Around 2007 I started my first ever blog and included anything and everything in it including some research I started from my discovery of my ancestral connection to Bishop William Morgan, the 16th century translator of the Hebrew Bible to the Welsh language. The following post is as I wrote it at that time.
In the last 3 weeks I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to delve into my family history like I have never delved before. The information I have gathered is, in a word, amazing, and it seems unbelievable that ordinary me could be related to such notable figures in history. And not only Welsh history but European. My research has led me to the great Welsh leader Rhodri Mawr, as well as French kings such as Henri I and Hugh Capet. As to the English monarchy I get as close as to a half brother to Henry II (Hamelin Plantagenet) and links with the family of Henry Tudor. However, for this post I am going to write about my research on my Welsh ancestors and show how I got there.
It all started when I bought the book ‘Bywyd ac Amserau Yr Esgob Morgan’ (Life and Times of the Bishop William Morgan) by Charles Ashton, published in 1891, and bought from Abebooks on the internet. This is the book that I had been after for many years because I needed it to confirm my family link to Bishop William Morgan, something that I knew but wanted proof. And there it was. A family tree, just after page 115, showing my great great great grandfather Owen Evans and his wife Jane Hughes, and his parents being Margaret Morgan and Owen Evan of Ty’n Ddol, Ffestiniog. Margaret’s lineage was exactly as I thought it would be, her father being William Ellis Morgan. It was his brother, John, whose papers that Ashton relied on, and the tree descended all the way to Bishop William Morgan. At last I can feel sure that I am truly a decendent of this great man’s family, though others had known this but I wanted to see physical proof for myself. It was at this point that I noticed that Ashton indicated on the tree that the bishop had a son, Evan Morgan, also a man of the cloth. Now this has been a contentious issue with genealogists as some claim that he was a nephew of William Morgan rather than his son, which to be fair Ashton points this out. I had always assumed up to now that Evan was his nephew because I hadn’t seen any evidence that William had a son. He was married twice so the chance of producing at least 1 child must be high, you would think. Ashton’s reasoning is based on the known appointments and places that William Morgan had been. For instance, it is known that he was at Cambridge University from 1564,and was there for, I think, 7 years. Considering that Evan’s first appointment was at Llanrhaiadr-y-Mochnant in 1588 (taking over from William in fact), Ashton deduces that he was likely to have been born around 1564. If he was born after William came back from Cambridge, Evan would have been 16 taking up this first post, a highly unlikely scenario. However, his does not rule out the possibility that Evan was the son of one of William Morgan’s brothers, but Ashton was basing his research from the family papers held by John Ellis Morgan, a gggg grandson to William, so it seems more likely to be correct. If this is the case then William Morgan was married to Ellen Salesbury, who was related to that other famous translator, William Salesbury. Her family tree is also included in Ashton’s book and he has managed to trace it back to Adam de Salzburg, a relative of a Duke in Bavaria. Because of the uncertainty of the parentage of Evan, I cannot for certain rely on my connection to Ellen’s ancestors. However, the Salesbury (or Salusbury) connection re-emerges later in my research.
So, Evan Morgan seemed to be the logical choice to research, and I was lucky enough to use Ashton’s research again. In his book he states that Evan was married to Catherine daughter of John ap Rhys Wynn of Caer Ddinen, and Mary, who was a daughter of Baron Lewis Owen (or Lewys ap Owen). This seemed an interesting path to follow so I started looking on the internet for these people.
I must point out here that there are literally thousands’s of out of copyright books available for either download or to view, for free from Google books and www.archive.org, which have fantastic information for genealogical purposes. Well worth checking if you have relatively well-known people in your family history. There is, of course, a reliance that the information written in these books are correct, but they do seem to have based their research on primary sources (original manuscripts) so we must assume that they are.
