Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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POWEL , DAVID ( 1552? - 1598 ), cleric and historian ;

son of Hywel ap Dafydd ap Gruffudd of Llantysilio and Bryneglwys, Denbs. — the pedigree, stretching back to Edwin ap Gronw (d. 1073 ) (q.v.) , is printed in Powys Fadog , ii, 340. He went up ‘at 16’ to an unascertained college at Oxford , but on the foundation of Jesus College ( 1571 ) migrated thither, and is believed ( Hardy , Jesus College , 41) to have been the first to graduate ( 3 March 1572/3 ) from that college — he proceeded D.D. in 1583 . Even before graduating he was ( 1570 ) vicar of Ruabon ( Thomas , S. Asaph , iii, 286) and (1571) of Llanfyllin (op. cit., ii, 234); he exchanged Llanfyllin for Meifod in 1579 (op. cit., ii, 502 — he would seem to have resigned this in 1597 ); he received two successive prebends in S. Asaph (op. cit., i, 350, 347); and in 1588/9 was given the sinecure rectory of Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain . In Feb. 1587/8 he is named as one of the only three ‘ preachers ’ in his diocese. Powel was one of the most important representatives of the Revival of Learning in Wales . Bishop William Morgan acknowledges his help in translating the Bible into Welsh , and Dr. John Davies of Mallwyd (and, for that matter, Powel 's own son Daniel — see below) says that he intended producing a Welsh dictionary .

But it is as a historian that Powel is remembered. In Sept. 1583 Sir Henry Sidney (q.v. Powel was his chaplain ) asked him to prepare for press the translation by Humphrey Llwyd (q.v.) of ‘ Brut y Tywysogion ,’ which Llwyd had translated from a manuscript ending in 1270 , to which he had added an appendix coming down to 1295 . But Powel 's Historie of Cambria, now called Wales , which he published in 1584 , was much fuller than this; in the words of its title-page, it was ‘ corrected, augmented, and continued, out of records and best approved authors ,’ and its preface gives a list of authorities used and of persons who aided Powel , such as William Cecil , lord Burghley , who gave him access to official records. As an introduction to the book, Powel printed Llwyd 's translation of the account of the territorial divisions of Wales , by Sir John Price (q.v.) of Brecon . He inserted into the text of the ‘Brut’ additions, by himself and others, such as the tractate by Sir Edward Stradling (see the article on that family) on the Norman conquest of Glamorgan , which had been given to Powel by Blanche Parry (q.v.) . Lastly, he added a very inadequate continuation down to 1584 . Using different founts and other devices, he carefully differentiated between Llwyd 's text and the added matter. The book was somewhat comically illustrated by ‘portraits’ of ‘ the old Welsh princes ’ — but Sir J. E. Lloyd and Victor Scholderer ( N.L.W. Jnl. , 1943 , 15-8) have shown that these were quite irrelevant, being blocks borrowed from the 1577 edition of Holinshed 's Chronicles .

Powel 's Historie is of the greatest importance in the history of Welsh historiography. Either in its original form (reprinted in 1811 ) or (more commonly) in the adaptation by William Wynne (q.v. — and see B.B.C.S. , 1932 , 153-9), it was the ‘authority’ on which practically all writers depended when writing on the period down to 1282 , until Sir John Edward Lloyd 's History of Wales appeared in 1911 . Powel 's style (but not Wynne 's) was lively, at times colourful. He rejoiced in the union with England , and averred that under it Wales was well ordered — lacking only a Bible in its own tongue. Yet he has no great love for the English people. If the Welsh fought with the English , ‘ is it not natural to defend your purse against robbers ? ’ — and he expatiates upon the wrongs done by March lords and royal officials in Wales . He has little to say on behalf of Owain Glyn Dŵr , ‘ who lived in a fool's paradise ,’ and whose claim to the princely title was ‘ altogether frivolous ’ — indeed, he can spare Owain only a page; but he speaks with great severity of the English penal legislation which ensued after his rising. Writing as he did in the age of Elizabeth , he goes out of his way to show that Owain Tudur was no plebeian adventurer but a man of ancient and noble lineage. Yet, interestingly enough, it is not upon the Penmynydd ancestry that he bases his queen 's and her father's right to the principality of Wales . To him, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth 's heir was Dafydd ap Llywelyn Gruffydd ap Llywelyn and his sons, Llywelyn and Dafydd , to Powel , were not in the legitimate succession; accordingly, on the death of Dafydd ap Llywelyn ap Iorwerth , his heir was his sister, Gwladus Ddu , whose rights descended to the Mortimer family (qq.v.) . In other words, the claim of Henry VIII (and of Elizabeth ) to the principality arose not from Henry VII , but from his queen, Elizabeth ( Mortimer ) of the house of York .

In 1585 Powel published three books in a single volume: (1) the Historia Britannica of Ponticus Virunnius , a summary of Geoffrey of Monmouth ; (2) the Itinerarium Cambriae and the Descriptio Cambriae of Giraldus Cambrensis (q.v.) — this is the first printed text of Giraldus , but Powel 's patriotism prevailed over his historical conscience, and he left out Giraldus 's unfavourable judgements upon the Welsh ; (3) a letter, De Britannica Historia recte intelligenda . He d. ‘ early in 1598 ,’ according to J. E. Lloyd (in D.N.B. ), and was buried at Ruabon — there is, by the way, no foundation for the belief that he founded Ruabon grammar school .

From his marriage with Elizabeth , daughter of Cynwrig of Marchwiail , Powel had three sons:

(1) DANIEL POWEL , a layman ,

alive in 1620 , founder of the Powel of Rhuddallt family ( Powys Fadog , loc. cit.). It was he who published Llyfr Plygain in 1612 (reprinted 1931 ); in his preface he speaks lovingly of his father — of his care for the Church of God, and of his ‘ costly travail ’ on his country's behalf — and makes a half promise to publish ‘ a Welsh Dictionary, my father's Thesaurus ’;

(2) SAMUEL POWEL ( 1570 - 1600 ) ,

a graduate of Jesus College , Oxford , who succeeded his father as vicar ( 1598-1600 ) of Ruabon ( Thomas , S. Asaph , iii, 286;

(3) GABRIEL POWEL ( 1576 - 1611 ) ,

on whom there is a D.N.B. article by Alexander Gordon . Apart from the fact that (like his father before him) he held the sinecure rectory of Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain ( 1601-11 ; Thomas , op. cit., ii, 252), there was nothing Welsh about his career. According to Anthony Wood , he was ‘ a Prodigie of learning ,’ and published nine books against Popery and Puritanism .


  • Sources named in the article.


Emeritus Professor Robert Thomas Jenkins, C.B.E., D.Litt., Ll.D., F.S.A., (1881-1969), Bangor

Corrections and additions:

POWEL , DAVID ( DWB , 770-1).

See N.L.W. Jnl. , XIII, 398, where Prof. Melville Richards , on the basis of a deed of transfer of land dated 26 Oct. 1558 at N.L.W. , concludes that the year of birth of Dr. Powel should be at least as early as 1540 .


Published date: 1959