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Teifi Valley History

To understand the Teifi valley today one needs to understand its turbulent history, the invaders over the centuries, both military and settlers.

The hills surrounding  the Teifi valley are littered with Bronze and Iron age settlements, now little more than raised banks on the tops. Pen y Gaer above Llanybydder is typical. The Romans left little in the area though Sarn Helen, the old Roman road passed through on its way from Carmarthen to the North.

Post Roman Britain

With the departure of the Romans, came invasions across the Irish Sea and to counter these Cunedda ap Edern and his army were moved from the North of England to North Wales. This army consisted of Votadini a tribe that occupied an area north of the Tyne and into south eastern Scotland that had kept the Picts and Irish at bay between Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall. Cunedda became the ruler of North Wales and is generally regarded as being the founder of the House of Gwynedd, a kingdom in North Wales. Cunedda's territory extended to Western Mid Wales and as a reward made his son Ceredig ruler of what became known as Ceredigion or Cardiganshire. Dates are somewhat confused but it is generally accepted that this occurred in the 5th century. Two centuries later, Seisyll, King of Ceredigion invaded the area to the South, conquering the Towy valley creating an enlarged kingdom known as Seisyllwg.

This was the era of Welsh monasticism, typified by St David. Children of the royal families often entered the priesthood or monasteries. There was also considerable interaction between Wales and Ireland, with a number of examples of Ogham text in inscriptions as for example at Llandysul. Not all contact was friendly, St Patrick was taken as a slave from Wales by a raiding party. Little reliable detail of the history of the Teifi valley during this period is available and some of the genealogy of local kings and princes is questionable. The battles with the Saxons that resulted in the building of Offa's Dyke were fought well to the East. After 920 however greater records are kept.

In 920, Hywel assumed the thrones of both Seisyllwg and Dyfed ( Pembrokeshire and Southern Carmarthenshire) creating the Kingdom of Deheubarth. Hywel became known as Hywel Dda, Hywel the Good, and adopted a conciliatory approach to the English. Under his rule Welsh laws were codified and remained in force until the Tudors. In Wales the law of inheritance was Gavelkind whereby possessions were divided among all the children, both legitimate and illegitimate, as opposed to the English practice Primogeniture, or inheritance by the first born male. This probably goes some way to explaining the relative weakness of Welsh royal families.

There now followed a series of battles for the throne of Deheubarth. Deheubarth was seized by Llywelyn ap Seisyll of Gwynedd in 1018, by Rhydderch ap Iestyn of Morgannwg (Glamorgan) in 1023. His son, Hywel was ousted by Gruffydd ap Llywelyn at the Battle of Pencader in 1041. In 1044 Hywel returned with an army of Danes to retake his Kingdom but was defeated in a battle at the mouth of the Towy. Gruffydd was himself removed from Deheubarth in 1047  by Gruffydd ap Rhydderch of Gwent but returned and killed Gruffydd ap Rhydderch in battle in1055. This succession of rulers were all descended from Hywel Dda. For a short period the whole of Wales was ruled by Gruffydd. In 1063 however Harold  (later King Harold) and his brother Tostig led invasions of Wales forcing Gruffydd into hiding in Snowdonia where he was killed by his own men. Wales was split once again into three kingdoms on the eve of the Norman invasion.

The Norman Invasion

Following the death of Gruffydd the throne of Deheubarth was taken by Maredudd ab Owain ab Edwin who ruled until 1072. The Norman invasion of Wales started during his reign, but Maredudd failed to counter the initial attacks on South East Wales. He was killed in battle in 1072 at Rhymni and was succeeeded by his brother, Rhys ab Owain. Despite the threat posed by the Normans, the Welsh continued to fight among themselves and Rhys was defeated in battle by Trahaearn ap Caradog of Gwynedd in 1078 and subsequently killed. He was succeeded by his second cousin, Rhys ap Tewdwr.

In 1081 the King of Gwent, Caradog ap Gruffydd invaded Deheubarth in an attempt to rule the whole of South Wales. After initial setbacks, Rhys joined Gruffydd ap Cynan who was seeking to regain the throne of Gwynedd and defeated the combined forces of Gwent and Gwynedd at the battle of Mynydd Carn, killing both Caradog ap Gruffydd and Trahaearn ap Caradog. Gruffydd ap Cynan had landed in Deheubarth with a force of Irish and Danes, joining Rhys ap Tewdwr at St David's. The battle took place a day's march to the north of St David's.

