Skene's Four Ancient Books of Wales

CHAPTER V.
STATE OF BRITAIN IN A.D. 560 WHEN GILDAS WROTE, AND KINGS OF THE LINE OF DYFI.

   Gildas, in his epistle, written probably from Armorica, draws a dark picture of the state of Britain. The colours may be overcharged and the lines deepened; but, exaggerated though it may be by a Christian zeal, which may have driven him from the country, his language, if there is any reality in it at all, implies a great departure from the Christian faith, and a deep corruption of manners. The expressions which he employs regarding the state of the princes of Wales are but an echo of what is used by other writers regarding the more northern Cymry. In the oldest life of Saint Kentigern, Llew, or Lothus as he is there called, whose daughter was his mother, is described as "vir semipaganus;" and Joceline, who used older documents, calls him "secta paganissimi," and describes the infant church, which had been founded shortly before at Glasgow by Kentigern, as being oppressed by "quidam tyrannus vocabulo Morken," that he "viri Dei vitam atque doctrinam sprevit atque despexit," and that after his death his "Cognati" obliged him to take refuge in Wales, where, under Caswallawn law Hir, the father of Maelgun, Kentigern founded the monastery of Llanelwy, or St. Asaph's. He also says of the Picts, "Picti vero prius per Sanctum Ninianum ex magna parte; postea per Sanctos Kentegernum et Columbam fidem susceperunt; dein in apostasiam lapsi, iterum per predicationem Sancti Kentegerni, non solum Picti, sed et Scoti, et populi innumeri in diversis finibus Britanniæ constituti, ad fidem conversi vel in fide confirmati sunt." There is here indicated a wide-spread apostasy from the Christian church founded by Ninian, which drove Kentigern from Glasgow, and which, on his return from Wales, he was mainly instrumental in healing. His expulsion from Glasgow must have taken place between 540 and 560, as he was a considerable time in Wales and returned in 573. It therefore closely followed the battle of Camlan. Arthur was pre-eminently a Christian leader. The legends connected with the battle in which he carried the image of Saint Mary on his shield, and the cross he obtained from Jerusalem, indicate this. Medraut was the son of that "vir semipaganus" Llew or Loth, and his insurrection with his Pictish and Saxon allies seems like the outburst of a Pagan party. The arrival in 547, no long time after, of Ida, the Anglic king, and the consolidation of the Saxon settlements on the eastern sea-board of the north into the Anglic kingdom of Bernicia, stretching first from the southern wall to the Tweed, with Bainborough for its capital, and pushing its way north until it eventually reached the Firth of Forth, must have strengthened the increasing Paganism, both by the direct subjugation of British and Pictish population by a Pagan king, but also by the insensible influence of the vicinity of a Pagan power. A struggle seems to have taken place between the Christian and Pagan elements in the country, in which the latter at first prevailed, but which terminated in the triumph of the Christian party, and the consolidation of the various petty states into regular kingdoms under its leaders.
   Gildas, in his Epistle, addresses five kings by name, and of those he sufficiently indicates the locality of three. The first is Constantine, whom he terms "The tyrannical whelp of the unclean lioness of Damnonia" (immundæ leænæ Damnoniæ tyrannicus catulus), and who must have reigned in Devon and Cornwall. The second is Aurelius Conanus, whom he addresses as "Thou lion's whelp" (Catule leonine). His title of Aurelius is equivalent to Guledig. The third was Vortipore, whom he calls "Thou foolish tyrant of the Demetians" (tyrannus Demetarum), and who must have ruled over Dyfed and the regions in South Wales rescued from the Scots by Cunedda and his sons. The fourth was Cuneglase, whom he, addresses as "Thou bear, thou rider and ruler of many, and guider of the chariot which is the receptacle of the bear" (urse multorum sessor aurigaque currus receptaculi ursi); and the fifth was Maglocunus, whom he calls "Thou dragon of the island" (insularis draco). This was Maelgun, who, we learn from the Genealogia, ruled in Gwynedd, and was called the Island Dragon, from Mona or Anglesea, from which his father Caswallawn law Hir had expelled the Gwyddyl. The two kings, whose possessions are not indicated, probably possessed the two eastern kingdoms of Powys and Gwent, and Conan, the former, as the genealogies attached to Nennius call Brochwail Powys, who fought in 613, son of Cynan or Conanus.
