BEFORE ARTHUR: AMBROSIUS,
CUNEDDA AND VORTIGERN
Aurelius Ambrosius, said to be a Roman, is the most famous figure in Dark Age British history prior to Arthur. Why? Because he is credited with having united the Britons in a successful defense of the country against the Saxons, who from Vortigern’s time had, according to the traditional account, pillaged and conquered at will.
Ambrosius is important also because it has been fashionable to identify him with Arthur. As we shall see, such an identification is patently impossible.
To begin, Ambrosius was not a contemporary of Arthur. He was not, in fact, even a contemporary of Vortigern, who preceded Arthur by a century. And this is true despite the HB account, which brings Vortigern and Ambrosius (as the Welsh Emrys) together for a fabulous story that takes place at Dinas Emrys in northwestern Wales (see below).
There are major problems with accepting Ambrosius as a contemporary of Vortigern. First, he cannot have been a Roman and been in Britain during or after Vortigern’s rule. The withdrawal of the Romans is firmly dated at c. 409 CE. Vortigern’s ruling dates, depending on the sources consulted, are anywhere from twenty to forty years after the Roman withdrawal. If he were a Roman during or after Vortigern, then he came from the Continent and was not a native Briton. The argument could be made that ‘Romanized’ Britons continued to preserve the Roman way of life in southern England for a half century after the withdrawal of the troops. In this sense, a chieftain like Ambrosius might still consider himself to be ‘Roman’.
However, the HB tells us that Ambrosius fought a battle against a certain Vitalinus at a Guoloph or Wallop, thought to be the Hampshire Wallop. This Vitalinus is listed in the HB as the grandfather of Vortigern. This means that Ambrosius has wrongly been placed in the time of Vortigern. He actually belongs to the time of Vitalinus, who was probably of the 4th century.
The father of the famous 4th century St. Ambrose bore the name Aurelius Ambrosius. This man was, furthermore, the prefect or governor of Gaul (Gallia). Britain, Spain and Gaul were in the Gallic prefecture. So, we have here a historical figure named Aurelius Ambrosius who not only was a true ‘Roman’, but who could have had something to do with military operations carried out in Britain in the 4th century.
There is good reason to believe that St. Ambrose himself bore the name Aurelius. Jones' Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire gives no second name for the bishop of Milan and neither does Paulinus of Milan's Vita. Ambrose may have belonged to the gens Aurelia, as we know that he was related to Symmachus [Quintus Aurelius Symmachus]; an inscription refers to him as Aurelius Ambrosius. It is true that there is a debate over the Ambrose referred to in the inscription. Those who think it is Ambrose junior [St. Ambrose] point out that a dedication to St. Nazarius is involved. The point may be moot: if Ambrose senior belonged to the gens Aurelia, so did the son, and vice versa.
One other factor strongly indicates that there is no good historical reason for accepting a 5th century Aurelius Ambrosius in Britain. Vortigern’s only interaction with Ambrosius, or Emrys Guletic (‘Prince Ambrosius’) as he is called in Welsh tradition, is in the Dinas Emrys folktale already alluded to above.
Other than Dinas Emrys, there appears to be no site in Britain which can be shown to contain the personal name Ambrosius. Still, this hero may even have been placed at Guoloph/Wallop because of the proximity of this stream to Amesbury. As Geoffrey of Monmouth did much later, Ambrosius's name was fancifully associated with Amesbury.
The town name does not, in fact, seem to contain the personal name Ambrosius. Its etymology is instead as follows:
Ambresbyrig, from a c.880 CE charter, then various spellings to Amblesberie in Domesday. Almost certainly a personal name Ambre or Aembre cognate with the Old German Ambri, hence Ambre's burgh, cf. Ombersley. All the early forms for Amesbury have the medial -b-, but no form has any extension that would justify derivation from Ambrosius.
Ambrosius as a Latin adjective means “the Divine or Immortal One”. As such, it was at some point taken to be a title for the Welsh god Lleu. Welsh tradition made Lleu the ancient ruler of Gwynedd, and this is the rank granted to Emrys or Ambrosius in the HB. Hence Dinas Emrys in northwestern Wales, the ‘[Hill-] fort of the Divine or Immortal One’, is actually the Fort of Lleu.
