The history of Welsh royalty
Last updated: 04 June 2009
From post-Roman Celtic tribes to assimilation into the English state, Wales has been led by tribal warlords, local princes and English monarchs.
Over the years, Welsh domestic power eroded through either military defeat against overwhelming odds or the lesser kingdoms falling into step with the English overlords
The Celtic peoples of Britain were under the yoke of the Romans for 400 years, even in Wales, with its mountainous terrain. The two main tribes of Wales at the time were the Silures in the South East and the Ordovices, whose territory ran from the middle of Wales to the North West.
The other Celtic tribes were the Gangani in the Llyn Peninsular, the Deceangli in the North East and the Demetae in the South West.
When defeated by the Romans at the Battle of the Medway, Caratacus of the Catuvellauni tribe of England went to Wales and joined the Silures and Ordovices in anti-Roman rebellion. It is thought that Caratacus might be the source of pseudo-Welsh mythological figures, and could be argued to be the first warlord to bring together a large amount of Wales under his control.
Largely, the Celtic tribes were subdued over the period of the Roman occupation of Britain, with tribal leaders ruling over small and fluid parts of Wales. When the Romans withdrew in 410AD, the whole of Britain fell into this style of organisation, with Romano-British tribes carving up territory.
The dark ages found Wales being drawn up into kingdoms that survived largely until the medieval period.
The dark ages found Wales being drawn up into kingdoms that survived largely until the medieval period. The areas were Powys, Gwynedd, Seisyllwg, Dyfed, Brycheiniog, Morgannwg and Gwent.
Powys was arguably the most powerful and was ruled by the Gwerthernion dynasty. Its eastern border was fluid, given its rulers' warlike tendencies, until King Offa of Mercia built his famous protective dyke.
Gwynedd was also a very powerful Welsh kingdom, ruled by the house of Cunedda in a royal line until Merfyn Frych ap Grwad married Nest, the sister of Cyngen ap Cyddell, the ruler of Powys. The kingdoms of Gwynedd and Powys combined in 855 under their son, Rhodri Fawr or Rhodri the Great.
Rhodri's descendents ruled Gwynedd and Powys for another 400 years, with Gwynedd claiming overlordship over Powys, fairly or otherwise. The royal houses of Gwynedd and Powys were the most powerful of the kingdoms' ruling families, but following the joining of Seiswllwg and Dyfed under Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good), the kingdom of Deheubarth was created in 950AD.
In the face of Norman invasions in the middle ages, Welsh princes such as Llywelyn ap Iorwerth and Owain Gwynedd attempted to keep their kingdoms secure and a series of conflicts erupted, most notably against Edward I.
But over the years, Welsh domestic power eroded through either military defeat against overwhelming odds or the lesser kingdoms falling into step with the English overlords. Owain Glyndwr mounted a last-gasp challenge at the end of the 14th century and can be argued to be the last home-grown Prince of Wales.
The title of Prince of Wales was intermittently given to the eldest son of the reigning monarch since Edward I was the first to do it. Wales was subsumed legally into the English state and has long been a principality only in name. Its royalty has been English for hundreds of years.