The Battle of Mynydd Carn
that is, the battle of the mountain of the cairn, also sometimes known (incorrectly I think) as the battle of Carno.
The Battle of Mynydd Carn took place in the year 1081 and proved to be a turning point in the history of Wales; a significant event that had repercussions for a century or so afterwards.
Ever since the death of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, the first and only king of all Wales in the year 1063, the nation had been in turmoil. There had been eighteen years of almost constant fighting as various kings fought between each other, jockeying for position and seeking to expand their territories.
In the south-east a gentleman named Caradog ap Gruffudd had imposed himself first in Gwynllwg and then across the whole of Morgannwg, displacing the incumbent dynasty, before turning his agression on Deheubarth in the south-east. Caradog found ready allies in the rulers of Gwynedd in the north who also wished to expand their kingdom at the expense of Deheubarth.
Caradog ap Gruffudd had already killed two successive kings of Deheubarth before Rhys ap Tewdwr began his rule in Deheubarth in 1079. Two years later it was clear that Caradog would try for a third as he and Trahaern ap Caradog, the reigning king of Gwynedd, prepared to invade once more.
Fortunately for Rhys he had a ready made ally in Gruffudd ap Cynan who fancied himself as the real heir to Gwynedd and was eager to seize any chance to topple Trahaern ap Caradog. So Gruffudd gathered his forces, drawn from his supporters in Gwynedd as well as mercenaries raised in Dublin and joined Rhys in the defence of Deheubarth.
The battle itself
According to the Historia Gruffud vab Kenan 'Mynydd Carn' was named the 'Mountain of the Cairn' "because there is a huge cairn of stones under which a hero was buried formerly in olden times". Within what was the cantref of Cemaes in the kingdom of Deheubarth there is indeed a 'Mynydd Carningli', the Mountain of the Cairn of Angels, an extinct volcano, on top of which are a number of stone terraces and enclosures dating back to the neolithic age.
This could very well have been the site of the battle. It is said that both Gruffudd ap Cynan and Rhys ap Tewdwr both prayed in the church at St Davids and then marched for a day before doing battle, and Mynydd Carningli is therefore in about the right place and is the kind of location that would appeal for its defensive advantages.
Gruffudd ap Cynan
had drawn on his contacts in Viking Dublin
to raise troops and the Historia
describes his heterogenous force as including,
"the men of Denmark with their two-edged axes, the Irish with their lances and sharp-edged iron balls and the men of Gwynedd with spears and shields
The account of the battle that follows in the Historia Gruffud vab Kenan is somewhat partial and focuses entirely on Gruffudd and implies that Rhys took almost no part in the battle whatsover. Gruffudd is stated to have led the one attack that carried all before it and swept the enemy off the battlefield.
It does however contain a rather graphic account of the death of Trahaern ap Caradog, who was apparently "stabbed in the bowels" and then lay "on the ground breathing his last, chewing with his teeth the fresh herbs and groping on top of his arms; and Gwarchki the Irishman made bacon of him as a pig". 2
The result of the battle is however clear and indisputable; a clear victory for Rhys and Gruffudd, with
Caradog, Trahaern and Meilyr all died on the battle field, their forces killed and scattered.
Rhys ap Tewdwr may well have returned to the quite enjoyment of his now securely held kingdom but Gruffudd ap Cynan had other ideas.
Gruffudd went north and ravaged Arwystli; "Thus did he pay like for like to Trahaern" says the Historia adding that Gruffudd "destroyed and killed its people; he burned its houses, and took its women and maidens captive ". Then he went on to Powys where he apparently "spared not even the churches" before returning in truimph to Gwynedd.
The consequences of the battle
It confirmed Rhys ap Tewdwr as the undisputed ruler of the south, whilst the death of Caradog ap Gruffudd meant the end of effective Welsh leadership in the south-east which the Normans were later to exploit2.
In the north, although Grufudd ap Cynan briefly gained Gwynedd, after his imprisonment it rapidly led to a Norman occupation of the north by Hugh of Avranches, the earl of Chester. Through the deaths of Trahaern and Meilyr eventually cleared the way for Grufudd to regain Gwynedd and begin the process of rebuilding the kingdom has a dominant force in Wales.
The battle also brought about the end (at least for a time), the old union between Gwynedd and Powys 3, permitting a new dynasty to arise in Powys that would have a significant impact on Wales over the next century.
The true victor of Mynydd Carn was Rhys ap Tewdwr; from being in the position of rather a shakly interloper in Deheubarth, he was now the leading native Welsh ruler, a position that would soon be ratified by William I himself, when he paid a visit to Wales later that same year
1 Meilyr ap Rhiwallon son of Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn, joint king of Gwynedd between 1063 and 1070, and nephew of Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, king between 1063 and 1075, and therefore someone who may well have had ambitions to rule himself.
2 The name of 'Gwarchki' is not otherwise known, so the true identity of this expert butcher is unknown.
3 First forged by Rhodri Fawr in the late ninth century.
John Davies A History of Wales (Allen Lane, 1993)
Kari Mundi The Welsh Kings (Tempus, 2000)
Brut y Tywysogion
Historia Gruffud vab Kenan
Information on Mynydd Carningli from www.themodernantiquarian.com/browse.php?site_id=500