The Battle of Arfderydd

Through the entire fifth and sixth century, very few battles are listed in the Annales Cambriae. There are of course the “Arthurian” battles of Badon and Camlann, but even if we can believe that they took place there is no way to corroborate that they happened in 516/7 and 537/8, respectively; they could be dated wrong by decades. The first event we can be confident of is the Battle of Arfderydd. It is listed at 573 in the Annales Cambriae along with the notice that Gwenddoleu died there. Even that late we can not trust it completely though, three decades later it misdates the Battle of Chester by at least a decade.

The annals also fail us in not giving any real context for the battle. As we will see below Peredur and Gwrgi were present at the battle and died in an unknown battle in 580. Another participant was Dunawt son of Pabo and the annals give his death at 595, but in both instances we are given nothing else, no useful information. To gain a better understanding of what was happening in the sixth-century North we will have to explore the smattering of information to be found in several less traditional sources.

Vita Kentigerni

The Life of Kentigern only mentions Arfderydd in passing. In one of the later episodes we are told that a half-insane man who had been living in the woods for twenty years was once in the service of Gwenddoleu as a bard. When his king was killed at Arfderydd, this Myrddin lost his mind and ran into the woods. Basically, all this source does is confirm everything in the annal and add the name of a bard. Myrddin might be interesting in his own right (as the literary forefather of the more famous Merlin) but is not much help here.

Trioedd Ynys Prydein

The battle is mentioned in four different places here. None of the triads give a clear picture of the battle itself, but overall they do tell us that Gwenddoleu was on one side and Cynfelyn, Dunawt Fawr, Peredur, and Gwrgi were on the other. Dreon, Dunawt Fawr, and Dinogad are also connected to the battle but their alliances are not given.

The battle is listed in another triad as one of the three futile battles of Welsh legend. However, it is one of the last, lastest, and least trustworthy sections of the triads. We have already seen with Y Gododdin and the Historia Brittonum materials that Gwynedd had been interested in developing a sense of unity against the English kingdoms during the ninth century. Could the entry have been influenced by that nationalistic movement? Possibly. One way or the other, though, it does not help us to understand the sixth century any better though.

What can we take away from this battle? It was mentioned in several sources early on, which made it impossible for the Gwynedd editors to alter the fact that British kings had fought against British kings. Otherwise it might have suffered the same fate as Catraeth and confused British historians even more

Dr. Miller did a wonderful job of piecing together a reasonable scheme, but in the end she had to admit that there was no way of being certain about who was on whose side and why. As quickly as things may have changed in the period, the present author is not even certain that sort of information would be all that useful even if it were possible.

We can be certain of several broader items, though. For one, we can now add Arfderyö to the short list of battles we know much about in the sixth century – along with Catraeth. Arthuret seems to be an accepted spot for the battle, too, because the connection is made for us in the Vita Kentigerni. We also know that both battles were fought primarily between British kings.

Second, there are the distances involved which we can see by the participants. Traditionally Gwrgi and Peredur have always been connected with York; in the Welsh Arthurian stories Peredur’s father is Efrawc which is derived from the Latin word for York, Eburacum, called Ebrauc in the Historia Brittonum list of civitates.

The connection of Peredur and Gwrgi to late sixth-century York had made no sense up until the last couple of decades because York had been within the borders of Deira, and Deira was traditionally founded decades before Arfderydd or the deaths of Peredur and Gwrgi. However, now that we understand Germanic kingships were only forming in the mid-sixth century and that the British kingdoms were still dominant into the late sixth century, the association makes a little more sense; York had not yet been absorbed into Deira during the brothers’ lifetimes. We will see below when and how York ended as a kingdom, but for now this piece of information is mainly useful as a clue about politics in the last third of the century.

Dunawt Fawr has been tentatively connected with modern Dent, also in Yorkshire, because of an allusion in Eddius’ Vita Wilfridi to regio Dunotinga which was given to the church of Ripon in 675. It is tentative because Dunawt was not an uncommon name. However, Dunawt spent his career allied with Gwallog and fighting Owain and Pasgen the sons of Urien, and all three of them were from the same area.

The other names – Gwenddoleu, Dreon, and Dinogad – are people we can only guess generally about. Hector Chadwick and William Skene placed Gwenddoleu’s hall a few miles north of Arthuret. Dreon is as yet unidentified, while Dinogad might have been the son of Cynan Garwyn somewhere in Powys.

Even a Dinogad from northeastern Wales makes sense with what we have already learned about the late sixth century. Politics had already advanced well beyond cattle stealing and alliances went beyond standing together against a common enemy.

[1] Over the decades, estimates have put Badon as early as 478 and most scholars have hovered around 500, potentially making the Annales Cambriae not up to forty years off.

[2] Dr. Molly Miller has written the only serious exploration of the battle; Miller, “The Commanders of Arthuret”, TCWAAS 75 (Kendall, 1975), 96-117.

[3] As Bromwich pointed out, the entry uses the form Merlinus for Myrddin; Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads, trans. and ed. Rachel Bromwich, (Cardiff, rev. 1978), 208.

[4] Ibid, 29, 31W, and 44.

[5] Ibid, 31W and 44.

[6] Ibid, 84.

[7] Ibid, xx-xxi, xxvi.

[8] Miller, “The Commanders of Arthuret”, TCWAAS 75 (Kendall, 1975), 96-117.

[9] Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads, trans. and ed. Rachel Bromwich, (Cardiff, rev. 1978), 489.

[10] Eddius Stephanus: Life of Wilfrid, trans. James Francis Webb, ed. David Hugh Farmer, The Age of Bede, (Harmondsworth, rev. 1983), 126.

[11] Ibid, 396.

[12] Canu Llywarch Hen, ed. Sir Ifor Williams, (Cardiff, 1960).

[13] Skene, Arthur and the Britons in Wales and Scotland, ed. Derek Bryce, (Lampeter, 1988), 23-5; H. Chadwick, Early Scotland: The Picts, the Scots, and the Welsh of Southern Scotland, (Cambridge, 1949), 143; H. Chadwick, The Growth of Literature, (Cambridge, 1932), 109 and 111 fn. 4.

[14] “Dinogad”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford, 2004), Web.

Rhun Son of Maelgwn

In the previous chapter the raid on Rhun son of Maelgwn’s kingdom, and his retaliation, was mentioned. The present author has previously placed that invasion in the thirty year range of 543×572 because of the participants, their other activities, and the people they were related to. So how does that fit into the development of British kingdoms in the sixth century? We have already seen the overall picture; kingdoms were getting bigger and their kings were thinking bigger.

There is more to it than that, though. Admittedly, we do not know where all the raiding kings were from, but we do know that a ruler in Strathclyde and another from Lothian came down to northwestern Wales; we know that at least two kings passed through several kingdoms or took very long boat rides to get to Gwynedd. We also know that Rhun responded with his own campaign north.

In the era of Arthur, only decades earlier, kings had made their name by raiding nearby kingdoms and stealing cattle. Their reputations had depended on their ability to steal, and to protect, their livestock. Leaving their kingdoms alone for the days it took to make a raid on a nearby kingdom would have been risky. To travel so far away would have been downright suicidal. That is, until Rhun’s era.

So what changed between the last decades of the fifth century and the middle of the sixth century that made these raids possible? To begin with, it seems likely that the British kingdoms had reached or were reaching their natural limits given the circumstances. By that the author does not mean that the kingdoms had all expanded until their borders were major rivers and mountains. In some cases that was doubtless true, for instance Gwynedd and Stratclyde had the Irish Sea on their west. In this case, though, economics and military practicalities were also involved; think of a kingdom as being only as large as each ruler could protect and keep under their control given the conditions of the time. Horse transportation limited communications and mobility.

Just as important were the traditions of kingship and tribute-giving. Without a very strong one, kings may have needed to keep personal connections with every village under their protection. That meant a limit to how many settlements they could keep.

The time they were living through was even more important. As we have seen, communications had broken down at the end of Roman Britain and were only slowly mending. The rise of kingdoms was helping villages to become more interconnected, but it would have been a slow process. Even in the later Middle Ages travel was limited.

You might ask why a king would not demand tribute from villages he had no intentions of protecting in order to bring in more food and money. For a ruthless modern warlord that might be a good short-term solution, but among the Celts that sort of fraud would not have been in their best interests. As has been seen, to collect tribute would be to claim the area as a part of the kingdom, and if a king was unable to protect his lands he was an ineffective ruler. Among the Celts through the Early Medieval period, an ineffective king could, by tradition and Celtic law, be replaced.

So, what could kings do in the middle sixth century when they realized they could not expand their kingdoms any further but wanted more power? They could get involved with alliances. In the example of Rhun, an alliance served to help each king punish the more powerful Rhun. An alliance might have provided a deterrent against an otherwise more powerful king. It might a king to pass through other kingdoms on his way down to, say, Gwynedd without fear of his own kingdom being attacked. An alliance might also provide trade options and connections to other kingdoms. In short, alliances would have expanded each kingdom’s awareness on the island as they became familiar with their allies’ connections.

The second lesson to take away from the episode between Rhun and the northern allies is the strength of Gwynedd. Five allies made a raid on Gwynedd but Rhun alone took his warriors on campaign up North. The results of that campaign are unimportant. What is essential to understand is that the kingdom was strong enough that Rhun believed he had a reasonable chance of taking retribution on all of the allies and returning home alive. Somehow, the geography of Gwynedd was such that it could support more warriors, or was better organized, or had a better fighting reputation than all five of the northern kingdoms put together.

Professor Charles-Edwards has proposed the intriguing suggestion that the Gwynedd of about 500 may have formed some sort of alliance with the newly powerful Irish Feni in order to gain a reprieve from Irish raids. It is even possible that the Gwynedd dynasty might have been Irish; if it was that might explain the extraordinary lengths to which the dynasty went to portray itself as a native dynasty whose first act was to push the Irish out of Gwynedd. It might also explain the bogus claim that it was descended from Romans and a Gododdin chidftain. Practically speaking, the alliance might have given Gwynedd a distinct advantage for many decades. It might have been the reason behind Rhun’s overconfidence in his army.

The raid on Rhun’s kingdom and his retaliatory campaign up North are two unique events in Early Medieval British history. Studying them gives the historian a snapshot of what the middle sixth century looked like by providing us with many clues about the state of development among the British kingdoms.

It was seen in the introduction that most historians still believe post-Roman Britain was based on the divisions Rome had imposed, which had in turn been based on pre-Roman tribes. What we see here is that this was not always the case. Britain was fractured in 410. Only a century and a half later were its kings capable of thinking and operating much beyond their own borders. In this even the northern kingdoms, which had been freed of Rome soonest and allowed to develop the longest, were not immune.

[1] Johnson, Hengest, Gwrtheyrn, and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain, (Madison, 2014), 205-6.

[2] The Black Book of Chirk states that they arrived by sea but fled by land.

[3] Legend has it that Rhun died during the campaign. A famous saying is that Rhun’s warriors were gone so long that their wives had to sleep with their servants so that they could have children.

[4] Charles-Edwards, Wales and the Britons 350-1064, (Oxford, 2013), 175-180.

[5] Bonedd yr Arwyr, 29.

[6] “Historia Brittonum, Nennius: British History and the Welsh Annals, trans. and ed. John Morris, (London, 1980), ch. 62.

530-600: An Expanding View

After the initial rise of kingships and the development of more powerful kingdoms in the first half of the sixth century it was inevitable that the British kingdoms would begin to think on a larger scale; a small kingdom is only be concerned about its immediate neighbors because he is only likely to be attacked by them. However, once it has expanded beyond a handful of villages larger issues come into play – trade, alliances, and control of waterways for instance.

The first indications of a larger playing field centered around Gwynedd, the one kingdom of the early sixth century that had been able to maintain its power consistently; it had retained the same ruling dynasty through several kings as well. At some time in the middle of the sixth century, one of its more famous kings, Maelgwn, died. Hoping to tap into some of Gwynedd’s reputation and power, a Gwrwst Priodor (kingdom unknown) made an unsuccessful raid into Gwynedd and was killed. In retaliation an alliance of five northern kings – Rhydderch, Clydno Eidyn, Mordaf, Nudd Hael, and Elidyr Mwynfar representing Strathclyde, a Gododdin kingdom, and three unspecified kingdoms invaded Gwynedd. They were beaten back by Rhun, who then collected his own army and marched north.

The campaigns themselves are of little note. As far as we know no kingdoms were conquered and no territories were won or lost because of them. What is interesting is that Rhun’s Gwynedd was matched by an alliance of kings. This was probably the first British alliance since the Picts.

The next example of the Britons’ expanding awareness is found in the Historia Brittonum, which claims that Urien was the head of a powerful alliance in northern Britain that included Rhydderch, Morgant of Gododdin, and Gwallog of Elmet. It was interested in more than revenge, too. The Taliesin poems and the Historia Brittonum say it fought against the Germanic peoples, and Historia Brittonum even says they beat the invaders back to Lindesfarne before the coalition broke up.

The poem Y Gododdin makes a similar claim; a confederacy against the Germanic peoples. This alliance was led by Gododdin and included kings from Cornwall in the south to Pictland in the North as well as Elmet, at least one Germanic chieftain, and the Gododdin king himself. This joint army was solely interested in beating back the Germanic peoples too. It met with them at the battle of Catraeth but was annihilated.

Both the Urien and the Gododdin alliance in isolation are two more examples of just the sort of wider political awareness that was mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. However, recent scholarship has suggested that they may not have come together against just the Germanic peoples. As Professor John T. Koch pointed out, one of the Taliesin poems claims that Urien won a major battle at Catterick (the most widely accepted site for the Battle of Catraeth).

There is more to the theory than that of course. As we have seen above, Rhydderch had already been involved in an alliance against another British king. The Taliesin poems are very clear that Urien spent the early part of his career fighting Britons. Koch has noted evidence in Y Gododdin that the chief enemy might not have been Germanic, that the Germanic warriors who were involved were serving a British king.[i]

Added to the above evidence are the parallel members of each alliance. The Morgan who was Urien’s ally may well have been a king in Gododdin ruling from Din Peledyr. The leader of the Gododdin alliance hailed from Din Eidyn. Gwallog son of Lleenog was the ruler of Elmet, but Y Gododdin names a Madawg Elmet in the Gododdin alliance.[ii] From what we know of epithets (Maelgwn Gwynedd and Urien Reged), he was probably a part of the Elmet ruling family and therefore Gwallog’s rival. Catraeth was a clash of major British kingdoms. It was not fought simple for prestige or the theft of cattle; the participants seem to have had multiple reasons for participating.

This alliance represents another advance in British politics. It would have been impossible in an era where kings only ruled the area that could be seen from their hall and was impractical until the British kings had built larger kingdoms.

The last major alliances under discussion here show up at the Battle of Arfderydd. According to the Annales Cambriae, it was fought in 573. Though the Welsh Triads confirm the battle did happen, we have seen above that this event was probably recorded within living memory the date might not be too accurate. Tapping various earlier sources we learn that Dunawd, Cadrod, Cynfelyn, Dingad, Dreon, Rhydderch, Peredur, Gwrgi, and Gwenddoleu (all northern rulers apart from Dingad and Dreon of “Powys”) were present and an alliance of Rhydderch, Dunawd, Cynfelyn, Peredur, and Gwrgi opposed Gwenddoleu. This, again, is two opposing alliances dominated by Britons.

Which brings us to Gwrtheyrn. As far as historical interactions and genealogy is concerned, he was a king of the early to middle sixth century.[iii] Given the developing size of kingdoms during the period and the suggestive name of the Gwrtheyrnion region in modern southern Powys, Gwrtheyrnion might have been Gwrtheyrn’s original kingdom. The other possibility is that he was from roughly the modern country of Gloucester, where his official ancestor Gloiu had once been the eponymous ruler of Gloucester.

Most scholars have seen The Kentish Source as found in Bede and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as using Vortigern in order to legitimize the presence of the Germanic people in Britain.[iv] This goes without saying; without him Kent had no legitimate reason for migrating and no legal acquisition of Kent. But how powerful was the historical Gwrtheyrn? Maybe, just maybe, he was southern counterpart to one of the northern alliances. No other southern king seems to have interested later historians as much.

