This small kingdom was founded as an offshoot of the Irish Déisi kingdom of Dyfed.
It was centred on Garth Madryn in the modern Brecon Beacons with a chief settlement at Talgarth or Talgar in the twelfth century, and it gained its name from that of its first independent king.
Its territory in south-east Wales was neighboured to the north by Powys, to the east by Gwent, to the south by Cernyw (and later Glywyssing), and to the west by Dyfed.
The modern word 'Brecon' is the English version of Brycheiniog.
As mentioned, the kingdom was named after King Brychen, which was taken from the word 'briych', meaning 'freckled'.
The '-iog' suffix is roughly equivalent to the English '-ed', so the people here were roughly (and amusingly) the 'freckled of the freckled' - in other words, Brychen's followers..
Traditionally, Brychen himself was born in Ireland, the son of a minor tribal king named Anlach, and moved with his parents to Wales. This ties in with the settling of the Irish Déisi in south-west Wales who took over command of the British territory of Demetia, although Anlach's pedigree would suggest that he was already in Wales, given that his grandfather had been the son of the leader of the Déisi exodus from Ireland.
Instead, Anlach's own 'moving to Wales' should perhaps be seen more in the context of his recent ancestors having moved there and his own grandfather having migrated further east into Garthmadrun (although see an alternative at circa 450, below). When Brychen was made king upon the death of his father, the area of Garthmadrun (or Garth Madrun, both older spellings of the modern Garth Madryn) was renamed Brycheiniog in his honour. This suggests that Anlach himself was not the territory's king. Instead he was probably a sub-king, governing Garthmadrun for the core Déisi to the west.
The kingdom's early capital was on a crannog at Llangorse, built by an Irish master builder to display the king's proud Irish heritage. Crannogs were unknown at this time outside Pictland (modern Scotland) or Ireland, and this is the only one of its kind in all of Wales. Luxury goods from around the world were imported here, and the kingdom's treasure was discovered in the waters around the crannog as recently as the 1970s. Unfortunately, the settlement was destroyed by an Anglo-Saxon raid just two decades after being built, and was abandoned (if only temporarily).
(Additional information by Edward Dawson, from A Study of Breconshire Place-Names, Richard Morgan & R F Peter Powell 1999, from Llyfr Baglan (The Book of Baglan), from Welsh Genealogies AD 300-1400, Peter Bartrum, from the BBC documentary series, The Story of Wales, first broadcast 3 October 2012, and from External Links: St Catwg's Church, and Catholic Online, and Ancient Wales Studies.
Urb mac Aed
Son of Aed Brosc, leader of the Déisi in Demetia.
Cormac mac Urb / Cornac
Son. Migrated into Garthmadrun from Dyfed with his father.
Anlach marries Marchel, whom Celtic works describe as the 'heiress of Garthmadrun'. The same works give Anlach's father as Cornac or Coronac, who is generally linked to Cormac mac Urb of the Déisi. Given the calculation that the Déisi had arrived in Dyfed around AD 300, this would give them ample time to become integrated into the regional nobility and for their leading sons to marry the offspring of the surviving Brito-Welsh nobility, hence Anlach's marriage to Marchel.
The fluctuating fortunes of the kingdom of Brycheiniog took place in the dramatic landscape of the Brecon Beacons in south-eastern Wales
Marchel's Her status as 'heiress' would suggest that Garthmadrun is a parcel of territory that has been assigned to her from a larger territory, most likely the 'Kingdom of Mid-South Wales'.
Anlach mac Cormac
Anlach has probably not been a king in his own right in Garthmadrun, but a sub-king or regional governor for the core Déisi to the west. His death means that he is succeeded by his son, Brychen, and it is now that the territory seemingly becomes an independent kingdom. Garthmadrun is renamed Brycheiniog to show that it is now firmly the land of Brychen and his followers.
Celtic works generally state that Brychen is born in Ireland and that his father brings the family to Wales.
While this seems to be more of a generalised remembrance of the Déisi exodus from Ireland six generations previously, at least one large group of Déisi had remained in Ireland.
This is the Déisi of southern Munster, and some of those Déisi who had been expelled from Tara joined their southern cousins.
It is possible that links survived between them and the Déisi who migrated to Dyfed, and that families could easily pass between both settlements. That would certainly allow Anlach's father or grandfather to return to Ireland and for Anlach, and later Brychen, to be born there and yet still be in Wales at a later date.
c.450 - c.490
Brychen Brycheiniog (St)
Daughter married Gwynlliw of Gwynllg.