The Welsh also appear to have identified the youthful god Mabon with Lleu. That this is so is demonstrated by the placement of the two gods in death at the same place. According to the Mabinogion tale Math Son of Mathonwy, Lleu is found as the death-eagle in the oak tree at Nantlle (Nant Lleu) in Snowdonia not far from Dinas Emrys. And one of the Stanzas of the Graves reads:
“The grave on Nantlle’s height, No one knows its attributes – Mabon son of Modron the Swift.”
In Chapter 6, we will discuss Emrys’s Campus Elleti, supposedly a site in southern Wales, in the context of Camelot.
Geoffrey of Monmouth proceeded to further confuse the story of Ambrosius, a Roman governor of Gaul mistakenly identified with a Welsh god, by identifying both with the Northern Myrddin or Merlin. Hence we find Merlin or ‘Merlin Ambrosius’ in the Dinas Emrys story of Emrys/Lleu/Mabon.
In addition, Merlin is placed at the springs of Galabes, Geoffrey’s attempt at the Guoloph of the hero Ambrosius.
In conclusion, we can only say that there is no good reason for supposing that Vortigern and Ambrosius were contemporaries. Instead, the Ambrosius mentioned by Gildas as having military success in Britian must have been the 4th century Gallic governor of that name. This being the case, Ambrosius could not possibly have been the victor at the battle of Mount Badon, which is dated 516 CE. And, by extension, Ambrosius was not Arthur.
The great Cunedda, called Cunedag (supposedly from *Cunodagos, ‘Good Hound’) in the Historia Brittonum, is said to have come down (or been brought down) from Manau Gododdin, a region around the head of the Firth of Forth, to Gwynedd. This chieftain and his sons then, according to the account found in the HB, proceeded to repulse Irish invaders. Unfortunately, this tradition is largely mistaken. To prove that this is so, we need to begin by looking at the famous Wroxeter Stone, found at the Viroconium Roman fort in what had been the ancient kingdom of the Cornovii, but which was the kingdom of Powys in the Dark Ages.
The Wroxeter Stone is a memorial to a chieftain named Cunorix son of Maquicoline. This stone has been dated c. 460-75 CE. Maquicoline is a composite name meaning Son [Maqui-] of Coline. The resemblance here of Cunorix and Coline to the ASC's Cynric and his son Ceawlin is obvious. Some scholars would doubtless say this is coincidence, and that the discrepancy in dates for Cynric and Ceawlin and Cunorix and (Maqui)coline are too great to allow for an identification. I would say that an argument based on the very uncertain ASC dates is hazardous at best and that if there is indeed a relationship between the pairs Ceawlin-Cynric and Coline-Cunorix, then the date of the memorial stone must be favored over that of the document.
There is also the problem of Cynric being the father of Ceawlin in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, while on the Wroxeter Stone it is (Maqui)coline who is the father of Cunorix. But such a confusion could easily have occurred simply by reading part of a genealogy list backwards.
While Ceawlin's father Cynric, the son of Cerdic of Wessex in most pedigrees, is capable of being derived quite well from Anglo-Saxon, the name could also be construed as an Anglicized form of the attested Celtic name Cunorix, Hound-king, the latter Welsh Cynyr.
Cerdic (= Ceredig) is not the only Celtic name in the early Wessex pedigree. Scholars have suggested that Ceawlin could be Brittonic.
Cunorix son of Maquicoline, based on an analysis of his name and the lettering employed on the inscription itself, is believed to have been Irish. It should not surprise us, then, to find Cunedda of Manau Gododdin, the reputed founder of Gwynedd, was himself actually Irish. There was an early St. Cuindid (d. c. 497 CE) son of Cathbad, who founded a monastery at Lusk, ancient Lusca. In the year entry 498 CE of the Ulster Annals, his name is spelled in the genitive as Chuinnedha. In Tigernach 496 CE, the name is Cuindedha.
The Irish sources also have the following additional information concerning St. Cuindid:
Mac Cuilind - Cunnid proprium nomen - m. Cathmoga m. Cathbath m Cattain m Fergossa m. Findchada m Feic m. Findchain m Imchada Ulaig m. Condlai m Taide m. Cein m Ailella Olum.
