Cystennin of Wales
16th King of Wales

16. Cystennin.jpg
King of Wales
King of Wales
Reign 1st March 1831 - 31st August 1845
Coronation 2nd June 1832
Predecessor Arthur I
Successor Rhisiart III
Principality of Morgannwg
Reign 1st March 1831 - 31st August 1845
Predecessor Arthur I of Morgannwg
Successor Rhisiart III of Morgannwg
Spouse Olivia Townsend of Aberystwyth
Issue Rhisiart of Wales

Princess Heledd of Wales

Prince Ieuan of Wales

Full name
Cystennin Arthur Louis Archibald Morgannwg
Posthumous name
Cystennin Cymwynaswr (the Benefactor)

Cystennin Merthyr (the Martyr)

House House of Morgannwg
Father Arthur Cystennin Charles Emmanuel ap Rhisiart Morgannwg
Mother Alexandra De Gramont
Born 31st January 1800
Caerfilli Palace
Died 31st August 1845
Castell Aberteifi
Burial Royal Crypts Llandaff Cathedral
Religion Roman Catholic
Cystennin was not groomed to be King. The second son of Arthur, his elder brother Rhisiart was destined to wear the purple. As such Cystennin grew up in his mothers household, the Queen Alexandria Household in the Royal Apartments in Caerdydd. As such whilst well read and capable he lacked many of the more subtle skills required to govern. Such a lacking was attempted to be put right following the death of his brother during the Rebellion of March. With Rhisiart's death, Cystennin was suddenly catapulted from the relative security of Caerdydd to the political snake pit of Caerfilli. His reign would see the growth of the sciences, the arts as well as the increasing industrialisation of the South Wales valleys. It would also see the rise in North Walian anger, the rise of the Prince of Gwynedd, a direct descendant of Dafydd IV of Wales and eventual Civil War as the House of MacGregor-Glyndwr would attempt to regain its presumed birthright in the Welsh Crown.

Early Life=

Born on the 1st January 1800 in Caerfilli Palace, Cystennin as a younger son was brought up in his mothers household. Queen Alexandria favoured Caerdydd for her residence and during Arthur's reign the city's castle was renovated with the addition of Royal Apartments to the complex in addition to extensive gardens and city parks. It would be in this environment that Cystennin would grow up. Alexandria was a loving mother, granting her sons every request, a failing that would leave Cystennin with a personality trait that would serve him ill as King. It was during his time as younger son that he would learn to paint as well, a fascination that would later lead to the official Royal Collection. Cystennin was 20 years old when his elder brother, Rhisiart died during the Rebellion of March but it was then that his father ordered him to relocate to the official Palace in Caerfilli to take up the role of Edling.

Edling Cymru

On the 12th July 1820 outside Ludlow, Rhisiart, Edling Cymru died. Rhisiart was the delight of his father, Arthur, a capable, confident Prince. In his place, his younger brother, Cystennin, bright, educated, willful, closeted rose to sudden prominence as the new heir to the Welsh throne. He left his distraught mother later in 1820 moving to the Royal Complex in Caerfilli with his father. Arthur now attempted to teach Cystennin the ways to govern Wales and her fractious nobility.

Brennin Cymru

On the 1st March 1831, Cystennin acceded to the Welsh Throne. With his father's death the political spectrum in Wales changed almost overnight. Although the Kings of Wales had since 1750 been from the House of Morgannwg, the fiction at least had been maintained of the kings position being in the North. The Palace at Harlech was retained as a Royal Residence and the Royal Court continued to alternate between South and North Wales. Under Rhisiart I the Court had remained in its entirety in Harlech, under his son the empathise was more on Caerfilli. Arthur had attempted to maintain the balance with movement between both Palaces. However, Caernarfon had been given to the Princes of Gwynedd (who moved their principal court there from Garth Celyn. Under Cystennin, a southern King, educated and used to city life however, the idea of moving Court seemed pointless. No other monarch in Europe alternated court in such fashion anymore. His father (under influence from Queen Alexandria) had moved the principal Welsh court from Caerfilli to Caerdydd during the 1820's, leaving the Army to use Caerfilli as its headquarters. Now under Cystennin this was taken to its logical conclusion. By Kings Writ, as part of his coronation celebrations, Caerdydd was raised to be the Imperial Capital (Civitas Augustus), and the Royal Court at Palas Caerdydd made the formal Court of Wales (the Court of St Tewdrig or St Theodoric in Latin - Tewdrig being claimed as an ancestor of Cystennin).

