Hywel Dda

Hywel Dda
Hywel Dda
King of Dyfed, Powys and Gwynedd
Prince of Seisyllwg and Deheubarth
King of Dyfed, Powys and Gwynedd
Reign 942–950
Predecessor Idwal Foel ap Anarawd
Spouse Elen of Dyfed
Owain ap Hywel
Rhodri ap Hywel
Edwin ap Hywel
House House of Dinefwr
Father Cadell ap Rhodri
Born c. 880
Died 950
Map of the extent of Hywel Dda's power
  Deheubarth, Hywel Dda's principality
  Combine to form Morgannwg

Hywel Dda (c. 880 – 950), (English: Hywel the Good, sometimes anglicized to Howell the Good) was the well-thought-of king[1] of Deheubarth in south-west Wales, who eventually came to rule Wales from Prestatyn to Pembroke.[2] As a descendant of Rhodri Mawr, through his father Cadell, Hywel was a member of the Dinefwr branch of the dynasty and is also named Hywel ap Cadell. He was recorded as King of the Britons in the Annales Cambriae and the Annals of Ulster.

He is remembered as one of the most responsible native Welsh rulers of all time. His name is particularly linked with the development of the Welsh laws, generally known as the Laws of Hywel Dda. The latter part of his name ('Dda' or 'Good') refers to the fact that his laws were just and good. The historian Dafydd Jenkins sees in them compassion rather than punishment, plenty of common sense and recognition of the rights of women.[1]

Hywel Dda was certainly a well-educated man, even by modern standards, having a good knowledge of Welsh, Latin, and English.[1]

In April 2008 a merger of Pembrokeshire & Derwen, Ceredigion and Mid Wales, and Carmarthenshire NHS Trusts was named the Hywel Dda NHS Trust in his honour. The office building and original home of the National Assembly for Wales is named Ty Hywel (Hywel's House) in honour of Hywel Dda. The original Assembly chamber, now known as Siambr Hywel (Hywel's Chamber), is used for educational courses and for children and young people's debates.


Early life

Hywel was born around 880, the son of Cadell, King of Seisyllwg. He had a brother, Clydog, who was probably the younger of the two. At some point Hywel married Elen, daughter and heir of Llywarch ap Hyfaidd of Dyfed, giving him firm ties to that kingdom.[3]

Hywel's father Cadell had been installed as King of Seisyllwg by his father, Rhodri the Great of Gwynedd, following the accidental drowning of the last king in the traditional line, Gwgon, in 872.[4] Following Gwgon's death, Rhodri, husband to the dead king's sister Angharad, became steward of his kingdom. This gave Rhodri no standing to claim the kingship of Seisyllwg himself, but he was able to install his son Cadell as a subject king.[4] Cadell died in 911, and Seisyllwg appears to have been divided between his two sons Hywel and Clydog according to Welsh custom.[3]

Hywel probably already controlled Dyfed by that time. No king is recorded after the death of Llywarch ap Hyfaidd in 904, and Hywel's marriage to Llywarch's only surviving heir likely ensured that the kingdom came into his hands.[5] Hywel and Clydog seem to have ruled Seisyllwg together following their father's death, and jointly submitted to Edward the Elder of England in 918.[5] However, Clydog died in 920, evidently leaving the whole realm to Hywel. Hywel soon joined Seisyllwg and Dyfed into a single realm known as Deheubarth.[5] This became the first significant event of his reign.[6]

Later reign

In 928 Hywel made a pilgrimage to Rome, becoming the first Welsh prince to undertake such a trip and return.[7] Upon his return he forged very close relations with Athelstan of England. From the outset Athelstan's intention was to secure the submission of all other kings in Britain; unusually, Hywel embraced submission to England and used it to his advantage whenever possible.[8] Later in his reign, he was able to leverage his close association with Athelstan and the English crown to great effect in his ambitions within Wales.[9]

In 942 Hywel's cousin Idwal Foel, King of Gwynedd, determined to cast off English overlordship and took up arms against the new English king, Edmund. Idwal and his brother Elisedd were both killed in battle against Edwin's forces. By normal custom Idwal's crown should have passed to his sons, Iago and Ieuaf, but Hywel intervened. He sent Iago and Ieuaf into exile and established himself as ruler over Gwynedd, which also likely placed him in control of the Kingdom of Powys, which was under the authority of Gwynedd. As such Hywel became king of nearly all of Wales except for Morgannwg and Gwent in the south.[10] This overlordship allowed Hywel to pursue the accomplishment for which he is best known: the codification of Welsh law.[11]