U496.2 Quies M. Cuilinn episcopi Luscan. (Repose of Mac Cuilinn, bishop of Lusca).
D.viii. idus Septembris. 993] Luscai la Macc Cuilinn
994] caín decheng ad-rannai, 995] féil Scéthe sund linni, 996] Coluimb Roiss gil Glandai.
trans: 'With Macc cuilinn of Luscae thou apportionest (?) a fair couple: the feast of Sciath here we have, (and that) of Columb of bright Ross Glandae'
The (later-dated) notes to this entry read: 'Lusk, i.e. in Fingall, i.e. a house that was built of weeds (lusrad) was there formerly, and hence the place is named Lusca ........Macc cuilinn, i.e. Luachan mac cuilinn, ut alii putant. Cuinnid was his name at first, Cathmog his father's name'.
Significantly, Lusk or Lusca is a very short distance from the huge promontory fort at Drumanagh, the Bruidhne Forgall Manach of the ancient Irish tales. Drumanagh is the hill of the Manapii and, as such, represents the Manapia in Manapii territory found on the map of Ptolemy. Manapii or Manapia could easily have been mistaken or substituted for for the Manau in Gododdin.
Aeternus, Cunedda's father, is none other than Aithirne of Dun and Ben Etair just south of Lusca. Paternus Pesrudd (‘Red-Cloak’), Cunedda's grandfather, is probably not derived from Mac Badairn of Es Ruad (‘Red Waterfall’), since Es Ruad is in northwest Ireland (Ballyshannon in Co. Donegal). I think Paternus, from the L. word for ‘father’, is Da Derga, the Red God; Da, god, being interpreted as W. tad (cf. L. tata, ‘father’). The Da Derga's hostel was just a little south of the Liffey. Cunedda's great-great-grandfather is said to be one Tegid (Tacitus), while his great-great-great grandfather is called Cein. These two chieftains are clearly Taig/Tadhg and his father Cian. Cian was the founder of the Irish tribe the Ciannachta, who ruled Mag Breg, a region situated between the Liffey and either Duleek or Drumiskin (depending on the authority consulted). The Lusca and Manapia of Chuinnedha are located in Mag Breg.
According to the genealogy edited in Corpus Genealogiarum Sanctorum Hiberniae, the name of Mac Cuilind's father was Cathmug. He belonged to the descendants of Tadc mac Cian, otherwise called the Cianachta. There was a concentration of the saints of this family in the Dublin/Louth/ Meath area, corresponding roughly to the teritory of the Cianachta Breg.
It is surely not a coincidence that according to the Irish Annals Chuinnedha's other name was Mac Cuilinn. Obviously, Mac Cuilinn and the Maqui-Coline of the Wroxeter Stone are the same name and hence the same person. Gwynedd was thus founded by Chuinnedha alias Mac Cuilinn of the Manapii in Ireland, not by a chieftain of Manau Gododdin in Britain.
The Irish origin of Cunedda should not be a surprise to us, as there is the well-documented case of the Welsh genealogy of the royal house of Dyfed, which was altered to hide the fact that Dyfed was founded by the Irish Deisi. We know this because we have the corresponding Irish genealogy from a saga which tells of the expulsion of the Deisi from Ireland and their settlement in Dyfed. As is true of Cunedda's pedigree, in the Welsh Dyfed pedigree we find Roman names substituted for Irish names. There were other Irish-founded kingdoms in Wales as well, e.g. Brycheiniog.
What exactly the relationship was that existed between Cunedda and the British kingdom of Powys on the one hand, and Cunedda/Ceawlin of the Gewissei and the Saxons of southern England on the other, is something that can only be surmised once we plug Vortigern into the equation. While it is true that Bede called Ceawlin a Bretwalda, i.e. a preeminent ruler of Britain, we are not justified in equating him with Vortigern.
The name Vortigern or Gwrtheyrn, as found in the HB of Nennius, was once held to be a ruling title. It was thought to be represented by Gildas' Latin pun 'superbus tyrannus' or ‘Proud Tyrant’. However, we now know that Vortigern was a proper name and not a title. It is found recorded not only in several localities in Wales, but in Ireland as well.
