Vortigern and the Powys Dynasty
By Darrell Wolcott
The chronology of the various extant pedigrees of Powys
has always been a problem for those who have attempted to analyze them. One guidepost in time is the virtually certain knowledge
that Vortigern, as overking of the Britons in 425 and for perhaps a quarter of a century thereafter, must have been born late
in the fourth century. An estimate of 375/380 should be close. The next man in the pedigrees whose birthdate can be closely
estimated is Selyf Sarff Cadan, who fell at the Battle of Chester in 616. Already the king by that date, Selyf could scarcely been born later than about 590 nor earlier than perhaps 560 or he would have been too old for the battlefield. Assigning him a
birthdate near 575 would be chronologically consistent with what is know of his descendants.
One should expect to find six, at most seven,
generations to span the 200 years from Vortigern to Selyf. But the medieval genealogists were faced by pedigrees which
list 10 generations from one man to the other. Their solution was to delete 3 names near the top. What had read "Cadell Ddyrnllwg ap Pasgen ap
Brydw ap Rhuddfedel Frych ap Cyndeyrn ap Gwrtheyrn" was emended to "Cadell Ddyrnllwg ap Cyndeyrn ap Gwrtheyrn" with the curious
justification that 3 of the four names which follow Gwrtheyrn were also names of his sons which must have been listed vertically.
No one would dispute that Cyndeyrn (or Cadeyrn or Cattegern, however spelled) and Brydw and Pasgen were, in fact, names of
his sons. But not exclusively; they were fairly common male names of that era. They had no idea who Rhuddfedel Frych
was, but decided he had to go as well. Voila! We now have a "chronologically stable" pedigree which makes Cadell Ddyrnllwg
the grandson of Gwrtheyrn (Vortigern).
Or do we? Turning to other ancient pedigrees,
it could be seen that 8 generations were listed from Cadell Ddyrnllwg down to Selyf. If in fact Cadell was two generations removed from Vortigern, his birthdate should fall somewhere
near 435. Thus, we should expect only five generations in a "stable" pedigree to reach Selyf. Once again the medieval
shears came out to right things. What had been "Selyf ap Cynan Garwyn ap Brochwel Ysgithrog ap Cyngen ap Maucant (or
Mawgan or Manogan) ap Pascent ap Cattegern ap Cadell" was recast to omit "Maucant ap Pascent ap Cattigern". The net result
of these emendations can best be seen in a chart:
Our own inquiry into the matter was prompted primarily
by the assignment of what seemed to be an unreasonably late floruit for Cadell Ddyrnllwg. The fanciful tale related by Ninnius,
while typical in its assignment of heavenly powers to men canonized as saints, contains at least some historical basis. If
we accept the chronology of Ninnius, the story of Cadell was set during the first visit of Bishop Germanus to Britain in 429.
But if Cadell was born in 445, there must be some mistake; it must have been during his second visit in 447. This works if
we assume Cadell was about 2 years old at the time or at most a teenager. But Ninnius tells us Cadell already was the father
of 9 children at the time. Common sense tells us his age must have been nearer to 40 than to his teens. And if the setting
was, in fact, the 429 visit of St Germanus, the Cadell in his report must have been born before the turn of the century, perhaps even as early
as 380. Even the renowned Peter Bartrum concedes that Cadell was contemporary with Vortigern.
So even after deleting six generations (about
200 years) from the various pedigrees of this family, we still have failed to achieve "chronological stability". Anyone can
make a jigsaw puzzle "fit" by trimming the pieces, but this method will never reproduce the original uncut picture. Perhaps
it is time to question the boundries which we have used as absolutes. Is it possible that one or more of the men have been
confused with same-named men of an earlier era?
The earliest known pedigree
of the Gwrtheyrn called Vortigern, that from Ninnius, makes him "son of Vitalis, son of Vitalinus, son of Gloiu". These Latin
names were rendered by the Welsh as "ap Gwidol ap Gwdoleu ap Gloyw Gwallt Hir". But the pedigrees cast for the Powysian dynasty cite the ancestry of their Gwrtheyrn as "ap Rydeyrn
ap Deheuwaint ap Endicant ap Endeyrn ap Enied ap Endos ap Enddolen ap Afallach ap Affleth ap Beli Mawr". That same former Catuvellauni family appears in the cited pedigrees of Cunedda and Coel Hen. When birthdate estimates are applied to the various branches which are consistent with the known
floruit of those two men, the Rydeyrn ap Deheuwaint cited as father to Gwrtheyrn belongs to the middle of the second century
or about 155 AD. If we were to assign a birthdate near 185 for that Gwrtheyrn, we would find it consistent with those pedigrees
previously considered too long. With no other changes, Cadell Ddyrnllwg would occur five generations later around 350. But
we are persuaded by the preponderance of citations which say the father of Cadell was named Cadeyrn, not Pasgen as in the
pedigrees first cited in note.
