Discover more from Aurochs, Arthur, and the Anvil
Guallauc ap Llenneac, The Horseman of Tumult
A comprehensive look at a king of Elmet.
While I have previously looked at Elmet from it’s standpoint as a kingdom, I thought it worth touching on Guallauc ap Llenneac, who was likely it’s second king in his own article. Guallauc is well attested, both because Nennius immortalised him in his work Historia Brittonum, and because many poems featuring him have been passed down to us, mostly from The Book of Taliesin. Even with all of this attestation he is still quite veiled like most figures from this period, and it is only possible to say for sure that he participated in fighting against the Angles of the north, and then against his own kinsmen in Rheged, all in the later quarter of the 6th century. If we take poetry into account here, and work to glean historical references from it (which we should) the infamous Battle of Catraeth can be included (which you can find a fictional treatment of here1, and a non-fiction here2). But are there then any other possibilities that we can then glean of this ferocious one-eyed warrior king? Might be worth taking a look.
The first place to start is in my opinion the genealogies. We find Guallauc or Gwallog as he is generally called now in the Harleian genealogies as well as a different version in Jesus College ms. 20.
Harleian: Guallauc map Laenauc map Masguic clop map Ceneu map Coyl hen.
JC ms. 20: Gwallawc m lyeynac m mar m coyl hen.
At first glance these may seem a little at odds, but knowing when Guallauc was generally active, we can work out that the Harleian is most likely correct in the number of generations (possibly even missing one, though it may be that Llenneac had children extremely late in life), while the JC manuscript omits Ceneu, who some believe is apocryphal (I do not, see here3) The chronology makes more sense with Ceneu present. This also holds ramifications for Mar, and Masguid Gloff (Masguic Clop in the Harleian) and Batrum supposes that these are just two different names for the same individual, which I do agree with. With this info we can work out that Guallauc was likely born at the earliest 520, at the extreme tail-end of his father’s floruit (though there still may be a missing generation), making him an exact contemporary of Urien of Rheged, which seems to be generally accurate as far as the historical info we have on the two men.
The next place to look to is Nennius, which gives us a historical account that not only gives us a little information on Guallauc, but also on Urien, and a few others.
Adda, son of Ida, reigned eight years; Ethelric, son of Adda, reigned four years. Theodoric, son of Ida, reigned seven years. Freothwulf reigned six years. In whose time the kingdom of Kent, by the mission of Gregory, received baptism. Hussa reigned seven years. Against him fought four kings, Urien, and Ryderthen, and Guallauc, and Morcant. Theodoric fought bravely, together with his sons, against that Urien. But at that time sometimes the enemy and sometimes our countrymen were defeated, and he shut them up three days and three nights in the island of Metcaut; and whilst he was on an expedition he was murdered, at the instance of Morcant, out of envy, because he possessed so much superiority over all the kings in military science. Eadfered Flesaurs reigned twelve years in Bernicia, and twelve others in Deira, and gave to his wife Bebba, the town of Dynguoaroy, which from her is called Bebbanburg. Edwin, son of Alla, reigned seventeen years, seized on Elmete, and expelled Cerdic, its king. Eanfled, his daughter, received baptism, on the twelfth day after Pentecost, with all her followers, both men and women. The following Easter Edwin himself received baptism, and twelve thousand of his subjects with him. If any one wishes to know who baptized them, it was Rum Map Urbgen: he was engaged forty days in baptizing all classes of the Saxons, and by his preaching many believed on Christ.
This section mentions four kings who fought against the sons and grandsons of Ida, the first Angle king of Bernicia. These four kings are Urien of Rheged, Rhydderch Hael of Alt Clut (Ryderthen), Guallauc of Elmet, and Morcant (likely of the remnants of Brythonic Bryneich though some have speculated Gododdin).
This gives us the information that Guallauc was a king, (or at least some equivalent rank) and either fought with Urien in a coalition against the Angles, or at least fought the Angles himself. The direct reading leads one to think that they fought separately against the Angles, while the explanation of Urien being murdered by Morcant makes a little more sense in the context of the four kings being allied. There is further evidence however that Guallauc and Urien were allied, and this comes from a specific interpretation of the poem Y Gododdin as well as a line from the poem Moliant Cadwallon.
