Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles
Celts of Britain
influence in Britain
faded, the various British kingdoms and territories that emerged gradually began
to fragment. This was largely thanks to the tradition of dividing territories
between offspring, which only served to weaken the entire country. One such
fragment of territory seems to have emerged in the mid-fifth century (if not
before). This is usually known as Glastenning, a sub-kingdom that probably
covered much of the modern county of Somerset, and which lay mostly to the west
of the modern town of Glastonbury in the Mendip region of Somerset. There was a
Roman settlement at Wells, to the immediate north (possibly with shrines
dedicated to the springs there), while the important sub-Roman city of
Caer Baddan was a little
Glastenning (or Glastening) was a sub-kingdom of
appears to have been subject to its authority for the most part. It may not even
have been important enough to be a sub-kingdom, but from the mid-sixth century
its immediate rule was under Cyndrwyn Glas, king of
Dogfeilion, which itself was a
sub-kingdom of Gwynedd. This
link was recorded (much later) by William of Malmesbury referencing an early
Welsh pedigree that mentioned Glastenning. A
son of Cyndrwyn Glas, one Morfael, also became the ruler of the Roman city of
Letocetum (Caer Luit Coyt, modern Lichfield) in the eastern half of
Pengwern, and his younger
brother became king of all of Pengwern, succeeding Cyndrwyn himself.
There is some resistance to linking Glastenning to Glastonbury at all. An
alternative suggestion is that the text that links Glastenning to Luit Coyt is
corrupt, masking its true nature. Caer Luit Coyt is a location that was certainly
linked to the Dogfeilion kings, so this idea cannot be discounted. If it
is correct, then the Glastenning of Somerset was nothing of the kind, and would
simply have been another region within Dumnonia. However, presuming that
Glastenning was indeed Glastonbury, then the Dogfeilion kings had their
headquarters at Ynys Witrin, a group of hills and rocky peaks that sit above
the marshy and often flooded lands of the Somerset plain. The nearby River
Brue offered deep water access to Ynys Witrin which, as well as being a
trading port, was also an important site for religious ceremonies.
The name Glastenning would seem to be formed of 'Glast' or 'Glas' with two
suffixes added in '-enn' (a form of the more standard Welsh/Brythonic '-ion'
or '-on'), and the Saxon '-ing'. By the time William of Malmesbury was writing,
Glastenning had long since fallen to the Saxons, so the name had become corrupted.
'Glas' in Welsh means blue, grey, or
grey-green, perhaps due to the presence locally of lead or silver mines. Even
today, silver coinage in Welsh is 'arian gleision' ('gleision' being the plural
of 'glas'). The theory that Glastenning is named after Cyndrwyn Glas is explored
further in the entry for c.550, below. Another possible origin of 'glas' is the
Welsh word for glass, 'gwydr', or 'gwydraid' in plural form. The word 'gwydraid'
tends to be pronounced in conversation as 'gwydred'. 'Gwydr' is both glass as a
material, and a glass drinking receptacle, which in Welsh is 'gwydryn'.
Interestingly, the Latin for glass is 'vitrum', with the 'v' pronounced as a 'w'.
When mispronounced or corrupted mildly over the course of some generations, this
easily gives Witrin, so the Isle of Glass, Ynys Witrin, was the Latin version of
the Celtic name. Ynys Witrin, Glastenning, and Glastonbury are all various
forms of the same name,
and all refer to the same place.
The West Saxons of the mid-seventh
century knew Ynys Witrin, the 'Isle of Glass', as Glestingaburg, the 'fortress
[or monastic enclosure] of the people of Glas', suggesting that the Britons had
a defendable fort there. There does indeed seem to have been a fifth century
fort on Glastonbury Tor, which would account for the name Caer Witrin, a variation
on Ynys Witrin, with 'caer' meaning 'fort'. The site was also known as Ynys yr
Afalon, the Isle of Avalon, 'Avalon' being derived from an old Celtic word for
apples, and the site being the place to which the legendary version of 'King'
Arthur was taken after the tragic battle of Camlann. Tradition also has it that
Joseph of Arimathea visited the site in the first century AD and planted the
Glastonbury Thorn, which still flourishes there today despite occasional
(Additional information by Edward Dawson, and from The Archaeology and
History of Glastonbury Abbey, David Ewan Thornton, 1991.)
