Saturday, September 29, 2012

Who was Rhys Gethin?

On not much evidence Rhys Gethin is said to have been Owain Glyndwr's leading general, and historians from Sir John Lloyd to Sir Rees Davies have identified him as being Rhys Gethin of Nantconwy.

Cledwyn Fychan makes an entirely convincing case that the Rhys Gethin of the contemporary historical record wasn't Rhys Gethin of Nantconwy at all, he comes up with a far more likely candidate.

The handful of reviews I've read agree that if you want to know who Rhys Gethin is, then you should read this little book.  The advice seems to defeat the object of the essay, which was to make the real Rhys Gethin better known.  It's not the easiest work to get hold of and you may end up, like me, getting a version with a perfect cover and binding but with contents consisting of a different essay altogether.  One of the drawbacks, I guess, of getting a Welsh language book printed in Italy.

Anyway the Rhys Gethin of the historical record was Rhys Gethin of Llwyngwychwyr, Llanwrtyd, of that there can be little doubt.  There are only two mentions of Rhys Gethin in connection with Owain Glyndwr in contemporary records - there was the Rhys Gethin who captured Carmarthen in the company of others, including kinsmen of Rhys of Llwyngwychwyr; and there was the Rhys Gethin who Prince Hal mentions, in a letter to his father King Henry IV, as having raised an army in Buallt with the intention of invading Herefordshire.  English nationalists should note that this letter was written in French.

As early as 1401 Rhys Gethin's father, unnamed sons and various kinsmen were "deprived" of their lands in Buallt because they had risen in insurrection with Owen Glyndourdy.  As for the family's military prowess, that leading military commander in the 15C French wars Sir Richard Gethin of Builth was the son of Rhys of Llwyngwychwyr.

Some points of Radnorshire interests: Was Rhys Gethin the Rees a Gytch who an English chronicler says was involved in the Battle of Pilleth?  It's impossible to say.  There were certainly kinship links between Rhys Gethin's family and Philip ap Rhys of St Harmon, Glyndwr's son-in-law.  As so often, the contribution of East Central Wales - in this case to Glyndwr's war - is underestimated.  This elegant little book goes some way to illuminating one aspect of that contribution.  If only it were better known.


Wogan Jones said...

Diolch i ti Radnorian. It is true we in central / east Wales do not tend to remember our history. When we lost our Welsh we lost our Welsh history too. But thanks for doing your bit to help us remember.

Rebecca said...

I am an American and a descendant of an immigrant to Maryland, USA, surnamed Gathings. I recently discovered that Gathings could be an Anglicized version of Gethin. Would you know where I could even begin to look to find how common Gethin is as a Welsh surname and possible lists of those who may have immigrated in the early 1600s? I am just beginning this type of research, so any help you can give would be greatly appreciated. I read about Rhys Gethin and would love to know more of his history, but as you say, information seems a bit hard to come by.

I also recently began studying the Welsh language so that I may be able to understand some of what I read a little better. Thank you!

radnorian said...

Hi Rebecca

You may know that Welsh people originally did not have surnames, they had a patronym system so that James ap Thomas ap John meant James the son of Thomas the son of John.

Gradually from the 17C to the 19C these patronyms were replaced with hereditary surnames, certainly a Welshman turning up in America in the 1600s would have adopted a surname after the English fashion.

Gethin is quite a rare surname in Wales today, mainly found in the south. It has also recently become popular as a to forename. Historically it was a sobriety or nickname. Most books repeat that it means ugly but I think that is nonsense. Medieval poets address praise poems to women with the sobriquet, a more realistic is olive-complexion.

All I can suggest on tracing your Gathings ancestor back to Wales is to make use of the national library of Wales site. For example all Welsh wills pre 1858 have been digitised and are free to access online. These wills are nearly all in English but the 17C script can make them hard to read. There are around 20 17C Gethin wills there.

By the way I don't think Rhys Gethin descendants used the surname Gethin, although his son Richard Gethin was a famous captain in the 15C French wars

Good luck with your search