The family of Elystan in historical context
with a record of some of his early descendants
The first chart below shows the traditional descent of Elystan Glodrydd from the legendary Casnar Wledig (Casnar the Ruler), through Iorwerth Hirflawdd (of the long struggle), whose father Tegonwy was ancestor of the Princes of Powys who descend from Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, King of Gwynedd & Powys. Elystan’s connections to the dynasty of Gwynedd and Powys, and his legendary descent from Macsen Wledig is also shown for interest, in addition to the genealogical connection between Cadwgan ab Elystan and Iestyn ap Gwrgant. Iestyn was the last of the descendants of Saint Tewdrig (i.e. Theodoric), King of Glywysing, to rule the region of Morgannwg.
One of the branches of Bleddyn’s family, the rulers of northern Powys (Powys Fadog) produced that great Welsh Prince Owain Glyndŵr. The southern branch (Powys Wenwynwyn) produced Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn whose direct descendants were the only native Welsh dynasty to have retained large landholdings - the present day Earls of Powis descend from him through female lines and built Powis Castle on the site of one of the earlier Princes’ fortresses.
Another dynasty descended from Iorwerth Hirflawdd were the Princes of Arwystli, one of whom - Trahaearn ap Caradog seized the throne of Gwynedd and was finally overthrown by Gruffudd ap Cynan and Rhys ap Tewdwr (see page on the five royal tribes).
The chart below provides details of Elystan’s ancestry and dynastic connections, of which much more is written about both within the narrative and on the more detailed chart further below. The context within which Elystan and others established new royal dynasties, and the history of Wales from the 11th century onwards, cannot be truly understood without knowledge of the dynastic and family relationships between the various kings, princes and other rulers of Wales throughout this period of history. Genealogy was of crucial importance and makes sense of much that history, devoid of knowledge of family relationships, might otherwise find confusing or surprising.
As has already been recorded, Elystan Glodrydd is supposed to have died during a conflict on Long Mountain in the year 1010. His heir was his son Cadwgan ab Elystan, of whom almost nothing is known other than he is said to have inherited his father’s possessions, and he is traditionally referred to as Lord of Radnor. Cadwgan’s mother was Gwenllian, daughter of Einion ab Owain ap Hywel Dda. But there are some records that claim his mother was Gladys, daughter of Rhun son of Ednowain Bendew, Lord of Tegaingl (approximating to modern day Flintshire) - perhaps Gladys was another wife of Elystan.
The history of Cadwgan’s descendants was one of continual conflict with the house of Mortimer, based in Wigmore, which was ruthless in its efforts to supplant the line of Elystan. The survival of Cadwgan’s successors, who faced intense Norman pressure and competition from the kingdoms of Powys, Gwynedd and Deheubarth was remarkable. Elystan’s family is something of a forgotten dynasty in Wales, ruling in an area riven by chaos and conflict and it is a tribute to their tenacity that their influence in the area lasted through to the end of the 13th Century.
There are a number of views on who Cadwgan married and it is quite likely that he could have married more than once. The names of his wives that are found in various reords are: an un-named daughter of Rhun ap Cynan, Margaret daughter of Brochwel ap Aiddan, and lastly (the more accepted claim) Efa (i.e. Eva), daughter of Gwrgant ab Ithel and sister of Iestyn ap Gwrgant. Iestyn was the founder of another of the five ‘Royal Tribes of Wales’ and Prince of Morgannwg, the area now known as ‘Glamorgan’. Iestyn’s first wife is sometimes recorded as having been Angharad ferch (i.e. daughter of) Elystan Glodrydd, thus making Cadwgan and Iestyn brothers-in-law.
Cadwgan and Efa had several sons including: Idnerth, whose descendants were centered on Maelienydd and Elfael, Llywelyn who has a son called Sitsyllt, Lord of Buellt whose descendants are mostly found in the cantref of Buellt and include the Cadogan family - Earls of Cadogan; Goronwy, whose son Hywel carved out a short-lived new ‘kingdom’ in south Wales; Hoedlyw from whom the well known Philip Dorddu and his family descend from; and Ieuaf from whom a number of families in Ceri and the nearby districts of Shropshire descended. Some histories have written that Cadwgan founded the Cistertian Abbey of Cwm Hir, but this is not correct - as will be shown, another member of the family founded it much later. Cadwgan is also said to have founded three churches dedicated to St. Michael at Kerry, Cefnllys, and Llanfihangel-bryn-pab-ifan.
