NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS DEDICATED TO SIMON KEAGAN, A FELLOW ARTHURIAN ENTHUSIAST, WHO URGED ME TO CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITY THAT THE ARTHURIAN BATTLES IN THE HISTORIA BRITTONUM MAY HAVE BEEN A WAR WAGED BETWEEN CERDIC OF WESSEX (= CEREDIG SON OF CUNEDDA) AND ARTHUR. I HAD PREVIOUSLY ATTEMPTED TO IDENTIFY ARTHUR WITH CERDIC/CEREDIG, BUT HAD FAILED TO PROPERLY IDENTIFY UTHER [PEN]DRAGON WITH ILLTUD OF THE VALE OF LEADON (THE WELSH 'LLYWDAW'/'LETAVIA'/'BRITTANY'). ONCE I REALIZED UTHER WAS ILLTUD, I WAS FREE TO CONSIDER KEAGAN'S SUGGESTION.
Dobunni Tribal Territory
The first thing new readers will notice when reading the following blog post is that there seems to be major chronological problems with my treatment of the Gewissei battles. However, I've discussed this in my books and in previous posts. In brief, the order of the leaders of the Gewissei in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are consistently presented to us IN REVERSE ORDER. I opted to accept the veracity of the Welsh sources in this regard. So reigns and martial activities of Gewissei chieftains, as well as supposedly precise dates cited in the ASC, must be held to be extremely suspect. We need to adopt a sort of "backwards viewing" of the dates of the battles as these are to be found in the ASC.
The Gewissei, to summarize, were Irish or Hiberno-British 'federates' (or mercenaries) who had de facto possession of NW Wales. They were recognized by the so-called High King of Wales (himself of partial Irish descent) and offered retention of their lands in return for service against enemies of that High King. To aid in their efforts, the Gewissei allied themselves with the English against a powerful British kingdom that was considered a threat to the High King of Wales. If I'm right, this kingdom was the successor state to the Dobunni, called the Hwicce by the English of a later period. The chief champion of this successor state in the fight against the Gewissei and the English was none other than Arthur. His father was Illtud, styled the "terribilis miles" or Uther [Pen] Dragon, born in the Vale of Leadon to a king or prince of that successor state. Wherever his actual power base may have lain, Arthur was remembered as the "bear" of Barbury Castle, the "Bear's fort", near to Liddington Castle, one of the Badbury forts long proposed as Arthur's Badon.
It now seems to me not only possible, but probable, that Arthur was the war-leader responsible for temporarily stemming the conquest of southern England by the English. Obviously, when we compare the victories of Cerdic of Wessex/Ceredig son of Cunedda with those of Arthur, we are faced with a serious conundrum: who won these victories? Was it the English, who claimed Cerdic as the victor, or was it Arthur?
Either side may have concocted a national hero out of their respective 'battle-leaders.' One side may have conjured a hero as a direct reaction to the glory assigned to the dux erat bellorum of the other. Alas, we will probably never know what the truth is here. Certaintly, the Gewissei had notable successes and were considered by the English to be the founders of Wessex. Yet the British, too, had their champion, and it seems almost inconceivable that the indigenous population would not have had its fair share of victories against the enemies who threatened it after the Roman withdrawal.
As a historian, all I can do if offer this conflicting portrait of what may have happened in sub-Roman/early medieval/Dark Age Britain. As they say, history is written by the victors, and there is no doubt that the ultimate victors in the battle for Britain were the English. How long their conquest of the island was delayed, by whom and for how long, well, I do not feel qualified to say. The only factual answer to the question lies in the hands of the archaeologists. And while great strides have been made in that field in the last few decades, its knowledge base is still far from complete.
