Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dwnn, Lewys

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DWNN, LEWYS, or more properly Lewys ap Rhys ap Owain (d. 1616?), deputy-herald for Wales, derived his accepted surname from the family of his mother, Catharine, daughter of Captain Rhys Goch Dwnn of Cefn y Gwestad, and remotely descended from the Dwnns of Kidwelly, though since the fifteenth century his branch of the family had been settled in Powysland. Lewys's father, Rhys, the son of Owain, the son of Morus, the son of Howel, was also a Montgomeryshire man, and his elaborate pedigree, reaching back many generations, has been preserved for us. Lewys was the sole child of his parents. He always ‘had a predilection for heraldic science’ and pedigrees, and became a disciple first of Hywel ap Sir Matthew, and subsequently of William Llyn and of Owen Gwynedd. Among his fellow-students was Rhys Cain of Oswestry. He was thus able to copy the pedigree books of all these authorities, and in the middle of Elizabeth's reign became famous himself as a genealogist. He was also a well-known bard, and is said to have been the poetical teacher of Bishop Richard Davies and others. If so, the pupil must have been very much older than the master. In February 1585–6 Dwnn was, ‘at the request of sundry gentlemen,’ appointed by Robert Cooke, Clarenceux king-at-arms, and Richard Glover, as marshal to William Flower, Norroy king-at-arms, as their deputies, to make heralds' visitations in Wales. A plan for a similar visitation in Edward VI's reign had never been carried out, but Dwnn's experience and previous labours now gave an excellent opportunity for the collection of genealogical information in a district hitherto neglected by accredited heralds. In the patent Dwnn is commended for his ‘former travels throughout the most part of the said country for attaining the knowledge of pedigrees,’ as well as for ‘his painful diligence and his skill in the knowledge of the Welsh tongue.’ Dwnn at once commenced his work, and though his patrons soon died, and he received no further formal patents, he continued his labours until 1614, though the amateur character of part at least of his visitation perhaps prevented the manuscripts ever reaching the College of Arms. He met with many difficulties. He apologises to the reader for the badness of his handwriting, owing partly to his poverty not allowing him to employ a copyist, and partly to the hurry of some gentry to leave home and the inhospitable disposition of others, ‘who would neither afford me meat nor lodgings merely for working, but required money.’ But he persevered despite all obstacles, and almost completed his work. It was put together in no sort of order, but it was famous for its superior accuracy over other visitations, since Dwnn kept fairly within his instructions to ‘omit all high lines deduced from far above all memory.’ For this reason it was selected for publication by the Welsh MSS. Society in preference to two other earlier collections of pedigrees by other heralds. They were collected accordingly from various scattered manuscripts and published in two magnificent quartos under the editorship of Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick at Llandovery in 1846. The editor added an introduction and copious notes. On Dwnn's researches most Welsh family history depends. Dwnn is commended for his care in preserving the British tongue and the most famous works of the poets. Several specimens of his poetical powers are interspersed among the visitation. Few particulars of Dwnn's personal life have come down to us. He lived at Bettws ‘in Cydewain on Berriew,’ in Montgomeryshire. He married Alice, daughter and coheiress of Maredudd Vaine, and had six children, named James, Edward, Thomas, Charles, Mary, and Elizabeth. The date of his death cannot be ascertained, but his pedigrees go down to 1614. ‘A large number of poems in Dwnn's autograph, and mostly of his own composition, are preserved at Peniarth. They are nearly all dated, and as the last date is 1616, Dwnn must have been alive then, but probably not much longer’ (Montgom. Coll. iii. 123–30, Powysland Club).

[All that is known of Dwnn's life is collected by Sir S. R. Meyrick in his Introduction prefixed to vol. i. of Dwnn's Heraldic Visitations of Wales.]

T. F. T.