As a sop to North Walian feelings, Cystennin made the high handed donation of the Palace of Harlech to the Princes of Gywnedd and the City of Harlech. Such treatment did not go down well with the haughty Prince Maredudd of Gwynedd (who left Wales to die in Y Wladfa) or with his equally haughty son and heir, the 17-year-old Prince Rhys.

In addition to the move of Court and the establishment of an official capital, all the major Government positions then went to prominent South Walians with the Earl of Henffordd being confirmed in his position as Chancellor (the Duke of Gwent would be the other Chancellor of this period with the Earl of Ynys Mon being a late sop towards the North Walians before the outbreak of civil war).

Cystennin also changed with tradition by having his coronation held in Llandaff Cathedral rather than in St Davids.

Arts and Sciences

During Cystennin's reign he patronaged an explosion in the arts within Wales. As part of his coronation he granted a Royal Charter to a Kings Quartet (later to be the Royal Orchestra). He granted lands and buildings for the establishment of a Royal College of Arts and Music. The Royal Science Academy was formed (1835), the first public Art Gallery and museum in Caerdydd opened (1839). The Royal Art Collection was first catalogued and placed on display. By 1838 the first ever purpose built concert hall is built in Caerdydd and later that year another opened in Harlech. The kings fascination with art led him to submit many of his own works to the Royal Collection where they remain to this day.

As part of this cultural explosion, the king also helped design a new Royal Residence just outside Caerdydd. Castell Coch was designed as a Royal Retreat although Cystennin would never set foot within the completed structure.

Empire and Commerce

During Cystennin's reign the industrialisation of Wales would continue apace. By 1838 docks are buit in Caerdydd to help control the increasing outflow of iron and coal from the region, with docks built later in Barri, Bristol and increased docks in Pembroke to help increase Welsh trade. As a result of the growing industrial base of the Welsh economy, the government was flush with the capital needed to expand the military, empire and to furnish towns across Wales with new and improved buildings. Whilst the Empire did expand within Africa and the Pacific, one reverse was to occur, with Y Wladfa being lost to the Argentine Republic during the 1840 Argentine-Welsh War. The result of the war, with the Treaty of Buenos Aires, however maintained Welsh emigration to the province as the Treaty allowed for the recognition of Welsh rights within the Argentine State.

The Industrial Revolution

During Cystennin's reign the rate of industrialisation increased. Already under the English Occupation the process of industrialisation had started, primarily along the Severn Valley, and under Arthur this had continued to trickle along. Under Cystennin however an increase started again along the Severn Valley, extending into Dean, Gwlad yr Haf and spreading into the southern Lowlands. In 1835 permission was granted for the construction of the first Railway in Wales, extending from Cardiff to Ludlow.

