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Vortimer is one of the eight or so historical figures suggested in the title of my book. Vortimer is the "Over-Prince" who replaces his father Vortigern and defeats the Saxones in four crucial battles as recorded in the Historia Brittonum. My second book equates him with Cunedda, thus making him one of King Arthur's allies. This segment is 20 pages long, a copyrighted excerpt of a partial chapter from Historic Figures of the Arthurian Era. No part of it may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.
However, what is missing from the histories is detailed in Monmouth's narrative. As a lead-in to the role of Vortimer, Monmouth borrowed the introductory material from Chapter 36 of the HB. It gives only a passing mention of Hengist's daughter, but Monmouth elabaorates upon the banquet. Hengist's beautiful daughter is identified by name, Renwein, who solicits advances from the king. Whereas the HB just briefly explains that Satan entered Vortigern's heart and made him covet the girl, the Monmouth account stresses that this was a major travesty because the king was a Christian and she was a pagan. This causes the deep rift between the Welsh and their king and irreversible enmity between the king and his three sons, particularly Vortimer and Katigern.
To intensify the great chasm which has split the Britanni from the Saxones, Monmouth points not only to the corruption brought on by the king's association with a pagan concubine, but he cites also the Pelagian heresy poisoning the country, recorded in Bede's manuscript of several centuries earlier. The Britons are incensed that even more Germans are invited over and, because they are terrified by the prospect of a treasonable revolt, they pressure Vortigern to force the intruders to return to the continent. But because of his concubine, Vortigern "loved the Saxons above all other folk." The Welsh therefore immediately desert Vortigern and elevate Vortimer to the kingship. Unlike the HB, which makes no attempt whatsoever to explain Vortigern's deposal and Vortimer's rise, Monmouth's account thus provides the rationale of why Vortimer's rule intersperses that of Vortigern's.
Monmouth then turns once again to the HB and borrows the narrative of Vortimer's four battles against the Saxones. After Vortimer's successes, Monmouth adds details of his own. Vortimer is blessed by the Britons and Saint Germanus for restoring lands to the Welsh, but Renwein plots the new king's death. She studies noxious poisons, and then through bribery convinces one of Vortimer's servants to administer a fatal dose to the king. Vortimer dies, and similar to the story related in the HB about the king's burial wishes, Monmouth writes basically the same thing, but adds more detail and changes the burial site from Lincoln to Trinovantum, a reference to London.
Vortigern is restored to the kingship and invites Hengist back into Britain. Through an elaborate account, Monmouth narrates that Hengist returns with 300,000 warriors, then treacherously betrays the Welsh king, slaughters the Council at the Cloister of Ambrius, and ransoms the king for territories, cities, and fortresses. Vortigern seeks advice from his magicians, and then flees to northern Wales near Beddgelert, where the story about Emrys unfolds.
R.H. Fletcher approaches the issue of Vortimer by using the Chartres manuscript, a fragment pre-dating the Nennius manuscript and lacking the details of the HB, which stops where a deal is being struck between Vortigern and Hengist for Rowena (Renwein), the Saxon's daughter. In making comparisons between the HB and the DE, he formulates several interesting postulations, beginning with a comment on the noticeable variance already cited that "Guorthemir [Vortimer] practically replaces the Ambrosius of Gildas." After pointing out the incongruities in the HB and granting that the Nennius story includes Ambrosian material but only in subordinate and inconsistent notices, he writes, "From these facts it seems not unreasonable to surmise that Nennius's story is that of the British faction in the island, as opposed to the Roman faction of Gildas ..."
Inevitably, this engenders an analysis of the word "Vortimer," which, not surprisingly, reveals the word as another epithet, something quite common in the quest for Arthur's origins. Ashe notes that
Ashe is not implying that Vortigern and Vortimer refer to the same individual, but instead is staying that they have similar titles. The important realization is that it is not a proper name; the word Vortimer, like Vortigern, is an epithet.
Even without a great deal of psychic ability, it is simple to determine the next step in the procedure: Identify Vortimer. Although the step is simple, the identification isn't. Like an apparition, Vortimer mysteriously appears from nowhere; with no introduction or explanation, he simply materializes as a distinctively separate figure. The HB asserts that Vortimer's reign interrupted Vortigern's, but when Vortimer died, Vortigern once again became the ruler. This in itself is an assurance that there is not a confusion of the same titles, but there are two distinctive individuals. More consequential is that Vortimer is a bitter enemy of the Saxons, and Vortigern is unswervingly allied with them. The Historia Brottonum narrates in Chapter 43 that Vortimer, Vortigern's son, hated the Saxons and fought against their leaders, Hengist and Horsa. When he had expelled the enemies from the land, the English Saxons sent to Germany for warriors to fight against the Welsh, "sometimes victoriously advancing their frontiers, sometimes being defeated and expelled."