The above has mentioned several northern British alliances, a powerful Gwynedd king, and a possible over-king in southern England all of whom were expanding their kingdoms, but nothing about Cornwall and Devon. We can guess that the same sort of thing was happening there. We even have a little evidence; scattered information in the vitae and local legends tell us that a Theodoric and Cunomorus were powerful kings. There are no “historical” sources, though, and there is too little of the oral traditions to make any real sense out of beyond a rough chronology.[v] Other regions that were already conquered by 650, like western England, may well have had over-kings as well that we know nothing about.

The expanded geography of kingdoms also meant exposure to larger rivals and the inception of more pitched battles. In the author’s Hengest, Gwrtheyrn, and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain it was proposed that the events of Rhun’s campaign north, the Battle of Arfderydd, and the Battle of Catraeth occurred in that order. Though there is no way of knowing the politics or even exactly who the participants were in the latter two events, two conclusions can be drawn. First, that they can all be safely placed in the last two-thirds of the sixth century. Second, that they are the first events that affected a large region of Britain. As such they deserve a little closer scrutiny.

[i] The Gododdin of Aneirin, trans. and ed. John T. Koch, (Cardiff, 1997), xxxv-lvii.

[ii] B2.29, A.68, and B1.22.

[iii] Johnson, Hengest, Gwrtheyrn, and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain, (Madison, 2014), 91.

[iv] Brooks, “The creation and early study of the kingdom of Kent”, The Origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, ed. Stephen Bassett, (Leicester, 1989), 55-74; Sims-Williams, “The Settlement of England in Bede and the Chronicle”, ASE 12 (London, 1983b), 22; Harrison, The Framework of Anglo-Saxon History to 900 A.D., (Cambridge, 1976).

[v] All that is certain about Theodoric is that his name is Germanic and that he is associated with an unusually large number of British saints. The information about the Cunomorus of southern England is simply that he died in the sixth century. A Cunomorus of Brittany was powerful enough to get Gregory of Tours’ interest, but there is no way to be certain that he was active in Britain, let alone if he was powerful there.

Arthur

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The author has elsewhere given a point-by-point rebuttal of Professor Dumville’s and Professor Padel’s papers about Arthur not existing. They can be summed up as follows: The sources for the period are not impossible to make use of, they just require a strong understanding of the materials used in their creation and the biases of all the authors involved – a lot of research into what has been discovered and a strict adherence to those findings.

Of course Arthur is not mentioned much and of course where he is mentioned he is often connected to the supernatural – he lived in an heroic age period where oral literature dominated. As anyone who knows oral literature can tell you, stories in an oral society change a lot like a message in the telephone game. Even two generations can make a huge difference; Urien was remembered in oral literature too, but since he lived just a little later his legend did not grow as much as Arthur’s.

Arthur bears no reasonable comparison to Fion macCumhail. None! Not by his activities, the linguistics, or his introduction into the historical sources.

Despite the contrary claims the earliest sources – Y Gododdin and the Northern Memorandum as found in the Historia Brittonum and Annales Cambriae – all name Arthur in an historical context.

Adjusting for the known biases, all the historical and even literary sources are consistent in where and when they place Arthur. He lived right around 500 in the Carlisle/Old Carlisle region.

To this the question “If he is a northern historical figure why is he not listed in the “Men of the North” genealogy?” Simply put, the genealogy was a political tool; it deepened the alliance of British kings by giving them a common ancestor. By that time, neither Arthur nor his descendants were active so there was no reason to insert him.

Speaking of historical sources, the Historia Brittonum says that Arthur was present at twelve battles while Annales Cambriae confirms his presence at Badon and adds Camlann. Both sources took their Arthurian information from the Northern Memorandum, whose information might extend back to the late sixth century with Rhun son of Urien even if the writing in its present form only goes back to around 750. All this has made those thirteen battles a hot topic for Arthurian enthusiasts hoping to prove Arthur existed. No theory has ever gained much traction though. It may not even be possible to place all the battles in one area. Battle lists are notorious for being composites of participants and regions. The Arthurian battles have two problems on top of that. The Historia Brittonum battles are twelve in number and are located at nine sites; both numbers were symbolically important for the Celts. There are also indications of rhyme in the list that suggests the author found it in a poem that included the battles of several kings.

To make a comparison pretend for a moment that we live in an oral society. Now accept that MacArthur and Rommel were the two best generals of World War II. In a battle list drawn up a hundred years from now we might find that they had fought each other on D-Day, at the Battle of the Bulge, El Alamein, Midway, and the Philippines. This despite the fact that neither man was at several of those battles and that they never met each other. With that in mind, the only battles with any historical value are Camlann and possibly Badon.

When did Arthur live? By mid-century, every known British king is consistently placed in one kingdom and most of them are associated with contemporaries. Arthur is connected with no one site and his associations are with kings and saints from all over Britain. Some scholars have believed this makes him less historical, but as has been seen in the pages above the fifth century was a period of transition between Roman and British cultures. The first British bards we know of were active no earlier than about 470, so naturally the first generation or so of rulers they spoke of would be a little shrouded in legend. For these reasons and several more, Arthur was probably active somewhere between roughly 480 and 520.

Where did he live? Old Carlisle seems the most likely guess. It would explain his predilection with things Roman in Historia Brittonum and would fit roughly in the center of the geographical area from which Arthurian figures seem to come from. Oddly enough, when the present scholar listed all the sites associated with Arthur’s hall in the literature and history and eliminated every entry that was used for a clear literary, political, or personal reason, Carlisle was far and away the most commonly named location. We also know that Old Carlisle was a consistently occupied city during the period in question.

Old Carlisle may also have been the command quarters for Hadrian’s Wall. In an era when the Roman Empire was tearing itself apart that may not mean anything. However, according to the archeological record the years around 500 were when several former Hadrian’s Wall forts were reoccupied. That is all the stranger because Roman forts throughout the rest of the island were vacant.

What it has suggested to Professor Dark, Koch, and the present scholar is that some powerful force (a single king or alliance) might have controlled the entire area and initiated the reoccupation. If that force was Arthur, it would help to explain why he was remembered more vividly than any other king of the period; it would have made him the leading person on the island in a very real way.

Politically, he would have taken tribute from more people than any other person on the island. Holding an entire east-west stretch of land might have allowed him to limit communications between the North and the South. Actually, he might have been able to limit the movement of traders, bards, and craftsman to and from the North. Hadrian’s Wall would have also given him a psychological edge. Old Carlisle had been a Roman fort, and Hadrian’s Wall a Roman system of fortresses. Reoccupy them would have helped him claim a little more of Rome’s lingering mystique.

A reoccupation of Hadrian’s Wall could also have served a military purpose. During the Roman occupation, it had served as a blockade against the Picts, a bulwark against the constant attacks on the British people. In the hands of a Briton, Hadrian’s Wall might have been used to give the British people a sense of unity. In previous centuries it has been argued that could have come together against the Germanic peoples who had already settled a good portion of eastern England, but it could equally have served against the Picts or the Irish.

Which raises another question; who were Arthur’s enemies? According to Gildas, the Battle of Mount Badon was fought between British and Germanic tribes, and the principles may have been exactly that. We cannot believe that the lines were that simple, though. As has been seen above, several Irish dynasties would eventually intermarry with local kingships in Wales. It has long been noted that Cerdic, traditional founder of the Wessex dynasty, has a British name. The court-list in Culhwch ac Olwen contains several Anglo-Saxon figures who were roughly contemporary with Arthur. As we shall see below, the most famous poem of the period, Y Gododdin, is about two mostly British armies fighting each other, both with several Anglo-Saxons. The Mercian king Penda was allies with British Gwynedd for most of his career. Arthur may very well have fought against the Irish, Picts, and Anglo-Saxons during his kingship. Just as likely, Arthur may have had an Irishman, a Pict, and an Anglo-Saxon in his personal war-band.

With that in mind, it is not really important what culture his enemies were a part of. Nor does it matter what language his neighbors spoke; he would have been just as willing to make raids on Anglo-Saxons, Picts, and Irish just as he would have on Britons. He would have been just as likely to ally with another culture group, too. We must always keep in mind that Arthur did not live in an environment where fighting was based on national identity. None of the kings from this period – Urien, Maelgwn, Rhun, Gwrtheyrn, or the mysterious king of Gododdin did. There was no need in Arthur’s time, because the Germanic people were not a threat. Arthur spent his career working to enhance his fame, wealth, and the number of warriors in his war band.

1 Johnson, Evidence of Arthur, (Madison, 2014); Dumville, “Sub-Roman Britain: history and legend”, History 62 (London, 1977a), 173-192; Padel, “The Nature of Arthur”, CMCS 27 (Cardiff, Summer 1994), 1-31.
2 Bromwich, “Concepts of Arthur”, SC 10/11 (Cardiff, 1976), 175-6; Thurneysen, “Zimmer, Nennius vindicatus”, ZDP 28 (Halle, 1896), 85, 87; Bruce, The Evolution of Arthurian Romance, from the Beginnings Down to the Year 1300, (Gottingen, 1923), 9. Jackson opposed the inclusion of this text in the Northern History on the basis of Beulon’s request that the Anglo-Saxon genaeologies (meaning also the Northern History apparently) be omitted from his copy. The task was done to his satisfaction and the Arthuriana information was not included. Therefore, so the reasoning goes, Arthuriana is not a part of the Northern History because Beulon knew it was not a part of the Northern History. The author believes it more accurate to say that Beulon believed that Arthuriana was a part of the Northern History, but his opinion carries no more weight than a modern historian’s. It is a good bet that he knew even less about the Northern Memorandum or the Northern History than we do.
3 The Gododdin of Aneirin, ed. and trans. John T. Koch, (Cardiff, 1997), cxxiii.
4 The most notable have been Alcock and Jackson. Most recently, Andrew Breeze has located all the battles in the north and placed Arthur in Glasgow; Alcock, Arthur’s Britain, (New York, 1971); Jackson, “Once Again Arthur’s Battles”, MP 43 (Chicago, 1945), 44-57; Breeze, “The Arthurian Battle of Badon and Braydon Forest, Wiltshire”, Journal of Literary Onomastics 4.1 (Brockport, 2015), 20-30; Breeze, “The Historical Arthur and Sixth-Century Scotland”, Northern History 52.2 (Leeds, 2015), 158-81.
5 Lloyd, The History of Wales, (Cardiff, 1912), 126 fn. 6; Chadwick, The Growth of Literature, (Cambridge, 1932), 155; Crawford, “Arthur and his Battles”, Antiq 9 (Gloucester, 1935), 279; Jackson, “The Arthur of History”, Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, ed. Roger S. Loomis, (Chicago, 1959), 78; Bromwich, “Concepts”, SC 10/11 (Cardiff, 1976), 169.
6 The present author had long thought that Badon was an artificially attached battle as well, but Christopher Gidlow has pointed out that few people who have not studied military strategy know about Napoleon’s greatest victory at Borodino even though everyone seems to know about his final defeat at Waterloo. It makes sense that Badon is not heavily referenced in Welsh literature. Badon is also the only other Arthurian battle named in Annales Cambriae.
7 Professor Koch has suggested that chapter 65 of the Historia Brittonum implies Talhaearn was Outigern’s bard, that Outigern was contemporary to Ida, and that the other four bards mentioned – Taliesin, Aneirin, Cian, and Bluchbeirdd – were contemporary with Ida, meaning that their relative chronology was three times removed from their placement there (Cunedda, Cynan, Cadwallon, Cynddylan: Four Welsh Poems and Britain 383-655, trans. and ed. John T. Koch. (Cardiff, 2013), 27-9). The floruits of these and the other bards of the period are more thoroughly explored in Johnson, Evidence of Arthur, (Madison, 2014), 54-61.
8 For a more detailed series of arguments please see Johnson, Evidence of Arthur, (Madison, 2014), 87-125.
9 Dark, From Civitas to Kingdom, (Leicester, 1994), 112.
10 Koch, “Marwnad Cunedda a diwedd y Brydain Rufeinig”, Yr Hen Iaith: Studies in Early Welsh, ed. Paul Russell, (Cardiff, 2003), 176-82; Dark, “A Sub-Roman Defense of Hadrian’s Wall?”, Brit 18 (Stroud, 1992), 111-120; Johnson, Evidence of Arthur, (Madison, 2014), 126-32.
11 The Picts may have had a couple of larger kingdoms, but a much less dense population.
12 Myres, The English Settlements, (Oxford, 1989), 146-7; Koch, “Cerdic”, Celtic Culture: A Historical Encylopedia, ed. John T. Koch, (Santa Barbara, 2006), 392-3. The name is from British “Caratacus”. It was clearly not a fluke, either. Ceawlin, from an opposing dynasty, also had a British name (Ward-Perkins, “Why did the Anglo-Saxons not become more British?” HER 115 (Oxford, 2000), 513), as did Cædwalla (York, Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England, (London, 1989), 138-9).
13 For a complete list of characters and an explanation of their origins see now Culhwch ac Olwen: An edition and study of the oldest Arthurian tale, eds. Rachel Bromwich and D. Simon Evans, (Cardiff, 1992).
14 Higham, An English Empire, (Manchester, 1995), 218-240; The Gododdin of Aneirin, trans. and ed. John T. Koch, (Cardiff, 1997), xxxv-xlii.

The New Economic System

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As has been seen, Roman Empire’s administration had been exemplary. Rome’s founders had erected a stable bureaucracy that possessed an intelligent set of checks and balances which adapted over time and changing circumstances. As it had transitioned into an empire another group of far-sighted lawmakers had adapted the government so that it could integrate new provinces and cultures. By 400, every local government from Britain to India had a variation of the Roman model.

Through foreign and domestic wars, its income had also been stable. Taxes had been individually assessed based on personal holdings and then collected in the form of coins. Tradition had made the wealthy elite responsible for local administration as well as local project funding; forums, baths, public buildings, and roads had all been a part of their normal responsibility.

At the provincial level, money had been used to pay for the hospices along the highways that were used by official travelers as well as craftsmen, artists, and traders. Reserves were left alone in case of emergency. The empire paid the military and the officials who had been publically educated, but the senators came from wealthy families and had been given nothing for their public service by tradition.

Then Constantine had displaced the Roman governor and his bureaucracy and installed his own. When the Romano-British citizens revolted and overthrew Constantine’s government, the provincial government collapsed. Severing the connection with Rome meant no more income, no military support, and only limited contact with the empire. Dismantling the provincial government meant no local military or political order.

The local governments had remained intact and functioning through all that. However, throughout the last half-century of Roman rule the wealthy had been either immigrating to the continent or their country villas in Britannia where they had stopped performing public service. By 410, most of them were no longer contributing their resources to the villages and towns.

The departure of the wealthy from public life was just as catastrophic as the loss of provincial government. The wealthy had maintained local buildings and roads throughout Britain. Without them, all of these things fell into disrepair. Their business relations had kept them connected to other settlements and to the greater empire. Without them, villages were suddenly isolated.

As we have seen, the core of Roman civilization was education. Teaching a single language and mythology united the upper class in a common culture that spanned across the empire while educating the most talented among the poor at the public’s expense and then pushing them toward government positions had ensured a high level of competency at all levels of government. It had also made government employees unusually loyal to Rome.

However, the grammatici and the rhetorici that had done the teaching had been funded by the education of the rich, so without them the teachers would have had no patrons in Britain. Probably, some of them remained behind and found work where they could (Gildas’ education is proof of that), but those who insisted on their traditional income were forced to leave for the continent.

Along with the political changes came economic adaptations. Coins had been coming to Britain for centuries as pay to government officials and soldiers. They had then spent their money on the island and dispersed the new money. But as of 410 Britain was no longer part of the empire and received no more shipments of coin.

Judging by the wear of later Roman coins, money was used for a long time after the last shipments – we think it was still in circulation until maybe 430 or 440. They were used until no one could read them any more. After that, the Britons drifted into a bartering system as it was practiced among the Irish and had been among the pre-Roman British – with a female slave, a milk-producing cow, and an ounce of silver as equal standards of exchange.[i] Bartering meant that trade would be more limited from that point on; artwork, specialists, and weapons were still easily transportable, but cattle were the most convenient unit of exchange and they were more difficult.

