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Period Welsh Models for SCA Households and the Nomenclature Thereof

copyright © 1994 Heather Rose Jones, all rights reserved

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Geopolitical Names

The easiest type of group name to deal with is that derived from political geography: the country, shire or town, and by extension those derived from the name of a physical structure, whether castle or house. Mixed in with these at all levels are names that are simple descriptions of physical features. This material was rather hard to organize as I was considering it from two unrelated viewpoints: the nature of the entity being named and the structure or meaning of the name itself. If the material seems to ramble or digress easily, this is the cause.

Political Divisions

The system of land sharing and partition based on clan lineage is undoubtedly the older system. Separate from it and superimposed on it were the system and nomenclature of lordship -- what might be called the "political" system. In the laws, this system is spelled out in excruciating detail.

The basic unit of this system was the cantref (from cant "hundred" tref "town"). In theory all cantrefs were of a standard size, or perhaps a standard population size. In reality they varied considerably and there is plentiful evidence for subdivisions of cantrefs evolving into cantrefs themselves and for original cantrefs being downgraded to less important divisions. But we will assume, for the sake of this description, the "legal" cantref. Each cantref was further divided into two cwmwds (Anglicized as "commote"). Each cwmwd thus contained fifty trefs or townships, often equated with the vill of English usage. Two of these belonged directly to the king (or whatever it was politically expedient to call him at the time), providing for his agricultural and pastoral needs. The remaining trefs were grouped in twelve maenols of four trefs each. Half of these were held by various officers and bondsmen of the king in return for their services (for example, the maerdref held by the maer or reeve). The remaining six were held by free "tribesmen" in return for military service and a food-rent (gwestfa). [Owen 1989 p.204] So we are down to a maenol containing four trefs; with each tref theoretically containing four tyddyns or homesteads, each with its share in the surrounding fields. This is where the "political" system overlaps the "clan" system, for each tyddyn is held, in theory, by an individual household consisting of a living man (usually, although female inheritance was possible in certain unusual circumstances) and his descendents.

In some versions of the laws, the term maenor (possibly borrowed from the English "Manor") is used for collections of trefs of varying numbers.

Going in the opposite direction, a particular king or lord could control any number of cantrefs. Alternately, he might control only one, or in some cases only a cwmwd. Naturally, his wealth and available resources were directly proportional to the number he held, since he would have the profits of his maenols and gwestfas from each cwmwd, although he would also be expected to maintain a court in each one. Several terms were used for collections of smaller units. Teyrnas "kingdom" is found in earlier records for the larger or more important divisions (e.g., teyrnas wyned "kingdom of Gwynedd" [Jones 1941 p.16]) although kingdoms are most often referred to simply by name without any sort of divisional term. Another term for fairly large groupings was gwlad "land" and several regions were alternately called by either of these terms. The term arglwyddiaeth "lordship" is most often found referring to regions in the south and east, the most heavily English-influenced areas.

All of these "divisional" terms might end up as part of a place name, although they weren't mandatory in any sense. (Examples are from Richards (1969) unless otherwise noted.) The name Glamorgan is shortened from Gwlad Morgan "Morgan's gwlad" (alternately called Morgannwg). There were two cantrefs called Cantref Mawr (big cantref), one Cantref Bychan (little cantref), and a Cantref Selyf ("Solomon's Cantref", perhaps named after an early ruler of the area). Cwmwd Deuddwr (cwmwd of two waters) is the only example of its kind that I have found. There are a handful of names with maenol: Maenol Badrig (Patrick's M.), Maenol Bangor, Maenol Gadfan (Cadfan's M.), or simply Y Faenol (the Maenol). Maenor is far more common, appearing in the form Maenor X where "X" could be a geographical place name, a given name (often a saint's name, where the manor name may have been taken from that of a church), or a phrase such as y Ddol ([of] the meadow) or y Llan ([of] the church). Or again it could appear simply as Maenor. Maerdref appears alone several times as a place name. [Owen 1989 p.181] Gwestfa is as prolific as Maenor, being combined with a following element or phrase that could be an independent place name (Gwestfa Blaenannerch, G. at the source of the Annerch river), a personal name (whether a given name alone or something more complex, such as Gwestfa Cadwgan ap Tegwared), a simple adjective (Gwestfa Fawr, Big Gwestfa), or in a handful of names, the phrase Wyrion <given name> (gwestfa of the grandsons/descendents of <given name>). There are a couple of examples using Tyddyn, but it is not surprising that a division this small would not often grow into a town (and thus be included in Richards). A glance at a more detailed source, such as the Ordinance Survey Map of Anglesey turns up more examples, such as Tyddyn Mawr (Big Tyddyn) and Tyddyn y Felin (Tyddyn of the Mill).

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