Iago ap Beli

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Iago ap Beli (c. 540[citation needed] – c. 616) was King of Gwynedd (reigned c. 599 – c. 616). Little is known of him or his kingdom from this early era, with only a few anecdotal mentions of him in historical documents.

Iago ap Beli (Latin: Iacobus Belii filius; English: James son of Beli) was the son and successor of King Beli ap Rhun, and is listed in the royal genealogies of the Harleian genealogies and in Jesus College MS. 20.[1][2] The only other record of him is the note of his death, which occurred in the same year as the Battle of Chester (Welsh: Gwaith Caer Lleon), with no connection between Iago's death and the famous battle,[3] and with no evidence that Gwynedd had any part in the battle.[4] He would be succeeded as king by his son, Cadfan ap Iago.

The 1766 publication of Henry Rowlands's Mona Antiqua Restaurata says that the archives of the cathedral at Bangor mention Iago as having founded a deanery there ('Iago ap Beli Rex Decanatu Ecclesiam ditavit').[5] However, the correctness of the archive's assertion is challenged in Haddan and Stubbs' authoritative Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, where it is noted that "the earliest historical testimony to a Dean at Bangor is 1162".[6]

In the medieval Welsh Triads, the death of King Iago ap Beli is described as the result of an axe-blow by one of his own men, a certain Cadafael Wyllt (English: Cadafael the Wild).[7] In his Celtic Britain, John Rhys notes that the Annals of Tigernach mention Iago's death and use the word dormitat (or dormitato, meaning sleep in the sense of a euphemism for death), contradicting the notion of a violent death. Further, as the word dormitato was generally used in reference to clerics, it is possible that Iago resigned his kingship and thereafter led a clerical life.[8]

Geoffrey of Monmouth[edit]

The largely fictional stories of ancient Britain written by Geoffrey of Monmouth use the names of many historical personages as characters, and the use of these names is a literary convenience made in order to advance the plot of Geoffrey's stories. One of these stories uses the names of Iago's son Cadfan and other contemporary people, telling of how a certain Edwin spent his exiled youth in Gwynedd, growing up alongside Iago's grandson, the future King Cadwallon. There is no historical basis for this story, as is readily acknowledged in the preface of works on the subject.[9]

Nevertheless, a "traditional" story arose blending Geoffrey's fiction with known history, implying that the future King Edwin of Northumbria had actually spent his youth in Gwynedd, growing up alongside Iago's grandson, the future King Cadwallon. In point of fact, Cadwallon and Edwin were enemies with no known youthful connections: King Edwin invaded Gwynedd and drove King Cadwallon into exile, and it would be Cadwallon, in alliance with Penda of Mercia, who would ultimately defeat and kill Edwin in 633 at the Battle of Hatfield Chase (Welsh: Gwaith Meigen). The story that they had spent an idyllic youth together may have had a romantic appeal.

What is known from history is that in 588 King Ælla of Deira died, and Æthelfrith of Bernicia took the opportunity to invade and conquer Deira, driving Ælla 's 3-year old infant son, the future Edwin of Northumbria, into exile. Edwin would eventually ally himself with Rædwald of East Anglia in 616, defeating and killing Æthelfrith and becoming one of Northumbria's most successful kings. Edwin's life in exile is unknown, and there is no historical basis for placing him in Gwynedd.[10]


  1. ^ Phillimore 1888:169–170 — the pedigree is given as: ... map Rotri map mermin map etthil merch cinnan map rotri map Intguaul map Catgualart map Catgollaun map Catman map Iacob map Beli map Run ..., and from there back to Cunedda and his ancestors.
  2. ^ Phillimore 1887:87 — the pedigree is given as ... Cynan tintaeth6y. M. Rodri mol6yna6c. M. Idwal I6rch. M. Kadwaladyr vendigeit. M. Katwalla6n. M. Kad6ga6n. M. Iago. M. Beli. M. Run hir. M. Maelg6n g6yned ..., and from there back to Cunedda.
  3. ^ Phillimore 1888:156, Annales Cambriae, "Gueith cair legion. et ibi cecidit selim filii cinan. et iacob filii beli dormitatio". The year given is 613, but 616 is now considered to be correct.
  4. ^ Lloyd 1911:181, A History of Wales, Vol. I
  5. ^ Rowlands, Henry (1723), Mona Antiqua Restaurata (Second ed.), London: J. Knox (published 1766), pp. 163–164
  6. ^ Haddan, Arthur West; Stubbs, William, eds. (1868), "Church of Wales During the Saxon Period", Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, vol. I, Oxford (published 1869), p. 295
  7. ^ Stephens 1851:269, article on The Poems of Taliesin
  8. ^ Rhys 1904:126, The Kymry, in footnote 2.
  9. ^ Menzies, Louisa L. J. (1864), "The Legend of Cadwallon", Legendary Tales of the Ancient Britons, Rehearsed from the early Chronicles of Geoffrey of Monmouth, London: John Russell Smith, pp. 167–190
  10. ^ Hunt, William (1899), Stephens, W. R. W.; Hunt, William (eds.), The English Church: From Its Foundation to the Norman Conquest (597 – 1066), vol. I, London: Macmillan and Co. (published 1901), p. 52


See also[edit]

Regnal titles
Preceded by King of Gwynedd
c. 599 – c. 616
Succeeded by