Peace with Wessex

Hywel's reign was a violent one, and he achieved an understanding with Athelstan of England. Athelstan and Hywel ruled part of Wales jointly. Such was the relationship between the neighbouring countries that Hywel was able to mint his own coinage in the English city of Chester. He was the first Welsh ruler to produce coinage for at least a thousand years since the coinage of his Celtic predecessors. His study of legal systems and his pilgrimage to Rome in 928 combined to enable him to formulate advanced ideas about law. A comparative study of law and lawmaking at the time reveals a deep concern for law and its documentation throughout Europe and also the Islamic world, the Cordoba Islamic Law translation schools being a fine example, from Greek to Arabic to Latin. The Hywel 'Law' book was written partly in Latin, about laws of court, law of country and the law of justices.

Opinions vary as to the motives for Hywel's close association with the court of Athelstan. J.E. Lloyd claimed Hywel was an admirer of Wessex,[12] while D.P. Kirby suggests that it may have been the action of a pragmatist who recognized the realities of power in mid-10th century Britain.[13] It is notable that he gave one of his sons an Anglo-Saxon name, Edwin. His policies with regard to England were evidently not to the taste of all his subjects. Athelstan and Hywel had similar interests. They both developed a coinage; they both had a kingdom; both were attributed a Law book. Hywel was aware of the greater power and acceded to it.

A Welsh language poem entitled Armes Prydein, considered by Sir Ifor Williams to have been written in Deheubarth during Hywel's reign, called for the Welsh to join a confederation of all the non-English peoples of Britain and Ireland to fight the Saxons. The poem may be linked to the alliance of Norse and Celtic kingdoms which challenged Athelstan at the Battle of Brunanburh in 937. No Welsh forces joined this alliance, and this may well have been because of the influence of Hywel. On the other hand neither did he send troops to support Athelstan.

Welsh law

The conference held at Whitland circa 945, was an assembly in which Welsh law was codified and set down in writing for posterity. According to tradition, much of the work was done by the celebrated clerk, Blegywryd. Following Hywel's death, his kingdom was soon split into three. Gwynedd was reclaimed by the sons of Idwal Foel, while Deheubarth was divided between Hywel's sons. However, his legacy endured in the form of his laws, which remained in active use throughout Wales until the appointed date of implementation of the Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542 of Henry VIII of England who asserted his royal descent by blood-line from Rhodri Mawr via Hywel Dda.[14] A surviving copy of a Latin text of the Law (ms Peniarth 28) is held at The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and can be seen online.[1] More than 30 manuscripts were recently selected for a discussion of the "Law" of Hywel, by a Welsh professor of Medieval studies, Hywel Emanuel. Only five of them were considered to be of sufficient antiquity, dating back to the 13thC or earlier, to merit serious attention. Three of them were in Latin and two in Welsh.


  1. ^ a b c Hanes Cymru by John Davies, Penguin Books; Page 86
  2. ^ Hanes Cymru by John Davies, Penguin Books; Page 85
  3. ^ a b Koch, p. 945.
  4. ^ a b Lloyd, p. 325.
  5. ^ a b c Lloyd, p. 333.
  6. ^ Lloyd, pp. 333–334.
  7. ^ Lloyd, p. 334.
  8. ^ Lloyd, p. 335–336.
  9. ^ Lloyd, p. 336.
  10. ^ Lloyd, pp. 337–338.
  11. ^ Lloyd, p. 338.
  12. ^ John Edward Lloyd (1911). A history of Wales: from the earliest times to the Edwardian conquest. Longmans, Green & Co. 
  13. ^ D. P. Kirby, Hywel Dda: Anglophile?, Welsh Historical Review, 8 (1976-7)
  14. ^ Hanes Cymru by John Davies, Penguin Books


Hywel Dda
Dinefwr Dynasty
Born: 880? Died: 950
Preceded by
Idwal Foel
King of the Britons
Succeeded by
Domnall mac Eogain
Preceded by
Idwal Foel
Prince of Gwynedd
Succeeded by
Iago ab Idwal
Ieuaf ab Idwal
Preceded by
Llywarch ap Hyfaidd
King of Dyfed
Kingdoms merged
Preceded by
Cadell ap Rhodri
Prince of Seisyllwg
New title
Created out of Dyfed and Seisyllwg
Prince of Deheubarth
Succeeded by
Owain ap Hywel
Rhodri ap Hywel
Edwin ap Hywel
Preceded by
Llywelyn ap Merfyn
King of Powys

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