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The Family of Vortigern
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Faustus, Britu and Riocatus
Robert Vermaat

Vortigern had three sons: Vortimer, Catigern and Pascent. But a fourth is also added. Sometimes we hear of a Faustus, while a Britu is also mentioned. While Faustus may have been a real historical personality, the discussions about who Britu may have been will probably never cease. This article will at least attempt to make a contribution, and hopefully shed more light on this mystery.

Faustus

The first source to mention a fourth son of Vortigern was the 9th-century Historia Brittonum:

Historia Brittonum, chapter 48

He had three sons: the eldest was Vortimer, who, as we have seen, fought four times against the Saxons, and put them to flight; the second Categirn, who was slain in the same battle with Horsa; the third was Pascent, who reigned in the two provinces Builth and Guorthegirnaim, after the death of his father. These were granted him by Ambrosius, who was the great king among the kings of Britain. The fourth was Faustus, born of an incestuous marriage with his daughter, who was brought up and educated by St. Germanus. He built a large monastery on the banks of the river Renis, called after his name, and which remains to the present period.

 

tres filios habuit, quorum nomina sunt guorthemir, qui pugnabat contra barbaros, ut supra diximus; secundo categirn; tertius pascent, qui regnauit in duabus regionibus buelt et guorthegirniaun post mortem patris sui largiente ambrosio illi, qui fuit rex inter omnes reges brittannicae gentis. quartus fuit faustus, qui a filia sua genitus est illi, et sanctus germanus baptizauit illum et nutriuit et docuit et condidit locum magnum super ripam fluminis, quod uocatur renis, et manet usque hodie. et unam filiam habuit, quae fuit mater fausti sancti.

In a very confusing way (below) it is claimed here that Vortigern had a fourth son named Faustus, born to him incestuously by his own daughter, and who later became bishop of Riez. This Faustus of Riez is actually a historical figure. Faustus, first a monk, then abbot of the island Lérins off the coast of Marseilles and subsequently bishop of Riez, is referred to as a Briton both by Avitus, bishop of Vienne, and also by his friend Sidonius Appolinaris. Though the African bishop Possessor calls him a Gallus, this was probably because he had lived in Gaul for so long. Faustus was a leading member in the community of Lérins, which included other known fifth-century chroniclers such as Salvian and Hilary. Maybe the chronicler of 452 belonged to that group of ascetics as well, which would account for his hostility towards the doctrine of Augustine. Curiously enough, this (now anonymous) chronicler is the only source that we have of the Saxon rebellion in 441. How did the Chronicler of 452 receive his information, where other historians and chroniclers seem to have been either disinterested, misinformed or simply ignorant? Wood has (cautiously) remarked that, based on three entries relevant to the monastic culture of Lérins (c. 86, 104, 134), that he was in some way associated with Faustus.

We can cast the net even wider: the later emperor Avitus (455-7) and Ruricus, bishop of Limoges, admired the writings of both Faustus and Sidonius Appolinaris, who was related to both men. Sidonius, whose brother was influenced by Faustus, in turn admired the writings of Faustus. Sidonius writes to Faustus of the visit by a certain Riocatus, a presbyter, who is taking back books to Britain on Faustus' behalf. This indicates Faustus' links with his old compatriots. Sidonius indeed refers to 'your Britons', so the conclusion that Faustus was indeed from Britain as the Historia Brittonum proposes might be correct. If we identify this Faustus as the son of Vortigern, and Riocatus with Riagath, the son of Pascent and thus grandson of Vortigern, we would indeed have an important link for the transfer of information from Britain to southern Gaul. It has even been suggested that Faustus was the chronicler of 452. Sidonius Apollinaris, by 474 the bishop of Clermont and one of the leaders of the Arvernian resistance against the Goths, gave his impression of Faustus' authority as a member of the delegation of four bishops who reached a treaty between the Visigothic king Euric and the last Roman Emperor Nepos: "Through you delegations come and go; to you, first of all, in the absence of the emperor, peace is not only reported when it has been negotiated, it is even entrusted to be negotiated" (Epist. 7.7.4).