From Chapter Two of my book THE BEAR KING:
Years ago I played around with trying to equate some or all of the battles of Arthur and those of Cerdic of Wessex. Alas, my knowledge of place-name development and of the languages involved was insufficient to the task. Having once again brought up the very real possibility that Arthur = Cerdic in my previous blog post here, it occurred to me that I should take a second look at the battles listed in the Historia Brittonum and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
First, those of Arthur:
Mouth of the river Glein
4 battles on the Dubglas River in the Linnuis region
City of the Legion
Mt. Agned/Mt. Breguoin (and other variants)
Mt. Badon c. 516
Camlann c. 537
And, secondly, those of Cerdic (interposed battles by other Saxon chieftains are in brackets):
495 - Certicesora (Cerdic and Cynric arrive in Britain)
[Bieda of Bedenham, Maegla, Port of Portsmouth]
Certicesford - Natanleod or Nazanleog killed
[Stuf, Wihtgar - Certicesora]
Cerdicesford - Cerdic and Cynric take the kingdom of the West Saxons
Cerdicesford or Cerdicesleag
537 - Cerdic dies, Cynric takes the kingship, Isle of Wight given to Stuf (of Stubbington near Port and opposite Wight) and Wihtgar
As Celtic linguist Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson pointed out long ago, 'Glein' means 'pure, clean.' It is Welsh glân. However, there is also a Welsh glan, river-bank, brink, edge; shore; slope, bank. This word would nicely match in meaning the -ora of Certicesora, which is from AS. óra, a border, edge, margin, bank. If we allow for Glein/glân being an error or substitution for glan, then the mouth of the Glein and Certicesora may be one and the same place.
Ceredicesora or "Cerdic's shore" has been thought to be the Ower near Calshot. This is a very good possibility for a landing place. However, the Ower further north by Southampton must be considered a leading contender, as it is quite close to some of the other battles.
Natanleod or Nazanleog is Netley Marsh in Hampshire. The parish is bounded by Bartley Water to the south and the River Blackwater to the north. Dubglas is, of course, 'Black-stream/rivulet.' Linnuis contains the British root for lake or pool, preserved in modern Welsh llyn. Netley is believed now to mean 'wet wood or clearing', and this meaning combined with the 'marsh' that was present probably accounts for the Linnuis region descriptor of the Historia Brittonum.
W. bas, believed to underlie the supposed river-name Bassas, meant a shallow, fordable place in a river. We can associate this easily with Certicesford/Cerdicesford, modern Charford on the Avon. Just a little south of North and South Charford is a stretch of the river called “The Shallows” at Shallow Farm. These are also called the Breamore Shallows and can be as little as a foot deep. An Anglo-Saxon cemetery was recently uncovered at Shallow Farm:
“A Byzantine pail, datable to the sixth century AD, was discovered in 1999, in a field near the River Avon in Breamore, Hampshire. Subsequent fieldwork confirmed the presence there of an early Anglo-Saxon cemetery. In 2001, limited excavation located graves that were unusual, both for their accompanying goods and for the number of double and triple burials. This evidence suggests that Breamore was the location of a well-supplied ‘frontier’ community which may have had a relatively brief existence during the sixth century. It seems likely to have had strong connections with the Isle of Wight and Kent to the south and south-east, rather than with communities up-river to the north and north-east.” [An Early Anglo-Saxon Cemetery and Archaeological Survey at Breamore, Hampshire, 1999–2006, The Archaeological Journal
Volume 174, 2017 - Issue 1, David A. Hinton and Sally Worrell]
Cerdicesleag contains -leag, a word which originally designated a wood or a woodland, and only later came to mean a place that had been cleared of trees and converted into a clearing or meadow. I suspect the Celyddon Wood was plugged in for this site. Celyddon contains the word later found in Welsh as called, ‘hard.’.
Cerdicesleag or "Cerdic's wood" I would identify with Hardley on Southhampton Water. I pick this location not only because it originally meant ‘Hard Wood’, but because of the mention of Stuf (= Stub/b) both before and after the Cerdicesleag battle. Hardley is just across Southhampton Water from Stubbington, the settlement of the descendents of Stuf/Stubb. It is also just across the Solent from the Isle of Wight, which was given to both Wihtgar and Stuf.
Castle Guinnion is composed of the Welsh word for 'white', plus a typical locative suffix (cf. Latin -ium). Wihtgar as a personage is an eponym for the Isle of Wight. Wihtgarasburh is, then, the Fort of Wihtgar. But it is quite possible Wiht- was mistaken for OE hwit, 'white', and so Castellum Guinnion would merely be a clumsy attempt at substituting the Welsh for the English. /-gar/-garas/ may well have been linked to Welsh caer, 'fort, fortified city', although the presence of -burh, 'fort, fortified town' in the name may have been enough to generate Castellum. Wihtgara is properly Wihtwara, 'people of Wight', the name of the tribal hidage. Wihtgarasburh is traditionally situated at Carisbrooke.