For centuries Britannia had been protected by the Roman military, but the military had been paid by Roman coins and those were no longer free flowing after about 407, which means that whatever official military forces Constantine had left behind had probably dispersed long before 420.

During the last few decades of Roman Britain, the foederati had been protecting the eastern and southern coast from pirating and raids. They had been paid by food and supplies as well as coins, and probably by more and more trade items after 407. As we have seen, even these protectors would eventually revolt and conquer the very lands they had been protecting. That would leave the Britons on their own to protect themselves with homemade spears, bows designed and used for hunting, and any sharp household objects they could find.

The new economic system was local in the extreme – with a bartering system in place it had to be. It also ensured that the social, military, and even political aspects of post-Roman Britain were also local. Public buildings and roads crumbled from no maintenance. Local governments went from a well-educated bureaucracy to an informal group of town elders. The effect was as significant to them as the sudden loss of internet would be to us in the modern world.

[i] The exact equivalencies seem to have varied by region and time but the basic exchange, the bartering dollar, was the female slave/milking cow/ounce of silver.

Growing Pains of British Kingship

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British kingship seems to have been a reaction to Germanic migration and settlement – the timing is right and the motivation makes sense. The historical fact is that the British had developed primitive kingships by the end of the century. If they had not, they might have all been speaking Anglo-Saxon in another hundred years.

There was much more to Celtic kingship than just a military leader who lived in a hall. A king not only had to be a good warrior and leader, he had to come from a long line of strong kings; which is why lineages often consisted of famous heroes of the area as well as the actual royal ancestors of a dynasty. The Irish law texts say he had to make consistently correct judgments in legal matters for his people. He could never turn his back in battle. He could not lie or tolerate bardic satire. His body could have no blemishes.

Kings had to be all these things because of their connections to the supernatural. A Celtic king did not just rule his kingdom; during his inauguration he literally married the land in the form of a woman, and legend had it that for the rest of his reign she would reflect his rule by her appearance. He married a young and beautiful woman because he had demonstrated to his clan and the people that he was the best candidate for the position. As long as he behaved like a king she would remain youthful and attractive, but if he ever lost his kingly virtue she would become an old hag until he was replaced with a worthy king.

This connection to the land as symbolized by a woman gave the king an authority beyond the question of normal humans, putting their kingship and by extension their clan above question as rulers in the eyes of peasants. When Celtic kingship developed, though, it had taken time to develop. Bards had gradually added people and stories, of actual ancestors and adopted ones, to each kingdom’s official history along the way. The mystical elements probably developed after dynasties were long established. As Vansina has demonstrated, anything beyond living memory can be easily changed and rechanged as local politics and events occur.

The Britons of the Post-Roman era did not have the luxury of time as they reestablished their original culture, though. The Germanic tribes began migrating onto and controlling villages from around 441. The result was that the British kingships that did emerge did not have the solid foundations necessary. It would not have mattered how good their bards were at creating impressive genealogies and personal histories for their first generation kings or reinvigorating the mystique behind kingship. The simple fact was that in the late fifth century people still remembered a time without kings.

And because kingship was such a new establishment for the Romano-Britons, fifth-century kingships would have been based almost solely on the personal chemistry between the chieftain and his men. When he died, or even when he lost too many battles, that chemistry could dissolve and any person who was able to generate a new bond might succeed him. A son, brother, or cousin might have succeeded him but that was only one of several possibilities. A nearby king might absorb the teulu or a former champion might assert himself. It may never be possible to list all the petty chieftainships that arose in the late fifth century, or the ways in which most of them disappeared from history.

On the other hand, the fact that none of the early kingships were stable is probably one of the main reasons why the early British kingdoms grew so quickly; without a strong tradition there would have been no kingdom identity among villages and therefore no resistance to changing kings. The unique situation of the fifth century would have allowed a ruler to simply absorb a chieftainless teulu just as easily as a victorious king could absorb his dead enemy’s villages.

1 Corpus Iuris Hibernici, ed. David A. Binchy, (Dublin, 1978), 219.17-18.
2 Ibid, 15.2-3.
3 O’Rahilly, “On the Origin of the Names Érain and Ériu”, Ériu 35 (Dublin, 1946b), 11-13.
4 Vansina, Oral Tradition as History, (Madison, 1985).

The Early Kings

Two chapters ago the military, political, and economic situation that forced the creation of British kingships were explored and explained. In the last chapter the author laid out the new economic and social reality, demonstrating the delicate balance between kings, bards, warriors, and peasants in every kingdom. Together, they should have provided a solid foundation for understanding the context of British kingdoms in the late fifth century.

But the above essays have only given us a broad look at how the kingdoms came into existence and functioned. We know little more about specific kingdoms, and much of that information is based on outdated information. Most of our knowledge comes from Gildas and his perceptions of British history up until the battle of Badon. But as we have seen in Chapter 3, Gildas could not have known what was happening much before the rise of Ambrosius.

His statements about a single person, his tyrant, ruling post-Roman Britain were based on the assumption that the foederati came to Britain after Rome had left and during that hazy period before he was born; he needed a vehicle to explain how the Germanic people had come to be settled on the island and why they had attacked and his superbus tyrannus served that purpose. If he had known the foederati were already on the island by 410 he would have had no need to include his tyrant. And if Gildas had omitted him then Historia Brittonum, Bede, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and all later histories that based their fifth-century history on him would have had no reason to add him.

Gildas is clearly not a reliable guide for early British kingships. We do know the names of several kings who were active during the fifth and early sixth centuries and even a few about whom we know more than their names and their patronymics. Those few – British, Irish, Pictish, and Germanic – will be examined in the following pages to see if they might throw more light on the nature of early kingships in Britain. They will be listed by region and culture first and only then by chronology. With any luck the essay below will help to provide a better perspective on how kingship developed in post-Roman Britain.

Y Hen Ogled
The Pictish kings and many of the northern British lived in regions which had been under little or no Roman rule. It seems reasonable that many of the kings from this area already had a working kingship tradition by the late fifth century.

Cunedda is traditionally credited with establishing the kingdom of Gwynedd after a migration from Gododdin. As his son Einion has traditionally been generally dated to about 500 (see below), Cunedda has been placed in the last last third of the fifth century.

Between Molly Miller’s genealogical work and John Koch’s examination of Marwnad Cunedda, there is little doubt now that Cunedda probably never left the north. That the poem does not mention his ancestors suggests that the bardic tradition may not have been fully developed at the time of his death. If so it would push Cunedda’s floruit back to the range of 410 to 470.

Meirchion is best known as the grandfather of Urien and Llywarch. In fact, that is all that is known about him – no battles or place-names are connected to him anywhere in British literature. The period does not have too many sources, so that fact would not normally seem too unusual but Urien had the most famous bard of the period on his payroll. And as the court bard it would have been Taliesin’s duty to record every praiseworthy act of his patron and his patron’s ancestry.

It would have also been his obligation to extend Urien’s family history back artificially with locally famous kings when Urien’s ancestors were no longer remembered. With such short lifespans it is possible that Urien never knew his grandfather (mathematically there is a 50/50 chance he knew his father as an adult), so that Meirchion might have been unrelated chieftain from the same area who was attached to Urien’s family tree to make it more prestigious.

The same argument could be made about Meirchion’s “sons” sons Cynfarch and Elidyr, but the triads do mention that Llywarch son of Elidyr was one of the chieftains who never reclaimed their inheritance, which indicates his father held lands and lost them. If Cynfarch was a king it is extremely unlikely that he ruled a different area than his brother, so that Cynfarch would have ruled the same kingdom first. Following that line of reasoning, Urien gained his kingdom by conquering it from whoever had taken it from his uncle.

Meirchion and his sons point out the uncertainty of kingship during the period. Urien, one of the most famous kings of this era, may not have been the son of a king and there is no way of knowing who his historical grandfather actually was.

According to both versions of the Vita Kentigerni, Lleudun was a king of Dun Pelder, a hill-fort in Medieval Lleuddinyawn and modern Lothian. Lleudun does not appear in any genealogies or king-lists, but as we’ve seen these vitae are some of our oldest sources. Both report that he was Kentigern’s (born 483×519) grandfather and Cynan Colledawc’s (465×521) father. That would put Lleudun’s floruit anywhere from the middle of the fifth to the early part of the sixth century, which meshes well with what we already know about other rulers of Lleuddinyawn; outside of the vitae Ymellyrn is the next known chieftain of the region and he was active in the early to mid-sixth century.

The vitae also tell us something about the geography of Lleudun’s kingdom. He is only associated with sites located within a few miles of Dun Pelder. When he is pursuing his daughter and grandson he stops as soon as they cross the Firth of Forth. Lleudun disappears from the story after that. Both these details suggest that Lleudun ruled over a fairly small area.

In Arthurian stories there is a Loth of Lothian who is Arthur’s brother-in-law. Lleudun was probably the inspiration for his character. Arthur lived during the same era, so it is even possible that the two were contemporaries.

Arthur was already a popular figure in British lore before 1136, but it is because of Geoffrey of Monmouth and his translators that he became the most popular figure of the period. By the end of the Middle Ages, regions throughout the island and people from as far away as Cornwall and the Highlands were connected to him in legends and folk tales. His legend spread in time too; mythological figures and people living as late as the twelfth century were eventually connected to him.

We know a great deal less about the historical Arthur. Most of his early stories involve raiding or defending against raids. Hueil’s attack has been mentioned above. The Welsh Triads say he attempted a raid on Drystan son of Tallwch. The Vita Cadoci claims Arthur helped Gwynllyw in the abduction of Gwladys daughter of Brychan, though the Life of Saint Gwynllyw is clear that the marriage was peaceful and Arthur was not present.

Where he lived has been debated as well. Local legends focus on Wales, but that was where the last independent British kingdoms were. As the author has shown, the most credible evidence is to be found in other areas. Personal name data is useful; Pelles, Pellinore, Pellam, and several other names are forms of Belatacudros, who was a British god closely connected to Hadrian’s Wall. Of the other warriors associated with Arthur in the earliest materials, most of those that have any geographical connections are linked to Cumbria and Galloway. Once their bias is accounted for, for several native sources mention Carlisle or something that might be a confused form of Carlisle. The romances, too, seem to point to Carlisle.

Carlisle might just have been the legionary fortress of Luguvalium, which would have given Arthur a pre-existing base along with a connection to Rome. We do know that Carlisle was inhabited during the late sixth century and that at that point its Roman structures were still visible.

How much power did Arthur have? Medieval legends have him conquering much of Europe. The earliest literature makes him a simple raider and assigns him a handful of men. What has been seen above suggests many active kings in the late fifth century, each controlling small areas of land. It is reasonable to think of Arthur being one of them.

Ceredig, the next northern king under study here, was never put in an extant saint’s life. What we know of him comes from two sources. In the genealogies he is given the title gwledig, which means at least dynastic founder, but has been interpreted as “emperor”. Strathclyde was located above Hadrian’s Wall, and as we have seen the Romans abandoned that area decades before they lost control of Britain. In the Late Roman period, it was common for the Romans to create buffer states between themselves and a potential threat to Rome. It has often been suggested they did so in northern Britain too. If they did, which would have been useful in protecting the northern borders against the Picts, it is very likely that the region would have went through the process of several competing chieftainships into a united kingdom as early as the mid-fifth century. As the first king of the region gwledig would have been a legitimate title.

The second source is Patrick’s Epistola, where he is called Coroticus. E.A. Thompson suggested that Patrick could have been speaking to an Irish king because the context of the letter is that Ceredig had remained near to Patrick, and because Patrick was able to excommunicate him. However, Ceredig could have remained in the area days later if he had set up a camp and was conducting several village raids in the area. As Dumville once pointed out, we have no idea what the politics of the fifth century were. We have no idea about the religious politics either. Patrick might have had the authority to excommunicate any ruler acting in his area of influence. He might not and might have done it anyway. That would explain the writing of his Confessio.

A second possibility has been the Ceredig who was the eponymous ruler of Ceredigion. Now that Ceredig has been dissociated from the Gwynedd lineage, there are only dates that can be associated with members of the dynasty – a Ceredig’s death in 616 and his descendant’s obit in 807. Allowing for a three-year window on either side of both dates we are given Ceredig’s birth year in the mid- to late-sixth century. Even if Ceredig’s obit is thrown out, it is only possible that Ceredig Patrick’s nemesis if Ceredigion managed 35-year generations, Ceredig was a young man, and Patrick very near his death at the time of the Epistola. All these conditions are feasible but unlikely, especially when we keep in mind that Patrick’s area of activity was northeast Ireland, which was easiest to access from Strathclyde.

As Charles-Edwards recently pointed out, the way Patrick addresses Coroticus only makes sense if his kingdom had a consisten history as a Roman client. Strathclyde would have from the second century, Ireland could not have and Ceredigion could only have been a client kingdom sporadically over the last century or so of Roman occupation.

This means that Patrick, an ecclesiastic with little or no political knowledge, probably just got it wrong when he called Ceredig a chieftain. Actually, his assumption speaks more to his own background. If he assumed that Ceredig was a simple chieftain who ruled a hall and nearby villages, then that might have been the norm in the area where he completed his training. The evidence suggests that this area was transitioning into kingships during his early adulthood.

Cynfelyn has the same problem as Cynfarch above, the actions of his son Clydno Eiddin, and even grandson Cynon, are known but we have nothing on Cynfelyn himself. So, starting with what we know, the Black Book of Chirk gives Clydno the epithet Eydin. As Eydin was Late Medieval Welsh for modern Edinburgh, it is reasonable to assume that Edinburgh was his central location. And, as the body of Welsh literature suggests no British conquest of Edinburgh, it is reasonable to assume that if Cynfelyn was a chieftain he probably ruled from there too.

Cynfelyn’s grandson Cynon participated at Catraeth in the late sixth century, while Clydno was active a few years later during Run son of Maelgwn’s reign, placing Cynfelyn’s floruit in the early part of the sixth century.

Cynfelyn and his “son” and “grandson” are interesting because we already know that Dunpelder, a second hill-fort in Lothian, was also occupied during the early sixth century. Lleudun, of Dunpelder, may have been Cynfelyn’s contemporary.

Coel should also be mentioned in any kings of the Old North list. The genealogies say he fathered several dynasties, but work by Dr. Miller showed that to be chronologically unlikely if not impossible. She proposed instead the same sort of bardic intervention we have come across already; Coel was a popular early British hero whose name was added to several dynasties to enhance their traditions.

We can be certain that Coel was a famous king in his time and that his name was remembered. However, since no credible historical source mentions him that could give us any idea when he lived we have no idea if he was active in 410 or 510.

We cannot even know where he was active. Our only clues are in the genealogies themselves and oral tradition. Tradition is easy; it says that the Kyle area in what was Pictland is named after him and that he was buried in Coylton, what would become Strathclyde but was not near the capital of Dumbarton. Of course one of oral tradition’s big flaws is that it is passed down by word of mouth, in this case for millennia.

The family trees give more difficult results because in them he is the ancestor of kings from Reged (Cumbria), Edinburgh, somewhere in the Pennines Mountains, Elmet, and around Arthuret. The logical conclusion is that Coel controlled all these regions but as we have seen the theme during the early Middle Ages was of small kingdoms absorbing one another, not of large kingdoms breaking up. More frustrating, none of his “descendants” are located anywhere near either Kyle or Coylton. If there is any useable data here it is the association of Coel with Kyle, suggesting that Coel was actually a Pict.

The Anglo-Saxon Shore
As has been seen, Germanic chieftains were being settled along the southern and eastern shore of Britain as foederati during the fourth century. A careful examination of known early chieftains should reveal something about the nature and development of their kingship tradition.

The first named chieftains to appear are Fraomar and Ansehis. According to Ammianus Marcellinus the first was sent to Britain in 372 with the title of Tribune. The Ravenna Cosmography tells us Ansehis came to Britain as a foederati at about the same time. Linguistic and folkloric studies have connected Ansehis with the legendary section of Kent’s royal genealogy. More will be said about him below.

