Friday, January 20, 2017

Arthur's Badon at Last: The Evidence for the Badbury at Liddington Castle

Liddington Castle Ditch

I've struggled for some time with the hill-name Agned, site of one of Arthur's battles according to the HISTORIA BRITTONUM.  While I was seeking the hero's military activities in the North of Britain, I was quite satisfied that Agned stood for the personal name Egnatius, a Roman governor who did rebuilding of the fort of Bremenium.  This argument received enthusiastic support from language experts.  Bremenium is Arthur's Breguoin, found as Brewyn in a poem devoted to Urien's campaigns.

But when I came to realize that Arthur was Cerdic of Wessex or, more properly, Ceredig son of Cunedda, and had to shift the theater of war to southern England and Wales, Agned once again became a problem.  I wondered if it might be for Agnes (Agnetis), another excellent solution for the hill-name.  I then attempted to foist Agnes onto Little Solsbury Hill at Bath, thinking this Christian saint may have been a substitute for the virgin pagan goddess Sulis Minerva.  But this argument was forced in the extreme, as there is no evidence for the worship of St. Agnes at Bath.

While we can opt for Agned being a corruption of agued, a word meaning "distress, dire straits, anxiety' or the like, and propose that it is not really a true place-name at all, but merely a descriptor, this solution takes some special pleading.  Such is always the case when you propose an alternate reading, thus assuming, quite dangerously, that the word in question should be something other than what it is.  We often resort to this kind of linguistic trickery when we find ourselves ignorant of the original form.

What I'm realizing now is that I can keep Egnatius as the name underlying Agned. I would suggest that what happened with the three hill names in the battle list is as follows:

Liddington is a name based on a stream that ran near the hill fort of Baddanbyrig/Badbury.  The stream-name is from OE hlyde, 'loud', and conveys the sense of the 'roaring' water.  As it happens, the root of Bremenium/Brewyn/Breguoin is Welsh brefu, used of a stream by the Roman fort of that name.  The meaning of brefu is the same as that of English hlyde, something I've mentioned before in previous essays.  So what seems to have happened here is that whoever compiled the battle list knew the meaning of English Liddington, a name applied to the Badbury hill-fort, and so substituted Breguoin, a Welsh name with the same meaning.  After this substitution took place, someone else who did not know Breguoin was for Badbury at Liddington added Egnatius/Agned to this list as a second name for Breguoin. I've also pointed out that the Roman fort of Bremia on the Afon Brefi in Ceredig's Ceredigion is from the exact same root as Bremenium.    

I can now state my opinion that Badon, despite the philologists insistence that this MUST be for Bathum, 'baths', is actually Badbury at Liddington.  Furthermore, the Barbury hill-fort close to Liddington, the "Fort of the Bear", was named for Arthur, whose name was by the Welsh connected with their own word for bear, arth.  Finally, Wanborough hard by Liddington Castle was site of the Roman town of Durocornovium.  Cornovium contains the same place-name element as Cernyw or Cornwall and Cornovii (the tribe inhabiting what later became Powys).  Arthur in Welsh tradition is always associated with Cornwall. 

A great deal of ink has been spilt on the most probable etymology for the Baddanbyrig name. This comes from an attested, NOT a hypothetical name, Badda.  Badda itself is demonstrably Germanic. Dr. Richard Coates recently shared with me why the name can't come from the Brythonic:

"Badda, if borrowed, and if we take the double <dd> seriously, is difficult to link to a Brittonic etymon.

British */t/ > Britt. */d/ would show up as OE /d/, not as a geminate (double).
British */tt/ > Britt. */θ/ would show up as OE */θ/, written with thorn, but never <dd>.
British */d/ > Britt. */ð/ would show up as OE /d/ or /ð/, depending on the period, for which the spelling <dd> is most unlikely.
British */dd/ seems to have yielded simple Britt. */d/ (Jackson LHEB 428, on credu), and would show up as OE /d/, not as a geminate (double).

So I conclude that Badda cannot be of Celtic  origin, particularly because Late British did not have geminate /dd/."

I would note in passing that as with several similar Old English names (e.g. Eadda/Eada, Hadda/Hada; see M. Redin's STUDIES IN UNCOMPOUNDED PERSONAL NAMES), Badda is found spelled with only one /d/, i.e. as Bada.

Badda is actually found on a coin as the name of a moneyer of King Edward the Elder (899-924); see


[NOTE: The following is taken from an old post of mine at]

There is one possible clue to identifying Badon. It lies in a comparison of the Welsh Annals entry for the Second Battle of Badon and the narrative of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  The actual year entry for this Second Battle of Badon reads as follows:

665 The first celebration of Easter among the Saxons.  The second battle of Badon. Morgan dies.

The "first celebration of Easter among the Saxons" is a reference to the Synod of Whitby of c. 664.  While not directly mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, nor the Anglo-Saxon version of Bede, there is an indirect reference to this event:

664 … Colman with his companions went to his native land…

This is, of course, a reference to Colman's resigning of his see and leaving Lindisfarne with his monks for Iona.  He did so because the Roman date for Easter had been accepted at the synod over the Celtic date.  

While there is nothing in the ASC year entry 664 that helps with identifying Badon, if we go to the year entry 661, which is the entry found immediate prior to 664, an interesting passage occurs:

661 In this year, at Easter, Cenwalh fought at Posentesburh, and Wulfhere, son of Penda, ravaged as far as [or "in", or "from"] Ashdown…

Ashdown is here the place of that name in Berkshire. It is only a half dozen miles to the east of Badbury and Liddington Castle.  A vague reference to ravaging in the neighborhood of Ashdown may well have been taken by someone who knew Badon was in the vicinity of Ashdown as a second battle at Badon.

I've recently identified Posentesbyrig as "Pascent's Burg".  Leading English place-name authority Dr. Richard Coates had this to say when I asked him if this etymology worked:

"I see no absolute barrier to Posent – Pascent. Welsh <sc> is the cluster [sk], which would be rendered in OE as  “esh” since OE had no cluster [sk] before a front vowel, even in the earliest times. “Esh” would normally also be spelt <sc>, but that’s a coincidence. It’s possible for “esh” to appear very occasionally as <s>, even before the conquest, as in Ryssebroc for Rushbrooke (Suffolk) in the mid-10th century."

Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing where Pascent's Burg was located.  Pascent son of Vortigern ruled over Buellt and Gwrtheyrnion.  But the Vortigern family was also said to have originated at Gloucester.  William of Malmesbury claims that Bradford on Avon was once called Vortigern's Burg, but this is surely not right, as Cenwalh of Wessex is said to fight at both Bradford on Avon and Posentesbyrig in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.  While Pascent's Burg and Vortigern's Burg may refer to the same place, if these aren't nicknames for Gloucester we cannot know Posentesbyrig's location.  

The battle listed before Posentesbyrig in the ASC is Peonnum, fought against the Welsh by Cenwalh. This is thought to be Penselwood in Somerset, found in the Domesday Book as Penne or Penna.

A battle at Gloucester, nicknamed Pascent's fort, would make sense between the Mercian king Wulfhere and the Wessex king Cenwalh.

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