   It is plain, from the language of Gildas, that Maglocunus was one who swayed between Christianity and Paganism, and was rapidly rising into power over the other kings. He describes, him as having "deprived many tyrants as well of their kingdoms is of their lives," as "exceeding many in power," and "strong in arms," and that the King of kings had made him, as well, in kingdom as in stature of body, higher than almost all the other chiefs of Britain. He also describes him as in the beginning of his youth oppressing with sword, spear, and fire, the king his uncle; then repenting "and vowing himself before God a monk," and taking refuge "in the cells where saints repose;" and then being seduced by a crafty wolf out of the fold, and returning to evil, slaying his brother's son and marrying his widow; and he concludes by an urgent appeal to him again to repent and be converted.
   There is a curious legend preserved in the old Welsh Laws. It is as follows:--

After the taking of the crown and sceptre of London from the nation of the Cymry, and their expulsion from Lloegyr, they instituted an inquiry to see who of them should be supreme king. The place they appointed was on Traeth Maelgwn at Aber Dyvi, and thereto came the men of Gwynedd, the men of Powys, the men of South Wales, of Reinwg, Morganwg, and of Scissyllwg. And there Maeldav the elder, son of Unhwch Unachen, chief of Moel Esgidion in Meirionydd, placed a chair composed of waxed wings under Maelgwn, so when the tide flowed no one was able to remain excepting Maelgwn because of his chair. And by that means Maelgwn became supreme king, with Aberfraw for his principal court, and the Jarll Mathraval, and the Jarll Dinevwr, and the Jarll Kaer Llion, subject to him, and his word paramount over all, and his law paramount, and he not bound to observe their law. (P. 412)
   The Dyvi or Dovey flows into the sea in Cardigan Bay, and terminates in an estuary which divides North from South Wales. On the north shore of the estuary rise the hills of Merioneth. On the south shore is an extensive and dreary moss, extending to the Cardigan hills in the background, and interspersed with a few green knolls rising here and there. Between this moss and the estuary is a flat sandy beach, left dry far into the estuary at low water. The moss is called Corsfochno, the sandy shore Traeth Maelgwn; and here some transaction took place--some struggle hidden under the disguise of this fable--by which Maelgwn made himself supreme over the other three kings of Wales. This struggle, I take it, was the Gwaeth Corsfochno, or the affair of Corsfochno, of the Bards.
   But the true field of the contest between the Christian and semi-pagan chiefs was further north, where the great struggle for the mastery took place not long after. The chronicle of 977 records, in 573, "Bellum Armterid." About nine miles north of Carlisle, on the western bank of the river Esk, are two small rising grounds or knolls, called the Knows of Arthuret, and still further north is a ravine, in which a stream called the Carwinelow falls into the Esk. On the north side of that stream the ground rises till it reaches an elevation terminating abruptly in a cliff which overhangs the river Liddel, and on the summit of this cliff is a magnificent native stronghold, with enormous earthen ramparts, now called the Moat of Liddel.
   Arthuret is the Roddwyd Ardderyd, or Pass of Ardderyd, forming the great western pass leading from the Roman wall into Scotland. Carwinelow is Caer Wendolew, or the city of Gwenddolew, so called from the adjacent stronghold; and here, in 573, was fought the great battle of Ardderyd,1 between Gwenddolew, whose name is surrounded by bardic tradition with every type and symbol of a semi-pagan cult, and on the other side three leading chiefs, who each became the founder of a kingdom--Maelgwn Gwynedd, Rydderch Hael, and Aedan, son of Gafran, called Fradawg, or the treacherous. The importance of this battle may be inferred from the part it plays in bardic tradition, from the exaggeration with which it is attended when 80,000 Cymry are said to have been engaged in it, and, historically, from the results which followed. Rydderch Hael established himself in Alclyde, or Dumbarton, as the first monarch of the kingdom of Cambria, or Strathclyde, embracing all the petty Cymric states from the Derwent to the Firth of Clyde, and recalled Kentigern from Wales to resume his ecclesiastical primacy over that region, as Bishop of Glasgow and Aedan was solemnly inaugurated king of Dalriada by St. Columba in the island of Iona.2
