FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY Early Medieval
Supplement
 
from the ‘Historia Brittonum’ §§32–35
“At that time St Germanus, distinguished for his numerous virtues, came to preach in Britain: by his ministry many were saved; but many likewise died unconverted.* Of the various miracles which God enabled him to perform, I shall here mention only a few: I shall first advert to that concerning an iniquitous and tyrannical king, named Benlli. The holy man, informed of his wicked conduct, hastened to visit him, for the purpose of remonstrating with him. When the man of God, with his attendants, arrived at the gate of the city, they were respectfully received by the keeper of it, who came out and saluted them. Him they commissioned to communicate their intention to the king, who returned a harsh answer, declaring, with an oath, that although they remained there a year, they should not enter the city. While waiting for an answer, the evening came on, and they knew not where to go. At length, came one of the king's servants, who bowing himself before the man of God, announced the words of the tyrant, inviting them, at the same time, to his own house, to which they went, and were kindly received. It happened, however, that he had no cattle, except one cow and a calf, the latter of which, urged by generous hospitality to his guests, he killed, dressed and set before them. But holy St Germanus ordered his companions not to break a bone of the calf; and, the next morning, it was found alive uninjured, and standing by its mother.
Early the same day, they again went to the gate of the city, to solicit audience of the wicked king; and, whilst engaged in fervent prayer they were waiting for admission, a man, covered with sweat, came out, and prostrated himself before them. Then St Germanus, addressing him, said, “Dost thou believe in the Holy Trinity?” To which the man having replied, “I do believe,” he baptized, and kissed him, saying, “Go in peace; within this hour thou shalt die: the angels of God are waiting for thee in the air; with them thou shalt ascend to that God in whom thou hast believed.” He, overjoyed, entered the city, and being met by the prefect, was seized, bound, and conducted before the tyrant, who having passed sentence upon him, he was immediately put to death; for it was a law of this wicked king, that whoever was not at his labour before sun-rising should be beheaded in the citadel. In the meantime, St Germanus, with his attendants, waited the whole day before the gate, without obtaining admission to the tyrant.
The man above-mentioned, however, remained with them. “Take care,” said St Germanus to him, “that none of your friends remain this night within these walls.” Upon this he hastily entered the city, brought out his nine sons, and with them retired to the house where he had exercised such generous hospitality. Here St Germanus ordered them to continue, fasting; and when the gates were shut, “Watch,” said he, “and whatever shall happen in the citadel, turn not thither your eyes; but pray without ceasing, and invoke the protection of the true God.” And, behold, early in the night, fire fell from heaven, and burned the city, together with all those who were with the tyrant, so that not one escaped; and that citadel has never been rebuilt even to this day.
The following day, the hospitable man who had been converted by the preaching of St Germanus, was baptized, with his sons, and all the inhabitants of that part of the country; and St Germanus blessed him, saying, “a king shall not be wanting of thy seed for ever.” The name of this person is Cadell Ddyrnllug [Cadell Gleaming-Hilt]: “from henceforward thou shalt be a king all the days of thy life.” Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of the Psalmist: “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the needy out of the dunghill.” And agreeably to the prediction of St Germanus, from a servant he became a king: all his sons were kings, and from their offspring the whole country of Powys has been governed to this day.”
Translation by J.A. Giles
Back  
Between references to, the Bernician kings, Ida (547–559) and his son, Adda (560–568), the ‘Historia Brittonum’ notes (§62):
“At that time, Talhaearn Tad Awen [Talhaearn Father of the Muse] was famed for poetry, and Aneirin, and Taliesin and Bluchbard, and Cian, who is called Gueinth Guaut [presumably, Guenith Guaut is meant, i.e. Wheat of Song], were all famous at the same time in British poetry.”
Examples of the work of only Aneirin and Taliesin have survived. ‘Trawsganu Cynan Garwyn mab Brochfael’ is one of around sixty poems in an early-14th century compilation known as the ‘Llyfr Taliesin’ (Book of Taliesin – Aberystwyth, NLW, Peniarth MS 2). The influential Welsh scholar Ifor Williams was of the opinion that there are actually only twelve poems that can reasonably be attributed to Taliesin (published as ‘Canu Taliesin’ in 1960), and one of them is ‘Trawsganu Cynan Garwyn mab Brochfael’. Apparently, the word trawsganu, in the poem's title, translates into English as ‘satire’. However, the work itself is actually a poem of praise, so the title is generally, these days, rendered ‘Eulogy for Cynan Garwyn son of Brochfael’, or similar. In the translation below, Joseph P. Clancy simply titles it: ‘In Praise of Cynan’.
Cynan, war's bulwark,
Poured on me prizes,
For his fame is not false,
Manor's great master.
A hundred swift steeds,
Silver their trappings,
Hundred heather-hued cloaks
Cut equally long,
Hundred armlets in my lap
And fifty brooches,
A sword, jewelled sheath,
Gold-hilted, none better:
