Rhun Hir ap Maelgwn

"Rhun" redirects here. For other uses, see Rhun (disambiguation).

Rhun ap Maelgwn Gwynedd (died c. 586), also known as Rhun Hir ap Maelgwn Gwynedd (English: Rhun the Tall, son of Maelgwn Gwynedd), was King of Gwynedd (reigned c. 547 – c. 586). He came to the throne on the death of his father, King Maelgwn Gwynedd. There are no historical records of his reign in this early age. A story preserved in both the Venedotian Code and an elegy by Taliesin says that he waged a war against Rhydderch Hael of Alt Clut and the kings of Gododdin or Manaw Gododdin. The small scattered settlement of Caerhun in the Conwy valley is said to be named for him, though without strong authority. Rhun also appears in several medieval literary stories, as well as in the Welsh Triads. His wife was Perwyr ferch Rhûn "Ryfeddfawr" and their son was Beli ap Rhun "Hîr".

Rhun ap Maelgwn appears in the royal genealogies of the Harleian genealogies,[1] Jesus College MS. 20,[2] and Hengwrt MS. 202.[3] The Bonedd y Saint (English: Descent of the Saints) says that he is the ancestor of Saint Edeyrn (the Bonedd y Saint says that Edeyrn was the great-grandson of Rhun,[4] while Hengwrt MS. 202 says that he was the grandson of Rhun[5]).

War with the North

The Venedotian Code of the Welsh laws compiled by Iorwerth ap Madog in the early 13th century[6] contains a list of the privileges of the men of Arfon. Among the privileges is the right to march in the van of Gwynedd's army, and this is stated to originate from their spirited actions in a war between Rhun of Gwynedd and the Cymric Men of the North (Welsh: Gwŷr y Gogledd) from the kingdoms of Alt Clut and Gododdin or Manaw Gododdin.

Taliesin's Marwnad Rhun (English: Elegy of Rhun) also tells of the war and Rhun's death in it. In his comprehensive discussion of the works by and attributed to Taliesin, John Morris-Jones notes that the particulars of the marwnad are everywhere consistent with the historical record and nowhere inconsistent, and likely a product of the 6th century, a view shared by notable skeptics such as Thomas Stephens.[7]

The Venedotian Code says that the northern prince Elidyr Mwynfawr ap Gorwst Priodawr (English: Elidyr the Courteous, son of Gorwst Priodawr) had been slain at Aber Mewydus (now called 'Cadnant', or 'Battle Brook') in Arfon, not far from Rhun's llys (English: royal court) at Llanbeblig. Elidyr's powerful relatives in the North invaded Gwynedd in retaliation, burning Arfon in the process. The Northern host was led by Clydno Eiddin; Nudd the Generous, son of Senyllt; Mordaf the Generous, son of Serfan; and Rhydderch Hael, son of Tudwal Tudelyd.

These are all notable men of the era who are listed in the royal genealogies of the Bonedd Gwŷr y Gogledd, as is Elidyr Mwynfawr. According to one of the Triads of the Horses, Elidyr was also the husband of Rhun's sister Eurgain.[8]

Rhun then assembled an army and proceeded to the banks of the Gweryd (the banks of the River Forth or the Firth of Forth, which William Forbes Skene says was still called the 'Weryd' in 1165)[9] in the North. The final outcome is not given in the Venedotian Code, but Rhun and his army remained in the North for a considerable length of time.[10] The outcome according to Taliesin's Marwnad Rhun is the death of Rhun ap Maelgwn in battle.

The reason why Elidyr was in Gwynedd and the circumstance of his death are not known, though it is certain from their actions that his northern relatives blamed someone in Gwynedd. There are later stories that add speculations, for example by asserting that Elidyr was contesting Rhun's succession to Maelgwn Gwynedd's throne,[11] but these are nothing more than speculation.


Caerhun (English: Fort of Rhun) is the site of the 2nd century minor Roman fort of Canovium, situated along the Roman road between the larger Roman forts of Deva (at modern Chester) and Segontium (near modern Caernarfon). It is supposed to have been one of Rhun's strongholds, and while definitive evidence of this is lacking, it is circumstantially supported by archeological research and the antiquity of the name Caerhun.[12][13] Furthermore, it guards an important crossing of the River Conwy at Tal-y-Cafn which leads to the pass at Bwlch-y-Ddeufaen,[14] an entrance to Eryri (English: Snowdonia), the defensive heartland of the Kingdom of Gwynedd. Its military significance would certainly have been noticed by both defenders and potential aggressors.