In Moliant Cadwallon there is a short mention of Guallauc
Y digones gwychr Wallawg
Eilywed Gatraeth fawr fygedawg."
And Fierce Gwallawc caused
The great mortality of Catraeth, greatly renowned:
Catraeth, which features in the poem Y Gododdin, seems likely to not be a purely Brythonic vs Angle battle as generally held, but instead a rebellion against Urien, who was likely somewhat of a high-king of the north during his reign. Urien, the lord of Catraeth is set upon by the Gododdin and their Coeling allies, Peredur and Gwrgi of Ebrauc (Distant cousins of Urien)4. Peredur and Gwrgi died in 580 according to the Annales Cambriae at a place called Caer Greu, likely a poetic flourish for Catraeth as discussed in my article examining Catraeth.
Guallauc, having been allied with Urien in the later 580s and 590s during the campaigns against the Angles is unlikely to have been on the loosing end of Catraeth, and as such was probably allied to Urien during the battle.
Guallauc’s territory being Elmet is also not something easily deduced. I discuss the reasoning behind placing Guallauc’s territory as Elmet here.
In one of Taliesin’s poems singing praises to Guallauc he is called "ygnat ac eluet" which John Koch has translated as "Judge over Elmet", potentially reinforcing this idea of Guallauc as a King of Elmet. In the same poem it is implied that Gualluac was quite a commander, and had subdued many other kings, fitting of his place at Urien’s side as a near peer.
They will perforate the fronts of shields before the fronts of horses.
From his steed of tumult Morial shall appear before the host
Fiercely impassioned. They shall pledge the rich plains
From Caer Clud to Caer Caradawg,
The support of the land of Penprys and Gwallawg,
The king of the kings of tranquil aspect.
A battle in the presence of Mabon
He will not mention the contradiction of the saved.
A battle in Gwensteri, and thou subduest Lloegyr.
A darting of spears there is made.
A battle in the marsh of Terra with the dawn,
Easily broken, the terrible arch,
At the first uttering of the wordy
Of kings who were extinguished in the war.
Men with full intent to obtain cattle.
Haearddur and Hyveidd and Gwallawg,
The second quote here further reinforces his alliance with Urien, with Urien’s son Owain often being called Mabon, as well as the indication that he was present at Gwensteri, or the battle of Gwen Ystrad which is one of Urien’s famous battles, and likely another component of the battle of Catraeth. His place as a powerful warrior king is further bolstered by his remembrance in the triads as one of the “Three Pillars of Battle of the Island of Britain”
Dunawd son of Pabo Pillar of Britain, and Gwallawg son of Lleenawg, and Cynfelyn the Leprous
No doubt that Guallauc was a battle-king, worthy of the epithet given to him by Llywarch Hen, “Battle Horseman” or “Horseman of Tumult”.
Gwallog horseman of tumult, intended
To make slaughter at Erechwydd
Against the conflict of Elphin
Llywarch’s poetry indicates that while Guallauc was allied with Rheged when Urien was on the throne, Urien’s death seemed to have changed the hardened king of Elmet’s ambitions, who seemingly turned his attention to Urien’s sons, along with his cousin Dunod (likely of the Pennine kingdom of Dunoting) This is likely the last chronological placement we can make of Guallauc, sometime in the late 580s or early 590s.
There is another poem that discusses an incident in his youth in which he lost an eye. There is a semi-mythical quality to it, and much like his uncle Arthwys it seems that his legend grew in the centuries after his death. Part of this legendary status seems to circle around his supposed parentage. While Llenneac may have been one of the initial figures behind Lancelot (who himself has quite a bit of ‘woo’ associated with him, and honestly is rarely mentioned outside of the genealogies, poems on Guallauc/triads, and possible early poetic references as Llenlleog, and Leminauc.) he doesn’t seem to come with much appended legendarium, Guallaucs’s legendary qualities instead lay with his supposed mother. Guallauc was supposedly the half brother of Gwyn ap Nudd who is generally considered to be a wholly mythical figure, as well as the famed Caradoc Freichfras, who would have been roughly a generation Older than Guallauc. Caradoc is a semi-legendary figure himself, and was likely King of Gwent in the late 5th century. They share a Mother, a daughter of the shadowy Amlawdd Wledig, Tywanwedd. This is an unlikely scenario for obvious reasons. Peter Bartrum reconciled the disparate nature of their time and origins by surmising that their mother may have been seen as a fairy like figure, similar to Gwyn ap Nudd himself. The three are further linked by mentions of being together in 'Geraint and Enid' further strengthening the links between them. This stands as another example of how some of these links within later works evolve out of control. The Poem where he loses his eye further adds to this legendary mystique
ON a fine night Pen Gethin heard the shout of a host,
When he took a long leap;
Unless the ground be guarded he will not cease.
