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1. Cadwallon ap Madog, Founder
The area between the rivers Wye and Severn was the ancient kingdom called Cynllibiwg that is the land of St Cynllo, the Patron Saint of Llanbister and Nantmel. This is roughly the area that Cadwallon eventually controlled.
In Henry I's reign this area had been under the aegis of the English king; under his nephew King Stephen there was a civil war with Henry's daughter, Matilda, from 1135 to 1154 and this meant that the royal power in Cynllibiwg weakened.
Madog, Cadwallon's father, took advantage of this lack of control and extended his holdings south from Ceri. He died in 1140 and his sons took over; Einion Clud took Elfael in the south of what is now Radnorshire and Cadwallon the larger area of Maelienydd. There may have been some tentative plans to establish a monastic house during Madog's reign because there are mentions of the Abbey foundation in 1143*. But possibly Cadwallon did not feel stable enough to encourage this.
Henry II came to the English throne in 1154. Like his grandfather he was a strong ruler. After pacifying England he led an expedition into North Wales in 1157: he was assisted by several rulers from Powys. In 1163 he led an attack along the South Wales coastlands. On the way back he made his way through Cwmdeuddwr and then through southern Gwrtheyrnion and apparently had a safe conduct through Maelienydd and Elfael.
Cadwallon since his accession had been enlarging his influence over Elfael (by arresting his brother and handing him over to Owain Gwynedd) and also over Gwrtheyrnion and was approaching the Wye along the bank opposite Builth. Henry II obviously was not worried by these incursions; perhaps he felt that Mid Wales could be left to a friendly Welsh ruler (as he had organised with Rhys ap Gruffydd in the South West and Owain Gwynedd). Indeed Cadwallon, Rhys and Owain were the only rulers to be known as regulus, rex, king. Cadwallon was invited to Conferences in Gloucester (1175) and Oxford (1179). He was obviously a well regarded client ruler. His neighbours to the east in the Marches must have been warned off attacking and trying to infiltrate; not so his northern and western compatriots.
To safeguard his borders Cadwallon was building castles and in 1176 the Abbey of Cwmhir was granted lands, partly to provide it with income and more importantly to protect the boundary of his kingdom. To attack Church land was to come under ecclesiastical law which was different from the law of the land and much to be feared. We don't have copies of the original charters but these grants were confirmed by King John for Cadwallon’s grandsons and later in 1132 by Henry III.
In 1177 Einion Clud, who had been released and given a pension by the King (possibly to keep Cadwallon occupied) was murdered on his way back from Rhys ap Gruffydd's Christmas Eisteddfod in Cardigan Cadwallon was the main benefactor of his brother’s demise he seized his lands and was referred to as King of Elfael.
In 1179 Cadwallon was called to the King's Court to answer for some charge; could this have been made by Einion's sons? There was no fine or other punishment perhaps because of Cadwallon's friendly relations with the King but on the way home he was attacked and killed, by Einion's sons with Roger Mortimer's forces? The King reacted promptly Roger Mortimer was imprisoned and others were heavily fined.
In the elegy written by the well known bard, Cynddelw, while praising Cadwallon's bravery and success in battles he does nor mention the foundation of the Abbey or the fact that he
supported Gerald Cambrensis in keeping Mid Wales in the See of St David's which may have been politically motivated but greatly increased the power of the Church and would have also increased his own importance.
Cadwallon was an important ruler for 39 years and brought peace and stability to the Welsh kingdom of Cynllibiwg but this did not continue for long under his and Einion's
sons who soon succumbed to the overlordship of Norman Marcher Lord, Roger Mortimer.
The fact that Cadwallon’s name is not mentioned in any charter or subsequent deeds of the Abbey remains something of a mystery. One reason may be that when, a few years later (1200) Roger Mortimer made his bequest to the Abbey (the charter was discovered in 1956 by someone looking for vellum to make a lamp shade!) he excluded all reference to previous Welsh grants for political reasons. Another reason may be that his descendant, Maredudd ap Maelgwyn ap Cadwallon ap Madog who had regained control of the area did exactly the same thing. Only his name occurs as the giver in the Confirmation of King John of 1215.
Without any doubt the most likely reason we can't find a charter is that it had been lost or accidentally destroyed - consider the circumstances in which the other charter was discovered in 1956.
Earliest Record of Cadwallon being the founder of the abbey. (146 years after)
Calendar of Ancient Petitions (40) N0.1972 c. 1322-1323 (Ed. William Rees UW 1975)
“THE ABBOT AND CONVENT OF COMHIRE (CWMHIR) TO THE KING & COUNCIL:
They have had by the gift and foundation of Cadwallan ap Madauk (Madoc) and other lords formerly of Mallenyth (Maelienydd), their lands, woods, wastes and pastures in Mellenyth, with all commodities and franchises, in pure and perpetual alms and freely, without disturbance; which gifts and foundations were confirmed by former Kings of England and by the King himself, but Roger de Mortimer.....”
Geraldus Cambrensis, who was helped by Cadwallon ap Madog several times and you might think would be in his debt, claims in his Speculum Ecclesiae, that his own half brother Robert fitz Stephan founded Cwmhir. He was active and had possessions in Ireland but there is no information to indicate that he had possessions in Maelienydd at any time. He died in about 1182.
*Jongelinus,(Dutch Cistercian Abbot) 'Notitia Abbatiarum Ordinis Cisterciensis
(published 1540 -397 years later but closest known.
- Remry, Paul Cadwallon ap Madog Rex Delvain, 1140-1179 and the Re-Establishment of local automony in Cynllibiwg. (Rhwng Gwy a Hafren) (Radnorshire Transactions 1995 p 11).
- Remfry, Paul Political History of Abbeycwmhir (Castle Books 2004) .