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Elmet, The Forgotten Kingdom
Expansion of my thread on The Kingdom of Elmet from twitter.
The Kingdom of Elmet's borders, and even it's sheer existence as a kingdom is unsteady, as it occurs in only a handful of places, with Nennius' Historia Brittonum mentioning that Edwin of Northumbria "occupied Elmet and expelled Certic, king of that country"
So what exists here is an exercise in reconstruction. Combining genealogies and veiled textual references we can maybe glean a little bit more about this obscure Kingdom. We have to work backwards here. The first thing is to compile any mentions of a Certic, Ceredig, Caradog, or Ceretic from around the early reign of Edwin of Northumbria, giving us a date of roughly 616 to work with, as that is when Edwin began his reign.
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The first referece we will look at is within The Venerable Bede's work Ecclesiastical History.
Her life was the fulfilment of a dream which her mother, Breguswith, had when Hilda was an infant, during the time that her husband, Hereric was living in banishment under the protection of the British king Cerdic, where he died of poison.
The next is in the Annales Cambriae, or Annals of Wales, which has two consecutive entries involving Ceredig and Edwin, and seems to indicate the two events are linked.
616 Ceredig died.
617 Edwin begins his reign.
Then we have finally the reference from Nennius.
Edwin, son of Alla, reigned seventeen years, seized on Elmete, and Expelled Cerdic, its king.
The Triads also reference him as possessing one of the "Three Adulterers' Horses of the Island of Britain:"
Fferlas horse of Dalldaf son of Cunin, and Gwelwgan Gohoewgein horse of Caradawg son of Gwallawc, and Gwrbrith horse of Rahawd.
If these all reference Ceredig of Elmet then we can assume that he was ruling in 'Elmet' by 614 (Hild of Whitby's birth), Hild's father was assassinated under his protection (possibly at his behest), his father was Gwallawc, and that Edwin annexed his kingdom violently in 616. This Gwallawc is of course the Gwallog I have often spoken of, an ally of Rheged, and from the genealogies we have a descendant of Coel Hen.
Ceredig - Gwallog - Llenneac - Mar - Ceneu- Coel.
This Gwallog is an almost exact contemporary of Urien of Rheged. We can assume then that Elmet was the domain of both Ceredig's father Gwallog and Ceredig's grandfather Llenneac as well, as there are no other sons listed for either Gwallog or Llenneac for this kingdom to be fractured as Brythonic kingdoms often did with multiple heirs.
Gwallog appears in much poetry, and we learn much information about him. He lost his eye to a tree branch while a youth, he was known by the epithet 'Marchog Trin' (Horseman of Battle), and is even given as one of Arthur’s knights in Geraint son of Erbin, where his father Llenneac is also seen.
And Arthur became surety for Edeyrn, and Caradawc the son of Llyr, Gwallawg the son of Llenawg, and Owain the son of Nudd, and Gwalchhmai, and many others with them.
As I have discussed at great length before, Gwallog’s uncle Arthwys may in fact be the origin of the Arthur of legend1. Gwallog may have even been old enough to participate in the disastrous Battle of Camboglanna in 537 (Camlann) along with his father, leaving the memory of him as a warrior of Arthur?
And Fierce Gwallawc caused
The great mortality of Catraeth, greatly renowned:
- Moliant Cadwallon
The compelling theory of an early Catraeth which has grown on me as of late may have been Gwallog and Urien of Rheged allied against a a group of fellow Coeling and the Kingdom of Gododdin. Gwallog himself is associated with Catraeth in the poem Moliant Cadwallon. Within the poem Y Gododdin commemorating those that fell at Catraeth fighting for the Gododdin there is another curious reference to Elmet found in the elegy of a warrior named Madog.
He downed his mead at a single draught
before the war-path to Catraeth.
When he wielded his sword,
brutal in war,
no one called him cruel.
No grim ghost, his men defended,
lethal soldier, Madog of Elmet.
This Madog is generally unidentifiable, but there are a few possibilities. This Madog seems to have been an important man, and may even be mentioned many times in the poem. One line mentioning warriors returning to Madog’s tents indicating a possible role as a leader, and is mentioned again with his distant cousin Peredur.
Before the tents of Madog, when he returned,
But one man in a hundred with him came.
The first being that this is Madog ap Morydd, a Coeling and Gwallog’s cousin, as well the father of Myrddin Wyllt2. Possibly serving his cousin in Elmet as a lord? The second possibility is an ambitious, but otherwise unknown and unnamed son of Gwallog. The third is that he was a lord from the territory rebelling against Gwallog. All interesting and compelling possibilities.
