The Dynevors


Dynevor Coat of Arms
THE DYNEVOR COAT OF ARMS. The Crest (at the top) is the black raven of the Rhys family. The Arms (the shield in the centre) has the three ravens for he RHYS side of the ancestry (top left and bottom right quarters). A lion rampart (top right quarter) for the TALBOTs. Three trefoils (bottom left) for the DE CARDONNELs. The supporters are a Griffin (left) and a Talbot (right). The Motto means ‘Secret and Bold’

Llandeilo today is a small, modern, but still essentially rural town some twenty-five miles north of Swansea. Today, in our more democratic age, the surrounding farmland the town is built on is shared out between thousands of householders, local businesses, a few property developers, the county council and a dwindling number of small farmers. But as recently as the time of our grandparents most of today's town was still farmland, largely owned by one family, the Dynevors, who had other parts of Carmarthenshire in their possession as well.

Long since built on, the patchwork quilt of tenant farms that once paid rent and obeisance to the local squire has become our modern streets and housing estates, road systems, car parks, supermarkets, shops and factories. The virgin fields given over to arable cultivation, or grazed by livestock, can now only be guessed at from Ordnance Survey and parish tithe maps held in public archives.

It might therefore be productive to trace the history of these Dynevors who figured so large in Llandeilo's past, and whose ancestral seat can still be seen in all its glory just a short walk from the town.

The Dynevor estates in 1883 consisted of 7,208 acres in Carmarthenshire, 3,299 acres in Glamorgan, besides 231 acres in Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Total: 10,738 acres, worth £12,562 a year income and the principal residence was Dinefwr Castle in Llandeilo. (Source: The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Vicary Gibbs, London, 1916.) According to Bank of England figures, the pound had a present day purchasing value of £45.67 in 1883 so the above income represents £573,596 a year at today's values.

The Dynevors though were not the largest landowners in the county; far from it. That distinction must go to the Scottish Earls of Cawdor, whose vast land holdings dwarfed even the substantial acreage of the Dynevors. Their 10,738 acres in 1883 look puny compared to the 33,782 acres the Cawdors owned in Carmarthenshire alone, with another 17,735 acres in Pembrokeshire, and to which can be added 50,119 acres in their home county of Nairn in Scotland. The total of 101,657 acres brought in an annual income of £44,662 in 1883 (that's equivalent to £2,039,714 a year at today's prices). Interestingly, the 51,000 acres of prime agricultural land in Wales yielded the Cawdors an annual income of £35,042 (£1,600,000 today) but the 50,000 poorer Scottish acres were worth just £9,620 per annum (£439,000). Their principal residences (note the plural) were Stackpole Court, Pembrokeshire; Golden Grove, Llandeilo; and Cawdor Castle, Nairnshire, Scotland. Our source for this information, the 'Complete Peerage', by Vicary Gibbs, also informs us that Earl Cawdor was one of the 28 noblemen who in 1883 owned over 100,000 acres in the UK. The most famous of the Cawdors, if Shakespeare's three witches are to be believed, was of course Macbeth (All hail Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!). There was a historical Macbeth (1005 - 1057, and King of Scotland from 1040), but the modern Barony of Cawdor goes back only to 1796, with the Earldom being created in 1827. The modern-day Earls still live in Cawdor Castle, but as this was built in the late 14th century, it has nothing to do with Macbeth, historical or Shakespearean. Their Pembrokeshire residence at Stackpole Court was demolished in 1963 and their equally grand Carmarthenshire seat at Golden Grove was taken over by the county council in 1951 and run as an agricultural college, while the mighty Carreg Cennen Castle and its surrounding farmlands was lost to them in the 1960s.

After this little digression into the Cawdor's family fortunes, it might now be productive to return to the Dynevors and trace the history of this family who figure so large in Llandeilo's history. To do this however we'll have to start the story a thousand years into the past, at the ancient castle of Dinefwr, and where the Dynevor's more modern ancestral seat can still be seen in all its glory.

Just a short walk from the centre of Llandeilo are the beautiful parklands of Dinefwr Castle. At the south west corner of the park, on a crag some 300 feet above the river banks, stands ancient Dinefwr Castle with a spectacular view overlooking the river Tywi from its recently restored ramparts.

Dinefwr Castle
Aerial view of Dinefwr Castle from the south. Photo by T. A. James (Dyfed Archaeological Trust) from 'Sir Gar - Essays in Carmarthenshire History', edited by Heather James (1991)

At the north west corner is the mock-gothic Newton House, medieval in origin, but with 17th, 18th and 19th century additions, and running along the river at the southern side, are the ancient woodlands concealing the slightly spooky, grave-strewn Llandyfeisant Church. Add a deer park and a wetlands area and you have the perfect ingredients for a thoroughly enjoyable morning or afternoon walk. And of course, mention that the beautiful park was laid out by the most sought after landscape gardener of the 18th century, Capability Brown, and your joy will be unconfined (or might be if the rain holds off).

The park's long views look down also on a long history, one that goes far back into the Welsh middle ages (and even further if legend is to be believed). There is an impressive cast of historical characters, too. Start with some fierce Welsh Princes fighting off the advances of the nasty Normans, when they weren't fighting each other that is (they were a quarrelsome lot), before finally being dispossessed of their lands by Edward the First. Then add a knight in shining armour, in this case Henry the Seventh (a Welshman), to restore the lands two centuries later, with another Welshman, Rhys ap Thomas, killing the monstrous King Richard III in the process. Next, enter Henry's villainous son Henry the Eighth, seizing the Rhys lands for the crown yet again, beheading the owner in the process, and all-in-all you have the makings of a rich history indeed, Hollywood material even. The family, by then calling themselves Rice after anglicizing the original name of Rhys, managed to get some, but not all, of their land back eventually thanks to later monarchs Queen Mary and James the First. Finally the family acquired a modern title in 1780 with the creation of the first Baron Dynevor of Dynevor (the current holder of the title is the 9th Baron). The 4th Baron brings the Dynevors back into the glare of history once more with his policing of the Rebecca Riots in 1843. The Dynevors' fortunes increased steadily throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries before declining precipitously in the twentieth century, after death duties struck them a mortal blow from which they never fully recovered. We can however add the obligatory feel-good ending to finish with, for despite the recent Dynevor generations somehow managing to fritter away all that wonderful inheritance, Dinefwr Park is now in public ownership and available for all, not merely one family, to enjoy.

The first recorded occupants of Dinefwr Castle and its lands was the medieval Lord Rhys and his descendants, who ruled the area until 1277 when their lands and castles were siezed by the Anglo-Norman King Edward I. Then, after two hundred years of dispossession by the English crown, the ancestors of the modern Dynevors acquired the estates (and incidentally the name Rhys as well), becoming the dominant political power in Wales. By virtue of being members of that thoroughly outdated, yet curiously persistent species, the aristocracy, the Dynevors have a pretty complete family history going back, they once claimed, to the sixth century. Most of us commoners are lucky if we can go back three generations or so before our genealogy peters out completely, usually with plenty of gaps for unknown great-aunts, intrepid emigrants, and mysterious black sheep. So, we'll trace a little of that Dynevor history from the middle ages to more recent times, by when all the achievements of that splendid, pageant-filled past have evaporated completely, leaving plenty of history but little else besides. Anyone taking a stroll in Dinefwr Park after reading this brief tale will know the history of the most prominent features they encounter but will also know that none of it any longer belongs to the Dynevor family.