Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Merfyn Frych

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MERFYN Frych, i.e. Freckled (d. 844), Welsh prince, succeeded to the lordship of Anglesey (with, possibly, other adjacent districts), on the failure of the male line of Maelgwn Gwynedd with the death of Hywel, in 825. He was the son of Gwriad ab Elidyr, a descendant of Llywarch Hên [q. v.] According to the twelfth-century poem entitled ‘Cyfoesi Myrddin a Gwenddydd ei Chwaer,’ he came ‘from the land of Manaw’ (Myvyrian Archaiology, 2nd edit. p. 110), which Skene conjectures to be Manaw Gododin, on the banks of the Forth (Four Ancient Books of Wales, i. 94). According to the modern authorities (Gwentian Brut; Powel; Warrington; Cambrian Biography; Carnhuanawc) he became prince in right of his wife, Esyllt, daughter of Cynan Tindaethwy. But older and better accounts speak of him as the son of Cynan's daughter, who is termed Ethil or Ethellt (Harl. MS. 3859, as given in Cymmrodor, ix. 169; Jesus Coll. MS. 20, as given in Cymmrodor, viii. 87). This is more consistent with the Welsh law of inheritance, which in certain cases recognised a claim through a mother, but never one derived from a wife (see the sections treating of ‘mamwys’ (maternity) in the Record edition of the ‘Welsh Laws’). The same authorities which speak of Esyllt as Merfyn's wife call him the son of Nest, daughter of Cadell, the last but one of the princes of Powys of the older line. Jesus Coll. MS. 20 is probably right in making Nest Merfyn's wife and the mother of Rhodri the Great. Many modern writers style Merfyn king of Man, but this is merely an ill-grounded inference from the passage in the ‘Cyfoesi’ quoted above, which speaks, it should be noted, not of ‘ynys,’ but of ‘tir Manaw.’

Of Merfyn's reign nothing is known. The traditional name ‘Camwri’ (‘Injustice’) given him in one manuscript of the Welsh Laws (Ancient Laws of Wales, edit. 1841, i. 342) shows that his rule was not accepted without demur; nevertheless, he founded a family which supplied both North and South Wales with princes until the conquest of Edward I.

[Annales Cambriæ, Rolls ed.; pedigrees in Harl. MS. 3859 and Jesus Coll. MS. 20.]

J. E. L.