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The Search for the Historical King Arthur: Vortigern's Sons
The Third Generation of the Brythonic Heroic Age Part 1: Vortigern's Sons
Hazy figures from a misty island
This group is surprisingly less rooted in real history than any of the last generation, but they are still present in less reliable sources, and as they are the foundation for Arthur’s generation, they are worth touching on. Most of these men have a floruit starting sometime between 450-470, and as such are active in roughly the later half of the 5th century. These men would have been leading offensives against the Germanic invasions, and like their later descendants, fighting heavily amongst themselves. Some of them may have even been fought under Ambrosius, cutting their teeth in his battles as soldiers and commanders, eventually becoming leaders in their own right.
The Sons of Vortigern
As I have discussed in my entry on Vortigern, I personally propose a later chronology for Vortigern than many normally do. This is based on Cadell’s floruit starting in the 470s, based on his likely interaction with St. Garmon, as opposed to St. Germanus. This shifts everyone forward a generation. This does pose problems, as is common with working from these early records, however, there are a few reasons why this makes sense. First of all, this later chronology places Vortigern during the correct time period. This also causes our first problem, how could a man who was born between 390 and 400 have married the daughter of Magnus, who died in 388? This is where I think Vortigern has been conflated with his grandfather Vitalinus. With the earlier floruit for Vortigern he is still likely too young to have been married to a daughter of Magnus Maximus, whereas with the later chronology Vitalinus is of the perfect age to marry Magnus’ daughter Severa. It is often proposed that this was a family name as well, and that Vortigern may have himself been named Vitalinus leading to further confusion. Secondly this later Chronology places Vortigern’s more historically rooted descendants, such as Brochwel the grandson of Cadell in his proper time.
It is debatable as to whether Vortigern had three, four, or even five sons. Vortimer, Britu, Pascent, Catigern (Cadeyrn), and possibly Faustus of Riez. Vortimer, Britu, Pascent, and Catigern are all named as sons in various places, while Faustus is more contentious, but seems to be the Clergical name of one of the earlier figures.
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.
Vortimer, Catigern, Pascent, and Faustus are all mentioned here, but not Britu, he instead shows up on the Pillar of Eliseg
From the Pillar of Eliseg, which gives us the association with Severa the daughter of Magnus Maximus
Maximus of Britain, Concenn, Pascent ... Maun, Annan. Britu moreover son of Guarthigern, whom Germanus blessed and whom Severa, bore to him, the daughter of Maximus the King, who slew the king of the Romans
Here we have Britu given as being blessed by Germanus, sounding similar to the account of Faustus. Further strengthening this is the connection between Faustus and Riocatus, the son of Pascent mentioned by Sidonius in his letters to Faustus. Vortimer, the eldest son of Vortigern was apparently also blessed by Germanus supposedly, muddying the waters even more. I do not expect any conclusions I may make here to be uncontroversial, especially when it comes to dating, however the only conflict that really rears it’s head here is the issue of Severa which we have already addressed. As it stands though, well look at each of these figures individually.
Vortimer, a prototype for Arthur?
Vortimer, being the eldest son of Vortigern would have had a likely floruit starting between 445-460. Vortimer is often known by the epithet Fendigaid, meaning 'Blessed'. This stems from a tradition that he and his brother Britu were both blessed by Germanus of Auxerre on one of his visits to the Britain.
The beginning of Vortimer's military career begins around the same time, or shortly after, as 'the Groans of the Britons' recorded by Gildas. Rising up in opposition to his father's Saxon burden, he proceed to fight a campaign of four battles against them. One of the battles is actually corroborated in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, although the ASC states that Vortigern himself was the victor, not Vortimer. Nennius calls it Episford, while the ASC mentions it as Ægælesprep. This has long been held to be Aylesford in Kent. It is in this battle that both the Saxon leader Horsa, and Vortimer's brother Catigern died. Mapping this small campaign is still a fairly involved affair, and I may visit it in a substack article at a later time, but for now we move on.
Vortimer then either becomes ill, or dies during the later part of the campaign. He tells his companions to bury him where the Saxons landed. They do not heed his device and the Saxons eventually regain strength. Geoffrey of Monmouth (dubiously) expands upon this, adding that Vortimer was named high king while his father was still alive, and drove back the Saxons. It was then that his Step-Mother, Rowena, Hengists own daughter, poisoned Vortimer. Vortigern was once again high king.
Vortimer appears in the Triads as well.
Three closures and three disclosures of the Island of Prydain... the bones of Gwerthefyr (Vortimer/Vortipor) the blessed, which are buried in the principle ports of this island
Henry of Huntington gives us a different account of Vortimer’s military exploits in his Historia anglorum. Here Vortimer and his brother Catigern are Generals under Ambrosius, fighting the Saxons alongside him.
