Arthur, Cerdic, and the Formation of Wessex

IV. Ceredig Vreichvras and the Welsh Genealogies

   Morris (1973, p210-11) wrote that Caradoc Vreichvras was a king mentioned in the genealogies and Saints' Lives, who had a kingdom somewhere between the middle Thames and the south coast, and who was said to have land on both sides of the Channel in the mid sixth century. The epithet Vreichvras meant 'Strong Arm'. Morris also mentioned that he may have inherited some of the western territories of Cato's Dumnonia.
   Considering that Strong Arm's time and location were not well established, we asked the question: Could Caradoc Vreichvras be the same as Cerdic of Winchester? In seeking an answer to this, we turned to a copy of Bartrum's "Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts" (Bartrum, 1966), as well as various dictionaries.
   Insight can be gained by an understanding of the word `vreichvras'. Vras is clearly a cognate of French bras, or Latin brachia, meaning `arm'. It has the same meaning in Old English. The origin of `Vreich' is more difficult to find. It has a cognate in modern Spanish, `recio' meaning strong, firm, or difficult to twist. Our dictionary said that the origin of the word is obscure, but may come from Latin `rectus' meaning upright, straight, correct, natural, or good. With this as a lead, we find in Old English `reccan': 1. To expound, teach, speak, direct, guide, rule; narrate, tell, interpret; stretch, tend go; extend, hold out, give; instruct, explain, quote; correct, reprove. 2. to take care of, be interested in, care for, care, desire (to do something), or trouble about (Borden, 1982). A derivative of this is beraeccan or bereccan--to relate, excuse, or justify oneself, which is a cognate of modern German berichtig--correct, set right, rectify, or amend. Quite clearly, if this is the cognate of vreich, then the implication is not so much "strong" as "disciplined" or "strengthened". Thus a more appropriate spelling of Vreich Vras would be "beraec bras" --and a more accurate translation than "strong arm" would be Caradoc of the "strengthened arms", which might imply either that he disciplined his arms (i.e. by exercise), or that he was cured of an early ailment, or perhaps both.
   It should be noted, that although `vreichvras' may be a Celtic word, it also makes perfectly good sense in Germanic, as did many of the titles and epithets of Dark Age Britain. As an example of this, consider the Anglo-Saxon noun `wer' meaning `male,' `man,' `husband,' or `hero,' which is related to the verb `wyrdian' meaning `esteem,' `honor,' `praise,' or `exalt' (Borden, 1982). The Latin and Celtic forms are `vir,' `guir,' `vor,' `guar' and `gor,' with the same meanings. Hence their widespread incorporation into British names of that era.
   The name Cerdic, pronounced with hard C's, also has a meaning. Although the name may sound hard or tough to Anglophones, it would not to speakers of Welsh. In the form Ceredig or Ceretic, it means `loving' or `caring'. It is still used in modern English, but as a feminine name--`Charity'. The name was acceptable to Saxons, who were probably unaware of its meaning, but from the Welsh viewpoint a more suitable name was required for a battle-leader. Hence the adoption of the epithet `strongarm'.
   Let us now turn to the genealogies. We will use excerpts from "Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts" by P. C. Bartrum, (Bartrum, 1966). This text has hundreds of genealogies, of which we will discuss just ten. We start by arranging the following six in columns for comparison.

[A] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Succession of the early kings of Wessex from the Abingdon and Worcester Chronicles (Garmonsway, 1955, p 66)
[B] From Hafod MS. 19(1536) p.141, edited by S. Baring Gould and John Fisher, "Lives of the British Saints", iv. 375.
[C] From Bonedd y Saint [The lives of the Saints], 51. Dyunawc Sant
[D] From Bonedd y Saint [The lives of the Saints], 89. Kathan
[E] From Jesus College Ms. 20, item 9.
[F] From Achau Brenhinoedd A Thywysogion Cymru, Gwehelyth Morganwc (Bartrum, 1966, p105)

[A] [B] [C] [D] [E] [F]
Cunedda wledic
Einion yrth
Elessa Llyr vyrenin Llyr merini Llyr merini
Cerdic Kyriadoc vyraich vyras Caradoc vreichvras Kriadoc vreichvras Caradawc vreichvras
Creoda Kowrda Cawrdaf Kowrda
Cynric Kydeboc Meur(ic)
Gwynoc
Ceawlin Sant Kollen
Medrawt
Dyunawc sant
[Cutha fought beside Ceawlin] Kathan
descendants of Meuric:
Erbic
Erb
Nynnyaw
Llywarch
Thewdric Teudric
Meuric Mevric
Adroes Athrawes
Morgant Morgan
Nud hael Ithel
Thewdricm
Rees Rrys
Brochuael
Gwryat
Arthuael Arthavel
Rees Rys
Howel Ho
Eweint Ywain
Morgant Morgan

