Hywel Dda ap Cadell ap Rhodri, Tywysog holl Gymru (Hywel The Good, son of Cadell son of Rhodri, Prince of all Wales)

King of Gwynedd 942-950 King of Deheubarth 920-950

History

He was born sometime at the end of the 9th century,and there seems to be no record of his place of birth. On the death of his father Cadell in 909, Hywel and his brother Clydog jointly inerited the kingdom of Seisyllwg. (On the death of his brother in 920, Hywel became sole ruler.)

He married Elen, daughter of Llywarch ap Hyfaidd, the ruler of Dyfed; when Llywarch died in 904, Hywel inherited this kingdom, eventually combining it with Seisyllwg to form the new kingdom of Deheubarth. He was then able to use the power and influence of this enlarged kingdom to extend his dominion over Brycheiniog.

In 942 Hywel acquired Gwynedd and Powys, when he took advantage of the sudden death of his cousin Idwal Foel ap Anarawd (killed in a battle with Wessex).

Therefore be a combination of a timely marriage alliance and a bit of political opportunism, Hywel became 'Prince of all Wales'. (Although Morgannwg, united with Gwent from around 950, continued to be independent

The administrative union that he created did not survive his death. In 950 his newly created kingdom of Dehubarth went to his son, Owain, whereas the kingdoms of Gwynedd and Powys were returned to the descendants of his cousin, Idwal. (A brief civil war was needed before this was sorted out.)

Politics

Despite his epithet of "the good" he displayed a certain amount of ruthlessness in unifying (at least temporarily) a number of disparate Welsh kingdoms under his single control.

There are suggestions that he had his father-in-law, Llywarch, killed in order to assume control of Dyfed. Certainly his acquisition of the kingdom of Idwal in 942 must have been something of a coup de etat, since Idwal had surviving sons, who would normally have expected to inherit. He very probably had the tacit approval of Wessex for this action.

He followed a policy of accommodation with the English, which was no more than effectively recognising the facts of power. The records show that he paid homage to both Edward and Athelstan and the English charters of the time make frequent reference to him as a vassal king. Although this probably involved the payment of tribute it did ensure a period of peace and stability.(Which, generally speaking, was severely lacking in Wales during this period.)

Law

At the beginning of the tenth century Welsh law was a jumble of different tribal customs overlaid with chunks of Roman law and the odd bit of Christian philosophy thrown in. According to tradition, Hywel was responsible for the codification of these disparate rules into one cohesive body of Welsh law known as Cyfraith Hywel, or Hywel's law. It was very probably the need to apply some degree cohesion to all his different territories that prompted this action. Although contemporary evidence is lacking (the earliest documentary sources date from the 12th and 13th century) the sources all agree that the laws were drawn up under his authority and by his instruction.

The documents generally agree that six representatives from each commote were summoned to a conference at Ty Gwyn ar Daf (literally the White House on the river Taf, the modern Yr Hen Dy Gwyn or Whitland in English) probably in 945. Some manuscripts refer to one Blegywyrd being chosen by Hywel to lead a committee of twelve wise men carrying out this exercise.

Whatever the exact details, it is certain that a body of Welsh law did come into existence, that remained in daily use even beyond the Statute of Rhuddlan, until the Acts of Union in 1536 and 1543 which finally brought the whole of Wales within the ambit of the English judicial administration.

It is for this reason that Hywel was known as the Good, in that he brought into being a coherent and lasting body of law, which, aside from the obvious benefits it bestowed on the country, was also responsible for a creating a degree of national consciousness and cultural unity amongst the Welsh.

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