The Adventus Saxonum in the Historia Brittonum

The Historia Brittonum contains a number of statements which allow us to date the Adventus Saxonum:

“Vortigern, however, held power in Britain in the consulate of Theodosius and Valentinian and in the fourth year of his reign the Saxons came to Britain, in the consulship of Felix and Taurus, and in the four hundredth year from the incarnation of our lord Jesus Christ.”

The first consulate of Theodosius II and Valentinian III was in the year 425. That this was the start of Vortigern’s reign is plausible since he was of gen. -3. This would suggest he was probably in his 30s when crowned king. The passage suggests the Adventus occurred in the year 428 which was, indeed, the year of the consulship of Flavius Felix and Flavius Taurus. The last element of the text may be reconciled with this date by suggesting incarnation was an error for Christ’s Passion.

In the Chronicon Britannicum we see the Adventus incorrectly placed one Metonic cycle later in the year 447, see The Adventus Saxonum in the Chronicon Britannicum. The events of 425 and 428 listed in the HB may have been swapped in the mind of the author when he wrote:

“Also, from Stilicho to Valentinian son of Placidia, and the reign of Vortigern 28 years.”

as Flavius Stilicho was consul for the first time in 400.


Cath Palug

The poem Pa Gur in the Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin talks of the fight between Cei and Cath Palug, Palug’s cat. Bromwich states:

Cath Baluc is probably to be associated with the murchata or monstrous sea-cats of Irish tradition.”[1]

Murchata may have derived from the Irish name Murchadh which appears in the last line of Triad 15:

“Three Roving Fleets of the Island of Britain:

The Fleet of Llawr son of Eiryf
and the Fleet of Divwng son of Alan,
and the Fleet of Solor son of Murthach”

Note, Bromich writes:

“The spelling with –th– in place of –ch– in the triad and elsewhere would be a simple transposition.”[2]

Bromwich suggests all three fleets belonged to Irish raiders.[3] Cath Palug represents the leader of one of these marauding fleets. Muredach was the son of Eogan who was the son of Niall Noigiallach. As, Murthach would have been born about a century after Niall it is likely he would have been a contemporary of Cei and Arthur.

[1] Bromwich, R., 2006, 474.
[2] Ibid., 455.
[3] Ibid., 30.

The three Merlins

As first stated by Giraldus Cambrensis, Merlin of the Historia Regum Britanniae was not the same individual as Myrddin Caledonius.[1] But whereas he stated there were two Merlins in fact there were three.

Gildas’s Ambrosius Aurelianus was known to the Welsh as Emrys Wledig. Geoffrey or a later copyist called him Ambrosius Merlinus. This Merlin was a boy during Gwrtheyrn’s reign and so belonged to gen -2. His father is likely to have been Constantine III. His mother may have been Gwledyr ferch Clydwyn. If so, his name appears in ABT 18d as Amwerydd ap Custennin.

Emrys was the father of Uthr Bendragon and not his brother as claimed by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Also, Geoffrey created a doublet of Emrys by inverting the two Latin elements and thus producing the name for this supposed brother as Aurelius Ambrosius.

The second Merlin was An, the son of a daughter of Helig ap Glannog, see Myrddin Emrys, and consequently of gen. -1. He was the one who articulated the prophecy in HRB VII 3 and was involved in the deception played on Eigr.

The third Merlin is he of the Vita Merlini, known as Myrddin Caledonius, son of Morfryn and king of Dyfed. His sister, Ganieda, was married to Rhydderch Hael who was of gen. 0, see Rhydderch Hael and Rhydderch Hen. He may well have been a contemporary of the adult Arthur, being of gen. 1.

It is generally held that the name Merlin was created to avoid the association with the Latin equivalent of Myrddin, namely Merdinus. However, in reality, the name originated in the HRB as a corruption of Aurelianus.

[1] Rhys, E., 1908, 125.

