Early Medieval
Traditionally, the period between the end of Roman Britain (conventionally dated 410) and the end of Anglo-Saxon England (at the Battle of Hastings in 1066) has been known as the Dark Ages, but, in these politically correct times, this has been deemed to be pejorative, and there is a tendency to use the phrase Early Medieval (or even Late Antiquity) instead. In terms of the amount of extant evidence, however, Dark Ages is an entirely appropriate description of at least the first couple of centuries of this period.* Following on the heels of the rich pickings provided by the Roman era, there can be no denying the paucity of the archaeology – mass production of wheel thrown pottery ceased, coinage fell into disuse, and building construction was from timber. The scant literary record, too, fails to provide much in the way of illumination. This historical void has, however, been amply filled by mythology and fable.
an outbreak of kingdoms
Following the end of Roman government, a patchwork of kingdoms apparently developed across the erstwhile Diocese of the Britains (dioecesis Britanniarum). Dr Ken Dark, in ‘British Archaeology’ (Issue 32, March 1998), writes:
“Far from there being political fragmentation, however, the Romano-British civitates (or tribal areas) may simply have turned themselves wholesale into 5th century British kingdoms. At least initially, these may have retained the territory, and in some cases the name, of the former civitas. For example, the civitas of the Dumnonii became the kingdom of Dumnonia, while that of the Demetae became the kingdom of Dyfed... Other evidence adds to this picture of large-scale political continuity. 5th and 6th century written sources and inscriptions hint at the survival of Roman-style bureaucratic administration, Roman law, Roman weights and measures, and schooling on the Roman model to train future administrators and judges... Although independent British kings ruled these kingdoms, there is no reason to suppose they were less Romanised than most of the elite of the 4th century. To give an example, burials of this 5th-6th century elite were more often commemorated by Latin-language inscriptions than seems to have been common anywhere in 4th century Britain... The political centres of these kingdoms also show evidence of Romanisation. The clearest example of this is probably the well-known sequence at Wroxeter in Shropshire, which may have been the capital of the 6th century kingdom of Powys as well as of the 4th century civitas of the Cornovii. There, parts of the late Roman town were rebuilt after the 5th century to contain highly Romanised buildings occupied until the late 6th or 7th century... whether we look at their political centres, their burials, their forms of administration, or the survival of Latin literature and language, western British rulers of the 5th and 6th century seem far more Romanised than has hitherto been supposed.”
By no means all archaeologists share Dr Dark's opinion that the evidence points to a ‘long chronology’ for the decease of Romanized Britain (see: The Long and the Short of It). Be that as it may, Dr Dark conjectures:
“... some 5th or 6th century British kings may have been organizing the defence of their kingdoms on a very ambitious scale. Evidence from Vindolanda, Birdoswald and South Shields may suggest late 5th or early 6th century re-occupation and perhaps refortification of these sites, adding to other evidence that northern British rulers attempted a redefence of Hadrian's Wall in this period. There are even hints that these rulers might in some way have been trying to revive the late Roman military command of the Dux Britanniarum, because only forts of that command were apparently re-used. A survey of 5th-6th century archaeological data from all 4th century Roman forts in North and West Britain, showed that out of at most 16 sites with later 5th-6th century evidence no fewer than 14 had probably been under the command of the Dux Britanniarum at the end of the 4th century. This pattern cannot be random and is inexplicable unless forts of this command were particularly selected for re-use. Meanwhile, further south, British rulers may have been responsible for constructing the linear earthwork now called the Wansdyke, arguably derivative of Roman period linear defences.”
Coel Hen (Coel the Old) is purportedly Old King Cole, “merry old soul”, from the nursery-rhyme. According to Welsh genealogical texts – the Harleian Genealogies and, the later, ‘Bonedd Gwŷr y Gogledd’ (Lineage of the Men of the North) – Coel is the founding father of several north-British ruling dynasties. There is a theory that he was the last Dux Britanniarum who, at the end of Roman rule, converted his military jurisdiction (the North, probably based at York) into a kingdom. In process of time, Coel's domain became divided, amongst his supposed descendants, to produce a number of kingdoms, of which the best attested are Elmet, which was in the vicinity of Leeds, and Rheged, which may have been situated on both sides of the Solway Firth.*
Living beyond the Forth-Clyde isthmus were the Picts and, certainly by c.500, an enclave of Goidelic-speaking Scots on the west coast (in present-day Argyll). What type of language the Picts spoke is the subject of debate, but the hinterland north of Hadrian's Wall – the zone between the Roman Diocese and the Picts – was, like the Diocese itself, inhabited by Brythonic-speaking peoples.* In the east of this hinterland, the tribal territory of the Votadini metamorphosed into the kingdom of Gododdin. The north-western region, which included Stirling, was called Manaw Gododdin. This region was the homeland of one Cunedda – purportedly, the founder of the dynasties that ruled Gwynedd and Ceredigion, in (what is now) Wales. The ‘Historia Brittonum’ asserts that:
“The great king, Mailcun [Maelgwn], reigned among the Britons, i.e. in the district of Guenedota [Gwynedd], because his great-great-great-grandfather [atavus], Cunedag [Cunedda], with his eight sons, had come before from the left-hand part [meaning the North], i.e. from the country which is called Manau Guotodin, one hundred and forty-six years before Mailcun reigned, and expelled the Scots with much slaughter from those countries, and they never returned again to inhabit them.”
‘Historia Brittonum’ §62
Harleian Genealogies §§32–33 state:
“These are the names of the sons of Cuneda [Cunedda], whose number was nine: Typipaun [Tybion], the first-born, who died in the region called Manau Guodotin and did not come hither with his father and his aforesaid brothers. Meriaun [Meirion], his son, divided the possessions with his [Tybion's] brothers: ii. Osmail [Osfael], iii. Rumaun [Rhufen], iiii. Dunaut [Dunod], v. Ceretic [Ceredig], vi. Abloyc [Afloeg], vii. Enniaun girt [Einion Yrth], viii. Docmail [Dogfael], ix. Etern [Edern].
This is their boundary: from the river which is called Dubr Duiu [the Dee], to another river, the Tebi [Teifi]; and they held very many districts in the western part of Britain.”
Harleian Genealogies §§32–33
The ‘Annales Cambriae’ indicate that Maelgwn, king of Gwynedd, died (during a plague) in 547. By that token, according to the reckoning of the ‘Historia Brittonum’, Cunedda migrated to Wales about, or before, the year 400. However, if Maelgwn was Cunedda's great-grandson (as indicated by the Harleian Genealogies), then a date rather later than that might be more appropriate. In Harleian Genealogies §1, Cunedda's father, grandfather and great-grandfather have names of Roman origin. His grandfather is called Paternus of the Red Robe (Patern pesrut), which has fuelled speculation that Cunedda's family, although north of Rome's frontier, acted in some kind of Roman official capacity. Possibly (assuming the story is not a complete figment), Cunedda's migration from Gododdin to north-west Wales, in order to combat the influx of Scots from Ireland, was on the instruction of a greater authority – either Roman or sub-Roman. Cunedda is the subject of a Welsh poem of debated antiquity, ‘Marwnad Cunedda’ (Death-song of Cunedda), in which, according to John T. Koch's interpretation, the descendants of Coel Hen (see above) are depicted as Cunedda's enemies, and responsible for his death.* Be that as it may, the interesting point is that Cunedda is portrayed in the poem as a north-British chieftain – there is no mention of his sons, the journey to Wales, and the war against Irish invaders, which, if such events took place, perhaps seems rather curious. Maybe Cunedda was a famous historical figure who was appropriated by Maelgwn's descendants to further their territorial ambitions.
From his own writings, it is known that St Patrick was a Roman Briton – brought up in a well-off Christian household, in an unidentified place called Bannaventa Berniae. Aged about sixteen, he was taken captive by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. After six years he escaped, but realised it was his duty to return to Ireland as a missionary. In fact, Patrick's is not the first reported Christian mission to Ireland. In 431 Bishop Palladius was despatched there by Pope Celestine I. It seems likely that later promoters of Patrick sought to diminish the achievements of Palladius in order to enhance Patrick's status. Traditionally, Palladius' mission is presented as a failure, it is made as short as possible, and Patrick's arrival in Ireland is dated to 432.* However, the ‘Annals of Ulster’ mentions the death, in 457, of “the elder Patrick, as some books state”; whilst in 461 “some record” Patrick's death; in 492 “the Scots [i.e. the Irish] state” that Patrick died; and, finally, in 493:
“Patrick, arch-apostle, or archbishop and apostle, of the Scots [Irish], rested on the 16th of the Kalends of April [17th March] in the 120th year of his age, in the 60th year after he had come to Ireland to baptize the Scots.”
Possibly it was Palladius who died round about 460, which would suggest that Patrick's mission began after that and lasted to his death c.493. At any rate, in a text written by Patrick himself, Patrick berates a British ruler, Coroticus, and his warriors, for a raid on Ireland in which a group of newly baptized converts had been slain or taken into slavery.
“With my own hand I have written and composed these words, to be given, delivered and sent to the soldiers of Coroticus ... These blood-thirsty men are bloody with the blood of innocent Christians, whom I have begotten for God in countless numbers and have confirmed in Christ!
... I sent a letter with a holy priest whom I had taught from early childhood, and he was accompanied by some clerics; the letter requested that they should grant us some of the booty and baptized prisoners that they had captured; they roared with laughter at them.
... What should I do, Lord? I am very much despised. See, your sheep are torn to pieces around me and are carried off, and by the raiders I have mentioned, on the aggressive orders of Coroticus. Far from God's love is the man who delivers Christians into the hands of Scots and Picts...
So then, what of Coroticus and his villains, these rebels against Christ, where will they see themselves, they who allot poor baptized women as prizes, for the sake of a miserable temporal kingdom which will in any case pass away in a moment? Like clouds or smoke which is soon scattered by the wind, so deceitful sinners shall perish from before the Lord's face; but the righteous shall feast in full assurance with Christ; they shall judge the nations and hold sway over wicked kings for ever and ever, Amen.”
Patrick ‘Epistola’ §§2,3,12,19
Patrick's biographer, Muirchu (late-7th century) says that Patrick prayed for divine retribution, and, when Coroticus:
“... was in open court, he suddenly had the misfortune to take on the appearance of a little fox; he made off before his followers' eyes, and from that day and that hour, like a passing stream of water, he was never seen anywhere again.”