The earliest known pedigrees begin this family with Cadell and say nothing of his ancestry. They do, however, cite a son named
Cadeyrn as they descend down to Selyf and beyond. If we were to simply transpose the two names, it would both move the birth
of Cadell to near 380 and give him a father named Cadeyrn. The resulting pedigree would look like this:
250 Rhuddfedel Frych
380 Cadell Ddyrnllwg
simply repeating a common error found in many pedigrees, that of rolling two men named Cadeyrn into one and omitting the intervening
names, we would effectively repeat the medieval emendation that removed all the "sons of Vortigern" (except Cadeyrn) plus
This brings us to the evidence gleaned
from the Pillar of Eliseg. Whatever may have been carved there early in the ninth century, we only know what was legible when
transcribed by Edward Lluyd in 1696. That transcription contains no connected pedigree beyond Eliseg of the late seventh to
mid-eighth centuries. It appears to conclude with the names Cyngen, Pasgen, Maun and Annan, then Brydw son of Vortigern. Whatever
relationship existed between Annan and Brydw is left to conjecture.
a young lady named Annun was a member of the household of Madrun, daughter of Vortimer the Blessed, and is cited as her handmaiden.
If the Annan of the Pillar were a female, she may have been the wife of Maun and a daughter of Brydw. Those pedigrees which
include "Cyngen ap Maucann" in the Powys dynasty might be no more than a scribal attempt at rendering "Cyngen, son of Maun
and Annan". Certainly there is no Maucann or Mawgan in Lluyd's list of Pillar names. It is not necessary to conjecture whether
the Pillar Annan was identical to the handmaiden of Modren vz Vortimer, nor even whether Vortimer was identical to Brydw. But no one would argue that the Powys dynasty proudly proclaimed it descended from a mere handmaiden
of a granddaughter of Vortigern.
that Annan was female and formed the connection between Vortigern and the Powys dynasty would place virtually all the ancient
pedigrees into chronological alignment, something none of the other emendations have done. The chart would look like
Gloyw Gwallt Hir 280
Cadell Ddyrnllwy Gwrtheyrn
Selyf, obit 616
 Annales Cambriae lists the date as 613; the actual year is debatable.
 Celtic tradition never included child-kings. Selyf must be presumed to have been in his 20's or
older at the Battle of Chester.
 Six generations after Selyf's brother, Eiludd, we find Cyngen ap Cadell who was born c. 775; this
would be the expected generational span for 200 years.
 ABT 20 and HLG 2 from Bartrum, P.C. (1966): Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, (Cardiff).
 Harleian Ms 3859, 22 & 27.
 The year 447 for the second visit has received wide popularity, but it may have been as early as
435. See http://www.vortigernstudies.org.uk/artsou/constant.htm.
 Bartrum, P.C. (1966): Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, (Cardiff), pp. 129 but inexplicicably suggests
that Cadell could have been born c. 404 and still be a grandson of Vortigern
 No earlier pedigree of Gloyw is extant but modern genealogists make him a son of the Rhodri (Rydeyrn?)
ap Euddigan (Endigant) who occurs in the pedigrees of Coel Hen, and whose birth early in the second century makes such a connection
 ABT 9 and Jesus College Ms 119 "Buchedd Bueno" in Bartrum, P.C. (1966): Early Welsh Genealogical
 Harleian Ms 3859 1 and 10
 Harlean Ms 3859, 22 and 27,
 ibid and Jesus College Ms 20, 18 which render variant spellings "Maucant" and "Manogan".
 The handmaiden was an offical member of the court, not a mere servant. Nothing in known customs
would preclude a young girl from serving in that capacity for an older sister.
 Ninnius does not list Brydw among the sons of Vortigern but does name Vortimer. They may
refer to the same person.
 ABT 1; ABT 9; and JC 20,5 extend this line back to Beli Mawr.