Mediæval Wales

    "Mediæval Wales arose out of the confusion caused by the withdrawal of the occupying Roman legions from the British Isles in the early fifth century and the resultant raids and settlement of the invading Germanic tribes from the Continent.  The original Celtic inhabitants of Britain were now scattered to the more remote areas, where they retained much of their ancient culture.  Regarded as 'foreigners' by the Anglo-Saxon settlers, one such isolated group of Celts became the Welsh."

-Norman F. Cantor (ed.) The Encyclopædia of the Middle Ages, New York, 1999

     It has been suggested that the Sewell name might be derived from the Anglo-Saxon "Se-Wealh" which means "the foreigner"; i.e., not of Saxon origin, but Celtic or Romano-Briton.  However, it is more likely that he name originates with "Sewald" or "Cedwalla", an appelation in Saxon times.

-condensed from a letter written by {Rev} Henry Doyle Sewell, February 3, 1858

     Throughout much of the middle ages, the internal borders of the multitude of petty Welsh kingdoms were in a constant state of flux, but by the 8th century, the overall land area of Wales had aquired an approximate eastern border, and the adjacent Anglo-Saxon kingdoms suffered from Welsh raids.  This prompted the Mercian King Offa (reigned 757 - 796) to commission an earth embankment and ditch known as "Offa's Dyke".  I was never garrisoned, and its purpose was to denote rather that to defend the frontier.  As well, it appears that there was consultation with the Welsh kings of Powys and Gwent as in some places fertile land and defensible postions were left under Welsh control.  In other places, no embankment was raised where a forest or river served to denote the border.

Early Welsh Kingdoms
Early Wales Map Mediæval Wales consisted of a host of petty kingdoms, each overseen by a King or Prince; many of whom were really little more than tribal chieftains.  The larger and more influential of these kingdoms were Dyfed and Gwent in the south, Powys in the midlands and Gwynedd in the north.  Gwynedd proved to be the most influential.

Wat's Dyke, built during the reign of Æthelbald of Mercia (716 - 757) and Offa's Dyke, built during the reign of Offa of Mercia (757 - 796) served to denote the Welsh frontier.

    The Welsh political system resembled the English system in that a ruler presided over a clan, and clan members vowed allegiance on the basis of the personal strength of the ruler.  However, according to Welsh law, on the death of a ruler, the kingdom was divided among the heirs.  This, along with a poor economy, lack of town development and the absence of a feudal system inhibited royal expansion.  In spite of these obstacles, no fewer than four rulers did manage to unify the separate Welsh kingdoms for short periods.  Click on their name for further details:

The Uniting of Wales, 844 - 1063
Rhodri the Great 844-78
Rhodri the Great
844 - 878
Hywel the Good
900 - 950
Maredudd ab Owain 986-99
Gurffydd ap Llywellyn 1039-63
Maredudd ap Owain
986 - 999
Gruffudd ap Llwelyn
1039 - 1063
Dolbadarn Castle
Dolbadarn Castle, Llanberis, Gwynedd
Stronghold of Llwelyn Fawr ap Iowerth (1173 - 1240)

Click to return to Gwynedd and Wales

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