It is said that the royal domain at Llangorse, built on a crannog that still survives in Brecenan Mere, is attacked by a Saxon raid and is destroyed. Brychen is forced to abandon it, probably for the better-known Talgarth (although it is later re-occupied by the royal family). However, Saxon raiders this far west in this century are extremely unlikely unless they arrive by sea and venture up the valleys from the direction of the Bristol Channel. The Britons are already fighting a war on the east coast, after losing Ceint, so there is little chance of Saxons being able to roam across the countryside. Much more likely is a raid by Irish warriors, who still roam the coastline picking off unwary victims. Even their raid up into the hills of Brycheiniog would be a considerable effort. (alternatively, this event could be a misremembering or confusion of the Mercian raid of 916 - see below).
Whilst the Catholic Church describes Brychen as a saint, relevant literature does not, instead referring to him as a patriarch. Even in the earliest sources he is credited as being the father of at least twelve children, with later sources claiming well over twenty, many of whom become saints with links to Manau or Cornwall.
Rein ap Brychan?
The timeline for the kings of Brycheiniog is largely calculated from a rough approximation of generation succession. Peniarth Ms 131, 299 contains the second known king, Rhain Dremrydd (or Dremrudd), but specifies him as Rhain son of an unnamed son of Brychen, inserting an extra generation between them. Brychen himself is given dates as variable as AD 400 and AD 490, so there seems to be plenty of room for an extra generation.
The researcher and genealogist Peter Bartrum (1907-2000) in his Welsh genealogies had removed this extra generation, thereby supplying the more normally-quoted pedigree for the kingdom. De Situ Brecheniauc does mention a Rein ap Brychan who is usually taken as Rhain Dremrudd but could equally be that Rhain's father, himself the son of Brychen. The appellation 'Dremrydd' could be used to distinguish the son from the similarly-named father.
Rhain Dremrydd (Red-Faced)
First son. Uncle of Cadwg, king of Gwynllg & Penychen.
Rigenew / Rigenau ap Rhein
Llywarch / Llowarch ap Rigenew
Idwallon ap Llywarch
Rhiwallon ap Idwallon
Son. Last male lineal descendant of Brychen.
c.640 - c.650
Ceindrych / Ceindrec ferch Rhiwallon
Daughter. Second marriage to Cloten of Dyfed.
c.650 - c.720
MapCeindrych (Ceindrec, modern Catherine) marries her distant cousin, Cloten king of Dyfed, and for the space of three generations the two kingdoms are united. During the mid-eighth century, Dyfed is invaded by Seisyll, king of Ceredigion. He takes Ystrad Towy, and the dual kingdom of Rhein ap Cadwgn is split in two. Rhain is forced to divide the territory and the king's (possible) younger brother is granted Brycheiniog.
Rhein ap Cadwgn ap Caten ap Cloten
King of Dyfed & Brycheiniog.
Awst / Aust ap Cadwgn
Brother? Granted Brycheiniog as his own domain.
Tewdos / Teuder / Tewdr ap Rhein
Second son of Rhein. Same as King Tewdos of Dyfed?
The precise status of the kingdom at this time is open to some question. Three of the sons of Rhein ap Cadwgn of Dyfed appear to divide Brycheiniog between themselves (probably following the death of Rhein himself). Some of their immediate descendants are referred to as 'king', but seem more likely to be lords of cantrefi (districts containing a hundred settlements) or commotes (one third or a half of a cantref).
Battle in Brecon
Cantref Selyf contains the small settlement of Battle, but despite misconception this was not named for the battle between the Norman lord, Bernard de Neufmarché, and three Welsh kings in 1070 but for the bequest of the land to Battle Abbey in Sussex
Naufedd Hen is known to hold Cantref Selyf and probably also has Cantref Talgarth, these forming the northern and eastern sections of Brycheiniog. Tewdos is more usually shown as the king of Brycheiniog (although in light of this division of territory he may hold no more right to such a grand claim than either of his peers and apparent equals), but may only hold Cantref Mawr, lying to the west of Talgarth and forming southern Brycheiniog. Elisse probably holds his father's manor plus scattered manors within the lordships of his brothers, making him the junior lord out of the three.
Naufedd Hen (the Old) ap Rhein
Brother. Cantref Selyf and probably Talgarth.
Elisse ap Rhein
Brother. Various scattered manors in Brycheiniog.