   Column [A] represents a succession of kings of Wessex, as well as a genealogy. The others are Welsh Geneologies. In nearly all cases they were written down long after the lives of the people in them. There were different styles of language, so names are spelled differently, but from the sequences they clearly describe the same people.
   Let's discuss some of these people. The first person in column [C], Cunedda Wledig, is the reputed ancestor of many of the British royal houses (Ashe, 1985, p33). Einion yrth, or Enion Gyrt, is one of his many sons. In column [A], Cerdic and Cynric were said to be father and son in some versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, and in others Creoda is included.
   In column [B], the father of Kriadoc Vyraich vyras is Llyr vyrenin, or Llyr merini in column [C]. Llyr merini is not the person's name but a title, meaning in Welsh `Llyr of the Sea', or perhaps in Old English `Master of the Sea'. In some legends of Caradoc Vreichvras which we will discuss later, the name of Llyr merini is given as Eliavres, so Llyr may be an elision of that name. Elessa is evidently the name preferred by the Saxons, who tended to use given names rather than titles.
   Creoda is obviously Kowrda and Cawrdaf in the Welsh columns.
   Cynric is a bit more of a problem. We notice in the genealogies, that he is not given as the son of Cawrdaf. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles name him as a son or grandson of Cerdic, so perhaps he is a younger brother or half-brother of Creoda. Although it is possible that Cynric and the Meuric in column [E] are different people, it is our guess that they are the same. The name Meuric was spelled in many different ways, including Mor and Amor. (Bartrum, 1966, p169, p205) We think that all of these are forms of the name which eventually became Henry in modern English, Henri in French, and Heinrich or Heimrich in German. Cynric was sometimes spelled Kendrick or Cymric. The forms Anr or Amr probably reflect pronunciations which are more like the modern French Henri. As added support for the idea that Meuric and Cynric are the same, compare the following genealogies: (Bartrum, 1966, p49 & p109):