Arthur's City of the Legion battle may well be an attempt at the ASC's Limbury of 571, whose early forms are Lygean-, Liggean- and the like. The Waulud’s Bank earthwork is at Limbury.
Tribruit is a Welsh substitute for the Latin word trajectus (see my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY for the full etymology). Rivet and Smith (The Place-Names of Roman Britain, p. 178) discuss the term, saying that in some cases "it seems to indicate a ferry or ford..." The Welsh rendered 'litore' of the Tribruit description in Nennius as 'traeth', demanding a river estuary emptying into the sea. However, in Latin litore could also mean simply a river-bank.
If I were to look at Tribruit in this light, and provisionally accepted the City of the Legion as Limbury, and Badon as Bath (which the spelling demands, and which appears in a group of cities captured by Cerdic's father Ceawlin/Maquicoline/Cunedda), then the location of the Tribruit/Trajectus in question may well be determined by the locations of Mounts Agned and Breguoin. These last two battle-sites fall between those of the City of the Legion and Bath, and after that of the Tribruit.
I decided to take a fresh look at Agned, which has continud to vex Arthurian scholars. I noticed that in the ASC 571 entry there was an Egonesham, modern Eynsham. Early forms of this place-name include Egenes-, Egnes-, Eghenes-, Einegs-. According to both Ekwall and Mills, this comes from an Old English personal name *Aegen. Welsh commonly adds -edd to make regular nominative i:-stem plurals of nouns (information courtesy Dr. Simon Rodway, who cites several examples). Personal names could also be made into place-names by adding the -ydd suffix. –ed1 (see the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru) is the suffix in the kingdom name Rheged. The genitive of Agnes in Latin is Agnetus, which could have become Agned in Welsh - as long as <d> stands for /d/, which would be exceptional in Old Welsh (normally it stands for what is, in Modern Welsh, spelled as <dd>). I'd long ago shown that it was possible for Welsh to substitute initial /A-/ for /E-/. What this all tells me is that Agned could conceivably be an attempt at the hill-fort named for Aegen.
But what of Mount Breguoin? Well, I had remembered that prior to his later piece on Breguoin ('Arthur's Battle of Breguoin', Antiquity 23 (1949) 48—9), Jackson had argued (in 'Once Again Arthur's Battles', Modern Philology, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Aug., 1945), pp. 44-57) that the place-name might come from a tribal name based on the Welsh word breuan, 'quern.' The idea dropped out of favor when Jackson ended up preferring Brewyn/Bremenium in Northumberland for Breguoin.
So how does seeing breuan in Breguoin help us?
In the 571 ASC entry we find Aylesbury as another town that fell to the Gewessei. This is Aegelesburg in Old English. I would point to Quarrendon, a civil parish and a deserted medieval village on the outskirts of Aylesbury. The name means "hill where mill-tones [querns] were got". Thus if we allow for Breguoin as deriving from the Welsh word for quern, we can identify this hill with Quarrendon at Aylesbury.
All of which brings us back, rather circuitously, to Tribruit. This can only be the Romano-British Trajectus on the Avon of the city of Bath. Rivet and Smith locate this provisionally at Bitton at the mouth of the Boyd tributary. The Boyd runs past Dyrham, scene of the ASC battle featuring Ceawlin which led to the capture of Bath. Bitton is "farmstead [tun] on the river Boyd" (see Mills).
If we accept all this, then we cannot very easily reject Badon as Bath. In truth, with Bath listed in the ASC entry for 577, and made into a town captured by Ceawlin, we simply are no longer justified in trying to make a case for the linguistically impossible Badbury, such as the one at Liddington Castle in Wiltshire. This is true despite the fact that Ceawlin/Cunedda is said to have fought at Beranbyrig/ Barbury Castle, the “Bear’s Fort” only a few kilometers distant from Liddington. I’ve made the case in the past for Barbury being an English reference to Arthur, as the Welsh word arth means “bear.” There remains the possibility, of course, that Badon, a Welsh form of English bathum, was merely confused with and thus substituted for Baddanbyrig/Badbury. Arthur may indeed have won a major victory at Liddington Castle, while Bath may have fallen separately as a result of the action at Deorham/Dyrham.
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.
Arthur's Battles Against the Gewissei
I will deal with Arthur's last and fatal battle at Camlan in a future blog post.