THE MEDIEVAL "REDATING" OF BRAINT HIR
By Darrell Wolcott
Usually called the Founder
of the 10th Noble Family of north Wales, Braint Hir was said (by the noted 15th century bard and genealogist Gutyn Owain)
to have lived in the latter half of the ninth century, contemporary with the sons of Rhodri Mawr. But later writers began
tinkering with his pedigree in order to identify him with a certain Brianum found in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia
Regum Britanniae. In that Latin manuscript written in the 12th century, the author describes a scene where King Cadwallon
ap Cadfan is considering a request by Edwin who had asked permission to wear a crown. Putting his head on the knee (in
the lap?) of his young nephew Brianum, the lad soon awoke him with tears falling like rain.
We are not concerned with the
boy's sadness to learn his uncle was considering allowing Edwin to wear a crown; what we are struck by is the license taken
by the medieval translator. A mere mention of "nepotis sui quem Brianum" is turned into "Braint, son of Nefyn, his
nephew" and in the next reference to the boy (again merely as Brianum) the translator turns him into "Braint Hir". This
began a scurrying by genealogists to recast his pedigrees to make him contemporary with Cadwallon (c.595-634). A
c.1400 manuscriptwhich cites pedigrees of various non-royal families had
given his ancestry as:
If the last (most recent) named
man in this chart was roughly contemporary with the last-named men in the other pedigrees in this manuscript, he should occur
c. 1150/1200. Braint Hir at nine generations earlier would date to c. 860/910 or almost exactly where Gutyn Owain had
placed him. Those who later sought to identify Braint with Cadwallon ap Cadfan found their opportunity in the pedigree
of St. Egryn. By simply adding one extra line to that pedigree, the entire chronology was shifted back 300 years:
The result was deemed
"close enough" even though it places Braint Hir in the same generation as Cadwallon, brother of the Efeilian shown in the
chart. Rather than casting Braint as a nephew of Cadwallon, he appears no more than a first-cousin of a brother-in-law.
One would have to also assume that Nefydd, a man now portrayed in the same generation as Cadfan, must have married a daughter
of Cadfan in order to make Braint Hir the nephew of Cadwallon. Or assume that Cadwallon married a sister of Nefydd....either
way, the generational relationships shown by the (faked) chart make both assumptions unlikely. But there are other reasons
to reject this chart. When we assign likely birthdates to the men at the top of the chart, Rychwin would occur c. 430/435.
In his original pedigree, he was described as "of Bodrychwin in Rhos". That placename did exist at some point in time,
but was located in Llanfair Talhaearn in Uwch Aled in Rhufoniog. Even if we assume that both commotes may have once
been broadly referred to as Rhos, the Rychwin in the fake chart would have been born in the same generation as Owain Ddantgwyn
who did rule Rhos in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. How has history missed this early grandson of Cunedda?
One likely born before the family of Cunedda came to Gwynedd. Even the usually careful Peter Bartrum accepts the revised
pedigree and dates Rychwin to c. 430 without ever asking that question. Perhaps he was led astray by another medieval
emendation of the pedigree. The infamous Iolo Morgannwg probably anticipated our question, because he turned the "Cynwas"
(also variously spelled Cynwal, Cynnog and Cwnws) cited as the son of Rychwin into "Cynan Glodrydd ap Cadell Ddyrnllwg".
He probably meant Cyngen Glodrydd, a man some medieval pedigrees cite as a son of Cadell. Voila, now the men
are Powysian who may have easily lived in northeast Wales before the era of the Cunedda migration. But there
is no record of that family taking up residence on the west side of the Clwyd river; they were situated farther east around
Chester, Maelor and southward perhaps to the Severn. The only reasonable answer to the question we posed as to why history
knew of no Rychwin in Rhos in the 5th century is this: because he was only placed in that century by men living in the 16th
and 17th centuries.
