Addenda to The Birth of Nations: WALES


Cadell Gleaming-Hilt

from the Historia Brittonum §§32–35:

… Saint Germanus came to preach in Britain, and became famous among them by his many powers, and many were saved through him, and many came to perdition.[*] I have decided that some of the miracles that God wrought through him should be recorded. The first of his miracles. There was a certain wicked and extremely tyrannical king whose name was Benlli. The holy man wanted to visit him, and to hasten to preach to the wicked king. But when the man of God came to the city gate with his companions, the porter came to greet them, and they sent him to the king; and the king answered roughly with an oath, saying “Even if they are here, and stay here till the end of the year, they shall never enter within my city.” While they were waiting for the gate-keeper to bring them the tyrant’s message, the day turned to evening and night drew near, and they knew not where to go. Meanwhile, one of the king’s servants came from within the city, and bowed down before the man of God; and he told them all the tyrant’s words, and invited them to his house. And they went out with him, and he welcomed them. And he had no animal of any kind, except a cow with a calf; and he killed the calf, and cooked it, and placed it before them. And Saint Germanus gave order that none of its bones should be broken; and so it was done. And on the morrow the calf was found well, alive and unharmed with its mother.
They rose in the morning, and sought again to greet the tyrant. But while they prayed and waited outside the gate of the citadel, behold, a man came running, and sweat was dripping from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. He bowed down before them, and Saint Germanus said “Dost thou believe in the Holy Trinity?” And he answered “I believe.” And he baptized him. And he kissed him, and said “Go in peace. Within this hour shalt thou die, and the angels of God await thee in the skies, and thou shalt proceed with them to God, in whom thou believest.” And he entered joyfully within the citadel; and the prefect held him, and bound him, and he was led before the tyrant and slain, for it was the custom of the abominable tyrant that anyone who had not arrived within the citadel for his service before sunrise should be slain. And they stayed the whole day by the gate of the city, and they did not succeed in greeting the tyrant.
The aforesaid servant was there, as was usual, and Saint Germanus said to him “Take care that not a single one of your men stays this night in the citadel.” And he went back into the citadel and brought out his sons, who were nine in number, and they came back with him to the aforesaid lodging. And Saint Germanus told them to stay fasting within closed doors, saying “Be watchful, and if anything happens in the citadel, do not look, but continue praying and calling upon your God without pause.” And after a short interval of the night, fire fell from heaven, and burnt the citadel and all the men who were with the tyrant; and they have never been seen to this day, and the citadel has not been [re]built, even to this day.
On the morrow, the man who had been their host believed and was baptized with all his sons, and the whole region with them. His name was Cadell. And he [Germanus] blessed him, and in addition said “There shall never lack a king from your seed (he is Cadell Ddyrnllug [Gleaming-Hilt]), and you alone shall be king from this day.” And so it was, and so was fulfilled the saying of the prophet “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory.” In accordance with Saint Germanus’ words, he was made a king from a servant; and all his sons were made kings, and from their seed the whole region of Powys is ruled, even to this day.

Cynan Garwyn son of Brochfael

The Historia Brittonum (§62) notes that at the time Ida, first recorded king of Bernicia, was reigning (547–559):

… Talhaearn Tad Awen [Talhaearn Father of the Muse] was famed in poetry; and Aneirin and Taliesin and Blwchfardd and Cian, who is called Gwenith Gwawd [Wheat of Song], were all simultaneously famed 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 (The Earliest Welsh Poetry, 1970) 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!

Cynddylan: “scourge of Cadell’s line”?

Lines 6–17 of Marwnad Cynddylan, translated by Joseph Clancy (Medieval Welsh Poems, 2003):

16 Splendour of sword-play, did I think of
17 Going to Menai, though I had no ford?
18 I love him that greets me from Cemais’ land,
19 Dogfeiling’s prince, scourge of Cadell’s line.
10 I shall mourn till I enter my humble oak
11 Cynddylan’s death, deep-piercing loss.
12 Splendour of sword-play, to consider
13 Going to Menai, though I could not swim.
14 I love him that greets me from Aberffraw,
15 Dogfeiling’s prince, dread of Cadell’s line.
16 I shall mourn till I enter my silent oak
17 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 MMMMMMMMMM… to think of
13 going to Menai, though I cannot swim!
14 I love the one from Aberffraw who welcomes me,
15 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 – ‘Welsh bards and the Border’, in 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 Cadelling.”

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 Seven hundred picked men in his war-host,
28 When Pyd’s son wished, how ready he [Cynddylan] was.
29 No bridal took place, he died unwed.

“Pyd’s son” is generally believed to be Penda (son of Pybba).


The 890s in Welsh Annals

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 Tywysogion).
  • 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 Tywysogion
A-textB-textPeniarth MS 20Red Book of Hergest
  “Black Northmen”
(This entry begins “Eight hundred and ninety was the year of Christ”.)
(This entry begins “Eight hundred and ninety was the year of Christ”.)
Hyfaidd Hyfaidd“Black Northmen”
“Northmen” “Northmen”“Northmen”
(This entry begins “Nine hundred was the year of Christ”.)
(This entry begins “Nine hundred was the year of …” at the bottom of the page. The following page is missing.)
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 §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 King Alfred died in October 899, although all manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle place his death s.a. 901 (see Alfred the Great).