William the Conqueror made a rapid incursion into Wales in the same year and Rhys ap Tewdwr paid homage to William, securing his position in Deheubarth as far as the Normans were concerned, but he was to face two further attempts to depose him. In 1088 Cadwgan ap Bleddyn of Powys attacked and Rhys fled to Ireland, to return later in the same year with Irish support and defeated Cadwgan. In 1091, Gruffydd ap Maredudd, son of Maredudd ab Owain attempted to take the throne but was defeated and killed at the battle of Llandudoch. Rhys was eventually defeated and killed in 1093 at Brecon by the Norman Bernard de Neufmarche.

Rhys's son Gruffydd went to Ireland in exile. The Normans ruled Deheubarth. Rhys's daughter Nest was to become a legendary beauty and married Gerald of Pembroke in 1095, but was also a lover of Henry I and bore him a son, Henry Fitzroy in 1103. Among those claiming descent from Rhys were Owen Tudor, grandfather of Henry VII and the 20th President of the USA James A Garfield who was assassinated after just 199 days in office.

Gruffydd eventually made peace with Henry I and regained a small part of his father's kingdom, the Cantref Mawr, roughly the area between the Teifi and Towy rivers to the north east of the Gwili river. Gruffydd married Gwenllian, daughter of his father's ally, Gruffydd ap Cynan of Gwynedd. In 1136, with civil war breaking out between King Stephen and the Empress Maud in England, Hywel ap Maredudd of Brycheiniog invaded the Gower and defeated the Normans at the Battle of Llwchwr. Seeing an opportunity, Gruffydd ap Rhys travelled north to seek an alliance with his father in law. During his absence, Maurice of London led Norman attacks against Deheubarth and Gwenllian raised and led an army into battle at Kidwelly. She was defeated and beheaded. She was the only British woman other than Boudica to have led an army into battle.

Gruffydd and the sons of Gruffydd ap Cynan led a joint Deheubarth and Gwynedd force against the Normans at Crug Mawr, 2 miles from Cardigan at the end of September 1036. The Normans were routed. Many tried to escape over the ridge at Cardigan but were drowned when the bridge collapsed. The town of Cardigan was taken but the castle under Robert Fitzstephen, an illegitimate nephew of Gruffydd by Nest, held out. Gwynedd seized Ceredigion following the battle. in 1037 Gruffydd gained further lands in Dyfed but died later that year.

The Lord Rhys

Gruffydd was succeeded in turn by Anarwd, Cadell, Maredydd and Rhys and for once the brothers worked together to reinstate the power of Deheubarth. Rhys became ruler in 1155 and in 1158 was forced to pay homage to Henry II. Henry invaded Deheubarth in 1163, and took Rhys prisoner, only to release him a few weeks later having confiscated most of his land. Rhys now made an alliance with his uncle, Owain Gwynedd, son of Gruffydd ap Cynan and by 1165 had reclaimed most of his land. In 1171 Rhys made peace with Henry II and became Justicar of South Wales, maintaining good relations with Henry until the latter's death in 1189.

The Lord Rhys, Rhys ap Gruffydd, was one of the most successful rulers, establishing castles at Dynevor and Carreg Cennen (both were subsequently rebuilt). His rule marked a renaissance of Welsh culture with the first Eisteddfod being held at Cardigan Castle in 1176. It was he who gave land for the abbeys of Strata Florida and Talley. He was attended by one of the Physicians of Myddfai. . Over the years Rhys captured the castles of Cardigan, Llandovery, Laugharne, and Llansteffan and attacked Carmarthen Castle. In later years he had difficulty with his feuding sons who at one time imprisoned him at Nevern Castle. After his death Deheubarth was riven by the warfare of his sons. Rhys had nine sons and eight daughters and three hundred years after his death, Henry Tudor could claim direct descent from the Lord Rhys and so gain the support of the Welsh in the overthrow of Richard III.

To fully understand the history of this period, one must look at the system of government of those parts of Wales and the borders, known as the Marches controlled by the Norman conquerors. In these areas was the system of Marcher Lordships.. The Marcher Lords owed allegiance to the King but Norman/English Law did not apply to them or their lands. The Marcher Lords were powerful and Henry II and King John used the Welsh princes as a counterbalance to them, so we have a succession of Welsh princes rebelling against the crown but, following defeats, supported by the crown against the Marcher Lords. In the Welsh controlled areas local rulers began to emulate their Norman counterparts, building castles and having armies of mounted cavalry.