But was this Faustus also a son of Vortigern? The author or editor of the Historia Brittonum thought so at least. The passage seems full of glosses; after that of Ambrosius, Faustus is suddenly added as an apparent afterthought to the three earlier sons of Vortigern. The he clumsily adds a daughter, the mother of Faustus, thus duplicating the statement he made a moment earlier! This second statement though does not make Vortigern the father of Faustus, as the first one does. This gloss muddles the waters, even more so when compared to the earlier chapter relating to the so-called 'incestuous' affair:

Historia Brittonum, chapter 39

39. In the meantime, Vortigern, as if desirous of adding to the evils he had already occasioned, married his own daughter, by whom he had a son. When this was made known to St. Germanus, he came, with all the British clergy, to reprove him: and whilst a numerous assembly of the ecclesiastics and laity were in consultation, the weak king ordered his daughter to appear before them, and in the presence of all to present her son to St. Germanus, and declare that he was the father of the child. The immodest woman obeyed; and St. Germanus, taking the child, said, "I will be a father to you, my son; nor will I dismiss you till a razor, scissors, and comb, are given to me, and it is allowed you to give them to your carnal father[25]." The child obeyed St. Germanus, and, going to his father Vortigern, said to him, "Thou art my father; shave and cut the hair of my head." The king blushed, and was silent; and, without replying to the child, arose in great anger, and fled from the presence of St. Germanus, execrated and condemned by the whole synod.  

nam super omnia mala adiciens guorthigirnus accepit filiam sui uxorem sibi, et peperit ei filium. et hoc cum compertum esset a sancto germano, eum corripere venit cum omni clero brittonum. et dum conventa esset magna synodus clericorum ac laicorum in uno concilio, ipse rex praemonuit filiam suam, ut exiret ad conventum et ut daret filium suum in sinum germani et ut diceret, quod ipse erat pater filii, et mulier fecit sicut erat edocta. germanus atuem eum benigne accepit et dicere coepit: pater tibi ero nec te permittam, nisi mihi novacula cum forcipe pectineque detur et ad patrem tuum carnalem tibi dare licetur. et obaudivit puer et usque ad avum suum patrem carnalem guorthigirnum perrexit et puer illi dixit: pater meus es, caput meum tonde et comam capitis mei. et ille siluit et tacuit et puero respondere noluit, sed surrexit et iratus est valde, ut a facie sancti germani fugeret, et maledictus est et damnatus a sancto germano et omni brittonum concilio.

Here we have another statement, the third so far, of Vortigern's incestuous affair which resulted in the wrath of St Germanus. But here the name of the son is not given, only that St Germanus took him in and became his mentor. Thus we have a synthesis by which (1) Vortigern had a son by his own daughter, (2) this son was blessed by St Germanus and (3) this son was St Faustus. Was the name of Faustus only a much later interpolation? Faustus is never actually mentioned in the genealogies, but there is nothing inpropable in an identification of the abbott of Lérins with the son of a British king.

Was the editor of the Historia Brittonum correct in identifying Faustus of Riez, who was probably a Briton, with the son of Vortigern? The identity is by no means impossible. The position held by Faustus at Lérins would seem to imply both political prestige and wealth. Royal birth would help to account for his exalted position as head of the great monastery in the south of Gaul - the greatest of its time in Europe! Nor need any hesitation be felt on the ground of the distance between Britain and Lérins, for a century earlier had one St Martin from Dacia (modern Rumania) become bishop of Tours.. The passage in which St Germaus takes the boy under his wings is not scandalous at all, but a simple presentation by his mother to his foster-father, charactaristic of a Celtic fosterage. This passage therefore signifies an attempt at creating a scandal, or at least a misunderstanding of a normal practice. It would have been very common for Vortigern to present his son to Germanus and entrust him with his upbringing, in fact it would have been an honour.

But St Germanus also blessed other sons of Vortigern! He probably blessed Vortimer, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth:

Historia Regum Britanniae, Book VI, chapter 14.
Vortimer, after this great success, began to restore his subjects to their possessions which had been taken from them, and to show them all marks of his affection and esteem, and at the instance of St. Germanus to rebuild their churches.

Britu

Germanus certainly blessed Britu, as attested on the Pillar of Elise:

[+] Britu, moreover, (was) the son of Guorthi(girn), whom Germanus blessed and whom Severa bore to him, the daughter of Maximus the king, who slew the king of the Romans +

 

[+] BRITU A[u]T[e]M FILIUS GUARTHI[girn] QUE(m) BENED[Iixit] GERMANUS QUE(m) [qu]E PEPERIT EI SE[v]IRA FILIA MAXIMI [re]GIS QUI OCCIDIT REGEM ROMANORUM +

Pillar of Elise, 1950But Britu is not claimed as the son of Vortigern by his own daughter, but by Sevira, the daughter of the Emperor Magnus Maximus. I will deal with the possible origin of the 'incest' elsewhere and concentrate here on the identity of this 'fourth son' of Vortigern. Britu is also claimed as the grandson of Catigern (Bonedd y Saint.62, Jesus College XX.16&18). But on the Pillar, Britu comes directly after Vortigern, though their connection is is mentioned in no other source. In later sources though, a certain Rhuddfedel is made the son of Catigern and father of Britu. Britu is made the son of Cadell in Jesus College XX.16 (the JC MSS do not mention Rhuddfedel at all), but all later sources place Cadell as the son of Britu !

