Discover more from Aurochs, Arthur, and the Anvil
The Search for the Historical King Arthur: Coel's Sons, Cunedda's sons and Amlawdd Wledig
The Second Generation of the Brythonic Heroic Age Part Two
I’ll keep the intro short here as the first part of this article pretty well explains most of it, and can be found here.
I will however add a little bit here, with some notes to chew on a while reading this. There is some contention as to whether some of these pedigrees are actually instead regnal lists misconstrued as pedigrees, assuming Primogeniture, or the usual Brythonic practice of subdividing one’s kingdom amongst his sons, leading to what may have been a transfer of power between generals, instead being interpreted as a father handing power over to a son. A few of our subjects in this article are possible instances of this. I do not think this is the case most of the time but these are slightly compelling.
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I will start here with Garbanian, who sometimes appears as Garbanion, and interestingly as Gorbanian/Gorbonianus in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae some 700 years out of place. You can read more in depth about that here in this substack article, and subsequent twitter thread, however I will discuss it lightly in this article as well.
It would seem that Garbanian was born sometime around the turn of the 5th century a.d. and is the progenitor and first of the kings of Bryneich, Which ultimately became the Angle kingdom of Bernicia. Among his descendants is Morcant Bwlch who is the man who had Urien of Rheged assassinated amongst a winning campaign against the Angles, of whom Morcant had lost significant amounts of territory to at that point. He shows up as I have mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work in a few different places, once at King Arthur’s coronation, and again in the earlier misplaced in time story of the kings of Eboracum
CHAP. XVI.—Gorbonian, a most just king of the Britons.
He had five sons, whereof the eldest, Gorbonian, ascended the throne. There was not in his time a greater lover of justice and equity, or a more careful ruler of the people. The performance of due worship to the gods, and doing justice to the common people, were his continual employments. Through all the cities of Britain, he repaired the temples of the gods, and built many new ones. In all his days, the island abounded with riches, more than all the neighbouring countries. For he gave great encouragement to husbandmen in their tillage, by protecting them against any injury or oppression of their lords; and the soldiers he amply rewarded with money, so that no one had occasion to do wrong to another. Amidst these and many other acts of his innate goodness, he paid the debt of nature, and was buried at Trinovantum.
Here Geoffrey is obviously weaving a narrative from a scant northern chronicle that left many gaps that he felt he needed to fill. This may give us some evidence here that Garbanian shortly ruled York for a time, taking the throne upon his nephew Mar’s (Morvidus’) death, and ultimately with Arthwys taking the throne after. This leads us to another interesting point and this is Garbanian’s name. Garbanian is known in latin as Germanianus, possibly noting that he was not actually a son of Coel, but instead a Romano-British military leader, or purely Roman, or even of Germanic stock, and was generally accepted as being an ally of the Brythonic people/ Brythonic himself regardless of his origins. There are interesting possibilities here, Either Ceneu and Garbanian are brothers, and he got his name as an epithet later in life (a likely possibility, maybe gaining fame leading a host of Germanic Foederati?), they are half brothers, with Coel possibly having taken a Germanic wife, or they are unrelated and their kinship was a later association to try and solidify royal claims. I think it is likely here that Garbanian is descended from Coel in this case, as his descendants are often associated as Coelings themselves.
Ceneu as well seems to have been born around the same time as Garbanian, although I do think that this poses problems in chronology. Ceneu himself was blessed with many descendants. One of his sons Gwrwst the great grandfather of Urien of Rheged, who is often dated to around 510, which works with the chronology of Ceneu being born around 400-410, keep this in mind, there will be more on this later. Ceneu seems to have left little impact on preserved history. He is mentioned in the poem The Affair Of Argoed Llwyfain, one of Taliesin’s songs of praise of Urien of Rheged.
Flaindwyn called out again, of great impetuosity, Will they give hostages? are they ready? Owain answered, Let the gashing appear, They will not give, they are not, they are not ready. And Ceneu, son of Coel, would be an irritated lion Before he would give a hostage to any one.
This mention is not without contest however, and some (Ifor Williams specifically) translate the line mentioning “Ceneu, son of Coel” instead as “A welp of Coel” and attribute Ceneu in the genealogies as an addition from misunderstanding this part of the poetry. I do not hold this belief myself however, and do believe that the corroboration from other places weakens this argument, including memories of Garbanian and Ceneu attending Arthur’s coronation in Geoffrey’s Historia (Possibly a memory of the some ceremony involving Arthwys ap Mar, Ceneu’s grandson and Garbanian’s Nephew, certainly not the high medieval coronation that Geoffrey would suggest, but possibly something older.) Ceneu upon his death seems to have split his kingdom as is typical of Brythonic practice at the time, with the major power center at Ebrauc going to his son Mar, who is sometimes attested as Mor, or Masguid, or Masguic Gloff(the lame), and Gwrwst taking the west. This leaves us with Pabo, who in and of himself is problematic here. He appears as a son of Ceneu in the earliest genealogy, but elsewhere as a son of Arthwys ap Mar. There are some possibly explanations here, but I will save those for Pabo’s entry in our next generation.
