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House of Mathrafal

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

House of Mathrafal
Coat of arms of Powys.svg

Arms of the Mathrafal House of Powys
Parent houseHouse of Dinefwr
FounderBleddyn ap Cynfyn, King of Gwynedd and Powys

The House of Mathrafal began as a cadet branch of the House of Dinefwr, taking their name from Mathrafal Castle, their principal seat and effective capital. Although their fortunes rose and fell over the generations, they are primarily remembered as kings of Powys in central Wales.

They—along with the Houses of Aberffraw, Dinefwr, and Seisyll—traced their descent from Merfyn the Oppressor who, along with his son Rhodri, established their control over northern and western Wales. Rhodri replaced King Cyngen in Powys after the latter died while on pilgrimage to Rome, allegedly because his mother or wife (sources differ) was Nest, Cyngen's sister, but more likely[1] through conquest. Cyngen's true heirs were either exiled or reduced to the level of minor land owners (e.g., the family of Sir Gruffudd Vychan). Yet the later King of Powys Cadell ap Brochwel, maternal great-grandfather of the first King of the House of Mathrafal, Bleddyn ap Cynfyn claimed descent from Cyngen's son Aeddan, who seems to have ruled straight after. Other noble families claimed descent from another of Cyngen's sons, Elisedd, who is mentioned as killing his older brother Gruffydd in the Annales Cambriae. It is therefore likely that Gwynedd's hegemony over Powys was merely propaganda, intended to glorify Gwynedd at the expense of Powys before the time of Owain Gwynedd. If Cyngen did have a daughter called Nest, it wasn't by her line when Powys passed out of the hands of the Cadelling. More likely, it was by the daughter of the aforementioned Cadell ap Brochwel, also called Nest, to her son Cynfyn; during a period when no suitable heir was of age or ability.

In the traditional accounts, Rhodri divided his kingdom among his sons and gave Powys to his youngest, Merfyn. King Cadell in Ceredigion then dispossessed his brother and added Powys to his inheritance. It's possible, however, that Powys remained independent until its 916 annexation by Cadell's son Hywel Dda, who also conquered Dyfed and Gwynedd and established what has become known as the realm of Deheubarth. On the death of Hywel's grandson Maredudd ab Owain in 999, the realm splintered: Irishmen usurped Gwynedd and falsely passed themselves off as Maredudd's heir in Dyfed. These were removed by Llywelyn ap Seisyll, from a cadet branch of the Aberffraw line in the commote of Rhuddlan.

The house of Mathrafal was effectively established in the wake of Harold and Tostig Godwinson's disastrous raids in 1062 and 1063. They installed Bleddyn ap Cynfyn over Powys and Gwynedd and he kept his base in Mathrafal close to the Saxon border. From this point forward, his family jockeyed with the Dinefwr and Aberffraw dynasties for control of Wales. (The unrelated dynasty in Gwent and Morgannwg was swiftly overrun by the Marcher Lords after the Norman Conquest.) The House of Mathrafal's influence was greatest between 1063 and 1081, when they lost control of Gwynedd to a resurgent Aberffraw family following the Battle of Mynydd Carn. By 1191, Powys was divided between Powys Fadog in the north and Powys Wenwynwyn (roughly modern Montgomeryshire) in the south. The first became a more-or-less loyal vassal of Gwynedd; the latter, one of its main competitors.

Historian John Davies points out that, following the division of Powys, the dynasty should not be considered as "equal" to that of Aberffraw or Dinefwr. Mathrafal Castle was utterly destroyed by Gwynedd in 1212 and thenceforth it was entirely dependent on English support for its survival. However, the Mathrafal dynasty continued to exert some influence, undermining and eventually betraying Llywelyn ap Gruffudd on behalf of Edward I during his conquest of Wales in 1282–83. Thereafter, they avoided his campaign of extermination against the Welsh royal houses and even exchanged their claims to royalty for an English lordship at the Parliament of Shrewsbury in 1283. They were finally displaced by the lords of Mortimer in the early 14th century.


Members of the Mathrafal Dynasty include Bleddyn ap Cynfyn, Maredudd ap Bleddyn, Gwladys ferch Rhiwallon, Madog ap Maredudd, Gwenwynwyn ab Owain Cyfeiliog, and Griffith and Owen de la Pole.


  1. ^ Aside from the discrepancies concerning who Nest was (if she even existed), Cyngen is known to have left male heirs and traditional Welsh law seems to have completely banned any inheritance through the female line.[citation needed]

Lewys Dwnn Heraldic Visitations of Wales and Part of the Marches between the years 1586 and 1613

This page was last edited on 30 May 2020, at 15:00
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