Katheryn of Berain [Mam Cymru] (c.15401591), by Adriaen van Cronenburg, 1568
Katheryn of Berain [called Mam Cymru] (c.15401591), gentlewoman, was born at Berain, Llanefydd, Denbighshire, the only child of the soldier and courtier Tudur ap Robert Fychan (d. 1564) and his wife, Jane, daughter of Sir Roland de Veleville (d. 1535) and his wife, Agnes, daughter of William Gruffudd of Penrhyn, Llandygái, chamberlain of Gwynedd. It was firmly, if incorrectly, believed that Sir Roland was the son of Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) and a Breton lady; he was knighted at the coronation of Henry VIII in 1509, appointed constable of Beaumaris Castle, and given the king's moiety of the Tudor property in Penmynydd together with other lands in Anglesey. These he bequeathed to his wife, all of which later devolved to Katheryn.
Folk-story motifs and unfounded malicious rumours became attached to Katheryn's history; equally unfounded is the supposition that she was the ward of Elizabeth I. She is remarkable for having married four times, and her descendants became connected with so many families of north Wales that later generations called her Mam Cymru (Mother of Wales). The final arrangement of her child-marriage to John Salisbury (c.15421566), eldest son and heir to Sir John Salisbury of Lleweni, Denbighshire, and his wife, Dame Jane, made on 5 February 1558, proves that Katheryn had been living at Lleweni for some time; they were to go together as man and wife between then and Christmas. Their elder son, , was born at Lleweni in 1561 and the second son, John, in 1566. Katheryn's first husband died of a sudden illness, at Berain, in the early summer of 1566. By the arrangements made on 12 July and 14 September 1566 all her lands were secured to descend to her son Thomas and his heirs, with remainder to his brother John. Sir John Salisbury was to have the custody of her two sons.
Katheryn's second marriage, to Sir Richard Clough (d. 1570), a native of Denbigh and a knight of the Holy Sepulchre, factor to Sir Thomas Gresham at Antwerp, had taken place before 6 May 1567. They lived at Antwerp, then the centre of world trade; they visited Spain and Denmark; and they moved to Hamburg because of the disturbed conditions in Flanders. Two daughters were born of this marriage: Ann (1568) who married Roger Salisbury, her mother's brother-in-law, and Mary (1570) who married William of Melai, Denbighshire. Clough died of a lingering sickness, in 1570, and his widow and young daughters returned to Berain. It was then that Katheryn commissioned the poet Wiliam Cynwal to compile all the poems composed to members of her family and others connected by marriage (Oxford, Christ Church, MS 184).
The attempt made by John Vaughan of Golden Grove, Carmarthenshire, the following year to secure Katheryn as wife for his son Walter came to nothing. Before the end of January 1573 she had married Maurice Wynn (d. 1580) of Gwydir, Caernarvonshire. Like so many marriages, this was a dual arrangement. On 20 September 1574 a settlement was drawn up between Sir John Salisbury and his wife, Dame Jane, and Maurice Wynn of Gwydir before the marriage of Thomas Salisbury, Katheryn's son from her first marriage and heir apparent to Sir John, to Margaret, daughter of Maurice Wynn from his first marriage. A son, Edward Wynn, and a daughter, Jane Wynn, were born of Katheryn's third marriage. Maurice Wynn died on 10 August 1580, and Katheryn returned once more to Berain.
Katheryn married fourthly Edward Thelwall (d. 1610) of Plas-y-Ward, Denbighshire. A draft of the arrangement of a double marriage, whereby Katheryn was to marry Edward Thelwall, while Simon, Edward's son from a previous marriage, was to marry Jane Wynn, was drawn up at Berain on 5 January 1583. The family resided at Berain until Edward's father died in April 1586, when they moved to Plas-y-Ward. The following September Katheryn's eldest child, Thomas Salisbury, was executed for high treason for his involvement in the Babington plot. There were no children from the fourth marriage. Edward died on 29 July 1610, having survived his wife by nineteen years.
Undoubtedly amassing a great landed estate was a consideration in all four marriages. The Salisburys, Wynns, and Thelwalls were well-established landed gentry. Their eagerness to obtain more land becomes obvious in all the marriage settlements, particularly so in the dual arrangements where detailed alternative provisions were made to ensure the union of the two families in the case of death on either side before the marriage was solemnized. Clough came of a mercer family, and was immensely rich, but his great ambition was to own a landed estate; Sir John Salisbury had conveyed or morgaged some of his lands to him. The Berain estate consisted of some 3000 acres with about a further 1000 acres in Anglesey; rentals from the Berain estate totalled £300 per annum. Katheryn was a much desired heiress.
Katheryn of Berain died at Plas-y-Ward on 27 August 1591 and was buried on 1 September at Llanefydd.
J. Ballinger, Katheryn of Berain, Y Cymmrodor, 40 (1929), 142 · E. Roberts, Priodasau Catrin O Ferain, Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society, 20 (1971), 3156 · E. Roberts, Siôn Salsbri, Lleweni, Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society, 19 (1970), 66102 · [J. Ballinger], ed., Calendar of Wynn (of Gwydir) papers, 15151690, in the National Library of Wales (1926) · B. G. Charles, ed., A schedule of the Lleweni collection (1971) · J. W. Burgon, The life and times of Sir Thomas Gresham, 1 (1839), 235; 2 (1839), 382 · R. G. Jones, Sir Richard Clough of Denbigh, Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society, 19 (1970), 2465; 20 (1971), 57101 · Christ Church Oxf., MS 184 [copy in NL Wales, Aberystwyth, MSS 64956496] · Report on manuscripts in the Welsh language, 2 vols. in 7, HMC, 48 (18981910), vol. 2, pp. 419782 · Chester City Archives, Combermere Abbey MSS, CR 72/82/23/2 A
A. van Cronenburg, oils on panel, 1568, NMG Wales [see illus.]
Wealth at death
Berain estate almost 3000 acres; c.1000 acres in Anglesey; Lleweni 658 acres (1566); £300 p.a. rentals from Berain: NL Wales, 1600E, 3739 (c.1560)