Garbanian and Ceneu both have very little trace in the historic record, but there seems to be a tradition of both of them using Angle Foederati, setting the stage for the eventual downfall of their descendants kingdoms.
A quick discussion of Chronology, and Some possible issues with accepted dating for Coel, and many of his descendants.
A note on chronology here. The dating for Ceneu we discussed earlier is not without it’s problems. The Chronology we discussed before this would have Urien born around 510 a.d. and this would make Urien around 75 at his time of his assassination. This isn’t outside of the realm of the possible, but I have a feeling we are either missing a generation here (unlikely) or that either some of these figures had children extremely late, or Coel wasn’t as “old” as he is sometimes said to be. I think the last is the most likely possibility. By moving the chronology up by a single floruit almost every person is exactly when the were supposed to be to participate in the events they are claimed to have participated in. Everyone from Urien, to Peredur and Gwrgi, Ceredig of Elmet, and others end up when they are likely to have lived. This also has interesting implications on the question of finding the Arthur of Badon himself. That is not to say that there aren’t problems with this later chronology, as there are, and we will discuss them when we get there, but overall it gets the post-Badon generations especially when they need to be. This would place Garbanian and Ceneu being born in the 420’s roughly instead of the 400 or even 390 sometimes seen in other chronologies.
All of Cunedda’s sons accompanied him to Gwynedd (Venedotia) and helped him expel the Irish, save his eldest Tybion, who died prior to Cunedda leaving Manau Gododdin. All either established, or were given kingdoms in reward for their service, and I will address them and their kingdoms here, in order of age.
Ysfael, King of Ysfeilion
Ysfael was given a portion of Ynys Mon as his kingdom of Ysfeilion. As with many of these figures little is known of them, save his offspring. In this case Ysfael had three sons, Meilir Meilirion, Cynyr and Yneigr, who later with the help of their cousin Cadwallon Lawhir drove the Irish out of Ynys Mon. Ysfael may be the same figure sometimes seen in some sources as Gwron ap Cunedda.
Rhufon, King of Rhufoniog
Rhufon was given the area now known as the town of Denbigh. He was ultimately succeeded by his son Mor.
Dunod, King of Dunoding
Dunod ruled the innermost part of the Llŷn Peninsula, and the territory directly to the south of it. His list of descendants is quite longer than many of his brothers, showing rulers until at least the 10th century, although most of these were subordinates of the Kings of Gwynedd.
Ceredig, King of Ceredigion
Here we have a son we have a little more information about, relative to most of his brothers. His kindom of Ceredigion as it became known, was the southernmost, bordering Dyfed. This has implications that I will speculate on. Dyfed’s nobility seems to have been of Irish stock, likely the Déisi nobility primarily, evidenced by names, as well as recent archaeological evidence in the form of burials, and ogham stones that have been found. This would place Ceredig in a position to be a buffer for the rest of his brother’s kingdoms. This may indicate that Ceredig was quite capable for his father to invest such an important position in him. It could also indicate ill favor otherwise. Heavy speculation of course, but interesting. He also has the distinction of marrying Meleri, a daughter of the famous and powerful Brychan ap Anlach (not to be confused with his son (or maybe grandson) Brychan of Manau). Ceredig and Meleri’s daughter Ina, may be the Saint Ina that St Ina's Church in Llanina is dedicated to. Ceredig’s kingdom was maintained by his descendants until Gwgon ap Meurig drowned in a river crossing while fighting Vikings. Rhodri Mawr who was Gwgon’s son in law took over rule until his son by Gwgon’s daughter Angharad, Cadell was old enough to take power.
Afloeg, King of Afflogion
Afloeg was given the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula. His kingdom of Afflogion did not retain autonomy long, and was absorbed into Rhos by the time of Maelgwyn. This is all that is known of this small kingdom which seems to have had little impact.
Einion Yrth, King of Gwynedd
Cudedda’s seventh son, but generally his most famous, born rather late as far as this generation goes, with his sons being contemporaries of the fourth generation in our series, the generation of Arthur himself. Einion bridges that gap similarly to his father Cunedda, as an intermediary between generations 2 and 3, while Cunedda bridged 1 and 2. Most of Einion’s fame is from his sons, and their descendants. As a seventh son it is surprising that he was given his father’s central base of power, the kingdom of Gwynedd (Venedotia). Little else is known directly of Einion himself, unfortunately, but he must have been quite favored, even with a epithet like Yrth (the Impetuous).
