WAS OWAIN ap EDWIN REALLY A TRAITOR?
In the early or "traditional"
histories of Wales, we are told that the eldest son of Edwin of Tegeingl was Owain called "Brawdr" or "traitor". Citing
no authentic source but injecting their own explanation of the terse events recorded in the Brut, a tale was fashioned which
made Owain out to be a willing tool of the Normans in their early objections to the rise of Gruffudd ap Cynan in Anglesey.
The tale is recounted by J.Y.W. Lloyd
in his History of Powys Fadog in the following paragraph (which we have not quoted verbatim, but summarized to
eliminate extraneous interjections):
The nobles of Mon revolted against
their lawful prince, Gruffudd ap Cynan, and put themselves under the protection of Hugh, Earl of Chester. The Princes
Gruffudd ap Cynan and Cadwgan ap Bleddyn were obliged to flee to Ireland and the Normans made Owain, son of Edwin ap Gronwy
of Tegeingl, a fictitious prince to reconcile the Cymry. Owain, who thus became Prince of Gwynedd by siding with the
enemies of his country, was called Owain Vradur, or the Traitor, in consequence. He was the Prime Minister and father-in-law
of Gruffudd ap Cynan who had married his daughter, Angharad. He reigned but a short time, as Gruffudd returned at the
end of two years and recovered possession of his territories.
The Brut entries of 1098 and
1099 actually say no such thing; previous entries make it clear it was Cadwgan ap Bleddyn who was defending Gwynedd (read
Anglesey) against military attempts by the Earl of Chester to recover the entire lordship for which his now-dead kinsman Robert
of Rhuddlan had paid 40 pounds to rule. At that time, there is no record that Gruffudd ap Cynan was anything
more than a young wanna-be prince. We suspect it was his "kingship" claim in 1098 which brought the combined armies
of the Earls of Chester and Montgomery to Anglesey and forced the two Welshmen to flee to Ireland. Far from being in
the service of Gruffudd, Owain ap Edwin was the Lord of Tegeingl whose lands lay hard by Chester; he had established cordial
relations with his powerful neighbor as a matter of survival. When Robert of Rhuddlan died about 1093, it had been Owain
to whom Earl Hugh had granted the governship of Gwynedd. For several years, Cadwgan ap Bleddyn had held Anglesey and
NOT as a sub-ruler for the Earl. Two known attempts to dispossess Cadwgan militarily had failed and there is no evidence
that Owain ap Edwin was involved in them. Anglesey was far from his own lands and he likely could have cared less whether
the Earl was able to extend his control to that island; he simply governed whatever Welsh lands the Norman did control.
Thus, when the 1098 expedition cleared Cadwgan and his friend, Gruffudd, from Anglesey, it simply became another Welsh cantref
held by the Earl and thus governed locally by Owain.
It does seem clear that the
leading men of Anglesey, while they had enjoyed the protection of Cadwgan for several years, were not willing to accept a
new king who was not approved by Earl Hugh. Cadwgan had never claimed to be king of anything except the portion
of Powys where his paternal lands were located. He had simply taken up residence in Anglesey during a break in its rule
by the Normal Earl, where the fathers of its leading men had served under his father a generation ago. The Brut account
says one of the primary reasons he and Gruffudd fled to Ireland was fear of treachery by these men, but Cadwgan
showed no such fear when the Normans attacked in 1094 and 1095. Something had changed. We believe it was the emergence
of Gruffudd ap Cynan, the current member of the Gwynedd royal family who was probably legally entitled to rule. His
family had been ousted from power in 1039 and, we think, several successive members of that family had tried and failed to
regain rule. These include his father Cynan. Under our timeline, Gruffudd attained "full age" in 1098 and likely proclaimed
himself the rightful king.