‘Vita Sancti Patricii’ §29
When, in the first decade of the 9th century, Muirchu's ‘Vita’ was copied – as preserved in the Book of Armagh (Liber Armachanus) – it had acquired a table of contents, in which Coroticus is described as “king of Ail” – Ail being Alt Clut (Rock of the Clyde), now Dumbarton. In 870 the fortress of Alt Clut was destroyed, by Vikings, after which the kingdom became known as Strathclyde. Coroticus is widely equated to Ceretic Guletic, who appears in the pedigree of Rhun, son of Artgal, king of Strathclyde, in the Harleian Genealogies (§5).*
the groans of the Britons
The earliest source to provide an ostensibly chronological account of the end of Roman Britain and the so-called Adventus Saxonum (Coming of the Saxons) is the British cleric Gildas, around 545(?), in his diatribe ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ (On the Ruin of Britain). Gildas says that, after finally being abandoned by the Romans (see: Ruin), the feckless Britons were plagued by marauding Picts and Scots.
“The miserable remnant therefore send a letter to Agitius, a man holding high office at Rome; they speak as follows: “To Agitius, in his third consulship, come the groans of the Britons;” a little further in their request: “the barbarians drive us to the sea, the sea drives us upon the barbarians; by one or other of these two modes of death we are either killed or drowned;” and for these they have no aid.”
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapter 20
It is, for the most part, believed that Agitius, to whom Gildas says the Britons made their unsuccessful appeal for help, could only be Roman general Aëtius, who was the driving force behind the Western Empire. His third consulship was in 446 (Valentinian III, emperor in the West, murdered him in 454). Certainly the respected Anglo-Saxon historian Bede, who based his own account of these events on Gildas, believed Aëtius was meant. Returning to Gildas' narrative:
“In the meantime, the severe and well-known famine presses the wandering and vacillating people, which compels many of them without delay to yield themselves as conquered to the bloodthirsty robbers, in order to have a morsel of food for the renewal of life. Others were never so compelled: rather issuing from the very mountains, from caves and defiles and from dense thickets, they carried on the war unceasingly. Then for the first time, they inflicted upon the enemy, which for many years was pillaging in the land, a severe slaughter: their trust was not in man but in God, as that saying of Philo goes: “we must have recourse to divine aid where human fails.” The boldness of the enemy quieted for a time, but not the wickedness of our people; the enemy withdrew from our countrymen, but our countrymen withdrew not from their sins.
It was the invariable habit of the race [i.e. the Britons], as it is also now, to be weak in repelling the missiles of enemies, though strong to bear civil strifes and the burdens of sins; weak, I say, to follow ensigns of peace and truth, yet strong for crimes and falsehood. The shameless Irish assassins [i.e. the Scots], therefore, went back to their homes, to return again before long. It was then, for the first time, in the furthermost part of the island, that the Picts commenced their successive settlements, with frequent pillaging and devastation. During such truces, consequently, the ugly scar is healed for the deserted people. While another more poisonous hunger was silently growing on the other hand, and the devastation quieting down, the island was becoming rich with so many resources of affluence that no age remembered the possession of such afterwards: along with these resources of every kind, luxury also grew... Kings were anointed, not in the name of God, but such as surpassed others in cruelty, and shortly afterwards were put to death by the men who anointed them, without any enquiry as to truth, because others more cruel had been elected. If, however, any one among them appeared to be of a milder disposition, and to some extent more attached to truth, against him were turned without respect the hatred and darts of all, as if he were the subverter of Britain; all things, those which were displeasing to God and those which pleased him, had at least equal weight in the balance, if, indeed, the things displeasing to him were not the more acceptable...
Meanwhile, when God was desirous to cleanse his family, and, though defiled by such a strain of evil things, to better it by their hearing only of distress, there came like the winged flight of a rumour not unfamiliar to them, into the listening ears of all – that their old enemies had already arrived, bent upon thorough destruction, and upon dwelling in the country, as had become their wont, from one end to the other. Nevertheless they in no way profited by this news; rather like foolish beasts, with clenched teeth, as the saying is, they bite the bit of reason, and began to run along the broad way of many sins, which leads down to death, quitting the narrow way though it was the path of salvation. Whilst then, according to the words of Solomon, “The stubborn servant is not corrected by words,” the foolish nation is scourged and feels it not: for a deadly pestilence came upon the unwise people which, in a short time, without any sword, brought down such a number of them that the living were unable to bury the dead. But they were not corrected even by this pestilence ... the time was drawing nigh when the iniquities of the country, as those of the Amorites of old, would be fulfilled. A council is held, to deliberate what means ought to be determined upon, as the best and safest to repel such fatal and frequent irruptions and plunderings by the nations mentioned above.
At that time all members of the assembly, along with the proud tyrant, are blinded; such is the protection they find for their country (it was, in fact, its destruction) that those wild Saxons, of accursed name, hated by God and men, should be admitted into the island, like wolves into folds, in order to repel the northern nations. Nothing more hurtful, certainly, nothing more bitter, happened to the island than this. What utter depth of darkness of soul! What hopeless and cruel dulness of mind! The men whom, when absent, they feared more than death, were invited by them of their own accord, so to say, under the cover of one roof: “Foolish princes of Zoan,” as is said, “giving unwise counsel to Pharaoh.” Then there breaks forth a brood of whelps from the lair of the savage lioness, in three cyulae [keels], as it is expressed in their language, but in ours, in ships of war under full sail, with omens and divinations. In these it was foretold, there being a prophecy firmly relied upon among them, that they should occupy the country to which the bows of their ships were turned, for three hundred years; for one hundred and fifty – that is for half the time – they should make frequent devastations. They sailed out, and at the directions of the unlucky tyrant, first fixed their dreadful talons in the eastern part of the island, as men intending to fight for the country, but more truly to assail it. To these the mother of the brood, finding that success had attended the first contingent, sends out also a larger raft-full of accomplices and curs, which sails over and joins itself to their bastard comrades. From that source, the seed of iniquity, the root of bitterness, grows as a poisonous plant, worthy of our deserts, in our own soil, furnished with rugged branches and leaves. Thus the barbarians, admitted into the island, succeed in having provisions supplied them, as if they were soldiers and about to encounter, as they falsely averred, great hardships for their kind entertainers. These provisions, acquired for a length of time, closed, as the saying is, the dog's maw. They complain, again, that their monthly supplies were not copiously contributed to them, intentionally colouring their opportunities, and declare that, if larger munificence were not piled upon them, they would break the treaty and lay waste the whole of the island. They made no delay to follow up their threats with deeds.”
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapters 20–23
Gildas' “proud tyrant” is given the name Vortigern (Vurtigernus) by Bede.* Another figure not named, indeed not even alluded to, by Gildas is St Germanus.
the Alleluia Victory
St Germanus, according to his biographer, Constantius of Lyon (writing around 480), made two visits to Britain. Constantius provides no dates.
“About this time a deputation from Britain came to tell the bishops of Gaul that the heresy of Pelagius had taken hold of the people over a great part of the country and help ought to be brought to the Catholic faith as soon as possible. A large number of bishops gathered in synod to consider the matter and all turned for help to the two who in everybody's judgment were the leading lights of religion, namely Germanus [bishop of Auxerre] and Lupus [bishop of Troyes], apostolic priests who through their merits were citizens of heaven, though their bodies were on earth. And because the task seemed laborious, these heroes of piety were all the more ready to undertake it; and the stimulus of their faith brought the business of the synod to a speedy end.”
Constantius of Lyon ‘Vita Sancti Germani’ Chapter 12
The date of the ensuing first visit, 429, is provided by Prosper of Aquitaine (also known as Prosper Tiro), who was a contemporary of Germanus. Prosper says:
“Agricola the Pelagian, son of the Pelagian bishop Severianus, corrupted, by the insinuation of his opinion, the churches of Britain; but at the instance of Palladius the deacon, Pope Celestine sends, in his own stead, Germanus bishop of Auxerre, and the heretics being overthrown, he directs the Britons to the Catholic faith.” *
Prosper ‘Chronicon’ §1301
“When this damnable heresy had been thus stamped out, its authors refuted, and the minds of all reestablished in the true faith, the bishops visited the shrine of the blessed martyr Alban, to give thanks to God through him. As they were returning, a demon, lying in wait, contrived an accident that caused Germanus to fall and injure his foot... The bishop was detained by his injury in one place for a considerable period ... [Germanus miraculously survives a fire which rages through the settlement where he is recuperating.]
Meanwhile, the Saxons and the Picts had joined forces to make war upon the Britons. The latter had been compelled to withdraw their forces within their camp and, judging their resources to be utterly unequal to the contest, asked the help of the holy prelates. The latter sent back a promise to come, and hastened to follow it. Their coming brought such a sense of security that you might have thought that a great army had arrived; to have such apostles for leaders was to have Christ Himself fighting in the camp.  It was the season of Lent and the presence of the bishops made the sacred forty days still more sacred; so much so that the soldiers, who received instruction in daily sermons, flew eagerly to the grace of baptism; indeed, great numbers of this pious army sought the waters of salvation. A church was built of leafy branches in readiness for Easter Day, on the plan of a city church, though set in a camp on active service. The soldiers paraded still wet from baptism, faith was fervid, the aid of weapons was thought little of, and all looked for help from heaven.  Meanwhile the enemy had learned of the practices and appearance of the camp. They promised themselves an easy victory over practically disarmed troops and pressed on in haste. But their approach was discovered by scouts and, when the Easter solemnities had been celebrated, the army – the greater part of it fresh from the font – began to take up their weapons and prepare for battle and Germanus announced that he would be their general. He chose some light-armed troops and made a tour of the outworks. In the direction from which the enemy were expected he saw a valley enclosed by steep mountains. Here he stationed an army on a new model, under his own command.
By now the savage host of the enemy was close at hand and Germanus rapidly circulated an order that all should repeat in unison the call he would give as a battle-cry. Then, while the enemy were still secure in the belief that their approach was unexpected, the bishops three times chanted the Alleluia. All, as one man, repeated it and the shout they raised rang through the air and was repeated many times in the confined space between the mountains.  The enemy were panic-stricken, thinking that the surrounding rocks and the very sky itself were falling on them. Such was their terror that no effort of their feet seemed enough to save them. They fled in every direction, throwing away their weapons and thankful if they could save at least their skins. Many threw themselves into the river which they had just crossed at their ease, and were drowned in it.  Thus the British army looked on at its revenge without striking a blow, idle spectators of the victory achieved. The booty strewn everywhere was collected; the pious soldiery obtained the spoils of a victory from heaven. The bishops were elated at the rout of the enemy without bloodshed and a victory gained by faith and not by force.  Thus this most wealthy island, with the defeat of both its spiritual and its human foes, was rendered secure in every sense. And now, to the great grief of the whole country, those who had won the victories over both Pelagians and Saxons made preparations for their return. Their own merits and the intercession of Alban the Martyr secured them a calm voyage; and a good ship brought them back in peace to their expectant people.”
