THE RETAKING OF NORTHEAST WALES IN THE 10th CENTURY
By Darrell Wolcott
A terse notice in the Brut y
Tywysogyon for the year 890 reports "the Black Norsemen came to Gwynedd". One recension of this manuscript expands
this to include what action was taken to evict the invaders. Its author calls the invaders "Saxons" but that may have
been his generic term for all outsiders who invaded Wales. And he says the territory taken over by them included
Maelor, Dyffryn Clwyd, Rhufoniog and Tegeingl. This is roughly the area which lies north of the Dee and east of the
Clwyd plus some territory to the west of the Clwyd. While the chronicler who said the enemy "came to Gwynedd" might
have used that name in a broad sense to mean "north Wales", some of this area was then a part of Powys. The expanded
report says that Anarawd (son of Rhodri Mawr and then king of Gwynedd) offered the occupied lands to any men who would come
drive out the squatters, and that subsequently men did come and were victorious and the invaders were wholly driven out "through
the power of the Men of the North".
While we can accept the
gist of this report, some of the stated details are likely no more than the conjecture of the anonymous medieval author of
the recension. We doubt, for instance, that it was Anarawd alone who made the offer of land since some of
it was taken from Powys. But surely he was concerned that, if left alone, the squatters might push westward deep
into his kingdom. We also doubt that any of Rhufoniog, possibly with the exception of it's far north extremity, was
occupied. But if these were Scandanavian invaders, and we would read "Danes" for "Norsemen", they likely landed by sea
along the northern coast. And it Rhos, not Rhufoniog, which claims the coastline west of the Clwyd estuary.
No mention was made of the mountainous commotes of Ial and Ystrad Alun and we doubt the invasion claimed more than a few miles
inland, probably not below the Alun river. As it lies almost wholly below the Alun and directly east of Ial, we don't
think the invaders reached Maelor either, lands which were certainly part of Powys.
Our examination of this
incident takes into account the families known to have held Lordships in the affected area prior to 890 as well as those
found there in the 10th century who were new to the area and not closely related to the earlier men. Although mostly
conjecture, we have constructed the following scenerio which seems to account for the Lordships found after the
"retaking" of the land by Welshmen:
We expect the invasion
force came by sea and landed at the mouth of the Clwyd, perhaps spreading inland on both sides of that river. Other
than by the local inhabitants, we doubt much official notice was paid to the landing by kings of either Powys or Gwynedd;
this was the era of the sea-rovers and looting expeditions were commonplace along the ocean coast. It was only when
it became obvious the invaders intended to stay that alarms were raised, and this may not have occurred for a year or more
after the first landings. Looters had spent the winter in place before, awaiting better weather for their sailing home
with the loot. By the time they were recognized as "occupiers" and not mere looters (when their women and children began
to arrive), we think they had moved westward along the coast to the Gele river in Rhos and eastward into Tegeingl as far south
as the Alun and the part of Dyffryn Clwyd west of the Clwyd river.
About a generation earlier, a Saxon
incursion into much of this same territory had been replused by the combined armies of Rhodri Mawr of Gwynedd, Caradog Freich
Fras of Rhos and Brochwel ap Aeddan of Powys. All those men were now dead. Selyf ap Brochwel was king in Powys
and Gwgan ap Caradog was Lord of Rhos and Tegeingl. Initial contact with the enemy would have come from Gwgan since
Selyf was seated in mid-Powys miles to the south and Anarawd even further away in Anglesey. We suspect Gwgan was killed
while battling the squatters, leaving the problem to Anarawd and Selyf. His son and heir was yet a child under 10 years
Anarawd had to be concerned with
the safety of his younger half-brother, Tudwal Gloff, who had been granted lands in the royal forestlands of Uwch Aled, barely
7 miles inland from Abergele. Badly injured as a youngster fighting the Saxons who had killed his father, Tudwal was
lame and unable to lead an army. But Anarawd also had sea-raiders harrassing Anglesey and could not move his entire warband
way over to the eastern edge of his kingdom without leaving the bulk of his territory undefended. Likewise Selyf in
Powys had an obligation to protect his kingdom from both Danish and Saxon incursions from the east.
Accordingly, we think
the two kings hatched a plan to recruit men that would be willing to risk their lives to obtain their own Lordships.