   The establishment of these kingdoms seems to have terminated the functions of the Guledig, and more thoroughly separated the north, or Y Gogled, from Wales, or Cymru--Rydderch Hael being now the monarch of the one, and Maelgwn Gwynedd of the other; but when we read in Bode of Aedan, the petty king of the small Scottish state of Dalriada, invading the kingdom of Bernicia in 603 at the head of an immense and mighty army, it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that he was for the time the Dux Bellorum, or Guledig, in the north, and had ranged under him the whole Celtic force of the country. Maelgwn, however, by this time must have been dead, the latest date assigned by any writer for the termination of his reign being 586. According to the Bruts he did not transmit his kingdom to his son, and the subsequent history, as given by Welsh authorities, is as follows:--Maelgwn was succeeded in the sovereignty of Britain by Caredig, and in Gwynedd, or North Wales, by Iago, son of Beli, his great-grandson. Under Caredig, the Cymry were finally driven by the Saxons across the Severn, and confined to Cornwall and Wales. Iago was slain in 603 by Cadavael, and was succeeded in North Wales by his son Cadvan, who joined Brochwel, Prince of Powis, and defeated Ethelfirth, king of Bernicia, on the banks of the Dee, in the year 607. Edwin, the son of Ella, had taken refuge with Cadvan, and was brought up along with his son Cadwallawn, who succeeded his father in the same year that Edwin obtained the throne--that is in 617. Cadwallawn was, after two years, expelled from his throne by Edwin, who defeated him in a great battle, and driven to Ireland; but after some years he obtained assistance from Salomon, king of Armorica, returned to Britain, and encountered Penda, king of Mercia, whom he defeated and took prisoner, but, having afterwards united with him, they jointly attacked Edwin, and defeated and slew him. During the reign of Oswald, Cadwallawn joined Penda in the war against him, which resulted in Oswald's defeat and death. He likewise took part in the war with his successor Oswy, when Penda was slain in 657, and died after a reign of forty-two years. This brings us to the year 659. Cadwaladyr succeeded him, and reigned twelve years, when the plague broke out in Britain, before which he fled to Armorica. The plague lasted eleven years, and these two periods bring us to the year 682. Cadwaladyr applies to Alan, king of Armorica, who sends his son Ivor, and his nephew Ynyr, with a large force, who carry on the war against the Saxons for twenty-eight years, while Cadwaladyr himself goes to Rome, where he dies. The date of his death is variously given in the Bruts as 12th May 687, 12th May 688, and 12th day before the kalends of May 689. It is necessary to give this narrative simply as we find it in the Bruts, without attempting to adjust it to the true history, as has been done in later authorities. The Brut y Brenhinoed terminates with the death of Cadwaladyr. The Brut y Tywysogion states that Ivor carried on the war for fifty-eight years, and was succeeded in 720 by Rodri Molwynog, son of Idwal Iwrch, son of Cadwaladyr.
   This narrative will not stand the test of a comparison with older authorities, and the attempts to bring them more into harmony have not been very successful. The connecting links are of course the battles, which are likewise recorded by Bede. The first battle, or that fought with Brochwel on the banks of the Dee, is mentioned by Bede without the date being given, but both the Chronicle of 977 and the Irish Annals of Tighernac agree in assigning it to the year 613. It is plain, however, from Bede's narrative, that the Britons were not the victors, but were defeated, and the death of Iago, son of Beli., is placed by both chronicles in the same year. The Welsh Chronicle records in 616 the death of Ceretic, so that it is probable that a king of that name did succeed Maelgwn in the sovereignty over all Wales. In the following year the Chronicle records, "Etguin incipit regnare," which likewise indicates the year of Cadwallawn's accession, who thus appears to have succeeded Ceretig in the sovereignty of Britain, while his father Cadvan had succeeded Iago in 613 in the kingdom of Gwynedd, and his not having possessed the sovereignty of all Wales will account for his not being mentioned in the Chronicle. The Welsh Chronicle records, in 629, "Obsessio Catguollauni regis in insula Glannauc," which may indicate the war between him and Edwyn.
   Bede narrates that, after a reign of seventeen years, Cadwalla, king of the Britons, rebelled against Edwin, being supported by Penda, a most warlike man of the royal race of the Mercians, and that a great battle was fought in the plain called Haethfelth, when Edwin was killed, on the 12th October 633, and all his army either slain or dispersed. This battle is called by Nennius "Bellum Meicen," in which he says Edwin and his sons were slain "ab exercitu Catguollauni regis Gwenedote regionis;" and the Welsh Chronicle records, in 630, "Gueith Meiceren et ibi interfectus est Etguin cum duobus filiis suis. Catguollaun autum victor fuit." Tighernac places it in 631, and says that Edwin was slain "a Chon rege Britonum et Panta Saxano."
