I plan to write at least one more article about kingship and the Welsh stories, but as I was doing a little online research something else caught my eye. I happened to be looking up Aed Brosc to find out what source had recorded his invasion of Ceredigion. Instead of an answer, I came to page after page that told me all about his lineage, birth-year, and who he married. My face locked in an “EEK!” pose. Aed Brosc, about whom almost nothing is historically known, was being dated to 270. His wife and the circumstances of his marriage were also explained. I also read that one son went on to found the Dyfed kingship and another the Ceredigion kingship.
But professional scholars aren’t positive about Aed Brosc’s ancestry and they aren’t certain about when he lived. Our best guess is at least a century after 270 though. His family definitely ruled Dyfed, and we are fairly certain his son ruled after he did, but his other son never ruled Ceredigion. He probably invaded Ceredigion – a fact that wasn’t even on the sites.
People working on ancestry sites are not educated enough to work to safely manuever through the less recorded parts of our history. Where a modern scholar tries to search for the truth for the sake of knowing it, that was not the driving motivation for medieval scholars. The people recording British, Irish, and Germanic lineages were bards, and the bards were being paid by the kings whose lineages they were working on.
The kings weren’t interested in the truth. They couldn’t afford to be. British kingships in Britain started in the late fifth century and after four centuries under Roman rule it’s doubtful that any of them were descended from pre-Roman royal families. They needed credibility and a lineage could do that if properly constructed. That’s why they hired bards. Two aspects of the lineage were worked over.
First of all was that awkward distance between 410 and the date when their royal rule actually started. For the British kingdoms that was maybe a fifty or even a hundred year span. The Irish wanted to show they had taken their lands directly from the Romans so they needed to stretch their lineages back more than a century further back. The Germanic tribes only needed to stretch back to the late fifth century because Gildas’ De Excidio Britanniae said that they had only arrived around 450 or so. In all cases, the gap between reality and necessity was bridged with one simple adjustment. The British, Irish, and Germanic cultures all chose kings out of a cousinhood; all male descendents of a former king could succeed to the kingship. But if all those cousins were recorded as father to son exchanges instead of cousin to cousin to nephew successions the foundation of the kingdom could easily be pushed back to around 400.
The second part of a pedigree was in padding it with famous names and gods. Dyfed, for instance, wasn’t always under one king. In the fifth century it might have been divided among a half-dozen people. Most of those lineages were gone, but there were always a few famous kings that were remembered somewhere. If a bard inserted them into the lineage he could give it more prestige. Giving the lineage a god for a founder – Woden or Tyr among the Germanics, Belatacudros among the pagan British, and Maximus among the Christian Britons, gave it a credibility that could not be touched.
So, the next time you are going into your family history, don’t always trust everything you read. About the time you stop finding birth records and official records and fall into royal genealogies you have passed beyond the historical and into the Middle Ages version of pure fiction.