"BETRAYAL" BY MEIRION GOCH REVISITED
Most students of early Welsh history became acquainted with Meirion Goch by his appearance in the 13th century manuscript
Historia Hen Gruffud vab Kenan vab Iago better known as the History of Gruffudd ap Cynan(1). The following
scene is related by the anonymous author of this work, the setting is soon after Gruffudd established his court in Gwynedd
after killing previous King Trahaearn ap Caradog at Mynydd Cairn in 1081:
"As he (Gruffudd) was
enjoying the kingdom according to custom, Meirion Goch, his baron, was stirred by an arrow of the devil and accused him before
Hugh Earl of Chester, and betrayed him in this manner. He caused the two earls of the French, that is to say Hugh, who
was mentioned above, and Hugh Earl of Shrewsbury the son of Roger of Montgomery, to come together and with them an abundance
of horsemen and footmen, to Y Rug in Edeyrnion. Moreover, the traitor betrayed him by these words. 'My lord', said he,
'two earls of the marches greet thee and beseech thee to come safely, together with thy foreignors (his Irish mercenaries)
to talk with them in Y Rug in Edeyrnion'. Gruffudd, believing these words, came as far as the place of his tenancy (the
border of his lands). When the earls saw him, they seized both him and his retinue and put him in the gaol of Chester,
the worst of prisons, with fetters upon him, for twelve years."
Most scholars identify this
Meirion Goch with the three sons of Merwydd of Lleyn who had occurred earlier in the pages of Historia. When Gruffudd
had first sailed from Ireland to Anglesey in 1075, this scene unfolds:
"Then Gruffudd sent messingers
to the men of Anglesey and Arfon and the three sons of Merwydd of Lleyn, Asser, Meirion and Gwgan, and other noblemen to ask
them to come quickly to confer with him. Without delay they arrived and saluted him and said to him, 'Your coming is
welcome'. Then he besought them with all his might to aid him to obtain his patrimony, for he was their rightful lord,
and to fight on his side to repel their usurping rulers who had come from another place."
Very shortly thereafter,
the author has Gruffudd sending these men in search of one of those "usurpers", Cynwrig ap Rhiwallon:
"Then he dispatched the
soldiers of the sons of Merwydd, who were in sanctuary in Clynnog from fear of the men of Powys who were threatening them,
and other noblemen and their kinsmen, and sixty picked men of Tegeingl....and eighty men from Anglesey, to the cantref of
Lleyn to fight with the petty king Cynwrig their oppressor. They came upon him unawares, and slew him and many of his
Having now shown that
the sons of Merwydd were willing and faithful allies of Gruffudd who welcomed him as their rightful lord who'd come to deliver
them from their usurping oppressors, the author next explains how it happened that his hero got his butt kicked by Trahaearn
ap Caradog and sent fleeing back to Ireland:
"Then the three sons of
Merwydd and all the men of Lleyn united against Gruffudd, their rightful lord, and killed at night in their lodging (many)
of the Irishmen of Gruffudd's household. When Trahaearn, defeated and a fugitive, heard this he rejoiced that such disunity
had arisen between Gruffudd and his men. He immediately went to the men of Powys and urged them to come with him to
attack Gwynedd with a multitude of forces to avenge Cynwrig, his kinsman. Thereupon came Gwrgeneu ap Seisyllt, the king
of Powys(2), and his men together with Trahaearn and his men, with one mind determined to conquer the kingdom of King Gruffudd.
When the three sons of Merwydd and the men of Lleyn and Eifionydd heard that, like perjured and faithless men they betrayed
King Gruffudd their rightful lord and aided their enemies...." The passage ends with Trahaearn winning the ensuing battle
and Gruffudd going back to Ireland...not because he was fairly defeated in battle, but only due to the treachery of his
To put those events
into historical perspective, the Brut entry for the year 1075 cites five things worthy of mention. One entry says "Gruffudd
ap Cynan nepos Iago beseiged Mon", another says "Cynwrig ap Rhiwallon was killed by the men of Gwynedd" and a third entry
tells us "that year was the battle of Bron-yr-erw between Gruffudd and Trahaearn". It is only from Historia
that we get the notion that Cynwrig's death was directly related to Gruffudd's landing in Anglesey. And while Historia
claims there was an earlier battle where Gruffudd trounced Trahaearn (prior to Bron-yr-erw), the Brut knows nothing of
We believe the author
of Historia merely introduced the three sons of Merwydd into his tale so he could say that Gruffudd was only
defeated because there was treachery among his own men. The Gruffudd being eulogized would never have lost a fair fight,
so his failure to take and hold Anglesey must have been due to treachery.
So who was this Meirion
Goch who, with his brothers, was branded a traitor? And is there perhaps a grain of truth behind the obvious hyperbole?