[M]euruc m. Alaed m. Elud m. Glas m. Elno m. Docuael m. Cuneda wledic.
Kenwrik ap Elaeth ap Elgud glas ap Ilon ap Dogvael Dogveiling ap Kvnedda wledic.
In his index, Bartrum implies that Meuruc and Kenwrik are the same person.
   The big surprise of the lists turns out to be the Welsh St. Collin, who appears to be identical to the Saxon King Ceawlin. Historically, this is entirely possible. Citing Morris (1973, p370), "In southern and central England the traditions that might have remembered saints were lost when the British language gave way to English. A few notices survive. The story of Collin sends him east from Glastonbury and brings him to Southampton, though his best-known monastic foundation is Llangollen, on the Dee." Collin undoubtedly became a Saint because he had founded one or more monasteries. However there are many examples of men of this era who went back and forth between kingship and monastery, and who often waged war even while they were monastics. St. Columba at one point waged a war in a dispute which arose over the copying of a Gospel. (Morris, 1973, pp164-173). The epistle of Gildas tells how Constantine of Dumnonia, while wearing the habit of a holy abbot, violated the sanctuary of the Church and his own sworn oaths, in killing two royal youths at the altar. Maelgwyn of Gwynned was both a monk and an aggressive king with a multitude of sins on his record. Returning to Collin, what business would he have had in Southampton, but to pick up the crown of his grandfather Cerdic? As seen above, Ceawlin was one of the most aggressive of the Saxon kings, waging war against the Britons, sometimes accompanied by Cutha, who eventually perished in battle. If Cutha is the Kathan of column [D], then he appears to have been the uncle of Collin.
   Another interesting figure appears in column [C]--Medrawt is given as the grandson of Caradoc vreichvras. The rebel Modred of Geoffrey, or Medrawt of Nennius, is found in different legends to be related to Arthur, varying from nephew to illegitimate son.
   We call attention to columns [E] and [F] which gives the ancestry of the house of Morganwc--the kings of Glamorgan. Thus Cerdic is the ancestor of the kings of at least two kingdoms, Glamorgan and Wessex.
   We'd also like to include what appears to be a somewhat different genealogy from Bartram's book:
>From Achau Brenhinoedd a Thywysogion Cymru (Bartrum, 1966, pp95, 104)
I. Ach Llewelyn ap Iorwerth Crwyndwn
[b] Mam Llywelyn ap Iorwerth: Marvred verch Madawg ap Meredydd ap Bleddin ap Kynvyn ap Gwerystan ap Gwaithuoed ap Gwrhydr ap Karadawc ap Lles llaw ddeawg ap Ednyued ap Gwynan ap Gwynnawgt var sych ap Keidiaw ap Korf ap Kaenawc ap Tegonwy ap Teon ap Gwinev dav vreuddwyd ap Pywyr lew ap Bywdec ap Run rudd baladr ap Llary ap Kasuar wledic ap Lludd ap Beli mawr.
   In this genealogy it appears that Gwynnawgt is the patriarch Cunnedda, and Ednyued is Ennion yrth. Between them is another Gwynan, or Conan. Cutha is Gwaithuoed, Creoda is Gwrhydr, Cerdic is Karadawc, and Llyr merini is given as Lles llaw ddeawg. Lles is quite close to the Chronicle's Elessa. In `Llaw ddeawg', LLaw means `hand' and ddeawg means `fierce'. This genealogy continues into the dynasty of Powys (Gwehelyth Powys), so this adds a third dynasty to Cerdic's descendants, as well as affirming Elessa as Llyr merini.
   There were several Ceredigs listed in Bartrum's genealogies for this era. One of these was Ceredig Wledig, a son of Cunedda, after whom Cardigan is named. Another is Ceredig of Strathclyde, who ruled Dunbarton around 450. Their geneologies are totally different from that of Ceredig Vreichvras. (Bartram, 1966). Many other genealogies and fragments are given in Bartrum's book and in other sources which he references. We have not exhaustively studied these works, but have included enough for our discussion.
   The important comparison of this discussion is the comparison of the early kings of Wessex with the the corresponding British princes. From a statistical standpoint, to have two identical sequences of five kings, who ruled at the same place and the same time, who have the same names in the same order, and who are not the same, is vanishingly improbable--certainly less than one in a thousand. Admittedly fraud in the published sources is more probable than this, but the genealogical evidence is that Caradoc Vreichvras is Cerdic of Wessex.
   Besides the genealogies of Caradoc Vreichvras, there are legends about him which contain a surprising amount of personal information which seems to coincide with that of Arthur. Our source for the legends of Caradoc Vreichvras is "The Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends" (Coghlan, 1991).
Caradoc Briefbras
His epithet Briefbras (short arm) is a pseudo-translation into French of Welsh vreichvras (strong-armed). In the romances, he was the son of Eliavres the wizard and Ysaive, wife of King Caradoc of Vannes and Nantes. When Caradoc Briefbras confronted Eliavres about his parentage, Eliavres and Ysaive caused a serpent to twine around his arm and it took the combined efforts of his wife, Guignier, and her brother, Cador, to rid him of it. When King Mangoun of Moraine sent him a horn to expose any infidelity on the part of the wife of him who drank from it, Caradoc's draught showed his wife to be faithful. In Welsh tradition Caradoc's wife was Tegau Eurfon (`beautiful golden-hair') his father Llyr Marini, his son Meuric and his steed Lluagor. He was the legendary ancestor of the ruling house of Morgannwg and may have founded the kingdom of Gwent in the fifth century. From "Vulgate Version", edited by H. O. Sommer, Carnegie Institution, Washington, 1908-16.
Cador
The ruler of Cornwall, variously described as a king or duke. He was a supporter of Arthur and helped him against the Saxons, defeating Badulf and Cheldric. A Cador, son of the King of Cornwall, friend of Caradoc Briefbras and brother of Guignier, may be the same character. In origin, Cador may be Cadwy, son of Gereint. From "History of the Kings of Britain", translated by L. Thorpe, Penguin, Harmodsworth, 1960.