Myrddin Emrys

Gen. PP1 63 seg. MG 3 seg. HG 16a seg. ByS L 42 seg. PP1 12
4 Seissyllt Eorf Caurtam Braint hir
3 Kynvynn Kaenawc Serguan Nevydd
2 Kynann kanhysgwydd Tegonwy Letan Geraint
1 Sawyl velyn Teon Catleu Garanawc
0 Mevric brenin Dyfed Gwineu Catel Glewddigar
-1 Maredudd brenin Dyfed Howyr leu Decion An Kynwas
-2 Predri How dec Cinis scaplaut [daughter] Rychwin varfoc
-3 Pliws hen brenhin Dyved Run rudpaladyr Lou hen Helic Helic
-4 Llara Guidgen Glynnawc Glanawc
-5 Kasnar wledic Caratauc
-6 Gwynn gohoyw Gloyw gwlat lydan Cinbelin
-7 Tenewan Teuhant

The genealogical table above exhibits the names as they appear in the various manuscripts. The name in gen. 0 of the list PP1 63 is Meurig who the document states was present at Arthur’s coronation. This is in accord with some other manuscripts, including the Brut y Brenhinedd :

“And before him [Arthur] were four men bearing four naked swords (namely Arawn Kynvarch’s son, King of Albany, and Caswallaun Longhand, King of Venedotia, and Merrick King of Demetia, and Cador Earl of Cornwall), for this was their privilege by the custom of the emperor.”

The name in gen. -2 is the Demetian Pryderi, son of Pwyll and Rhiannon, and the main character of the Four Branches of the Mabinogion. The name exhibits a number of variations including: Blitri, Bletri, Bledri and Bledri hir. I believe this is the individual that Robert de Boron called Blaise. That he should be the grandfather of a contemporary of Arthur, tallies with the belief that his foster-son, Merlin, should be at least one generation earlier than Arthur.

Bromwich says of Blaes, son of the Earl of Llychlyn, one of the Three Just Knights in Arthur’s Court mentioned in triad 6 of the Pedwar Marchog ar Hugain:

“The name appears to be derived from that of the hermit Bla(i)se in the Prose Merlin …”[1]

The triad states:

“Blaes [preserves justice] by earthly Law …”

This corresponds well to the fact that Blaise defended Merlin’s mother in court.

Confirmation of this analysis is provided by Le chevalier aux deux epées which gives Maredudd of gen -1 the form Mériadeuc and states that he is the son of Bleheri, a name which corresponds to Blaise. Bromwich gives the following footnote:

“K.Jackson discussed the name Bledhericus as a latinization of Ml.W. Bleddri (‘king of wolves’) in a brief note in Les Romans du Graal dans les litteratures des XIIc et XIIIc siècles (Paris, 1956), p. 148. In this he showed that the Welsh name Bleddri becomes easily corrupted to Bleri and then by assimilation to Breri and Bleheris in the continental romances.”[2]

Clearly, if this process could have occurred with the name of Bleddri ap Cydifor then it could also have occurred with Bledri ap Pwyll.

According to the First Branch of the Mabinogion, Pryderi was married to Cigfa, the daughter of Gwyn Gohoyw, son of Gloyw Walltlydan, son of Casnar Wledig. The last two names appear in reverse order in MG 3. However, whichever scheme is correct, Run rudpaladyr of gen. -3 would have been a brother of Gwyn Gohoyw and uncle to Cigfa, confirming the chronological correlation between PP1 63 and MG 3.

Further confirmation of the soundness of the dating is provided by HG 16a which shows Lleu Llaw Gyffes in gen. -2 and his uncle Gwydion, who killed Pryderi, in gen. -3. Note, Cadlew of gen. 1 appears in the HRB IX 12 as Cathleus map Catel and as being present at Arthur’s coronation.

After listing the 7 sons of Helig ap Glannog, not shown in the table above, and mentioning the submerged kindom, ByS L 42 states:

“… ac Anan ap y lleian nai uabchwaer.”

This is similar to the first verse in stanza 17 of Pen. 98B:

“Bedd Ann ap lleian ym newais fynydd,
lluagor llew Ymrais,
Prif ddewin Merddin Embrais.”

