Tag Archives: King Arthur

Brychan Brycheiniog

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Brychan Brycheiniog was born circa 419 AD and was the King of Brycheiniog. He was the son of King Anlach of Garthmadrun and Marchel. He was born in Ireland but soon after his birth moved with his parents to modern day Wales. At the age of four he was tutored by a holy man called Drichan by the River Ysgir

He was schooled for seven years and this is where a legend surrounding his future comes from. Just before the blind Drichan died he asked Brychan to bring with him his spear. With it he pointed to a nearby boar and stag that had come from the forest to stand with a fish by the river by a beech-tree dripping with honey and Drichan predicted a happy and abundant future for the young Brychan.

A few years later war broke out between Anlach and Banadl (the usurping Irish King of Powys). The fight didn’t go well for Anlach and Brychan was sent to Powys as hostage in order to protect their lands. Brychan was treated well at the Irish man’s court and fell madly in love with Banadl’s daughter Banhadlwedd. The match though was not a good one and not reciprocated. Brychan ended up taking Banhadlwedd by force. They had a son Cynog and Brychan gave the child a golden armilla as a sign of paternal recognition.

Back in Garthmadrun, Anlach had died and the Brychan was crowned the new king. His reign was a success just as Drichan had predicted and due to this success the people decided to rename the kingdom Brycheinog in Brychan’s honour. Brycahn married three times and it is said that he had 24 sons and 24 daughters. Together they are known as the ‘Holy Families of Britain. Brychan was known as a saintly king full of piety.

Despite his piety, Brychan was fierce warrior and known for defending his lands if the need arose. One of his eldest daughters Gwladys was abducted by King Gwynllyw of Gwynllwg. Brychan and his armies pursued them. A battle took place where it is said that many lives were lost. It is then said that the High-King Arthur intervened and acted as mediator between the two and they became reconciled.

On another occasion the King of Dyfed tried to raid Brycheiniog. When Brychen found out he raised his army and led them to victory expelling the raiding army from his lands. After the battle the dismembered limbs of the enemy were collected as trophies.

In old age Brychen is said to have abdicated the throne to become a hermit. He was succeeded in Brycheiniog by his eldest son Rhain Dremudd. Rhain’s line then ruled over the kingdom uninterrupted until the mid of the 7th Century.

So much of the stories of Brychen are shroud in legend and myth. It is hard to try and establish the fact from the fiction. An important note is that Brychen is important to the Arthurian story with him being mentioned as the reconciler in one of Brychen’s disputes.

The five Kings of Gildas.

Gildas a 6th Century cleric from Britain wrote and condemned five British Kings in his work ‘De Excidio et  Conquestu Britanniae.’  I have decided to try and take a closer look at each of these Kings.

Maelgwn (Maglocune) son of Cadwallon was King of Gwynedd during the 6th Century.  Surviving records suggest that he was held in high status amongst the Welsh British Kings, and also by his allies in along the Scottish coast.  He was a champion of Christianity funding new churches around modern Wales,, but this does not stop a scolding attack by Gildas who describes Maelgwn as an usurper and reprobate.After the collapse of Roman-Britain and Roman authority around the northern part of Wales, Irish Gaelic tribes  conquered most of the region.  The Kingdom of Gwynedd was reconquered by Maelgwn’s great-grandfather Cunedda Weldig.  Maelgwn’s father Cadwallon completed this destroying the last Irish settlements on Anglesey.  By tradition his court would have been held at Deganwy in the peninsula of Rhos.  It is also said that he died at nearby Llanrhos and was buried there.

Constantine is mentioned by Gldas as the King of Damnonia (properly Dummonia) a Brythonic Kingdom in Southwestern Britain.  Although there is an argument that Gikdas is in fact referring to the territory of the Damnonii in what went on to be known as Hen Ogledd (northern England and southern Scotland, or translated into English as ‘the Old North’).  Gildas describes a story where Constantine dresses as an abbot and goes on to kill two royal youths praying before a church altar.  This according to Gildas was not Constantine’s fist sin describing him as committing ‘many adulteries’ after casting off his lawful wedded wife.  It is presumed that Constantine was alive at the time Gildas wrote the De Excidiio as Gildas encourages Constantine to repent his many sins lest he be dammed.

Cuneglas (Latinised to Cueglasus) is recorded as the son of Owain Danwyn , who is a popular contented for the title of ‘The true King Arthur’.  Both father and son were Kings of Rhos, which later became part of Denbighshire in mid-North Wales.Gildas goes on to call Cuneglas ‘bear, you rider and ruler of many, and guider of the chariot which is the receptacle of the bear.’  It is this mention of the word bear, although using the animals of the Christian Apocalypse to describe his tyrants, bear also in Brythonic means ‘Arth’ and some scholars take this as a code for Arthur.

Aurelius Conanus, it is not known which part of Britain he ruled in  Gildas calls Aurelius ‘the lions whelp’ and goes on to say of Aurelius ‘horrible murders, fornications and adulteries, ’.  He beseeches him to repent his sins before he ends up like the rest of his family, who have already died pursuing similar ends.Geoffrey of Monmouth who takes a lot from Gildas’ work, goes on to state that he believed Aurelius to be a nephew of Constantine who is killed three years into his reign.  Another unnamed uncle of Aurelius takes the throne before Aurelius finally has the crown for himself and only reigning for two years to.

Vortiporius was King of Dyfed.  He ruled over an area roughly compromising modern day Pembrokeshire.  Gildas describes him as grey with age and his wife had died and they had at least one daughter. Vortiporius was not mentioned in Nennius work Historia Brittonum but again mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work Historia Regum Britanniae. A monument stone discovered at Castlell Dwyran shows the inscription ‘Memoria Voteporigis Protictoris’ which translates to Vortiporius the Protector.  This is meant to describe Vortiporius as protector or King over the local populace and could even be detailed of raids from Gaels from Ireland or other Kingdoms from in Wales itself.

gildas map

De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae

Gildas (c500-c570) was a 6th Century British Cleric and is one of the best documented figures from the Christian church in the British Isles from that time.  He has sometimes been called Gildas Sapiens, ‘Gildas the Wise’.  His major work of note, ‘De Excidio at Conquestu Britanniae’ contains narratives of the post Roman history of Britain and has been classed by some as the only substantial source for history of this period written by a near contemporary.

There are two versions of Gildas life written as the ‘ Lives of Gildas’.  The first was written in the 9th Century by a monk of Rhuys in Brittany, France, while the second was written by Caradoc of Llancarfan in the 12th Century.

The first life of Gildas, written by the unnamed monk, says that Gildas was the son of Camus (Caw), born in a district of Alt Clut in the Hen Ogledd, the Brythonic speaking region of northern Britain.  Alt Clut was the Brittonic name of the area around the modern Dumbarton Rock.  While Hen Ogledd, is a Welsh term for Northern England and Southern Scotland.  Gildas was entrusted into the care of St. Hildutus (Illtud) in the monastic college of Llan Illtud Fawr (near modern day Cardiff) along with Samson of Dol and Paul Aurelian.

To continue with his studies Gildas went to Iren (most scholars believe this to be Ireland, although some have muted it as Cirencester).  St. Brigadda (Bridget of Kildare died 524) asked Gildas for a token, to which he created a bell and sent this to her.  Ainmericus, High King of Ireland (between 566-569) asked Gildas to restore church order which he did.  He then travelled to Rome and to Ravenna and later to Brittany where he eventually settled at Rhuys.  At times during his life at Rhuys he would live in solitude and also built a monastery and an oratory on the bank of the River Blayetum (River Blavet).

Statue of Gildas near the village of Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys (France).

Statue of Gildas near the village of Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys (France).

Ten years after leaving Britain he wrote an epistolary book in which he reproved five of the British kings.  He died at Rhuys on 29th January and as per his wishes his body was laid in a boat on the river and allowed to drift down stream.  Three months after his body had been laid to rest in the river it was later found intact by workers from Rhuys. Gildas was then laid to rest and buried in Rhuys.

In contrast the Llancarfan story was written roughly 300 years later by Caradoc.  Caradoc was friends with Geoffery of Monmouth.  Geoffrey wrote Historia Regum Brtanniae which is popular with the legends of King Arthur. The Llancarfan life reads that Gildas was educated in Gaul and then latter retired to a heritage dedicated to the Trinity in Street, near Glastonbury.  He was buried at Glastonbury Abbey, which is also entwined with the legends of Arthur.

Caradoc tells a story of how Gildas intervened between King Arthur and a certain King Melwas of the ‘Summer County’ (Gwalad yr Haf, Somerset) who had abducted Guinevere and brought her to his stronghold at Glastonbury.  Arthur then travelled to Glastonbury with an army and set to besiege the stronghold.  Gildas persuaded Melwas to surrender Guinevere and on her return Arthur lifted the siege.  Caradoc also writes how the brothers of Gildas rose up against Arthur and refused to accept him as their lord.  Arthur chased the eldest brother Huail ap Caw was killed by Arthur.  Gildas at the time was preaching in Armagh, Ireland and was said to be greatly grieved by the news.  The story of Arthur and Huail was popular at the time and also appeared in the 12th Century Welsh prose tale ‘Culhwch and Olwen’.

According to the dates in the Annales Cambriae Gildas would have been a contemporary of King Arthur.  Although the biggest part that makes me wonder regarding the Llancarfan story and how much truth is spin into the story is that Gildas does not mention Arthur in any of his works.  The Annales Cambriae also gives the date of his death as 570 although the Annals of Tigernach give the year as 569.

Gildas is thought to have lived as a hermit for many years on Flatholm Island in the Bristol Channel.  It was during this time according to Welsh scholars he is said to have preached to Nonnita, the mother of St. David while she was pregnant with the future Saint.  He is also said to be responsible for many of the conversations in Ireland due to his many visits and missionary work he is said to have carried out.

A tradition in North Wales places the beheading of the before mentioned brother Huail at Ruthin.  In Ruthin town square there is a stone that is said to be the same stone used for the execution.   Another brother Celyn ap Caw is said to have been based in the north east corner of Anglesey.

Some state that Gildas is also believed to be the teacher of Finnan of Moville who was in turn the teacher of St. Columba of Iona.

Spring of St Gildas, Magoar, Brittany

Spring of St Gildas, Magoar, Brittany

Gildas’ greatest work ‘De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae;’ was a sermon in three different parts.  Although not written as a piece on history it is one of the only written sources from this period and therefore greatly significant when looking at the history of the period.  It was regularly believed that Gildas wrote his piece during the 540s but it is now regarded that quite possibly it was written earlier in the first quarter of the 6th Century and even possibly earlier than this.  One of the first descriptions of the Hadrians and Antonine Walls are both given in the work, although the history given for both is highly inaccurate.

In the work Gildas gives his date of birth as the same year as the Battle of Mons Badonicus which might of taken place in 482 AD.

The first part consists of an explanation for his work and a brief narrative of Roman Britain from its conquest to the time of Gildas.  It includes a mention of Ambrosius  Aurelianus and the Brition’s victory against the Saxon at the Battle of Mons Badonixus.  The De Excidio is the earliest source that has Ambrosius Aurelianus as an important figure for the Britons who is credited with turning the tide against the Anglo-Saxons conquest of the island.

The second part is a condemnation of five different British kings and is the only contemporary source regarding them.  Gildas describes the Kings as the allegorical beasts from the Christian Apocalypse and the biblical Book of Daniel. The same animals (a lion, a leopard, a bear and a dragon) are later used in less detail in the Book of Revelation.

The Kings mentioned are;

  • Constantine; the tyrannical whelp of the unclean lioness of Dramnonia.’
  • ‘thou lion’s whelp Aurelius Conanus
  • Vortipore….who like to the spotted leopard….tyrant of the Demetians’
  • Cuneglasse…thou bear’
  • ‘dragon of the island….maglocune

In his condemnation Gildas also mentions the other beasts mentioned in the Apocalypse, such as the eagle, serpent, calf and wolf.  Gildas’ reasons for disaffection with the individuals is unknown.

The third part begins with the words ‘Britain has priests, but they are fools; numerous ministers, but they are shameless; clerics, but they are wily plunderers’.  Gildas continues to attack the clergy of the time in the third part but does not mention any names, so does not cast any light of the history of the Christian Church in Britain at the time.

Gildas’ work is important because it gives us an insight into the feelings and thoughts of the time .  Future writers such as Bebe, Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth all take parts of their own writings from the De Excidio.  Also it shows that at the time of his writing that there was an effective Christian Church in Britain and in places as Roman citizens.  By the . time of St. Augustine’s arrival in Kent in 597, England was ruled by pagan Anglo-Saxons who did not see themselves as Romans.

To be able exactly Gildas’ work would assist with trying to pinpoint the transition from post Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England.  Although this can’t be done the work of Gildas is very important especially to people interested about post Roman Britain as not many pieces have survived from the period making it so much harder to pinpoint such events.