If we consider these accounts as literal history, these men were at least young adults in 1075, likely born c. 1045/1050.
Even if Meirion Goch of 1081 was a different man than the Meirion ap Merwydd who had two brothers, he could scarcely have
been born much later than 1055. We turn to the pedigree evidence for confirmation.
The earliest book of pedigrees
which mentions this family was Hengwrt Ms 33 written before 1300 and perhaps as early as 1230. Now lost, its contents
had been copied into other manuscripts at various times and survive today as several separate sections. Hen Lwythau Gwynedd
a'r Mars (the old tribes of Gwynedd and the March) contains pedigrees of the leading non-royal men(3). Under the
tribe of Collwyn, we find:
(a) Merwydd, Eginir,
Gellan and Ednyfed were sons of Collwyn ap Tangno ap Cadfael ap Lludd and Medlan penllydan ferch Neiniad, sister of Ednowain
Bendew was their mother.
(b) Asser, Gwgan
and Meirion were sons of Meurig ap Tangno.
(c) Tegwaret ap
Rhobert ap Asser ap Merwydd
(d) Dafydd ap Cadwgan
ap Genillin ap Meirion ap Merwydd
Of the extant versions
of the manuscript, only Peniarth Ms 127, 92 extends items (c) and (d) to Merwydd ap Tangno, while Peniarth Mss 75, 128
& 131, say this was Merwydd ap Collwyn ap Tangno (thus one of the 4 sons mentioned in item (a) ). All sources
except Peniarth Ms 131 agree on "Meurig ap Tangno" in item (b), it calling him Merwydd ap Tangno. Peter Bartrum, the
noted Welsh genealogist, opts for the minority versions in all 3 cases. His chart of the family, which we do not accept,
looks like this (estimated dates are ours):
980 Tangno ap Cadfael
1015 Meurig/rect Merwydd
1040 Merwydd Asser 1045
Meirion 1045 Gwgan
1075 Gwgan Robert
Although nowhere mentioned in
the old manuscripts, Bartrum also gives his second Merwydd a son named Gwgan. This, no doubt, to accord with early 16th
century manuscripts which cite a Gwgan ap Merwydd Goch ap Collwyn ap Tangno.(4) We agree this Gwgan belongs in the chart;
it is attaching the three sons to a Merwydd ap Tangno which we question. Other medieval pedigrees cite families descended
from Asser, Gwgan and Meirion ap Merwydd which point to a birthdate near 1070/1075 for those brothers. (Charts are presented
below) This is consistent with them being sons of Merwydd ap Collwyn, not sons of Meurig/Merwydd ap Tangno.
We believe both Bartrum
and at least one of the men who copied the now lost manuscript (but not the others) were influenced by the chronology found
in Historia. The only way to portray three men whom you think were involved in military campaigns in 1075 is
the manner in which Bartrum did. That construction also yields a Meirion Goch born c. 1045 as the "traitor" of 1081.
While this is at odds with all other versions of the early pedigree, there are other reasons for rejecting Bartrum's chart.
It boggles the imagination
to suppose that Gruffudd would trust his safety in 1081 to the same man who had betrayed him in 1075. Also, the Normans
whom Meirion Goch is said to have pursuaded Gruffudd to meet in 1081 were the same men we encounter in this 1098 Brut entry:
"the French a third time
moved hosts against the men of Gwynedd, with two earls as their leaders, namely Hugh earl of Shrewsbury and Hugh the Fat,
Earl of Chester....Cadwgan ap Bleddyn and Gruffudd ap Cynan, for fear of treachery by their own men, left the island of Anglesey
and fled to Ireland"
We have previously
posited that Historia rolled two men named Gruffudd ap Cynan into a single man(5); that it was a nephew of Iago who
was involved in the 1075 and 1081 events but a younger kinsman, the grandson of Iago, who first occurs in 1098. It may well
have been Meirion Goch, with or without his brothers, who sent word to the Earl of Chester in 1098 that a young Gruffudd
ap Cynan had come of full age and was claiming to be the rightful king of Gwynedd. He may also have advised the other
Gwynedd noblemen they had much to lose by acknowledging a king whom the Normans had not approved.
The author of Historia,
hearing the oral traditions that Meirion Goch had brought the two Norman earls to capture Gruffudd, placed that event
in 1081 and said it led to the imprisonment of Gruffudd. Since the first Gruffudd is not again mentioned in the Brut
and the younger Gruffudd first occurs in 1098, we suspect the betrayal and imprisonment story in Historia was an
attempt to account for the missing years. But the fact that Hugh, son of Roger of Montgomery, was NOT the Earl of Shrewsbury
until his father's death in 1093 makes it quite clear the "betrayal" story belongs to 1098, not 1081.