Llewelyn the Great

With the death of the Lord Rhys, power in Wales now passed to Llewelyn ap Gruffydd of Gwynedd in the North. (Kings of Gwynedd) He married Joan, the illegitimate daughter of King John. Llewelyn, from his stronghold in the North expanded South, and when King John sent an army, Joan interceded to maintain peace. In 1215 however with John preoccupied by the barons' revolt that culminated in the signing of Magna Carta, Llewelyn captured a number of royal castles including Carmarthen. A year later Llewelyn was recognized as overlord of the Welsh rulers a position confirmed by the Treaty of Worcester in 1218, after which Llewelyn was known as "the Great": he died in 1240. It was during Llewelyn's reign that the castles at Dynevor and Dryslwyn were built. Carmarthen Castle was also rebuilt after being retaken by the Earl of Pembroke in 1223.

Llewelyn the Last

As ever in Wales the succession was a problem. Llewelyn and Joan wanted their legitimate son to be his heir and while this was accepted by Henry III and the Pope, Henry refused to acknowledge Dafydd's overlordship of Wales. In 1246 Dafydd died and power passed to the sons of Gruffydd, Llewelyn's illegitimate son. By 1256 Llewelyn was the acknowledged leader and from 1258 styled himself Prince of Wales. In 1263 Llewelyn advanced into the Marches and in 1264 allied himself with Simon de Montfort leader of the barons' revolt. In 1267 Henry recognized Llewelyn as Prince of Wales and Llewelyn in turn recognized the King of England as his suzerain in the Treaty of Montgomery.

Llewelyn's area of rule was to be much reduced after the accession of Edward I to the English throne. Edward feared Llewelyn's ambitions and his brother Dafydd defected to the King. In 1275 Edward kidnapped Llewelyn's wife, Elinor, daughter of Simon de Montfort and in 1276 declared Llewelyn a rebel. In 1277 Edward invaded Gwynedd and forced Llewelyn to submit in the Treaty of Aberconway and his rule was now restricted to the mountainous region of North West Wales.

In 1282 Dafydd, disillusioned with English rule, attacked Hawarden Castle. He was supported by many Welsh and eventually by Llewelyn. Edward I was determined to stamp out this rebellion and attacked. According to Caradog of Llancarfan, the last decisive battle was fought near Llandeilo in 1282 and Llewelyn was killed in December 1282 at Builth and Dafydd in April 1283 bringing to an end the rule of the Welsh princes. Edward now set about his castle building strategy and with the birth of his son in 1283 declared him Prince of Wales and in 1301 gave him six new counties, Flint, Anglesey, Caernarfon, Meirionnydd, Cardigan and Carmarthen. The rest of Wales remained with the Marcher Lords. The Towy became the boundary of the Principality in the South West.

While there were sporadic rebellions the status quo remained. Towns grew up around the castles and these were populated by the English.

Owain Glyndwr

1399 saw Henry IV take the throne from Richard II, a king who had been popular in Wales. Owain Glyndwr, a Welsh landowner who could trace descent from the lords of Powys and Deheubarth, had a dispute with the marcher lord of Ruthin and Henry failed to settle this in Owain's favour. A group of his friends proclaimed Owain Prince of Wales in September 1400. At Easter 1401 his supporters took Conway Castle and some months later Owain defeated an English army on Pumlumon. Henry had difficulty in engaging with a largely guerrilla army. By 1405 Glyndwr controlled virtually the whole of Wales. By 1409 however all had been lost and he became a fugitive thought to have died in 1416.

Griffith ap Nicholas, a descendant of the Lord Rhys held Dynevor and Cilgerran castles towards the end of the reign of Henry VI. His principal residence was Dynevor though he held large estates in the counties of Carmarthen and Cardigan. He held an eisteddfod at Carmarthen (Borrow in "Wild Wales" describes it as a congress of bards and literati). He had numerous disputes with his neighbours among whom were Humphrey, Duke of Buckingham, Richard Duke of York, Jasper Earl of Pembroke, son of Owen Tudor and half brother of the King and the Earl of Warwick. They accused Griffith of being in league with the thieves of the Marches and a warrant for his arrest was issued but never served. Civil war broke out and Griffith sided with the Yorkists but died in the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. 

Griffith's eldest son Thomas ap Griffith was killed in a duel and his son Sir Rhys ap Thomas (Knight of the Garter) sided with Henry Tudor. 