Elwystl / Elisse ap Awst
Cousin and rival claimant. Murdered by Teuder.
c.735 - c.750
Elwystl is a bit of a problem as he often seems to be confused with an Elisse ap Tewdwr, son of the King Tewdos shown above. There is also an Elisse ap Rhein, brother of Tewdwr, just to make matters even more confused. Which leaves the question of just what is held by Elisse ap Awst. An Elisse is shown in Jesus College MS 20 with a daughter named Sanant, but his father is not shown, meaning that he could be any of the three candidates (although more probably the two elder candidates only). Sanant marries Noe of Powys (born around AD 735), who has also been referred to as Nowy Hen ap Teuder (son of Teuder, or more probably son-in-law, given the marriage just mentioned).
Could both instances of an Elisse be one and the same man? This is the most likely explanation given the similarities in their dates. Both would have been old enough in 730 to already have a daughter who could marry the successor of all of the various ruling Dyfed kings and princes of their generation. Under Nowy Hen the kingdom seems to return to a single supreme ruler (if this had not already been the case under the sons of Tewdos, with one of them holding superiority over the others).
Nowy Hen (the Old) ap Tewdr
Son of Teuder. Descendant of Cadell Ddyrnllwg of Powys.
The son (with reservations - see c.735) of Tewdos ap Rhein, Nowy Hen is a ninth generation descendant from Cadell Ddyrnllwg of fifth century Powys, via his son Cyngen Glodrydd. Nowy has three sons by Sanant ferch Elisse, these being Gryffydd, Tewdos, and Cathen or Caten. The existence of three sons raises again the possibility of them being granted portions of the kingdom although nothing is mentioned in surviving texts. Nowy Hen himself certainly rules in Cantref Selyf and probably in Cantref Talgarth (as long as this isn't a confusion with the earlier Naufedd Hen, his uncle). As Gryffydd is the elder of the sons then he inherits Cantref Selyf and probably Cantref Talgarth (if such a division exists). Tewdos may be lord of Cantref Mawr, with Cathen holding the remaining portions.
Gryffydd / Gruffudd ap Nowy
Tewdr ap Gryffydd
c.840 - al.896
Elisedd / Ellis(e) ap Tewdr
Son. Asked Alfred of Wessex for aid against Anarawd Gwynedd.
King Ithael of Gwent is killed in battle against Elisedd, perhaps sparking a feud that soon draws in Glywyssing's king, Hywel ap Rhys. The feud develops further in the 850s.
856 - 886
In this period, Hywel ap Rhys of Glywyssing comes into conflict with Elisedd ap Tewdr over the districts of Ystrad Yw (Crickhowell, now in southern Powys but seemingly inside the border of Brycheiniog in the ninth century) and the remnant of Ewyas (adjoining Ystrad-Yw, Gwent had succeeded to Ewyas before its subsequent division as Ercing and then its loss to the Mercians by the ninth century).
The territories are claimed by Hywel as the rightful possession of Glywyssing (although the claim seems dubious, as only its eastern neighbour, Gwent, could lay any realistic claim to Ewyas, and Hywel's familial relationship to Gwent's kings should not change this). Brycheiniog has already transferred its claim to those lands to Cadell, the king of South Wales (probably Cadell ap Rhodri of Seisyllwg, who also holds Builth), so Hywel is forced to relinquish his right to them and has to set the boundary of his kingdom at Ystrad Yw. It is here that boundary stones have been raised and the town and castle of Cerrig Hywel (Gerrig Hywel, or 'the stones of Hywel') has been constructed. The latter is later considered to be in Brycheiniog. This forms the boundary between Hywel and Cadell during the former's lifetime.
Vikings have been wintering at Quatford (near Bridgnorth in Shropshire, part of western Mercia), but in the spring of this year they ravage the kingdoms of Brycheiniog, Gwent, and the Gwynllg region of Glywyssing. Asser records that Elisedd requests help from Alfred of Wessex, but another reason for this may also be due to pressure from Anarawd ap Rhodri, the powerful king of Gwynedd and Deheubarth who is keen on expanding his areas of control. Hyfaidd ap Bledrig of Dyfed may be another southern Welsh king who, during his lifetime, similarly appeals to Alfred for aid and support to ward off Anarawd.
Valley of the River Severn
The Vikings found quarters at Quatford in Mercia, occupying a commanding position over the valley of the River Severn (just half a mile from the view shown here), and building a burgh which may have formed the basis of the later Norman castle
Tewdr ap Elisedd
Gryffydd ap Elisedd
Having submitted to Alfred of Wessex for help in the late ninth century, Brycheiniog has largely been seen as that kingdom's vassal. Now Deheubarth to the west is on the rise and Brycheiniog finds itself being tugged in both directions. Æthelflaed, lady of the Mercians, now invades and captures the royal domain at Llangorse, on 19 June. The queen and various others are taken, she presumably being the wife of Gryffydd, although precise dates for most of Brycheiniog's kings are unavailable. What happens to the captives is not known. This event could alternatively be placed in the reign of Gryffydd's successor, Tewdr Brycheiniog.
