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Aberffenwy is a district (ardal) in the city of Porthbrenin and until 1762 was a city in its own right. Until 1671 it was the capital of the kingdom of Rhysiog and now houses Rhysiog's provincial assemby and most provincial government buildings.
Aberffenwy means "mouth of the Ffenway". The Ffenwy is one of the rivers which flow into Porthbrenin Bay.
Records show that the settlement fell within the Estate of Cymfeliog (Ystad Gwmfeliog) from at least the 10th century, but the estate’s centre of power before the 13th century was Heulyn Castle beside the inland village of Pontarbeliog. The estate, including Aberffenwy, belonged to the Heulyn dynasty (Teulu’r Heulyn ap Llwyd). The Heulyn lords proved ineffectual in combating Norðmanni raiders in the 12th century, and this led to High Lord Caradog I of Rhysiog establishing his own fort within Cwmfeliog at Penmaion (southwest of Aberffenwy) in 1178. Heulyn control of the estate diminished from this point - especially after the arrival of the Wesmans in 1206 - until, in 1234, the last nominal lord, Llevelys ap Hafgan, died without heir. Duke Alun I of Rhysiog formally assumed the lordship, bringing the legal status into line with what was already the de facto situation.
The Knight Venturers (Wesmans) in Aberffenwy
In 1206 a contingent of Knight Venturers, under the captaincy of Sir Kenneth of Inverbervy, arrived in Aberffenwy to assist in the battle against the Norðmanni. In an attempt to prevent them disrupting and dominating the area, the Venturers were given a 15-acre compound to the west of the town, only a few hundred yards from the watchful eye of the Duke in Penmaion Castle. Other than those who were authorized to trade and buy supplies, the knights and their followers were supposed to remain outside the main town except when travelling along Stryd Marchogion ("Knights' Street") to the De Giât ("South Gate") piers where their boats were moored. These restrictions were never observed in practice, and the Wesmen dominated the town for the next 3 decades. The building of the town wall began during this period, under the direction of the Wesmans.
In the 1230s, after the Norðmanni threat had been largely dealt with, many Wesmans remained in Aberffenwy and other bases on the Cambric coast, and Cambric leaders feared a gradual takeover, as was happening in Devnun. They banded together in a campaign to rid the Kledbarth Peninsula of Wesmans, inflicting several defeats. In Aberffenwy an uneasy truce persisted between the Wesmans and Rhysiogans, but this was being severely strained by events elsewhere. In 1236 the Wesman captain, Sir James Inverbervy, accepted that it was only a matter of time before the combined forces of the Cambric realms would expell his people, and he agreed to leave peacefully for Wesmandy.
With the Wesmans gone, Duke Alun I of Rhysiog took over the Wesman compound and began expanding the main house into what was to become Palas Unferberfi ("Inverbervy Palace"). This was to remain the seat of the ducal and royal court of Rhysiog until the 17th century union with Morionys. Aberffenwy went on to thrive as both a trading port and the administrative centre of Rhysiog. In 1274 the city was admitted to the Vinnic League, and in 1352 the episcopal see of the Donllanii was moved from Pentremadog to Aberffenwy.
Fifty Years War
In the 1430s Rhysiog became embroiled in Wesmandy's Fifty Years War, siding with the House of Darlmouth against King Iestyn III of Morionys, who was laying claim to the Wesman throne.
In 1437 Morionysan troops lay siege to Aberffenwy, blockading the inhabitants within the city walls for eight months. The siege was eventually broken in a meticulously planned operation, during which part of the city wall at the Palace Gate suffered severe damage and collapsed. Plans were made to build a new wall extending further out into Maes Maion, the fields to the west of the city. Homes, mainly for courtiers, were built in the area to be enclosed but the wall itself was never completed.
During the war, the abbot and monks of Llanddewi, on the east side of the bay, supported by their Knights of St.David, were believed to be sending aid to the Morionysans in Wesmandy. Matters came to a head and resulted in open conflict in 1441. Rhysiogan Royal troops attacked not only the knights' stronghold of Caer Pencedd but also the abbey itself, violating its sanctity and enraging the church. The abbey was set alight and its inhabitants slaughtered as they fled the flames. A fortune in gold and other treasure was found within the ruins.
Parliament and university
As punishment for his violation of the abbey, King Ieuan I was excommunicated by the Patriarch and the people of Rysiog were released from their oaths of loyalty to him. King Ieuan's response was to submit himself to the mercy of an Assembly of his lords and, for the first time, gentry. They defied the Patriarch and gave him their support, but demanded in return the right to be consulted on matters of state which affected them. Thus was born the Parliament (Senedd) of Rhysiog, which was to become the model for the Parliament of Tircambry three hundred years later.
The new Parliament met in a variety of rooms in and around Palas Unferberfi, but eventually settled in a building in the west wall, which was extended and renamed The Parliament House (Tŷ Senedd).