Neither Ammianus nor the cosmography provide us with any further information and no other source names either chieftain, leaving us with nothing specific about either man’s career. However, the fact that they are mentioned does tell us something about Britannia as a whole. In the middle of the fourth century, the most important Germanic chieftains were two simple tribal leaders who were totally insignificant to the rest of the empire.

The next leader in the records is Soemil, a Northumbrian figure who only appears in the Historia Brittonum. There it is claimed that he separated Deira from Bernicia, suggesting he was the first king of the region. The comment is made in the genealogies, where he is listed as the five-generation ancestor of Edwin, placing his birth-range in the second quarter of the fifth century and suggesting he was active at just about the time of the 441 Germanic revolt. But as has been seen, neither the archeology nor the literature supports a Germanic kingship so early. It is possible that Soemil led a contingent of foederati, but not probable. No other region managed to remember the names of their leaders, and Deira had no better recordkeeping than anywhere else. In fact Northumbria only took an interest in recording history decades after Kent. It seems slightly more likely that Soemil was active during the Late Roman period, like Ansehis. This scholar, however, taking note of the claim that he separated Deira from Bernicia, would like to suggest that he was one of the first kings in Deira, perhaps the founder of the Deiran dynasty in the middle sixth century.

At first that might seem highly unlikely; our sources for that time frame have proven to be unreliable at best. However, several scholars have also noted that medieval historians had a tendency to gather contemporary or near contemporary local kings and telescope them into a sequence of prehistoric rulers for the surviving dynasty (one of the bard’s duties). It seems reasonable that Soemil was a victim of just such manipulation. It will be seen that a British alliance controlled much of Northumbria in the middle sixth century; perhaps Soemil separating Deira from Bernicia was in fact Soemil making his small kingdom free of British rule.

What is really interesting here is that Soemil is credited with leading a rebellion against the British at all. According to all other sources the Kentish heroes Hengest and Horsa led the uprising against the Romano-British and led all the Germanic peoples during the entire struggle. Whatever his dates, Soemil’s connection with the separation from Berneich is likely historical, and if he can be safely placed in the range 533×567 he is not called a king. This is very informative about the political situation at the time.

The Britons
Dr. Miller once suggested that a Padarn Peisrud, “red tunic”, traveled south from Gododdin into Gwynedd (northwestern Wales) at some time between Maximus departure in 383 and the last Romano-British emperor elections in 406-407. However, she never was able to provide evidence of that happening. What we do know about Padarn is that he is unknown outside of Gwynedd and that red tunic was a well known badge of office in the Late Roman army. That suggests that Padarn was from the area originally. He may or may not have been a Roman officer, or Roman official, or wealthy Roman who transitioned into a chieftain during the early fifth century. He could just as easily been a Romano-Briton who used “Peisrud” to connect himself to the stability and credibility of the Roman past in the late fifth century. We may never know which possibility is historical fact.

Up until around 1970, Einion Yrth was believed to be just another member of Maelgwn’s dynasty – the man who initiated the conquest of Môn which turned out to be the last region of medieval Gwynedd to be conquered.

Things have changed a lot since then. The discovery of Aberffraw, the medieval capital of Gwynedd, on Môn demonstrated that Gwynedd was centered on the island. Dr. Miller’s work showed that the dynasty may have begun with the conquest of the island around 500; the conquest was not just another addition to the kingdom. More recently, Professor Koch has eliminated Einion Yrth’s “father” Cunedda from the Gwynedd lineage leaving Einion as the founder. We now know that when he came to power he controlled only part of an island off the coast of Gwynedd and that at the time of his death around 500 Môn was not entirely in his possession.

Ambrosius is a unique character in British history. He is not connected to any specific dynasty or region in the early materials and yet he is the only British figure of the fifth century mentioned by Gildas in his De Excidio Britanniae. Gildas places him after the Germanic attack of 441 and before (and possibly including) the Battle of Badon. As Badon has now been securely placed in the range 478×491, meaning that for the British ecclesiastic Ambrosius was active somewhere between 441 and 491.

Gildas is vague on where Ambrosius was active. His only real clue is that De Excidio Britanniae focuses on people in modern Wales and Cornwall and Ambrosius seems to be the holy man’s ideal of a lay-hero.

The Historia Brittonum would connect Ambrosius with two sites. The more memorable is Arfon in Gwynedd, where his presence would bring about Vortigern’s downfall. However, the author has already demonstrated that Vortigern’s character developed in that history to suit Dyfed’s tenth-century political needs The second notice is the Battle of Wallop, against Guitolin. It has generally been placed near Nether Wallop in Hampshire.

Wallop is a stroke of luck because it has no clear motivation and yet tells us where Ambrosius was active directly through the battle site and indirectly through Ambrosius’ connection to Guitolin, a member of the same pedigree as Gwrtheyrn and Gloiu. The latter name is important here because it is the eponym for Gloucester; he and his brothers Bonus, Paul, and Mauron are even named as the city’s builders. It would seem that Ambrosius was active near Gloucester/Wallop.

As outlined above, kingships in the South only formed as a result of the Germanic rebellion and the raiding and invasions that followed. It has also been suggested that the first generation of kings would have had little or no tradition to rely on for continuing a person’s royal line. At first glance at least, it looks like Ambrosius was a victim of that developing convention; either his entire family was gone before he died or his bards had not yet re-established the basic tenets of Celtic kingship and his personal credentials by that time.

Guitolin, participant at Wallop and son of Gloiu, also gives us some useful information because he is not connected to a region or a kingdom, like the figures from other dynasties, instead he is linked with a single city. That suggests he ruled a very small area. It also suggests that, as he was Ambrosius’ rival, either they rose to prominence at roughly the same time or that Ambrosius was never more than a locally important leader. Chronologically, Ambrosius was active between 448 and 491, and intersected with Guitolin’s career at some point making the Gloucester chieftain a figure of the late fifth century as well. As we have seen above, his kingdom was centered on Gloucester.

Cadell first appears in the Historia Brittonum, where he is the central figure in Powys’ foundation story. Dr. Miller’s work with the genealogies has demonstrated that he was active in the first decades of the sixth century, while Professor Koch has suggested Powys might not have been a unified kingdom until the 700s based on linguistic evidence and an historical confusion over the ruling dynasty. The consequences of these realizations are that Cadell may or may not have been the first ruler of his dynasty, but he was definitely only a chieftain with control over a limited number of villages.

Cadell’s name is also interesting; it derives from a shortened form of Roman Catellinius – Catell. The personal name Cadell would be used throughout the Middle Ages, but this is the first time it was used in Britain after Rome left. Its presence suggests a continuing respect for Roman culture and possibly a lingering sense of Romanitas among the native population.

Gwynllyw is known from the Vita Cadoci and the Vita Gundleus as the father of Cadoc and the husband of Gwladys. These connections place his floruit in the early sixth century, a calculation confirmed through less direct calculations.

Both vitae also claim that Gwynllyw and his six brothers inherited a portion of their father’s kingdom, with Gwynllyw acting as overlord for the group. That sounds a lot like the traditional Gwynedd origin legend. As we have seen above, Cunedda was not part of the Gwynedd dynastic family and his “sons” were actually kings of separate kingdoms who were only connected to the ruling family when the royal dynasty tried to solidify its control by making all of the conquered kingdoms a part of the foundation legend. Probably, the similarity means the same thing here as it did for Gwynedd; Gwynllyw’s brothers were not chieftains with their own kingdoms and Gwynllyw probably only controlled a small kingdom himself.

The Picts
Like Ceredig, Caw was also from the north. The Vita Cadoci has Caw saying he was from a place “beyond Bannawc”, which probably means Pictland. One of Caw’s sons was Gildas, while a second son Hueil raided Arthur, putting Caw’s birth-year at roughly the middle of the fifth century.

In the Vita Cadoci, Caw also says that he spent his life raiding. In the context of a saint’s life the commentary makes sense; it would not do for a chieftain to boast about how wide an area he controlled or how many battles he had been in. However, the information is there for the taking anyway.

If Caw was a Pict then the region he controlled had never been under Roman control. That probably also means that Caw was a king and not the simple raider he is called. If he was, then Caw was one independent Pictish ruler from the later fifth century.

Caw’s son Hueil is also placed “beyond Bannawc” in Caradoc’s Vita Gildae. According to the story he came south as a raider into Arthur’s kingdom, making him a contemporary and therefore active somewhere in the two decades on either side of 500.

Drystan son of Tallwch is found in The Welsh Triads, Culhwch ac Olwen, and an obscure poem in The Black Book of Carmarthen. The Welsh Triads is the only source that says anything about him though. Triad 26 names him as the only chieftain Arthur ever failed to steal from.

Drystan’s short entry gives us two facts to work with. The first is his name and the name of his father. Drystan is a form of Drust. Drust is found all over Britain but most of the time in Pictland. Tallwch is the Welsh version of Pictish Talorcan and is only found in Pictland. More than likely that means that Drystan, too, was Pictish.

The second is the fact that Drystan was a chieftain whom other chieftains tried to raid. Among the Briton and Germanic kingdoms cattle raiding disappeared as soon as larger kingdoms developed and stabilized enough to form empires and make alliances; it just was not practical. If the fifth and sixth century Pictish kingdoms were stable and of a comparable size they should have stopped cattle raiding as well. That cattle raiding continued in Drystan’s time suggests one of two things. Either Drystan lived in a different period than Arthur or the Pictish kingdoms were still not very large or stable in the late fifth and early sixth centuries. Drystan was active in Arthur’s time, he is mentioned with Arthur in the earliest stratum of the triads, meaning Drystan must have lived during the British Heroic Age (late fifth century until about 650).

Medrawt, or Modred, is another northern figure associated with Arthur early on; he appears in the Annales Cambriae as well as in three separate triads. The annals record that both men fought at Camlann. And, since warriors are generally ignored there it is safe to assume that Medrawt was a king. His association with Arthur suggests that, like him, he was active between the late fifth and the early sixth century, then so was Medrawt.

Now whether the two were friends or foes is hard to determine; the sources are ambiguous. The worst is Annales Cambriae, which says only that the two fought at Camlann. The entry could easily be interpreted as the two men fought against each other, but the more natural reading is that they fought on the same side.

The triads are of no help either. Triad 58 says that two of the great ravages of Britain were when Medrawt went to Arthur’s court and ate everything and when Arthur returned the favor. Those do not seem like the acts of allies, but then again a king would not normally play host to his enemy either.

Irish Kingdoms
Eochaid Allmuir is only listed in one Dyfed genealogy, the Expulsion of the Déisi. Normally, that would make him highly suspect as an historical figure. In this case, however, it is the more believable genealogy; it is the oldest and the only one that does not claim the family was descended from Emperor Maximus’ daughter Anna. Maximus, we will remember, was the the general who had left for the continent in 383 to claim the emperor’s crown in Rome. In 383 Britannia had been relatively stable, still reasonably capable of keeping its enemies at bay. The reasoning for adding Maximus to the lineage is simple, though; he would have given the family prestige because of his heritage. Just as obvious is the reason Eochaid was eliminated; he was the original Irish settler of a dynasty that would claim to be of British origin during the later Middle Ages.

Tradition says that he settled in Britain during the late third century, but a closer examination of the genealogy by Dr. Miller has demonstrated he was active in the early fifth century. Miller’s conclusions make better sense with what we know of Roman Britain, too, it included Dyfed until well into the fourth century.

Tradition has it that the Irish were eventually forced out of Dyfed. The Historia Brittonum claims Cunedda and his sons accomplished it, and elsewhere Urien and his sons were given credit. However, some detective work by Dr. Miller long ago showed that Clydwyn, who was active in the middle of the fifth century, was the local hero. Instead of beating the Irish back though, Clydwyn’s daughter Gwledyr married Aed Brosc, son of Eochaid. It seems that the two dynasties intermarried.

What does that mean for a study of British history? First of all, it shows that there were at least two kingdoms in mid-fifth century Dyfed. Secondly, it suggests that though the Irish dynasty continued thought the fifth century it hid or buried its Irish origins in favor of its native ancestors.

Aed Brosc, son of Corath and grandson of Eochaid Allmuir, was active in the last third of the fifth century. All we know about him comes from the Vita Carantoci, which says that he invaded Ceredigion during Carantoc’s youth. That little tidbit is valuable information though. Ceredigion and Dyfed have a natural border in the Teifi River; there would have been no reason to invade Ceredigion until Aed was in control of Dyfed. And if he was, then we have a good idea of when Dyfed was first brought under one king.

Taken in conjunction with his father and grandfather a little more can be learned about Dyfed’s development in particular and the maturation of kingdoms in general during the fifth century. His grandfather had settled in Dyfed early in the century but only controlled a portion of what would become medieval Dyfed. His father successfully expanded the kingdom, eventually marrying a local princess in order to assimilate a second kingdom. Either Corath or Aed Brosc (son or grandson) managed to conquer the entire area, and only then did Aed attempt a foreign invasion. Within two generations and under ideal conditions, petty chieftainships could have grown into the recognizable kingdoms of the Middle Ages.

Domangart son of Nisse was an independent Irish chieftain or pirate who controlled Kintyre in Dal Riata during the years around 500. Domangart was not the ruler of Dal Riata, but one of many chieftain/pirates operating from the region. Domangart’s son Comgall probably only controlled Kintyre too. As has been seen, the shallow waters and innumerable islands in Dal Riata would have made it an ideal spot for that kind of activity.

Several vitae tell us about the legendary first ruler of Brycheiniog, Brychan. They also say he was the son of Anlach and the grandson of Coronac (possibly Cormac), an Irish king, which by Celtic law would have made him a prince. British genealogies claim he was the father of dozens of sons and daughters, which makes it hard to believe any of them were his children. Only Rhain Dremrud and Glwadys were connected to the same area and are mentioned independently of him. Using them as reference points Brychan would be a figure of the late fifth century; but those are uncertain points of reference. What we can be sure of is that the Irish had been mainly driven out of Britain by 500. It is safe to assume that Brychan had established the kingdom by then and either he or a successor had assimilated it into British culture. From the Vita Cadoci we also know that the capital of Brycheiniog was Talgarth.

Conclusions
Separating the earliest kings by culture and then ordering them by chronology has shown us several useful aspects of post-Roman kingship. The earliest kings came from the non-Roman areas of Britain, areas that had kings before the Romans left like the Picts, or that may have been developing them in the Late Roman era like Strathclyde and Lothian. These were followed by the Irish colonists who were already settling the western coast in the early fifth century. The Britons themselves established chieftainships during the late-fifth century, likely as a response to the Irish settlements in the West and Germanic expansion from the East. Germanic kingships, as we will see below began in the middle of the sixth century.

The above study has been useful from the perspective of size as well. Most of the British and Irish chieftains discussed above have left no evidence of their kingdom’s size. Those who did, though, seem to have ruled over very small areas. For instance, Coel is remembered as a great king in Welsh history, but only the territory of Kintyre is named after him. The early kingdom of Gwynedd began as one of at least two kingdoms on Anglesey and only managed to conquer the whole island around 500. Together, all the above evidence suggests that the earliest kingdoms were very small – maybe a hall and all the villages within sight at first.

The exception to this rule seems to have been the kingdoms that were already in existence or developing before Rome left – the Picts and the north British regions. Regardless of size, though, all the kingdoms of early Post-Roman Britain seem to have been more interested in simple raids than conquests. In the context of the heroic age and as a political tool this makes perfect sense. Raiding made for good stories and praise poetry which could be used to spread a king’s reputation. It was also not decisive; if a king failed to make a successful raid he had not lost a battle. He probably had not lost any men. On the other hand, a king who was regularly the victim of raids and had a hard time making them himself would lose his reputation and the confidence of his villages.

The size of the original petty kingdoms would grow in time. Poor raiding, a chieftain’s death without heirs, or even the rare loss in a battle would weaken many kingships enough to be absorbed by their more competitive neighbors. Other kingdoms would grow through military successes, good harvests, and access to natural resources, assimilating those regions that were less fortunate along the way. Wise rulers would add individual villages to their kingdoms at opportune times. By as early as 520, the surviving kingdoms all over Britain were already developing into the sizes they would become during the medieval period.