Relationship with Gogledd Cymru

The political relationship between the monarch and the Princes of Gwynedd had been fractious ever since the 1750 Convocation of Nobles. King Rhys had held the title Prince of Gwynedd in right of descent from Owain V of Wales, and like the Welsh Crown, the title of Prince fell vacant with his death. Therefore the Convocation had to decide not only the person to claim the Throne, but also the person to claim the title of Gwynedd. That person was eventually decided to be Lord Owain of Aberffraw. Owain claimed male line descent from Prince Gruffud ap Dafydd (son of King Dafydd IV). Owain was the senior male heir of the Royal Line and he made a claim for the Welsh throne as well, only for it to go to the younger Rhisiart of Morgannwg (Owain being 35 in 1750). This resentment continued to fester in the MacGregor-Glyndwr line of Gwynedian princes. Owain died in 1778 during the Siige of Caerodor and was succeeded by his son, Gruffud. Both Gruffud and his uncle, Iorwerth died during the War of Independence with Iorwerth's son, Rhys succeeding to the Princely title in 1788 with the death of his cousin, Gruffud. Rhys was already a 42 year old man with deep anti-southern tendencies and it was these resentments and political bias which he passed onto his son, Maredudd. All this happened however during the reign of the first Ricardians and later Arthurian reigns. Whilst these monarchs held the reins of power, Gwyneddian intransigence could and was overcome with strong leadership. It was this leadership which Cystennin lacked. As Cystennin's reign progressed more and more court positions went to favoured Southern or Western nobles, political power became more entrenched in the south and the fillips handed back to the north seemed more and more high handed insults. With Rhys III sitting in Garth Celyn this seemed an insult too much. When Cystennin handed over the Palace of Harlech (as well as officially granting Caernarfon) Rhys sensed weakness in the monarch and moved to exploit it.

The Coup of '43

In the spring of 1843, Cystennin fell seriously ill. Confined to his bed and unable to communicate, the Royal Government was paralysed. Acting swiftly, Rhys attempted to take control of the government. With the Earl of Mon as Chancellor, Rhys quickly gained control of the political machinery. The Duke of March (Duke Edmund IX) however retained control of the Army, and remained loyal to the king. Without the Army, Rhys was unable to retain his control and with the kings recovery lost his political gains. He would also lose the Chancellorship for Earl Elphin, with the southern lords pushing for the Archbishop of Brecon to take the position, something they achieved in 1844.

Castell Aberteifi and Death

Following Rhys' attempted power grab several of the leading nobles called for his removal from the Gwyneddian throne. Cystennin, refused such a move. Rhys, mollified by his aborted power grab had learned his lesson, however. In secret, he began to build an army in North Wales, as well as attempting to subvert army units in the Royal Army. 1844 was a quiet year, with a poor harvest, simmering political unrest and unquiet nobles. The Prince of Powys along with the Duke of March were vocal in their demands for sanctions against Garth Celyn, others such as the Lords of Dean, Henffordd, Haf and most importantly Ceredigion refused such calls.

Cystennin decided in the spring of 1845 to proceed to tour the kingdom, visiting different towns and cities to reassure the people that the kingdom was secure. He took with him as his bodyguards, the 1st Battalion Kings Infantry Guard (the Black Lions). This was a new regiment, only raised in 1838 from men in Powys Fadog (northern Powys). Unknown to Cystennin or to others in court, Rhys had already subverted the officers of the battalion. In August, whilst visiting Aberteifi, the men struck, killing the king while he visited the renovations to the Castell Aberteifi. As the king lay dying on the cobbled streets outside the castle gates the Regiment raised the banner of Gwynedd and marched north. The Welsh Civil War had begun.


Cystennin's legacy is a mixed one. On one hand he inherited a stable, growing country and left one much poorer, having suffered three years continual poor harvests. He had also lost the jewel in the Imperial crown (Y Wladfa) and he died at the hands of traitors kick starting a four year civil war.

On the other, he left cities more graceful than he inherited. He inspired art galleries, museums (albeit private ones) concert halls. The arts and sciences flourished during his brief reign. Another positive was the increasing industrialisation of Wales, with Morgannwg, Haf, Dean and March all leading the way in the growing revolution.

It is for this reason that depending on where you stand he has two posthumous names, the Benefactor and the Marytr. He was succeeded by his 15-year-old son, Rhisiart, who had to fight for his patrimony in the face of war from Rhys. Victory for Rhisiart however, would see the second Ricardian era, built on foundations laid by Cystennin, which would see a flourish in the second half of the 19th century.

Preceded by:
Arthur I
King of Wales
Succeeded by:
Rhisiart III

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