Most versions of the HB are abrupt and unavailing about Vortimer's inception, but fortuitously there are three versions of Chapter 44 which offer some clarification. Version K has the explanation added in the margin, but versions I and L contain the information in the body of the text. These versions provide the reason why Vortigern is deposed: The king incestuously defiles his own daughter and when they are confronted by Saint Germanus, Vortigern and his daughter flee. Vortimer, an honorable and trustworthy man, accepts the kingship with the support of the multitude, and vows to drive the villainous Saxons from the shores of Britain. He breaks the spirit of the powerful, hostile forces, and they take flight. They are expelled from Britain and for a period of five years afterwards, they dared not return, until the death of Vortimer. The three versions then merge with the other variants and relate the four battles of Vortimer against the Saxons.
In the HB there are no details about Vortimer's passing, but Saint Germanus blessed him in his prayers, another indication that Vortimer is not Vortigern, since Saint Germanus and Vortigern were mortal enemies. It is Geoffrey of Monmouth several centuries later who supplies some of the details of Vortimer's death, specifics which must have come from the mysterious liber vetustissimus, [or Monmouth's imagination], since there aren't any other sources which record this narrative.
The HB continues that after Vortimer's death "The barbarians returned in force, for Vortigern was their friend ..." and "it came to pass ...[that the Saxons] sent envoys to ask for peace and make a permanent treaty." Vortigern agreed, Hengist treacherously killed all the Council of Elders, took Vortigern as hostage, and bartered for great tracts of land, including Essex, Middlesex, and Sussex. Thus was the destruction of Britain woven.
The HB refers to Vortimer twice as Vortigern's son, once in Chapter 43, where it unceremoniouly divulges that Vortigern's son Vortimer drives out the Saxons, and then again in Chapter 48, where there is a genealogical statement that Vortigern had three sons, one who was Vortimer. Nevertheless, most scholars do not view Vortimer as a historic figure. R.H. Fletcher is an exception and after writing about Vortimer's role in the HB, plus parallels in the ASC even though Vortimer is not named, he concludes that ... "it does not seem very unreasonable that Vortigern, Vortimer, Ambrosius, and Arthur were real men who fought against the invaders."
John Morris, too, views Vortimer as a real and separate entity, but goes into much more detail than Fletcher. Early in The Age of Arthur he directly quotes that Vortimer fought against Hengist and Horsa and expelled them (from where?) for five years. He uses as his source Chapter 43 of the HB, which he himself had edited and translated in 1980, but there is no mention that the Saxons were expelled from Kent nor was it for a period of five years. Putting this aside, though, he then devotes a segment equating three battles from the HB with three battles listed in the ASC, reversing the order and modifying the dates. This would approximately set Vortimer's brief span during the fifth decade of the fifth century. Morris' speculations are interesting, but if accepted, negate the time frame given by Gildas, who relates that there was no intervening king or intervening time between Vortigern's reign and Ambrosius' rise to power.
He asserts several lines later that "In this sense, Ambrosius is the touchstone to prove the genuineness of Arthur," and explicitly absent is the name of Vortimer, in diametric opposition to what R.H. Fletcher supposed. Alcock's viewpoint carries conviction, though, because Vortigern's name was recorded in the calculi and Vortimer's name was not. In addition to Alcock who was quite familiar with the HB but still did not acknowledge Vortimer, Richard Barber bypasses that name in Arthur of Albion and only refers to him through Nennius in The Figure of Arthur. Also, E.K. Chambers in Arthur of Britain gives the name of Vortigern but writes nothing of a Vortimer or a Guorthimer.
The response to the simple question of "Who, then, is the real person behind Vortimer's epithet?", the simple theoretical answer is most commonly "Ambrosius Aurelianus." Before probing this as a probability other than the one proposed in the preceding chapter, it must be remembered that Gildas as the original source does not name Vortigern, Vortimer, Hengist, Horsa, or Arthur; he was very stingy with proper names, as though he were deliberately plotting to confound future generations. He writes of the superbus tyrannus, which was later translated as Vortigern, but that epithet has already been dealt with in Chapter 3 here in The Historic Figures of the Arthurian Era.
In King Arthur's Avalon, Geoffrey Ashe makes a general observation that epithets are rampant in Arthurian history. In reference to this commonplace occurence, he writes
In The Discovery of King Arthur, he raises questions about the confusion between proper names and epithets, rhetorically inquiring about Riothamus and Vortimer. In light of all that has been written in Chapter 1 of this text, it is more accurate to state that "Nennius has lumped together several separate items under the single evocative name of Ambrosius." Riothamus has fallen into the category, and it is worth a check to see if it applies to Vortimer.
There are several conditions which must be retained in order to effectively speculate about the Vortimer/Ambrosius equation. For one, the emendations in Chapter 1, including the misleading headings provided by translations of the HB, must be considered as accurate. The battles attributed to Vortimer in Chapter 43 are listed incorrectly under the title of "The Kentish Chronicle, Part 3." Rather than starting his battles as the beginning of a new section, the HB must be considered as a continuation without headings. And viewing it in this perspective leads to several oddities which must be re-thought.