It is possible that both Vortigern, Catigern and Cadell had sons named Britu, which is a form of 'Brutus' the legendary son of Aeneas of Troy and founder of Britain. Britu can also mean ‘Briton’ or ‘from Britain’. It might therefore be possible that this is a scribal error, originally stating ‘Vortigern the Briton’ or ‘Cadell the Briton’. Maybe the genealogists confused the generations below Vortigern into a solution that seemed to fit the descendants, or else it might simply be a popular name in the family of Vortigern! But a more satisfying explanation is that later chronographers were unsure where to place which person in the genealogies, so they attempted several compromises. Though this would account for the varying positions as son and/or grandson of Britu, Cadell and Catigern, we are still stuck with the question about the identity of Faustus and Britu. So let's add a third person, to make things even more complicated.

Riocatus

According to the pedigree of Fernmail, who was reigning in Builth and Gwrtheyrnion c. 830 (Jesus XX, 14), we find that Vortigern had a son Pascen (Pascent), who had a son called Riagath. The Harleian pedigree in the Historia Brittonum confirms this:

Historia Brittonum, chapter 49

49. This is the genealogy of Vortigern, which goes back to Fernvail, who reigned in the kingdom of Guorthegirnaim, and was the son of Teudor; Teudor was the son of Pascent; Pascent of Guoidcant; Guoidcant of Moriud; Moriud of Eltat; Eltat of Eldoc; Eldoc of Paul; Paul of Meuprit; Meuprit of Braciat; Braciat of Pascent; Pascent of Guorthegirn (Vortigern); Guorthegirn of Guortheneu; Guortheneu of Guitaul; Guitaul of Guitolion; Guitolion of Gloui. Bonus, Paul, Mauron, Guotelin, were four brothers, who built Gloiuda, a great city upon the banks of the river Severn, and in British is called Cair Gloui, in Saxon, Gloucester.

 

haec est genealogia illius, quae ad initium retro recurrit. fernmail ipse est, qui regit modo in regionibus duabus buelt et guorthigirniaun, filius teudubir. teudubir ipse est rex bueltiae regionis, filius pascent, filii guoidcant, filii moriud, filii eldat, filii eldoc, filii paul, filii mepurit, filii briacat, filii pascent, filii guorthigirn guortheneu, filii guitaul, filii guitolin, filii gloui. bonus, paul, mauron tres fratres fuerunt filii gloui, qui aedificauit urbem magnam super ripam fluminis sabrinae, quae uocatur brittannico sermone cair gloiu, saxonice autem gloecester.

The form here is Briacat (a misspelling of map Riacat), but the same name, which stems from Rigo-cat(us). The first element is the familiar 'king', also known in Rigo-thamos (Riothamus, 'most kingly'), the second element the even more familiar 'battle'. The name is virtually identical with Catigern and possibly even with Cadell. But to even suppose any interlinked identity between these persons is to deny their frequent appearences in all genealogies. We saw (a) Riocatus before, when Sidonius Appolinaris mentioned him bringing back books to Britain on Faustus' behalf. Though this one may have been a totally different person than his namesake from the genealogies, their connection is very likely to have been real.

Riocatus was almost certainly the son of Pascent and a grandson of Vortigern. His connection with Faustus would fit their age-difference; Faustus belonged to one generation earlier than Riocatus. Faustus was abbot at Lérins c. 433 and bishop at Riez in 475. The pedigrees (above) would confirm this. For us the fact of importance is that the evidence suggests that Riocatus and Faustus were relatives and contemporaries, with Riocatus the younger relative. This would supply an excellent reason for the visit of Riocatus to Faustus, for he was probably his nephew. Any criticism that Riocatus was king after Pascent and thus hardly a monk carrying books may be silenced by the possiblity that he was originaly trained as a cleric. The same happened to both Constans, son of the usurper Constantine III and also to Maelgwn Gwynedd, who both returned 'into the world' after having been clerics. We don't know if Riocatus was the eldest son, only that at some point he succeeded his father Pascent.