However, inside the church of St. Dogfan Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, Montgomeryshire is an impressive 9th century rectangular cross-slab, with intricate carving (see picture on left). It was discovered in 1879 by a Professor Babington and Messrs Hartland and Robinson, built into the south western section of the wall of the south aisle of the church. In 1894 it was recorded standing upright inside the church near the vestry door and it is now located attached to the south wall of the south chancel. Although said to date from the 9th century, it was re-used and has a more recent inscription in the middle of the celtic cross carved on it. There has been a notice next to the stone detailing its history headed ‘The Cwgan Stone’, which gives a transcription of the inscription as CO(CORG)OM FILIUS EDELSTAN, with the suggestion that it could commemorate Cwgan, son of Edelstan. Historian Paul Remfry has recorded the words as:
+ Cogom Filiu Edelstan
The chart below connects with and adds to the one above, and it illustrates the dynastic connections that created much of the fierce competition for succession and power, both before and after the death of Bleddyn. What followed could be said to be a continuation of the struggle for inheritance to the kingdom and patrimony of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, who was killed in 1055, after successfully uniting all of Wales under his rule - the only Welsh King to have achieved this. The resulting history and emergence to power of Gruffudd’s half-brother Bleddyn ap Cynfyn and the family of Cadwgan ab Elystan has to be seen in this context.
With Trahaearn, the family of Elystan sought revenge for, and dynastic advantage from Bleddyn’s death at the hands of rulers in south Wales. It seems likely that Cadwgan ab Elystan had died by this time; his sons were active in the battles that took place during this period. The Brut y Tywysogyon (Chronicle of the Princes - the Welsh equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) records the following (taken from the Red Book of Hergest version translated by Thomas Jones 1955):
The records above confirm that Goronwy and Llywelyn the sons of Cadwgan ab Elystan lost two key battles against the enemies of Trahaearn (and of Bleddyn before him). In the first they fought with an ally - Caradog ap Gruffudd, against Caradog’s cousin Rhydderch, who was an ally of Rhys ab Owain ab Edwin ab Einion ab Owain ap Hywel Dda. In the second battle, the brothers appear to have fought against Rhys ab Owain himself and Rhydderch ap Caradog. These two defeats must have blunted their power. If they had won, who knows what may have resulted. But later history would suggest the family played their cards cleverly in an effort to retain their ancestral lands, caught as they were between Norman invasion, and rivalry between the more dominant Welsh kingdoms of Powys, Gwynedd and Deheubarth.
The exact location of the battle in the Camddwr is not entirely known, but is supposed to have been where the river Camddwr met the Tywi, a spot now covered by the waters of Llyn Brianne reservoir. This area was in the strategic borderlands of Powys, Deheubarth and Rhwng Gwy a Hafren. Lloyd’s map (see Geography page) shows the location of Cwmwd Deuddwr, a cantref in Rhwng Gwy a Hafren, north of Buellt which was the part of Elystan’s patrimony that was ruled by Llywelyn ap Cadwgan. He and his brother would have crossed from Cwmwd Deuddwr into the territory of Rhys ab Owain - the Camddwr. The location of the second battle the sons of Cadwgan lost is also uncertain. But south west of Dolaucothi, itself some distance south west of Llyn Brianne, is a farm called Glaunwythwl where interesting artifacts have been found, including a much older stone with the name of Pawlin on it - that man, better known as Paulinus, was St. David’s teacher. If this farm was the site of the battle, it means that Goronwy and Llywelyn had bravely raided well inside Deheubarth, threatening Rhys ab Owain’s home territory. They may have successfully sprung back from their earlier defeat, but they brought Rhys and his host to battle against them and were clearly unable to withstand that force.
The period was very complicated and finally came to an end on the death of Trahaearn in 1081 at the historically significant Battle of Mynydd Carn, which was won by Gruffudd ap Cynan of Gwynedd and his ally Rhys ap Tewdwr of Deheubarth. The family of Cadwgan ab Elystan thereby lost their influential patron and supporter, but it was not the end of their story - far from it, for the conflict with the Mortimers and others that would last across the Middle March for over 200 hundred years was about to begin. Into a Wales riven by years of internal conflict came the Normans.
From the 1090s, the family of Cadwgan were at the centre of most of the conflicts between the Normans and Welsh. In 1094 the Brut y Tywysogyon records that William Rufus was in Normandy to protect it in the absence of his brother Robert who was on crusade. The Welsh siezed this window of opportunity, just as they were to do over the succeeding centuries, as this extract from that year’s chronicle records:
It is clear from the Brut that Cadwgan’s family were operating in southern Wales, and Pembroke was to know them:
As the map below illustrates*, this was an extraordinary advance in good fortune and power, which gave Hywel greater lands than any of the descendants of Elystan Glodrydd. The political map of Wales could have changed significantly if these changes enacted by Henry I had lasted. (* reference caveat about the map’s accuracy in relation to the period, previously mentioned on the ‘Geography’ page)
But it is very probable that Henry I deliberately planned to create division within Wales by his redistribution of land. He must have known that the Welsh tradition of inheritance and the Norman claims on parts of this area of Wales would have resulted in dispute and conflict that would ultimately make his plans unacceptable and unsustainable. So, as might have been expected, Hywel’s luck didn’t last, despite his clear talent for military and political command, and he was ejected from his recently won lands, much of which he probably hadn’t been able to fully take hold of. This is how the Brut records it:
Some years later, in a very long passage of the Brut, much of it about Powys, there appears the earliest written historical reference to Elystan Glodrydd himself; this comes after a section about the death of Owain ap Cadwgan ap Bleddyn:
King Henry I died in 1135 and Stephen became king since there was no immediate support for a woman - Henry’s daughter ‘The Empress’ Matilda - to inherit the throne. But the tide changed and a long civil war soon ensued, which would come to involve the family of Cadwgan ab Elystan.
