A semi-autonomous medieval Welsh kingdom whose borders were roughly the same as the historical county of Brecknockshire, that was in existence from the sixth century until shortly after the Norman Conquest.

Location

To the south of Brycheiniog lay Glywysing/Morgannwg, to the north Powys to the east England and to the west the territory of Ystrad Tywi which separated Brycheiniog from the kingdom of Dyfed. Named after its supposed early sixth century founder Brychan Brycheiniog.

Rulers of Brycheiniog

First Dynasty Second dynasty Third dynasty

History

1. Early history

Generally speaking the history of Brycheiniog is obscure even by the standards of Welsh history. The one central theme that runs through the history of Brycheiniog is its association with the more powerful kingdom of Dyfed/Deheubarth in the south-west of Wales; although the extent of this control naturally fluctuated in line with the fortunes of Dyfed/Deheubarth and its ability to dominate the intervening territory of Ystrad Tywi.

The first clear evidence for the existence of a kingdom in the area comes from the eighth century and a series of charters recording property transactions on the upper reaches of the Usk valley in the districts of Llangorse, Llandeilo'r Fân and Llanfihangel Cwm Du.

However earlier tradition records that the area was known under the name of Garthmadrun, until the area was settled as an offshoot of the Irish settlement of Demetia or Dyfed under a gentleman known as Brychan Brycheiniog, the son of one Anlach mac Cormac, sometime in the early sixth century. There may well be some truth in this tradition as the use of ogham inscriptions on memorial stones discovered in the area indicates the existence of at least some level of ethnic Irish presence within the kingdom.

The Brychan Documents record the descent of a number of kings of Brycheiniog down to what is probably the mid seventh century and Rhiwallon ab Idwallon, who was the last of the direct male descendants of Brychan to hold power. Supposedly his daughter Ceindrych married Cloten ap Nowy king of Dyfed and therefore Brycheiniog passed under the control of Dyfed.1

2. The second dynasty

This state of affairs persisted until the time of Tewdwr ap Rhein (who was Cloten's great-great-grandson) whose second son Nowy Hen ap Tewdwr inherited or otherwise established himself as king in Brycheiniog, whilst his brother Maredudd held Dyfed.

Nowy's descendants continued to rule in Brycheiniog in comparative obscurity with only the occasional reference to their existence; Elisedd ap Tewdwr is known to have attended the court of Alfred the Great and submitted to him in the year 885 where he was seeking protection against the expansionism of its northern neighbour Gwynedd.

For the year 921 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Aethelflaed the 'Lady of the Mercians'2 launched a raid on Brycheinog. Her target was the caput of the kingdom, which at the time appears to have been located on a crannog or an artificial island in the middle of Llangorse Lake (or Brecenanmere as the Chronicle refers to it).3

The remnants of this crannog still exist and is believed to have been constructed sometime in the 880s or 890s, and although there remains no trace of any structures, various artefacts have been recovered that show occupation in the ninth and tenth centuries, as well as evidence of the destruction of the buildings that had once stood there.

The effect of the Mercian assault may well have been to push the kings of Brycheiniog further into the arms of Deheubarth, as it is from the 920s or 930s that Hywel Dda, king of Deheubarth is generally considered to have extended his control over Brycheiniog. This appears to have been a relatively amicable affair as there is no break in the sequence of Brycheiniog's rulers and in the year 934 they are again found attending the English Court.

On the death of Gruffudd ab Elisedd ap Gwylog, in the year 1045 the line of kings appears to come to an end and some sources speak of the kingdom being divided between his three sons who ruled as lords of the separate districts of Cantref Selyf, Cantref Tewdos and Cantref Talgarth, presumably recognising the overlordship of Deheubarth in the west.

3. The last rulers of Brycheiniog

Thereafter the kingdom fades into greater obscurity once more until the appearance of Maenarch ap Dryffin who, it is said, married Elen, daughter of Einion ap Selyf, a grandson of Gruffudd ab Elisedd ap Gwylog. As Maenarch is described in one source as a 'prince of West Wales' he may therefore have been a placeman from Deheubarth sent to re-establish control of the area; certainly his son Bleddyn ap Maenarch appears in the historical record as a king of Brycheiniog but clearly subordinate to Rhys ap Tewdwr of Deheubarth.

4. The end of Brycheiniog

Simply put, Brycheiniog was conquered by a Norman knight by the name of Bernard de Neufmarche who began to make inroads into the kingdom from the year 1088 onwards.

An attempt by the incumbent king Bleddyn ap Maenarch and his overlord Rhys ap Tewdwr to repel this Norman encroachment ended in their defeat and death in battle near the site of the town of Brecon in the year 1093. The remainder of the kingdom was rapidly overrun by the Normans under soon after this victory and transformed into the Marcher Lordship of Brecknock or Brecon as it is more commonly known today.

However Norman control of Brecknock was never a 100% secure until the final defeat of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282 after which the lordship was controlled by the Bohun family. Brecknock eventually passed to the Stafford family who held it until Edward Stafford, the duke of Buckingham was executed for treason in 1521 and his lands were forfeited to the crown.


NOTES

1 Supposedly, because genealogies are often fabricated to show a connection through the female line to a previous dynasty and support the claims of an otherwise alien line.

2 One of the daughters of Alfred the Great, widow of Aethelred, 'Lord of the Mercians' and sister of Edward the Elder.

1 Known also as Llyn Syfadden that is Lake Syfadden in Welsh


SOURCES

John Davies A History of Wales (Allen Lane, 1993)
Kari Mundi The Welsh Kings (Tempus, 2000)
Powys Historical Information Sheet at http://archives.powys.gov.uk/lsn/19.html

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