Constantius of Lyon ‘Vita Sancti Germani’ Chapters 16–18
It is not necessary to date the Alleluia Victory, as it is known, to April 429 (Easter fell on 7th April in 429). It actually seems a tight squeeze to accommodate Germanus' adventures in just the first few months of that year. It is quite possible that he and Lupus were in Britain for a few years.* Constantius' assertion that Germanus made a second (seemingly much briefer and less eventful) visit to Britain, apparently not too long before his death, is uncorroborated.* If the visit did happen – it could be the result of confusion on Constantius' part, and not have occurred at all – when it happened is not certain because the year of Germanus' death is not certain (the two favoured years are 437 and 448).
Vortigern, Hengist and Horsa
The Saxons – who feature in Constantius' (unlikely?) story of the Alleluia Victory, apparently set in the 430s – only enter Gildas' narrative when, seemingly some considerable time after 446, three ship-loads of warriors arrive in Britain, at the invitation of the “proud tyrant” and his associates, in order to tackle the Picts and Scots. The Saxons, though, were well known to the Britons long before either date. They, and, another Germanic group, the Franks, are first noted raiding along the coast of Gaul in 285.* Although there is no specific record of the Saxons harassing Britain until 364,* it seems reasonable to assume that they had been a problem since the mid-280s. By c.400, as testified by the ‘Notitia Dignitatum’, the south-eastern coast of Britain was known as the Saxon Shore. The origin of the name is the subject of ongoing debate. It would, on the face of it, seem reasonable to suppose that the Saxon Shore was so-named because it was attacked by Saxon raiders. This would be curious, however, since no other Roman frontier seems to have been named after the foe it faced. It was, though, a Roman tactic to turn poachers into gamekeepers, that is, to employ groups of barbarians to check the activities of other groups of barbarians. Possibly, then, the Saxon Shore was known as such because it was settled, and defended for the Empire, by Saxons. At any rate, when the Britons of Gildas' narrative sought the aid of barbarian mercenaries, they were by no means breaking new ground. Bede provides the traditional date of this Adventus Saxonum (by simply deducing it from the chronology that Gildas seemed, to Bede, to have indicated?) and the names of the mercenaries' leaders:
“In the year of our Lord 449, Marcian, the 46th from Augustus, being made emperor with Valentinian, ruled the empire 7 years.* Then the nation of the Angles, or Saxons, being invited by the aforesaid king [Vortigern], arrived in Britain with three ships of war and had a place in which to settle assigned to them by the same king, in the eastern part of the island, on the pretext of fighting in defence of their country, whilst their real intentions were to conquer it. Accordingly they engaged with the enemy, who were come from the north to give battle, and the Saxons obtained the victory. When the news of their success and of the fertility of the country, and the cowardice of the Britons, reached their own home, a more considerable fleet was quickly sent over, bringing a greater number of men, and these, being added to the former army, made up an invincible force. The newcomers received of the Britons a place to inhabit among them, upon condition that they should wage war against their enemies for the peace and security of the country, whilst the Britons agreed to furnish them with pay. Those who came over were of the three most powerful nations of Germany – Saxons, Angles, and Jutes.* ... The first commanders are said to have been the two brothers Hengist and Horsa. Of these Horsa was afterwards slain in battle by the Britons, and a monument, bearing his name, is still in existence in the eastern parts of Kent. They were the sons of Wihtgisl, whose father was Witta, son of Wecta, son of Woden; from whose stock the royal race of many provinces trace their descent. In a short time, swarms of the aforesaid nations came over into the island, and the foreigners began to increase so much, that they became a source of terror to the natives themselves who had invited them. Then, having on a sudden entered into league with the Picts, whom they had by this time repelled by force of arms, they began to turn their weapons against their allies. At first, they obliged them to furnish a greater quantity of provisions; and, seeking an occasion of quarrel, protested, that unless more plentiful supplies were brought them, they would break the league, and ravage all the island; nor were they backward in putting their threats into execution.”
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ Book I Chapter 15
Bede lifts the whole story of Germanus in Britain from Constantius, and places it, as a postscript, after his account of the Adventus and its aftermath.* Although he also had access to Prosper, Bede doesn't mention Prosper's dating of the first visit. He was clearly struggling to reconcile his sources – an alliance of Saxons and Picts (according to Constantius) at a date (according to Prosper) before the Saxons had (according to Gildas) arrived. He seems to have worked around the problem by dating the activities of Agricola, the son of Severianus (reported by Prosper), to “some few years before their [the Saxons] arrival” (avoiding mention of Prosper's date, 429 – which seemed far too early to him?), but placing the mission of Germanus and the Alleluia Victory some time after the Saxons' arrival.*
According to the, highly suspect, ‘Historia Brittonum’ (History of the Britons), the Saxons arrived in Britain during the fourth regnal year of Vortigern. It says (in §31) that Vortigern was concerned not only about the predations of the Scots and Picts, but also about the possibility of a Roman invasion, and, thirdly, that he was afraid of one Ambrosius (about whom more later). At any rate, the ‘Historia Brittonum’ computes a number of different dates for the Adventus.* The most convincingly calculated, however, 428, is compatible with Prosper's date for Germanus' mission, and, indeed, fantastical episodes featuring Germanus interrupt the story of the Saxons' arrival and their rebellion against the Britons.
“... three keels, exiled from Germany, arrived in Britain. They were commanded by Horsa and Hengist, brothers, and sons of Wihtgisl... Vortigern [Guorthegirnus] received them as friends, and delivered up to them the island which is in their language called Thanet, and, by the Britons, Ruoihm...
At that time St Germanus, distinguished for his numerous virtues, came to preach in Britain: by his ministry many were saved; but many likewise died unconverted. [The first Germanus episode is then recounted.]”
‘Historia Brittonum’ §§31–32
“After the Saxons had continued some time in the island of Thanet, the aforesaid king [Vortigern] promised to supply them with clothing and provision, on condition they would engage to fight against the enemies of his country...*
But Hengist, in whom united craft and penetration, perceiving he had to act with an ignorant king, and a fluctuating people, incapable of opposing much resistance, replied to Vortigern, “We are, indeed, few in number; but, if you will give us leave, we will send to our country for an additional number of forces, with whom we will fight for you and your subjects.” ”
‘Historia Brittonum’ §§36–37
Vortigern, of course, agrees to Hengist's proposal. A further sixteen ships arrive, bringing with them Hengist's beautiful daughter. Hengist throws a party to which Vortigern and his retinue are invited. The Britons are plied with drink, and the besotted Vortigern offers Hengist anything he would like in exchange for his daughter.
“... [Hengist] demanded for his daughter the province called in their language Canturguoralen, in ours Chent [i.e. Kent]. This cession was made without the knowledge of the king, Gwyrangon [Guoyrancgonus] who then reigned in Kent, and who experienced no inconsiderable share of grief, from seeing his kingdom thus clandestinely, fraudulently, and imprudently resigned to foreigners. Thus the maid was delivered up to the king, who slept with her, and loved her exceedingly.
Hengist, after this, said to Vortigern, “I will be to you both a father and an advisor; despise not my counsels, and you shall have no reason to fear being conquered by any man or any nation whatever; for the people of my country are strong, warlike, and robust: if you approve, I will send for my son and his cousin, both valiant men who at my invitation will fight against the Scots, and you can give them the countries in the north, near the wall called Guaul.”  The incautious sovereign having assented to this, Octa and Ebissa arrived with forty keels. In these they sailed round the country of the Picts, laid waste the Orkneys, and took possession of many regions beyond the Frenessican Sea, even to the Pictish confines. But Hengist continued, by degrees, sending for keels from his own country, so that some islands whence they came were left without inhabitants; and whilst his people were increasing in power and number, they came to the above-named province of Kent.”
‘Historia Brittonum’ §§37–38
There then follows an episode (§39) in which St Germanus discovers that Vortigern has committed incest by marrying his own daughter, and that he has a son by her....
Among the genealogical information given in the inscription from Eliseg's Pillar – which was erected in the early/mid-9th century, by Cyngen (Concenn), king of Powys, in memory of his great-grandfather, Elise (Eliseg) – is a passage which is interpreted as:
“Britu moreover [was] the son of Guarthigirn whom Germanus blessed [and whom] Sevira bore to him, the daughter of Maximus the king, who killed the king of the Romans.”
The Pillar's inscription has survived in a very imperfect form, but it would appear that Cyngen claimed his descent from Vortigern (Guarthigirn) – who was married to a daughter of Magnus Maximus, and for good measure, their son, Brydw (Britu), had been blessed by St Germanus. Unlike the ‘Historia Brittonum’, Eliseg's Pillar, which is broadly contemporary with the ‘Historia’, evidently sees Vortigern as an honourable figure. According to a tale in the ‘Historia’ (and according to the Harleian Genealogies also), the kings of Powys were descended from one Cadell Ddyrnllug (Cadell Gleaming-Hilt). Cadell, the good-hearted servant of “an iniquitous and tyrannical king, named Benlli”, becomes king of Powys and founder of the dynasty after Germanus causes Benlli to be destroyed by fire from heaven.*
.... This is followed by a tale (§§40–42) in which, on the advice of his wise men (magi) who have realized that the Saxons are up to no good, Vortigern undertakes to build a citadel in Snowdonia. The requisite materials are gathered, but they disappear overnight. This happens twice more – three being a mystic number in these fables. Vortigern consults his wise men, who tell him: “You must find a child born without a father, put him to death, and sprinkle with his blood the ground on which the citadel is to be built, or you will never accomplish your purpose.”  The child is found, but he reveals to Vortigern the ignorance of his wise men, and offers to solve the mystery. He tells them that, if they dig, they will find a pool. In the pool are two vases, which, when separated, reveal a folded tent. When the tent is unfolded it is found to contain two sleeping serpents – one white, one red.
15th century illustration.
(Lambeth Palace Library MS 6)
“... “consider attentively,” said the boy, “what they are doing.” The serpents began to struggle with each other; and the white one, raising himself up, threw down the other into the middle of the tent, and sometimes drove him to the edge of it; and this was repeated thrice. At length the red one, apparently the weaker of the two, recovering his strength, expelled the white one from the tent; and the latter being pursued through the pool by the red one, disappeared. Then the boy, asking the wise men what was signified by this wonderful omen, and they expressing their ignorance, he said to the king, “I will now unfold to you the meaning of this mystery. The pool is the emblem of this world, and the tent that of your kingdom: the two serpents are two dragons; the red serpent is your dragon, but the white serpent is the dragon of the people who occupy several provinces and districts of Britain, even almost from sea to sea: at length, however, our people shall rise and drive away the Saxon race from beyond the sea, whence they originally came; but do you depart from this place, where you are not permitted to erect a citadel; I, to whom fate has allotted this mansion, shall remain here; whilst to you it is incumbent to seek other provinces, where you may build a fortress.”  “What is your name?” asked the king; he replied “I am called Ambrosius,” (in British Embres Guletic), returned the boy; and in answer to the king's question, “What is your origin?” he replied, “A Roman consul was my father.”  Then the king assigned him that city, with all the western provinces of Britain; and departing with his wise men to the sinistral [northern?] district, he arrived in the region named Gueneri, where he built a city which, according to his name, was called Cair Guorthegirn.”