Chapter 42 is the section about Ambrosius defying Vortigern's wizards. It ends by Ambrosius identifying himself and Vortigern becoming so intimidated and terrified that he gives the fortress and all of the kingdoms of the western part of Britain to Ambrosius. The king then flees to the northern part of Gwynessi where he built a city called by his name, Caer Gwrtheyrn. Chapter 43 then begins with the word interea (Latin), which has been translated by John Morris as 'meanwhile,' and by J.A. Giles as 'at length.' Extracted from Nennii: Historia Brittonum by Stevenson, the passage I've translated is a key factor in pursuing Vortimer's identification.
After a great deal of deliberation, interea is most accurately translated as "in the interim" rather than 'meanwhile,' 'at length,' 'later,' or 'afterward.' This gives rise to the question of "In the interim between what and what?" Viewing Chapters 42 and 43 as a continuation of the same narrative, it would have to be interpreted as "the interim between Vortigern granting Ambrosius his fortress plus all of the kingdoms of western Britain and the king's building a new city in northern Wales."
Because of the striking similarity of wording, Chapter 43 can be directly related to the DE of Gildas. After the Britons have rallied under the banner of Ambrosius Aurelianus, Gildas records in Chapter 26 that
Chronologically, this would have been set, then, somewhere between the end of Vortigern's reign and victory of Mount Badon. This is a fairly wide time span, even for Dark-Age history, but a combination of clues from several sources aid in narrowing down the range.
Gildas' account is highly compacted and sometimes vague, but he does list the three Saxon Adventi as proposed by Alcock, who sets the respective general dates as 428, 440, and 450. In Chapter 23 Gildas writes that Vortigern and his council invited the Saxons into Britain but does not name his ally's leaders. In the same Chapter, Section 3, he writes in a parabolic sentence that a pack of barbarians burst forth from their own country and came in three keels, first seizing lands on the east side of the island. That would have been the first wave. In Section 4, the second wave, larger and more aggressive, arrives after learning that the previous contingency succeeded. According to Gildas, when the second wave arrived, they asked for supplies, which were granted and "for a long time 'shut the dog's mouth'." The third Adventus occurs at the end of Vortigern's reign and the beginning of Ambrosius' leadership when the Welsh once again challenge the English Saxons.
In the HB, Book
31 does too much compacting; only one sentence is devoted
to the first Adventus: "Then came three keels,
driven into exile from Germany." The very next
sentence erroneously names Hengist and Horsa as the
leaders of the first Adventus rather than the
second. However, then, Chapter 3 correctly records the
second invitation, allowing in "sixteen keels, with
picked warriors in them, [and] in one of the keels came
Hengest's daughter, a beautiful and very handsome girl."
Out of sequence contextually but chronologically correct,
the HB also records, similar to the Gildas
manuscript, that the English Saxons were encamped at the
island of Thanet (after the first Adventus). Vortigern
promised to supply them with food and clothing in return
for the Saxons fighting against the Picts and Irish. But
the Saxons "multiplied in numbers [probably during
the second and third waves], and the British could not
Once the point is reached where Arthur is named, then it becomes necessary to view that term as the epithet Arthus, the High King Ambrosius. Changing the emphasis of what has already been quoted earlier, Gildas writes this of Ambrosius:
And Nennius copies this of Vortimer, who is interestingly spliced between the tale of Ambrosius and the campaigns of Arthur:
The preliminary indication is that there does seem to be a substitution of the title Vortimer for the proper name Ambrosius Aurelianus who precedes him and Arthur who follows him. Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman cite a translation of Eliseg's Pillar (an Ogham stone) by the Welsh antiquarian Edward Lhuyd in 1696 in an attempt to verify the historicity of Vortimer. In part (because the ellipses indicate the illegible segments on the stone), Lhuyd's translation has been deciphered as
The co-authors are theorizing a host of items: first, that there were two Vortigerns, one who came to power in the mid-420s and the other in the late 440s, partially based upon the Historia's alleged reporting of two distinctive deaths for Vortigern; two, that because Pascent's name appears as a bonafide son in the HB and on the pillar of Eliseg that Vortimer is likewise a historic figure, even though his name does not appear on the stone; three, that a linking verb can be inserted between 'Britu' and 'Vortigern's son;' and four, that 'Britu' is the proper name connected to the epithet Vortimer.
The theory that there were two Vortigerns has been proposed before, mainly based upon Chapter 49 in the HB, specifically the genealogy which follows the second 'son of Pascent' listing. Some translations interpret the passage Pascent, filii Guorthigirn, Guortheu, filii Guitataul as "Pascent, son of Vortigern the Thin, son of Vitalis," while others interpret it as "Pascent, son of Vortigern, [son of] Guortheneu, son of Vitalis." The difficulty lies in the original manuscripts omitting filii (son of), thus either omitting a generation, or supplying a descriptor for Vortigern. There have also been postulations of two Ambrosiuses, but most scholars and researchers don't ascribe to either.
