Wednesday, June 20, 2018


Cerdic and Cynric (from a really bad movie)

I just recently made a case for the Gewissei being named for Cerdic:

If I'm right about this (and I feel pretty sure I am), then we must dispense with the notion that the Gewissei were so named because they were the 'sure/certain/reliable ones' in the sense of being the allies of the Saxons.  But if we do this, we must ask what role it was they were playing, and how it is that they became recognized a the founders of Wessex in English tradition.

I once thought that the whole founding of Wessex by Irish or Hiberno-British mercenaries was based on an error.  Simply put, Cerdic/Ceredig and his descendants did not conquer the territory of the West Saxons in England, but had instead taken western Wales in Britain.  This did not seem like a ridiculous idea - until I asked myself an obvious question: if the Gewissei did not conquer Wessex for someone - where are the names of the English conquerors of Wessex?  Quite simply, we have none.  The English themselves had no record of any group other than the Gewissei establishing primitive Wessex.

This has always struck me an incredibly odd.  I mean, if Cerdic and his descendants were fighting with or even for the English, where are the names of the English they were fighting with or for?  Why are these English names absent from the sources and otherwise nonexistent?  Why are the names at the head of the Anglo-Saxon genealogies for Wessex purely Celtic?

Well, we have evidence from the Cunorix Stone at Wroxeter that at least one son of Cunedda (= the Maquicoline on the said stone) was somehow associated with the High King of Wales.  We can only assume that either he was serving that High King as a mercenary or federate or the Cunedda family itself was in control of central Wales.  I've suggested elsewhere that the Catel who appears as an intrusion into the Powys genealogy from the North may be for Latin Catellus, "Little Dog/Puppy", possibly a nickname for Cunorix/Cynric "the Hound King."  If Cynric did usurp the High Kingship of Wales from the family of Vortigern (himself half Irish and half British; see Fortchern son of Fedelmid), then Cerdic's and Cynric's presence in southern England could only be explained as Irish aggression in that region.  If the Gewissei really did go into the conquest of Wessex as a joint venture with the English, what they expect to gain from the enterprise?  Were they only warriors for hire, with no vested interest in the new kingdom they founded?  That seems highly unlikely.

THE ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE may supply at least part of the explanation we are seeking.  Cerdic and Cynric are said to have as nefan both Stuff and Wihtgar.  This last, as many have discussed before, is a rendering of a word used originally to designate the men of Wight.  It is here an eponym, in other words.  But Stuff appears to be a real personal name, and is found in Stubbington just across The Solent from Wight.  Nefan is the plural of nefa.  Here is the relevant listing from Bosworth and Toller:

an; m.
I. a nephew; nepos
Bróder sune vel suster sune ðæt is nefa, Wrt. Voc. i. 51, 71.
Neva nepos, 72, 35.
Hlóþhere Ægelbrhytes nefa (cf. hé him onsende Leutherium his nefan (nepotem ), Bd. 3,7; S. 530. 29), Chr. 670; Erl. 34, 29: 789; Erl. 57, 34: Ælfc. Gr. 9, 31 : Som. 11, 69.
Eám and nefa, Exon. Th. 431. 35; Rä. 47, 6.
Heó wæs Édwines nefan (nepotis ) dohtor, Bd. 4. 23 ; S. 593, 2.
Hé swylces hwæt secgan wolde eám his nefan, Beo. Th. 1766; B. 881.
II. a grandson
Nefena bearnum pronepotibus, filiis nepotum, Hpt. Gl. 426, 50.
Ealdra nefena pronepotum, 445, 56.
III. a step-son
Nefa prifignus, Wülck. Gl. 41, 28.
[Icel. nefi a cognate kinsman, a nephew : O. Frs. neva : O. H. Ger. nefo nepos, sobrinus : Ger. neffe.]
v. for-, ge-nefa.

The use of such a term implies a familiar relationship.  If the Gewissei had actually intermarried with the Saxons, then they were much more than just mercenaries.

Another complicated factor concerns Vortigern and Ambrosius.  I'm currently writing a book that argues for Ambrosius being a mistaken name or title for a Belgic-descended king at Amesbury.  One of the rulers at this place was named Moderatus, i.e. the Welsh Medrawd, Cornish Modred.  In THE HISTORY OF BRITAIN by Nennius, we are told that Vortigern was in dread of Ambrosius, but also that he gave to the latter the western part of Britain.  Underneath the folktale of Dinas Emrys lies some real history concerning Amesbury and its king.  The "Ambrosius" who lived in the time of Vortigern's father (or grandfather) was not the same one with whom Vortigern contended.  Nor was the Moderatus who fell at Camlann with Arthur/Cerdic the same "Ambrosius."  The Ambrosius contemporary with Vortigern is said to become the High King after Vortigern's demise; he permits Pascent, son of Vortigern, to retain control of central Wales.

When we read between the lines here, there is sufficient reason for believing that the House of Vortigern in central Wales and that of "Ambrosius" in Wiltshire were locked in deadly combat for several generations.  To aid them in their struggle, the Welsh enlisted the Irish-descended Cunedda and his sons.  It is not unrealistic to assume that these Irish or Hiberno-Britons formed an alliance with the Saxons and solidified that military union with diplomatic marriages.  The story of Vortigern giving western Wales to Ambrosius is wrong, as 1) Dinas Emrys is a relocation of Amesbury and 2) it was Cunedda and his sons who were "given" western Wales, although this was probably a de facto granting of land in exchange for military service along the lines of invading barbarians being settled and made into federates by the Romans.

We still find ourselves stuck with the strange gap in early English names during the foundation of the Kingdom of Wessex. The simplest way of accounting for this deficiency is to suggest, not implausibly, that those who created the ASC and similar early English source materials were ignorant of the ethnic origin of the Gewissei chieftains.  At the same time, these writers did know that Cerdic and Cynric, at least, were not initially kings, but ealdormen (the title when applied to Cerdic/Arthur is rendered in Chapter 56 of Nennius as dux erat bellorum).  Ceawlin/Cunedda was later considered one of the famous bretwaldas or "Britain-rulers".

However, to have mistaken the Gewissei for English war-chiefs/princes and kings, those who recorded the history of the conquest of Wessex would still have to have suffered from a dearth of English names holding the same kinds of ranks and having accomplished the same kinds of deeds within the context of that specific kingdom.  A similar problem is encountered with the Cuth(a) names found among the Gewissei when they are pursuing the acquisition of the Cotwolds region.  Cuth(a) may well be from Cuda, a British goddess who gave her name to the Cotswolds.  Some of the Cuth(a) names appear to be British-English hybrid forms, like Cuthwulf. "Cuda's wolf", and Cuthwine, "Cuda's friend."  The Coinmail mentioned as a king defeated by the Gewissei at or near Dyrham bears the name of the god Apollo Cunomaglos, 'Hound-lord', whose shrine was nearby.

Thus the entire English account of the Gewissei is rife with references to British names or names containing British elements.

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