Gwallog was also part of the Grand Alliance of the Old North late in the 6th century that almost snuffed out the Angles, until Urien, the preeminent King of the North (and possibly High-King) was assassinated and the alliance fractured. Gwallog then made war on Urien's sons.
Against him fought four kings, Urbgen (Urien) and Riderc Hen (Rhydderch Hael) and Guallauc (Gwallog) and Morcant (Morcant). Deodric (Theodoric) fought bravely with his sons against that Urbgen--at that time sometimes the enemy, now the citizens, were being overcome--and he shut them up three days and nights in the island of Metcaud (Lindisfarne), and, while he was on an expedition, he was murdered at the instance of Morcant out of envy, because in him above all the kings was the greatest skill in the renewing of battle.
In one of Taliesin’s poems about Gwallog there is a line often interpreted as referring to him as ‘Judge over Elmet’ a common term referring to a ruler at the time.
As usual the further back the generations go the less we know about these kings, and with so much written about Gwallog, sadly much less is written of his father Llenneac, or Llennog as he is sometimes known, but we can glean that Llenneac was at least the first king of Elmet.
Llenneac, may have a possible analogue for two early figures, Llenlleog the Irishman from Culhwch and Olwen, and Llwch Llawwynnauc (mirror figures in two separate stories). Llwch is almost certainly a euhemerized god, related to the Irish Lugh, however as it goes with many of these stories historical figures are often laid on top of or in place of these earlier deities. Both Llenlleog and Llwch are often cited as pre-Galfridian inspirations for Lancelot. In fact Llenlleog is one of the only figures to wield Caledfwlch other than Arthur. Llenneac ap Mar’s importance can be stressed in my opinion (though we know little of him) by the fact that of all the attested sons of Mar/Maeswig, it seems that only he and Arthwys ended up with kingdoms.
Elmet then must have been formed when Mar's kingdom of Ebrauc passed to his son Arthwys, with the southern portion centered around Leeds, and possibly the Old Roman Fort at Slack (Cambodunum, echoes of Camelot anyone?) passing to Llenneac, Mar's second son. I have speculated on the events leading up to this transfer of power, beginning with a series of events sparked by Garbanian ap Coel the great uncle of Arthwys and Llenneac, briefly taking Greater Ebrauc for himself (an area including the Elmet). Arthwys eventually took the kingdom back from his great-uncle in a series of three battles, which appear in Nennius’ work Historia Brittonum. Llenneac surely participated in this campaign with his brother as evidenced by the creation of the Kingdom of Elmet, which was then controlled by Llenneac’s descendants.3
It's southern and eastern borders may have been the Sheaf and the Wharfe, butting against Deira, and Mercia. This kingdom probably had a fair amount of influence as it guarded the old Roman Road that linked Chester and York. It’s name is remembered in a handful of toponyms, as well as a memorial stone found in the far away Llyn peninsula that commemorates a man named Aliortus from Elmet.
The stone reads ALIORTVS ELMETIACO HIC IACET “Aliortus a man of Elmet lies here”. The stone was found buried near Llanaelhaearn church, where it is currently preserved. No other record of this Aliortus has been found, but the finding of this stone shows the continuing links between the Brythonic Hen Ogledd and Wales. Cadwallon ap Cadfan may have been aided by the Brythonic people still living in Elmet during his brief hold upon the area, further reinforcing the ties between these long separated cousins, as Cadwallon himself was a distant cousin of Ceredig ap Gwallog, deposed 20 years before. Cadwallon was descended from Cunedda, the founder of Gwynedd, who according to tradition was married to a daughter of Coel Hen. While this kinship seems to have mattered little overall, it may have been remembered enough to bring Ceredig’s supporters to Cadwallon’s side after their lord’s death.
Elmet existed then as an independent kingdom from the 490s to 616 then, and as such was the last Brythonic kingdom in the east to hold out against the Angles.
Ceredig was probably in his 60s when he died, an old king, with no apparent heirs, and no support from surrounding kingdoms. A fate sown by his father's assaults on his cousins and neighbors most likely, the Twilight of the Brythonic kingdoms was ending.
disputed, but likely. This genealogy of Myrddin appears in the infamous forger Iolo Morganwg’s work. Not all of Iolo’s work is fabricated, and in this instance there seems to be no clear agenda here, as usually Iolo works to ensure that figures fit where he wants them in genealogies. Being that he has appended the famous Myrddin to a relatively unknown family (at the time) I see little reason to consider this inauthentic in this case. My friend p5ych0p0mp has another theory you can read about below.
More on this can be found in my articles here below. The first with a high level overview, and the second a more in depth look at the history of Coel’s dynasty.