That Vortimer is Vortigern's son, and that Vortimer had two brothers named Pascent and Categirn are viable propositions and must be seriously considered even though no other sources such as the DE, the Historia Ecclesiastica, or the ASC record anything about Vortimer. Nevertheless, Phillips and Keatman present a credible case that Britu could be the proper name behind the Vortimer epithet. Britu is listed as the grandson of Magnus Maximus, and judging from his association with Germanus, the authors estimate Britu's reign commencing about 447 based upon the assumption that 'Vortimer' was Britu's title before he followed his father as the successive overlord to the throne.
Earlier in Chapter 3 of this text, three separate genealogical lines allowed some interesting comparisons. In the explicit sense of the word, new and innovative parallels can be drawn showing a marked likeness in the development of several individuals in separate written contexts. One parallel--Cunedda and Vortimer (Brydw)--reveals matching characteristics. For one, Cunedda's floruit/lifespan as given in the HKA and Brydw's floruit as proposed by Phillips and Keatman are remarkably similar, especially when considering that they were devised independently of each other and for different purposes. Based upon Cerdic's triadic roles in the histories (as Cundda's son, Vortigern's interpreter, and the West Saxon king), Cunedda's floruit was deemed to be 435 to 465, with a life span estimated as 420 to 480. If Phillips and Keatman's date of 447 for the beginning of Brydw's reign is accepted as a median, then Brydw's floruit would be 432 to 462, almost identical to Cunedda's. Secondly, both Cunedda's and Brydw's floruits fit well with Hengist's arrival in Britain, since Hengist's floruit/lifespan was calculated as 428-458/413-473. These leaders would all have been contemporaries.
Similarly, Vortigern would then become a match with Æternus, the Roman name for Cunedda's father. The vast majority of scholars agree that 'Vortigern' is an epithet, commonly translating to something like 'over-king,' suggesting that Æternus could be the proper name behind the title. Vortigern has been identified as a Briton with Roman ties, and Æternus is an excellent Romano-Briton candidate appointed as Protector by the Roman emperor of the West. If viewed from the perspective of the ASC, Æternus would be the parallel of Esla, Cerdic the Saxon's grandfather. Hence, (spanning the HB, the Welsh genealogies and chronicles including the inscription on Eliseg's Pillar, and the ASC), Cunedda, Elesa and Vortimer would have been generational contemporaries preceded by Æternus, Esla, and Vortigern who were also concurrent historical figures.
Moving away from the narrower view of British happenings and concentrating upon a broader scheme of history, a chronological set of events can be devised based upon an amalgam of the ancient existent sources. In the DE Gildas writes of the superbus tyrannus (a reference used only twice) accepting the Saxones as allies to protect the island against invasion and aggression by the Scotti and the Picts. Bede taints the history for all the succeeding generations by misidentifying the superbus tyrannus, a term which is applicable to a supreme ruler--that is, the supreme ruler of the Western Roman empire--not a sub-king on a smaller scale limited to just the island of Britain. In his history Gildas has just described the Roman withdrawal in Britain and a respite of attacks from the Scotti and Picts; he then writes that the Briton scars are healing over and the island is being flooded with an abundance of goods, creating a growth of luxury. This occurs at the end of Honorius' reign, in Constantius III's interim just before Valentinian III's succession, during a period when the barbarian invaders were successfully contained or resettled according to Honorius' policy of partially-autonomous mercenary kingdoms. When Valentinian (or more accurately Galla Placidia) acquired the throne, the Roman policy of allowing some autonomy to the barbaric mercenaries was still in effect. Gildas is referring to this policy: The short-sighted superbus tyrannus (i.e. Valentinian) of the weakening Western empire had the temerity to invoke this policy in an attempt in Britain to "beat back the peoples of the north" by inviting the ferocious German Saxons into the island.
On a more localized scale, a tribal 'over-king,' Vortigern, was in command on the island to enforce the policies of the superbus tyrannus. That over-king, although a Briton by birth, had Roman ancestry, identical to Cunedda's ethnology through Æternus, Paternus, and Tacitus. When Vortigern lost control of his allies and the Saxones were no longer submissive, he had to recruit the help of his son, an over-king, but in a diminutive sense--perhaps an over-prince. Unlike his weak and ineffective father, however, this son, Vortimer, was a capable military leader who not only stemmed the flow of the Scotti and the Picts in the north, but also drove the Saxones back to their homelands. But Vortimer died shortly thereafter. The account in the HB records that the Britons ignored Vortimer's burial request designed to deter future continental invasions. Unlike this display of disrespect, however, a Welsh triad demonstrates the Britons' love for Vortimer: the "bones of Gwrthefyr the Blessed (Vortimer) are [buried] in the chief ports of this Island" and the locations are concealed so that his remains cannot be disinterred.
Vortimer is listed as
having two other brothers, Categirn and Pascent. Categirn's
name is recorded on Eliseg's Pillar and also in the HB
and Monmouth's HKB The HB relates that both
Horsa and Catigern were killed in battle at Agælsthrep.