Nor do we think Gruffudd was
then married to a daughter of Owain ap Edwin; his eldest sons were born between 1100 and 1105 and we would place his marriage
after he returned from Ireland in 1099. Lastly, Owain continued to govern all of mainland Gwynedd
until he died in 1105. Gruffudd ap Cynan was only granted the lordship of Anglesey upon his return to Wales and was
still holding only that cantref as late as 1121. The remainder of Gwynedd was apparently held by Gronwy ap Owain
ap Edwin in 1114 and there is no reason to believe that Gruffudd ap Cynan ruled the entire kingdom until Gronwy and two of
his brothers were slain in 1125.
The "traitor" charge against
Owain was not made during his lifetime, but hundreds of years later by writers who exhibited a strong bias toward the clan
of Rhodri Mawr. They cast pedigrees to support their incorrect belief that ALL the men who ruled either Gwynedd or Powys
were either directly descended from Rhodri or were mere usurpers. It has taken scholars years to debunk those false
claims. If a 12th century Welsh nobleman who acknowledged the military superiority of the Normans and ruled his lands with
their consent and blessings can be called a traitor, we would nominate Gruffudd ap Cynan. There is no record he
ever opposed them militarily and many reports where he did their bidding. Two come quickly to mind:
In 1116, Gruffudd ap Rhys
ap Tewdwr returned to Deheubarth as a grown man after having taken refuge in Ireland as a child when his father was killed.
When he made a claim to his father's old kingship (which was now being ruled by Normans), he was outlawed and being hunted.
He asked Gruffudd ap Cynan for asylum in Anglesey and was promised he would be received gladly. But when King Henry
I learned where the young man had fled, he asked Gruffudd ap Cynan to take him into custody and send him to England for imprisonment,
or failing that, to just send him his head. Immediately Gruffudd began asking his men where to find the younger Gruffudd,
and friends of the latter warned him to "shun the presence of Gruffudd ap Cynan" until you know where he stands. When
horsemen could be seen approaching, Gruffudd ap Rhys took shelter in a church. Gruffudd ap Cynan's men were ordered
to drag him out but the prelates would not allow the sanctuary of the church to be violated. The young man finally was
able to flee back to Deheubarth, judging it a safer place to be.
In 1121, King Henry I sent his
army against Powys and its prince, Maredudd ap Bleddyn. The men of Powys sent a messenger to Gruffudd ap Cynan asking
him to unite with them because their joint armies could together hold off the king. Gruffudd not only declined, but
told the men of Powys if they fled into his lands he would attack them with his warband.
We suggest that like Gruffudd
ap Cynan, Owain ap Edwin did the bidding of the English simply so he could peacefully enjoy his realm without constant war
with them. Virtually every other Welsh prince in that era did the same or was crushed; keeping peace with England
by acknowledging the king's overlordship had little or no effect upon their ability to rule their own lands and people.
Various Welsh kings had done the same ever since the days of Hywel Dda and Wessex King Athelstan.
Owain became ill and died in
1105 as a man not yet 60 years old. He had married a daughter of Ednowain Bendew, the man who held a lordship in Tegeingl
contemporarily with Owain's father. We believe Edwin and Ednowain were first cousins. His best-known sons were
Gronwy, Rhiryd and Meilyr while another son, Llywarch, was killed in battle in 1118. The Llewelyn ap Owain whose
daughter Arddun married Iorwerth ap Madog was, we think, a younger son. A daughter, Angharad, married Gruffudd ap
Cynan ap Iago and was the mother of Owain Gwynedd and others. It was probably another daughter, Annesta, who was mother
to Einion ap Seisyllt of Meirionydd. An early citation calls Aldud yet another son of Owain ap Edwin, but there are
reasons to believe he was an adopted, not a natural son.
Our ongoing and yet incomplete
research of the Tegeingl families indicates that Owain may also have been the father of Uchdryd and Madog, men whose family
pedigrees claim a different man as their ancestor.
We will conclude this
discussion by suggesting that Owain ap Edwin was, during his lifetime, a far more powerful ruler in north Wales than Gruffudd
ap Cynan and that his family continued its domination there at least down to the era when the sons of Gruffudd reached