Power does not equate to fame, however. While Urien’s rise to control all of Reged is an extant historical record, his accomplishments are the result of Taliesin’s work. Not all widespread conquerors had the good fortune of having Taliesin on their payroll. The man who consolidated all of Kent remains obscured by time, as are the historical activities of Æthelberht before 597, the Pictish and Germanic leaders of 367, and most of the wealthy kings of Tintagel during the late fifth and early sixth centuries.

Gwrtheyrn was likely the most powerful person in southern England during most of his floruit in the middle of the sixth century, and yet many modern scholars still place him in the wrong century. Further, he was blamed for the Anglo-Saxons presence in England because of a misunderstanding of De Excidio Britanniae’s manuscript history and a misinterpretation about one of his more obscure titles. This confusion was undoubtedly helped along by the fortune of Gwrtheyrn’s name among his descendants. The political motivations of Kent made use of both strokes of luck to give themselves validation for their land and their presence in Britain. Gwrtheyrn was not a victim, however; he courted his own disaster. If he had hired a bard of Taliesin’s caliber, the ravages of time and the machinations of the Germanic kingdoms would have had no effect on how his activities came down to us. From Historia Brittonum on he would have been known as one of the most powerful and crafty kings of British history instead of as the fool who lost Britain for the Britons.

1 “Historia Brittonum”, British history; and the Welsh Annals, History from the Sources 8, trans. and ed. John Morris, (London, 1980), ch. 62.
2 “The Foundation Legend of Gwynedd in the Latin Texts”, BBCS 27 (Cardiff, 1978a), 515-532; Cunedda, Cynan, Cadwallon, Cynddylan: Four Welsh Poems and Britain 383-655, trans. and ed. John T. Koch, (Cardiff, 2013), 39-73.
3 Johnson, Evidence of Arthur, (Madison, 2014), 147-51.
4 For the date-guessing that gives those birth-ranges see Johnson, Hengest, Gwrtheyrn, and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain, (Madison, 2014).
5 Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads, trans. and ed. Rachel Bromwich, (Cardiff, rev. 1978), triad 26.
6 Vitae Sanctorum Britanniae et Genealogie, ed. Arthur W. Wade-Evans, (Cardiff, 1944), chapter 1.
7 Johnson, Evidence of Arthur, (Madison, 2014), 101-4.
8 Ibid, 97-104.
9 Ibid, 87-96 and 105-115.
10 Ibid, 116-25.
11 McCarthy, “Thomas, Chadwick, and postRoman Britain”, The Early Church in Western Britain and Ireland, ed. Susan Pierce, (Oxford, 1982), 241-256; McCarthy, “A Roman, Anglian and Medieval Site at Black Friar’s Street, Carlisle”, (Kendall, 1990), 368-372; McCarthy, “Carlisle”, Current Archaeology 116, (Friary, 1989), 368-372; Selkirk, CA 101, (Friary Press, 1986), 172-177; Keevil, Shotter, and McCarthy, “A Solidus of Valentinian II from Scotch Street, Carlisle”, Brit 20, (Stroud, 1989), 254-255; Dark, “A Sub-Roman Defense of Hadrian’s Wall”, Brit 23, (Stroud, 1992), 112-113.
12 Chadwick, The British Heroic Age, (Cardiff, 1976), 115-118.
13 Dumville, “Coroticus”, Saint Patrick: A.D. 493-1993, ed. David N. Dumville, (Woodbridge, 1993), 114. He points out that the translation need only mean “ruler”, but if so why give it to only a select group of rulers – Ceredig alone in early Strathclyde.
14 Dumville, “Coroticus”, Saint Patrick: 493-1993, ed. David N. Dumville, (Woodbridge, 1993), 109.
15 Thompson, “St. Patrick and Coroticus”, JTS 31 (London, 1980), 12-27.
16 Miller, “The Foundation Legend of Gwynedd in the Latin Texts”, BBCS 27 (Cardiff, 1978a), 515-532.
17 Johnson, Hengest, Gwrtheyrn, and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain, (Madison, 2014), 188.
18 Charles-Edwards, Wales and the Britons 350-1064, (Oxford, 2013), 36.
19 Miller, “Historicity and the Pedigrees of the Northcountrymen”, BBCS 26 (Cardiff, 1975b), 255-280.
20 Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads, trans. and ed. Rachel Bromwich, (Cardiff, rev. 1978), 314.
21 Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae, ed. John C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, 1971-2), 29.4.
22 Turville-Petre, “Hengest and Horsa”, SBVS 14 (London, 1953-7), 273-90; de Vries, “Die Ursprungssage der Sachs en”, Niedersächen Jarhbuch für Landesgeschichte 31 (Berlin, 1959), 30-32; Olrik, “Epic Laws of Folk Narrative”, International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore, ed. Alan Dundes (Lanham, 1999), 104.
23 “Historia Brittonum”, Nennius: British History and the Welsh Annals, trans. and ed. John Morris, (London, 1980), chapter 61.
24 Ibid, chapter 61.
25 Higham reports that the Derwent valley was conquered during the third quarter of the fifth century, but not that a kingship was present there; Higham, The Kingdom of Northumbria, A.D. 350-1100, (Stroud, 1993), 98.
26 Kirby, “Problems of early West Saxon history”, EHR 80 (London, 1965), 10-29; Kirby, “Bede and Northumbrian Chronology”, EHR 78 (London, 1963), 514-527; Miller,”The Foundation Legend of Gwynedd in the Latin Texts”, BBCS 27 (Cardiff, 1978a), 515-532.
27 Miller, “The Foundation Legend of Gwynedd in the Latin Texts”, BBCS 27 (Cardiff, 1978a), 515-532.
28 Given the consistency of British kingdoms developing in the late fifth century, this scholar would assume that the latter option is the more likely.
29 “Historia Brittonum”, British history; and the Welsh Annals, History from the Sources 8, trans. and ed. John Morris, (London, 1980), ch. 62.
30 White, “New Light on the Origins of the Kingdom of Gwynedd”, Studies in Old Welsh Poetry: Astudiaethau ar yr Hengerdd, eds. Rachel Bromwich and R. Brinley Jones, (Cardiff, 1978), 350-5.
31 Miller, “The Foundation Legend of Gwynedd in the Latin Texts”, BBCS 27 (Cardiff, 1978a), 515-532.
32 Cunedda, Cynan, Cadwallon, Cynddylan: Four Welsh Poems and Britain 383-655, trans. and ed. John T. Koch, (Cardiff, 2013), 72-3. Koch has shown that Marwnad Cunedda predates all other information on Cunedda and the name-form there is incorrect for a person who was remembered orally in Gwynedd; Isaac, “Cunedag”, BBCS 38 (Cardiff, 1991), 100-1; The Gododdin of Aneirin, trans. and ed. John T. Koch, (Cardiff, 1997), cxxi-cxxiii.
33 Gildas, De Excidio Britanniae, trans. Michael Winterbottom, (Chichester, 1978), 25.3.
34 McCarthy and Ó Cróinín, “The ‘lost Irish 84-year Easter table rediscovered”, Peritia 6-7 (Galway, 1987), 227-42; Johnson, Evidence of Arthur, (Madison, 2014), 154-163, 230-45.
35 “Historia Brittonum”, British history; and the Welsh Annals, History from the Sources 8, trans. and ed. John Morris, (London, 1980), chapters 40-42; Johnson, Hengest, Gwrtheyrn, and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain, (Madison, 2014), 86-92.
36 “Historia Brittonum”, British history; and the Welsh Annals, History from the Sources 8, trans. and ed. John Morris, (London, 1980), ch. 56.
37 Ibid, ch. 49.
38 In Gwynedd, all of of Cunedda’s sons but Einion Yrth are eponyms for provinces in Gwynedd. One of the Dyfed ancestors is Dimed, eponym of Dyfed itself.
39 Johnson, Evidence of Arthur, (Madison, 2014), 161-3.
40 “Historia BritonumBritish history; and the Welsh Annals, History from the Sources 8, trans. and ed. John Morris, (London, 1980), ch. 47.
41 Miller, “Date-guessing and pedigrees”, SC 11 (Cardiff, 1976a), 96-109.
42 Cunedda, Cynan, Cadwallon, Cynddylan: Four Welsh Poems and Britain 383-655, trans. and ed. John T. Koch. (Cardiff, 2013), 113-117.
43 Johnson, Hengest, Gwrtheyrn, and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain, (Madison, 2015), 157, 158, 166, 171, 178, and 184.
44 Vita Cadoci, chapter 26.
45 Caradoc’s Vita Gildae, chapter 6.5
46 The vita has Cadoc raise Caw from the dead, explaining the discrepancy between the fifth-century Caw and the sixth-century Cadoc.
47 Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads, trans. and ed. Rachel Bromwich, (Cardiff, rev. 1978), 19, 21, 26, 71, 72, and 73.
48 Culhwch ac Olwen: An edition and study of the oldest Arthurian tale, ed. and trans. Rachel Bromwich and D. Simon Evans, (Cardiff, 1992), ll. 191-2.
49 “The ‘Drystan’ Poem”, trans. Rachel Bromwich, SC 14/15 (Cardiff, 1979-80) 57-8.
50 This was not the case in Ireland, but all of the subkingdoms and sub-subkingdoms there were largely independent.
51 “The Expulsion of the Dessi”, trans. and ed. Kuno Meyer, Y Cymmrodor 14 (Cardiff, 1901), 101-35.
52 Miller, “Date-guessing and Dyfed”, SC 13 (Cardiff, 1978c), 33-61.
53 “Historia Brittonum”, British history; and the Welsh Annals, History from the Sources 8, trans. and ed. John Morris, (London, 1980), ch. 14.
54 Miller, “Date-Guessing and Dyfed”, SC 13 (Cardiff, 1978c), 37-40.
55 Annals of Clonmacnoise, being Annals of Ireland from the Earliest Period to A.D. 1408, translated into English A.D. 1627 by Conell Mageoghagan, ed. Denis Murphy, (Dublin, 1896); Annals of Inisfallen, (MS. Rawlinson B.503), ed. and trans. Seán MacAirt, (Dublin, 1951); Annals of Tigernach, ed. Whitley Stokes RC 16 (Paris, 1895), 374-419; Annals of Tigernach, ed. Whitley Stokes, RC 17 (Paris, 1896), 6-33, 119-263, 337-420, 458; Annals of Tigernach, ed. Whitley Stokes, RC 18 (Paris, 1897), 9-59, 150-198, 267-303, 390-391; Annals of Ulster, ed. Seán Mac Airt and Gearóid Mac Niocaill, (Dublin, 1983).
56 Adamnan. Life of Saint Columba, Founder of Hy (Iona), trans. and ed. William Reeves, (Llanerch, rep. 1988).
57 Koch has argued that a natural reading of the Historia Brittonum makes Talhaearn Outigern’s bard, (Cunedda, Cynan, Cadwallon, Cynddylan: Four Welsh Poems and Britain 383-655, trans. and ed. John T. Koch. (Cardiff, 2013), 27), while the present author has argued that Outigern was in fact Gwrtheyrn remembered in the North (Johnson, Hengest, Gwrtheyrn, and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain, (Madison, 2015), 86-92). If the connections are all valid it might explain why the tenth-century Historia Brittonum editor did not or did not want to connect Outigern to his villain.

The Germanic-Controlled Territories

As has been seen in the chapter above, the early Post-Roman kingships were much smaller than they would be in the later Middle Ages. The Pictish confederacy fractured within a few decades of Rome’s withdrawal and its former members apparently fell to infighting and simple raids. The Irish set up colonies around the same time. The Germanic raiders continued to attack settlements and shipping. The Britons and Germanic foederati maintained their Roman existence for as long as they could.

The raid of 441, the event that caused continental communications to temporarily shut down and that Gildas, writing decades later, remembered as cataclysmic, changed the political landscape of Britain. Once the foederati had attacked their employers and taken whatever food and supplies they could, it was impossible to return to their former arrangement. They had taken matters into their own hands and in the process changed their relationship from employees of a culture they respected to masters over the local villages.

As has been suggested above, once the provincial Roman government had broken down only the villages that were directly protected by the foederati, their neighbors, would have had any reason to continue giving them food and supplies.

Reasonably, and following Professor Arnold’s evidence, the Germanic groups divided themselves into clans and assumed control over as many nearby villages as they needed to support themselves. A family, occasionally two, took a leadership position in each village so that they could directly ensure that they were given what they needed; the beginnings of Manorialism.

Keeping the shipping lanes clear had been a Roman concern, but the Roman Empire was no longer involved with their lives. As everything they needed was now locally produced they would have had no reason to continue guarding the English Channel. They would have had no reason to maintain any contact with the continent.

Their only concern was in protecting their new possessions, the villages full of farmers and craftsmen who provided everything they needed. And the only groups that threatened them were the Germanic tribes who hadn’t been foederati and were still roaming the English Channel pirating and raiding as the opportunity arose.

The changed situation put the raiders at a disadvantage against their cousins. They would have had greater numbers – at least fifteen against a handful of defenders, but the former foederati only had to protect one place and they would have known the terrain better than the attackers. The raiders would also have had few supplies, little food, and no safe base from which to conduct raids.

Those adventurous war parties that traveled further west, though, eventually came across British villages that were not occupied by their cousins. They would have been easy targets, and eventually easy conquests that provided them and their families with enough tribute to live comfortably.

Britain must have seemed like an attractive place for migration during the mid-fifth century. On the continent, the various tribes were scrambling to get away from Attila the Hun as his Huns pillaged and killed Germanic and Roman alike. He died in 453, but we know that the migration of peoples and the uncertainty of life in general continued until the final collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the subsequent occupation of its territories. It was only then, in the last years of the fifth century, that the continent would stabilize and Germanic migrations into Britain would finally stop.

Life in Britain seems to have been different once the tribes were settled; there is no sign of serious warfare or clear in the early Germanic-occupied villages. This led Professor Arnold to suggest a matriarchal society might have existed. Considering the suddenness of the proposed change, though, that seems a little unlikely.

A middle ground is more probable. We know that cattle raiding was prevalent. There is also no evidence of starvation among these villages but a continuing presence of weapons and armor in the grave sites. Leadership may have been informal, with cattle raiding used as an acceptable way of bleeding off unwanted male aggression in the family. In imagining a fifth-century cattle raid, we should picture a very brutal form of American football or rugby. Deaths and severe injuries must have occurred but could not have been the norm.

Whether the Germanic rulers operated in a matriarchal government, a monarchy, or an oligarchy is unknown; their skops or the bards of their culture have left none of their work from this period and the archeology is ambiguous. We cannot deduce anything from the lack of evidence either. The skop’s work might not have survived for over a hundred years in an oral environment, it might not have been recorded by the first Christian monks because it was pagan, or maybe skops did not exist without kings and the Germanic tribes had none. Fortunately, how they ruled themselves is not all that important in this era.

What is important is that the Germanic peoples ruled themselves; they controlled and protected nearby British villages in return for food and supplies. It is also important to understand that each family was at a disadvantage – strategically, economically, and numerically – against the British kingdoms at this stage of their development.

Toward the end of the fifth century, Germanic wanderers would have run into British kingdoms, effectively ending the migration period.

1 Arnold, An Archaeology of the Early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms, (New York, 1988), 188-210.

The Early Kings

Two chapters ago the military, political, and economic situation that forced the creation of British kingships were explored and explained. In the last chapter the author laid out the new economic and social reality, demonstrating the delicate balance between kings, bards, warriors, and peasants in every kingdom. Together, they should have provided a solid foundation for understanding the context of British kingdoms in the late fifth century.

But the above essays have only given us a broad look at how the kingdoms came into existence and functioned. We know little more about specific kingdoms, and much of that information is based on outdated information. Most of our knowledge comes from Gildas and his perceptions of British history up until the battle of Badon. But as we have seen in Chapter 3, Gildas could not have known what was happening much before the rise of Ambrosius.

His statements about a single person, his tyrant, ruling post-Roman Britain were based on the assumption that the foederati came to Britain after Rome had left and during that hazy period before he was born; he needed a vehicle to explain how the Germanic people had come to be settled on the island and why they had attacked and his superbus tyrannus served that purpose. If he had known the foederati were already on the island by 410 he would have had no need to include his tyrant. And if Gildas had omitted him then Historia Brittonum, Bede, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and all later histories that based their fifth-century history on him would have had no reason to add him.