I quickly found Lewis Owen. He wasn’t hard to find because he was regarded as one of the most well known men in Merionethshire in the time of the Tudors. He was appointed deputy-chamberlain of North Wales and baron of the exchequer at Caernarfon. He was also sheriff of Merioneth in 1545-6 and 1554-5, and MP for Merioneth in 1547, 1553 and 1554. On October 11th or 12th, 1555 he was murdered by the ‘Red bandits of Mawddwy’ at a place still called ‘Llidart y barwn, near Mallwyd in Merionethshire. Apparantly it was a revenge killing because Lewis had caught, tried and hung a few of the bandits just before. His wife was Margaret Puleston, daughter of Robert Puleston, rector of Gresford and Whitford (Burke’s Peerages). From another source, she is said to be not only the daughter of Robert but also the niece of Sir John Puleston of Hafod y Wern, Bersham. The first Puleston from Hafod was a Madog Puleston (Annals and Antiquities of the Counties and County Families of Wales, Thomas Nicholas,p. 455, vol.2) and his father was Robert Puleston who married Lowri, sister to Owain Glyndwr. As a proud Welshman, this connection gladdens my heart! To have Owain as a distant uncle is fantastic. I discovered more when I looked into the family of Owain’s mother, Ellen. She was the daughter of Thomas ap Llewelyn, whose ancestry I will discuss later. Thomas had another daughter, Margaret, who married Tudur Fychan ap Goronwy of Plas Penmynydd, Anglesey. At this point I knew that there was going to be another important connection. Penmynydd is synomenous with the ancestry of Owain Tudor the grandfather of King Henry VII, and so he turns out to be my 4th cousin, 16x removed. There are a few more lines to investigate in this period, which I will no doubt look into in time.
Going back to Thomas ap Llewelyn (ggg grandfather to Henry Tudor), I followed his ancestry using the various Rootsweb family trees that are available on the net. Now, caution should be taken when relying on these trees because it is research carried out by others and who knows where they have got their information from. On at least 2 occasions I was led to believe that I was related to William the Conqueror because of mistakes made from these trees. There is an awful lot of copying on the genealogical net and a quick search on Rootsweb will reveal identical info on numerous trees. There is also a temptation for some to claim direct ancestry to noble and royal families because it would be difficult to DISPROVE those findings. Not many would bother to check to see they’re right. The reason I’ve taken so long to write this post is because I’ve checked and re-checked my information, and I want to find the TRUTH about my ancestors, and not find out out later that it was not the case. I am reminded here of John Hurt’s experience on the BBC programme ‘Who do you think you are’. He always believed that he was descended from Irish ancestry, which he was very proud of, only to find that one of these ancestors had lied about his birth. He was understandably angry and upset because he had always thought that he had Irish blood, which will have had an effect on how he perceived his ‘self’. The link between identity and ancestry can be very strong, and to John Hurt it must have felt that his very personality was based on a lie. Some of these submitters on Rootsweb may want to believe they are related to notable people, but I would rather find out who my real ancestors were, whether they were ordinary peasants or members of the aristocracy. They are all important and significant because they produced me and the family I love.
So, I rechecked these Rootsweb claims by reading up downloaded free books on the internet and believe I have found the true lineages that I am now writing about. By the way, one of the incorrect submissions on Rootsweb was a claim that Owain Glyndwr’s great grandmother was a Catherine, a daughter of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd (Llewelyn the Last) who married Eleanor de Montford, whose maternal grandfather was King John I, and this line leads to William the Conqueror. Llewelyn, as far as I know, only had one daughter, Gwenllian, who was whisked away to a nunnery by the English while still a baby, never to know her true roots. Despite finding a couple of authors writing in the early 19th century who state the existence of this Catherine, I think it’s not safe to pursue. If it was true then it would be a fantastic connection to not only King John but also the de Montforts, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the royal houses of France. I believe this to be false, but any direct links to Llewelyn is still possible because I haven’t explored all the lineages.