‘Historia Brittonum’ §42
In the famous pseudo-history of Geoffrey of Monmouth, the ‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ (History of the Kings of Britain), written in the 1130s, this yarn is further embellished, and the boy acquires the name of Merlin.
Amongst the computations in §66, the ‘Historia Brittonum’ notes:
“And from the reign of Vortigern to the quarrel between Guitolinus [Vitalinus] and Ambrosius, are twelve years, which is Guoloppum [Wallop], that is Catguoloph [the Battle of Wallop].”
This battle between Vitalinus and Ambrosius, as calculated by the ‘Historia’, took place in 437 – but who is Vitalinus. The ‘Historia’, in §49, presents Vortigern's pedigree. Vortigern is given the epithet ‘the Thin’, his father is given as Vitalis, and his grandfather as Vitalinus. Perhaps, then, the Vitalinus at Wallop was a relative of Vortigern, or, more radically, Vortigern himself. It may be that Vortigern is actually a rank – meaning ‘overlord’ –, and that when Gildas referred to “the proud tyrant” he was punning on that title. Could it be that Vitalinus was Vortigern's proper name? *
The ‘Historia Brittonum’ turns its attention back to the Saxons:
“At length Vortimer [Guorthemir], the son of Vortigern, valiantly fought against Hengist, Horsa, and his people; drove them to the isle of Thanet, and thrice enclosed them within it, and beset them on the western side.  The Saxons now despatched deputies to Germany to solicit large reinforcements, and an additional number of keels: having obtained these, they fought against the kings and princes of Britain, and sometimes extended their boundaries by victory, and sometimes were conquered and driven back.
Four times did Vortimer valorously encounter the enemy; the first has been mentioned, the second was upon the river Derguint [presumably the Darent, Kent], the third at the ford, in their language called Episford, though in ours Set Thergabail, there Horsa fell, and Cateyrn [Categirn], the son of Vortigern; the fourth battle he fought, was near the Inscribed Stone [Lapis Tituli] on the shore of the Gallic Sea, where the Saxons being defeated, fled to their ships.”
‘Historia Brittonum’ §§43–44
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ also records four battles.* To the Anglo-Saxons, the Britons were ‘Wealas’ or ‘Walas’, meaning ‘foreigners’, which translates into modern English as ‘Welsh’.
449   “... Hengest and Horsa, invited by Wyrtgeorne [Vortigern], king of the Britons, sought Britain on the shore which is named Ypwinesfleot [Ebbsfleet, on the Isle of Thanet, Kent] ...”
455   “In this year Hengest and Horsa fought against Wyrtgeorne, the king, at the place which is called Agælsthrep [probably Aylesford, Kent]; and his brother Horsa was there slain; and after that Hengest succeeded to the kingdom [of Kent], and Æsc his son.”
457   “In this year Hengest and Æsc his son fought against the Britons at the place which is called Crecganford [possibly Crayford – the Cray is a tributary of the Darent], and there slew 4,000 men; and the Britons then forsook Kent, and in great terror fled to London.”
465   “In this year Hengest and Æsc fought against the Welsh near Wippedesfleote [unidentified]; and there slew 12 Welsh chieftains; and one of their thegns was there slain, whose name was Wipped.”
473   “In this year Hengest and Æsc fought against the Welsh and took countless booty; and the Welsh fled from the English as fire.”
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript A
The ‘Historia Brittonum’ says that, soon after he had driven the Saxons to their ships, Vortimer died. He had instructed his followers to bury him on the coast – if they did this the Saxons would not return. Of course, Vortimer's followers fail to carry out his instructions, and the Saxons return in force:
“... for Vortigern was their friend, on account of the daughter of Hengist, whom he so much loved, that no one durst fight against him ...”
‘Historia Brittonum’ §45
Hengist hatches a plot to overthrow Vortigern. He feigns to offer the Britons “peace and perpetual friendship”. Vortigern and his council agree to a treaty.
“Hengist, under pretence of ratifying the treaty, prepared an entertainment, to which he invited the king, the nobles, and military officers, in number about three hundred; speciously concealing his wicked intention, he ordered three hundred Saxons to conceal each a knife under his feet, and to mix with the Britons; “and when,” said he, “they are sufficiently inebriated, &c. cry out, “Nimed eure Saxes,” then let each draw his knife, and kill his man; but spare the king on account of his marriage with my daughter, for it is better that he should be ransomed than killed.”  The king with his company, appeared at the feast; and mixing with the Saxons, who, whilst they spoke peace with their tongues, cherished treachery in their hearts, each man was placed next his enemy.  After they had eaten and drunk, and were much intoxicated, Hengist suddenly vociferated, “Nimed eure Saxes!” and instantly his adherents drew their knives, and rushing upon the Britons, each slew him that sat next to him, and there was slain three hundred of the nobles of Vortigern. The king being a captive, purchased his redemption, by delivering up the three provinces of East, South, and Middle Sex, besides other districts at the option of his betrayers.”
‘Historia Brittonum’ §46
There are relevant reports in two related anonymous chronicles – developments of Jerome's chronicle, apparently composed in southern Gaul – each named after the year of its final entry. The earlier, the ‘Gallic Chronicle of 452’, says:
“The Britains [i.e. the ex-Roman diocese], which to this time had suffered from various disasters and misfortunes, are reduced to the power of the Saxons.”
Whilst in the later, the ‘Gallic Chronicle of 511’, the equivalent entry (the later chronicle makes use of the earlier) reads:
“The Britains, lost to the Romans, yield to the power of the Saxons.”
Both of these chronicles, by different means, indicate a date of about 441 for their reports. It would seem from these entries (assuming they are valid – which has been the subject of considerable debate) that the Adventus took place somewhat earlier than the traditional, i.e. Bede's, date. Indeed, the date of 428 indicated by the ‘Historia Brittonum’ may be nearer the mark.*
At this point, the ‘Historia Brittonum’ involves St Germanus in the story for the last time. Vortigern flees from Germanus, who is intent on getting him “to turn to the true God, and abstain from all unlawful intercourse with his daughter”. The king eventually takes refuge in a stronghold on the River Teifi. Germanus catches up with him, and, after three days and nights of fasting and praying by the saint and his entourage, fire falls from heaven, incinerating the castle. Vortigern, Hengist's daughter, Vortigern's “other wives”, and everyone else in the stronghold, are killed:
“... such was the end of this unhappy king, as we find written in the life of St Germanus.
Others assure us, that being hated by all the people of Britain, for having received the Saxons, and being publicly charged by St Germanus and the clergy in the sight of God, he betook himself to flight; and that, deserted and a wanderer, he sought a place of refuge, till broken hearted, he made an ignominious end. Some accounts state, that the earth opened and swallowed him up, on the night his castle was burned; as no remains were discovered the following morning, either of him, or of those who were burned with him...
St Germanus, after his death, returned into his own country.”
‘Historia Brittonum’ §§47–48 & 50
In its entry for 477, the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ records the arrival in Britain of Ælle and his three sons, who would found Sussex – the Kingdom of the South Saxons. The ‘Chronicle’ signals Hengist's death in 488:
“In this year Æsc succeeded to the kingdom, and for 24 years was king of the Kentish people.”
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ Manuscript A
In 495, Cerdic and his son Cynric, founders of Wessex – the Kingdom of the West Saxons – arrive in Britain.
enter the hero
Returning to Gildas' story:
“For the fire of righteous vengeance, caused by former crimes, blazed from sea to sea, heaped up by the eastern band of impious men; and as it devastated all the neighbouring cities and lands, did not cease after it had been kindled, until it burnt nearly the whole surface of the island, and licked the western ocean with its red and savage tongue... In this way were all the settlements brought low with the frequent shocks of the battering rams; the inhabitants, along with the bishops of the church, both priests and people, whilst swords gleamed on every side and flames crackled, were together mown down to the ground, and, sad sight! there were seen in the midst of streets, the bottom stones of towers with tall beam cast down, and of high walls, sacred altars, fragments of bodies covered with clots, as if coagulated, of red blood, in confusion as in a kind of horrible wine press: there was no sepulture of any kind save the ruins of houses, or the entrails of wild beasts and birds in the open, I say it with reverence to their holy souls (if in fact there were many to be found holy), that would be carried by holy angels to the heights of heaven. For the vineyard, at one time good, had then so far degenerated to bitter fruit, that rarely could be seen, according to the prophet, any cluster of grapes or ear of corn, as it were, behind the back of the vintagers or reapers.
Some of the wretched remnant were consequently captured on the mountains and killed in heaps. Others, overcome by hunger, came and yielded themselves to the enemies, to be their slaves for ever, if they were not instantly slain, which was equivalent to the highest service. Others repaired to parts beyond the sea, with strong lamentation, as if, instead of the oarsman's call, singing thus beneath the swelling sails:
“Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for eating,
And among the gentiles hast thou scattered us.”
Others, trusting their lives, always with apprehension of mind, to high hills, overhanging, precipitous, and fortified, and to dense forests and rocks of the sea, remained in their native land, though with fear.  After a certain length of time the cruel robbers returned to their home [presumably their settlements in Britain]. A remnant, to whom wretched citizens flock from different places on every side, as eagerly as a hive of bees when a storm is threatening, praying at the same time unto Him with their whole heart, and, as is said, “Burdening the air with unnumbered prayers,” that they should not be utterly destroyed, take up arms and challenge their victors to battle under Ambrosius Aurelianus. He was a man of unassuming character, who, alone of the Roman race chanced to survive in the shock of such a storm (as his parents, people undoubtedly clad in the purple, had been killed in it), whose offspring in our days have greatly degenerated from their ancestral nobleness. To these men, by the Lord's favour, there came victory.”
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapters 24–25
Bede follows Gildas:
“When the army of the enemy, having destroyed and dispersed the natives, had returned home to their own settlements, the Britons began by degrees to take heart, and gather strength, sallying out of the lurking places where they had concealed themselves, and with one accord imploring the Divine help, that they might not utterly be destroyed. They had at that time for their leader, Ambrosius Aurelianus, a man of worth, who alone, by chance, of the Roman nation had survived the storm, in which his parents, who were of the royal race, had perished. Under him the Britons revived, and offering battle to the victors, by the help of God, gained the victory.”
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ Book I Chapter 16
According to the ‘Historia Brittonum’, after Vortigern's death, a son of his ruled two territories, which “were granted him by Ambrosius, who was the great king among the kings of Britain.” *
Gildas continues:
“From that time, the citizens were sometimes victorious, sometimes the enemy, in order that the Lord, according to His wont, might try in this nation the Israel of to-day, whether it loves Him or not. This continued up to the year of the siege of Badon Hill, and of almost the last great slaughter inflicted upon the rascally crew. And this commences, a fact I know, as the forty-fourth year, with one month now elapsed; it is also the year of my birth.”