Rhun in literature

The story of The Dream of Rhonabwy in the 12th century Red Book of Hergest is a prose literary tale where the main character travels to the time of King Arthur in a dream. There he sees the famous men from many historical eras. In a passage where 24 knights arrive to seek a truce with the famous Arthur, Arthur considers the request by assembling his counselors where "a tall, auburn, curly-headed man" was standing. Rhonabwy asks who he is, and is told that he is Rhun ap Maelgwn Gwynedd, a man who may join in counsel with anyone, because there was none in Britain better skilled in counsel than he.[15]

Marwnad Rhun (English: Elegy of Rhun), once believed to be the work of Taliesin but no longer accepted as such, laments Rhun's death in battle during that War with the North.[7]

Rhun appears in two of the medieval Welsh Triads, as one of the 'Fair Princes of the Isle of Britain',[16] and as one of the 'Golden-banded Ones of the Isle of Britain'.[17]

Literary missteps

The Tale of Taliesin is a legendary story about Taliesin printed in the Mabinogion, and based in part on the forgeries of the Iolo Manuscripts by Iolo Morganwg.[18] The story tells of events where Taliesin is placed in difficult or impossible situations but invariably overcomes all obstacles, usually through feats of magic. In one passage, Maelgwn Gwynedd sends his son Rhun on a mission to seduce the wife of Elffin ap Gwyddno. However, Elffin's court bard Taliesin knew of Maelgwn's plan because he was a seer, and arranged for a servant to replace his patron's wife, to the ultimate embarrassment of his patron's opponent Maelgwn.[19]

One of the Triads mentions a certain Rhun ap Beli[20][21] (English: Rhun son of Beli) who was famed for his military exploits. The name is repeated elsewhere in medieval poetry, such as in Hywel Foel's (fl. c. 1240 1300) awdl lamenting the capture and imprisonment of Owain ap Gruffudd, where he likens Owain to Rhun: "Who if free, like Rhun the son of Beli, Would not let Lloegria burn his borders".[22] There is no confirming evidence that such a person existed, and it is contradicted by records such as the royal genealogies, which have Rhun as the father (not the son) of Beli. Scholars such as Thomas Stephens have concluded that this is a mistake,[22] and that the intended person was someone else.

See also


  1. Phillimore 1888:169170 the pedigree is given as: ... map Rotri map mermin map etthil merch cinnan map rotri map Intguaul map Catgualart map Catgollaun map Catman map Iacob map Beli map Run map Mailcun map Catgolaun Iauhir map Eniaun girt map Cuneda map AEtern ....
  2. Phillimore 1887:87 the pedigree is given as ... Cynan tintaeth6y. M. Rodri mol6yna6c. M. Idwal I6rch. M. Kadwaladyr vendigeit. M. Katwalla6n. M. Kad6ga6n. M. Iago. M. Beli. M. Run hir. M. Maelg6n g6yned M. Kadwalla6n lla6hir. M. Einya6n yrth. M. Kuneda wledic.
  3. Phillimore 1886:133 katwaladyr vendigeit ap katwalla6n ap katwan ap iago ap beli ap run ap maelg6n g6yned ap einion wwr ap pabo post prydein.
  4. Parry 1821:201 Edeyrn, the son of Nudd, or Lludd, ab Beli ab Rhun ab Maelgwn Gwynedd ab Caswallon Law Hir ab Einion Yrth ab Cunedda.
  5. Phillimore 1886:133 Edern ap beli ap run ap maelg6n g6yned ap katwalla6n lla6ir ap einion yrth ap kuneda wledic.
  6. Lloyd 1911:342, A History of Wales, Vol. I
  7. 1 2 Morris-Jones 1918:209222, Taliesin's Marwnad Rhun (Elegy of Rhun)
  8. Jones, Owen; Morganwg, Iolo; Pughe, William Owen, eds. (1801), "Trioedd Y Meirch, Tri I", The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales (Prose), II, London: Jones, Morganwg, and Pughe, p. 20; Eurgain is said to be the daughter of Maelgwn Gwynedd and the wife of Elidyr Mwynfawr in one of the Trioedd y Meirch (English: Triads of the Horses) of the Welsh Triads.
  9. Skene 1868:175, The Four Ancient Books of Wales
  10. Owen 1841:105, The Privileges of Arfon
  11. Baring-Gould, S.; Fisher, John (1908), "S. Elidyr Mwynfawr", The Lives of the British Saints, II, London: Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, p. 445 for one example of many, where the authors skirt accountability by using terms such as "may have". Here, the authors claim that Elidyr may have been asserting a claim over Gwynedd because "... Rhun being, according to some genealogies, illegitimate."
  12. Lysons, Samuel (1807), "Some Account of Roman Antiquities discovered at Caerhun, in Carnarvonshire, and in other Parts of that County", Archaeologia: or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, XVI, London: Society of Antiquaries of London (published 1812), pp. 127134
  13. Anonymous (1897), "Notes on a Romano-British Shield", Journal of the British Archaeological Association, New Series, IV, London: British Archaeological Association (published 1898), pp. 8386
  14. Lloyd 1911:66, A History of Wales, Vol. I
  15. Guest 1877:312313, The Dream of Rhonabwy
  16. Jenkins 1852:274, Letters on Welsh History
  17. Jenkins 1852:277, Letters on Welsh History
  18. Williams, Edward (Iolo Morgannwg) (c. 1810), Williams (ab Iolo), Taliesin, ed., Iolo Manuscripts, Llandovery: William Rees (published 1848) Check date values in: |year= / |date= mismatch (help); see especially the "Notices of Taliesin" on pp. 458 459
  19. Guest 1877:471494, Taliesin
  20. Jenkins 1852:279, Letters on Welsh History
  21. Williams 1844:125126, The Ecclesiastical Antiquities of the Kymry
  22. 1 2 Stephens 1849:362363, Welsh Poetry from AD 1240 1284


Regnal titles
Preceded by
Maelgwn Gwynedd
King of Gwynedd
c. 547 c. 586
Succeeded by
Beli ap Rhun
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