The ASC also records the battle at Agælsthrep at
entry 455, thus giving a year for the conflict, and
recording Horsa's death but not Catigern's. Monmouth,
though, elaborates upon the battle, writing that "Horsa
and Katigern (the second son of Vortigern) met hand to
hand and both died, for each was mortally wounded by the
other." Pascent is likewise memorialized on Eliseg's
Pillar, and his name appears twice in the genealogies of
the HB. Pascent, too, fought against the English
Saxons, and afterwards "ruled in two countries
called Builth and Gwerthrynion after his father's death,
by permission of Ambrosius, who was the ÝgreatÝ king
among all the kings of the British nation." Pascent
also appears in the HKB, but Monmouth's account is
much different. Pascent is portrayed as pro-Saxon, stirs
up the German Saxons against Ambrosius, fights with the
Irish against the Britons, and is killed by
To follow-up on what
seems to be a probable connection between the epithet
Vortimer and Ambrosius Aurelianus (Arthus Ambrosius), a
re-check of the chronology from Chapter 1 is in order.
Whenever pondering a chronology, it is important to
always keep uppermost in mind that dates from ancient
history should never be viewed as chiseled in stone. When
a certain year is catalogued, it should be understood
that there can be a deviation, based upon the precision
and extent of the evidence. A deviation can sometimes be
a decade either side of a specific year, but if there are
several reliable sources--even though they are variant or
don't express an actual year--a collation of all the
facts might lead to only a one- or two-year deviation.
Charles Plummer, for example, doesn't express concern
with a one-year variant, but he does convey more serious
consternation about a six-year or more differentiation.
This is why the reconciliation of the ASC and its
Geneaological Preface as presented in Table 2 of Chapter
1 is so astounding; Of the eight entries analyzed, five
were exactly the same, and of the three remaining, only
one had a deviation of three years (i.e., 1.5 either side
of an average).
Then, traditionally, the
beginning of Arthur's reign is marked in the mid-years of
the seventh decade of the fifth century, during the time
when Hengist died and his son Octha succeeded to the
leadership as the sole ruler. Legend picks up on the name
Arthur and records that he was coronated at the age of
fifteen, which by curious coincidence is fifteen years
after the first mention of Ambrosius' victories. The HB
is the only source which records Arthur's battle list
against the English Saxons, and with the exception of the
last battle listed--Mount Badonicus--no other work,
including poetry and "non-fiction" antiquarian
material, makes more than just a mere mention of the
previous twelve battles. Arthur's last fatal battle at
Camlann does not appear in the battle list; its notice is
very brief in the AC and it, like the Badon
conflict is only glossed over in other works. This is why
Geoffrey of Monmouth's work is considered such a major
contribution to Arthuriana; he does give details about
the Battles of Badon and Camlann, plus wars at
Kaerluideoit and Caledon Wood, before indulging in
flights of fancy about a great many other unsubstantiated
One emendation is proposed by Charles Plummer in his comparison of entries 519 and 527. Those two entries, with no intervening accounts, read as follows:
In the 527 entry, the Parker Chronicle (a) uses the name Cerdicesleag, while the Laud Chronicle (E) uses Cerdicesford. About this entry Plummer writes
Plummer's identification of doublets heightens suspicions by other researchers, especially his comments on an "artificial system of chronology" for entries in the ASC during this period. His identification of this as a doublet means that it should be stricken, and in addition, the entry for 519 as shown in Table 2 of Chapter 1 which was borrowed from the HKA, should be modified to read 'Creoda succeeded to the kingdom.
That suspicion led to a suggestion in the HKA that there is another pair of entries which would fall into the doublet category. Consider the following two entries:
There are two intervening entries between the above, one dated 501 and the other 508. The curiosity, however, lies in the year differentiation between 495 and 514--19 years, which is the same span as a lunar adjustment. Likewise, if the cultural/tribal term of 'West Saxons' is replaced by proper names, or vice-versa, the entries become synonymous.
Four other peculiarities also surface. The first has to do with a territory termed 'West Saxon,' which is set typically near the Southampton Water in south-central Britain. One of the theories proposed by the HKA is that a distinction must be made between Cerdicesora and Cerdicesford, Cerdicesora being somewhere in Wales and Cerdicesford near the south-central coast. The entries for 495 and 519 therefore makes sense: in the first the English Saxons land at Cerdicesora and fight the Welsh, and in the second they land at Cerdicesford and fight the Britons. But the 514 entry is spurious: Stuf and Wihtgar land in Wales, but they are fighting the British. The second is that Entry 495 should name son Creoda; genealogical tree, but Cerdic's grandson and Creoda's son appears incorrectly in the ASC. The third is the absolute necessity of distinguishing between the Welsh and the British; the Welsh were settled mainly inland from the west coast of what is now known as Wales and spilled over extensively into the western and northwestern midlands, while the British--a more generic term--referred to those Celtic people who inhabited the southern heartland. And last but not least, is the added peculiarity in Entry 514 which Plummer objects to on etiological grounds. Stuf and Wihtgar are two alleged West Saxon chieftains, but unlike Creoda, their names do not appear in any of the West-Saxon genealogical trees.