Gildas is clearly not a reliable guide for early British kingships. We do know the names of several kings who were active during the fifth and early sixth centuries and even a few about whom we know more than their names and their patronymics. Those few – British, Irish, Pictish, and Germanic – will be examined in the following pages to see if they might throw more light on the nature of early kingships in Britain. They will be listed by region and culture first and only then by chronology. With any luck the essay below will help to provide a better perspective on how kingship developed in post-Roman Britain.

Y Hen Ogled
The Pictish kings and many of the northern British lived in regions which had been under little or no Roman rule. It seems reasonable that many of the kings from this area already had a working kingship tradition by the late fifth century.

Cunedda is traditionally credited with establishing the kingdom of Gwynedd after a migration from Gododdin. As his son Einion has traditionally been generally dated to about 500 (see below), Cunedda has been placed in the last last third of the fifth century.

Dr. Molly Miller, and more recent work by Professor John Koch, has shown that Cunedda probably never left the north because his death poem, Marwnad Cunedda, does not mention his traditional sons or Gwynedd. If that is so all we can know about him is what is in and not in the poem – he was active in northern Berneich, was not part of a Christian tradition, and neither his father nor any other ancestors are mentioned. These pieces of information suggest that Cunedda ruled between 410 and the middle-sixth century by which time Christianity was becoming the dominant religion again. That the poem does not mention his ancestors suggests that the bardic tradition may not have been fully developed at the time of his death. If so it would push Cunedda’s floruit back to before the last third of the fifth century.

Meirchion is best known as the grandfather of Urien and Llywarch. In fact, that is all that is known about him – no battles or place-names are connected to him anywhere in British literature. The period does not have too many sources, so that fact would not normally seem too unusual but Urien had the most famous bard of the period on his payroll. And as the court bard it would have been Taliesin’s duty to record every praiseworthy act of his patron and his patron’s ancestry.

It would have also been his obligation to extend Urien’s family history back artificially with locally famous kings when Urien’s ancestors were no longer remembered. With such short lifespans it is possible that Urien never knew his grandfather (mathematically there is a 50/50 chance he knew his father as an adult), so that Meirchion might have been unrelated chieftain from the same area who was attached to Urien’s family tree to make it more prestigious.

The same argument could be made about Meirchion’s “sons” sons Cynfarch and Elidyr, but the triads do mention that Llywarch son of Elidyr was one of the chieftains who never reclaimed their inheritance, which indicates his father held lands and lost them. If Cynfarch was a king it is extremely unlikely that he ruled a different area than his brother, so that Cynfarch would have ruled the same kingdom first. Following that line of reasoning, Urien gained his kingdom by conquering it from whoever had taken it from his uncle.

Meirchion and his sons point out the uncertainty of kingship during the period. Urien, one of the most famous kings of this era, may not have been the son of a king and there is no way of knowing who his historical grandfather actually was.

According to both versions of the Vita Kentigerni, Lleudun was a king of Dun Pelder, a hill-fort in Medieval Lleuddinyawn and modern Lothian. Lleudun does not appear in any genealogies or king-lists, but as we’ve seen these vitae are some of our oldest sources. Both report that he was Kentigern’s (born 483×519) grandfather and Cynan Colledawc’s (465×521) father. That would put Lleudun’s floruit anywhere from the middle of the fifth to the early part of the sixth century, which meshes well with what we already know about other rulers of Lleuddinyawn; outside of the vitae Ymellyrn is the next known chieftain of the region and he was active in the early to mid-sixth century.

The vitae also tell us something about the geography of Lleudun’s kingdom. He is only associated with sites located within a few miles of Dun Pelder. When he is pursuing his daughter and grandson he stops as soon as they cross the Firth of Forth. Lleudun disappears from the story after that. Both these details suggest that Lleudun ruled over a fairly small area.

In Arthurian stories there is a Loth of Lothian who is Arthur’s brother-in-law. Lleudun was probably the inspiration for his character. Arthur lived during the same era, so it is even possible that the two were contemporaries.

Arthur was already a popular figure in British lore before 1136, but it is because of Geoffrey of Monmouth and his translators that he became the most popular figure of the period. By the end of the Middle Ages, regions throughout the island and people from as far away as Cornwall and the Highlands were connected to him in legends and folk tales. His legend spread in time too; mythological figures and people living as late as the twelfth century were eventually connected to him.

We know a great deal less about the historical Arthur. Most of his early stories involve raiding or defending against raids. Hueil’s attack has been mentioned above. The Welsh Triads say he attempted a raid on Drystan son of Tallwch. The Vita Cadoci claims Arthur helped Gwynllyw in the abduction of Gwladys daughter of Brychan, though the Life of Saint Gwynllyw is clear that the marriage was peaceful and Arthur was not present.

Where he lived has been debated as well. Local legends focus on Wales, but that was where the last independent British kingdoms were. As the author has shown, the most credible evidence is to be found in other areas. Personal name data is useful; Pelles, Pellinore, Pellam, and several other names are forms of Belatacudros, who was a British god closely connected to Hadrian’s Wall. Of the other warriors associated with Arthur in the earliest materials, most of those that have any geographical connections are linked to Cumbria and Galloway. Once their bias is accounted for, for several native sources mention Carlisle or something that might be a confused form of Carlisle. The romances, too, seem to point to Carlisle.

Carlisle might just have been the legionary fortress of Luguvalium, which would have given Arthur a pre-existing base along with a connection to Rome. We do know that Carlisle was inhabited during the late sixth century and that at that point its Roman structures were still visible.

How much power did Arthur have? Medieval legends have him conquering much of Europe. The earliest literature makes him a simple raider and assigns him a handful of men. What has been seen above suggests many active kings in the late fifth century, each controlling small areas of land. It is reasonable to think of Arthur being one of them.

Ceredig, the next northern king under study here, was never put in an extant saint’s life. What we know of him comes from two sources. In the genealogies he is given the title gwledig, which means at least dynastic founder, but has been interpreted as “emperor”. Strathclyde was located above Hadrian’s Wall, and as we have seen the Romans abandoned that area decades before they lost control of Britain. In the Late Roman period, it was common for the Romans to create buffer states between themselves and a potential threat to Rome. It has often been suggested they did so in northern Britain too. If they did, which would have been useful in protecting the northern borders against the Picts, it is very likely that the region would have went through the process of several competing chieftainships into a united kingdom as early as the mid-fifth century. As the first king of the region gwledig would have been a legitimate title.

The second source is Patrick’s Epistola, where he is called Coroticus. E.A. Thompson suggested that Patrick could have been speaking to an Irish king because the context of the letter is that Ceredig had remained near to Patrick, and because Patrick was able to excommunicate him. However, Ceredig could have remained in the area days later if he had set up a camp and was conducting several village raids in the area. As Dumville once pointed out, we have no idea what the politics of the fifth century were. We have no idea about the religious politics either. Patrick might have had the authority to excommunicate any ruler acting in his area of influence. He might not and might have done it anyway. That would explain the writing of his Confessio.

A second possibility has been the Ceredig who was the eponymous ruler of Ceredigion. Now that Ceredig has been dissociated from the Gwynedd lineage, there are only dates that can be associated with members of the dynasty – a Ceredig’s death in 616 and his descendant’s obit in 807. Allowing for a three-year window on either side of both dates we are given Ceredig’s birth year in the mid- to late-sixth century. Even if Ceredig’s obit is thrown out, it is only possible that Ceredig Patrick’s nemesis if Ceredigion managed 35-year generations, Ceredig was a young man, and Patrick very near his death at the time of the Epistola. All these conditions are feasible but unlikely, especially when we keep in mind that Patrick’s area of activity was northeast Ireland, which was easiest to access from Stathclyde.

As Charles-Edwards recently pointed out, the way Patrick addresses Coroticus only makes sense if his kingdom had a consisten history as a Roman client. Strathclyde would have from the second century, Ireland could not have and Ceredigion could only have been a client kingdom sporadically over the last century or so of Roman occupation.

This means that Patrick, an ecclesiastic with little or no political knowledge, probably just got it wrong when he called Ceredig a chieftain. Actually, his assumption speaks more to his own background. If he assumed that Ceredig was a simple chieftain who ruled a hall and nearby villages, then that might have been the norm in the area where he completed his training. The evidence suggests that this area was transitioning into kingships during his early adulthood.

Cynfelyn has the same problem as Cynfarch above, the actions of his son Clydno Eiddin, and even grandson Cynon, are known but we have nothing on Cynfelyn himself. So, starting with what we know, the Black Book of Chirk gives Clydno the epithet Eydin. As Eydin was Late Medieval Welsh for modern Edinburgh, it is reasonable to assume that Edinburgh was his central location. And, as the body of Welsh literature suggests no British conquest of Edinburgh, it is reasonable to assume that if Cynfelyn was a chieftain he probably ruled from there too.

Cynfelyn’s grandson Cynon participated at Catraeth in the late sixth century, while Clydno was active a few years later during Run son of Maelgwn’s reign, placing Cynfelyn’s floruit in the early part of the sixth century.

Cynfelyn and his “son” and “grandson” are interesting because we already know that Dunpelder, a second hill-fort in Lothian, was also occupied during the early sixth century. Lleudun, of Dunpelder, may have been Cynfelyn’s contemporary.

Coel should also be mentioned in any kings of the Old North list. The genealogies say he fathered several dynasties, but work by Dr. Miller showed that to be chronologically unlikely if not impossible. She proposed instead the same sort of bardic intervention we have come across already; Coel was a popular early British hero whose name was added to several dynasties to enhance their traditions.

We can be certain that Coel was a famous king in his time and that his name was remembered. However, since no credible historical source mentions him that could give us any idea when he lived we have no idea if he was active in 410 or 510.

We cannot even know where he was active. Our only clues are in the genealogies themselves and oral tradition. Tradition is easy; it says that the Kyle area in what was Pictland is named after him and that he was buried in Coylton, what would become Strathclyde but was not near the capital of Dumbarton. Of course one of oral tradition’s big flaws is that it is passed down by word of mouth, in this case for millennia.

The family trees give more difficult results because in them he is the ancestor of kings from Reged (Cumbria), Edinburgh, somewhere in the Pennines Mountains, Elmet, and around Arthuret. The logical conclusion is that Coel controlled all these regions but as we have seen the theme during the early Middle Ages was of small kingdoms absorbing one another, not of large kingdoms breaking up. More frustrating, none of his “descendants” are located anywhere near either Kyle or Coylton. If there is any useable data here it is the association of Coel with Kyle, suggesting that Coel was actually a Pict.

The Anglo-Saxon Shore
As has been seen, Germanic chieftains were being settled along the southern and eastern shore of Britain as foederati during the fourth century. A careful examination of known early chieftains should reveal something about the nature and development of their kingship tradition.

The first named chieftains to appear are Fraomar and Ansehis. According to Ammianus Marcellinus the first was sent to Britain in 372 with the title of Tribune. The Ravenna Cosmography tells us Ansehis came to Britain as a foederati at about the same time. Linguistic and folkloric studies have connected Ansehis with the legendary section of Kent’s royal genealogy. More will be said about him below.

Neither Ammianus nor the cosmography provide us with any further information and no other source names either chieftain, leaving us with nothing specific about either man’s career. However, the fact that they are mentioned does tell us something about Britannia as a whole. In the middle of the fourth century, the most important Germanic chieftains were two simple tribal leaders who were totally insignificant to the rest of the empire.

The next leader in the records is Soemil, a Northumbrian figure who only appears in the Historia Brittonum. There it is claimed that he separated Deira from Bernicia, suggesting he was the first king of the region. The comment is made in the genealogies, where he is listed as the five-generation ancestor of Edwin, placing his birth-range in the second quarter of the fifth century and suggesting he was active at just about the time of the 441 Germanic revolt. But as has been seen, neither the archeology nor the literature supports a Germanic kingship so early. It is possible that Soemil led a contingent of foederati, but not probable. No other region managed to remember the names of their leaders, and Deira had no better recordkeeping than anywhere else. In fact Northumbria only took an interest in recording history decades after Kent. It seems slightly more likely that Soemil was active during the Late Roman period, like Ansehis. This scholar, however, taking note of the claim that he separated Deira from Bernicia, would like to suggest that he was one of the first kings in Deira, perhaps the founder of the Deiran dynasty in the middle sixth century.

At first that might seem highly unlikely; our sources for that time frame have proven to be unreliable at best. However, several scholars have also noted that medieval historians had a tendency to gather contemporary or near contemporary local kings and telescope them into a sequence of prehistoric rulers for the surviving dynasty (one of the bard’s duties). It seems reasonable that Soemil was a victim of just such manipulation. It will be seen that a British alliance controlled much of Northumbria in the middle sixth century; perhaps Soemil separating Deira from Bernicia was in fact Soemil making his small kingdom free of British rule.

What is really interesting here is that Soemil is credited with leading a rebellion against the British at all. According to all other sources the Kentish heroes Hengest and Horsa led the uprising against the Romano-British and led all the Germanic peoples during the entire struggle. Whatever his dates, Soemil’s connection with the separation from Berneich is likely historical, and if he can be safely placed in the range 533×567 he is not called a king. This is very informative about the political situation at the time.

The Britons
Dr. Miller once suggested that a Padarn Peisrud, “red tunic”, traveled south from Gododdin into Gwynedd (northwestern Wales) at some time between Maximus departure in 383 and the last Romano-British emperor elections in 406-407. However, she never was able to provide evidence of that happening. What we do know about Padarn is that he is unknown outside of Gwynedd and that red tunic was a well known badge of office in the Late Roman army. That suggests that Padarn was from the area originally. He may or may not have been a Roman officer, or Roman official, or wealthy Roman who transitioned into a chieftain during the early fifth century. He could just as easily been a Romano-Briton who used “Peisrud” to connect himself to the stability and credibility of the Roman past in the late fifth century. We may never know which possibility is historical fact.

Up until around 1970, Einion Yrth was believed to be just another member of Maelgwn’s dynasty – the man who initiated the conquest of Môn which turned out to be the last region of medieval Gwynedd to be conquered.

Things have changed a lot since then. The discovery of Aberffraw, the medieval capital of Gwynedd, on Môn demonstrated that Gwynedd was centered on the island. Dr. Miller’s work showed that the dynasty may have begun with the conquest of the island around 500; the conquest was not just another addition to the kingdom. More recently, Professor Koch has eliminated Einion Yrth’s “father” Cunedda from the Gwynedd lineage leaving Einion as the founder. We now know that when he came to power he controlled only part of an island off the coast of Gwynedd and that at the time of his death around 500 Môn was not entirely in his possession.

Ambrosius is a unique character in British history. He is not connected to any specific dynasty or region in the early materials and yet he is the only British figure of the fifth century mentioned by Gildas in his De Excidio Britanniae. Gildas places him after the Germanic attack of 441 and before (and possibly including) the Battle of Badon. As Badon has now been securely placed in the range 478×491, meaning that for the British ecclesiastic Ambrosius was active somewhere between 441 and 491.

Gildas is vague on where Ambrosius was active. His only real clue is that De Excidio Britanniae focuses on people in modern Wales and Cornwall and Ambrosius seems to be the holy man’s ideal of a lay-hero.

The Historia Brittonum would connect Ambrosius with two sites. The more memorable is Arfon in Gwynedd, where his presence would bring about Vortigern’s downfall. However, the author has already demonstrated that Vortigern’s character developed in that history to suit Dyfed’s tenth-century political needs The second notice is the Battle of Wallop, against Guitolin. It has generally been placed near Nether Wallop in Hampshire.

Wallop is a stroke of luck because it has no clear motivation and yet tells us where Ambrosius was active directly through the battle site and indirectly through Ambrosius’ connection to Guitolin, a member of the same pedigree as Gwrtheyrn and Gloiu. The latter name is important here because it is the eponym for Gloucester; he and his brothers Bonus, Paul, and Mauron are even named as the city’s builders. It would seem that Ambrosius was active near Gloucester/Wallop.

As outlined above, kingships in the South only formed as a result of the Germanic rebellion and the raiding and invasions that followed. It has also been suggested that the first generation of kings would have had little or no tradition to rely on for continuing a person’s royal line. At first glance at least, it looks like Ambrosius was a victim of that developing convention; either his entire family was gone before he died or his bards had not yet re-established the basic tenets of Celtic kingship and his personal credentials by that time.

