Early Medieval Gwynedd

The next incident in my story is set in North Wales in the year 635 in the fortress of Deganwy. Consequently, I have been going through my files looking at all the background information that I have collected to help put together a picture of Deganwy in the early seventh century.

The site lies at the mouth of the River Conwy, adjacent to the modern town of Llandudno.  There is evidence of occupation since at least Roman times and although the main surviving ruins date from the 12th-13th centuries, it appears to have been a significant royal site from the 6th to 9th centuries.

Traditionally, the 6th century occupation phase is associated with Maelgwn Gwynedd, one of the tyrants attacked by Gildas in his: On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Excidio_et_Conquestu_Britanniae

I thought that it was entirely reasonable to place the man who was king of Gwynedd in 635 (almost certainly Cadafael) in a stronghold on the twin hills of Deganwy. However, at least one of my sources has suggested that the River Conwy was the eastern border of Gwynedd in the early medieval period. (‘Degannwy Castle, Report on an Archaeological Assessment,’ GAT report no 2068, March 2009, section 4.2.3). http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/95282/details/DEGANWY+CASTLE/

I have to say, I find this somewhat puzzling. If the sway of the early medieval kings of Gwynedd did not run east of the Conwy, what did? The cantref of Rhos appears as a part of Gwynedd on all the maps I have been able to find. The cantrefs of Tegeingl and Rhufoniog may have been semi-independent and may have come under the influence of Powys at various times, but surely Rhos was within the sphere of influence of Gwynedd?

If anybody can help with this, I would be very grateful!

Oh, and apropos of ‘words, words’, I have not managed 2,500 words a week over the Christmas/New Year period, but I have managed about 2,000. Perhaps 400 words per working day should be my new goal.

This entry was posted in Ancient Welsh History, Historical characters and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Early Medieval Gwynedd

  1. carla says:

    Do they say what their evidence is for the Conwy as the eastern border of Gwynedd in the 7th C? The report in your link wouldn’t open when I went to look. Most early medieval kingdoms’ boundaries aren’t known with any great precision.
    The River Conwy is an obvious geographical boundary, and it was a political boundary from time to time in the middle ages, when the cantrefs east of the Conwy were periodically under the control of the English crown. It may well have been a political boundary in earlier centuries too, since the one thing that doesn’t change about history is geography. Whether the river was a political boundary may also have changed over time with the ebb and flow of power, just as it did in the time of Llewellyn ap Gruffuyd and Henry III.

    • Sally says:

      Many thanks Carla. There was no specific evidence but rather reference to two well-known authorities (I am on holiday in the US at the moment and don’t have the report with me). But I’m with you. I thought there was no way that we could be that specific about any early medieval boundaries, except the Humber. The one I know best is the River Trent and although it was fairly clear that Lindsey was to the east of the lower Trent, what was to the west (Haethfeld etc.) was sometimes under the control of North Mercia, sometimes under Northumbrian influence etc., etc., which was why so many battles were fought in that area, and it does not seem to have been the Trent itself which was the boundary in dispute, but rather access north by land around the marshlands at the head of the Humber estuary.
      So perhaps I should stick with my instinct and argue that if Gwynedd was relatively in the ascendant in the 630s, cf. Powys, then the area of Deganwy would almost certainly have been under the control of Gwynedd.

      • carla says:

        In response to your question about who did control the area east of the Conwy if it wasn’t Gwynedd – I suppose if Gildas’ ‘receptacle of the bear’ refers to Dinerth in Rhos on the other side of the Conwy, then at the time Gildas is referring to (presumably roughly contemporary with Maelgwn, so around the 540s or thereabouts), the ruler east of the Conwy would presumably have been the Cuneglasus mentioned by Gildas, who seems to have been a ruler in his own right. Whether that was still the case by the time of your story in 635 is a different question, though. I suppose the three most obvious candidates would be: the king of Gwynedd (i.e. whoever succeeded Catwallaun); a descendant of Cuneglasus; the king of Powys (if the presence of the king of Powys at the battle of Chester in the early 7th C indicates that he had a territorial interest in the Chester area, that could have extended west into Rhos). No doubt there are other possibilities too.
        You could probably make a case for whatever scenario you want to use for your story; so if your story wants Degannwy to be under the control of the king of Gwynedd in 635, I don’t see why not. You could always explain your rationale in your historical note).

        • sally wilde says:

          Thanks Carla. Yes, I had completely forgotten the Gildas evidence and that may be why there is some doubt about when and whether the area was under the control go Gwynedd.
          Very helpful, thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *