Thursday, December 17, 2015

Matters Arising

I read this in the introduction to the Penybont book mentioned in the last post:

"King Harold Godwin's territorial interests near our area ensured that the Norman power which replaced him was soon active nearby.  There followed a period of nearly 500 years during which the largely unrestrained authority of the Marcher Lords, and our area especially the Mortimer family, was matched by successive waves of resurgence led by Welsh leaders from other parts of Wales.."

Now this suggests that the 1500 or so households that made up the cantref of Maelienydd had no agency of their own in resisting the Norman incursions.  Of course this isn't true as a browse through Brut y Tywysogion would soon make clear.  Some examples: in 1136 Madog ab Idnerth and his sons were among the leaders in the battle of Crug Mawr in Ceredigion; in 1165 the sons of Madog ab Idnerth and their host were present at the victory over King Henry at the battle of Crogen; in 1262 the men of Maelienydd seized the castle of Cefnllys - they did so again in 1295 - and, of course, the men of Maelienydd were central to the victory at Bryn Glas in 1402.

The sad truth is that Rhwng Gwy a Hafren is largely ignored or misrepresented by Welsh historians, indeed I'd say that you have to turn to an Englishman -  and a UKIP parliamentary candidate to boot - for anything more than a very superficial view of the history of this strategically important part of Wales.


I've only seen a few minutes of this programme but I was interested to read the claim that 18% of Welsh men were descended from just ten men, probably chieftains, born more than a thousand years ago.  Of course that has quite fairly been met with a degree of scepticism although I wouldn't be surprised if it were true.  Some of the scepticism took the form of denying the accuracy of the older Welsh genealogies.  The 15C genealogies were in reality Welsh legal records and it smacks of a colonial mentality to dismiss them while accepting English records without question.  Later on the genealogies did indeed become more corrupted, one of my favourite Welsh couplets is this from Sion Tudur (d1602):

Ar frys arfau a roesom,
Arfau ei dad fu raw dom

How speedily we bestow coats of arms, his father's coat of arms was a shovel of shit.

No Mug For Me 

The Penybont book also covers Llandegley and to a lesser extent Crossgates.  According to the powers that be the Welsh language versions of these two names are Llandeglau and Y Groes.  Since Llandegle was good enough for Lewis Glyn Cothi shouldn't we resist the imposition of that North Wales AU ending.  As for Y Groes, that's a very recent invention and perhaps we'd be better going back to calling the village Llanbadarn Fawr.  It seems that Crossgates was itself an invention of the 19C Post Office, fed-up with confusion with the Aberystwyth suburb of the same name.

The first four or five terms of my education were actually spent in Llanbadarn Fawr school, not the modern building in the village, but the old school nearer Penybont.  How did I get there from the Gravel Road?  I've no memory of walking along the A44 and we certainly didn't have a car.  Perhaps approaching senility will unlock such lost childhood memories.  I'm not sure if I've actually recovered from the trauma of not receiving a Coronation mug from the good folk of Crossgates in 1953.  Gravel Road is in Nantmel parish the organisers of the celebration explained, meanwhile the Nantmel committee insisted it was located in Llanbadarn Fawr.  Years later, poring over an old map, I discovered that my old home was actually in an outlier of distant Llanddewi Ystradenni.


Anonymous said...

The old school that is now a community centre that advertises "Adult Table Tennis" as an evening activity? I'm sure it's a lot less exciting than it sounds.

Anonymous said...

I was interested to check out the DNA Cymru programme. Not sure if I can watch S4C programmes from outside Britain? Anyway, I did check the DNA Cymru website and found this prominent sentence:

In the first programme, entertainer Caryl Parry Jones, broadcaster Roy Noble and Wales and Scarlets hooker, Ken Owens hear that they belong to three different groups who came to Wales after the Ice Age – the earliest Hunter-Gatherers; the First Farmers; and the Beaker People These are the three pre-historic influxes mainly responsible for the genetic composition of the people of Europe today.

For these three present-day individuals to be respectively descended from three distinct groups of incomers to Europe, their entire family histories, going back thousands of years, would have to have been restricted to members of the same three respective tribes. How likely is that???

I'll have to try to see the programme if I want to know the basis for the seemingly spurious statement above. I presume they're talking only about mitochondrial DNA (as only two of the people concerned would have a Y chromosome). Where your mitochondria are descended from, and where all the rest of your genes come from, are completely different questions, and the (very small) mitochondrial genome must be of very minor importance in the context of any interesting geographical differences within Homo sapiens. So, nonsense as usual!

Similarly, I suspect that the "ten chieftains" idea that you mention, Radnorian, relates only to the Y chromosome. Anyone from that 18% of modern Welshmen descended from one of these ten ancestors will equally be descended from a large number of other contemporaries of those ancestors, just as I am descended from both of my grandfathers, and all four of my great grandfathers, and all eight of my great great grandfathers (etc etc). I happen to have inherited the Y chromosome (or, more precisely, the non-pseudoautosomal part of it), from just one of those indiduvuals at each generation (from my father, from my father's father, from my father's father's father...). That is not the same as being descended from just one male who lived 1000 years ago (which would be highly unlikely!).

In terms of relevance to phenotype, the Y chromosome is of even less importance that the mitochondrion. It essentially contains a single gene, called SRY, which acts like a switch to turn a default female developmental programme into a male one. If you implant SRY into an XX-containing mouse zygote, it will grow into a phenotypically male mouse. Ie, the Y-chromosome makes one male, it does nothing else. The Y chromosome is clearly an interesting marker if one wishes to follow ancestry, but it explais nothing in terms of where all the more interesting traits (hair colour, eye colour, stature, shape of facial features etc etc) may come from.

It is highly likely that Caryl Parry Jones, Roy Noble and Ken Owens are, all three, descended from all three of the incoming settlers mentioned, but that wouldn't sound nearly so interesting.

radnorian said...

Everything you say is absolutely correct and the series has been widely criticised for the reasons you state. At the same time I wouldn't be at all surprised that a substantial number of Welsh folk had indeed inherited Ychromosome DNA from a limited number of ancestors who might even be identifiable in the genealogical records.

This may be of historical interest although the danger is that it would give some individuals a quite unjustified sense of their own importance not least for the reasons you state.

One thing soon which becomes apparent for a layman such as myself while observing the DNA scene is that last year's convincing theory may soon be discarded. What is fascinating is how the extraction of DNA from archaeological sites can cast light on events which never made it into the historical record.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for the clarification!

I'm not sure how one would ever be able to identify the "ten chieftains". It goes without saying that they might not have been chieftains at all, but I presume that they also might not have been contemporaries or each other, or even Welsh. Some of those ten ancestors might have lived in Wales ~1000 years ago as suggested, whereas others might have lived much earlier- perhaps before their descendents ever migrated to Wales.

It has been postulated that all extant human Y-chromosomes descend from that of a single individual ("Y-chromosome Adam"), but nobody knows at what stage in our ancestry he lived. YC-Adam might, for example, have been some sort of pre-human primate. Despite his reproductive success, YC-Adam presumably wasn't any sort of chieftain, so I'm not sure of the justification for postulating a high social standing for the ten more recent Y-chromosome ancestors of pertinence to the Welsh. It probably can't be proven either way, though I'd be delighted to hear if even one such "chieftain" YC-ancestor could be named!

Magnum P.I. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
radnorian said...

Damn Magnum I just deleted your comment by mistake, you said about Gravel Road being in Llanfihangel parish. You're right and my old OS map showing parish boundaries has disintegrated but I recall that part, probably the short stretch north of the Camlo brook was in Llanddewi parish.