In the 16th century, the Lloyds of Pentrehobyn carved the crest of Edwin Tegeingl above the fireplaces in the great hall and the dining room. The carving tied the Lloyds to a legendary line of Welsh rulers, thereby establishing their claim to nobility no matter the size of their estate or their wealth. In the 1500s, compilers of pedigrees mapped out the ancestors of Wales’ finest families. At times, they played fast and loose with facts. Their task was to legitimize the powerful, not surprise the weak by informing them that they had impressive relatives. The Lloyds positioned themselves as the direct descendents of Edwin Tegeingl, an 11th century lord, lauded as one of the founders of the “Fifteen Noble Tribes of North Wales.” The pedigrees linked Edwin to Hywel Dda, or Hywel the Good, one of the most beloved and mythologized Medieval princes of Medieval Wales. In a society where heritage determined authority, the Lloyds’ claims to illustrious ancestors positioned them to mix with the elite and take on as much power as they could. Their blood legitimized their ambition.
Hywel Dda was a cultured, diplomatic prince in an age of warriors. In 928, he became the first Welsh prince to make a pilgrimage to Rome. His lengthy journey across Europe gave him an understanding of the varied customs and ways of life of Europe. His understood the world in a larger and more nuanced way than any prince who stayed in his own kingdom forever striving to protect and expand his territory.
While some Medieval princes made their name in battle, Hywel was a diplomat. He befriended Athelstan, King of the Anglo-Saxons. Athelstan is regarded as the first king of England—no king before him could compel the broken and warring kingdoms of England to acknowledge his rule. Under Athelstan, England reached unity it had not seen since the Roman Empire. In Medieval England, battle determined a man’s worth. Although submitting to another’s yoke could be seen as shameful, Hywel saw past the limiting demands of Medieval masculinity. He willingly acknowledged Athelstan as his king and became his aid and ally. His bond with the most powerful man in England enabled him to expand his territory in Wales and defeat anyone who challenged his authority. He aided Athelstan when he marched north to invade Scotland, and stayed back when other Celtic princes challenged him in battle. He punished his own kinsmen when they took up arms against Edmond I, Athelstan’s son.
Legend has it that Hywel Dda was the first ruler to codify the laws of Wales. Medieval chronicles say that he gathered expert lawyers and priests from each connote, or municipality, in Wales to set their oral legal tradition on paper. The chronicles embellish the story as the years go on, so the facts are lost to history. Welsh law is a form of Celtic law with a rich tradition set apart from the Anglo-Saxon legal codes that would define England. The laws were compassionate compared to most of their time, and Hywel’s second name “Dda” means “good,” because his people regarded his laws as just. All of a man’s sons, not just the oldest, had an equal right to inherit from his father. Women enjoyed freedom that would surprise an English woman of later centuries. They had the right to elope without their family’s permission. After seven years of marriage, they also had a claim to half of the “common pool” of their property with their husband. And if they found their husband to be repeatedly unfaithful, they had a right to divorce him. The Catholic clergy took offense at the relatively liberal laws of family life in Wales, but Welsh tradition prevailed. Yet, Welsh law also codified the inequality and the clan-centric culture of Wales. A rigid class system divided between kings, lords, free yeomen, serfs, and foreigners gave each group distinct rights and privileges. Above all else, pedigree determined your status in Welsh society.
Centuries later, pedigree still defined a family. Stories of ancient families and the wisdom and accomplishments of their ancestors made up the shared mythology of Wales for centuries. A claim to a link to Hywell Dda, the greatest of the Welsh Medieval rulers, established the Lloyds as one of the most ambitious families of the district.