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The Middle Wye Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Middle Wye Valley

The Administrative Landscape

The historic landscape area is thought to have fallen within the territory of the Silures, a pre-Roman tribe which occupied south-east Wales. Tribal organisation at this period is probably reflected locally in a number of hillforts throughout the area including those at Pen-rhiw-wen and Hillis on the western side of the area and Pendre and Castell Dinas to the south. The area was conquered by the Roman armies in the later 1st century, the period of the Roman conquest being represented by one or possibly two temporary forts on the north bank of the Wye to the south of Clyro. The area probably was subdued and had become integrated into the Roman empire by about AD 70, and remained under Roman control until the early 5th century.

By the earlier medieval period the area to the north of the Wye fell within the early Welsh kingdoms which became known as Elfael and Rhwng Gwy a Hafren ('between Wye and Severn'), the area south of the river falling within the kingdom of Brycheiniog. Brycheiniog had emerged as one of the early British kingdoms in Wales by the 8th century, pre-Norman traditions suggesting an association between the kings of Brycheiniog and Talgarth at that period. These 11th-century foundation legends identify Teuderic (Tewdrig) as the king of the district in perhaps the early 5th century. Teuderic, who claimed descent from a Roman nobleman, lived in a place called Garth Matrun, the garth 'mountain spur' being identified as the prominent hill known as Mynydd Troed, to the south of Talgarth, Garth Matrun being itself identified as Talgarth 'the brow of the garth' below Mynydd Troed. According to tradition the kingdom of Brycheiniog was founded by the legendary figure of Brychan, grandson of Teuderic, apparently by expansion of his grandfather's kingdom with its administrative focus at Talgarth in the fertile valley of the Llynfi. Llyswen 'White Court' was a further focus of secular power along this axis in the pre-conquest period, having historical associations with Rhodri Mawr in the 9th century.

There are indications of conflict between the kingdom of Brycheiniog and the emergent kingdom of Gwynedd in north-west Wales by the 9th century, the rulers of Brycheiniog in the latter part of the century seeking protection from the King Alfred. Dependence upon the English crown continued into the 10th century, the kings of Brycheiniog attending the English royal court in the 930s, though towards the end of the 10th century the kingdom recognised the overlordship of the kingdom of Deheubarth in south-west Wales. In the earlier 10th century the kingdoms of Gwynedd and Powys, including Rhwyng Gwy a Hafren were united under the leadership of Hywel Dda. Following the conquest of Deuheubarth during the reign of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, in about the mid 11th century, the kingdom of Gwynedd exercised temporary control over the sub-kingdoms of Brycheiniog and Rhwng Gwy a Hafren.

The Wye valley, like the valleys of the Usk, Severn and Dee played an important role in the Norman conquest of eastern Wales. The kingdom of Brycheiniog, was conquered by the marcher lord Bernard de Neufmarché in the 1080s and 1090s. Neufmarché's defeat of Rhys ap Tewdwr, ruler of South Wales and overlord of Brycheiniog, was an event of considerable significance which contemporary chroniclers defined as the point at which 'kings ceased to reign in Wales'. The Middle Wye Valley was subsequently subdivided into lesser lordships granted to knight's who had given service to the marcher lord, and who in turn granted land to English settlers. New territories created in the conquered territory included at one time or another the lordships of Brecon, Hay, Blaenllynfi, Talgarth, Glasbury, Dinas and Elfael. For a time Elfael, part of the former territory of Rhwyng Gwy a Hafren was held by lesser British chieftains under the protection of Lord Rhys of Deheubarth, but eventually it too became included within the domain of the marcher lords, who were subject to the king of England and yet who ruled a separate land which lay between England and Wales which was independent of the institutional and legal structure of the English kingdom.

Neufmarché granted Hay to William Revel, probably the builder of the first earthen castle at Hay, which was to remain one of the main elements of control within the newly-conquered territory. Much of the rest of the lowlands being parcelled into minor lordships or as gifts to knights who would continue to owe service to the lord, including Norman friends or kinsmen like Walter Clifford, who was granted a large estate at Bronllys, and by tenants from their English estates who became settlers.

By the 13th century, various of the lordships within the historic landscape area, as in a number of other marcher lordships, became divided into Welsh and English administrative units which recognised the cultural differences that had continued to distinguish the English settlers from the indigenous Welsh population. Numerous feudal manors after the English model were created the on the lower-lying and more easily cultivated ground, with native patterns of settlement and land-use emerging in the surrounding hill land. The englishries and welshries which emerged in the lordships of both Talgarth and Hay following the Norman conquest were instrumental in perpetuating the distinctions between English and Welsh customs of law, inheritance, land tenure, civil administration, dues and rents well into the 16th century.

The territories of the Middle Wye Valley were to play a relatively minor role in the Welsh wars of independence in the later 13th century or in the Welsh rebellion in the early years of the 15th century. At the Act of Union in 1536 the area was shared between the lordships of Brecon, Blaenllynfi and Hay, which were integrated into the new county of Brecknock, and the lordship of Elfael which was to form part of the new county of Radnor, the middle Wye becoming thus split between the Radnorshire hundred of Painscastle to the north and the Brecknockshire hundred of Talgarth to the south. The southern part of the parish of Glasbury, south of the Wye, remained in Radnorshire until the mid 19th century, following which it was amalgamated with Tregoyd and Felindre to create the new civil parish of Tregoyd and Felindre. As part of the local government reorganisation in 1974 Brecknockshire and Radnorshire were combined within the new county of Powys.

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