Aside from the British Vortigern, whose name means ‘Over-lord’, we have records for the following Dark Age Irish Vortigerns or ‘Fortcherns’:
1) Fortchern, the smith of St. Patrick (Annals of the Four Masters Year Entry 448); as this Fortchern is paired with another smith, Laebhan, i.e. St. Lomman (?), this Fortchern may be:
2) Foirtchern son of Fedelmid, who was for a short time bishop of St. Lomman's Trim. Fortchern of Trim, who was of mixed Irish and British blood, is said to have later retired to Killoughterane/Cill Fortchern in the parish of Muinebeag, Co. Carlow. However, we are told in the ancient Irish sources that Fortchern the smith is the same as Foirtchern of Rath Seimhne (see below). It may not be a coincidence that there is a Gobbin's Cliff, the Cliffs of the divine smith Goban Saor, in Seimhne/Island Magee.
3) Vortigern of Ballyhank, East Muskerry, Co. Cork (inscribed stone).
4) Vortigern of Knockboy in Decies Without Drum, Co. Waterford (inscribed stone dated c. 700-900 CE).
5) Foirtchern of Monte Cainle (probably the Hill of Conlig/Coinleac in north Co. Down), a contemporary of St. Columba.
6)Foirtchern of Rath Seimhne (Island Magee, south Co. Antrim).
7)Fortchern, brother of Cathchern (a name cognate with British Cattigern, a supposed son of Vortigern in the HB narrative), son of Tigernach of the Meic Carthind of the Lough Foyle region.
8)Fortcheirn son of Mael Rubae of the Ui Dicholla of the Dessi
9)Fortchern son of Iarlaith of the Ui Brigte of the Dessi
10)Fortchern son of Tigernach of the Ui Brigte of the Dessi
11)Clan Foirtchern in the Breadach genealogy on Inishowen, near the Lough Foyle Meic Carthind
These examples, some ‘in stone’, should be sufficient to dispell the notion that Vortigern is merely a title. Instead, Vortigern is a genuine Brythonic personal name.
In Wales, Radnorshire or Maesyfed (the ‘field of Hyfaidd’) was once known as Gwrtheyrnion, i.e. the kingdom of Gwrtheyrn. Gwrtheyrnion, roughly between the Wye and Ithon rivers, was a relatively small kingdom in southwestern Powys. Other places in Wales where Vortigern's name is preserved are Nant Gwrtheyrn in Lleyn, close to Gwyniasa (and surrounding Gwynus placenames), and a Craig Gwrtheyrn on the Teifi.
These three places are mentioned in Nennius's narrative, but only Gwrtheyrnion carries weight. The Lleyn and Teifi sites may represent the presence in these places of other Vortigerns, but in all likelihood it is merely the proximity to them of St. Garmon place-names that accounts for the ‘Over-lord’s’ association with them. In Nennius's story of Vortigern, the poor chieftain is literally hounded all over Wales by the saint. Thus wherever there was a known St. Garmon site, Vortigern was placed there. In my opinion, Vortigern was probably not in Lleyn, nor was he on the Teifi (despite the presence at nearby Nevern of a Vitalinus Stone; see below). He belonged instead to Gwrtheyrnion, which was merely one of several Welsh Dark Age sub-kingdoms.
Vortigern of Wales, who is said to have been the son of Guitaul (= Roman Vitalis) son of Guitolin (= Roman Vitalinus, a name found on a stone at Nevern dated by Charles Thomas between 466 and 533 CE – too late for Vortigern’s grandfather) son of Gloiu (Gloyw, the eponym of Welsh Caerloyw, modern Gloucester), is actually the British-Irish Fortchern son of Fedelmid son of Laeghaire. This Fortchern son of Fedelmid was of the right time to be the Vortigern of Nennius. Both Guitaul and Guitolin are substituted for the name Fedel-mid.
