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King of Morgannwg (1081-1091?)
Born c 1040 died c 1091

Iestyn ap Gwrgan was the very last Welsh king of Morgannwg who assumed power in Morgannwg following the death of his predecessor Caradog ap Gruffudd at the battle of Mynydd Carn in 1081.

Now Caradog ap Gruffudd was himself an usurper, who from 1063 had imposed himself, first on the eastern cantref of Gwynllwg and then on the remainder of Morgannwg and driven out the reigning king Cadwgan ap Meurig in 1074. Cadwgan was himself descended from Morgan Hen, 'Morgan the Old' and Iestyn appears to have been, or at least claimed to have been a great-great grandson of Morgan Hen.1 As with all such claims, it is wise to be sceptical; Iestyn may well have presented himself as being of the line of Morgan Hen, but it is equally likely that he was simply an adventurer taking advantage of events.

At the time that Iestyn came to power, the eastern extremities of the old kingdom of Morgannwg, namely Gwent, had already fallen to the Normans2 and sometime in the period 1088 to 1093 the kingdom of Morgannwg also came under assault from Robert Fitz Hamon the earl of Gloucester. The precise details of the Norman conquest of Morgannwg, have not been recorded and how much or how little resistance Iestyn was able to organise is not known but he is presumed to have been killed sometime between the years 1088 and 1093 probably at the hands of Robert Fitz Hamon.

There is however, a tradition that he fled north and died at the monastery of Llangenyw, in north-east Wales. And another tale has him becoming a monk at Keynsham Abbey, presumably under lock and key, as the Abbey was very much in the territory of Robert Fitz Hamon himself.

The most romantic tale has Iestyn, defeated and killed in battle by Robert Fitz Hamon before being buried upright, sitting on his horse in a burial mound known as the Twmpath at Rhiwbina.3 There a wizard cast a spell that would unleash death and destruction on any who would dare desecrate his tomb. Unfortunately the burial mound at Rhiwbina is nothing of the sort, just the remains of the castle mound of an early Norman motte and bailey fortification.

The final resting place of Iestyn remains unknown as does a great deal about him. The one thing that is certain is that he was the last native Welsh ruler of the south-east; after he'd gone the Normans swarmed all over Morgannwg building their castles and establishing their borough towns and parcelling out the best land amongst themselves.


NOTES

1 It is claimed that he was the son of Gwrgan, son of Ithel, son of Idwallon son of Morgan Hen ab Owain.

2 In the form of William Fitz Osbern who established a number of castles such as Chepstow and Monmouth in the years between 1067 and 1071.

3 Rhiwbina was a village in Iestyn's time but is now simply a suburb of the city of Cardiff.


SOURCES

Ann Williams, Alfred P. Smyth and D. P. Kirby A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain (Seaby, 1991)
John Davies A History of Wales (Allen Lane, 1993)
Kari Mundi The Welsh Kings (Tempus, 2000)