Anchored in this milieu, Vortimer would historically appear just prior to Hengist's massacre of Vortigern's Council of Elders and therefore also prior to the second migration to Brittany, in the waning years of the sixth decade of the fifth century. This matches the ebbing years of Ambrosius' era and the waxing years of Riothamus during the second migration, the time in British history about fifteen years prior to the advent of a king termed Arthur. Not only is Vortimer's era a match, but likewise his enemies are identical to those of Ambrosius, Riothamus, and Arthur: generally he is warring against the English Saxons; specifically to use the words in the HB, he fought "valiantly against Hengist, Horsa, and his people," and after Horsa's death, he fought against Octha, who then came down from the north to rule with his father. The narrative is also clear that the English Saxons sent envoys overseas to recruit German Saxons to fight against the princes and kings of Britain The events are given not only by the HB but verified by the ASC, although Vortimer as a historical figure does not appear in the latter work.
One contradictory condition, however, prevents the acceptance of Vortimer as an epithet for Ambrosius. That circumstance is Vortimer's death. The wording and arrangement of events are vague. Book 43 of the HB relates that Vortimer fought against the English Saxons and expelled them to Tanet where three times he attacked them. The English Saxons sent for and enlisted German Saxon reinforcements from the continent, and afterwards the English and German Saxons fought against the princes and kings of Britain, sometimes being victorious and sometimes being defeated and expelled.
Chapter 44, translated from Stevenson's Latin, then begins with the statement that Vortimer fought against the 'them' at Thanet, blockading them and terrifying them on three separate occasions. A list of three battles follows: Derguentid, Ægælesthrep, and the Inscribed Stone. Stevenson easily resolves the issue of the word 'four' in the first sentence by explaining that Manuscript a indicates that the first battle was the one already mentioned in Chapter 43. However, the word 'them' in that first sentence is not as easily interpreted; it implies battles against both the English and the German Saxons if the events are assumed to be sequential. Assuming that is the case, then Vortimer is successful three times against the English/German Saxon alliance, but soon after that he died.
And therein lies the
controversy. For those proponents who believe 1) that
Vortimer is a distinctively separate, factual figure even
though he appears in no other historical manuscript; 2)
that he is Vortigern's son; 3) and that he died in the
early-to-mid 450s, there would seem to be no problem or
contradition. Simplistically he can be explained as a
prince since he is son to the Over-King, but that leaves
a flood of questions unanswered. If he is only a prince,
why does his epithet also imply that he, too, is an Over-King,
the same rank as his father? How would it be possible for
Vortimer and Vortigern to be joint rulers, particularly
when considering their opposing views toward the Saxons?
Why would Vortigern step down in the middle of his reign
only to return again after Vortimer's death? Why doesn't
the ASC identify Vortimer and his demise, since it
would add great glory to their cause?
Hence it is difficult to
formulate a judgement about Vortimer and his historical
role as reported in the HB. If his name is
accepted as an epithet for Ambrosius, then not just one
but several statements in the HB must be rejected:
He is not Vortigern's son, his reign was not flanked on
both sides by Vortigern's rule, and he did not die in the
460s. Logistically, then, he must be accepted as a
bonafide historical entity, and the identify of that
figure must be drawn from a small, finite field of
possibilities. As the limited evidence from the existent
sources suggests, Brydw--alias Cunedda, alias Elesa--is
the only feasible choice available.
In Chapter 4 of the HKA at the end of the section on Vortimer, the germination of a theory which linked the epithet Vortimer with the name Cunedda was touched upon but then passed over. In the succeeding chapter, a strong suggestion was given that Cunedda might be the bonafide historical figure behind the epithet Vortimer, but once again the theoretical possibility didn't advance anywhere. Chapter 7 repeated the pattern of strongly proposing that Vortimer and Cunedda were the same individual, since Vortimer could not be an epithet for Ambrosius and there were no other probabilites. Later in that same chapter, because Vortimer's AND Cunedda's activities were matched in the same vicinity with Arthur's, the intimation was again given that Vortimer must have been an epithet for Cunedda.
In my experience, a theory typically takes a circular meandering path, which has happened in this case. It was the bond of kinship among Vortimer, Cunedda, and Maglocunus which led to something more substantial than simple conjecture. While pursuing a different train of thought about Maglocunus' important role in Arthurian history, another study of the Roman map, perhaps for the fifthieth time, drew my attention once more to the core of the Midlands--Viroconium and its vicinity. Based upon the common belief that if an enigma has been studied and researched for literally centuries by a train of scholars but the mystery hasn't yet been solved, then it's because seemingly minor or trivial details have not been delegated their proper significance. Sometimes, however, the case might be that the enigma hasn't been explained because the obvious--by the very fact that it is so obvious--has been overlooked and therefore the solution has been delayed ludicrously for an interminable time.