Guitolin, participant at Wallop and son of Gloiu, also gives us some useful information because he is not connected to a region or a kingdom, like the figures from other dynasties, instead he is linked with a single city. That suggests he ruled a very small area. It also suggests that, as he was Ambrosius’ rival, either they rose to prominence at roughly the same time or that Ambrosius was never more than a locally important leader. Chronologically, Ambrosius was active between 448 and 491, and intersected with Guitolin’s career at some point making the Gloucester chieftain a figure of the late fifth century as well. As we have seen above, his kingdom was centered on Gloucester.

Cadell first appears in the Historia Brittonum, where he is the central figure in Powys’ foundation story. Dr. Miller’s work with the genealogies has demonstrated that he was active in the first decades of the sixth century, while Professor Koch has suggested Powys might not have been a unified kingdom until the 700s based on linguistic evidence and an historical confusion over the ruling dynasty. The consequences of these realizations are that Cadell may or may not have been the first ruler of his dynasty, but he was definitely only a chieftain with control over a limited number of villages.

Cadell’s name is also interesting; it derives from a shortened form of Roman Catellinius – Catell. The personal name Cadell would be used throughout the Middle Ages, but this is the first time it was used in Britain after Rome left. Its presence suggests a continuing respect for Roman culture and possibly a lingering sense of Romanitas among the native population.

Gwynllyw is known from the Vita Cadoci and the Vita Gundleus as the father of Cadoc and the husband of Gwladys. These connections place his floruit in the early sixth century, a calculation confirmed through less direct calculations.

Both vitae also claim that Gwynllyw and his six brothers inherited a portion of their father’s kingdom, with Gwynllyw acting as overlord for the group. That sounds a lot like the traditional Gwynedd origin legend. As we have seen above, Cunedda was not part of the Gwynedd dynastic family and his “sons” were actually kings of separate kingdoms who were only connected to the ruling family when the royal dynasty tried to solidify its control by making all of the conquered kingdoms a part of the foundation legend. Probably, the similarity means the same thing here as it did for Gwynedd; Gwynllyw’s brothers were not chieftains with their own kingdoms and Gwynllyw probably only controlled a small kingdom himself.

The Picts
Like Ceredig, Caw was also from the north. The Vita Cadoci has Caw saying he was from a place “beyond Bannawc”, which probably means Pictland. One of Caw’s sons was Gildas, while a second son Hueil raided Arthur, putting Caw’s birth-year at roughly the middle of the fifth century.

In the Vita Cadoci, Caw also says that he spent his life raiding. In the context of a saint’s life the commentary makes sense; it would not do for a chieftain to boast about how wide an area he controlled or how many battles he had been in. However, the information is there for the taking anyway.

If Caw was a Pict then the region he controlled had never been under Roman control. That probably also means that Caw was a king and not the simple raider he is called. If he was, then Caw was one independent Pictish ruler from the later fifth century.

Caw’s son Hueil is also placed “beyond Bannawc” in Caradoc’s Vita Gildae. According to the story he came south as a raider into Arthur’s kingdom, making him a contemporary and therefore active somewhere in the two decades on either side of 500.

Drystan son of Tallwch is found in The Welsh Triads, Culhwch ac Olwen, and an obscure poem in The Black Book of Carmarthen. The Welsh Triads are the only source that say anything about him though. Triad 26 names him as the only chieftain Arthur ever failed to steal from.

Drystan’s short entry gives us two facts to work with. The first is his name and the name of his father. Drystan is a form of Drust. Drust is found all over Britain but most of the time in Pictland. Tallwch is the Welsh version of Pictish Talorcan and is only found in Pictland. More than likely that means that Drystan, too, was Pictish.

The second is the fact that Drystan was a chieftain whom other chieftains tried to raid. Among the Briton and Germanic kingdoms cattle raiding disappeared as soon as larger kingdoms developed and stabilized enough to form empires and make alliances; it just was not practical. If the fifth and sixth century Pictish kingdoms were stable and of a comparable size they should have stopped cattle raiding as well. That cattle raiding continued in Drystan’s time suggests one of two things. Either Drystan lived in a different period than Arthur or the Pictish kingdoms were still not very large or stable in the late fifth and early sixth centuries. Drystan was active in Arthur’s time, he is mentioned with Arthur in the earliest stratum of the triads, meaning Drystan must have lived during the British Heroic Age (late fifth century until about 650).

Medrawt, or Modred, is another northern figure associated with Arthur early on; he appears in the Annales Cambriae as well as in three separate triads. The annals record that both men fought at Camlann. And, since warriors are generally ignored there it is safe to assume that Medrawt was a king. His association with Arthur suggests that, like him, he was active between the late fifth and the early sixth century, then so was Medrawt.

Now whether the two were friends or foes is hard to determine; the sources are ambiguous. The worst is Annales Cambriae, which says only that the two fought at Camlann. The entry could easily be interpreted as the two men fought against each other, but the more natural reading is that they fought on the same side.

The triads are of no help either. Triad 58 says that two of the great ravages of Britain were when Medrawt went to Arthur’s court and ate everything and when Arthur returned the favor. Those do not seem like the acts of allies, but then again a king would not normally play host to his enemy either.

Irish Kingdoms
Eochaid Allmuir is only listed in one Dyfed genealogy, the Expulsion of the Déisi. Normally, that would make him highly suspect as an historical figure. In this case, however, it is the more believable genealogy; it is the oldest and the only one that does not claim the family was descended from Emperor Maximus’ daughter Anna. Maximus, we will remember, was the the general who had left for the continent in 383 to claim the emperor’s crown in Rome. In 383 Britannia had been relatively stable, still reasonably capable of keeping its enemies at bay. The reasoning for adding Maximus to the lineage is simple, though; he would have given the family prestige because of his heritage. Just as obvious is the reason Eochaid was eliminated; he was the original Irish settler of a dynasty that would claim to be of British origin during the later Middle Ages.

Tradition says that he settled in Britain during the late third century, but a closer examination of the genealogy by Dr. Miller has demonstrated he was active in the early fifth century. Miller’s conclusions make better sense with what we know of Roman Britain, too, it included Dyfed until well into the fourth century.

Tradition has it that the Irish were eventually forced out of Dyfed. The Historia Brittonum claims Cunedda and his sons accomplished it, and elsewhere Urien and his sons were given credit. However, some detective work by Dr. Miller long ago showed that Clydwyn, who was active in the middle of the fifth century, was the local hero. Instead of beating the Irish back though, Clydwyn’s daughter Gwledyr married Aed Brosc, son of Eochaid. It seems that the two dynasties intermarried.

What does that mean for a study of British history? First of all, it shows that there were at least two kingdoms in mid-fifth century Dyfed. Secondly, it suggests that though the Irish dynasty continued thought the fifth century it hid or buried its Irish origins in favor of its native ancestors.

Aed Brosc, son of Corath and grandson of Eochaid Allmuir, was active in the last third of the fifth century. All we know about him comes from the Vita Carantoci, which says that he invaded Ceredigion during Carantoc’s youth. That little tidbit is valuable information though. Ceredigion and Dyfed have a natural border in the Teifi River; there would have been no reason to invade Ceredigion until Aed was in control of Dyfed. And if he was, then we have a good idea of when Dyfed was first brought under one king.

Taken in conjunction with his father and grandfather a little more can be learned about Dyfed’s development in particular and the maturation of kingdoms in general during the fifth century. His grandfather had settled in Dyfed early in the century but only controlled a portion of what would become medieval Dyfed. His father successfully expanded the kingdom, eventually marrying a local princess in order to assimilate a second kingdom. Either Corath or Aed Brosc (son or grandson) managed to conquer the entire area, and only then did Aed attempt a foreign invasion. Within two generations and under ideal conditions, petty chieftainships could have grown into the recognizable kingdoms of the Middle Ages.

Domangart son of Nisse was an independent Irish chieftain or pirate who controlled Kintyre in Dalriada during the years around 500. Domangart was not the ruler of Dal Riata, but one of many chieftain/pirates operating from the region. Domangart’s son Comgall probably only controlled Kintyre too. As has been seen, the shallow waters and innumerable islands in Dal Riata would have made it an ideal spot for that kind of activity.

Several vitae tell us about the legendary first ruler of Brycheiniog, Brychan. They also say he was the son of Anlach and the grandson of Coronac (possibly Cormac), an Irish king, which by Celtic law would have made him a prince. British genealogies claim he was the father of dozens of sons and daughters, which makes it hard to believe any of them were his children. Only Rhain Dremrud and Glwadys were connected to the same area and are mentioned independently of him. Using them as reference points Brychan would be a figure of the late fifth century; but those are uncertain points of reference. What we can be sure of is that the Irish had been mainly driven out of Britain by 500. It is safe to assume that Brychan had established the kingdom by then and either he or a successor had assimilated it into British culture. From the Vita Cadoci we also know that the capital of Brycheiniog was Talgarth.

Conclusions
Separating the earliest kings by culture and then ordering them by chronology has shown us several useful aspects of post-Roman kingship. The earliest kings came from the non-Roman areas of Britain, areas that had kings before the Romans left like the Picts, or that may have been developing them in the Late Roman era like Strathclyde and Lothian. These were followed by the Irish colonists who were already settling the western coast in the early fifth century. The Britons themselves established chieftainships during the late-fifth century, likely as a response to the Irish settlements in the West and Germanic expansion from the East. Germanic kingships, as we will see below began in the middle of the sixth century.

The above study has been useful from the perspective of size as well. Most of the British and Irish chieftains discussed above have left no evidence of their kingdom’s size. Those who did, though, seem to have ruled over very small areas. For instance, Coel is remembered as a great king in Welsh history, but only the territory of Kintyre is named after him. The early kingdom of Gwynedd began as one of at least two kingdoms on Anglesey and only managed to conquer the whole island around 500. Together, all the above evidence suggests that the earliest kingdoms were very small – maybe a hall and all the villages within sight at first.

The exception to this rule seems to have been the kingdoms that were already in existence or developing before Rome left – the Picts and the north British regions. Regardless of size, though, all the kingdoms of early Post-Roman Britain seem to have been more interested in simple raids than conquests. In the context of the heroic age and as a political tool this makes perfect sense. Raiding made for good stories and praise poetry which could be used to spread a king’s reputation. It was also not decisive; if a king failed to make a successful raid he had not lost a battle. He probably had not lost any men. On the other hand, a king who was regularly the victim of raids and had a hard time making them himself would lose his reputation and the confidence of his villages.

The size of the original petty kingdoms would grow in time. Poor raiding, a chieftain’s death without heirs, or even the rare loss in a battle would weaken many kingships enough to be absorbed by their more competitive neighbors. Other kingdoms would grow through military successes, good harvests, and access to natural resources, assimilating those regions that were less fortunate along the way. Wise rulers would add individual villages to their kingdoms at opportune times. By as early as 520, the surviving kingdoms all over Britain were already developing into the sizes they would become during the medieval period.

Power does not equate to fame, however. While Urien’s rise to control all of Reged is an extant historical record, his accomplishments are the result of Taliesin’s work. Not all widespread conquerors had the good fortune of having Taliesin on their payroll. The man who consolidated all of Kent remains obscured by time, as are the historical activities of Æthelberht before 597, the Pictish and Germanic leaders of 367, and most of the wealthy kings of Tintagel during the late fifth and early sixth centuries.

Gwrtheyrn was likely the most powerful person in southern England during most of his floruit in the middle of the sixth century, and yet many modern scholars still place him in the wrong century. Further, he was blamed for the Anglo-Saxons presence in England because of a misunderstanding of De Excidio Britanniae’s manuscript history and a misinterpretation about one of his more obscure titles. This confusion was undoubtedly helped along by the fortune of Gwrtheyrn’s name among his descendants. The political motivations of Kent made use of both strokes of luck to give themselves validation for their land and their presence in Britain. Gwrtheyrn was not a victim, however; he courted his own disaster. If he had hired a bard of Taliesin’s caliber, the ravages of time and the machinations of the Germanic kingdoms would have had no effect on how his activities came down to us. From Historia Brittonum on he would have been known as one of the most powerful and crafty kings of British history instead of as the fool who lost Britain for the Britons.