The fourth son?

With that we return to the question of the identity of Faustus. The sidestep above to Riocatus makes it clear that the latter could not have been Britu, which would have been a possibility due to the variant versions of the pedigrees. So, we have a son that Vortigern had by his own daughter, who was blessed by St Germanus and is called both Faustus and Britu. The incest part we can forget about as a political slur based on both malice and ignorance. Which leaves the part of the fourth son, carrying two names, both blessed by St Germanus. Was 'Faustus' an original name? It was almost certainly a 'name in religion', aquired when he entered the church. The conclusion, though of course being speculation, can be that Britu was the fourth son of Vortigern, who later changed his name to Faustus. But can this solution be reconciled with Britu being the ruler of Powys after Catigern, as mentioned in most genealogical material?

Pillar of Eliseg

(c. 850)

Harleian 3859.22, 23 & 27

(c. 1100)

Bonedd y Saint.62

(c. 1140)

Jesus College MS 20.16 & 18

(c. 1375)

ABT 6k, 9b & 20

(c. 1500)

Hen Lwythau
(Llwyth aelan)

(1500, later)

Guarthi(girn)   Gwrtheyrn Gwrtheyrn Gortheyrn Gortheyrn g.
Britu Catell Eurdeyrn Cedehern Kyndeyrn Kyndern
Annan Cattegirn Ruduedel Kadell d. Rhuddfedel Rhuddfedel v.
Mau(n?) Brittu Brutus Bredoe Brydw Brydw
Pascent Camuir   Thewer Pasgen Pasken
- Millo Cadell d. Cassanauth w. Kadell d. Kadell d.

Catigern was the first ruler of Powys, but it remains very doubtful if he ever ruled, due to his early death. He was slain in the battle of Episford/Rithergabail, alongside Horsa the brother of Hengist. After him a certain Ruddfael ruled, but he is almost certainly a 'ghost', created by a misconception of Catigern's last battle, Ritergabail (which is essentially the same word). Most pedigrees agree that Britu followed him, placing him before Cadell.

Was Britu the son or the brother of Catigern? The Britu that succeeds Catigern as king of Powys in most pedigrees might also have been the Britu map Vortigern from the Pillar of Elise. The discussion above is in favour of the latter, and though we shouldn’t exclude the possiblity of a (short-lived) son called Britu as well, I believe the evidence is in favour of the theory that when Catigern died in the battle of Episford, he left no heir, after which his brother succeeded him. Britu might have perished in the period after the death of Vortigern (whether as son or brother), after which Pascent was confirmed as new ruler. His line then continued as ruling dynasty, only challenged by that of Cadell.

A fifth son?

Which leaves us to dwell again upon the awkward introduction of Faustus as a fourth son, and Britu as the fifth! The introduction of Faustus has been described as an intrusive gloss, for 'Nennius' previously states that Vortigern only had three sons. Faustus is then somewhat strangely added as a fourth, which is immediately followed by the incest-charges. A possibility for this mentioning as an extra son might be explained that Britu was not from the same mother as the other four, but from a later wife of Vortigern. 'Nennius' mentiones in chapter 47 that Vortigern was killed, 'together with all his wives', who seem to have accompanied him on his flight to Wales. One of these might have been the mother of Faustus. We can safely exclude the Saxon Rowena as the mother in question, while Vortigern's first wife Sevira was probably dead by then.

Who was Britu?
The 4th son of Vortigern
Faustus
Riocatus
Vortimer's real name
Vortigern son by his daughter
Germanus's son by Vortigern's daughter
An eponym of 'Britain'
  
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Bibliography

  • Bartrum, P.C.: Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, (Cardiff 1966).*
  • Chadwick, H.M.: Vortigern, in: Chadwick, Studies in Early British History, pp. 21-33.*
  • Chadwick, H.M.: The Foundation of the Early British Kingdoms, in: Chadwick, Studies in Early British History, pp. 47-56.*
  • Chadwick, N.K. et al: Studies in Early British History, (Cambridge 1959).*
  • Chadwick, N.K.: A Note on Faustus and Riocatus, in: Chadwick, Studies in Early British History, pp. 254-263.*
  • Historia Brittonum - Nennius: British History and the Welsh Annals, Latin and trans. John Morris, in: History from the Sources VIII, (Chichester 1980).*
  • Kirby, D.P.: Vortigern, in: The Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies XXIII, 1970, pp. 37-59.*

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