   Bede tells us that a great slaughter was made of the church or nation of the Northumbrians, and that Cadwalla ravaged the whole country for a long time. The kingdom of Deira had devolved upon Osric, son of Edwin's uncle Elfric, and the kingdom of Bernicia upon Eanfred, the son of Ethelfrid, who had, during Edwin's life, lived in banishment among the Picts or Scots, but Cadwalla slew them both. Osric the next summer, and Eanfred after Cadwalla had ruled over Northumberland for an entire year. Bede then tells us that after the death of his brother Eanfred, Oswald advanced with an army, small indeed in number, but strengthened by the faith of Christ, and that the "impious commander of the Britons" (infandus Britonum dux) was slain, though he had most numerous forces, at a place called Denises-burn near the Roman wall.
   It has been assumed that this "infandus Britonum dux" was the same Cadwalla who had defeated Edwin, and that the Bruts misrepresent his history in continuing his reign through those of Oswald and Oswy when he was in reality slain in 634; but it is remarkable that while Bede names Cadwalla on every occasion when he has to record his previous acts, he does not do so here, but says simply that the "dux Britonum" was slain. Nennius calls this battle "Bellum Catscaul"--that is Cad ys guaul, the battle at the wall, and says the commander slain was "Catgublaun, rex Gwenedote regionis," while he calls Cadwalla, Catguollaun; and Tighernac still further varies the name, for in 632 he records a battle by Cathlon, "in quo Oswalt mac Etalfraith victor erat et Cathlon rex Britonum cecedit;" while he had named Cadwalla Chon in the previous year. There seems, therefore, some indication that the Cadwalla who defeated and slew Edwin, and the "dux Britonum" who was slain by Oswald, were different persons, and the probability is that the two kings--Cadvan king of Gwynedd, and Cadwallon king of Wales--reigned during some years together, that their real names approached each nearly in sound, and that it was Cadvan, the father, who was slain in 634, while the Bruts are in this instance not unworthy of credit in representing the reign of Cadwallawn, the son, as lasting many years longer. There is every reason to believe that he continued in successful hostility to the Angles at least as long as the war with Penda lasted, and the remark of Bede that the occupation of Northumbria by Cadwallawn was looked upon as so unhappy and hateful, that it had been agreed by all who have written about the reigns of kings to interdict the memory of those perfidious monarchs and to assign that year to the reign of the following king, Oswald, shows that there was a strong desire to suppress as much as possible the acts of Cadwallawn. It is therefore not unlikely that Cadwallawn assisted Penda in the war when Oswald was slain, and in the war between Oswy and Penda, in 655, when Penda was eventually slain. It is stated by Bede that Penda had thirty legions with him, led on by thirty commanders who had come to his assistance. Tighernac, in narrating the same event, calls them reges, and Nennius says that the "reges Britonum interfecti sunt, qui exierant, cum rege Pantha in expeditione," but that "solus autem Catgabail rex Guenedote regionis cum exercitu evasit de nocte consurgens." That the Britons largely assisted in this war is therefore plain, and by Catgabail here probably Cadwallawn is meant. His death four years after, in 659, as stated by the Bruts, seems to me, therefore, quite in accordance with probability.
   No such view, however, can be taken of the two subsequent reigns. In them, as stated by the Bruts, there are the obvious marks of fabrication. Cadwaladyr goes to Rome, where he dies on the 12th day before the kalends of May 689. Ceadwealla, king of the West Saxons--a Saxon by birth and descent--likewise goes to Rome, where he dies on the 20th of April 689; and the actions of Ivor, Cadwaladyr's successor on the throne of Wales, precisely correspond with those of Ina, Ceadwealla's successor on the throne of Wessex. There are, therefore, the obvious signs of artificial construction here, and the process seems to have been this:--The plague or pestilence before which Cadwaladyr is said to have fled to Armorica really took place, as we learn from Bede and Tighernac, in 664, and it did not last for eleven, but for only one year; and Nennius states explicitly that Cadwaladyr died in it. "Dum ipse (Osguid) regnabat venit mortalitas hominum, Catgualart regnante apud Britones post patrem suum et in ea periit." As Osguid or Oswy died in 670, there can be no doubt that the plague in 664 is meant; but in the Chronicle of 977, it is advanced nearly twenty years, and there we read, in 682--"Mortalitas magna fuit in Britannia in qua Catgualart filius Catguollaun obiit." When this chronicle is woven into still later chronicles, instead of "in qua Catgualart filius Catguollaun obiit," we read, pro qua Catwaladir filius Catwallaun in Minorem Britanniam aufugit;" and Geoffrey of Monmouth adds the pilgrimage to Rome, and his death there.
