Sunday, August 24, 2014

What's in a name

I had hoped to post some impressions - not a review, that would be presumptuous - of this, the latest volume in the Oxford History of Wales, but the truth is I haven't been able to get to grips with the book at all.  Perhaps that's down to ageing brain cells or the sheer density of information contained, but it's certainly not as reader-friendly as some of the earlier volumes in the series.  Perhaps there will be a better chance later on in the winter.

A couple of things are already apparent though - although covering a period with only limited documentary sources archaeology doesn't get much of a look in. Then, while the book treats with all the British lands: Wales, Cumbria, Cornwall and Brittany, as well as their relationships with the Irish, Northumbrians etc., interesting British survivals like that in Lincolnshire or in the pedigrees of  Wessex and Mercia don't get considered.

Of course the biggest omission, although completely expected, is the sparsity of references to East Central Wales.  I wonder if those whose cynefin encompasses Gwynedd or Powys or Gwent or Deheubarth  have any idea of how deprived the patriotic Radnorian is of any historical treatment of their gwlad.  Book after book is published with barely a word.

It's not as if East Central Wales wasn't an important strategic region, geographical imperatives rarely change as anyone following the fighting in the Donbas will know.  There's a reason why Llywelyn's last campaign was along the banks of the Wye, why Glyndwr's great victory was at Bryn Glas and why Gwerthrynion and Buellt are associated with Vortigern.  A few decades after the period covered by this book men like Madoc ab Idnerth and his sons are amongst the most important battle leaders in Wales - if you read the source material that is, rather than the history books.

Why the lack of coverage?  Well Gwynedd, Powys, Gwent and even Deuheubarth or Dyfed are pretty catchy names.  Whereas East Central Wales has to make do with a treasure-hunt clue of a name - Rhwng Gwy a Hafren.  Not even a very precise clue, it could be referring to Ledbury or Ludlow, and one cantref, Buellt, isn't even twixt Wye and Severn at all.  Well-meaning souls have come-up with other obscure names from ancient documents to describe this fifth part of Wales more succinctly: Cynllibiwg, Fferyllwg, Fferegs.  I can't see any of them catching on.  I doubt if Madoc ab Idnerth and his sons thought in terms of a unified Rhwng Gwy a Hafren at all.  There were the more local names: Maelienydd, Elfael, Gwerthrynion, Buellt, Ceri - to be defended by the descendants of Elystan Glodrydd and through him to Iorwerth Hirflawdd, progenitor of the Iorwerthiawn one of the gwelygorddau of Powys - and perhaps that's a clue, but don't expect anyone to follow it up any time soon.

No comments: