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A glance at the map of England and Wales shows that two of our largest rivers the Severn and the Wye not only rise within a short distance of each other on the eastern slope of Plynlimmon, but that after wandering sixty miles apart they meet again before entering the sea.
The land included by these streams is thus really a peninsula, and was known to the ancients by the collective name of Fferllys, or Fferyllwg. The greater part of Radnorshire lies within its north-west portion, occupying the same tract as the lordships of Melenydd and Elvael in far-off times. Another district that of Gwrtheyrnion a mountainous tract to the west of the Wye was added to Melenydd and Elvael to form the complete county when its present boundaries were fixed.
This region of hill and dale has always been famous. Its mountainous character has served as an excellent defence in all ages. Its position, too, as a debatable borderland between Dyfed on the one side and Mercia on the other, made its possession, especially in medieval times, a matter of great import. All the roads and tracks of Mid-Wales converged on the fords of Wye, and whoever dominated them dominated the country on both sides.
Celt, Roman, and Norman successively mastered and owned the beautiful valleys of Upper Fferllys, and each has left very conspicuous marks of his occupation. The Saxon was not uniformly victorious his boundary varied from age to age. Now he advanced to the Wye itself, and now he had to retreat to the Severn, until at last the great Offa fixed the boundary that is still connected with his name. The Dane also raided the district, but did not succeed in making it his permanent abode.
Although this mountain region has a long history, the county of Radnor, as we now know it, is a modern division, dating no further back than 1536, when at the same time, and under similar circumstances as Brecon, Monmouth, Montgomery, and Denbigh, it was created out of the unshired lands of the Borders, or Marches.
Pembroke and Glamorgan were counties before the fall of the last Llewelyn, and in 1284 Edward I by the Statute of Rhudd-lan created six others Flint, Carnarvon, Anglesey, Merioneth, Cardigan, and Carmarthen ; but the remainder of Wales was for two and a half centuries an unhappy territory, where legalised oppressors, the Lords-Marchers, to the number of about 140, held the destinies of life and death over the wretched people, ruling them by the strength of the sword, in virtue of the "Jura Regalia," a martial law of the sternest kind.
Henry VIII by his Act of Union in 1536 swept all this away by adding a number of the Lordships to the existing neighbouring English and Welsh shires, and forming the remainder into five new counties, of which, as we have seen, Radnor was one.
Although the name Radnor, as applied to the county, is comparatively modern, the name as applied to the chief mountains of the district, Radnor Forest, and to the villages of Old and New Radnor, is a very old one, New Radnor even being at least as old as the Domesday Book. The meaning of the word has long been a puzzle to scholars, but the interpretation most generally accepted derives it from the Anglo-Saxon rade = "a road" and nore = "narrow," making it to mean "the land of mountain tracks," which it most certainly was.
The origin of the Welsh name - Maesyfed - is also doubtful, for although maes ="a field" is definite enough, there is no satisfactory explanation of the other portion of the word, the various authorities offering as many explanations, ranging from yfed = "to drink " and Hyfaidd = "a Welsh chieftain," to y fedw = "the birch tree." The last mentioned has at least the merit of being plausible, especially if compared with the Welsh names of other border towns, e.g. Pengwern (Shrewsbury), "the head of the alders," Tre-ffawydd (Hereford), "the town of the beeches," and Celyn (Clun), "the town of holly."
(SOURCE: Davies, Lewis. Radnorshie. Cambridge: University Press, 1912.)
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