Otherwise, we must
believe the three brothers, sons of Merwydd, joined Trahaearn ap Caradog against Gruffudd in 1075 and when Gruffudd finally
defeated Trahaearn in 1081, he forgave Meirion and promptly got himself betrayed again. We prefer to think there was
but a single "betrayal" and that it occurred in 1098. Historia's 1075 story of treachery, we suspect, was simply
concocted as an excuse for Gruffudd losing a battle and being forced from Anglesey. And although something occurred in 1081
to permanently remove Gruffudd, Robert of Rhuddlan would not have needed a traitor to inform him that Gruffudd had killed
Trahaearn and was seeking to establish himself as king of Gwynedd. Robert would have been quite capable of offering
Gruffudd a safe conduct pass to visit Rhuddlan to obtain Norman permission to rule over at least a part of his patrimony;
that he tricked him is also likely; whether slain or imprisioned, we hear no more from that Gruffudd...he clearly did not
leave the meeting as king of anything. Robert himself ruled Gwynedd from 1081 until his death c. 1093.(6)
But ever since the death of
Gruffudd ap Llewelyn in 1063, the Saxons first, then the Normans, had insisted on the right to oversee the affairs of both
Gwynedd and Powys and approve the local rulers. First with Rhiwallon and Bleddyn, sons of Cynfyn, and then with the
cousins Trahaearn ap Caradog and Cynwrig ap Rhiwallon, these "kings" served only with the blessings of their English overseers.
One should not think Robert of Rhuddlan would actually govern the Welsh people at the local levels of their commotes, but
would reserve the right to approve whatever "lords" wished to take day-to-day charge of justice, administration and territorial
defenses within their lordships. We know one such local ruler was Owain ap Edwin of Tegeingl(7). Possibly his
realm was at first limited to the lands east of the Clwyd and only expanded after 1093.
Robert may have confirmed
other local rulers in the hope that no single Welsh nobleman controlled sufficient lands and subjects to pose a huge threat
of rebellion against their overlord. If so, one would suspect Merwydd ap Collwyn was a logical choice as Lord of Lleyn
and possibly of neighboring Eifionydd and Ardudwy. He would have been about 41 years old in 1081, with three sons not
yet in their teens. By the time Robert was killed in c. 1093, Meirion Goch ap Merwydd would have been in his low twenties
but with expectations of succeeding his father within just a few years. But events of 1098 changed things for him.
Back in 1093, we
think Earl Hugh of Chester took a different approach to his oversight of Gwynedd after Robert's death.
The territory being locally ruled by Owain ap Edwin was, we believe, expanded to all of Gwynedd since he had proven himself a
loyal subject of the crown for 12 years. Also he lived the nearest to Chester and would be easier to keep an eye on
than those Lords in far west Gwynedd that Robert had relied upon. The Brut suggests that all of Gwynedd did not
accept the new arrangement and that Earl Hugh brought his army in 1094 to impose his will. For reasons beyond the
scope of our present paper, the rebelling men of Gwynedd asked Cadwgan ap Bleddyn for assistance and it was he who kept the
Normans out of the westernmost part of Gwynedd until 1098. That was about the year when Meirion Goch came of full age
and replaced his father as Lord of Lleyn, Eifionydd and Ardudwy...in practice if not in fact. His father, if still alive,
was approaching 60 years of age. For 5 years, Cadwgan had provided for the defences of his lands but had not interferred
in the governance nor asked to be hailed as their king. Cadwgan had his own patrimony in Powys to rule over.
We suspect the request for his assistance had come from Cynan ap Iago who probably had been Robert's local lord of Anglesey(8).
Cadwgan had a special relationship with that family.
Cynan's first-cousin Maredudd
was, we believe, the priest at Cadwgan's court in Powys(9). This Maredudd had likely sheltered the wife and young
children of his brother when he (the Gruffudd ap Cynan of 1081) was deposed and disappeared. When one of those daughters,
Gwenllian, turned 13 about 1083, Cadwgan had taken her to wife(10). She had borne him Owain and Madog but died with
complications of childbirth sometime in the 1090's. Gwenllian's brothers Idwal, Cadwallon and Cadwaladr(11) were now young
men in their late teens or early 20's and serving with Cadwgan's warband. His operating base for the Gwynedd defences
was probably Cynan's manor of Aberffraw in Anglesey. Also living there was Cynan's son Gruffudd who also became "of full
age" in 1098. That man then claimed his birthright as king of Gwynedd, a role which had been denied to his lineage since
Iago ap Idwal was slain in 1039. Whether or not Cadwgan regarded his ascension as a good idea at the time, he must have
felt bound by the prevailing laws of succession to accept the young man's decision. At the least, he would have a close
friend and ally as king of Gwynedd if Gruffudd could become king in fact as well as in name.