Anyway, the lineage of Thomas ap Llewelyn leads to Gruffydd ap Rhys who married Matilda de Braose, whose family I will write in a future post, who was the son of Rhys ap Gruffydd, The Lord Rhys. He was Prince of Deheubarth (modern day south west Wales) and Henry II appointed him the protector of South Wales. He, unfortunately, died of plague in 1197 and is buried at St. David’s Cathedral. His grandfather was Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of Deheubarth, and he was killed in the Battle of Brecon in 1093, probably fighting the English again. Protecting the borders of Wales then must have been as difficult as trying to save a sinking ship. When one area is patched up there is always another ready to leak through somewhere else. Rhys ap Tewdwr’s ggg grandfather was Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good), born circa. 887 and despite this apparent virtuous tag was regarded as quite ruthless. He even ordered the death of his brother-in-law, Llywarch of Dyfed. However, a great reign doesn’t get built by being soft. His most well known achievement was the creation of the Law of Wales which was the foundation of Welsh unity and identity. His grandfather was Rhodri Mawr (Rodri the Great)a famous warrior who defended Wales from especially the Danes, who had continuously raided Celtic coasts including Ireland and Brittany. He was killed, together with his son Gwriad, in a battle against the English in 877.
Archives that go further back before Rhodri’s time are a mixture of tales of myths and legends. Rhodri was supposed to be a descendent of Coel Hen (Old King Cole himself) and beyond this to Maelgwn Gwynedd and Cunedda and you are really in fantasy land perhaps. There’s one tree on Rootsweb that leads from Rhodri to a Roman called Padarn Beisrudd. It’s entirely plausible but difficult to prove. I’m quite happy with what I’ve found to date, and there are more discoveries to follow. The beauty of finding an ancestor who married into a notable family is that there is an excellent chance of finding more well known personalities. Such families liked to marry off their offspring to other families of equal status or better, and that has been the case with my ancestor Margaret Puleston. Bless her! The Pulestons originated from Pilsdon in Shropshire, but very soon were regarded as a Welsh family settling at Emral Hall, Flintshire. An early Puleston ancestor, Sir Roger de Pyvelisdon, was reponsible for collecting a tax from the Welsh to fund Edward I’s war with France. I can just imagine his face when the king told him what he had to do! It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it! Talk about walking into the lion’s den. As many I suppose predicted he and his assistants were grabbed and hung on the spot at Caernarfon. His son Sir Richard de Pyvelisdon married a daughter of a Warren from Warren Hall in Shropshire. This line of enquiry provided me with a very challenging research task, and all the reading I did paid off in a big way and will be the subject of my next post.
To finish off some loose ends, some interesting indirect connections.
Through Owain Glyndwr’s parents, I have a direct lineage to Gwenllian and Susanna, both daughters of Gruffydd ap Cynan, and sisters to Owain Gwynedd. He became King of Gwynedd after defeating Trahaearn ap Caradog at the battle of Mynydd Carn in 1081, and appears to have an alliance with my other ancestor, Rhys ap Tewdwr. Gruffydd was born in Dublin and his mother Ragnaillt was the daughter of the Norse king, Olaf Sigtryggsson (Olaf of Dublin). Through the wife of Gruffydd, Angharad ferch Owain ap Edwin, there is a link to the Earls of Mercia. Owain’s ggrandmother was Godgifu, Lady Godiva. So, through these lineages I have links to the Vikings. I have discovered other Viking links through Normandy connections as well but that is for another post.
If we go back to Rhys ap Tewdwr, he had a daughter named Nest. Reputedly she was so beautiful that men could not resist her, which happened quite often. She was a mistress to Henry I and produced a son. She married Gerald of Windsor and had 5 children with him. Her cousin, Owain ap Cadwgan took one look at her and decided to kidnapped her and her children, with Gerald escaping with his life going down the toilet! Quite appropriate in regards to the way his life was going I think. While in captivity she had 2 more children with Owain, who in real Mills and Boon fashioned was killed by the vengeful husband not long after. She next married Stephen, constable of Cardigan and had Robert FitzStephen. One of her grandsons was Gerald of Wales the historian, better known by his Lain name Geraldus Cambrensis.