The first major Welsh leader to step forward after the death of Rhodri the Great was his grandson. Cadell's son Hywel (Hywel ap Cadell ap Rhodri to give him his full name) was king of Seisyllwg following his father's death in 900. In 904 he gained Dyfed through marriage - or alternately, by ordering the death of his brother-in-law Llywarch of Dyfed - and in 930 he added Brycheiniog to his new kingdom, called Deheubarth.

In 942 Hywel extended Deheubarth to the north to include Powys and Gwynedd. By the time of his death in 950 Hywel controlled all of modern Wales but for Glamorgan and Gwent in the south-east.

Why was Hywel called "The Good" by later generations? Certainly, it was not for his meekness, as the story of his acquisition of Dyfed suggests. Like all successful rulers of that period, Hywel could be ruthless when it was called for. His claim to "goodness" rests on the tradition that it was Hywel who first brought together and codified the Laws of Wales.

One version of the story tells that Hywel went on a pilgrimage to Rome in about 928, and there he had his laws blessed by the Pope. Another story tells that Hywel summoned scholars and leaders from all across Wales to a meeting at Whitland, on the border between Seisyllwg and Dyfed. There they drew together the customs and traditional standards of conduct from across Wales and combined them in a systemised code of law.


The Law of Wales held important differences from modern codes of law. It was not concerned with punishment or enforcement so much as establishing a process of reconciliation, especially between clans or kinship groups. It upheld concepts quite alien to laws across the border in England, such as a certain amount of respect for the rights of women - though they could not own land - and children, and the importance of mercy.

Other important differences should be noted. The Law recognised fully nine different forms of legal union between a man and woman, and only one of these was a church sanctioned marriage. Unlike the Canon Law of the Church, the Law of Wales allowed for the dissolution of a marriage, and the acknowledgement of "illegitimate" children with full legal rights. A bastard son required only his father's acknowledgement to inherit property.

The Law also allowed for marriage between cousins, which was apparently not uncommon. These differences would eventually bring the Law under severe attack by Church authorities, who condemned it as heretical and satanic in nature. Although the Laws of Wales were aimed at consolidating folk custom, they also laid down in no uncertain terms the rights of the King and his warriors, the teulu, including the right to a portion of levied fines and any surplus harvest.

Hywel enjoyed more relaxed relations with the English than his predecessors, because he chose to take the course of least resistance and acknowledge the English king as his overlord.

Though the cost of tribute money must have irked Hywel, it was a wise acknowledgement of the English power. On at least seven occasions Hywel journeyed to the court of Athelstan, son of Alfred the Great, to witness royal charters. He was also present at the coronation of Athelstan's successor, Eadred, in 946.

Despite this acceptance of English power, the Welsh antagonism towards their neighbours was never far from the surface. Hywel died in 950, and though his kingdom of Deheubarth passed to his son Owain, it was without Powys and Gwynedd. In general, though, the trend in Wales was for a consolidation of the smaller kingdoms into several powerful, large kingdoms. Thus, after Hywel's death, Wales had only three large kingdoms (Deheubarth, Powys & Gwynedd, and Glamorgan).


Unlike traditional medieval concepts of kingship, the Welsh evolved their own system of inheritance and kingship. The king in Wales was above all a war leader. Inheritance was not necessarily a father to son event; rather, any strong leader related to a previous king up to four generations could claim the throne.

Often a king appointed his successor, but it was still up to that successor to establish his right to that inheritance by force of arms. The most valid measure of a man's "right" to be king was his ruthlessness, determination, and ability on the field of battle.

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