   When we first read these excerpts we had the impression that we had stumbled into Geoffrey of Monmouth's mysterious sources. Let's see how this all ties together, one knot at a time. First, Caradoc is the son of Eliavres, which is quite close to Elessa and to Elaphius, a significant name soon to be addressed. `Llyr' could arise from an elision of Eliavres. Furthermore, we are told that Eliavres, or Llyr merini, is a wizard. The words llyr and merini both have the same meaning in Welsh--`of the sea'. To have the two together seems redundant. However in Old English it can make better sense. `Lehr marini' would be `master of the sea', `teacher of the sea', or perhaps `wizard of the sea'. This may tell us something about Strongarm's father, and perhaps Strongarm as well. He must have been one the major shippers or merchants of the British and Gallic coasts. As such he would deal constantly with Saxons, both as crews and as piratical enemies.
   While we're on the subject of the name of Strongarm's father, we have to mention that we still can't rule out Gorlois (Guor-Elessa) as being a form of this name. Recall that Geoffrey makes Gorlois the occupant of a sea-protected stronghold and concocts a bizarre story in which Uther changes his image to that of Gorlois in order to seduce Gorlois' wife and conceive Arthur. Geoffrey could not have Arthur being the son of a wizard, so he created king Uther, a son of Constantine III, so that Arthur would be the rightful heir to the throne. Tatlock (1950, p313) is convinced that Gorlois, Igerna, and Uther are all inventions of Geoffrey of Monmouth, although we now suspect that the name Gorlois may have some basis afterall. However, the story of Uther is fiction, and the name seems to be the result of a confusion with the father of a much later Arthur. This Arthur was Arthur Mabuter or Mab Pedr of Dyfed, who lived around 600. We will address this in greater depth later.
   There is mention of an elder King Caradoc of Vannes and Nantes. This is probably just an attempt to explain how there could be a Caradoc in Vannes and one in England. In fact there was probably only one who moved between the two sites.
   The next line of the legends tells about a serpent entwining about Caradoc's arm. The version presented in Bullfinch (1900, pp 67-71) says that Caradoc was emaciated, and the arm was permanently shrunken. We would generally dismiss this story as a fiction created to explain the name Briefbras, except for a corroborative story from the life of St. Germanus. Germanus visited Britain in 428-9 and again in 445-6. On the second visit, he was received by one `Elafius, regionis illius primus'--`Elafius, the leading man of the district.' Morris places it at Winchester. Elafius brought to Germanus his son, who could not walk because he had been struck down in the flower of his youth by a crippling childhood disease (probably polio). Germanus prayed over the young man and miraculously cured him. We have seen that Caradoc's epithet `Vreichvras' can be read as `strengthened arm'. Possibly the crippled child was Caradoc. One form of the name of Caradoc's father was Eliavres, which is acceptably close to Elafius. There couldn't have been many `leading men' in Britain with names that close to Elafius.
   The legends of Briefbras suggest that Cador and his sister Guignier may have helped rehabilitate Caradoc. One problem with the legend is that Caradoc's involvement with Cador and Guignier may not have begun until later in his life. In any case, the stories of Caradoc Briefbras seem to point to a real crisis in Caradoc's life.
   Note that Caradoc's wife is Guignier, sister of Cador. Arthur's is Guenevere, raised in the household of Cador.
   In "Marvels of the Isle of Britain", Nennius mentions the tomb of Anr, or Amr, whom he says was a son of Arthur the warrior, whom Arthur slew and buried. Scholars generally don't credit the slaying, nor will we, but the name of the son is intriguing since it is a form of Meuric, the name of Caradoc's son.
   One of the major elements in the Arthurian legends is Merlin, who appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's story, and in nearly all subsequent versions. The role of Merlin in Nennius's version is taken by a prophetic fatherless youth by the name of Ambrosius--a fairly common name of the Roman empire. Tatlock (1950, Ch V), has an extensive discussion on the origins of this myth. After analyzing several possible derivations of the name, he concludes that there must have been earlier legends using the name Merlin, but the earliest that survives is Geoffrey's. Other scholars argue that there was "no Merlin before Geoffrey." The problem is clearly well-developed and has been widely discussed. We suggest a new origin for the name Merlin. Since Llyr Merini may have been known as a `wizard of the sea,' and was a wizard in the legends, Geoffrey may have derived the name of his wizard by combining the two words Llyr Merini into one--Merlin.
   Caradoc's father Llyr Merini, his son Meuric, and the dynasty of Morgannwg we have already seen in the genealogies. The kingdom of Gwent, which Caradoc is said to have possibly founded, is next to Glamorgan, where Geoffrey's Arthur reigned.
   In addition to the sites mentioned by Geoffrey of Monmouth, there are two other sites which are traditionally associated with Arthur (Ashe, 1985, pp91 & 181). The first is Winchester, where Malory usually located Camelot. The second is Nantes in France. Chretian de Troyes has Arthur hold court in Brittany, and Wolfram von Eschenbach locates him at the city of Nantes. Near the city of Nantes is the best small-ship harbor on the west coast of France. Its name Vannes derives from the Venetii, whom Caesar conquered in his Gallic campaign. Curiously, this is where St. Gildas, who first wrote of the Battle of Mt. Badon, spent the last years of his life. A town there is named after him, and nearby is another town named Badon. Another intriguing name there is the Isle Hoedic (Cerdic?), just offshore.
   Finally there is the matter of Winchester. There is a traditional association of Arthur with the town, and of course it is also associated with Cerdic. Malory usually located Camelot at Winchester (Geoffrey Ashe, 1985). Cerdic is generally said to have ruled at Winchester (Morris, 1973, p104). Elaphius may have been a leading citizen of the district of Winchester (Morris, 1973, p80).
   In summary, we see that the legend of Caradoc Vreichvras are in many ways identical to those of Arthur, and in the differences it appears that Geoffrey or someone before him has reworked the Vreichvras legends to suit his own goals.

John C. Rudmin, 864 Chicago Av, Harrisonburg, VA, 22801
Joseph W. Rudmin, Physics Dept., James Madison Univ., Harrisonburg, VA, 22807
(First submitted for publication in Oct 1993)

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