Since Coegawg is so rich as this in gold,
Close to the court of Gwallawg,
I also shall be wealthy.
Accursed be the tree
Which pulled out his eye in his presence,
Gwallawg ab Lleenawg, the ruler.
Accursed be the black tree
That pulled out his eye from its place,
Gwallawg ab Lleenawg, the chief of armies.
Accursed be the white tree
That pulled out his eye from his head,
Gwallawg ab Lleenawg, the sovereign.
Accursed be the green tree
That pulled out his eye when a youth,
Gwallawg ab Lleenawg, the honourable.
This is obviously a praise poem, meant to bolster the man’s fame, however the repetition of the differing trees here partially anthropomorphised and ‘pulled out his eye’ lends and air of legend to what may have originally been a story of how Guallauc lost an eye to a low branch while riding. Gathering all of this together, and with what we know of other figures I think we can work out a rough chronology for this one-eyed warrior king.
520 Guallauc is born to Llenneac. Llenneac is the only son of Mar besides Arthwys that seems to have been a king in his own right, and being that his territory likely was bordered by significant Germanic territories, having children eluded him until he was close to fifty.
530s Guallauc loses his eye in a riding accident.
537 The Battle of Camlann: Guallauc is remembered as one of Arthur’s knights, and may have been present fighting at Camlann, a near apocalyptic battle in the wake of a volcanic winter that cause crop failure, and plague. Arthwys/Arthur dies, as does Llenneac. Guallauc at ~17 years old is crowned.
540-570 Relative period of stability. A fairly quiet period in the Hen Ogledd, both Urien and Guallauc are in the prime of their lives, and seemingly reign easy in the post-apocalyptic Old North.
573 Arfderydd, and Urien’s early battles. Guallauc likely allied with Urien and participated in the battle of Argoed Llyfain (likely a second component of the Battle of Arfderydd5). Guallauc and Urien are both conspicuously absent from the Battle of Arfderydd, which happened in what was likely a subkingdom of Urien’s, Caer Wenddoleu, where it’s king, Urien’s cousin/sub-king Gwenddoleu perished.
580 Catraeth/ Gwen Ystrad Guallauc assists Urien with his germanic Foederati against their cousins, Peredur and Gwrgi, who were allied with the Gododdin. Peredur and Gwrgi perish, Guallauc and Urien remain some of the most powerful kings in the North at the time, with Rhydderch Hael and Aedan of Dal Riata the only real threats.
~585 The Angles continue to grow in strength, Guallauc and Urien proceed to meet them in battle, sometimes winning, sometimes losing (possibly with the help of Rhydderch and Morcant, possibly not)
latter half of 580s Urien has driven the Angles of Bernicia to the sea, they are almost defeated when he is assassinated at the behest of Morcant. Guallauc wastes no time, and attempts to annex territory of Rheged.
590 Guallauc is killed in battle against the men of Rheged. Ceredic his son succeeds him, only to lose Elmet in 616.
I find Guallauc a deeply intriguing figure. Just enough mystery for your mind to wander, but there is enough there to at least glean some of what might have happened under his rule in Elmet. I may approach other figures in similar ways if this article does well. Guallauc also features in my new Coloring book, which can be found on Amazon here
One translations makes the men of Ebrauc direct enemies of Guallauc, though I am not personally convinced by the surety of this translation it is intriguing.
“Enemies were wiped out by Gwallawg. You’re a better stockade than a pack of bears. War by the sea from the pulse of song, His fight was more than York’s men could endure.”