These would quite likely be descended from Men of the North who had been forced from their lands in the seventh century and
resettled in Powys, and the recruits would perhaps be under the overall command of a Powysian. In return for recruiting
the expeditionary force, Anarawd agreed that all the land east of the Clwyd would come under Powys rule. The year
was about 900 when the plan was executed. It appears the volunteers, and their roles in the battle, were:
1. Lles Llyddog, then about
35 years old, was a member of the family descended from Casnar Wledig through Tegonwy ap Teon. A junior branch of the
royal family of Powys, it had ruled from Wroxeter before the Saxons took the Severn valley and drove them west into the
hills of Wales where they now lived near Welshpool. He would serve as the field general and his warband would sweep up
through Maelor and confront the enemy strength head-on. The plan was to kill as many as possible, including women
and children, and force the rest to flee north by sea back to their original homeland.
2. Elgudy ap Gwrysnadd, then
about 50, and his 20 year old son, Cynddelw Gam, had descended from Llywarch Hen who was forced from north Britain in the
seventh century and allowed to settle in Powys by ancestors of Lles Llyddog...said to have been his in-laws. His mission would
be to initially block the known fording spots along the Alun river to prevent the enemy from fleeing south when attacked by
the men with Lles Llyddog. Then once the Danes were forced to retreat north and west, the men led by Elgudy would strike
northward to press them to the coast, clearing Dyffryn Clwyd as they moved north.
3. Cynan ap Elyfyn, then
about 50, and his 20 year old son Marchudd, had descended from another branch of the clan of Coel Hen of the north.
Their ancestors too had been forced to take refuge in Powys, and it is likely all three of our projected battle leaders knew
one another prior to this expedition. This warband would make its way up the western side of the Clwyd to block its fordable
points, preventing the enemy from fleeing west. Any Danes found in residence across the Clwyd would be burned
out and killed.
4. A small
contingent from Anarawd's warband was sent to the west bank of the Gele river, ready to alert the king if the invaders
attempted to cross it when they came under attack by Cynan's men, while a corresponding contingent from Selyf's warband
was sent to the Alun river in Maelor to notify their king in the event the main attack on the Danes was unsuccessful
and the enemy was driving Lles Llyddog back into that commote.
Elgudy's army was blocking the Alun considerably north and west of Maelor.
When elements of Cynan's warband
neared the northern coast, they found a Danish settlement at Abergele had been hastily abandoned and its inhabitants departed
by sea. A handful of squatters who had been left behind were quickly mopped up and Cynan positioned his army on the
west bank of the Clwyd opposite Rhuddlan. The enemy now was faced by hostile armies at their south flank, their west
flank and the main attack coming from the east. As the warband of Elgudy switched their blocking mission into an outright
attack, the Danes now had to fight on two fronts. Already having been bested in their battles with Lles Llyddog's forces,
they now made a headlong run for their ships anchored at the junction of the Clwyd and the sea. The Welsh armies finally
joined up outside Rhuddlan and set out to slaughter any who were too slow to board their ships and sail. Cynan's army
watched from the far shore, their presence making it clear to the Danes that the sea was their only option.
For their reward, it appears
these victorious chieftans were granted the following:
1. Lles Llyddog
was made Lord of Tegeingl and given large parts of that cantref. He owed his allegiance to the king of Powys and the
Rhos family which had ruled there earlier was not reinstated.
was made Lord of Ystrad Alun and Dyffryn Clwyd and given several manors in the vicinity of Rhuddlan near the mouth
of the Clwyd. He also owed allegiance to the king of Powys.
3. Cynan was
made Lord of Abergele and granted considerable acreage surrounding it. His allegiance was to the king of Gwynedd and
to the Lord of Rhos. Although his role had been vital in the containment of the enemy, his men saw little combat and
did not receive shares of the land east of the Clwyd.
4. The men
who had served in the three warbands were given land from the parcels won by their leaders, the size depending upon their
roles and the valor they had displayed in combat. In virtually all cases, these men were related to their respective
leaders within the 4th degree...sharing at least a common great-grandfather as their ancestor.
Thus ends our conjectural
scenerio of the expedition. While no more than a series of guesses, it does provide a plausable answer to the following
was Tegeingl detached from the holdings of the Rhos family descended from Cunedda?
2. How did
the families descended from Lles Llydog, including Ednowain Bendew and probably Edwin, come to be Lords of Tegeingl in the
3. How can
we explain an 11th century lady descended from Cynddelw Gam (unrelated to either the Rhos family or to Lles Llyddog) being
called "heiress of Dyffryn Clwyd' and a man from the same descent (Llewelyn Aurdorchog) identified as "Lord of Ial and
4. How did Marchudd
ap Cynan, wholly unrelated to either the Rhos or Gwynedd ruling families, become Lord of Abergele in Rhos?