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapter 26
Gildas' Latin style is generally obscure, and here it is particularly so. As we have seen, Bede follows Gildas closely – just stripping out the fire and brimstone, and clarifying the phraseology – and he renders the above paragraph:
“From that day, sometimes the natives, and sometimes their enemies, prevailed, till the year of the siege of Badon Hill, when they made no small slaughter of those enemies, about forty-four years after their arrival in England.”
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ Book I Chapter 16
In this instance, Bede's paraphrase does not seem to match the text of ‘De Excidio’ that has survived into modern times. The generally accepted meaning of the surviving text is that Gildas was born in the same year that the Britons defeated the Saxons at Badon Hill (usually called Mount Badon), which occurred just over forty-three years earlier than he was writing. It is possible that Bede's interpretation was simply an inference on his part, but it has to be remembered that his text of ‘De Excidio’ was considerably nearer to the original than the surviving text. At any rate, using Bede's chronology, Mount Badon happened around 493.
The ‘Historia Brittonum’ introduces a new name, not mentioned by Gildas or Bede, into its narrative:
“Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror. The first battle in which he was engaged, was at the mouth of the river Glein. The second, third, fourth, and fifth, were on another river, by the Britons called Duglas, in the region Linnuis. The sixth, on the river Lusas. The seventh in the wood Celidon, which the Britons call Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth was near Guinnion castle, where Arthur bore the image of the Holy Virgin, mother of God, upon his shoulders, and through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the holy Mary, put the Saxons to flight, and pursued them the whole day with great slaughter. The ninth was at the City of the Legion, which is called Cair Lion. The tenth was on the banks of the river Trat Treuroit. The eleventh was on the mountain called Breguoin, which we call Cat Bregion. The twelfth was a most severe contest, when Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon. In this engagement, 940 fell by his hand alone, no one but the Lord affording him assistance. In all these engagements the Britons were successful. For no strength can avail against the will of the Almighty.” *
‘Historia Brittonum’ §56
Suggesting a date of 516, the ‘Annales Cambriae’ record:
“The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights on his shoulders and the Britons were the victors.”
And another entry (537 is the indicated year) reads:
“The battle of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell: and there was plague in Britain and Ireland.” *
In Geoffrey of Monmouth's highly inventive version of British history, Aurelius Ambrosius, Constans, and Uther Pendragon are the three sons of a King Constantine. Vortigern comes to power by devious means; Constans is killed and, the young, Uther and Ambrosius flee. Eventually, Vortigern is deposed and killed by Ambrosius. Ambrosius, leads an army against the Saxons, and, in the ensuing campaign, Hengist is captured and beheaded. Ambrosius is poisoned, by a Saxon (in the pay of Pascentius, son of Vortigern) posing as a British monk, and Uther Pendragon becomes king. Uther develops a lust for Igerna, wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. Merlin, magically disguises Uther as Gorlois and:
“So the king lay that night with Igerna, for as he had beguiled her by the false likeness he had taken upon him, so he beguiled her also by the feigned discourses wherewith he did full artfully entertain her... she believed him every word, and had no thought to deny him in aught he might desire. And upon that same night was the most renowned Arthur conceived, that was not only famous in after years, but was well worthy of all the fame he did achieve by his surpassing prowess.”
‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ Book VIII Chapter 19
Eventually, the Saxons succeed in killing Uther by poisoning a spring. Arthur, aged fifteen, is crowned king. He goes on to defeat the Saxons in a mighty battle at Bath. Arthur himself kills four hundred and seventy men, using:
“... Caliburn, best of swords, that was forged within the Isle of Avallon.”
‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ Book IX Chapter 4
Having defeated the Saxons, Arthur proceeds to: pacify the Scots and Picts, get married ....
“... he took unto him a wife born of a noble Roman family, Guanhumara, who ... did surpass in beauty all the other dames of the island.”
‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ Book IX Chapter 9
.... and conquer Ireland and Iceland (the kings of Gothland and the Orkneys voluntarily submit). After a 12 year rest, Arthur then conquers Norway, Dacia, Aquitaine, and Gaul. Arthur is goaded into a war against the Romans. He leads his forces into Europe, against a Roman coalition, leaving:
“... the charge of defending Britain unto his nephew Modred and his Queen Guanhumara ...”
‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ Book X Chapter 2
In the fullness of time, Arthur is victorious.
“But the summer coming on, at which time he designed to march unto Rome, he had begun to climb the passes of the mountains, when the message was brought him that his nephew Modred, unto whom he had committed the charge of Britain, had tyrannously and traitorously set the crown of the kingdom upon his own head, and had linked him in unhallowed union with Guanhumara the Queen in despite of her former marriage.”
‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ Book X Chapter 13
‘Le Morte D'Arthur’
by John Mulcaster Carrick (1833–1896)
Arthur rushes back to Britain and immediately defeats Modred's forces. On hearing the news, Guanhumara enters a nunnery. Arthur pursues Modred into Cornwall. In the resulting final showdown, at the river Cambula, Modred is killed.
“Even the renowned King Arthur himself was wounded deadly, and was borne thence unto the island of Avallon for the healing of his wounds, where he gave up the crown of Britain unto his kinsman Constantine, son of Cador, Duke of Cornwall, in the year of the Incarnation of Our Lord five hundred and forty-two.”
‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ Book XI Chapter 2
Geoffrey's ‘history’ was later developed; notably by Chrétien de Troyes; in the ‘Vulgate Cycle’; and by Sir Thomas Malory, whose unifying epic, ‘Le Morte d'Arthur’, was published by Caxton in 1485.
Surely, if Arthur did indeed exist as a significant historical figure, it is reasonable to suppose that Gildas, and subsequently Bede, would have made some reference to him?
After his mention of Mount Badon, Gildas continues:
“But not even at the present day are the cities of our country inhabited as formerly; deserted and dismantled, they lie neglected until now, because, although wars with foreigners have ceased, domestic wars continue.”
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapter 26
He also talks of:
“... the ruin of cities, of the men who survived; of the final victory won by the mother country, which is the gift granted by the will of God in our own times.”
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapter 2
So, the British victory at Mount Badon appears to have (for the time being) arrested the Anglo-Saxon advance. At the time Gildas was writing, Britons and Saxons were at peace.
Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea, around 550, wrote:
“The island of Brittia [Britain, presumably] is inhabited by three very numerous nations, each having one king over it. And the names of these nations are Angiloi [Angles], Frissones [Frisians] and Brittones [Britons], the last being named from the island itself. And so great appears to be the population of these nations that every year they emigrate thence [i.e. from Brittia] in large companies with their women and children and go to the land of the Franks. And the Franks allow them to settle in the part of their land which appears to be more deserted, and by this means they say that they are winning over the island. Thus it actually happened that not long ago the king of the Franks [Theudebert, 533–548], in sending some of his intimates on an embassy to the Emperor Justinian [527–565] in Byzantium, sent with them some of the Angiloi, thus seeking to establish his claim that this island was ruled by him.”
Procopius of Caesarea ‘History of the Wars’ Book VIII Chapter 20
Procopius is clearly confused. His story has both a Britannia and an island of Brittia – it would appear (though not everyone would agree) that both are Britain. Further, he continues with obviously fantastical material – at one point admitting that the yarn he is about to spin “bears a very close resemblance to mythology, a story which did not seem to me at all trustworthy”. Procopius' credibility here, then, is debatable. However, if credence can be given to his statement, it was not just the Britons who, as Gildas said (Chapter 25, above) “repaired to parts beyond the sea” (British natives, fleeing the troubles in Britain, primarily settled in the Armorican peninsula, which would, as a result, become known as Brittany), but, more significantly, the Germanic people themselves. The implication being that a stalemate had been reached – the Germanic newcomers, unable to extend their territory, were forced to depart for the Continent. There is also a tradition, recorded shortly before 865 (in ‘Translatio Sancti Alexandri’) by the monk Rudolf of Fulda, which claims that the continental Saxon race splintered off from the Angles of Britain. The story says that this splinter-group, being unable to find land for settlement, left Britain and assisted Theuderic, king of the Franks, to defeat the Thuringians (an event that can be dated to 531). Theuderic then gave them the newly conquered territory (which was actually to the north of the Unstrut river).
crimes beyond description
Gildas bemoans the decadence which he believed had afflicted the Britons since their triumph:
“The recollection of so hopeless a ruin of the island, and of the unlooked-for help, has been fixed in the memory of those who have survived as witnesses of both marvels. Owing to this [aid] kings, magistrates, private persons, priests, ecclesiastics, severally preserved their own rank. As they died away, when an age had succeeded ignorant of that storm, and having experience only of the present quiet, all the controlling influences of truth and justice were so shaken and overturned that, not to speak of traces, not even the remembrance of them is to be found among the ranks named above. I make exception of a few – a very few – who owing to the loss of the vast multitude that rushes daily to hell, are counted at so small a number that our revered mother, the church, in a manner does not observe them as they rest in her bosom. They are the only real children she has. Let no man think that I am slandering the noble life of these men, admired by all and beloved of God, by whom my weakness is supported so as not to fall into entire ruin, by holy prayers, as by columns and serviceable supports. Let no one think so, if in a somewhat excessively free-spoken, yea, doleful manner, driven by a crowd of evils, I shall not so much treat of, as weep concerning those who serve not only their belly, but the devil rather than Christ, “who is God blessed for ever”. For why will fellow-citizens hide what the nations around already not only know, but reproach us with?
Kings Britain has, but they are as her tyrants: she has judges, but they are ungodly men: engaged in frequent plunder and disturbance, but of harmless men: avenging and defending, yea for the benefit of criminals and robbers. They have numerous wives, though harlots and adulterous women: they swear but by way of forswearing, making vows yet almost immediately use falsehood. They make wars, but the wars they undertake are civil and unjust ones. They certainly pursue thieves industriously throughout the country, whilst those thieves who sit with them at table, they not only esteem but even remunerate. Alms they give profusely, but over against this they heap up a huge mountain of crimes. They take their seat to pronounce sentence, yet seldom seek the rule of right judgment. Despising the innocent and lowly, they to their utmost extol to the stars the bloody-minded, the proud, the murderous men, their own companions and the adulterous enemies of God, if chance so offers, who ought, together with their very name, to be assiduously destroyed. Many have they bound in their prisons, whom they ill-use with weight of chains, more by their own fraud than by reason of desert: they linger among the altars in the oaths they make, and shortly afterwards look with disdain on these same altars as if they were dirty stones.”
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapters 26–27
Gildas singles out five British kings for particular criticism.
Constantine (Constantinus):
“Of this so execrable a wickedness Constantine, the tyrannical whelp of the unclean lioness of Damnonia, is not ignorant. In this year, after a dreadful form of oath, by which he bound himself that he would use no deceit against his subjects ... he nevertheless, in the garb of a holy abbot, cruelly tore the tender sides of two royal children, while in the bosoms of two revered mothers – viz., the church and the mother after the flesh – together with their two guardians. And their arms, stretched forth, in no way to armour, which no man was in the habit of using more bravely than they at this time, but towards God and His altar, will hang in the day of judgment at thy gates, Oh Christ, as revered trophies of their patience and faith. He did this among the holy altars, as I said, with accursed sword and spear instead of teeth, so that the cloaks, red as if with clotted blood, touched the place of the heavenly sacrifice. This deed he committed, after no meritorious acts worthy of praise; for, many years previously he was overcome by frequent successive deeds of adultery, having put away his legitimate wife, contrary to the prohibition of Christ and the Teacher of the gentiles, who say: “What God hath joined let man not separate,” and: “Husbands love your wives.” For he planted, of “the bitter vine of Sodom” in the soil of his heart, unfruitful for good seed, a shoot of unbelief and unwisdom, which, watered by public and domestic impieties as if by poisonous showers, and springing forth more quickly to the displeasure of God, brought forth the guilt of murder and sacrilege. But as one not yet free from the nets of prior sins he heaps new crimes upon old ones.”
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapter 28
Damnonia, that is Dumnonia, comprised Cornwall, Devon, and possibly parts of Dorset and Somerset.
Aurelius Caninus:
“Thou also, “lion's whelp,” as the prophet says, what doest thou, Aurelius Caninus? Art thou not swallowed up in the same, if not more destructive, filth, as the man previously mentioned, the filth of murders, fornications, adulteries, like sea-waves rushing fatally upon thee? Hast thou not by thy hatred of thy country's peace, as if it were a deadly serpent, or by thy iniquitous thirst for civil wars and repeated spoils, closed the doors of heavenly peace and repose for thy soul? Left alone now, like a dry tree in the midst of a field, remember, I pray thee, the pride of thy fathers and brothers, with their early and untimely death. Wilt thou, because of pious deserts, an exception to almost all thy family, survive for a hundred years, or be of the years of Methuselah? No. But unless, as the Psalmist says, thou “be very speedily converted to the Lord, that King will soon brandish his sword against thee;” who says by the prophet: “I will kill and I will make alive: I shall wound and I shall heal, and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” Wherefore shake thyself from thy filthy dust, and turn unto Him with thy whole heart, unto Him who created thee, so that “when His anger quickly kindles, thou mayest be blest, hoping in Him.” But if not so, eternal pains await thee, who shalt be always tormented, without being consumed, in the dread jaws of hell.”
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapter 30
Aurelius Caninus is not otherwise known.
Vortipor (Vortiporius):
“Why also art thou, Vortipor, tyrant of the Demetae, foolishly stubborn? Like the pard [i.e. leopard] art thou, in manners and wickedness of various colour, though thy head is now becoming grey, upon a throne full of guile, and from top to bottom defiled by various murders and adulteries, thou worthless son of a good king, as Manasseh of Hezekiah. What! do not such wide whirlpools of sins, which thou suckest in like good wine, nay, art thyself swallowed by them, though the end of life is gradually drawing near – do these not satisfy thee? Why, to crown all thy sins, dost thou, when thine own wife had been removed and her death had been virtuous, by the violation of a shameless daughter, burden thy soul as with a weight impossible to remove?  Spend not, I beseech thee, the remainder of thy days in offending God ...”
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapter 31
The tribal area of the Demetae, in south-west Wales, became the kingdom of Dyfed.
According to an Old Irish text, ‘The Expulsion of the Déisi’, which probably dates from the 8th century, one Eochaid, son of Artchorp, led his displaced people out of Ireland, to settle in Dyfed – as a result of which he appears to have gained the epithet ‘Allmuir’ (Over-Sea). Genealogical material attached to the tale presents Eochaid's great-great-great-grandson as Gartbuir – an Irish form of Vortipor. Harleian Genealogies §2 (in which Vortipor is rendered as Guortepir), repeats some of the Irish pedigree, then switches track at Vortipor's great-grandfather and presents a Roman line of descent for the kings of Dyfed, via Macsen Wledig (i.e. Magnus Maximus).
In Dyfed , there are a number of inscribed stones bearing Irish ogam characters. One particular stone, on display in Carmarthen County Museum, bears, in ogam, the inscription VOTECORIGAS (of Votecorix). It also bears a Latin inscription, which reads:
the memorial of Voteporix the Protector
Voteporix has long been equated with Vortipor (there is no other person he could be identified with in Dyfed genealogies). This identification, however, is apparently questionable on linguistic grounds – because of the missing first ‘R’ in the name. Voteporix was certainly a person of high rank, even if he cannot be equated with Vortipor.
It seems, at any rate, that the true origin of the Dyfed royal line was Irish, though it was later decided to claim a more impressive lineage. It may well be that Vortipor's Irish ancestors were allowed, by the Romans (perhaps by Magnus Maximus), to settle in the territory of the Demetae in exchange for defending the coast against Irish pirates.
“Why dost thou, also, wallow in the old filth of thy wickedness, from the years of thy youth, thou bear, rider of many, and driver of a chariot belonging to a bear's den, despiser of God and contemner of His decree, thou Cuneglasus (meaning in the Roman tongue, thou ‘tawny butcher’)? Why dost thou maintain such strife against both men and God? Against men, thine own countrymen, to wit, by arms special to thyself; against God, by crimes without number? Why, in addition to innumerable lapses, dost thou, having driven away thy wife, cast thine eyes upon her dastardly sister, who is under a vow to God of the perpetual chastity of widowhood, that is as the poet says, of the highest tenderness of heavenly nymphs, with the full reverence, or rather bluntness, of her mind, against the apostle's prohibition when he says that adulterers cannot be citizens of the kingdom of heaven? Why dost thou provoke, by thy repeated injuries, the groans and sighs of saints, who on thy account are living in the body, as if they were the teeth of a huge lioness that shall some day break thy bones?... Be not, as the apostle says, “high-minded, nor have thy hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but in God who giveth thee many things richly,” that by an amendment of life, “thou mayest lay in store for thyself a good foundation against the time to come,” and mayest have the true life; that is, of course, the eternal life, not that which passeth away. Otherwise thou shalt know and see, even in this world, how evil and bitter it is to have abandoned the Lord thy God, and that His fear is not with thee, and that in the world to come thou shalt be burnt in the hideous mass of eternal fires, without, however, in any way dying. For the souls of sinners are as immortal for never-ending fire as those of the saints are for joy.”
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapter 32
Cuneglasus is usually equated with Cinglas, who appears in Harleian Genealogies §3 – associated with the Rhos (a subdivision of Gwynedd) dynasty – as great-grandson of Cunedda.
“And thou, the island dragon, who hast driven many of the tyrants mentioned previously, as well from life as from kingdom, thou last in my writing, first in wickedness, exceeding many in power and at the same time in malice, more liberal in giving, more excessive in sin, strong in arms, but stronger in what destroys thy soul – thou Maglocunus, why dost thou obtusely wallow in such an old black pool of crimes, as if sodden with “the wine that is pressed from the vine of Sodom?” Why dost thou tie to thy royal neck (of thine own accord, as I may say), such heaps, impossible to remove, of crimes, as of high mountains? Why showest thou thyself to Him, the King of all kings, who made thee superior to almost all the kings of Britain, both in kingdom and in the form of thy stature, not better than the rest in morality, but on the contrary worse? Give a patient hearing for awhile to an undoubted record of those charges which, passing by domestic and lighter offences – if, indeed, any are light – shall testify only the things which have been proclaimed far and wide, in broad daylight, as admitted crimes. In the first years of thy youth, accompanied by soldiers of the bravest, whose countenance in battle appeared not very unlike that of young lions, didst thou not most bitterly crush thy uncle the king with sword, and spear, and fire?...
When the dream of thy oppressive reign turned out according to thy wish, didst thou not, drawn by the desire to return unto the right way, with the consciousness of thy sins probably biting days and nights during that period, first, largely meditating with thyself on the godly walk and the rules of monks, then, bringing them forward to the knowledge of open publicity, didst thou not vow thyself for ever a monk? Without any thought of unfaithfulness was it done, according to thy declaration, in the sight of God Almighty, before the face of angels and men... What and how many rewards of the kingdom of Christ would wait thy soul in the day of judgment, if that crafty wolf, when from a wolf thou hadst become a lamb, had not snatched thee from the Lord's fold (not greatly against thy will), to make thee a wolf from a lamb, like unto himself! What joy thy salvation, if secured, had furnished to the gracious Father and God of all saints, had not the wretched father of all the lost, like an eagle of mighty wings and claws – the devil, I mean – against every right, snatched thee away to the unhappy troop of his children!  Not to be tedious – thy conversion unto good fruit brought as much joy and pleasantness, both to heaven and earth, as now thy accursed reversion to thy fearful vomit like a sick dog, has caused of sorrow and lamentation...
Yet not by such stumbling-blocks of evils, as if by a kind of barrier, is thy mind, dulled through a load of unwisdom, retarded; but impetuous like a young colt, which, imagining every pleasant place as not traversed, rushes along, with unbridled fury, over wide fields of crimes, heaping new sins upon old. For contempt is thrown upon thy first marriage, though after thy violated vow as a monk it was illicit, yet was to be assumed as the marriage of thine own proper wife; another marriage is sought after, not with anybody's widow, but with the beloved wife of a living man; and he not a stranger, but thy brother's son. On this account, that stiff neck, already weighted with many burdens of sins (to wit, a double daring murder, the killing of the husband above named, and the wife that was for a time regarded by thee as thine), is bent down through the extreme excess of thy sacrilegious deed, from lowest crimes to still lower. Afterwards thou didst wed her, by whose collusion and intimation, the huge mass of the crimes grew suddenly so big, in public, and (as the false tongues of thy flatterers assert, at the top of their voice, though not from the depth of their heart), in a legitimate marriage, regarding her as a widow; but our tongues say, in desecrated wedlock.  What saint is there whose bowels, moved by such a tale, do not at once break forth into weeping and sobbing? What priest, whose righteous heart is open before God, on hearing of these things, would not, with great wailing, instantly say that word of the prophet: “Who will give water unto my head, and a fountain of tears unto my eyes? And I shall weep day and night the slain of my people.”...”
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapters 33–35
Maglocunus is confidently equated with Maelgwn, king of Gwynedd, in north-west Wales (the island in question being Anglesey). In Harleian Genealogies §1, Maelgwn (Mailcun) features as great-grandson of Cunedda, and the ‘Annales Cambriae’ indicate a date of 547 for Maelgwn's death.
The British clergy also feel the sharp edge of Gildas' pen, in a tirade which begins:
“Priests Britain has, but foolish ones; a great number of ministers, but shameless; clergy, but crafty plunderers; pastors, so to say, but wolves ready for the slaughter of souls, certainly not providing what is of benefit for the people, but seeking the filling of their own belly.”