1 “Historia Brittonum”, British history; and the Welsh Annals, History from the Sources 8, ed. and trans. John Morris, (London, 1980), chapter 62.
2 “The Foundation Legend of Gwynedd in the Latin Texts”, BBCS 27 (Cardiff, 1978a), 515-532; Cunedda, Cynan, Cadwallon, Cynddylan: Four Welsh Poems and Britain 383-655, ed. and trans. John T. Koch. (Cardiff, 2013), 39-73. Professor Koch breaks a lot of new ground here even if he is a difficult read. His argument amounts to the following.
1. Marwnad Cunedda was written immediately after Cunedda died because it makes no mention of any future events.
2. The name-form of Cunedda is wrong for someone from the fifth century who was remembered orally in Gwynedd before being written down in the twelfth century (Isaac, “Cunedag”, BBCS 38 (Cardiff, 1991), 100-101; The Gododdin of Aneirin, ed. and trans. John T. Koch, (Cardiff, 1997), cxxi-cxxiii).
3. The Taliesin tradition that he humiliated bards, which was common by the eleventh century, is not present there. In fact, bards are so positively mentioned that it looks like a pre-Gildas influence.
4. The Ystoria Taliesin, on which Professor Haycock believes Marwnad Cunedda is based, contains nothing that resembles it in form or content.
5. If Marwnad Cunedda was written in the twelfth or thirteenth century, as Haycock believes, it should have a better copied text than Armes Prydein. It is not.
3 Johnson, Evidence of Arthur, (Madison, 2014), 147-51.
4 For the date-guessing that gives those birth-ranges see Johnson, Hengest, Gwrtheyrn, and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain, (Madison, 2014).
5 Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads, trans. and ed. Rachel Bromwich, (Cardiff, rev. 1978), triad 26.
6 Vitae Sanctorum Britanniae et Genealogie, ed. Arthur W. Wade-Evans, (Cardiff, 1944), chapter 1.
7 Johnson, Evidence of Arthur, (Madison, 2014), 101-4.
8 Ibid, 97-104.
9 Ibid, 87-96 and 105-115.
10 Ibid, 116-25.
11 McCarthy, “Thomas, Chadwick, and postRoman Britain”, The Early Church in Western Britain and Ireland, ed. Susan Pierce, (1982), 241-256; McCarthy, “A Roman, Anglian and Medieval Site at Black Friar’s Street, Carlisle”, (Kendall, 1990), 368-372; McCarthy, “Carlisle”, Current Archaeology 116, (Friary, 1989), 368-372; Selkirk, Current Archaeology 101, (Friary Press, 1986), 172-177; Keevil, Shotter, and McCarthy, “A Solidus of Valentinian II from Scotch Street, Carlisle”, Brit 20, (Stroud, 1989), 254-255; Dark, “A Sub-Roman Defense of Hadrian’s Wall”, Brit 23, (Stroud, 1992), 112-113.
12 Chadwick, The British Heroic Age, (Cardiff, 1976), 115-118.
13 Dumville, “Coroticus”, Saint Patrick: A.D. 493-1993, (Woodbridge, 1993), 114. He points out that the translation need only mean “ruler”, but if so why give it to only a select group of rulers – Ceredig alone in early Strathclyde.
14 Dumville, “Coroticus”, Saint Patrick: 493-1993, (Woodbridge, 1993), 109.
15 Thompson, “St. Patrick and Coroticus”, JTS 31 (London, 1980), 12-27.
16 Miller, “The Foundation Legend of Gwynedd in the Latin Texts”, BBCS 27 (Cardiff, 1978a), 515-532.
17 Johnson, Hengest, Gwrtheyrn, and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain, (Madison, 2014), 188.
18 Charles-Edwards, Wales and the Britons 350-1064, (Oxford, 2013), 36.
19 Miller, “Historicity and the Pedigrees of the Northcountrymen”, BBCS 26 (Cardiff, 1975b), 255-280.
20 Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads, trans. and ed. Rachel Bromwich, (Cardiff, rev. 1978), 314.
21 Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae, ed. John C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, 1971-2), 29.4.
22 Turville-Petre, “Hengest and Horsa”, Saga-Book of the Viking Saga 14 (London, 1953-7), 273-90; de Vries, “Die Ursprungssage der Sachs en”, Niedersächen Jarhbuch für Landesgeschichte 31 (Berlin, 1959), 30-32; Olrik, “Epic Laws of Folk Narrative”, International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore, ed. Alan Dundes (Lanham, 1999), 104.
23 “Historia Brittonum”, Nennius: British History and the Welsh Annals, ed. and trans. John Morris, (London, 1980), chapter 61.
24 “Historia Brittonum”, Nennius: British History and the Welsh Annals, ed. and trans. John Morris, (London, 1980), chapter 61.
25 Higham reports that the Derwent valley was conquered during the third quarter of the fifth century, but not that a kingship was present there; Higham, The Kingdom of Northumbria, A.D. 350-1100, (Stroud, 1993), 98.
26 Kirby, “Problems of early West Saxon history”, EHR 80 (London, 1965), 10-29; Kirby, “Bede and Northumbrian Chronology”, EHR 78 (London, 1963), 514-527; Miller,”The Foundation Legend of Gwynedd in the Latin Texts”, BBCS 27 (Cardiff, 1978a), 515-532.
27 Miller,”The Foundation Legend of Gwynedd in the Latin Texts”, BBCS 27 (Cardiff, 1978a), 515-532.
28 Given the consistency of British kingdoms developing in the late fifth century, this scholar would assume that the latter option is the more likely.
29 “Historia Brittonum”, British history; and the Welsh Annals, History from the Sources 8, ed. and trans. John Morris, (London, 1980), chapter 62.
30 “New Light on the Origins of the Kingdom of Gwynedd”, Studies in Old Welsh Poetry: Astudiaethau ar yr Hengerdd, ed. Rachel Bromwich and R. Brinley Jones, (Cardiff, 1978), 350-5.
31 “The Foundation Legend of Gwynedd in the Latin Texts”, BBCS 27 (Cardiff, 1978a), 515-532.
32 Cunedda, Cynan, Cadwallon, Cynddylan: Four Welsh Poems and Britain 383-655, (Cardiff, 2013), 72-3. Koch has shown that Marwnad Cunedda predates all other information on Cunedda and the name-form there is incorrect for a person who was remembered orally in Gwynedd; Isaac, “Cunedag”, BBCS 38 (Cardiff, 1991), 100-1; The Gododdin of Aneirin, ed. and trans. John T. Koch, (Cardiff, 1997), cxxi-cxxiii.
33 Gildas, De Excidio Britanniae, trans. Michael Winterbottom, (Chichester, 1978), 25.3.
34 McCarthy and Ó Cróinín, “The ‘lost Irish 84-year Easter table rediscovered”, Peritia 6-7 (Galway, 1987), 227-42; Johnson, Evidence of Arthur, (Madison, 2014), 154-163, 230-45.
35 “Historia Brittonum”, British history; and the Welsh Annals, History from the Sources 8, ed. and trans. John Morris, (London, 1980), chapters 40-42; Johnson, Hengest, Gwrtheyrn, and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain, (Madison, 2014), 86-92.
36 “Historia Brittonum”, British history; and the Welsh Annals, History from the Sources 8, ed. and trans. John Morris, (London, 1980), chapter 56.
37 “Historia Brittonum”, British history; and the Welsh Annals, History from the Sources 8, ed. and trans. John Morris, (London, 1980), chapter 49.
38 In Gwynedd, all of of Cunedda’s sons but Einion Yrth are eponyms for provinces in Gwynedd. One of the Dyfed ancestors is Dimed, eponym of Dyfed itself.
39 Johnson, Evidence of Arthur, (Madison, 2014), 161-3.
40 “Historia BritonumBritish history; and the Welsh Annals, History from the Sources 8, ed. and trans. John Morris, (London, 1980), chapter 47.
41 Miller, “Date-guessing and pedigrees”, SC 11 (Cardiff, 1976a), 96-109.
42 Cunedda, Cynan, Cadwallon, Cynddylan: Four Welsh Poems and Britain 383-655, ed. and trans. John T. Koch. (Cardiff, 2013), 113-117.
43 Johnson, Hengest, Gwrtheyrn, and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain, (Madison, 2015), 157, 158, 166, 171, 178, and 184.
44 Vita Cadoci, chapter 26.
45 Caradoc’s Vita Gildae, chapter 6.5
46 The vita has Cadoc raise Caw from the dead, explaining the discrepancy between the fifth century Caw and the sixth century Cadoc.
47 Triads 19, 21, 26, 71, 72, and 73.
48 Culhwch ac Olwen, ed. and trans. Rachel Bromwich and D. Simon Evans, (Cardiff, 1992), ll. 191-2.
49 “The ‘Drystan’ Poem”, trans. Rachel Bromwich, SC 14/15 (Cardiff, 1979-80) 57-8.
50 This was not the case in Ireland, but all of the subkingdoms and sub-subkingdoms there were largely independent.
51 “The Expulsion of the Dessi”, ed. and trans. Kuno Meyer, Y Cymmrodor 14 (Cardiff, 1901), 101-35.
52 Miller, “Date-guessing and Dyfed”, SC 13 (Cardiff, 1978c), 33-61.
53 “Historia Brittonum”, British history; and the Welsh Annals, History from the Sources 8, ed. and trans. John Morris, (London, 1980), chapter 14.
54 Miller, “Date-Guessing and Dyfed”, SC 13 (Cardiff, 1978c), 37-40.
55 Annals of Clonmacnoise, being Annals of Ireland from the Earliest Period to A.D. 1408, translated into English A.D. 1627 by Conell Mageoghagan, ed. Denis Murphy, (Dublin, 1896); Annals of Inisfallen (MS. Rawlinson B.503), ed. and trans. Seán MacAirt, (Dublin, 1951); Annals of Tigernach, ed. Whitley Stokes RC 16 (Paris, 1895), 374-419; Annals of Tigernach, ed. Whitley Stokes, RC 17 (Paris, 1896), 6-33, 119-263, 337-420, 458; Annals of Tigernach, ed. Whitley Stokes, RC 18 (Paris, 1897), 9-59, 150-198, 267-303, 390-391; Annals of Ulster, ed. Seán Mac Airt and Gearóid Mac Niocaill, (Dublin, 1983).
56 Adamnan.  Life of Saint Columba, Founder of Hy (Iona), trans. and ed. William Reeves, (Llanerch, rep. 1988).
57 Koch has argued that a natural reading of the Historia Brittonum makes Talhaearn Outigern’s bard, (Cunedda, Cynan, Cadwallon, Cynddylan: Four Welsh Poems and Britain 383-655, ed. and trans. John T. Koch. ((Cardiff, 2013), 27), while the present author has argued that Outigern was in fact Gwrtheyrn remembered in the North (Johnson, Hengest, Gwrtheyrn, and the Chronology of Post-Roman Britain, (Madison, 2015), 86-92). If the connections are all valid it might explain why the tenth-century Historia Brittonum editor did not or did not want to connect Outigern to his villain.

Heroic Age Politico-Economic Politics

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In 1912, Hector Chadwick dubbed the period between Alaric’s sack of Rome and the Cadwallon’s campaign of 632 the “British Heroic Age”.[i] He then compared it and the Anglo-Saxon Heroic Age to the Greek Heroic Age. When a scholar studies the literature of both insular cultures of the time it is hard to deny that many of their values and attitudes are identical to those found in the Iliad and other Greek literature from the same era.

However, an heroic age is more than simply a consistent philosophy about life and death, it is a complete political and economic system. At the center of the heroic age is the king. It is his personality and personal charisma that bonds the warriors together in the first place. His reputation and the confidence inspires villages to pay tribute. His successes in battle and the loot he acquires raids are what attract new warriors to him and allow for his fame and his band of warriors to grow from a handful of warriors to dozens.

The cult of a specific individual is what allows for kingship to develop initially, but a king who rules solely by the force of his personality can only survive for so long. In the modern world many leaders have had personal charisma, but many have not. Leaders are able to lead because of two key elements – tradition and the moral authority to rule.

The British chieftains that emerged after Roman rule had neither a tradition nor a moral authority over the people. They had authority over villages only because they had an army and the villages needed protection. They controlled their army because they had the money pay them and the warriors’ respect. When any element in that chain faltered, their ability to rule disintegrated.

Which is why bards among the Britons, Irish, and Picts and skops among the Germanic tribes were an invaluable element of society for kingship – they gave the illusion of moral authority and tradition to the early kingships.

We have no direct knowledge of what both groups were taught as part of their educations but they were probably similar. They were probably taught all of the essential myths and legends of their people as well as hundreds of lesser stories. They probably also picked up as many current events as they could – battles, raids, generous and stingy kings, silver-tongued and ugly warriors, anything that might prove useful in the king’s hall. We can be confident that both groups were also taught how to create extemporaneous poetry quickly using hundreds of motifs and pneumonic devices. They were shown techniques that helped them adjust to different audiences, time limits, and even values.

Any person who completed their formal education would have had all the tools to become an excellent entertainer. He, or she, could tell myths and legends in many different ways, keeping the old stories fresh by stressing different themes and perspectives. They could create new stories and poems to praise their patrons as events occurred.[ii]

We have to keep in mind, though, that the bard and the skop were much more than just entertainers. Their ability to innovate gave them an almost mystical reputation among their people – what they said was the truth and the power of their words made what they predicted inevitable.[iii] The education also made them natural historians; ancient peoples who kept no written records made little or no distinction between mythology, legend, and history.

In the late fifth century among the Britons and the mid-sixth century among the Germanic peoples, their significance was magnified. Both culture groups had not needed kings for at least three generations and were only just beginning to reintroduce them. In that context, the historians infuse the new group of chieftains with a respectable lineage several generations deep. This was possible because of the relatively short life-span of the average person at the time,[iv] and the fact that any history beyond the lifetime of the oldest member of society was extremely flexible.[v]

Asked to construct a lineage for his king, a bard would begin with the information that was widely known – probably all of the current king’s accomplishments and his father’s name. Beyond that, a bard was free to insert famous local kings into his king’s geneology. This gave the king’s warriors and the villages under his protection a sense of consistency by reinforcing the belief that their leader was not only an excellent war-leader but that he came from a long and rich tradition of legendary ancestors.

Bards and skops were also responsible for creating the illusion of a kingship’s sanctity. Family history was part of that role because it demonstrated a king’s right to rule. However, the office of king itself was sacred. The two cultures did this in different ways, but the common denominators were that the clan from which kings were chosen had divine favor and the man chosen as king was believed to be the most favored.[vi] Secondly, part of the inauguration ritual included marriage to the land. Among the British the land was symbolized by an old hag who transformed into a beautiful young woman when married to the right king.[vii] For the English the king married a deity, Freyja, and so there was no transformation.[viii]

Among the Celts legend had it that the wife, and the land she symbolized, would remain youthful and beautiful for as long as the king ruled well. Knowing that, a peasant only needed to look at his own fields to be reassured his king had divine grace.

Marriage to the land made for an effective image. However, daily reminders like praise poems were also useful because they could approach the same subjects from different angles and served many different purposes: To reinforce the king’s stature as a generous and successful leader, to point out the unique talents of his men, to support the bond between a king and his warriors.

Warriors were an essential part of the equation. While a king’s personality might attract warriors and win tribute it was the warriors’ willingness to stand beside their leader and often die in battle that made kingship successful. Achilles was once offered the choice of living a long life and being forgotten when his children died or dying young but enjoying eternal fame; he made the same choice as every other heroic age warrior. Their numbers made it possible for the king to defend villages from raiders and eventually to make their own raids. The warriors’ presence helped to enforce the agreement between king and villages for food and supplies. Without them, the king had nothing.

These villages, and the villagers who populated them, were the foundation of every kingdom. Each year they produced the grains, honey, bragawt, livestock, labor, and smiths that kept the king, his warriors, and his servants fed, sheltered, and armed. Without their support British kingship could not exist. The mutual need of all four groups – king, bards, warriors, and villages – is what made the system work.

One other element was absolutely necessary for British kingship to survive – an enemy. The original reason for kingships was the raiding and settling of the Germanic tribes and Irish princes. Both groups were real threats in the middle and late fifth century. But, as has been seen, the Irish had lost interest in Britain by 500 and evidence will be produced that Germanic tribes had stopped migrating into Britain by then. Both groups probably still conducted raids into the sixth century, but by then they had likely settled into a pattern of stealing livestock and defending their own cattle from other villages.

As has been seen, the British chieftains also took part in raiding British as well as Irish, Germanic, and probably Pictish targets. Raiding helped a king develop a reputation as a battle leader and a man who was able to take booty. What is normally overlooked is that the act of raiding also served the raided kingdom. If foreign kings could be beaten off it would enhance the defender’s reputation, but whether he was successful or not, raiding parties could be portrayed as the new enemy; without the king to defend the peasants those raiding parties would have attacked the villages themselves.

Every element in the heroic age system was a necessary one. The king’s charisma and leadership ability bonded the warriors to him and made the villages believe he could protect them. Bards lived on kings’ largesse but provided them with a geneology of famous local kings and tapped the divine nature of their position while using their skills to entertain. The warriors were attracted to kings because of their abilities and their wealth. In return they went into battle with them, putting their lords’ lives before their own.

All three groups were fed, clothed, and paid by the villages. In return for a small portion of their annual crops as well as some livestock and labor they had a king who was sworn to protect them. That protection might not have been as secure as it had been under the Romans but it gave them more safety than they had enjoyed since the Romans while demanding fewer resources than raiders took.

Despite the interdependence of the different groups the system was still fragile. It might have been based on ancient traditions, but it was new. Bards were invaluable in making the political shifts an accepted part of British culture. But changing attitudes took time.

That may have been one of the reasons for the witch hunts of around 500.[ix] We know that they existed because we know that “witches” existed. Samson killed one in the Vita Samsoni.[x] Arthur killed a great one in Culhwch ac Olwen,[xi] and he and his men attack nine in “Preiddeu Annwn”.[xii] St. Martin initiated the movement in the old empire during the fourth century with attacks on pagan temples and groups of non-Christians.[xiii] Later on bishops, priests, and occasionally secular rulers led campaigns against them for their own reasons.

[i] Chadwick, The Heroic Age, (Cambridge, 1912), 105-9.

[ii] West, Indo-European poetry and myth, (Oxford, 2007), 30.

[iii] The bard’s power was considered so potent they could predict the manner and time of death. This made a displeased bard one of the most fearsome things in the Celtic world; Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, (Dublin, 1988), 49-51.

[iv] Wells, Bones, Bodies and Disease, (London, 1964), 179.

[v] Vansina, Oral Tradition as History, (Madison, 1985).

[vi] Binchy, “Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Kingship”, (Oxford, 1970); Chaney, The Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England: The Transition from Paganism to Christianity, (Manchester, 1970), 174-220.

[vii] Bugge, “Fertility myth and female sovereignty in the weddynge of Sir Gawen and Dame Ragnell”, CR 39.2 (University Park, 2004), 198-218.

[viii] Chaney, The Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England: The Transition from Paganism to Christianity, (Manchester, 1970), 27; Chadwick, Origins of the English Nation, (Cambridge, 1907), 237-8.

[ix] Johnson, Origins of Arthurian Romances, (Madison, 2012), 100-36.

[x] The Life of St. Samson of Dol, trans. Thomas Taylor, (Llanerch, rep. 1991), books 26 and 27.

[xi] Culhwch ac Olwen: An edition and study of the oldest Arthurian tale, ed. Rachel Bromwich and D. Simon Evans, (Cardiff, 1992), 1206-1227.

[xii] “ ‘Preiddeu Annwn’ and the figure of Taliesin”, ed. and trans. Marged Haycock, SC 14/15 (Cardiff, 1984), ln. 14.

[xiii] Stancliffe, Clare, St. Martin and his Hagiographer: History and Miracle in Sulpicius Severus, (Oxford, 1983); Vitae Martini, 13.9, 14.1, 14.3-7, 15.1, and 15.4.