These came from Cynan;
No wrath could one see!
Cadell's descendant,
Steadfast in battle,
Made war on the Wye,
Spears without number:
He slew men of Gwent
With a blood-stained blade.
In Môn, mighty battle,
Superlative praise,
Crossing the Menai:
Quite easy, the rest!
War at Crug Dyfed,
Aergol on the run,
Never any before
Seen heading his herd.
Brochfael's son, broad-realmed,
Bent on dominions,
Menaces Cornwall,
Casts doubt on its fate,
Brings on it distress
Till it pleads for peace.
My patron, Cynan,
First into battle,
With bright flame far-spread
Setting soaring fires,
War in Brychan's land:
Hill-fort, a mole-hill!
Pathetic princes,
Cringe before Cynan!
Breast-plate in battle,
Dragon by nature,
Akin to Cyngen,
A broad realm's bulwark,
He heard men saying
Whenever they spoke,
All the world is called
Captive to Cynan!
Translation by Joseph Clancy, in ‘The Earliest Welsh Poetry’ (1970)
Back  
Lines 6–17 of ‘Marwnad Cynddylan’ as translated by Joseph Clancy (‘Medieval Welsh Poems’, 2003):
16
17
18
19
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
Splendour of sword-play, did I think of
Going to Menai, though I had no ford?
I love him that greets me from Cemais' land,
Dogfeiling's prince, scourge of Cadell's line.
I shall mourn till I enter my humble oak
Cynddylan's death, deep-piercing loss.
Splendour of sword-play, to consider
Going to Menai, though I could not swim.
I love him that greets me from Aberffraw,
Dogfeiling's prince, dread of Cadell's line.
I shall mourn till I enter my silent oak
Cynddylan's death, and his warbands'.
John T. Koch, in ‘Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia’ (2006), in the entry devoted to Aberffraw (on Anglesey) – “the royal site of the kings of Gwynedd from the 7th century (or perhaps earlier) until 1282” – provides a translation of lines 12–15 as follows:
12
13
14
15
MMMMMMMMMM... to think
of going to Menai, though I cannot swim!
I love the one from Aberffraw who welcomes me,
foremost offspring of Dogfeiling and terror to the descendants of Cadell.
Professor Koch writes: “Surprisingly, as Cynddylan belonged to a dynasty of Powys, this elegy is addressed to an unnamed king of Gwynedd. The poet describes his crossing of the Menai Straits to Anglesey as a remarkable feat and urges the lord of Aberffraw to exert control as the legitimate ruler of land of Dogfeiling in north-east Wales against a rival dynasty from Powys whose line of rulers claimed descent from Cadell”.  Later, in the entry devoted to Cynddylan, Professor Koch notes: “Marwnad Cynddylan mentions the Cadelling twice, viewing them with hostility, as if they were rivals.”
The interpretation of ‘Marwnad Cynddylan’ that produces the notion of Cynddylan being a rival of the Cadelling is, it appears, not the only one possible. D. P. Kirby, in ‘Welsh Bards and the Border’ (‘Mercian Studies’, 1977), writes: “This apparently contemporary elegy can be understood to signify that Cynddylan too was ‘Cadelling’, that is, a descendant of Cadell. The poem is of uncertain meaning in a number of lines, and does present considerable problems of interpretation, but line 15 must be read ‘lord of Dogfeiling, the famed one [or ‘the glory’] of the line of Cadell’, which means that the ambiguous line 9 should be construed ‘lord of Dogfeiling, the violent one of Cadell's line’. Dogfeiling, which name derives from Dogfael, reputed son of Cunedda, was part of the realm of Gwynedd, not Powys, but it bestrode the upper valley of the Clwyd with its centre at Ruthin and must have been very liable to fall within the sphere of influence of Powys in those early centuries. Perhaps it originally was part of Powys, subsequently annexed to Gwynedd and a genealogical fiction provided to link Dogfael to Cunedda. What is not absolutely clear is whether the ‘famed one of the line of Cadell’ refers to Cynddylan or to some other patron of the poet, but even were the latter the case the interest of such a Cadelling patron would hint strongly that Cynddylan was also in fact Cadelllng.”
In ‘Wales in the Early Middle Ages’ (1982), Chapter 4, Wendy Davies, referring to ‘Marwnad Cynddylan’, talks of “Cynddylan, ruler of Dogfeiling”, and in a note states: “It should not be forgotten that ‘Marwnad Cynddylan’ does refer to Cynddylan as ‘Cadelling’.“
Later appears the passage (as translated by Joseph Clancy, in ‘Medieval Welsh Poems’, 2003):
27
28
29
Seven hundred picked men in his war-host,
When Pyd's son wished, how ready he [Cynddylan] was.
No bridal took place, he died unwed.
“Pyd's son” is generally believed to be Penda (son of Pybba).
Back  
The table below shows the relative dates of a sequence of events (each horizontal band represents one year), as indicated by the four main manuscripts of Welsh annals. The events are:
  • The death of Cerball, king of Osraige (in Ireland).
  • The death of Suibne, an Irish hermit and scholar.
  • A raid on Gwynedd by “black Northmen” (only in ‘Brut y Tywysogyon’).
  • The death of Hyfaidd, king of Dyfed.
  • An assault on Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi by Anarawd ap Rhodri.
  • A raid by “Northmen” on south-eastern Wales.
  • A famine in Ireland.
  • An, evidently random, entry recording the death of an English king called Athelstan – Alfred the Great's grandson of that name died in 939.
  • The death of King Alfred the Great.
The actual AD dates of four of them are established from elsewhere:
  • The death of Cerball – 888.
  • The death of Suibne – 891.
  • A famine in Ireland – 895.
  • The death of Alfred – 899.
Annales CambriaeBrut y Tywysogyon
A-textB-textPeniarth MS 20Red Book of Hergest
Cerball
888
   
