History of the Gwydir family

Reference: NLW MS 23289B

This volume contains the earliest dated copy of 'History of the Gwydir family' by Sir John Wynn. The copy, dated 1669, is in the hand of a clerk named Thomas Rowlands. The original manuscript is in Cardiff City Library. As well as the 'History' there are family trees and memoranda from the early eighteenth century.

Background of the 'History'

John Wynn inherited the Gwydir estate in 1580 and following this he played a prominent part in the politics of north Wales as a member of parliament and as a sheriff. He was also an entrepreneur: he attempted to start a cloth industry in the Conwy valley and he also had interests in the Parys Mountain copper mine. He had a strong feeling of Welshness and an avid interest in Welsh history and literature, being also a generous patron of bards. This feeling is reflected in the 'History'.

The 'History's' main objective is to tell the story of Sir John's ancestors and show their noble lineage. The Welsh gentry of the early modern period were famous for the importance they attached to lineage. The 'History' was composed when the hierarchical values of the Middle Ages were still one of the cornerstones of society and noble ancestry reinforced a landowner's status and power. So important was ancestry to society during that period that Sir John was forced to defend himself in court after Thomas Prys of Plas Iolyn brought a case against him for claiming that he was a direct descendant of Owain Gwynedd.

The contents of the 'History'

The 'History' is the result of research by Sir John using a combination of history books and official sources. Also, he relied on his close links with bards, antiquarians and scholars. Sir John starts by recounting the history of his ancestors from the middle of the twelfth century starting with the family of Owain Gwynedd. He claims that his family is descended from Owain's second son, Rhodri. The 'History's' main theme from then on centres around the trials and tribulations of the family of one of Rhodri's descendants, Hywel ap Dafydd, during the tempestuous years of the late Middle Ages. He looks at how the family flourished during this period despite social and economic problems and went on to establish itself at Gwydir.

Because of the scarcity of documents on Welsh history from the beginning of the early modern period it is a very important source. Despite this, it is not completely reliable. Sometimes, when there was a gap in the history, Sir John used his imagination to fill it. Also, it contains a number of stories and traditions that are not supported by any historical evidence.

Further reading

  • Sir John Wynn. History of the Gwydir family and memoirs. Edited by J. Gwynfor Jones. Llandysul : Gwasg Gomer, 1990.
  • J. Gwynfor Jones. Syr John Wynn. Caernarfon : Gwasg Pantycelyn, 1991.
  • J. Gwynfor Jones. The Wynn family of Gwydir. Aberystwyth : Centre for Educational Studies, 1995.

Christmas 2014 and
New Year 2015

The Library will close on Tuesday 23 December, at 6pm, and re-open on Friday 2 January, at 9.30am.

A merry Christmas to everyone

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