   The steps are plain enough. First., the plague and the death of Cadwaladyr in it, advanced from 664 to 682; and secondly, the death denied, and Cadwaladyr said to have retired to Armorica; and thirdly, the incident which really terminated the life of Ceadwealla of Wessex adopted and applied to that of Cadwaladyr.
   The motives which led to this fabrication are probably the same with those which led to the consensus of English historians to suppress the acts of Cadwalla. Cadwallawn was evidently a powerful king and had waged, in conjunction with Penda, a successful war against the Angles of Northumbria. For one year he had actually been in possession of the kingdom, and his successful career of upwards of twenty years must have raised the courage and the hopes of the, Cymry to the highest. Then came the disaster of 655, when Oswy crushed the combination against him, when Penda and most of his British auxiliaries were slain, and Cadwallawn only escaped with his life, and died four years after. The result of this victory was that Oswy brought the Britons into subjection under him--a subjection which continued during his reign and that of his successor Ecfrid, till the latter was slain in the battle of Dunnichen in 686, and as, in the case of Northumbria, the year of Cadwalla's occupation was added to the reign of Oswald, so the twenty years of this subjection was added, to the reign of Cadwaladyr. The fact that he had died in the pestilence was not altered, but the date of it was advanced from 664 to 682; and, subsequently, the death was denied, and he was said to have retired to Armorica, whence the Cymry looked for him to return and re-establish the supremacy over the Angles lost by the disaster of 655. When the battle of Dunnichen terminated this subjection, Bede records that, "Nonulla pars Britonum"--some but not all--recovered their liberty, and this part was the kingdom of the northern Britons of Cumbria, for the Chronicle of 977 records no king of Wales between the death of Cadwaladyr in 664 and that of Rodri in 754, when it has the entry, "Rotri rex Britonum moritur," but during that period records the deaths of the kings of Strathclyde. In 722, "Beli filius Elfin moritur;" and, in 750, "Teudubr filius Beli moritur." This interval was filled up by the fictitious reign of Ivor the events of which were taken from those of Ina, the successor of Ceadwealla.
   Rotri, or, as he is usually termed, Rodri Molwynog, was the first real king of Wales after the death of Cadwaladyr; and when the Chronicle of 977 records, in 722, "Bellum Hehil apud Cornuenses; Gueith Gartmailauc; Cat Pencon apud dextrales Brittones et Brittones victores fuerunt in istis tribus bellis," it probably narrates the successes which led to the termination of the subjection of the Britons to the Saxons, and the reestablishment of the Welsh kingdom in the person of Rodri. He died in 754, and was succeeded by his son Conan or Cynan Tindaethwy, whose death is recorded by the Welsh Chronicle in 816, "Cinan rex moritur," in whom the direct line of Cadwaladyr failed, and the marriage of his only daughter placed a new family on the throne.
   Her husband was Morvyn Frych, king of Manau; or, as he is designated in the Cyvoesi, o dir Manan, from the land of Manau.

Footnotes
1. For these identifications, see notice of the site of the battle of Ardderyd, Proc. Ant. Soct. vol. vi. p. 91.
2. I cannot help suspecting that the advantages held, out by the ecclesiastics were the main cause of uniting these Celtic leaders against the paganism of the country. Columba certainly made Aedan the first independent king of Dalriada, Kentigern was closely leagued with Rydderch, and the Maeldav of the Welsh Laws was probably an ecclesiastic who had undertaken to make Maelgwn supreme king of Wales by some stratagem cloaked under the fable of the floating chair.

1. For these identifications, see notice of the site of the battle of Ardderyd, Proc. Ant. Soct. vol. vi. p. 91.
2. I cannot help suspecting that the advantages held, out by the ecclesiastics were the main cause of uniting these Celtic leaders against the paganism of the country. Columba certainly made Aedan the first independent king of Dalriada, Kentigern was closely leagued with Rydderch, and the Maeldav of the Welsh Laws was probably an ecclesiastic who had undertaken to make Maelgwn supreme king of Wales by some stratagem cloaked under the fable of the floating chair.