It was Robert Vermaat who first called my attention to the details surrounding this particular Fortchern. To quote extensively from his Vortigern Studies website article,
‘Scotnoe & Foirtgirn, the Irish Branch’:
“Foirtchern was the son of Fedelmid, son of Loguire, who was High King of Ireland throughout the period of the mission of St. Patrick (whose dates may be 428-462). Foirtchern’s mother was a daughter of the King of the Britons. The story goes that when St. Patrick’s nephew Lomman visited Trim (in Ireland), the boy Foirtchernn took him home to Fedelmid and his mother, who both spoke British and were delighted to see a visitor from his mother’s country. They made Lomman stay, who then subsequently converted the whole family. The mother might have been a Christian in the first place, for she ‘welcomed’ the saint. Maybe the fact that Lomman was a Christian made him more welcome than his being from Britain. Fedelmid may have embraced Christianity because the saint had just come from Tara Hill, where St. Patrick had defeated the druids of Fedelmid’s father the High King Loguire.
Foirtchern's date may be confirmed by the Annala Rioghachta Eirann:
Annals of the Four Masters, M432.0 – 4
The Age of Christ, 432. The fourth year of Laeghaire. Patrick came to Ireland this year, and proceeded to baptize and bless the Irish, men, women, sons, and daughters, except a few who did not consent to receive faith or baptism from him, as his Life relates. Ath Truim was founded by Patrick, it having been granted by Fedhlim, son of Laeghaire, son of Niall, to God and to him, Loman, and Fortchern.
These annals, though dating to 1616 in their youngest version, date back at least to 1172.
In any case, Fedelmid enthrusted Foirtchirnn to Lomman and founded the church of Trim, making St Patrick, Lomman and Foirtchirnn his heirs. But Foirtchernn was obdurate and did not want to accept his heritage, after which Lomman had to threaten him with taking away the blessing of the church, which is tantamount to incurring its curse. After Lomman's death, though, Foirtchirnn gave away his church within three days. This may be apocryphal, for Foirtchirnn was listed afterwards as the first episcopus (abbot) after Fedelmid and Lomman. He might have given it up later though, for he is also listed as a plebilis, a lay successor.”
Now, the question on my mind, after reading this account, was "Who succeeded Lomman at Trim?" The answer is in the Patrician Texts in the Book of Armagh:
He [Foirtchernn] held the abbacy for three days after his master's death until he came to Ath Truim, and then immediately handed his church over to the foreigner Cathlaid [Cathlaido perigrino].
I immediately recognized this ‘Cathlaid the Foreigner’ as a doublet for Catel Durnluc, the traditional founder of Powys, the kingdom that succeeded that of the Roman-period Cornovii.
Fortchern son of Fedelmid's mixed ancestry allows for the possibility that he possessed or inherited lands on both sides of the Irish Sea. We know that there were several Irish-founded kingdoms in Wales at the time: the Deissi established a ruling dynasty in Dyfed, Brycheiniog was of Irish foundation, and Cunedda of Manau Gododdin, founder of Gwynedd, was actually Chuinnedha/MacCuilind of Drum Managh in Ireland. Cunedda and his sons are said to have chased the Irish Ui Liathain out of Anglesey, Dyfed, Gower and Kidwelly, the Laigin were at Dinllaen and in the Lleyn Peninsula, and there is the possibility that Dinevor in Ystrad Tywi was named for an Efwr Llwydon, i.e. of the Irish Laithain. The Irish mercenary Cunorix son of Maquicoline/Cunedda was buried in the heart of Powys at Viroconium. There is no difficulty, then, in accepting a Gwrtheyrnion as a sub-kingdom named after Fortchern son of Fedelmid.
The only objection to a Gwrtherynion ruled by a chieftain of mixed British-Irish ancestry would be that such a king, with such a small sub-kingdom, could not possibly be the ‘superbus tyrannus’ of Gildas. But I offer this argument to account for how such a confusion could have taken place: any chieftain possessing a name such Vor-tigern, ‘the over-/super-/great- lord’ could easily have been misinterpreted as an over-king similar to the ardrigh or ‘high-king’ of Ireland. If I am right and Fortchern son of Fedelmid son of Laeghaire the high king is the British Vortigern of Gwrtheyrnion, then this kind of royal descent from an ardrigh could also have contributed to Gildas's misinterpretation of Vortigern's status in Britain.
