The most hated man in Britain, as he later became known, was Vortigern
Vorteneu. The Welsh form of this is Gwrtheyrn
Gwrtheneu (the Thin).
Despite the name being synonymous with the man, Vortigern has long
been accepted as only a title by some scholars, with Pictish, or perhaps Northern British overtones. It means
literally 'over-king', although this is no bar to it still being a personal
name. Celts were typically flashy and humorous, and there are many punning
names and grandiose names in Celtic and early Welsh tribes and kingdoms. An
opposing argument is that there are some indications that, like his semi-legendary
forebears, his real name was Vitalis (Gwidol in Welsh, assumed to be his
father) or Vitalinus (Gwidolin, his grandfather), though his
origins are obscure.
His name would almost certainly have been Roman in influence,
although he was probably aware of its Celtic version.
The north and west of Britannia was
only ever under Roman military rule, so Celtic traditions were still very strong there.
The other possibility, equally strong, put forward by Charles Thomas, is that Bede knew of
Vortigern as Vertigernus or Uuertigernus, representing a British name Wortigernos (see the
introduction on Gildas for a fuller explanation).
His power-base was always the area along the Welsh border, and while
he was High King, his eldest son Vortimer set up a thriving kingdom in Gwent. Vortigern himself appears to have
spent more of his time, and exercised more direct control in Caer Gloui (Gloucester) in his early
His great grandfather is said to have been Gloyw Gwallthir (Long-Hair), one of the
city's supposed founders (Gloyw = Glou-, and Latin castrum (fort) = British caer
or Saxon cester). This name is still linked to the place itself in its nickname
of "Gloucester Long-Wall", but the appendage to Gloyw's name indicates he was a
This is also born out to an extent in the name Vortigern itself.
"gern" was a Pictish (or pre-Pictish) word for leader.
Despite this Pictish link, the "Life of St Cadog"
gives Vortigern an alternative and very typically Celtic ancestry descending from the
Celtic gods, Beli Mawr, Lludd Llaw Ereint & Afallach.
Pictish descent was always
measured through the female side, so perhaps this explains the apparent conflict.
Vortigern could have possessed a Pictish female in his ancestry, a possible wife of Gloyw's, not unlikely if she was from the Southern Picts around Manau Guotodin or the Clyde.
The St Cadog ancestry shows too few generations to be
complete, but it is replicated in the King List for Vortigern's Powys, as similar ancestries are for other
kings, such as Gwent, Dyfed, and Gwynedd. The ancestry of Celtic kings was
very important to their prestige and their clan name, so even minor kings (who were
usually descended from greater royal houses anyway) would find an ancestry that linked
them to their royal title.