystan as interim
king; not only was he a maternal grandson of former king Cadell ap Brochwel ap Aeddan but he married the widow of Llewelyn
and became the step-father of young Gruffudd. No claimant of the Gwynedd royal family came forward in 1023, but we learn
that Iago ap Idwal assumed rule there in 1033. In our proposed timeline, that was the first year Iago attained the requisite
age for kingship. We don't know if Cynfyn willingly stepped aside for Iago in Gwynedd or if Iago came to power by killing
Cynfyn. If the latter, he may have also taken rule in Powys where Gruffudd was still in his early 20's. We do
know that when the latter finally did come of "kingship" age in 1039, his first act was to kill Iago and seize Gwynedd.
Historians suppose it
was Cynan ap Iago who had to flee for safety to Ireland when Iago was killed, but under our timeline, that Cynan was but a
toddler and not a threat to Gruffudd ap Llewelyn. However, we have posited a Cynan brother of Iago who would have been
perhaps 25 years old in 1039, a definate threat to Gruffudd. We believe it was this Cynan who fled to Ireland where he married
the Irish princess and fathered "Gruffudd nephew of Iago" c. 1041.
Irish sources say
"Channan mac Iacco" was responsible for the death of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn in 1063. While this is by no means an accepted
fact, it does appear that Cynan ap Iago would have attained the requisite age to contend for kingship about that same year.
This would have been virtually the only opportunity for Cynan to qualify for the description "King Cynan" given him in the
Historia pedigrees. Since Bleddyn ap Cynfyn was installed by King Edward of England as ruler of Gwynedd in
1063, any reign of Cynan was brief indeed. We believe he had never left Gwynedd when his same-named uncle fled to Ireland,
and was not earlier a problem to Gruffudd ap Llewelyn since he was under the requisite age for claiming a kingship.
Thus, his son Gruffudd probably had always lived in Gwynedd and had just attained sufficient years to claim kingship when
we first encounter him in 1098. In the years which followed 1063, Bleddyn was killed in 1075 and replaced
in Gwynedd by the cousins Trahaearn ap Caradog ap Gwyn and Cynwrig ap Rhiwallon ap Gwyn. The latter was killed within
months, while Trahaearn continued to rule until his death at Mynydd Cairn in 1081 at the hands of Rhys ap Tewdwr and Gruffudd
nephew of Iago. The latter is not heard from again; Robert of Rhuddlan, the Norman relative of Earl of Chester Hugh
Avranches, ruled over Gwynedd until he was killed in 1093.
We aren't told who
immediately succeeded him, but when the Normans sought to maintain their control over Gwynedd after the death of Robert,
it was Cadwgan ap Bleddyn who defended it and drove the Normans to flight in 1094. There is no mention of Gruffudd ap
Cynan at that battle, but by 1098 he and Cadwgan were driven from Anglesey by a renewed Norman attack. The man we posit
as born c. 1070 would not have been of sufficient age in 1094 to claim the kingship, but would have been in 1098.
Perhaps it was his elevation to the crown that prompted the Normans to invade with sufficient forces to prevail.
After forced to take shelter in Ireland for a short period, we learn that Gruffudd and Cadwgan returned in 1099 after making
peace with the Normans. Gruffudd was permitted to rule in Anglesey while the remainder of Gwynedd was settled upon Owain
ap Edwin of Tegeingl. We suspect the terms of this accord included a requirement that Gruffudd marry a daughter of Owain;
such a liason between the two men sharing rule in Gwynedd might mitigate any thoughts either man might have had of taking
the whole for himself. His ally, Cadwgan, was given rule in Ceredigion and a Norman wife...the daughter of Picot de
The author of Historia,
seeking a plausable explanation for the absence of Gruffudd in the chronicles between 1081 and 1098, claims he was taken
prisoner by Robert of Rhuddlan in 1081 and remained in captivity for 12 years or 16 years...he seems unaware that he made
contradictory claims of the duration. We believe it unnecessary to take a position on the matter; if it occurred at
all, it happened to the Gruffudd nephew of Iago and not the Gruffudd of 1098.
It was not
until some years after 1099 that Gruffudd ap Cynan held more than the lordship of Anglesey. He was probably not recognized
as king of all Gwynedd until the sons of Owain ap Edwin were slain in 1125; in 1114 he appears to have shared rule with Goronwy
ap Owain and in 1121 he is described only as "holding the island of Anglesey". His obituary in 1137 indicates he was
past the age of 65 since he had retired into a monastary, but gives no reason to believe he had done so as early as 1120
(when a man born in 1055 would have turned 65). Indeed, he is cited as still ruling as late as 1124.
In another paper
on this site, we have argued that not only was the attainment of "full age" required for an heir of the royal family to claim
kingship (somewhere between 26 and 30; we have used age 28 in our examples), but that such an heir whose father was not the
existing king was actually required to make his claim at that time or stand aside for the next in line.
While our birthdates are merely guesses, the following chart depicts some interesting events which occurred when the men of
Gwynedd's royal family probably attained "full age":
year attained Event
Idwal ap Elisedd 1003 King
Cynan ap Hywel killed; was
Idwal making his claim?
Iago ap Idwal 1033
Iago became king, but 10 years
after death of previous king
Cynan ap Idwal 1042 Gruffudd
ap Llewelyn kidnapped
by Irishmen; was Cynan involved?
Cynan ap Iago
1063 Gruffudd ap Llewelyn killed; was
Cynan making his claim?
1069 Early hopes quashed by his allies
defeat at Mechain, but immediately
on death of Bleddyn in 1075 he
Gruffudd ap Cynan
1098 Driven from Anglesey by Normans;
not mentioned in 1094 accounts