In summary, then, what may have happened is this: a chieftain named Vortigern (or Fortchern), who was of mixed Irish-British ancestry, and whose grandfather was the ardrigh of Ireland, had established a small sub-kingdom in southwestern Powys in the 5th century. Gildas, attracted to the name because it seemed to denote a sort of British high king, laid the blame for the Saxon ‘invitation’ (i.e. the use of Germanic barbarian federates) in this presumed high king's lap. Further vilification continued after this identification of Vortigern as the offending monarch was made, until by the 9th century we have a fully developed story of Vortigern in the HB of Nennius.
Alternately, given that the Eliseg Pillar in what was the kingdom of Powys traces the descent of the Powys dynasty from Vortigern, and Catel Durnluc is in the various genealogies confused with Vortigern or made his near-descendent, it is possible that Fortchern son of Fedelmid, at least partly through his wife’s British blood, had managed to lay claim to the throne of Powys itself. His sub-kingdom of Gwrtheyrnion was, after all, part of Powys.
A final possibility, and one which calls into some doubt the notion that Vortigern was related to the Irish high king, is the proximity of Gwrtheyrnion to Brycheiniog. The latter, as Charles Thomas has shown in his ‘And Shall These Mute Stones Speak?”, was likely founded by the Irish-descended Dessi dynasty of Dyfed. We have seen above that fully three of the Irish Vortigerns hailed from the Dessi.
What can be said, with a fair degree of certainty, is that Fortchern son of Fedelmid (?) and the Irish Cunedda were contemporaries. Also, the son of Cunedda was buried in honor at the capital of Powys, Viroconium. Cunedda, his sons and their ‘teulu’ or war-band composed what the Saxons of southern England came to call the Gewessei.
According to Richard Coates (see his 'On some Controversy surrounding Gewissae/Gewissei, Cerdic and Ceawlin', NOMINA 13, 1989-90), Gewessei is "a nominalization of the [Old English] adjective gewis, among the meanings of which were 'sure, certain, reliable.'" These were federate warriors, the 'sure or reliable' ones. The Old English name nicely matches in meaning Latin fidus, from which comes foedus and then foederatus.
Cunedda and his teulu fought alongside Saxons against other British in the area. We can assume that as had been the case with Roman federates, Cunedda and his followers were given lands in Gwynedd in return for rendering military service to the old Cornovii kingdom. Even if these lands had been granted in a de facto manner, a peaceful and supportive relationship could be sustained with Powys by the adoption of federate status. Doubtless this process had its origin in the Roman period.
Elafius, Elessa and Gewis
The identification of Elafius, an important man mentioned during the second mission of St. Germanus to Britain, with Elessa, father of Cerdic of Wessex, has long remained in doubt. Superficially, Elafius seems to be the Latin form of Greek Elafios, from elafos, “stag, hart”. However, I believe there is good reason for upholding the Elafius-Elessa identification.
Many stories are generated by the false interpretation of proper and place-names. Elafius is said to have a lame son who was miraculously cured by St. Germanus. In this case, if we may allow for Constantius of Lyons, the 5th century author of the St. Germanus VITA, having a knowledge of Greek in addition to Latin, he may well have wrongly associated Gewis (archaic Giwis)*, the name of the father of Elessa in the Anglo-Saxon genealogies, with Greek GUIOS, “lame”.
In the WELSH ANNALS, Gewis appears as Giuoys, in Asser as Geguuis and as Iwys, Iwis in ARMES PRYDEIN. Any of these forms may have reminded the author of the saint’s VITA of the Greek word for lame. Although in the VITA it is Elafius’s son who is lame, not his father, as I have indicated in my previous discussion of the Ceawlin son of Cynric pedigree**, the actual order of birth at least for this pairing is Cynric son of Ceawlin (= the Cunorix son of Maquicoline found on an Irish memorial stone at Wroxeter). Thus at some point portions of the genealogy were reversed.
