Brycheiniog was a small independent petty kingdom in South Wales in the Early Middle Ages. It often acted as a buffer state between England to the east and the powerful south Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth to the west. It was conquered and pacified by the Normans between 1088 and 1095, though it remained Welsh in character. It was transformed into the Lordship of Brecon and later formed the southern and larger part of the historic county of Brecknockshire. To its south was the Kingdom of Morgannwg.
The kingdom of Brycheiniog was probably founded by Irish raiders in the late fifth century, very likely the Uí Liatháin, whose power had grown great in Wales until they were reduced by the sons of Cunedda, as reported in the Historia Brittonum. Traditionally, it was founded by (and named after) a Hiberno-Welsh prince named Brychan out of the old Welsh kingdom of Garth Madrun (believed to have been centred on Talgarth) in the mid 5th century, though this event is shrouded in legend. Brychan was a son of Anlach, an Irish settler who had peacefully taken control of the area by marrying Marchel, the heiress of Garth Madrun. Tradition says that Brychan fathered an extremely large number of children, many becoming saints in Wales and Cornwall. Brychan's eldest son, Rhain Dremrudd, founded a dynasty which ruled the kingdom uninterrupted until the mid 7th century.
Union with Dyfed
In the 7th century, the inheritance of a woman, Ceindrych, brought the kingdom into the hands of Cloten of Dyfed and Brycheiniog. The union with Dyfed lasted for about a century, though parts of Brycheiniog may have been granted out as lordships for younger sons. The invasion of Seisyll of the Kingdom of Ceredigion in the mid 8th century separated the kingdoms.
During the year 848 the men of Brycheiniog slew King Iudhail of Gwent. In the 880s, King Elisedd of Brycheiniog was forced by the depredations of Anarawd of Gwynedd and the sons of Rhodri the Great to pledge homage to Alfred the Great and make his kingdom a vassal of Wessex. Such an alliance may well have been due to Viking pressure, for in the spring of 896 Brycheiniog, Gwent and Gwynllwg were devastated by the Norsemen who had wintered at Quatford near Bridgnorth that year. According to Asser, another reason for Elisedd seeking the protection of King Alfred was that his realm was being brought under pressure from an expansionist Gwynedd.
Brycheiniog appears to have been under the influence of both Hywel Dda of Deheubarth and Athelstan of England in the early tenth century. In the early summer of 916 Æthelflaed (bef.871-918), the daughter of King Alfred and widow of Earl Æthelred of Mercia (bef.865-911), invaded Brycheiniog and on 19 June stormed the royal llys in Brecenan Mere Llangorse lake. There she captured the queen of the land and 34 others. Who was king of Brycheiniog at this time is uncertain, but Tewdwr ab Elise was certainly ruling between 927 and 929. It was therefore probably either his wife or mother who was captured. Tewdwr is found witnessing a charter at the English royal court in 934.
After Tewdwr no more kings of Brycheiniog are recorded. Brycheiniog was divided between the three sons of Gruffudd of Brycheiniog in the mid-eleventh century.
The Norman conquest
The land of Brycheiniog was conquered between 1070 and 1093. In 1070 William FitzOsbern, 1st Earl of Hereford invaded the kingdom and defeated three kings of South Wales, but no king of Brycheiniog. King Bleddyn of Brycheiniog, who was alleged to be ruling at the time of the Norman conquest and was said to have been defeated by Bernard de Neufmarché, appears in no historical source before the fifteenth century. By 1088 Bernard de Neufmarché mentioned 'all the tithes of his lordship which he had in Brycheiniog in the woods and plains' as well as Glasbury. This suggests that he already thought himself lord of Brycheiniog. In April 1093 he defeated and killed the king of Deheubarth, Rhys ap Tewdwr while he was building a castle at Brecon. The Welsh Annales clearly state that Rhys was killed 'by the French who were inhabiting Brycheiniog'. In other words the Normans were already living there and the kingdom had already been destroyed. The kingdom was subsumed within the lordship of Brecon, ruled by Bernard's descendants.
By 1136 an opportunity arose for the Welsh to recover lands lost to the Marcher lords after Stephen de Blois had displaced his cousin Empress Matilda from succeeding her father to the English throne the previous year, sparking the Anarchy in England. The usurpation and conflict it caused eroded central authority in England. The revolt began in south Wales, as Hywel ap Maredudd, lord of Brycheiniog (Brecknockshire), gathered his men and marched to Gower, defeating the Norman and English colonists there in the Battle of Llwchwr. Inspired by Hywel of Brycheiniog's success, Gruffydd ap Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth, hastened to meet with Gruffydd I of Gwynedd, his father-in-law, to enlist his aid in the revolt. However, with Gruffydd ap Rhys' absence the Normans increased their incursions into Deheubarth. Gruffydd ap Rhys' wife Gwenllian, Princess of Deheubarth, gathered a host for the defense of her country.
- Nelson, Lynn H. (1966). "The Normans in South Wales". Carrie: A Full-Text Electronic Library. Retrieved 2007-08-21.
- Lloyd, J.E. A History of Wales; From the Norman Invasion to the Edwardian Conquest, Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc. 2004, Great Revolt, beginnings Gwenllian pg 80, taking Ceredigion, restores Welsh monks, Battle of Crug Mawr, 82-85
- Davies, John, A History of Wales, the Anarchy, Norman vulnerability in Wales, extends borders, Oswestry annexed, capture of Rhuddlan, Ystrad Alun, Ial, Tegeingl, 124
- Warner, Philip "Famous Welsh Battles, Gwenllian pg 69, 79
- Remfry, P.M., Castell Bwlch y Dinas and the Families of Fitz Osbern, Neufmarché, Gloucester, Hereford, Braose, Fitz Herbert (ISBN 1-899376-79-8)
- Remfry, P.M., Annales Cambriae. A Translation of Harleian 3859; PRO E.164/1; Cottonian Domitian, A 1; Exeter Cathedral Library MS. 3514 and MS Exchequer DB Neath, PRO E (ISBN 1-899376-81-X)