One of the Medieval kingdoms of Wales, geographically stretching southwards from Gwynedd across the centre of Wales as far as Buellt (Builth) in the south to the borders of Brycheiniog (Breconshire) (1), and sharing its eastern border with England. The name Powys being a derivation from the Latin Pagenses, or "countryside dwellers " (or so the theory goes).

By tradition Powys was also where the fifth century Romano-British leader Vortigern had his powerbase, which is why many of the subsequent kings claimed descent from him (and quite often from Magnus Maximus as well, just for good measure)

Early Powys

The origins of the kingdom are obscure and it is not until the eighth century that we can say with certainty that a kingdom of that name existed. In all probablility it was the eastern remmant of the former Brythonic kingdom of Pengwern that stretched across the Severn valley.

Rulers of Early Powys

History of early Powys

There was a king Selyf Sarffgadau ap Cynan (the battle serpent) who died fighting against the Northumbrian king Aethelfrith at the Battle of Chester in 613, who was very probably a king of Powys, and some suggest that on his death, his kingdom was fell into the grasp of one, Eiludd ap Glast, king of Dogfeiling (2), but what happened during the next century and a half aftewards is extremely unclear.

In the eighth and ninth centuries Powys was under great pressure from Mercia. If the Pillar of Eliseg is to be belived then it was Elisedd ap Gwylog "who annexed the inheritance of Powys... from the power of the English" sometime in the mid eighth century. And again for the year 822 the Annales Cambriae records

However Cyngen ap Cadell seems to have been able to able to emulate the accomplishments of his great-grandfather and recover his kingdom from the hands of the Mercia Saxon (And soon of course the rulers of Mercia had more important things to worry about than bits of Welsh hillside. (3))

However in 854 Powys fell victim to the ambitions of Rhodri Fawr who took power in Powys after the death of Cyngen (which of course, Rhodri may have had a hand in) and united the kingdom with his own Gwynedd where it remained until the eleventh century.

The Revival of Powys

Bleddyn ap Cynfyn was king of a united Powys, Gwynedd and Deheubarth and on his death in 1075, his cousin Trahaern ap Caradog inherited the united kingdoms. But on Trahaern's death in 1081, Bleddyn's sons effectively detached Powys from Gwynedd and re-established Powys as a power in Wales.

Rulers of late Powys

History of late Powys

The significant event at this time was the death of Rhys ap Tewdwr, king of Deheubarth at Brecon in 1093 which signalled the eclipse of the power of Deheubarth and created a power vacuum in the south that the kings of Powys seemed well placed to fill. Unfortunately the ruling family spend most of their time fighting each other (4), which was probably reflected in the fact that on the death of Madog ap Maredudd in 1160 the kingdom was divided in two; with the northern half, Powys Fadog going to his son, and the southern half Powys Wenwynwyn to his brother.

Modern Powys

The area of the modern county of Powys includes Brycheiniog, presumably in the interests of administrative convenience rather than historical accuracy. It was created in 1974 from former shire counties of Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire and was remained unchanged in the subsequent reorganision of local government in 1996.


NOTES

(1) Brycheiniog was an intermitently independent kingdom that generally fell under the sway of Dyfed/Deheubarth and never formed part of medieval Powys

(2) Dogfeiling was one of the sub-kingdoms of Gwynedd, that occaisionally developed bouts of independence

(3) By which I mean the Vikings were shortly to effectively wipe Mercia off the map of Britain.

(4) Apparently at least six of them were either murdered or castrated by their relations during the period.

SOURCES

Pieced together from information in A History of Wales by John Davies (Allen Lane 1993) and the Powys County Archives online at http://archives.powys.gov.uk/

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