Legend, Romance and Fantasy

 

Urien was an historical character, the bard Taliesin mentions him in some of his poems.  However, so many stories and fantasy have been told about him  it is difficult to determine fact from fiction.

 

The legends of Urien in Gower are long standing and if not factual history still form part of the heritage of Gower .

Urien was a 6th century king of Rheged, a kingdom in northern England and southern Scotland - the Hen Ogledd or Old North. His bard Taliesin recorded his exploits in the Book of Taliesin.

 

Urien, was said to be the great great grandson of Hen Coel   or “Old Cole “later to be known as Old King Cole

Urien is sometimes called Urien O Gŵyr, which has been translated as Urien of Gower, (Gŵyr being the Welsh for Gower) which could explain the link to Gower. Others suggest that  “Gŵyr” could be translated as “men of the North,”  while others suggest that “ Gŵyr” was “Gore” of Arthurian legend and his son Owein mab Urien was Ywain of the legend.

Yet again, some people say that the story of  “King Arthur”  the High King of Britain was  based on the blurring of the history of a number of High Kings of the post Roman Britain, one of which may have been Urien.     

                               

  Arms attributed to Urien in the Middle Ages featured the raven. The shield of Rhys ap Gruffydd of Dinefwr Castle Llandeilo (Fawr) also features three ravens. Rhys claimed that the House of Dinefwr descended from Urien.

 

Urien may have been High King, he certainly fought with other northern kings and together they defeated the invading Angles on Lindisfarne but, according to the Historia Brittonum, Urien was assassinated by Morgan, one of the other British kings who was jealous of him.

 

 Urien’s son Owein mab Urien became king but other members of the family are supposed to have escaped to Gower.  Urien’s sister Ennini or Enhinti married Tewdrig King of Gwent and mother of Meurig. – (See Ennini).

 

There is a legendary connection between Urien and Gower, some authorities even claim that Rheged was the old name for Gower, but this is unsubstantiated.

 

The literary Urien has many strong connections with Gwlad Nini and other parts of Gower. His associations with King Arthur are interesting as several other local legends relate Arthur’s connections with Gower and Gwlad Nini, even stating that the High King regularly held court in his summer camp at Loughor.

 

The old deeds of the 3 local farms bearing the name Gelli-wern  ganol,  Gelli-wern fawr, and Gelli-wern isaf),  they are all near Felindre,  consistently have the name as Gelli-wren or Gelli-wran as well as Gelli Woren,  recorded.  Andrew Dulley, Assistant County Archivist in Swansea  believes that the name ‘seems to  have been “tidied up” into its present form of Gelli-wern at the time of the first Ordnance Survey map in the 1870s and could have its roots in Urien.   Wren doesn’t mean anything in Welsh, but Wern in this context would mean alder, so Alder Grove farm. ‘

 

The  Dictionary of American Family Names (40) suggests that Wren is an anglicized form of Welsh Uren and that Uren  is Welsh and Cornish from a Brythonic personal name Orbogenos (probably ‘of privileged birth’), recorded as Urbgen and Urgen in Old Welsh and later as Urien.  However, other local experts think that the link is very unlikely.

 

The connection of Urien with Gower is well documented, (it is the authenticity of the documentation that causes concern).

 

Taliesin Williams in his work on the Iolo (Morganwg) manuscripts quotes (13)  page 40

“Talhaiarn, the father of Tangwyn, presided in the chair of Urien Rheged, at Caer- Gŵyr oswydd ...... The said Chair was established at Caer- Gŵyr oswydd, or Ystum Llwynarth, where Urien Rheged was accustomed to hold his national and royal court.”     (Both Caer- Gŵyr oswydd and Ystum Llwynarth are Welsh names for Oystermouth near Mumbles, Swansea).

 

In the same publication  MEMORANDA. 559 page 47

 

There is a list of Urien Rheged’s  8 sons. “The children of Urien Rheged; 1, Owen, knight of the Round  Table, and earl of the Fountain ; 2, Pasgen, chief stock of the
Ravens; 3, Rhun; 4, Elphin; 5, Cyndeyrn; 6, Rhiwallon; 7, Cadell; 8, Garth, the son of Urien.”.

 

 

From the  Archaeologia cambrensis (39)

 

“GAEL IN GWYNEDD. 17

 

" Three Irish invasions took place in Cambria ; and one family,

that of CuneddafWledi-i-, delivered the country from the three.

The first occurred in Govver, in Glamorgan, where Caian Wyddel and his sons landed, subjugated the country, and ruled it for eight years ; but Cuneddaf Wledig, and Urien the son of Cyn-farch, subdued and slew them to nine, whom they drove into the sea ; and the government of the country was conferred on Urien the son of Cynfarch, having been constituted a kingdom for that purpose, and called Rheged, because it was bestowed unani- mously by its ancient British inhabitants on Urien, in free gift, whence he was called Urien Rheged.”

 

Presumably the latter reference is to “anrheg” meaning present or gift in Welsh.

 

Dwn’s Heraldic Visitations of Wales quotes: (41)

“Urien was king of a district called Rheged, a part of Cumbria, inhabited by the Northern Britons. Ho lived in the latter part of the fifth century. He was forced to relinquish his territory, and take refuge in South Wales, where he assisted the sons of Caredig ab Cunedda and his nephews in expelling the Irish. For his services a district was assigned him, comprehending the country between the Tawy and the Towy, now divided into Gŵyr, Cydweli, Carnwyllon, Cantrev byehan, and Iscennen. On this he conferred the designation of Rheged. He was assassinated by Llovan,  who was thence regarded as one of the three ferocious men of Britain.

 

The Book of Taliesin  comprises a number of  poems, praising  rulers of the time. These include Urien, Owain ab Urien; Gwallog, a ruler of a Celtic kingdom called Elmet; and Cynan Garwyn - a king of Powys.   It is this manuscript which preserves the texts of famous poems such as 'Armes Prydein Fawr', 'Preiddeu Annwfn' (which refers to Arthur and his warriors sailing across the sea to win a spear and a cauldron), and elegies to Cunedda and Dylan eil Ton. (3)

 

An unattributed source, but probably from  Dwn’s Heraldic Visitations of Wales, (41)  gives the following genealogy for Urien (19)

Cynfarch Oer  ( Cynfarch the Cold) was probably a 6th century king of Rheged, in and around Cumbria.  He appears in the Old Welsh pedigrees of the Brythonic 'Men of the North' as the son of the equally obscure Meirchion Gul (Marcianus the Lean) and the father of Urien Rheged.

Cynfarch’s other children were:

Enynny C 476 who married Caradog Freichfras the King of Gwent. (and/or Glywysing?)

Erfiddyl ( daughter) c 478 who married Eiffer Gosgorddfawr (of the Great Army) the King of Ebrauc.

Anarawn C 482 Bishop of Llydaw ( Brittany)

Llew c484

Arawn c486 King of North Salway.

 

The literary Urien has many strong connections with Gwlad Nini and other parts of Gower. His associations with King Arthur are interesting as several other local legends relate Arthur’s connections with Gower and Gwlad Nini, even stating that the High King regularly held court in his summer camp at Loughor.

 

King Meurig ap Tewdrig of Gwent extended his influence over Gwent and Morgannwg. It may be possible that his realm of influence extended as far west as the River Llwchwr ( Loughor) in which case he may have established himself in the strategically placed old Roman practice fort on the hill at Llys Nini and called the fort Llys Ennini after his mother however there is absolutely no evidence for his, merely an hypothesis about the origin of  Llys Nini.

Urien of Rheged