In my first book the search for the geographic location of Vortimer's battle on the River Derguentid led through an intricate maze of terms. Eilert Ekwall's dictionary provided the cognate base of Derventio. From this, the River Darwen in Lancashire was derived, with its accompanying towns of Lower Darwen, Over Darwen, and Darwen near Blackburn. Similarly, the River Derwent in Cumbria comes from the same root, probably giving rise to the town of Derwen near Ruthin. Furthermore, there are three other possible sites: one is the River Derwent in Yorkshire and the accompanying villages of Derwent Fells and Derwentwater, a second is the River Darent in Kent which gave rise to the town Darenth on its bank, and the third is a the River Dart in Devonshire. All of these sites can be located on a modern ordnance map, but a more precise location for Vortimer's second battle couldn't be pinpointed, because among other reasons, some rivers take confusing courses. One example is the River Derwent in Derbyshire, which meanders southeasterly from its origin in the Howden Moor for about fifty miles before it joins with the River Trent.
However, the study of a map of Roman Britain drastically changes perspective and makes one realize that one need go no further than the original base of the word Derventio. What wasn't resolved in The Historic King Arthur can now be clarified here. In one of his footnotes, Josephus Stevenson gives a specific geographic clue by writing that Derguentid is "said by some to be the Derwent in Derbyshire," but unfortunately he then turns too quickly to the river Darent in Kent, most likely because he was following the erroneous leads of scribal headings interpolated in the Historia Brittonum.
Based upon solid, documented evidence, The Historic King Arthur weaves a pattern of events into a comprehensive milieu of the period so that Viroconium emerges as the site for Arthur's twelfth battle at Badon, a locale that had been famous for its Roman baths in addition to being adjacent to a hillfort with an extensive defensive view. There are six other specific conditions gleaned from the early histories and later Welsh tales which also point to Viroconium, a legionary fortress in the heartland of the Roman Cornovii territory, as the Badon site. This arena, separating the Cymry (Welsh) from the English Saxons in Mercia and East Anglia, was a constant battleground after the Roman withdrawal.
What is hidden when
studying a modern ordnance map splashes up like a cold
slap in the face by a wave when glancing at a map of
Roman Britain. The importance of Derventio--or Derguentid
and its many variations including Derwent--in Roman
insular history cannot be overstated. Derventio, in
modern times known as Littlechester, is directly on the
banks of the River Derwent. Only 25 miles southwest,
along the Roman road known as Ryknild Street, lay
Letocetum (Wall-by-Lichfield), an important fort and way-station
with a large mansio and baths, the location
proposed in The Historic King Arthur where Octha
settled when he came down from the north. At the
intersection there with Watling Street, Viroconium was
aboaut thirty miles to the west. In the opposite
direction from Letocetum, Watling Street traversed the
southeastern section of the island for 160 miles to
Canterbury, Kent, where it gragmented into several
different Roman roads to the coast.
The impact of this is
evident, and simple. The previous Roman fort
itself, Derventio, which is directly on the banks
of the River Derguentid, is where Vortimer's crucial
second battle was fought. It is impossible to
substantiate any other locale on the River Derguentid
which would be so significantly crucial for an emerging
kingdom. In comparison, the site of Darenth on the River
Darent in Kent pales to an insignificance. Although
Vortimer's battle at Agælesthrep is too obscure for
positive geographic identification, the other two,
besides Derguentid, are not. Whereby a battle at
Derventio would have been along the north-eastern
borderlands, the battle at Tanat would have been
approximately 70 miles away on the southwestern border,
and the battle at the Inscribed Stone would have been
about the same distance away directly west. From the
substantial evidence, events, circumstances, chronology,
and personages unquestionably point to the Cornovii
midlands as a major arena of Welsh/English Saxon/Welsh
But close readings cast grave suspicions on Kent as a major focus. One of those suspicions slithers out in Chapter 31. The last sentence of the narrative segment relates that
The first thing to arouse doubt is that in the twenty extant versions of the HB, not one single manuscript gives 'Thanet' as a variation for 'Tanet,' which is highly unusual. The pure form 'Tanet' still exists on modern maps as the River Tanat, originating in the mountainous region of Berwyn in central Wales and flowing eastward to join River Severn only six miles southwest of Old Oswestry, a hillfort re-occupied during the Dark Ages and the alleged home-base for Guinevere's father, Gogyrfan. The river-name, meaning "brilliant river' derived from the Old Welsh, is in the border region between Wales and Cornovii territory of the Roman period, adjacent to all the sites associated with Vortigern and Ambrosius. On the other hand, "Thanet," which Bede uses in reference to Ethelbert in the mid-eighth century, is a derivative from the Greek word thanatos, "death," akin to Latin "smoke," perhaps a reference to fog.