Granted, other words may have contributed to the lameness motif. Welsh has gloff, found as an epithet for a few early chieftains, while Latin has claudus, found in the Roman name Claudius. And Elessa has been plausibly linked to the Elisedd name found on the Elisedd Pillar at Llangollen. In my opinion, Elessa is from something comparable to Middle Welsh eilasaf, eiliasaf, adj. 'foremost, chief, most excellent, noblest, proudest, most generous'; n. 'leader, prince, chieftain'. This matches his description as 'regionis illus primus'. But whatever the original form of ‘Elafius’, I think a good case can be made for identifying his “lame” son with the Gewis of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and related sources.
A Note on the Grave of Vortigern
Robert Vermaat (see his award-winning Website Vortigern Studies) has elsewhere written about the Stanzas of the Graves which places Gwrtheyrn Gwrtheneu's ‘doubtful’ grave at an unlocated Ystyuacheu. To date, all efforts to locate this grave have failed. What follows is an attempt to both find this elusive burial site and to explore its significance in the broader context of just who Vortigern might have been.
The placename Ystyuacheu should be rendered in a more modern fashion as something like Styfacheu/Stafacheu/Stofacheu. Unfortunately, such a form is also not locatable. It is true, however, that MS. copyists frequently confused the letters u and n. This being so, I propose that perhaps the first -u- of Ystyuacheu might, in fact, have originally been an –n-. This would yield a Stynacheu/Stanacheu/Stonacheu.
In all of Wales, I found only one such Stynacheu/Stanacheu/Stonacheu site which made sense both etymologically and in terms of what we know of Vortigern. This is Stanage on the Teme River in Radnorshire. Stanage is from either OE stan + ecg, ‘stone edge’, or the ME stan + egge, with the same meaning.
The difference in the ending of Stanage and a hypothetical Stanageu/Stanagau may be accounted for in the same manner as the process by which the Cymracized English placename Stange became Stangau. These are the forms for Stange/Stangau:
STANGAU at SN761261 on map sheet SN72 900ft Parish of Llandeusant. 1948 OS 1:25000 First series.
STANGE 1840 OS 1" First edition ( David & Charles reprint).
STANGAU 1891 OS6" First edition.
STANGE 1805-12 OS2" Original Drawing Map.
RHIW alias STANGE 1808 Blaen Sawdde Estate Map. West Glamorgan Archives, Swansea.
As it turns out, Stange is a dialectal variant of stangau. The writers of some documents quite commonly 'corrected' the local pronunciation by inserting the standard form.
Stanage has a Welsh equivalent ‘y Fron-faen’ (modern spelling, ‘the stone breast/steep hillside’). The English and Welsh versions seem to have existed side-by-side among the relative speech-communities for centuries, but the Welsh version seems to have disappeared around the end of the 16th century, as the Welsh language became extinct in the area.
At Stanage there is an early medieval motte, a medieval mound and bailey castle and medieval Stanage Castle. In my opinion, the motte was thought to represent the ‘castle’ in which Vortigern burned to death on the Teifi (according to Nennius). The question then becomes; ‘Which tradition is correct’ - that which places Vortigern on the Teifi or that which places him on the Teme?
To begin with, the similarity in the two river names could easily have led to confusion. The oldest forms of the Teme are of the type _Temede_ (which appears in Welsh as _Tefaidd_ (though the name now appears to be lost), while the earliest spellings for _Teifi_ are _Te(i)bi_, with an earlier form in Ptolemy (2nd century CE) _Touegobios_ or _Touerobios. Teifi and Teme are etymologically related; cf. Thames, in Welsh Tafwys. In terms of etymology, Teme and Teifi are linked because -f- is the result of lenition of earlier Welsh/British -m-.
The truly interesting thing about the Teme site is that it is, as already mentioned, located in Radnorshire. That portion of Radnorshire between the Wye and the Ithon rivers, which lies west of Stanage, was once known as the cantref of Gwrtheyrnion, i.e. the land of Vortigern. Stanage lies in Maelienydd cantref, which bordered on Gwrtheyrnion.
It would seem, therefore, that the original story had Vortigern dying on the Teme near Gwrtheyrnion. This site was transplanted to the Teifi to take advantage of the St. Garmon place-name found there. Geoffrey of Monmouth later moved the site once again, situating it at Ganarew near his home town.
The ‘doubtful’ quality assigned to Vortigern’s grave at Stange is appropriate, as this king was almost certainly buried at Viroconium.