  Cerball
888
 
    
 Suibne
891
Suibne
891
 
  “black Northmen”
(This entry begins: “Eight hundred and ninety was the year of Christ”.)
Suibne
891
(This entry begins: “Eight hundred and ninety was the year of Christ”.)
Hyfaidd Hyfaidd“black Northmen”
   Hyfaidd
AnarawdAnarawdAnarawdAnarawd
“Northmen” “Northmen”“Northmen”
 famine
895
famine
895
famine
895
   Athelstan
 AthelstanAthelstanAlfred
899
 Alfred
899
Alfred
899
(This entry begins: “Nine hundred was the year of Christ”.)
Alfred
899
 
(This entry begins: “Nine hundred was the year of ...” at the bottom of the page. The following page is missing.)
 
Back  
See: the Alleluia Victory.
Anglesey, Gwynedd's island stronghold.
In Harleian Genealogies §2 (showing the descent Owain ap Hywel Dda from the kings of Dyfed), Aergol appears as the father of Vortipor. Gildas said that Vortipor was the "worthless son of a good king" (‘De Excidio Britanniae’ Chapter 31).
Cyngen appears as Cynan's grandfather in Harleian Genealogies §22.
Bernicia was the more northerly of two Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (the other being Deira), in what is now north-eastern England, that were brought together to form the kingdom of Northumbria.
The Irish events are dated by the ‘Annals of Ulster’. It is now well established that Alfred died in October 899, although all manuscripts of the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ place it s.a. 901 (see: Alfred the Great).