GWRON, SON OF CUNEDDA
By Darrell Wolcott
of several noted Gwynedd families trace their ancestry to an otherwise unknown son of Cunedda called Gwron. Consisting
of no more than a string of names spanning 500 years, they lead down to the brothers Maelog Dda and Alean ap Greddyf in the
mid-tenth century. The latter is cited as the patriarch of those families which produced the noted bard Gawlchmei
ap Meilyr, the Gwynedd Rhys Goch ap Sandde and Tegerin ap Carwed, while Sandde Hardd and Hwfa ap Cynddelw are said to
have descended from Maelog Dda.
manuscript, Harleian 3859, said that Cunedda had 9 sons, but none called Gwron is found in that list. The earliest
mention of him comes in a manuscript called Bonedd yr Arwyr which probably dates from the 13th century. There, we are
told that his three sons, Cynyr, Meilyr and Yneigr, assisted their cousin Cadwallon Lawhir in expelling this last of the Irish
from Gwynedd. Gwron is also cited in the c. 1400 manuscript Hen Lwythau Gwynedd a'r Mars, where we find the
names which form the 500 year link down to the tenth century.
Peter Bartrum calls
him "legendary" with this comment: "Gwron is not mentioned in the older lists of the sons of Cunedda and therefore his
historical existence is doubtful". We think that to be an unfortunate manner in which to express the problem. Since
a real man of some name spawned the resulting family; we would have elected to use wording such as "if the patriarch of this
family was a son of Cunedda, his name was probably not Gwron; however this may have been a nickname applied to one of the
known sons of Cunedda."
One modern writer suggests
that the common Welsh noun "gwron" or "hero" was simply applied to one of the familiar sons of Cunedda. He opts for
Ysfael (Osmail) since the name of that son is attached to a small area of Anglesey. We would have expected it to
appear as "y gwron" if that were the correct explanation.
A similiar Welsh male
name is Gwion, once spelled "Gwiawn", which occurs in the "Hanes Taliesin"
tale of Gwion Bach and in the Mabinogion tale of "How Culhwch Won Olwen" as Gwion Cat Eye. It was only when we encountered
men called "Y Gwion" that a possible identification of "Gwron ap Cunedda" emerged. The first of these was Y Gwion ap
Hwfa ap Ithel Felyn of Ial, born c. 1125. Over the next 100 years, we find 4 more men, all in families related to Ithel
Felyn, and one man who was the son of a lady of that family, that are called "Y Gwion" in the pedigrees. These men can
be linked in a chart like this:
1005 Llewelyn Aurdorchog
1035 Llewelyn Fychan
1065 Ithel Felyn
1140 Iorwerth 1130 Hywel
Foel 1125 Y Gwion
1170 Trahaearn 1160 Ieuaf 1160
Cadwgan Goch Dau 1165
1200 Y Gwion 1190 Y Gwion Gam
* Y Gwion**
1220 Y Gwion
1250 Cadwgan Goch***
*The missing link was probably named Hwfa, making a
repeating 3-name string which has been omitted in most citations. See below.
**This child was a son of Radfarch ap Asser (or Alser) from the family
of Hedd ap Alunog (Molwynog) which Radfarch married the lady in our chart
***Two wives are assigned to "Cadwgan Goch ap Y Gwion ap Hwfa", ladies born c.
1175 and c. 1265 who could not have been contemporary. Families said to descend from Cadwgan Goch point to a birthdate
for him c. 1250. We think the 3 generations missing from those pedigrees are a repeating string, beginning with Hwfa.
While we acknowledge that "Gwion" standing alone is a legitimate but rare male birthname, we never see other
male names proceeded by "Y". If there were never any men called "the Hwfa" or "the Ithel", why should a man have
been called "the Gwion"? We do see men cited in pedigrees solely by their nickname, such as "Y Teg" or "the fair" in
the sense of attractive-looking. In exploring the possibility that "Y Gwion" was simply a nickname, we soon found there
were no Welsh common nouns or adjectives "gwion" that might have formed a man's descriptive nickname.
Our first clue as to what it
meant came during our work on the family of Trahaearn ap Iorwerth, the valiant Powys warrior who was granted the manor and
lordship of Garthmyl by Prince Gwenwynwyn. The pedigree of the Lloyd family of Berthlloyd says Trahaearn had, among
others, sons named Y Gwion and Iorwerth. Both of those men are given sons named Iorwerth. We suspected it was
a single man known as "Iorwerth y Gwion", cited once under his birth name and again under his nickname. And immediately
wondered if the nickname weren't a corrupt spelling of "y wyrion" or "the grandson". We have often called attention
to the fact that few Welshmen married and had children during the lifetime of their father, but the ancient Welsh laws
which made that the "standard practice" were becoming obsolete in the 12th century as Norman influence began changing old
Certainly in the case of Trahaearn,
he need not wait to inherit his patrimonial lands before marrying; his Prince had granted him other land on which he could
house and support a family. If his first son had been born when his father was not only still alive but still active,
it may have been necessary to refer to a young Iorwerth ap Trahaearn as "Iorwerth the grandson" to distinquish the two men.
More likely, the nickname may simply have called attention to a hither-to rare occurrence: a living 3 generation family.
If so, it had begun two generations earlier in a cousin line of the family and each time it occurred, the child was called
"y wyrion" to highlight the achievement, ceasing only when it became common all over Wales for men to marry in the lifetime
of their father....the days of young men being required to leave home and serve their father's Lord having finally ended.
copying of the pedigree manuscripts altered "wyrion" into "gwyrion" (adding or dropping an initial "g" is a function of the
soft mutation in Welsh language usage) and later, when that non-word was supposed by a medieval scribe to be a misspelling
of a real name, it evolved into "Gwion" but still preceeded by "Y".
If our theory is correct,
the first cited Y Gwion would actually be "Ithel y wyrion" the son of Hwfa ap Ithel Felyn. Each of the other examples
in our chart would have a birthname identical to their grandfather. And we would then assume each such grandfather was
still alive well into his grandson's early youth.
Returning now to Gwron
ap Cunedda, we suspect this was a nickname but nothing found in the early stories of the family indicates a particular
son of Cunedda was singled out as a "hero" as others suggest; it was the sons of Gwron who are credited with battlefield sucesses.
The lands named for Ysfael ap Cunedda are rather minute for a "hero's" portion, so we doubt he was the son also called Gwron.
Instead, we suspect he was the very first cited "y wyrion" which later scribes corruptly rendered as "Gwron". The
father of Cunedda was Edern, and sure enough one of the nine sons listed for Cunedda was also called Edern. He may have
been the eldest of the nine, born while his grandfather was yet alive. In the absence of more compelling arguments, we suggest
that Gwron was actually "Edern y wyrion".