Elidir ap Sandde
(Cir 0708-)
Cynan Tindaethwy
Gwriad ap Elydir of Man
(Abt 0768-0825)
Esyllt verch Cynan
Merfyn ap Gwriad King of Gwynedd
(Abt 0764-0844)


Family Links

1. Nest verch Cadell

Merfyn ap Gwriad King of Gwynedd 1 2 3

  • Born: Abt 764
  • Marriage (1): Nest verch Cadell
  • Died: 844, Cyfeiliog, Powys, Wales about age 80

   Other names for Merfyn were Merfyn "the Freckled" King of Gwynedd and Myrfyn Frych ap Gwriad King of Gwynedd.

  Research Notes:

From A History of Wales, pp. 78-79:

"A chain of marriages begins around 800 when Gwriad, a native of the Isle of Man, who perhaps had links with the Men of the North, married Esyllt of the line of Maelgwn Fawr; their son, Merfyn, became kind of Gwynedd in 825 on the death of Esyllt's uncle, Hywel ap Rhodri, the last of the male descendants of Maelgwn Gwynedd. Merfyn was the first of the lineage known to historians as the second dynasty of Gwynedd. He married Nest of the house of Powys, and their son, Rhodri, married Angharad of the house of Seisyllwg (Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi)."
From Wikipedia - Merfyn Frych :

Merfyn Frych or Merfyn Frych ap Gwriad (English : Merfyn the Freckled, son of Gwriad) was King of Gwynedd (reigned 825 - 844), the first king not descended from the male line of Maelgwn Gwynedd . Nothing is known of his reign, and his primary notability is as the father of Rhodri the Great . The Annales Cambriae says that he died in 844, the same year in which a battle occurred at Ketill (or Cetyll), but it does not make clear whether there is a connection, or whether it is referring to two unrelated events.[1][2]

Merfyn came to the throne in the aftermath of a bloody dynastic struggle between brothers Cynan (reigned 798 - 816) and Hywel (reigned 816 - 825),[3] at a time when the kingdom had been under pressure from Mercia .[4] He was the son of Ethyllt (or Etthil or Essyllt), the daughter of King Cynan.[note 1] Merfyn allied his own royal family with that of Powys by marrying Nest , daughter of King Cadell ap Brochwel.[note 2]

Merfyn is mentioned as a king of the Britons in a copyist's addition[note 3] to the Historia Brittonum and in the Bamberg Cryptogram, [note 4] but as both sources are traced to people working in Merfyn's own court during his reign, it should not be considered more significant than someone's respectful reference to his patron while working in his service.

In the literary sources, Merfyn's name appears in the Dialogue between Myrddin and his sister Gwenddydd (Welsh : Cyvoesi Myrddin a Gwenddydd y chuaer), found in the mid-13th-century literary work the Red Book of Hergest . The dialogue is a prophesy of the future kings, and lists among them Merfyn in the passage "meruin vrych o dir manaw"[11] (English : Merfyn Frych of the land of Manau).


The times leading up to Merfyn's reign were unsettled for both Gwynedd and neighboring Powys. Both kingdoms were beset by internal dynastic strife, external pressure from Mercia , and bad luck from nature's whims. In 810 there was a bovine plague that killed many cattle throughout Wales. The next year Deganwy , the ancient fortified llys (English : royal court ) of Maelgwn Gwynedd and built of wood, was struck by lightning. A destructive dynastic war raged in Gwynedd between 812 and 816, particularly on Anglesey , while in Powys a son of the king was killed by his brother "through treachery". In 818 there was a notable battle at Llanfaes on Anglesey . The combatants are not identified, but the site had been the llys of King Cynan.[12]

Coenwulf of Mercia took advantage of the situation in 817, occupying Rhufoniog (see map) and laying waste to the mountains of Eryri (English : Snowdonia ), the defensive stronghold of Gwynedd. Coastal Wales along the Dee Estuary was still in Mercian hands in 821, as it is known that Coenwulf died peacefully at Basingwerk in that year. In 823 Mercia laid waste to Powys and returned to Gwynedd to burn down Deganwy.