This is an englyn penfyr. The rhyme is at the 8th syllable of verse 1 and at the end of the other two verses. The “fynydd”, the final word of line 1, is an addendum known as a gair cyrch. “Lluagor” may be a description of Myrddin’s military skill or a reference to his birth occurring at the same time as that of a certain war-horse. The stanza says “newais” is the name of a mountain, perhaps, it is the Welsh equivalent of Gaelic “Nibheis”, as in Ben Nevis. There is, however, one problem, namely the first verse should contain 11 syllables. It is conjectured that the first line was originally:

“Bedd An anap lleian ym newais fynydd”

The text appears in a number of corrupted forms.

Corruption sequence one: An anap → Ananap → Ananan.
Corruption sequence two: An anap → Ananap → Annap → Airap.
Corruption sequence three: An anap → Ananap → Annap → Ann ap.

“Ananan” appears in ByS K, M 42, “Airap” appears in an englyn milwr transcription and “Ann ap” appears in the englyn penfyr transcription shown above. So, a translation of the text would be:

“The grave of An, the misfortune of the nun, on Ben Nevis,
Host-splitter, lion of Emrais,
Chief magician, Myrddin Emrys.”

Confirmation that the generational dating for ByS L 42 is correct is provided by PP1 12 which shows the descendants of Glannog who was the great-grandfather of Anan, this being the diminutive form for An. One of these is Braint Hir who was a nephew of Cadwallon ap Cadfan and consequently correctly appears in gen. 4.

[1] Bromwich, R., 2006, 289.
[2] Ibid., xciv.


Why Ossa was not Osla Gyllellfawr

The identification of Osla Gyllellfawr with Ossa, grandfather of Ida, king of Bernicia, as suggested by corrupted late entries in the Bonedd y Saint, shown below, is incorrect:

Gen. ByS 70 ByS 71 JC20 17 seg.
4 Eda Glynuawr Tegyth
3 Osswallt Oswydd aelwyn Gwynbei drahavvc Ceit
2 Mwc Mawr Drevydd Douc
1 Ydolorec vrenin Offa kyllellvawr Llewarch hen

The names given in the above chart are in the manuscript form. The first two individuals in ByS 70 are Oswald and his brother Oswiu, wrongly shown as his father but corrected in the above table. The third name would then be their grandfather, the Bernician Æthelric, wrongly shown as Oswiu’s father and this has also been corrected for. An alternative interpretation, which would be correct in terms of parentage, would be Oswine son of Osric son of the Deiran Æthelric.

Bartrum maintained the first name in ByS 71, Eda Glinfawr, is Æthelric’s father, Ida. However, that is impossible since Eda can safely be placed in gen. 4, more than a century after Ida. This conclusion is arrived at by noting Eda was the grandson of Mwng Mawr Drefydd who was in conflict with Mechydd ap Llywarch Hen. Llywarch can safely be placed in gen. 1. Furthermore, as Ossa was Ida’s grandfather he would have been far too early to be a contemporary of Arthur.

It would seem that the author of ByS 71 added cognomens that did not actually apply to Eda and Offa but instead belonged to other individuals with similar names. So, Glinfawr came from the name of the father of Ecgbert of York, Eata glinmawr, mentioned in HB 61. Likewise, Offa’s cognomen derived from that of Esla, see Dating the Wessex generations.

Melville Richards’ identification of the 8th C Offa of Mercia is unlikely for the chronological reason.[1] Also, the dissimilarity in the names suggests it is doubtful that Osla was the Kentish Ochta as suggested by Idris Llewelyn Foster.[2]

[1] Richards, M., 1948, 46.
[2] Foster, I. L., 1961, 42.

Dating the Wessex generations

Below is a table that dates the Wessex genealogies up to Alfred’s time.

