The Royal Tribes

Philip Yorke of Erddig’s book 

The Royal Tribes of Wales immortalised

five ruling dynasties and their kingdoms 

Philip Yorke lived at Erddig, a famous old home in North Wales now owned by the National Trust.  His book The Royal Tribes of Wales was published in 1799, with a later edition adding chapters on the fifteen noble families of North Wales. 

The photograph below shows a scene from the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales, 1st July 1969. On the walls of the tower to the left are shown the coats of arms of six old kingdoms of Wales including the ‘Five Royal Tribes’, in two columns as follows:

Banner on left from top: Morgannwg (Iestyn ap Gwrgant), Rhwng Gwy a Hafren (Elystan Glodrydd), Gwent.  

Banner on right from top: Gwynedd (Llywelyn ap Gruffudd), Deheubarth (Rhys ap Tewdwr), Powys (Bleddyn ap Cynfyn)

In the first page of the first chapter of his 1799 edition Yorke adds a note that reads as follows:

The five regal Tribes, and the respective representative of each, were considered as of royal blood.  The fifteen common Tribes, all of North Wales, and the respective representative of each, formed the Nobility; were Lords of distinct districts, and bore some hereditary office in the palace.  Gruffudd ab Cynan, Prince of North Wales, Rhys ab Tewdwr, of South Wales, and Bleddyn ab Cynfyn, of Powys, regulated both these classes, but they did not create them; as many of the persons, placed at their head, lived before their times, and some, after.  Their precedence, as it stands, is very uncertain, and not governed by the dates; the last of them were created by Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd, who began his reign in 1169.  We are left ignorant of the form, by which they were called to this rank.  Mr Vaughan of Hengwrt informs us “that Gruffudd ab Cynan, Rhys ab Tewdwr, and Bleddyn ab Cynfyn, made diligent search after the arms, ensigns, and pedigrees of their ancestors, the Nobility and Kings of the Britons.  What they discovered by their pains in any papers and records was afterwards by the Bards digested, and put into books, and they ordained five Royal Tribes, there being only three before, from whom their posterity to this day, can derive themselves, and also fifteen special Tribes, of whom the gentry of North Wales are for the most part descended.”

He lists the five royal tribes headed by one of their significant members or founders, as follows: