Maelgwyn Gwynedd (505? – 547) was the great-grandson of Cunedda, a Celtic Gododdin warrior. Cunedda came from an area in the north of the islands called Manaw Gododdin, near the Firth of Forth in what is now called Scotland. He had travelled down with his eight sons on the request of the indigenous Celts of North Wales to expel the invaders who had come across the seas from Ireland and ravaged Wales. One of the grandsons of Cunedda – Cadwallon Longhand (475? – 534?) – was the father of Maelgwyn. Maelgwyn built his main citadel on the Vardre (picture below), a twin hillock outcrop at Deganwy near Llandudno, overlooking the Conwy river estuary.
THE DARK AGES AND MAELGWYN’s ACCESSION
After the last of the Romans had left the shores of Britain at the start of the 5th century Britain was plunged into period known as the Dark Ages. From this time virtually no written historical information occurs. The first real history to emerge came from the writings of a monk scribe called Gildas (518 – 570) who, in 545 wrote a Latin text called “The Ruin of Britain”. In this he wrote about the departure of the Romans from Britain and then went on to describe some of the current rulers of the island. Most of the writings are about Maelgwyn Gwynedd, who he must have known personally. He said of Maelgwyn – “The King of all kings has made you higher than almost all the generals of Britain”. However much of what he wrote was not very complementary. He complained that Maelgwyn was a tyrant king and a drunken womaniser. Maelgwyn obviously had a spell of remorse because at one time took monastic vows and retired to the sanctity of a monastery – thought to be on Ynys Seiriol (better known as Puffin Island), where legend also has it he was buried.
The Welsh had been previously been converted to Christianity by the Romans. It was many centuries later that the “heathen English invaders” to the islands were similarly converted to the faith. It appears that Maelgwyn’s religious tendencies didn’t last long because it is known that he fought and won a great battle at Morfa Rhianedd, the current site of the town of Llandudno, below the Great Orme. From archaeological data we know that Maelgwyn must have lived quite well in his court at Deganwy. Parts of imported wine jars have been found on the Vardre dating from his time indicating that he was importing wines from the Mediterranean Sea. The chronological recordings – The Welsh Annals – report his death in 547 of the yellow plague inside the church at nearby Llanrhos.
Their lord they shall praise,
Their language they shall keep,
Their land they shall lose
– Except wild Wales.