Gen. Reign Obit Gen. obit Deviation
18 Alfred 899 889 10
17 Æthelwulf 858 862 -4
16 Egbert 839 836 3
12 Ine 728 729 -1
11 Cædwalla 688 702 -3
10 Centwine 685 676 -14
9 Cynegils 642 649 9
8 Ceolwulf 611 622 -11
7 Ceawlin 588 596 -8
6 Cynric 581 569 12
5 Creoda/Cerdic 554 542 12
4 Elesa/Esla 516
3 Giwis/Wig 489
2 Brond 462
1 Bældæg 436
0 Woden 409

The generations have been arrived at by using the following structure:

Yorke, B., 2003

Each generation has been dated using the obit of the individual ruler who died last in that particular generation. So, for example Alfred’s obit has been used rather than those of his brothers. With Saxon pedigrees, unlike Welsh ones where the crown generally passed down to the next generation, it was not unusual for it to go to a sibling. There are gaps in the generations, for example between Egbert of gen. 16 and Ine of gen. 12 as we do not have the obits of the intervening rulers. Note, the obits of Ceawlin, Cynric and Cerdic are not those indicated by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle but instead the values obtained by Dumville’s correction. The zero generation is that ascribed to Woden, unlike the tables for the British kings which uses Arthur’s generation. The two sets cannot be synchronised since they use differing step-sizes.

The analysis shows that for Wessex the generation step-size was 26.7 years. The deviation column shows how far the individuals obit differs from that ascribed to the generation to which he belongs. Most deviations should be less than half a step-size and indeed this is the case.

Cotton MS Tiberius B V 1 British Library

As Sisam noted Elesa/Esla and Giwis/Wig are alliterative pairs for the same individuals. To this list has been added another pair, namely Creoda/Cerdic. The generation obit values for Elesa to Woden are estimated values using the step-size given above. It will be noted that Esla was a contemporary of Arthur. This together with the similarity of names allows us to be fairly confident that he was Osla Gyllellfawr. Sisam points out that the name Esla is unknown in English.[1] This may indicate its British origin. He says Elesa is also unknown unless it is etymologically the same as Elsa in Widsith.[2]

The postulate that there were two Wessex dynasties resolves the paradox that although the ASC tells us Wessex originated from the South coast with Cerdic, the oldest Saxon sites are around the upper Thames valley and the founder was a Giwis.

[1] Stanley, E. G., 1990, 164.
[2] Sisam, K., 1953, 302.

Arthurian connections with Ewyas and Ergyng

In Culhwch ac Olwen,during his chase, Twrch Trwyth killed Llygadrudd Emys and Gwrfoddw, Arthur’s uncles, his mother’s brothers. The latter name appears in that of Gwrfoddw Hen, king of Ergyng, but he appears to be a later ruler. However, Welsh dynasties often preserved the same name, so Gwrfoddw Hen may have been a descendant. This suggests Eigr, Gwrfoddw’s sister, could have come from that region.

Ergyng may have covered parts of Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire. The Brut y Brenhinedd calls Eudaf, an ancestor of Arthur, as “Eudaf yarll ergig ac euas”, that is Earl of Ewyas and Ergyng. However, Geoffrey refers to him anachronistically as “Octavius dux Wisseorum”, presumably the territorial name being derived from Welsh Ewyas.

Magnus Maximus had a daughter, named Sevira, by Elen, daugther of Eudaf. It was through Gwrtheyrn’s marriage with Sevira that he gained control of the territory that was to become known as Ewyas. Geoffrey referred to him as the “Consol Gewissiorum”. He invited Germanic warriors to settle in the Abingdon area to help defend attacks on his territory in Ergyng. The ASC confuses this event with the later settlement in Kent. The name for Gwent is easily confused with that for Kent. Gwrtheyrn locating the Gewisse, a Saxon tribe, in the upper Thames valley made logistical sense, as his opponent, Emrys Wledig i.e. Aurelius Ambrosius, was based in the Wiltshire area. Located in that county is the village of Amesbury, formerly known as “Ambres byrig” in the Cartularium Saxonicum.[1] It is likely that the East Wansdyke earthwork was built by the Britons as a defense against attack from the north.

Cerdic is attributed in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as the founder of the Wessex dynasty. However, as Dumville has pointed out, his reign started later than the chronicle suggests. In fact, he belonged to a second Wessex dynasty. The first dynasty was founded by the eponymous ruler, Wig/Giwis, the two names being, as Sisam explains, alliterative pairs. His reign was followed by that of Esla/Elesa. The latter is known as Osla Gyllellfawr, whose defeat by Arthur brought the first Wessex dynasty to an end. For obvious reasons, this disaster goes unmentioned in the ASC.

[1] Birch, W. de G., 1887, 178.