Dogfael, King of Dogfeiling
Dogfael’s kingdom was established in the area around Rhuthin. The kingdom was eventually absorbed by Gwynedd in the early 8th, possibly late 7th century, and likely was a client state of Gwynedd even in the earlier period.
Edern, King of Edeirnion
Edern ruled a tiny kingdom situated near Bala, with nothing known beyond it’s founder Edern’s name, eventually being absorbed by Powys.
Meirion, King of Meirionydd
Also known as Meirchion or Mark, Meirion is sometimes interpreted to be a grandson of Cunedda, being the son of his eldest son Tybion. This comes from an interpretation of a passage from the manuscript known as Harleian Ms 3859, translated by Peter Bartrum.
"These are the names of the sons of Cunedda, whose number was nine: Tybion, the firstborn, who died in the region called Manaw Gododdin and did not come hither with his father and his aforesaid brothers. Meirion, his son, divided his possessions among his brothers. 2, Ysfael, 3. Rhufon, 4. Dunod, 5. Ceredig, 6, Afloeg, 7. Einion Yrth, 8. Dogfael, 9. Edern"
Bartrum interprets this to mean that Meirion was Tybion’s son and divided Tybion’s possessions amongst Tybion’s brothers. There is a case to make that instead “Meirion, his son” could be interpreted as meaning Cunedda’s son. This along with the practice in Welsh law of “the youngest son is to divide”, possibly giving us an interpretation of Meirion as Cunedda’s 10th/9th son if you do not include Tybion. This ambiguity has been the source of confusion for many years.
Meirion had three sons, Cadwaladr, Cadwallon, and Bleiddud, and his kingdom of Meirionydd was situated south of Dunoding and North of Ceredigion, was considerably powerful compared to the other kingdoms of Cunedda’s sons. His dynasty maintained power for around 400 years before being absorbed into Gwynedd.
Were these men actually sons of Cunedda?
I think there is a case to be made here that many of these men may not have been sons of Cunedda, but possibly close relations otherwise, or military commanders that were basically given fiefs. This opinion is not an uncontroversial one though, but I think there may be some merit here, as Einion Yrth inheriting the central powerbase seems strange, especially considering that he was the 7th son. Succession can be tricky though, and Brythonic practice did seem to be to split kingdoms amongst sons, so it is hard to say either way. It is an interesting possibility to think about either way, and potentially adds context to why Einion was given Gwynedd over say the eldest Ysfael, or youngest Meirchion(Meirion).
Here we have the shadowy Amlawdd Wledig, one of these progenitor figures who may be a fabrication, but maybe not. Amlawdd’s many daughters seem to fill in gaps in many of these genealogies, and possibly give more credence to claims with a famous ancestor.
Of note here is the mother of Culhwch, Goleuddydd, and her sister Eigr, who many are more familiar with as Ygraine, the mother of Arthur. This is something to mull over. Eigr and Arthur seem like later fabrications here, but there is always a possibility of a kernel of truth. Gwen the wife of Cunedda appears here as well, which does fit with him being a contemporary of Cunedda’s sons, and may be a preservation of real history.
Amlawdd’s name is unique, and doesn’t seem to have been used outside of this instance, and is possibly the same as the Norse name Amleth. Could it be that a figure of Norse tradition over the years was grafted into these genealogies? The question here is why? There is the convoluted possibility that a much later figure has been grafted in, who for some reason was popular with the Welsh during the Norse invasions. I think this is shaky ground though and probably coincidence.
There is the possibility that it is not a name, but a title misremembered as a name. King Budic of Armorica is the son of Emyr Llydaw, a name which could mean Ruler (leader) of Armies, Llydaw possibly being a corruption of the Welsh Luyddog meaning host or army. One can see how Emyrllydaw may become Amlawdd through contraction or copyists errors etc. This is once again speculation, and may not mean anything in the long run, but could be a possibility still.
So why would so many of these later kings want to show descent from a fictional figure as many would have Amlawdd be. I think this is where the kernel of truth may lie. While Amlawdd exists as a genealogical convenience he may in fact be a memory of a very real person known by another name, who’s identity and deeds have been lost through the ages. The men who wanted to claim descent from him obviously knew he was important, but sadly the reasons aren’t preserved for us. Whether his name was Amlawdd, Emyr Llydaw, Amlóði, or even Ambrosius we will possibly never know, unless some dusty tome lying in wait is miraculously found. Maybe one day.
Our Next Generation
In the next installment we will meet leaders from the North, Pabo, Mar, and Gwrwst all sons of Ceneu, Dyfnwal Moelmud ap Garbanian, Dyfnwal Hen ap Cynwyd, the sons of Vortigern, and possibly a few others.
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