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Post-Roman Britain

Eudaf Hen

by Peter Kessler, 1 April 1999

 

 

The family of Eudaf Hen (Octavius (his Roman name) the Old (Hen)), are purported to hail from the modern Gwent area of Wales, although at the time this was known as Ewyas, and encompassed later Gwent and Ercing.

Eudaf supposedly took up the British High Kingship after defeating Trahearn, the brother of King Coel Godhebog (the Magnificent), in the fourth century or late in the third century. He had no sons, and was succeeded by his son-in-law, the Emperor Magnus Maximus. Conan Meriadoc, his nephew, eventually became king of both Armorica and Dumnonia.

Like many prominent men of their era, Eudaf and Conan would have dressed as Romans, but maintained continuity with their Celtic traditions by claiming descent from Celtic "gods": Llyr Llediarth (Half-Speech), God of the Sea and his son, Bran Fendigaid (the Blessed), who was mortalised as a King of the Silures (in the Gwent region).

These "gods" were in all likelihood glorified versions of historic Britons who ruled the Dumnonii and Silures, and perhaps others, as the High Kings of Britain.

Eudaf also claimed the title Lord of the Gewissę. This was almost certainly applied to him by later Gwent or even Dumnonian rulers to establish the legitimacy of a possible brief overlordship over the West Saxon Gewissę (until they became a dominant force in the mid-sixth century).

There is the possibility that this title was more correctly applied in reference to the Hwicce, Saxons of a later kingdom based on Gloucestershire, which had its own British origins in Caer Gloui. The West Saxons led the fighting against British kingdoms around Gloucester and the River Severn in the late sixth century, and the Hwicce seem to have grabbed their own kingdom from at least some of the territory taken.

After Eudaf Hen, Ewyas was ruled for a short period by his brother, Arthfael, and was passed onto his sons, Gwrgant ap Arthfael and Meirchion ap Gwrgant. This final probable ruler of Ewyas died childless, and the, by then, High King Vortigern, placed his eldest son in charge of the kingdom [1].

By circa 474, Gwrfoddw Hen, son of Amlawdd Wledig, had laid claim to the eastern half of Ewyas, and the Kingdom of Ercing emerged from that under his rule, taking its name from its capital of Din Aricon.

Early Ewyas seems to have encompassed rather more of Wales than the later Gwent and Ercing kingdoms, apparently reaching north towards the Black Mountains just below modern Clifford in Herefordshire, and perhaps taking in part of Herefordshire itself. This region split from Gwent to form the northern point of Ercing.

[1] The division of Ewyas.

By the time of the Domesday Survey [2], Ercing had long since disappeared, and Gwent was slightly reduced. Ewias (a later spelling, and maybe a Norman pronunciation) was a semi-independent principality covering an area roughly between the line of Offa's Dyke path beneath the Black Mountains in the west, Craig Serrethin in the south, the line of the Golden Valley in the east, and Yager Hill and Cefn Hill to the north, just below Clifford.

Although it cannot have survived for long, its capital is still remembered today in the village of Ewyas Harold.

[2] Domesday Ewias.
 

 

     
Text copyright © P L Kessler. An original feature for the History Files.