The two Macsen Wledigs

The name Macsen Wledig has been applied to two distinct persons. The first individual appears in gen. -8 of HG 2b as Maxim gulecic, see Why Bartrum’s dating … . I believe this individual can be identified with the Roman emperor Constantius Chlorus as explained in the above link.

The opening lines of The Dream of Macsen Wledig from Pen. 4.

The opening lines of The Dream of Macsen Wledig from Pen. 4. (The National Library of Wales)

The Pen. 16 version of The Dream of Maxen Wledig only describes the story up to his stay in Britain. The version in Pen. 4 of the White Book of Rhydderch speaks about his return to Rome, but this continuation is actually referring to the second Macsen.

This is the Western Roman emperor Magnus Maximus born c. 335. He appears in gen. -5 as in the following fragment from JC 13.

Gen. JC 13b
2 Cyndwr Fendigaid
1 Owain
0 Cyngar
-1 Protec
-2 Owain
-3 Miser
-4 Custennin
-5 Macsen Wledig
-6 Maximianus
-7 Constantinus Mawr
-8 Constantius Elen

Cyndwr Fendigaid is St. Kentigern who was the son of Owain ap Cyngar and not Owain ab Urien Rheged. The table is in accord with the birth of Constantius Chlorus’s wife, Helena, between 248 and 250.[1]

[1] Harbus, A., 2002, 13.
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Arthur and Urien

The evidence for Arthur being a genuine historical figure is very similar to that for Urien. Both appear in the Welsh pedigree lists, Arthur in HG 2 and Urien in HG 8.

Gen. HG 2 HG 8
1 Nowy Urien Rheged
0 Arthur Cynfarch Oer
-1 Pedr Meirchion Gul

That Urien became incorporated into the Arthurian cycle is not necessarily a creation of the High Medieval writers since Urien belonged to gen. 1. Taliesin was a contemporary of Arthur and Urien. It is, consequently, not suprising that he wrote praise poetry about both, in The Chair of the Sovereign and Urien of Yrechwydd respectively.

St. Kentigern, who died in 614 according to the AC, was incorrectly identified with Cyndeyrn Garthwys, a grandson of Urien. I believe Kentigern was Cyndeyrn Fendigaid of gen. 1. This assertion is given support by the V. Kentigerni 24 which describes how a king called Melconde Golganu attempted to stop Kentigern from constructing a monastery. The king is identified as Maelgwn Gwynedd who belonged to gen. 0 and so could well have interacted with Kentigern.

The year of Kentigern’s birth can be determined with reasonable certainty. He is said to have died in 612 or 603. The latter date is more likely as his death occurred on 13 January on a Sunday. He is said to have lived 185 years which is likely to be an error for 85 years, giving a birthdate of 518.

Gen. ABT 18a ByS G 18
3 Cyndeyrn Garthwys
2 Owain
1 Cyndeyrn Fendigaid Urien Rheged
0 Owain Cynfarch Oer
-1 Cyngar Meirchion Gul

This confusion can be seen in triad 1 which describes Cyndeyrn as Chief of Bishops in the North but gives him the wrong cognomen, i.e. Garthwys.[1] The error may have resulted in further misidentifications as indicated in the above table below.

Gen. Corrupted list
ByS G 18
3  Cyndeyrn Fendigaid Cyndeyrn Garthwys
2 Owain Owain
1 Urien Rheged
0 Cyngar Cynfarch Oer

However, Cyngar (Hound love) and Cynfarch (Hound horse), the name of Urien’s father, are not the same.

I believe that doubt has been created concerning Arthur’s existence because of the supernatural stories built around him by later writers. This sort of phenomenon has similarly cast doubt, in the minds of some, on the historicity of Jesus.

[1] Bromwich, R., 2006, 1

Gwyddno Garanhir

Maes Gwyddno (The plain of Gwyddno) was a lowland area protected by a number of dykes which were managed by a individual named Seithennin, possibly its king. However, one night he failed in his duty through being too drunk and the land was drowned. This area, also known as Cantre’r Gwaelod, is said to be in Cardigan Bay near Aberdyfi.[1]

The region was named after Gwyddno Garanhir (Gwyddno Long-shank). Although Bartrum maintained that he was a legendary character, I believe we can identify him as a historical figure. The following table is a composite one.

Gen. BGG 10, 11
1 Elffin
0 Gwyddno
-1 Cawrdaf
-2 Garmonion
-3 Dyfnwal Hen
-4 Ednyfed
-5 Macsen Wledig

Gen. 1 to -3 are from BGG 10, gen. -4 to -5 are from a fragment of BGG 11. Gwyddno Garanhir appears in gen. 0 and his supposedly legendary son, Elffin, in gen. 1. As explained by Wolcott the Dyfnwal Hen in this pedigree was a different individual to that in the pedigree of the kings of Strathclyde.[2]

The prose Hanes Taliesin describes how Elffin discovered the child Taliesin. Elffin and Maelgwn, the king of Gwynedd, are contemporaries in this story and this is consistent with the fact that former belonged to gen. 1 and the latter to gen. 0. Maelgwn’s son, Rhun, plays a role in the tale which suggests he and Elffin belonged to the same generation, and this is in line with the above chronology.

When the bard Taliesin was 13 years of age he visited Maelgwn Gwynedd, who we are told was Elffin’s uncle, and correctly predicted Maelgwn’s imminent death. The AC tells us Maelgwn died of the plague in 547 and so we may conclude Taliesin was born c. 534.

[1] Rhys, J., 1901, 382
[2] Ancient Wales Studies > Anwn Dynod ap Maxen Wledig

Dating the Arthurian age

If we are to place Arthur in a historical context the first task needs be to identify the period in which he lived. This is given in the AC by the dates of his two most significant battles: the victory at Badon in the year 518 and the defeat at Camlan in 539.

Is it possible to verify this time period? The chronicle of his enemy, the ASC, makes no mention of these battles. This is not surprising as far as Badon is concerned since the Saxons would have preferred their defeats to be forgotten but it is surprising that Camlan is not mentioned, unless this was an internecine battle between the Britons.

Nennius, in his HB provides a clue for the dating of Badon:

“Hengist having died, however, his son Octha crossed from the northern part of Britain to the kingdom of Kent and from him are descended the kings of Kent. Then Arthur along with the kings of Britain fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the military commander [“dux bellorum”].”[1]

After the above quote Nennius lists Arthur’s 12 battles, culminating in Badon, and following that the reign of Ida. The ASC states Aesc succeeded Hengist in 488 and so Arthur’s battles occurred sometime after that date. Gildas speaks of a period of relative peace after Badon and says that the interval was of such length that the generation that had known the turmoils had passed away. The ASC indicates after 547, the start of Ida’s reign, there was no state of peace. If we now deduct 30 years, an approximate length of one generation, from the start of Ida’s reign we arrive at a date close to that given by the AC for Badon, namely 518.

Bede in his HE when giving Ethelbert’s genealogy indicates Octa was a son of Oisc and a grandson of Hengist. This contradiction with the HB may be explained by an earlier reference in that document which says that Hengist sends for his son Octa and Octa’s brother Ebissa. I believe the latter person may have been Oisc who was in reality, as Bede states, Octa’s father.

The GRA gives additional information concerning Oisc that he reigned for 24 years. We may, therefore, conclude Octa succeeded him in the year 512. It follows that Arthur’s 12 battles occurred between the years 512 and 518. The Saxons’ catastrophic defeat in the latter year may explain Octa’s absence from the ASC.

[1] Halsall, P., 1998.