However, returning to Idnerth ap Cadwgan ab Elystan, he is supposed to have been the eldest son - whether this is true or not, he and his family appear to have inherited and ruled most of the parts of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren. Idnerth had a number of sons, perhaps eight, of whom the eldest was Madog ab Idnether. Madog succeeded his father and was the last of the family to rule over a kingdom that comprised a united Maelienydd and Elfael. Like his father and uncles before him, he became involved in the ongoing battles of the day, for control of Wales, as these excerpts from the Brut illustrate:
Clearly, Einion must have done something wrong against the King of England’s interests, leaving Owain Gwynedd obliged to hand him over. Whatever, Einion escaped from his custody and became reconciled to his brother Cadwallon since in 1163 they rallied to the banner of Owain Gwynedd at Corwen. There Owain had managed to gather perhaps the greatest Welsh army ever, in order to counter successfully an invasion by Henry II. The Brut refers indirectly to Cadwallon and Einion, as follows:
In the years that followed, Cadwallon and Einion came under the patronage and influence of their kinsman ‘The Lord Rhys’ ap Gruffudd, Prince of Deheubarth, grandson of Rhys ap Tewdwr.
In 1175, the two brothers accompanied The Lord Rhys to Henry II’s court at Gloucester, as the Brut records:
In 1176 Cadwallon re-founded the Cistercian Abbey of Cwm Hir (of the Long Valley) - he is supposed to have originally founded the Abbey in 1143 with his two brothers Einion Clud Prince of Elfael, and Maredudd ap Madog. The later date of 1176 probably resulted from a false-start in 1143, perhaps as a result of interruption from conflict in the area caused by Mortimer incursions. The foundation of the Abbey could perhaps be read as a clear sign of the family’s strength and confidence at this time, bolstered by the patronage and support of The Lord Rhys and also their close kinship and alliances with the Princes of Powys and Gwynedd.
Later that same year (1176), The Lord Rhys (Rhys ap Gruffudd, prince of Deheubarth) organised an historic Christmas gathering at Cardigan Castle, at which he held his famous Eisteddfod. Einion Clud ap Madog was one of the Princes who attended. On his way back home in new year 1177, Einion was ambushed and killed, it is supposed by the Mortimers men.
The place he was killed is marked today above Rheaedr (Rhayader) by an ancient standing stone called Maen Serth (see picture below), sometimes called The Prince’s Stone, which once had a cross carved on it. The last sight that Einion is likely to have seen was the view of his beautiful homelands stretching into the distance.
Cadwallon married his cousin Efa, daughter of Madog ap Maredudd ap Bleddyn, Prince of Powys, had three sons. After the death of his brother Einion Clud, Cadwallon took control of Elfael and became Prince of that region. He became quite powerful, but just as he reached the peak of his power, he was murdered on 22nd September 1179, whilst he was travelling back from the King’s court, by the men of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore. The King was furious, since Cadwallon had been travelling with the King’s protection, so Roger Mortimer was imprisoned for two years in Winchester Castle and the men involved in the Prince’s killing were hunted down, caught and brought to justice. Maelgwn ap Cadwallon succeeded his father as Prince of Maelienydd. He took the cross to go on crusade in 1188 (but sensibly, perhaps, stayed at home to guard against the Mortimer mice playing whilst the the cat was away!). He died in 1197 and his son Cadwallon, who had taken the habit and become a monk at Abbey Cwm Hir died in 1234. His younger son Maredudd ap Maelgwn became Prince of Maelineydd.
[...................very much unfinished - to be continued and completed................]
In the 13th and 14th centuries the Norman family of Mortimer, which from an early date had encroached upon the lands of Elystan’s dynasty and fought against them, eventually succeeded in acquiring complete possession of the family’s lands and these then formed the foundation of the Mortimers great estates. This historical background is reflected in the coat of arms of Radnorshire (granted in the 1950's) which are those of Elystan and his son Cadwgan, edged with the blue and gold bordure of the arms of the Mortimers.
In his History of Wales (1993), John Davies wrote:
In the lands between the rivers Wye and Severn - the southern part of Powys but a region detached from that kingdom under circumstances which are difficult to interpret - lay the cantrefi of Elfael, Gwrtheyrnion and Maelienydd; they were ruled by the descendants of Elstan Glodrydd, the founder of one of the five lineages which later antiquarions would delight in calling the five royal tribes of Wales..............Gwenwynwyn (Prince of Powys Wenwynwyn c.1190's).....saw himself as fulfilling the role once undertaken by Rhys ap Gruffudd - that of defending the power of the Welsh rulers of the region between the rivers Wye and Severn. There the Mortimer and de Breos families were seeking to uproot the authority of the descendants of Elstan Glodrydd with a ferocity unparalleled in the bloody chronicle of the March.