One might well suppose
the coronation of young Gruffudd as king didn't please Meirion Goch. Suppose the upstart king moved to consolidate Meirion's
lands into his "kingdom" and demanded a king's share of rents and other renders from his people, services in his warband and
all the other perquisites due a king? The territory which Meirion ruled was larger than that ruled by Gruffudd's father
so why was he being shunted aside? No one asked him if he wanted a new king; he'd been thriving just fine without one.
Effectively, he and his father were "king" of their territory already. It should come as little surprise that Meirion
Goch would choose to throw his lot with the Normans. It might result in losing the protection of Cadwgan, but he had
little reason to fear mistreatment by the Normans. His father had served them well under Robert of Rhuddlan.
So he travelled to Chester with the news of a new king who had arisen in Anglesey and offered his assistance in removing Gruffudd
ap Cynan. The rest is history and both Gruffudd and Cadwgan were forced from Anglesey.
Supporters of Gruffudd
ap Cynan may well have labeled his actions as "a betrayal" and "traitorous" but there is no reason to believe he
was ever an ally of Gruffudd in the first place. He was barely 5 years old when Historia claimed he
hailed and welcomed Gruffudd's arrival on the scene, only to turn against him. And that was a different Gruffudd ap
Cynan. Call Meirion what you will, his act was a product of self-interest; while it may have deprived Gruffudd of his
"rightful" kingship for a time, he was never one of Gruffudd's men and so could not "betray" him. Oppose him? Certainly
he did do that.
Returning now to Bartrum's
pedigree chart of the family, we would reject substituting "Merwydd ap Tangno" for "Meurig ap Tangno". Either Meurig
ap Tangno and Merwydd ap Collwyn both had sons called Asser, Meirion and Gwgan or the citation should be emended to read "Asser,
Meirion and Gwgan were sons of Merwydd ap Collwyn ap Tangno". Once we identify these three men as sons of
Merwydd ap Collwyn born c. 1070/1075, the chronology of their descendants falls into place:
975 Tangno ap Cadfael
1040 Merwydd of Lleyn
1075 Asser 1075 Gwgan
(a) if he actually
had a brother named Meurig or Merwydd, no families are known to have descended from him through sons called Asser, Gwgan and
Meirion. For a possible son of Meurig ap Tangno named Collwyn, see our paper "Gwyn Ddistain - Seneschal
for Llewelyn Fawr" at the link below:
(b) the Meirion
Goch and his brothers mentioned in Historia
sons of Merwydd can be dated by these families found in the medieval pedigree manuscripts:
1145 Cynwrig Ednyfed Fychan 1165
1180 Tegwared(c)====Gwladys 1195
(a) Bartrum correctly dates this man to
c. 1070 but says he was living in 1075...apparently a big bad 5 year old who betrayed Gruffudd ap Cynan that year. Date those
events to 1098 where they belong and the chronology makes sense
(b) This man, cited in the early HLG manuscript,
occurs in 1186 in the Registry of the Abbey of Aberconwy (Harleian Ms 3725, filio 44r)
(c) This marriage is cited in Harl. 2414, 16;
Pen. 287, 583 and Cardiff Ms 4.265, 29v
1140 Einion Ednyfed Fychan 1165
1165 Llewelyn Fawr 1175 Maredudd(a) Gruffudd 1195
1195 Tegwared 1210
(a) Maredudd is cited as the son of Einion
ap Caradog ap Gwgan ap Merwydd in B.M. add 14919, 135; Pen. 127, 67 & 118. Other sources err by omitting Caradog;
removing that generation would date Gwgan even further removed from any 1075 betrayal
(b) This marriage is cited in Pen. 131, 120;
Pen. 129, 74; Pen. 127, 175; Pen. 128, 155b; Pen. 134,181
(c) This marriage is cited in Dwnn i, 49
& 66; Pen. 131, 49; Pen, 176, 171 & 327; Pen. 134, 146; Pen. 139(1), 136
1070 Meirion Goch
1100 Genillin Farchog Owain Gwynedd 1100
1140 Angharad(b)===Cynan 1127
(a) Cynwrig is cited as a son
of Genillin Farchog ap Meirion Goch ap Merwydd Goch ap Collwyn ap Tangno in Pen. 177, 118 & 126; Pen. 134, 157 which rejects
the idea that Meirion was a son of a Merwydd/Meurig ap Tangno. The family in those sources date Genillin to c. 1105
(b) This marriage is cited in HLG 4d where
her father is called Gemlyn or Enillin.
can only conclude that none of the "three sons of Merwydd" could have either supported or betrayed Gruffudd ap Cynan when
he attempted to take rule in Gwynedd in 1075, nor when he was reputedly taken prisoner in 1081.
There is a lesson here for Welsh
genealogists; if you are dating men in pedigrees by reference to an historic event, be sure your sources haven't given you
the wrong date for that event!