A treaty was signed between the King and the Church in 1446, which placed a commitment on the king to establish an educational institution "for the Glory of God" using wealth plundered from St.David's Abbey. Rather than locate it on the site of the Abbey (which was to be left untouched in memory of the massacred monks), King Ieuan established his new St.David's College (Coleg Sant Dewi) in Maesydd De Besni (now Demaesydd) on the west bank of the bay, north of Aberffenwy. The college opened in 1452, the first institution of the new "university for the communities of Porthbrenin", i.e. Porthbrenin University. This is believed to be the first use of the name Porthbrenin for the settlements surrounding the bay rather than only for the bay itself. A second college - King Ieuan (Coleg Brenin Ieuan) - was established in 1464, and more colleges were added in the following centuries.
Sixteenth century port expansion
During the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, trade continued to expand. Access to the quays on the west bank of the Ffenwy River was controlled by the city's exclusive trade guilds, which led some non-guild members to buy land on the other side of the river, outside the city boundary, and set up the East Quays (Ceiau Ddwyrain). Under pressure from the guilds, in 1532 Parliament legislated to expand the boundaries of Aberffenwy to the east bank, including both the docks and the university. The East Quays were therefore brought back within the jurisdiction of the guilds, although the guilds were forced to admit East Quays owners into their membership.
By the mid-sixteenth century some traders again found themselves unable to gain admittance to the guilds, and found guild fees too expensive, so they began an expansion of port facilities in Llanddewi, on the east bank of the River Gwyrdd. Against the objections of the Aberffenwy guilds, the Gwrydd Bridge was built (completed 1584), giving road access between Llanddewi and the capital.
Another change to the Aberffenwy and surrounding landscape during the sixteenth century was the development of half a dozen mansions, with their own large private gardens. These were owned by high-ranking courtiers whose main estates were elsewhere in the kingdom but who wanted grand residences near the royal court. Unlike the older castles and manor houses, the mansions were in no way defensive and were not tied to agricultural estates. Agricuctural production lost to these "mansion parks" (parciau plasty) was replaced and expanded by the clearance and cultivation of forest and grassland elsewhere.
Seventeenth century developments
In 1645 a fire destroyed Palas Unferberfi and a section of the city's West Wall. Although the palace was still the official royal residence and seat of government, Queen Bronwen was no longer resident there because she lived in Caerarthen with her husband, King Llewelyn IV of Morionys. Nevertheless, she promised that the palace would be re-built and remain the centre of Rhysiogan government. The original palace compound, along with the West Wall Field (Maes Wal Orllewinol) were kept free for the re-build, but it never happened. This land became a de facto public park, called Parc Unferberfi.
Other changes in the seventeenth century included the demolition of sections of the east wall, providing direct access to the docks on the west bank of the Ffenwy, and making room for new warehouses and other buildings. The university expanded, with the establishment of two new colleges (Coleg Brenin Alun IV and Coleg Meibion Geraint) and a university library.
To the west of Coleg Sant Dewi Prince Morys (Queen Bronwen's cousin) built his own "Prince's House" (Tŷ Tywysog). In the Queen's absence, Morys became the most senior royal official resident in Rhysiog, and Tŷ Tywysog effectively replaced Palas Unferberfi as the headquarters of government. In 1664 Bronwen was succeeded by her son Hywel, who had already become King of Morionys, and two years later Prince Morys unsuccessfully attempted to seize the Rhysiogan throne in order to keep it separate from Morionys. He was executed for treason in 1667. Tŷ Tywysog was taken over by the Crown, and then in 1702 King Hwyel IV established a new Porthbrenin University college there, called Coleg Tywysog (Prince's College).
Eighteenth century "decline and rise"
The growth of Aberffenwy stagnated somewhat during the late 17th and early 18th centuries because of the loss of the already-depleted Royal Court and government activities after the 1671 union of Morionys and Rhysiog. However, this period did see the establishment of Coleg Tywysog and also of Ysgol Tŷ Rhostirgwyn ("Rhostirgwyn House School", 1725), which was to become one of Tircambry's elite private schools. The city came under naval attack by Patriarchal forces in 1733, during the Second War of Unification. The major structural casuality of the attacks was Penmaion Castle, which was severely damaged and remains a ruin to this day.
After the unification of Tircambry in 1748 maritime trade began to pick up, but Aberffenwy was losing out to its neighbour Llanddewi, which had better facilities. Aberffenwy's southern quays were becoming more difficult to navigate to because of silting in Porthbrenin Bay. In the 1750s construction of the wetwater dock, Doc Gareth on the south of the bay posed a further threat to Aberffenwy traders. In the last of a long line of disputes between them, the corporations of Aberffenwy and Llanddewi fought over who had the right to regulate the docks and access to them. In 1762 Parliament settled the matter, and brought and end to centuries of civic feuding, by abolishing both corporations and establishing the new City of Porthbrenin (Dinas Porthbrenin) encompassing the whole area, with a single civic authority.
Among the later 18th century developments in Aberffenwy were the establishment of a private girls' school - Ysgol i Ferched Sbandunwr (Venturers' School for Girls) - and the construction of the Pont Newydd (New Bridge) across the River Ffenwy, providing a more direct route from Pont Porthbrenin and Llanddewi into the Aberffenwy commercial district.