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THE BATTLE OF MECHAIN
By Darrell Wolcott
Six years after King Gruffudd ap Llewelyn
was assassinated, we learn that his two sons were killed as the result of a battle with the sons of Cynfyn, Bleddyn and Rhiwallon.
The accounts of this battle at Mechain found in Annales Cambriae and Brut y Tywysogion agree in all respects except one:
the account in the annals call the sons of Gruffudd "Idwal and Maredudd" while the Brut says "Ithel and Maredudd".
There is general agreement that this
event marks the end of Powys rule by the dynasty descended from Cadell Ddrynllwg, it being replaced by Bleddyn ap Cynfyn and
his heirs. While the transfer of power actually occurred following the 1063 death of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn when the English
confirmed Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn as their approved ruler in Powys and Bleddyn in Gwynedd, this may have been only because the
sons of Gruffudd were too young to assume a Celtic kingship. The fact that those sons made no claim to their father's
crowns in 1063 but did do so in 1069 is, we believe, strong evidence of their ages. The eldest of them, whether Ithel
or Maredudd, was likely born within a year or two after their father assumed rule in Powys in 1039 and was yet in
his early 20's in 1063. When he attained his "full age", he asserted his birthright and claimed the kingship of Powys
then held by an interim king, Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn.
The ancient accounts say that both
Rhiwallon and Ithel fell in battle at Mechain, and that Maredudd died of "the cold" which most assume meant he fled into the
mountains and met his death from the elements. The account continues to say that afterwards, Bleddyn held the kingships
of both Gwynedd and Powys. While we agree that Bleddyn emerged victorius following the event, we doubt he was even present
when his brother fell.
We have conjectured elsewhere
that the sons of Gruffudd had met with Gruffudd ap Cynan nephew of Iago, the heir to the Gwynedd kingship held by
Bleddyn. In that meeting shortly before Mechain, we think an alliance was struck to remove the sons of Cynfyn from both
Powys and Gwynedd, assert their own rights to those kingdoms and thus restore both to their dynastic families. Then a refugee
living in Ireland, this Gruffudd ap Cynan had no army to assist the sons of Gruffudd ap Llewelyn but believed he would be
provided with a host of Irishmen to attack Bleddyn in Gwynedd if Ithel and Maredudd successfully deposed Rhiwallon in Powys.
We suggest that Ithel and Maredudd
then sent word to Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn in Mathrafel that the eldest of them had attained legal kingship age and expected Rhiwallon
to relinquish his interim rule. That their army awaited his decision just across the Fyrnwy River in the cantref of
Mechain. Having no intention to step aside for his nephews, Rhiwallon's warband sallied forth to oppose their claim.
We suspect Bleddyn was himself over 100 miles away at his own palace in Anglesey. When the two warbands met, we suggest
it was the forces of Ithel and Maredudd which dominated the battle. Rhiwallon had sent messingers to seek the assistance
of his brother and his army sought to hold off the superior force until Bleddyn's army had time to arrive on the scene.
They held out until darkness, but at first sunlight the battle resumed with still no sign of Bleddyn's men. The losses
mounted for Rhiwallon's men until finally he was surrounded and fell fatally wounded. His penteulu exhorted his men
to fight on as help was due any moment. When Bleddyn's men arrived on the scene, the tide swiftly turned against the
sons of Gruffudd. Ithel was slain and his men scattered; Maredudd took shelter in the mountains. Although his
position was immune to attack, the exits were easy to block and he died of the combination of hunger, thirst and cold