Owen Tudor was originally known as Owain ap Maredudd  ap Tudur  until 1459, when a clerk wrote his name as Owen Tudor and so gave us a Tudor rather than a Maredudd dynasty. Owen married Catherine de Valois, widow of Henry V and they had four children (whose half brothers were the King and Earl of Warwick), Edmund, Jasper Earl of Pembroke, Owain who became a monk, and a daughter Margaret who died young. Owen Tudor was executed in 1461. His son Edmund married Margaret Beaufort the illegitimate daughter of John of Gaunt and their son was Henry Tudor. Edmund died before his son was born. 

The Tudors and the Acts of Union 1536 and 1543

Henry Tudor was born at Pembroke Castle in 1457 and it was at Pembroke that he landed in 1485 before defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. The descendant of Lord Rhys of Dynevor, Rhys ap Thomas raised an army in support of Henry Tudor and indeed it is believed he personally killed Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. Henry Tudor, who also claimed descent from the Lord Rhys rewarded Rhys with a knighthood and restoration of his estates only for Henry VIII to take them back from Rhys ap Thomas's grandson following a charge of treason. Queen Mary restored some of the estates, but it was not until the reign of Charles I that the estates were restored in full.

Henry VII was sympathetic to the Welsh and indeed set up a commission to prove he was descended from British kings and Welsh princes, but it was his son Henry VIII who unified England and Wales in the Acts of 1536 and 1543, establishing the 13 Welsh counties, the English legal system and 26 Parliamentary constituencies in Wales. The Acts saw the introduction of the English practice of Primogeniture thereby ending many of the family feuds, the breakup of estates and establishing a landed gentry. While in theory the laws worked against the Welsh language, making English the language of the legal system there was no shortage of interpreters in the courts, even in London.

The survival of the Welsh language can be attributed to this period. Although Welsh was prohibited in the courts, Parliament decreed that a Bible in Welsh should be available in every parish church in Wales. The translation of the Bible into Welsh meant that a written standard for the language was in being.

The English Civil War

The English Civil War of the 17th century touched the valley in no small way. It saw the destruction of Cardigan Castle by Cromwell's forces in 1764. An army from the counties of Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire was raised by Sir Henry Vaughan of Derwydd near Llandeilo and Joined King Charles I at Oxford early in 1643. Cromwell sent a naval force to attack West Wales and Vaughan was forced to defend Carmarthen which was taken by the Roundheads only to be retaken a year later by Sir Henry. Sir Henry was wounded at the Battle of Naseby and imprisoned in the Tower of London where he remained until 1659, shortly before the return of the Monarchy.

Life in the Teifi valley now took on a more peaceful aspect, with the development of small market towns and industry, mainly devoted to agriculture with woolen mills springing up using the water power supplied by the river and its tributaries. Animals, including cattle, pigs, sheep and geese were taken as far as London on foot by drovers who returned bringing news and keeping the area abreast of new fashions. In the late 18th and early 19th century, roads were improved but at a cost in terms of turnpikes charging people for their use a practice that proved unpopular and sparked riots in certain parts of Wales. The rioters dressed in women's clothes to protect their identities and  were known as the Daughters of Rebecca. An Act of Parliament abolished the turnpikes in 1844.

The area was ripe for the nonconformist revival of the 18th and 19th centuries as can be witnessed by the large number of chapels of different denominations.

 The industrial revolution largely passed the area by, though the coming of the railways changed much. Two lines were built, from Carmarthen to Aberystwith and Carmarthen to Newcastle Emlyn ( initially planned to reach Cardigan). The Aberystwith line ran along the valley via Strata Florida, Tregaron, Lampeter and Llanybydder while the Newcastle Emlyn line ran from Newcastle Emlyn through Henllan and Llandysul. The railway meant that milk could be transported from the area to the major centres of population, and meat no longer had to be taken "on the hoof" but could be slaughtered and then transported. There was some shipbuilding at Cardigan and St Dogmaels, silver mining at Llanfair Clydogau and tin making at Llanerch but none of this matched the industries of South Wales. The Aberystwith to Carmarthen line closed in 1964 and the Newcastle Emlyn line in 1973.

The old counties of Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire merged in 1974 following the 1972 Local Government Act to form the county of Dyfed. The Local Government Act (Wales) 1994 restored the ancient counties though Cardiganshire opted for the name Ceredigion.

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Site and Photographs Geoffrey Davies 2008-10  Contact info@enchantedtowy.co.uk