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapter 66
“To other crimes beyond description, which their own historian, Gildas, mournfully relates, they [the Britons] added this – that they never preached the faith to the Saxons or Angles who dwelt amongst them. Nevertheless, the goodness of God did not forsake his people, whom he foreknew, but sent to the aforesaid nation much more worthy heralds of the truth, to bring it to the faith.”
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ Book I Chapter 22
The Birth of Nations    
Eliseg's Pillar by Nancy Edwards
‘Historia Brittonum’ by J.A. Giles
Patrick ‘Epistola’ by A.B.E. Hood
‘Annales Cambriae’ by James Ingram
Muirchu ‘Vita Sancti Patricii’ by A.B.E. Hood
Gildas ‘De Excidio Britanniae’ by Hugh Williams
‘Annals of Ulster’ by S. Mac Airt & G. Mac Niocaill
Prosper of Aquitaine ‘Chronicon’ by James Yeowell
‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ by Benjamin Thorpe (adapted)
Constantius of Lyon ‘Vita Sancti Germani’ by F.R. Hoare
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ by A.M. Sellar
Procopius of Caesarea ‘History of the Wars’ by H.B. Dewing
‘The Dream of Rhonabwy’ by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones
Giraldus Cambrensis ‘Descriptio Cambriae’ by Sir Richard Colt Hoare
Geoffrey of Monmouth ‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ by Sebastian Evans
Actually, the immediate post-Roman period – the 5th and 6th centuries – is frequently referred to as ‘sub-Roman’.
The theologian Pelagius was born in Britain around the early-350s, but had moved to Rome by the early-380s. In 409 (just before Alaric's Visigoths sacked the city in 410) he travelled to Palestine via Sicily and North Africa. His teachings, which challenged mainstream Christian precepts regarding original sin and grace, were declared heretical in 418. Pelagius then disappears from history – conceivably he returned to Britain.
It is quite possible that in the copy of ‘De Excidio’ that Bede used, Gildas did name Vortigern. In the earliest surviving ‘De Excidio’ manuscript (British Library MS Cotton Vitellius A vi, 10th century) the name is not given, but in a later manuscript, which has a remodelled and simplified text, (Avranches MS 162, 12th century) it is (superbo tyranno Vortigerno). Perhaps the later manuscript better reflects Gildas' original in this matter.
Incidentally, The spelling Vurtigernus appears in Bede's ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ (Ecclesiastical History). In his earlier work, the so-called ‘Chronica Maiora’ (Greater Chronicle) – not actually a stand-alone work, but a component of ‘De Temporum Ratione’ (On the Reckoning of Time) – written in 725, he spells the name Vertigernus. In ‘The Origin of the English Nation’ (1907), H. Munro Chadwick writes:
“In the Chronica Maiora it is given as Vertigernus, a very early Welsh form. This surely must have been derived from a Welsh source, presumably Gildas ... On the other hand the form which he uses in the Ecclesiastical History, Vurtigernus, is English. It represents however a form of the language which was certainly obsolete in Bede's time and probably for at least half a century.”
Chapter 3
Prosper dates entries in his chronicle by naming the consuls of the year. The consular year of Florentius and Dionysius equates to AD429. Prosper's chronicle is a development/extension of the earlier chronicle of Jerome (Hieronymus), which, in turn, is the development/extension of an earlier work by Eusebius of Caesarea.
“Meanwhile news came from Britain that a few promoters of the Pelagian heresy were once more spreading it; and again all the bishops joined in urging the man of blessings to defend the cause of God for which he had previously won such a victory. He hastened to comply ... taking with him Severus a bishop of perfected sanctity ...
... Germanus could see that the people as a whole had persevered in the faith in which he had left them and the bishops realized that the fallings-away had been the work only of a few. These were identified and formally condemned.
[Germanus heals the crippled son of “one of the leading men of the country, Elafias by name”.] There followed sermons to the people to confute the heresy, the preachers of which were by common consent banished from the island. They were brought to the bishops to be conducted to the Continent, so that the country might be purged of them and they of their errors. The effect of all this was so salutary that even now the faith is persisting intact in those parts. And so, with everything settled, the blessed bishops made a prosperous journey back to their own country.”
Constantius of Lyon ‘Vita Sancti Germani’ Chapters 25–27
See: New Empires.
See: A Barbarian Conspiracy.
‘Notitia Dignitatum’ (Register of Dignitaries): a list of Roman civil and military posts, originating from c.400. No surviving manuscript, however, is earlier than the 15th century. All extant copies are believed to derive from a single, c.10th century, copy, which was apparently lost in the late-16th century.
In particular, a people occupying territory adjoining the North Sea coast between the Elbe and Weser. The Romans, however, clearly used the name in a general way. Saxons could just as well come from Friesland, to the west of the Saxon heartland, or the Jutland Peninsula, to the east.
Marcian was emperor in the East from 450 (not 449) until 457. Valentinian III was emperor in the West from 425 until 455.
See: The Birth of Nations, England.
Germanus' visits to Britain occupy ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ Book I Chapters 17–21.
In his, earlier, ‘Chronica Maiora’, Bede unequivocally places the first mission of Germanus and the Alleluia Victory (in fact, Bede doesn't mention a second visit at all in this, more compact, report) during the “7 years” joint rule of Marcian and Valentinian III (actually 450–555), and after “the people of the Angles or of the Saxons came to Britain in three long ships”.
(In the‘Chronica Maiora’, Bede dates the end of Marcian and Valentinian's rule to the year 4410 from the creation of the world. Bede calculated that Christ was born in the year 3952. By this reckoning, therefore, the year 4410 equates to AD459.)
For instance, §31 says that, after the death of Magnus Maximus [388], the Britons “were in alarm forty years” before, during the reign of Vortigern, the three ships arrived from Germany. Just a few lines later, however, comes the statement that “the Saxons were received by Vortigern” during the second consulship of Gratian and Equitius, which equates to 375. §16 says that from “the first arrival of the Saxons into Britain” to the 4th regnal year of Merfyn Frych, king of Gwynedd, is a span of 428 years, which dates the Adventus to about the year 400. §66 states:
“... from the twin consuls, Rufus [i.e. Fufius] and Rubelius [AD29], to the Consul Stilicho [first consulship, 400], are three hundred and seventy-three years.
Also from Stilicho [400] to Valentinian, son of Placida [425], and the reign of Vortigern, are twenty-eight years.
... Vortigern reigned in Britain when Theodosius and Valentinian were consuls [for the first time, 425], and in the fourth year of his reign the Saxons came to Britain, in the consulship of Felix and Taurus [428], in the four hundredth year from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[The ‘Historia Brittonum’ uses both ‘the incarnation’ and ‘the Passion’ to express dates. If the latter is substituted for the former, the above statement is reconciled.]
From the year in which the Saxons came into Britain, and were received by Vortigern, to the time of Decius and Valerian [no such consulship], are sixty-nine years.”
The name of Hengist's daughter, according to a Welsh Triad, is Rhonwen (Rowena). Triads are linked threesomes – mainly of people or events – that, it is thought, were a device used by medieval bards to enable them to commit narrative detail to memory. Collections of Welsh Triads exist in a number of manuscripts – the earliest from the 13th century. Rachel Bromwich brought them together in ‘Trioedd Ynys Prydein’ (The Triads of the Island of Britain), first published in 1961.
Triad 59 is:
“Three Unfortunate Counsels of the Island of Britain: ... and the second: to allow Horsa and Hengist and Rhonwen into this Island ...”
This section concludes:
“But the barbarians having greatly increased in number, the Britons became incapable of fulfilling their engagement; and when the Saxons, according to the promise they had received, claimed a supply of provisions and clothing, the Britons replied, “Your number is increased; your assistance is now unnecessary; you may, therefore, return home, for we can no longer support you;” and hereupon they began to devise means of breaking the peace between them.”
The next section, 37, presumably sourced from elsewhere, does not logically follow if §36 runs its full course.
Exactly which stretch of water is being referred to here is a matter of opinion.
Hadrian's Wall is meant (presumably).
The St Germanus material in the ‘Historia Brittonum’ is independent of Prosper or Constantius. It is widely believed that St Germanus of Auxerre has become confused with a local St Garmon.
The earliest Welsh collection of royal genealogies – contained in Harleian MS 3859. Although the manuscript itself dates from c.1100, the genealogies were probably collected in the later-10th century – during the reign (in Deheubarth, 950–988) of Owain ap Hywel Dda. (Variations and additions are found in the collection of genealogies from Jesus College MS 20 – 14th century.) Giraldus Cambrensis, in his ‘Descriptio Cambriae’ (Description of Wales) of 1194, says:
“It is worthy of remark, that the Welsh bards and singers, or reciters, have the genealogies of the aforesaid princes, written in the Welsh language, in their ancient and authentic books; and also retain them in their memory ...”
‘Descriptio Cambriae’ Book I Chapter 3
However, it was clearly in the interests of the ruler on whose behalf a blood-line was prepared – to show that he wasn't an upstart, to demonstrate his ancient right to rule – to link him with as many illustrious personages from the mists of time as possible, so just how much credence can be given to the early entries in these genealogies is a moot point. Harleian Genealogies §1, purportedly showing a line of descent of Owain ap Hywel Dda, concludes:
“... Amalech, who was the son of Beli the Great, and Anna his mother, whom they say was cousin to the Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
See: Ruin.
Embres Guletic is generally rendered as Emrys Wledig.
‘Marwnad Cunedda’ survives in an early-14th century compilation known as the ‘Llyfr Taliesin’ (Book of Taliesin – Aberystwyth, NLW, Peniarth MS 2), and in its opening line it proclaims itself to have been written by, the late-6th century poet, Taliesin. The influential Welsh scholar Ifor Williams (d.1965) considered it to be a 9th or 10th century fake. Others, however, are not inclined to be so dismissive – it may be that the attribution to Taliesin is a later nonsense, but the poem actually has 5th century origins. John T. Koch (‘Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia’, 2006) writes:
“It appears in its contents and aspects of its archaic linguistic and metrical form to be a 5th-century court poem. Thus, if authentic, Marwnad Cunedda would be the oldest surviving Welsh poem by a century or more.”
John T. Koch's translation of ‘Marwnad Cunedda’ can be found in ‘The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales’ Third Edition (2000).
See: Cadell Gleaming-Hilt.
In an article entitled “St Germanus and the Adventus Saxonum’ (‘Haskins Society Journal’, 1990), Michael E. Jones writes:
“Incidental details provided by Constantius suggest that Germanus was absent from his diocese for a considerable time, far longer than a few months. Such a conclusion is supported by the few datable references regarding Germanus's actions after his return to Gaul.”
