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The division of Wales into shires first took place in the reign of Edward the First. Before the conquest of Wales by that monarch there was no division of the Principality into shire ground as understood in English annals. The Shire (i.e. the part shorn off, or cut off, from the Anglo-Saxon word scir) was a Saxon institution brought into use at an early period, as early as the seventh century. In the code of laws of Ina of Wessex, we find portions of the country under his rule divided into scir ground, and each division was placed under an officer who was styled a scir-gerefa, i.e. a shire-reeve or sheriff. He was the natural leader of the shire in war and peace. His duties were to look after the king's rights, dues and fines, and he acted as the sovereign's representative as regards finance and the execution of justice.
County is a word of Norman origin (comte) which came into use in our country after the Conquest, when the administration of each shire was entrusted to a great earl or baron, who was often a count (comte), i.e. a companion of the king.
The shiring of Wales was the direct outcome of the extension of English influence into our land. It took place upon two separate occasions, the first as stated above, and the second in the reign of Henry the Eighth. Consequently the shires of Wales do not stand in the same relation to the early history of the particular districts of which they are a share, as the real shires of England proper stand to old English history. They are really administrative districts formed for convenience, rather than organic divisions of land and people like Sussex and Kent, which correspond to original tribal kingdoms. Of the Welsh counties Anglesey's insular position gave it a unity and compactness of its own, but as regards the others, Cardiganshire alone in extent of territory and distinctive characteristics is in an analogous position to that of Sussex and Kent among English counties. It probably corresponded with the ancient principality of Ceredigion, and to this, perhaps, the strong local feeling and distinctive type of character still associated with that county are due. The other counties have, however, been built up of the immemorial territorial divisions (hundreds and commotes) of the Cymry.
The county of Merioneth is one of the eight counties which came into existence by the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284. The name, however, is of much earlier date as the name of a cantrev. In its Welsh form of Meirionydd we are taken back to a period some eight centuries earlier.
The tradition is that about 420 A.D. Cunedcla, a powerful British chief who held his court at Carlisle, was invited by his kindred, the Brythons, to come and assist them, as they were sore pressed by the Gwyddyl or Goidels from across the Irish Sea. In right of his mother, as we are told in the Welsh pedigrees, Cunedda was able to claim large tracts of territory in Wales. He therefore most readily responded to the appeal, and by the aid of his numerous sons succeeded in expelling the Goidels from the greater part of the territory. Cunedda's men, it is recorded, settled permanently in the land, and so did his sons, except the eldest, named Tybiawn, who had died some time before in Manaw Gododin, as the territory of the north was called.
The names of the sons have survived in the territories which they wrested from the Gwyddyl. Ceredig occupied Ceredigion (Cardiganshire); Arwystl seized upon Arwystli, a part of Montgomeryshire; Edeyrn made his abode in Edeyrnion in our present county; Einion possessed him- self of Caereinion in Montgomeryshire. The sons of Tybiawn were likewise granted their shares, in right of the eldest son. Maelor obtained Dyffryn Maelor, and Meirion possessed the territory called Cantrev Meirion, "the Hundred of Meirion," which in its turn gave its name to Meirionydd, and the county of Merioneth.
By the Statute of Rhuddlan there were added to the cantrev of Meirionydd the commotes of Penllyn, Edeyrnion, and Ardudwy, and these together constituted the shire of Merioneth until the time of Henry VIII. When the Principality became ripe for its union with England in the time of the Welsh sovereigns, the Tudors, an "Act of Union" was passed, by which five new shires were created from the Marcher lordships. This Act added to the county of Merioneth the lawless lordship of Mawddwy.
(SOURCE: Morris, A. Merionethshire. Cambridge: University Press, 1913.)
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