Gwynedd and Powys then gained a respite when Mercia's attention turned elsewhere and its fortunes waned. King Beornwulf was killed fighting the East Anglians in 826, his successor Ludeca suffered the same fate the following year, and Mercia was conquered and occupied by Ecgberht of Wessex in 829. Though Mercia managed to throw off Ecgberht's rule in 830, it was thereafter beset by dynastic strife, and never regained its dominance, either in Wales or eastern England .[13]

It was just as Mercian power was on the verge of breaking that Merfyn Frych came to the throne, certainly a case of fortuitous timing.

His father
Nothing is known of Merfyn's father Gwriad. Merfyn claimed descent from Llywarch Hen through him, and the royal pedigree in Jesus College MS. 20 says that Gwriad was the son of Elidyr, who bears the same name as his ancestor, the father of Llywarch Hen, Elidyr lydanwyn.[14] Supporting the veracity of the pedigree is an entry in the Annales Cambriae, which states that Gwriad, the brother of Rhodri the Great , was slain on Anglesey by the Saxons. That is to say, Merfyn named one of his sons after his father Gwriad.[15]

The discovery of a cross inscribed Crux Guriat (English : Cross of Gwriad) on the Isle of Man and dated to the 8th or 9th century[16] raised the question of whether Gwriad's possible connection to "Manaw" was to that of the Gododdin or to the Isle of Man, which was known in Welsh as Ynys Manaw. John Rhys suggested that Gwriad might well have taken refuge on the Isle of Man during the bloody dynastic struggle between Cynan and Hywel prior to Merfyn's accession to the throne, and that the cross perhaps does refer to the refugee Gwriad, father of Merfyn. He goes on to note that the Welsh Triads mention a 'Gwryat son of Gwryan in the North'.[17]

While Rhys' suggestion is not implausible, his reference to Gwriad's father Gwryan contradicts the royal pedigree, which says that Gwriad's father was Elidyr, so this may be a confusion of two different people named Gwriad. Gwriad's name does appear with northern origins in the Welsh Triads as one of the "Three kings, who were of the sons of strangers" (sometimes referred to as the "Three Peasant Kings"), where he is identified as the son of "Gwryan in the North".[18]

The other literary references to Gwriad and his father Gwryan also suggest that this Gwriad is a different person with the same name as Merfyn's father. For example, Gwryan's name also appears in The Verses of the Graves from the Black Book of Carmarthen ,[19] as does Gwriad's name,[20] which also appears in the Gododdin .[21]

There is nothing in what is known of Welsh law stating specifically that women were capable of transmitting legal title of kingship, and it is not known whether Merfyn came to the throne through usurpation or prior arrangement. Lloyd 's article on Merfyn in the Dictionary of National Biography says that claims of kingship through a maternal line were sometimes recognised under the Welsh law of inheritance and cites mamwys (English : maternity, heirship through the female line) for the justification.[5] However, mamwys refers to matters of property.

^ The view that Ethyllt was Merfyn's mother and Nest his wife is held by Davies [6] and many others, including Lloyd ,[7] who notes the consistency of Jesus College MS 20 and Harleian MS 3859 against the contrary account that Nest was the mother and Ethyllt the wife.

^ Merfyn's name appears twice in the Historia Brittorum as 'Mermin', with both mentions attributed to later additions to the Historia made in Gwynedd during Merfyn's reign. He is mentioned in a passage as quarto Meruini regis Britonum, and in another passage as ad annum quartum Mermini regis.[8] In his History of Wales, Lloyd notes that this is the addition of a later copyist. Additionally, he notes that the text annum quartum Mermini regis does not appear in other copies of the Historia.[9]

^ The Bamberg Cryptogram was published with English annotation in 1892. It was discovered at Bamberg , Germany and it contains characters that must be translated from Greek numerals to Latin text using using a key in order to read the message (a form of cryptogram ), hence the document's name. It is accompanied by Latin text that names several medieval people of note, and includes the words Mermin Britannorum regis. This was written at the court of Merfyn during his reign.[10]

  Death Notes:

Died in the Battle of Cyfeiliog (Catill).

  Noted events in his life were:

King of Gwynedd, 825-844. on death of Esyllt's uncle, Hywel ap Rhodri

Merfyn married Nest verch Cadell, daughter of Cadell ap Brochwell and Unknown. (Nest verch Cadell was born in Powys, (Wales).)


1 Wikipedia.org, Merfyn Frych; Rhodri the Great.

2 Davies, John, A History of Wales. (Rev. ed. New York: Penguin Group, 2007.), pp. 78-79.

3 Website:, http://www.varrall.net/pafg58.htm#1162.

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