Prof. Jones goes on to enumerate the evidence, and reasons that it:
“... produces a coherent and convincing date for the return of Germanus from Britain. This must be sometime during the period c.432–38 and probably within the interval c.434–36. Since Constantius makes the Easter victory the last action in Germanus's adventures in Britain ... the battle with the Saxons and Picts must fall on some unspecified Easter during this same period.”
Frank Stenton, in his ‘Anglo-Saxon England’ (Third Edition, 1971), warns that:
“After the initial year 449 [from Bede of course] the dates assigned to these events are unlikely to represent anything more authoritative than the conjectures of an annalist writing some three hundred years after the wars of Vortigern and Hengest.”
Chapter 1
In the ‘Gallic Chronicle of 452’, dated to the 18th and 19th years of Theodosius. Theodosius II was emperor in the East 408–450. However, the ‘Gallic Chronicle of 452’ counts the first regnal year of an emperor as the first year when he was the Senior Augustus. Theodosius did not become Senior until the death of his uncle and emperor in the West, Honorius, on 15th August 423. The same event is also dated by Olympiad, but this is out of step with the regnal years and produces a date four years later – the regnal years are generally considered more reliable.
In the ‘Gallic Chronicle of 511’, dated to the 16th year of Theodosius and Valentinian. Valentinian III became emperor in the West on 23rd October 425, at the age of six. (He ruled until his assassination, on 16th March 455.)
Michael E. Jones (“St Germanus and the Adventus Saxonum’, ‘Haskins Society Journal’, 1990) writes:
“I think we have an attractive date for the adventus Saxonum anchored in the fifth-century sources of Prosper, Constantius and the Gallic Chronicle that justifies jettisoning Gildas's awkward and unacceptably late date and also Bede's perpetuation of that bogus idea.”
Whilst, in ‘The Britons’ (2003), Christopher A. Snyder says:
“Studies have assigned both of these [‘Gallic Chronicle’] entries to the year 441. On the surface, this would appear to be concrete evidence for the end of sub-Roman Britain and the beginning of Anglo-Saxon England in 441. However, given that Bede and other sources clung to the year 449 as the beginning of the Saxon migrations, and given that the archaeological evidence for Saxon settlement in Britain prior to 450 is very slight, it seems unlikely that any more than a small (eastern) portion of British lands had come under Saxon control by 441. Our Gallic witness, writing in the later fifth century (possibly with Frankish informants), may be giving us a distorted and exaggerated view of the political realities in Britain.”
Chapter 5
According to Bede, Octa was Hengist's grandson.
“... Octa, whose father was Oeric, surnamed Oisc [Æsc] ... His father was Hengist, who, being invited by Vortigern, first came into Britain, with his son Oisc ...”
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ Book II Chapter 5
The ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ agrees with Bede that Æsc was Hengist's son, but doesn't mention of Octa.
“He [Vortigern] had three sons: the eldest was Vortimer, who, as we have seen, fought four times against the Saxons, and put them to flight; the second Cateyrn, who was slain in the same battle with Horsa; the third was Pascent, who reigned in the two provinces Builth [Buelt] and Gwerthrynion [Guorthegirnaim – named after Vortigern], after the death of his father. These were granted him by Ambrosius, who was the great king among the kings of Britain. The fourth was Faustus, born of an incestuous marriage with his daughter, who was brought up and educated by St Germanus. He built a large monastery on the banks of the river Renis, called after his name, and which remains to the present period.”
‘Historia Brittonum’ §48
It is possible that the ‘Historia’ is attempting to link, the real historical figure, St Faustus of Riez (c.405–c.490) with Vortigern. The real Faustus, who is indeed said to have hailed from Britain, became bishop of Riez (not a river) in south-eastern Gaul.
In ‘Celtic Britain’ (1963), Nora K. Chadwick writes:
“... [Gildas] tells us of a powerful British ruler whom he refers to as a superbus tyrannus [proud tyrant], and whom he evidently regards as responsible for the Saxon invasion and occupation of Britain. No name is given to him in the oldest and best text, but Bede, in his Chronica Majora, calls him Vertigernus, a form which he must have obtained from an early British source, whether Gildas or another. In Anglo-Saxon the form given to the name is Wyrtgeorn, and in later writers it appears as Vortigern, generally regarded as a proper name, though it means literally ‘overlord’ and may originally have been a title. In the Latin of this period the word tyrannus (lit. ‘tyrant’) generally signifies a usurper, and this is doubtless what Procopius implies when he speaks of Britain as largely in the hands of ‘tyrants’ after the departure of the Romans [see: Ruin]. A correct translation today of the superbus tyrannus would be ‘absolute dictator’. In much later sources, Irish and British, Vortigern is styled rex Brittanorum.
Chapter 2
J.A. Giles' translation of the ‘Historia Brittonum’, used on this webpage, is based on the translation made by W. Gunn, of a manuscript that the latter had found in the Vatican's library, and published in 1819. There are some differences in the naming of the battle-sites between this Vatican manuscript and the principal manuscript of the ‘Historia’, Harleian MS 3859. Notably, “the mountain called Breguoin, which we call Cat Bregion” in the Vatican, is “the mountain called Agned” in the Harleian. Either way, the location of this site, and, indeed, all the others, is not known with certainty, though there are, of course, various theories. Perhaps the most consistent identification is “City of the Legion” as Chester – erstwhile home of Legio XX Valeria Victrix (see: The Roman Army in Britain). (Incidentally, the extra information: “which is called Cair Lion” is not in Harleian MS 3859.) A popular candidate for Baden itself is Bath, which, though not on a hill, is surrounded by hills.
The number is “nine hundred and sixty” in Harleian MS 3859.
It seems likely that ‘shoulders’ (in Old Welsh: ‘scuid’) is a transcription or translation error, and should read ‘shield’ (in Old Welsh: ‘scuit’).
Between about 1160 and 1190, French poet Chrétien de Troyes produced a series of Arthurian romances which he imbued with the ideals of chivalry. He introduced Lancelot, Camelot and the Holy Grail to the Arthurian myth.
A set of early-13th century, French prose, Arthurian tales. Seemingly, they were composed by Cistercian monks as religious allegories.
J.A. Giles' translation of the ‘Historia Brittonum’, used here, was first published in 1841. As far as possible, Dr Giles employed the translation made by W. Gunn, of a manuscript that the latter had found in the Vatican's library – this manuscript, spuriously, claims that the ‘Historia Brittonum’ was: “edited by Marcus the Anchorite, a holy bishop of that people [i.e. the Britons]” – and published in 1819. Anyway, Set Thergabail is the British place-name given in this Vatican manuscript, whilst in the primary manuscript of the ‘Historia’, Harleian MS 3859, it is Rithergabail.
In ‘The Dream of Rhonabwy’, a tale from the collection known as ‘The Mabinogion’, one of the characters says:
“I was one of the envoys at the battle of Camlan, between Arthur and Medrawd his nephew. And a spirited young man was I then! And I so craved for battle that I kindled strife between them. This was the kind of strife I kindled: when the emperor Arthur would send me to remind Medrawd that he was his foster-father and uncle, and ask for peace lest the kings' sons of the Island of Britain and their noblemen should be slain, and when Arthur would speak to me the fairest words he could, I would speak those words the ugliest way I knew how to Medrawd. And because of that the name Iddawg the Embroiler of Britain was set on me. And because of that was woven the battle of Camlan.”
Incidentally, there is a theory that Procopius meant Brittany, when he used the name Britannia. However, elsewhere, Procopius definitely uses Britannia to mean Britain, and no previous writer had referred to Armorica as Brittany.
Twenty, according to John Davies, in ‘A History of Wales’ (Revised Edition, 2007).
In its final form, Roman Britain was a diocese – an administrative region of the Empire – comprising four, possibly five, provinces. (See: A Barbarian Conspiracy.)
See: The Roman Army in Britain, Part II.
‘Bonedd Gwŷr y Gogledd’ survives in several manuscripts, the earliest of which is late-13th century (Peniarth MS 45), though the text may have been produced in the previous century.
The word atavus can be used in a specific way to mean ‘great-great-great-grandfather’, but it can also be used in a general way to mean ‘ancestor’. In Harleian Genealogies §1, Cunedda (Cuneda) is presented as just great-grandfather of Maelgwn (Mailcun).
Guletic, also spelled Wledig, would seem to be related to the Welsh ‘gwlad’ (land), and is, apparently, the title of a military leader. In the Harleian Genealogies, Ceretic Guletic's grandson is Dyfnwal Hen. In the ‘Bonedd Gwŷr y Gogledd’, however, Ceretic Guletic does not exist – Dyfnwal Hen is presented as the grandson of Macsen Wledig, alias, the late-4th century usurper, Magnus Maximus (see: Ruin). Incidentally, the death of Rhun's father, Artgal, is placed in 872 by the ‘Annals of Ulster’.
Presumably “Palladius the deacon” is the same Palladius that Pope Celestine despatched, as bishop, to Ireland in 431 (see above). In Muirchu's ‘Vita’ of St Patrick, it is said that, after his escape from slavery in Ireland, Patrick studied with Germanus at Auxerre:
“He stayed with him for quite some time ...
... some say forty years, others thirty ...”
‘Vita Sancti Patricii’ Chapters 6–7
It may well be that the association with Germanus was ‘borrowed’ from Palladius to enhance Patrick's biography. Patrick's own testimony is very much open to interpretation, but he does not directly say that he had ever visited Gaul.
Tellingly, Prosper of Aquitaine, the contemporary chronicler – his ‘Chronicon’ ends in 455 – who reports Palladius' despatch to Ireland in 431 (§1307), makes no mention of Patrick. Nor, in his own writings, does Patrick mention Palladius.
According to Harleian Genealogies §1, it was Einion Yrth (the Impetuous?) who was Maelgwn's grandfather.
Elmet's existence is testified to by reliable historical sources (e.g. Bede), and it can be placed in the vicinity of Leeds with considerable confidence – its name lives on in the place names Barwick-in-Elmet and Sherburn-in-Elmet, to the east of Leeds. Rheged, however, is known from Welsh poetry, notably that attributed to the 6th century bard Taliesin. Scholars generally site Rheged in modern-day Dumfries & Galloway and Cumbria (and sometimes in Lancashire also), which it may well have been, but the evidence is actually rather slight. There is a 12th century Welsh poem which seems to place Carlisle in Rheged. Another Welsh poem – found in the so-called ‘Book of Taliesin’ (early-14th century), but written long after Taliesin's time – contains a phrase that can be read as: ‘beyond the sea of Rheged’. The supposed Sea of Rheged has been equated with the Solway Firth. It has been argued that the place-name Dunragit, in Galloway, means ‘Fort of Rheged’.
(Rochdale, Lancashire, is recorded in the Domesday Book as Recedham, and it has been suggested that this too preserves the name of Rheged.)
See: Celtic languages of the British Isles.