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
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.)
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.)
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.