MapAfter being crushed by Mercia, the increasing supremacy of Deheubarth in South Wales forces Brycheiniog to submit some of its power and it effectively becomes a sub-kingdom. Tewdr Brycheiniog still exercises regional power though, being witness to an English charter of 934. There seems to be some confusion about his parentage however. Bartrum calls him the son of Elisse, but it is unclear whether this is the Elisse of the period before 885 or a son or grandson of his.
c.920 - aft 934
Tewdr Brycheiniog ap Gryffydd
Son. Witnessed an English charter in 934.
Gwylog ap Tewdr
Elisedd / Elisse ap Gwylog
? - c.1045
Gryfydd / Gruffudd ap Elisedd
Son. Last king of a united Brycheiniog.
Upon the death of Gryfydd, his lands are divided between his three sons, as lords of Cantref Selyf, Cantref Tewdos and Cantref Talgarth. The eldest of those sons is, confusingly, named Selyf. Is he named for the cantref or vice versa, and if the latter then what has been the cantref's name until this point? Effectively, these three cantrefi are now part of the kingdom of Deheubarth.
c.1045 - ?
Selyf ap Gryfydd
Son. Lord of Cantref Selyf. Possibly also of Talgarth.
Dryffin ap Selyf
Son. Lord of Cantref Selyf?
1055 - 1063
Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Gwynedd invades and conquers neighbouring Gwent, along with Morgannwg, subjugating them both and drawing them directly under his control along with Deheubarth as part of a united Wales. Following his death, united Wales breaks up, and independent control of Morgannwg and Gwent is re-established.
Maenrych ap Dryffin
Son. Lord of Cantref Selyf?
Apparently ruling at least part of Brycheiniog at this point in time (and quite possibly earlier) is a fairly mysterious 'King Bleddyn' of Brycheiniog. His pedigree as given by Llyfr Baglan shows a descent from the fifth century Caradog Freichfras (or Freich Fras) of Gwent. The presence of someone with links to Gwent is unexplained, but the most reasonable theory is that one or more of the three cantrefi of Brycheiniog has fallen into the hands of Gwent's nobility in the period after circa 1045. Despite the similarity in names, His father and grandfather, Maenrych and Driffin, should not be confused with the Maenrych and Dryffin who are lords of Cantref Selyf in the same century.
1066? - 1070
Bleddyn ap Maenrych ap Driffin
Son of (a) Maenrych. Not paternally related to the former kings.
Earl William FitzOsbern of Hereford invades the kingdom and defeats 'three kings of South Wales', although none of these hail from Brycheiniog. 'King Bleddyn' of Brycheiniog is defeated by Bernard de Neufmarché (Newmark in its English form). It seems from claims made by Bernard in 1088 that he conquers the entire kingdom and sees it as his own domain (and he apparently goes on to slay Rhys ap Tewdwr Mawr of Deheubarth in 1093).
The Norman conquest of Britain owed much to good fortune, but once achieved it was enforced by military strength and a prolific castle-building programme
Rhiwallon ap Maenrych
Son of Maenrych. Lord of Cantref Selyf?
Madog ap Rhiwallon
Son. Lord of Cantref Selyf?
Einion ap Madog
Son. Lord of Cantref Selyf?
Trahaearn Fawr ap Einion
Son. Lord of Cantref Selyf.
1088 - 1095
The Normans are gradually increasing their involvement in the affairs of southern Wales. By 1088 they have conquered the cantrefi of Selyf (under its last native lord, Trahaearn Fawr), Tewdos, and Talgarth, signalling the end of Brycheiniog. Talgarth is captured before 1088, although a precise date seems to be unknown. The region's lands and cantrefi are amalgamated into the lordship of Brecknock (the Anglo-Norman approximation of Brycheiniog) which itself is largely subject to the Mortimer family which dominates the Welsh Marches. Castle Dinas is an early Norman fortress which controls entry further into the lordship.
Brecknock later forms the larger southern section of the county of Brecknockshire (from 1535), although the Welsh form of its name, Sir Frycheiniog, is much closer to the original name ('sir' being the Welsh form of 'shire', this being the Old English word for the Norman 'county'). The 1974 reorganisation of county councils sees Brecknockshire merged with Powys, although after 1996 it exercises a degree of decentralised regional authority as the borough of Brecknock.