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Period Welsh Models for SCA Households and the Nomenclature Thereof

copyright © 1994 Heather Rose Jones, all rights reserved

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Names from the Court and Noble Households

I have previously described something of the relationship between the nobility and the system of land tenure. But in addition to names describing the land a lord might hold are those related to his household itself. In contrast to the scarcity of information on familial relationships, the medieval Welsh laws describe the structure, officers, and business of the court in great detail.

The Court

Theoretically, a lord would have a llys (court) in each cwmwd he held. [Owen 1989 p.182] Some names reflect this directly, such as Llyswrinydd in the cantref of Gwrinydd [Owen 1989 p.202], but llys is found as an element in combination with all the usual sorts of modifiers (see above). The maerdref (the tref of the steward) was the portion of land associated with the court which provided it with agricultural products and services. [Owen 1989 p.182]

The officers of a king's court would have their lands (gwelyau) close at hand to the llys. Field names in the vicinity of the llys of Aberffraw in Mon reflect this: Maes y Maerdref and Gwely y Porthorion (Porters). [Owen 1989 p.185] Other place names making reference to grooms (gwastrodion) and bards (beirdd) may similarly refer to lands given in return for service.


I have found no clear references to how the court as a whole might have been called, but in this context the medieval Welsh tales use the terms teulu and nifer. Although the modern word teulu means "family", in the medieval laws and other sources it is clearly described as the lord's personal guard or warband. This was not the seasonal levy, but the group of men permanently attached to the court, led by the penteulu (head of the teulu) who was often a close relative of the lord. The word nifer is much less clear. Its literal meaning is "number" and in the tales it always occurs in the stock phrase "teulu and nifer" in referring to the inhabitants of a court. It may well mean the non-military inhabitants of the court, in contrast to the teulu, but this is only conjecture. I have found no examples of teulu used with a modifier to refer to a particular group, but given the personal nature of the association, I find it most likely that a form like teulu <personal name> would be most appropriate. If the lord in question were closely associated with a particular region, then something like teulu <region> might also be possible. Both of these are speculative.


In references to the era after the Edwardian conquest, one begins to find the word plaid "party, followers" used for a group adhering to a particular person or political side. (It is used in modern terms for a political party - Plaid Cymru is the Welsh nationalist party.) But again, though I can find examples of the word used in this sense in the poetry of Dafydd ap Gwilym, for example, I can find no examples of it modified to refer to a specific entity.

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