Cyndrwyn Glas (the Blue)
According to William of Malmesbury, Cyndrwyn Glas settles in Glastenning with his
livestock after finding it deserted, migrating there from Luit Coyt (an early
connection to this place in Pengwern
that will later become important to him and his offspring). His epithet, 'Glas',
'blue', a typical Welsh naming pun
for a redhead. Cyndrwyn Glas appears to be a king or sub-king here, and there
is also a Cyndrwyn Fawr who appears as king of Pengwern around 613. Given the
links between the Dogfeilion
kings and Pengwern, this could also be Cyndrwyn Glas. 'Fawr' means 'great' in Brythonic/Welsh,
suggesting that he has built a reputation for himself. Could he also be Cyndrwyn
the Stubborn of South Powys?
In terms of Cyndrwyn's personal name, the first part, 'cyn', is 'dog'. This
is a common naming form for Celtic leaders, appearing variously as 'cuno',
or 'cune', or 'con'. The second part, 'drwyn', is yet another typically
Welsh/Celtic pun which is 'trwyn' in modern Welsh, meaning nose, snout,
nozzle, proboscis. In other words, Cyndrwyn means 'dog nose'. When it comes
to working out when Glastenning gains its name, it is interesting to
theorise that Cyndrwyn himself might not be entirely enamoured with his
personal name and may use 'Glas' instead. Once he has taken over the
Somerset levels, his people of Glas would be the Glasion, altered here to
Glasenn, the origin of Glastenning. There seems to be no sign of Glastenning
in any references that would date before the mid-sixth century, so it seems
entirely possible (without further evidence) that Glastenning is named after
The Glastonbury region seems to have experienced a power vacuum
in the mid-fifth century which allowed the Dogfeilion to walk in
and take over
The name of the last king of
Caer Gloui is
rather remarkable in that it breaks down as 'Con' meaning 'dog' and 'mail/fael'
meaning servant. Speculatively speaking, this 'dog servant' may have links
to the kings of Glastenning to their south. Cyndrwyn Glas is also king of
Dogfeilion, which means
'servant of [the god] Dagda'.
West Seaxe make the breakthrough
of defeating Caer Baddan,
Caer Ceri, and
Caer Gloui, this
places the heartland of eastern
Glastenning itself, under direct threat. However, it seems likely that the
three cities have been receiving military support from Glastenning or
Dumnonia, and that these latter two kingdoms hold onto the West Wansdyke
territory after the three cities have fallen. Incoming Saxon settlers who
call themselves the Somersaete
are penned in by this barrier.
It may also be possible that an access corridor is maintained along the
eastern bank of the Severn which allows the kings of Glastenning to reach
the Midlands of Pengwern
and further west, to Dogfeilion.
While a king of Dogfeilion rules Glastenning in the middle of this century,
it seems a subsidiary branch from Pengwern has gained it by the early
the name of his son, Morfael.
c.610s - 620s
is around this time that the
Glastenning found Glastonbury Abbey, which remains one of Britain's best
known abbeys until its closure at the Dissolution. The fact that they are
able to do this means that the
West Seaxe conquest of the
West Wansdyke has not proceeded particularly far south, and Glastonbury is
still in British hands. The island of Beckery in the nearby Avalon Marshes
has already provided a monastic home for the
British Church since
the late 400s.
While Glastenning is inherited by Morfael, this point marks the first appearance
of the Dogfeilion in
Pengwern. Morfael is also a
sub-king in Pengwern, at Caer Luit Coyt, while his brother, Eiludd Powys,
becomes king of Powys (which incorporates the Pengwern territory). Given
Welsh emphasis on ancestry to
qualify for a throne, it seems likely that a Dogfeilion leader (probably
Cyndrwyn Glas) has married a daughter of the king of Powys, qualifying his
descendants to rule Powys by the rules of descent of
Gwynedd (which had been
inherited from their ancestors, the
use primogeniture, but the Pictish rules are that any descendant, regardless
of the form of that descent, is qualified to inherit (meaning that even
bastard sons of wayward daughters can show up and claim a piece of a
territory or even kingship). The fact that the Dogfeilion are accepted
as rulers of Powys (as well as that part of Powys that is known as
Pengwern) is very telling. There has to be a valid claim of descent.
Morfael ap Glast
King of Caer Luit Coyt (Eastern
Pengwern) & Glastenning.
Morgan Glas (the Blue)
King of Glastenning.
652 - 658
West Seaxe victories in 652
and 658 see them occupy the entire Glastonbury region, and the
of Glastenning ceases to exist. Its overlord,
suffers extensive loss of territory in the remaining parts of Somerset and
in Dorset. Glastenning is rendered as 'Glestingaburg' by the local
Saxon Somersetae ('the somer settlers'), but the the abbey that has recently
been founded there survives and prospers, and initially does so under British
abbots. The Dogfelion kings also lose Pengwern
in 656, and already seem to have lost control of Pengwern's master,
Powys, so now they are cut back
to their ancestral territory of Dogfeilion.