History Files


Post-Roman Britain

Vortigern and Vortimer

by Mick Baker, 8 July 2002



Vortigern was almost certainly a title rather than a proper name - it means 'overlord' [analogous to High King - Ed.]. According to the Annales Cambrić, Vortigern's reign took place in the Roman consulship of Felix and Taurus. This places it in circa AD 425.

According to Nennius one Vitalinus, (assumed to be a member of the 'Vortigern' family, as Vortigern's grandfather is also thus named), fought against Ambrosius twelve years after Vortigern came to power. However, as the period of Ambrosius was circa 460 we have an anomaly. Vortigern's reign needs to be placed in the 440's.

There are two conflicting accounts of the death of Vortigern - both recorded by Nennius. In one he perishes when his fortress is consumed by fire (when Germanus was present in England), and in the other he is universally hated because of his duplicity in inviting the barbarians to England and dies of a broken heart without honour.

If he died when Germanus was present then that places his death in AD 447, yet both the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC) and Bede insist that Vortigern was alive in 455.

Bearing in mind that the name 'Vortigern' was almost certainly a title the only way of reconciling all the threads of this evidence is to propose that there were two 'Vortigerns'.

VORTIGERN I - Comes to power in circa 425. Dies in a fire in 447.

[1] Just as 'Vortigern' is a title it seems likely that VORTIMER is also one - perhaps meaning 'Crown Prince' or 'heir apparent'.

VORTIGERN II (VORTIMER [1] or BRITU ) - Succeeds in 447. Invites Jutish mercenaries Hengist and Horsa into the sub-kingdom of Kent in 449. Saxon victory in 455. (according to ASC, Hengist fought against King Vortigern at Egelesprep in 455 but according to Nennius there is a discrepancy - 'Vortimer fought four keen battles against them………The second battle was……called Episford in their language,…….' Both record this battle as the one where Horsa died. Vortimer was deposed in circa 458. Ambrosius fights Britu's successor, Vitalinus, in 459.

It has been established from the pillar of Eliseg that Britu succeeded his father Vortigern and yet Nennius fails to include the name Britu in his list of Vortigern's sons. The proposal is therefore that at the death of 'the Vortigern', 'the Vortimer' [Britu] took over to become the second 'Vortigern'.



Text copyright © Mick Baker. An original feature for the History Files.