There are a number of echoes of Vortimer's story in Arthur's own story. The son of a corrupt king, staunchly defending his people from the Germanic invader in a series of battles, and eventually losing his life to treachery. Could Vortimer even be Arthur himself? While it is tempting to think so Vortimer is at best one generation, at worst two generations out from the most acceptable chronology for Arthur's existence, especially for him to be the victor at Badon.
Catigern, The First King of Powys?
the second Categirn, who was slain in the same battle with Horsa;
Catigern further serves to muddy the waters of the early kings of Powys. We know almost nothing about him aside from the fact that he died in the same battle as Horsa. We know the battle that Horsa died in from this entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Hengist and Horsa fought against Vortigern the king in the place which is called Ægælesprep, and his brother Horsa was killed. And after that Hengist, and Æsc his son, succeeded to the kingdom.
This is Vortimer’s battle of Episford, or Rithergabail from Nennius. Interestingly Catigern is sometimes listed with a son named Ruddfael. Rithergabail, and Ruddfael are essentially the same name, and it would seem that at some point working from fragmentary documents a later writer or copyist of a pedigree inserted this battle as a son instead. Catigern appears all over the place in the genealogies sometimes listed as Cadell’s son, sometimes as Cadell’s father. This leaves us with the questions of which interpretation is most likely. I think the simplest, less muddied explantion the best, Catigern was Vortigern’s second son, and Cadell’s father. There is a possibility that Cadell was entirely unrelated to them, but there is much speculation in that conclusion. If we take Catigern as Cadell’s father, it is unlikely that Catigern himself ruled Powy as he pre-deceased his father Vortigern, although it is possible that Vortigern gave him Powys to govern while he was still ruling. Perhaps Catigern’s early death at Rithergabail allows for the legend of Cadell’s servitude under the Irish raider-king Benli, who maintained a usurper kingdom while Vortimer and Vortigern were otherwise occupied fighting Saxons elsewhere. Benli, as an Irish chieftain and usurper, wouldn’t necessarily appear in any regnal lists, or genealogies.
There isn’t a whole lot more to glean about Catigern that doesn’t get into the realm of extreme speculation, i.e. conflating him with other figures, or working with names to come to a conclusion etc.
Pascent, King of Buellt & Gwerthrynion
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.
Similarly to Catigern there is scant information on Pascent. He is mentioned twice by Nennius, once in the quote above and another when detailing the genealogies of Vortigern, in the next chapter. He also appears on the Pillar of Eliseg, and as such some have thought that he may in fact have been a ruler of Powys itself, although traditionally he is said to have ruled the mountainous portion of Powys, Buellt, and the small sub-kingdom of Gwerthrynion. The famous enemy of his father, Ambrosius gives him these lands upon his father’s death, treating him quite honorably, possibly corroborating Henry of Huntington’s assertion that the sons of Vortigern fought as commanders under Ambrosius, and thus were well rewarded. Geoffrey tells a different and much embellished story, wherein Pascent rises up against Ambrosius, and eventually after being defeated twice by him, offers riches to anyone who will kill Ambrosius. Eopa, a Saxon poses as a doctor and poisons Ambrosius. This could be a conflation with other later Pascents of sore reputation.
As with Catigern, Pascent shows up all over the place in the genealogies. Some view this a reflection of later dynastic squabbles, which then spill over to the genealogist’s quill. There may be something to this, but I think there are other possibilities. It seems to me that many folks (pardon this short diatribe) are under the assumption that names are generally unique things, and that within a few generations that these names if reused are obvious interpolations in the genealogies. I think this is ridiculous personally, and who is to say that a Pascent ap Cadell didn’t exist, as well as Pascent ap Vortigern, with the the later Pascent being named for his father’s uncle? I think this scenario is far more common than most realize, and that many of the ‘duplicates’ within these genealogies are in fact different people.
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.
This would seem to be Faustus of Riez, a Bishop of Riez in Southern Gaul. Independent of this potential identification, there isn’t much else to go on as far as information about Faustus as a son of Vortigern, but from a letter from Sidonius we can glean that the two men were almost certainly the same person. Sidonius mentions that a Presbyter named Riocatus is transporting books back to Britain for him. Riocatus is likely the son of Pascent’s, and Faustus ap Vortigerns nephew. Additionally Sidonius refers to 'your Britons' further linking him to either Brittany or Britain. So it would seem that Sidonius helps us confirm that Faustus of Riez was in fact a son of Vortigern. Faustus isn’t mentioned anywhere else, but it would seem that Vortigern had another son that is, and we find him mentioned on the Pillar of Eliseg. This is Britu, who was also blessed by Germanus of Auxerre. Germanus was apparently Faustus’ mentor and foster father. Could Britu have been Faustus’ birthname?
This entry would be ridiculously long if I continued with the rest of the figures I’d like to discuss here, these include Mar ap Ceneu, Pabo Post Prydain, Gwrwst Ledlum, Fergus Mor, Erbin, Dyfnwal Hen, Dyfnwal Moelmud ap Garbanian, and maybe others as it strikes me. This may even be a three part entry.
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