The real key, though, is the British word 'Ruoihm.' Unlike Tanet, there are several variations of Ruoihm in the manuscripts: Ruichin, Rouichim, Ruoichin, Ruithina, Rudithin, Ruithon, Ruoithin, and Roihin. No site by one of these names exists today, and a scrutiny of the area around the River Tanet will not uncover such a place. However, 'Ruoithin' is a cognate very close to Ruthin, approximately twenty miles due north of the River Tanet. A historical check shows that Ruthin was one in a string of hillforts from Moel Hiraddug on the coast, to Pen y cloddiau and then from Moel y Gaer and Foel Fenlli to Ruthin. The chain parallels not only the Clwydian Range, but also Offa's Dyke of a later age, a demarcation and protective shield between Wales and the barbaric northern interior of the island. In The Age of Arthur John Morris writes that
A philological check is even more revealing. Ruthin comes from the same stem as Ryther, and though obscure, Ekwall believes that its root is Old English, from hryther-ea or hryther-eg. In and of itself, that is not astonishing, but hryther-eg leads to the root of Ripon, hrypis, hripis. This root took on great significance in the HKA to delineate boundaries of the ancient Hrype tribe, whose kingdom was Hwicce, or Gewissae, and whose heritage was English Saxon during the Arthurian period. The root Hrypis, Hripis dates back to documents in the early eighth century, and links Ruthin with Ripon, Ribble, and Ribchester. Even more notable is that in the root hyther-eg the -eg ending signifies an 'island.' That term, as insulam, can be figurative, an isolated or surrounded position. What Vortigern gives, then, to the Hrypingas is a province encompassing the River Tanat just to the south of Ruthin, which is a territorial boundary marker.
In Morris' translation of the last segment of Chapter 31 from Nennius is a Mommsen addition, marked by daggers (Ý). The proper noun, Ripum, emerges as a crucial item of interest. As a proper noun Ripum is a Latin word in this instance applied to civitate, a Roman city which was the seat of administrative function. Ekwall does not list Ripum in his dictionary, but under the entry Ripon, he writes
In tracing this further, under the entry Repton is the following information:
Bede uses in-Hrypum only once (page 187) and all of these possibilities except one led to a dead-end. However, because an intervocalic change of p for b is found in other names, the interesting revelation comes from the history of the word Ribston:
This intervocalic change is also the root for the River Rib, the River Ribble, and Ribchester. The River Ribble in Lancashire, for example, meanders southwesterly from its source to the Irish Sea, and this, too, could have been a boundary marker for the Hrype tribe. This presumption for Ribchester is even stronger. Morris, even though he writes about this fortification in a different set of circumstances, contributes influential information. Ribchester was a principal fortified town in Lancashire shortly preceding Cunedda's migration to the south, where the territories of this region remained intact just prior to the end of the fifth century, Arthur's period.
Archaeologist Peter Clayton also makes an indirect contribution. About Ribchester, he writes:
Historically, Ribchester was not only a civitas but was a demarcation point and could have functioned as such for future divisional boundaries
However, the most interesting thing which emerges from the Hrype affix is not just each specific location bearing this tribal identification, but but also the general pattern which manifests itself. Ekwall claims that the etymology of the tribal name Hrype is obscure, but it is suspiciously similar to Hwicce. The Old English transcription would be Hryppe where the 'pp' is pronounced as a voiced 'th-' sound, Hrythe. Plotting only those place-names positively associated with the root Hrype onto a map splits Britain in half, from the mouth of the Ribble on the west to the River Humble on the east. Ribble, Ribchester, Ribble Head, Ripley, Ripon, and Riplingham form a jagged boundary across the country, in themselves a testimony to the borders of the Hrype tribe. The same is true down the center of the country to the south coast: Ripponden, Ripley, Repton, Ribberford, Ripple, and Ripley could be border markers for Hrype territories.
Some scholars and
historians do not equate Hwicce and Gewissae.
Morris, for example, labels the Hwicce territory mainly
in the present province of Gloucestershire, and Geoffrey
Ashe sets the Gewisse territory mainly in Dorset and
Hampshire, with the later empire of the West Saxons
superimposed between the two to show the eventual
combined kingdom of the West Saxons. Yet there are clues
within their own work to show that the two synonyms refer
to the same kingdoms. Ashe cites Geoffrey of Monmouth as
reporting that Vortigern was "the ruler of the
Gewissei," Morris writes that "Gewissae was the
earlier name of the Middle Thames Saxons," adding in
footnotes that these Saxons were "probably" confederates
"of the Berkshire English of the middle Thames about
Very early in the Dark Ages, Hrype/Hwicce/Gewisse was a massive territory granted to, or perhaps taken by, the Saxon compatriots invited in by Vortigern. It extended from the River Ribble to at least Ripon and Ripley in the north, bounded roughly by Offa's Dyke to the west, all the Hrype place-names on the east, and two similar place-names in Hants and Surrey to the south. This massive kingdom germinated sometime after Vortigern's succession to kingship in the fourth decade of the 400s. The West Saxon conquests of fifty years later play an important role in the development of these kingdoms from their inception to Arthur's death in the second decade of the 500s. Vortimer's first battle helps define the boundaries of these territories.
Vortimer: Welsh Hero of the Arthurian Age is Copyright © 2001, Frank D. Reno. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Comments to: Frank D. Reno
VortigernStudies is copyright © Robert Vermaat 1999-2008. All rights reserved