A 5th century memorial stone was ploughed up at the site of the Roman city of Viroconium near Wroxeter, Shropshire, England. This stone is unusual in two respects. First, it almost certainly bears the name of an important, perhaps high-ranking Irishman of the period. Second, the name of the person in question is Cunorix son of Maquicoline.
So far as I know, no one prior to myself had realized just how remarkable a name this was. I’ve already mentioned in the Introduction that a second name of the Irish Chuinnedha, who in the British language was called Cunedda, was Mac Cuilinn. As it happens, Mac Cuilinn corresponds exactly in meaning with Maquicoline. Thus I proposed that the Maquicoline on the Cunorix Stone was none other than Cunedda himself.
Yet again, though, we are struck with a rather serious discrepancy. For if Maquicoline on this stone is Cunedda, we have no Cunorix listed as a son of his in the Welsh genealogies. The name should have become Cynyr in Welsh.
The names (Maqui)coline and Cunorix are associated, however, in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. There were find Ceawlin, one of the Bretwaldas or Britain-rulers, and Cynric. While the ASC gets the order of generations wrong, making Cynric the son of Cerdic and Ceawlin the son (or at least successor) of Cynric, I’ve been able to show that both personages do, in fact, belong to the Gewissei, the ‘Sure/Certain/Reliable Ones’ who fought alongside the West Saxons against Britons and helped found Wessex. Indeed, the tribal or group name Gewissei or Gewissae is found preserved in the genealogy for the kingdom of Ceredigion, where it occurs as Iusay, son of Ceredig son of Cunedda.
The names of the earliest members of the Gewessei have long been suspected to be of Celtic origin. My research suggests they were Irish or Hiberno-British.
What were the Gewessei from Gwynedd doing in both Viroconium in central Wales and in southern England?
My working theory is fairly simple and straight-forward, although I admit that things “on the ground” may have been much more complicated. When the Romans withdrew from Britain, Irish raids on Gwynedd intensified. Eventually, Cunedda and his sons (or warband) were able to found a number of petty kingdoms in the region. In a typical Roman-style acknowledgement of this situation, these Irish conquerors were offered federate status by the Welsh high-king who was ruling at Viroconium.
I should not neglect to point out, however, that the high-king in question may himself have been half Irish and half British. Certainly, this was true of Vortigern. There is also a confusion in the Welsh tradition between Vortigern and another chieftain named Catel, later Welsh Cadell. It has been thought that because Vortigern had been so thoroughly vilified, it was thought preferable to trace the princes of Powys through Catel instead. The true trace to Vortigern was, therefore, suppressed.
My idea here is a bit different. The best etymology for the name Catel/Cadell is Latin catellus, ‘puppy, whelp, little dog.” Two such princes are found in the Powys dynasty bearing this name. Both had sons named Cyngen, ‘Hound-born.’ I think it is possible, given these names, that Catel/Cadell was a pet-name for Cunorix. ‘Hound-king.’ If so, then Cunorix son of Cunedda may have either usurped the Powys kingship for a generation or even have started an entirely new dynasty. That Catel or Cadell is said to have begun his reign in Ial of northern Powys fits with what we know about Cunedda’s sons and their settlement of northwestern Wales.
In any case, the high-king at Powys had formed a federate relationship with Cunedda and his sons. The earliest source tells us that these federates drove the Irish out of Wales. This statement may seem highly ironic, but at the core it may be correct. Additional service to the high-king seems to have involved allying themselves with the Saxons against enemies of Powys to the southeast. It is tempting to view the Gewissei as fighting the Saxons themselves, but the ASC does not support such a patriotic picture of the politics of the time. Vortigern is said to have brought in Saxons as mercenary federates to help him against his enemies. There is no reason to assume, knowing what we do about intertribal warfare among the Celts, that his enemies did not also include other Britons. In later centuries, when it became necessary to invent a nationalistic resistance against the barbaric, pagan, Germanic invaders for the usual propagandist reasons, we rarely find Britons fighting Britons.
If this general sketch of what may have been happening in 5th century Britain has any bearing on reality at all, what are we to make of the phenomenon called Arthur? Well, to begin with we must “disenthrall ourselves” of the notion that this greatest of all Dark Age British heroes was fighting the Saxons. If he were son of Cunedda and one of the Gewissei, clearly he was not. Rather, he was fighting with the Saxons against the Britons in the name of the Welsh high-king.
Furthermore, he might well be known to us already under another name – a name which is found not only the English sources, but in the Welsh as well.
NEXT: CHAPTER TWO – CEREDIG SON OF CUNEDDA