It wasn't even Geoffrey
of Monmouth's claim that his "Brianus nephew of Cadwallon" was identical to Braint Hir, that notion being proposed over 400
years later. It isn't too harsh a conclusion to think that Geoffrey's Brianus was merely a character he invented to
flesh out his story about Edwin wanting to wear a crown like his "boyhood friend" Cadwallon. Outside of this tale spun
by Geoffrey, there is no source for the belief that Edwin and Cadwallon ever were friends.
But the medieval genealogists
were not yet finished. Pointing to another citation from Bonedd y Saint, they next made Rychwin farfog
identical to the "Rychwin in Nant Conwy" whose father is given as Heilig ap Glannog. But not even the Heilig ap Glannog
associated with the legendary inundation stories preceeded Cunedda to Wales; the only real man of that name found in old
pedigrees was born c. 950. If his son, Rychwin, was the ancestor or Braint Hir, the latter would not occur until c. 1130....not
a big problem until you consider the Rhissiart cited in the c. 1400 pedigree would not have yet been born when the
pedigree was written.
Having examined and rejected
all the attempts to redate the floruit of Braint Hir, we are left with the original pedigree and the conclusion that he was,
in fact, active in the second half of the 9th century. A birthdate of c. 880 is our estimate, which would date his Rychwin
(whether or not "farfog" and whether or not from Bodrychwin in Rhos) to c. 720. Most writers, even if they don't agree
when he lived, associate Braint Hir with Is Dulas in Rhos. The ruling family in that whole section of mainland Gwynedd
in the 8th century was the one descended from Owain Ddantgwyn and represented in that era by Meirion ap Rhun and his
son, Caradog. It is probable that a Rychwin who was ancestor to Braint Hir represented a junior branch
of that family, passing down his part of family lands in Is Dulas to his great-great-great grandson.
One final thought about
Braint Hir. By being named as one of the Founders of Noble Tribes of Gwynedd, we should expect to find some actions
which earned him that honor. Rather than ascribe to him the heroic deeds Geoffrey recited for his "Brianus" (which
may well have been non-historic), we prefer to think his honors were earned during the c. 900 wars to evict the
Danish settlers. It may have been a young Braint Hir who actually cleared them from Rhos shortly before the warband
of Cynan ap Elyfyn, and his son Marchudd, arrived on the scene. He was in the right place and lived at the right time
for that conjecture to be reasonable.
 Acton Griscom's "Historia Reginum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth",
1929, presents the Latin text of Geoffrey's work from Cambridge Univ Ms 1706, followed by an English translation, not of the
Latin, but of the Welsh version found in Jesus College Ms 61; the latter dates from c. 1500 and it was this translation which
turned Geoffrey's "Brianun" into "Braint Hir"
 Hen Lwythau Gwynedd y'r Mars, 11
 Bonedd y Saint, 72 from "Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts" derives St Egryn
from the same family as Braint Hir
 The final line to ByS 72 "and Efeilian ferch Cadfan ap Iago was his
mother" was added to the pedigree about 1560, first appearing in Peniarth Ms 75, and copied by several other writers from
the 16th to the 18th century. Refer to Peter Bartrum's "Late Additions to Bonedd y Saint" in Transactions of the Honorable
Society of Cymmrodorion, 1959.
 There is no independent method of dating St. Egryn; his original pedigree,
when collated with the pedigree of Braint Hir, would date him near 915. Only the late addition to his pedigree claims
an early 7th century date for him.
 Melville Richards "Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units", 1969, pp
 Iolo Ms, pp 131
 ABT 6k, ByS 33 & 38; for a discussion of the chronological problems in
making Cyngen a son of Cadell, refer to the paper "Vortigern and the Powys Dynasty" elsewhere on this site
 ByS 42 lists several brothers said to be sons of Heilig ap Glannog, including
 The legendary tale of the flooding of his lands is set in the 6th century,
but no man of that name is found in pedigree material until the 10th century. We suspect the date of the inundation
story was set in reference to the c. 475 Caradog Freich Fras, but the Heilig found in pedigrees was the great-great grandson
of the c. 820 Caradog Freich Fras of Rhos
 His obit appears in 798 and his pedigree in Harleian Ms 3859, 3
 Refer to the paper "The Retaking of Northeast Wales" elsewhere on this site