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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Cymru

 

Buellt / Builth (Romano-Britons) (Wales)

FeatureWith the expulsion of Roman officials in AD 409 (see feature link), Britain again became independent of Rome and was not re-occupied. The fragmentation which had begun to emerge towards the end of the fourth century now appears to have accelerated, with minor princes, newly declared kings, and Roman-style magistrates all vying for power and influence while also facing the threat of extinction at the hands of the various barbarian tribes which were encroaching from all sides.

FeatureIn the west, largely in what would become modern Wales, this process seems to have started earlier and taken place more quickly. Even by the start of the fifth century it is apparent that several territories had emerged here. The process seems to have been triggered by the reorganisations of Magnus Maximus in the late fourth century (see feature link), with what later tradition would claim as the creation of the 'kingdoms' of 'North Wales', 'South Wales', and 'Mid-South Wales'.

The tiny post-Roman principality of Buellt (or Builth in the modern period) was located in central Wales, with the Cambrian Mountains and the region of Gwrtheyrnion to the north, Powys and the River Wye to the east, Brycheiniog and the Mynydd Epynt range to the south, and Ceredigion to the west.

It seems to have emerged out of Roman occupation as part of Vortigern's ancestral lands in the Paganes region (early Powys and Pengwern). According to tradition he handed out parcels of territory to his sons upon his own accession as leader of the ruling council in Britain, with Vortimer gaining Gwent, Cadeyrn Fendigaid gaining the Paganes territory, and Pascent gaining Buellt and Guorthegirnain. Apparently Pascent's claim was confirmed by Ambrosius Aurelianus at Caer Gloui after Vortigern's death.

The principality of Buellt (as it was known in its earliest years, before the Brythonic language evolved over a very short space of time into early Welsh) was centred on Caer Bedris (or Beris), today in the county of Powys. The modern town lays across the River Wye, on what was an important north-south route which forded the river here. The town itself is largely a Norman creation, seemingly as a bastide, a form of medieval market settlement. The shape of the parish church grounds suggest a possible connection to the earlier British Church.

It should also be noted that the Brythonic language has gone through five stages to reach modern Welsh: 'Primitive' (in the 500s-700s), Old Welsh (in the 800s-1000s), Middle Welsh (in the 1100s-1400s), 'Early Modern' (in the 1400s-1700s), and 'Late Modern' thereafter. Until the Middle Welsh period, the word 'caer' was actually 'cair', from the Brythonic 'cajr', meaning 'fort, fortified place'.

As mentioned, the sub-kingdom or region of Gwrtheyrnion was part of Buellt's territory. The Buellt rulers often seem also to be referred to as rulers of Guorthegirnain (Gwrtheyrnion) as if this were somehow a more important territory than Builth itself. There is the possibility, suspected by some scholars, that it was the princes of Guorthegirnain who supplied the genealogical sections to the Historia Brittonum by Nennius. It is Nennius who states that Ambrosius Aurelianus confirmed Pascent as the first ruler of Buellt and Guorthegirnain after the death of Vortigern, thereby confirming the dynasty's subsequent hold on the territories. Supplying the material could have ensured this entry for the dynasty, and may also explain why Guorthegirnain received extra attention.

Later events which followed the disappearance of the principality of Buellt still maintained a focus on the territory, as well as that of Gwrtheyrnion. In the tenth century both were important components of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren ('Between Wye and Severn'), a political entity which is referred to in the poems of Taliesin.

Later writers have termed it a state in its own right, although it may in fact have enjoyed a less exalted status during its existence. As part of that political entity, and despite actually being to the west of the Wye and therefore an extreme western appendage of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren, Builth was regularly at war with Powys.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest, John Edward Lloyd (1912), from the Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons), Nennius (J A Giles, Ed & Trans, 1841, published as part of Six Old English Chronicles (Henry G Bohn, London, 1848)), from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from Welsh Genealogies AD 300-1400, Peter Bartrum, and from External Link: The Definitive Guide To Builth Wells.)

c.406 - 440

Pascent / Pasgen ap Gwrtheyrn

Vortigern's 3rd son (Paganes). Given Buellt & Gthegnm.

Geoffrey of Monmouth proposes an almost entirely mythical account of the life of Ambrosius Aurelianus and of Pascent, who remain enemies throughout their lifetimes. Uther Pendragon sets out to attack those Saxons who have been involved in his brother's death. They have teamed up with 'Paschent' and a young nobleman of Ireland named Gillomanius. Uther defeats them all, killing Paschent and Gillomanius.

Romano-Britons burying treasure
With discord building in the country between about 420-450, many Romano-Britons left in a hurry, burying their wealth in the hope that they could return in better times to collect it

c.440 - 475

Braciat / Braigad ap Pasgen

Son.

c.440 - 441

Saxon foederati and laeti (settled on the east coast of Britain and in the Thames Valley, and probably increased in number since the barbarian raids on Britain of 409) take advantage of unrest between the two factions which are trying to govern the country by openly revolting. As a cause they cite the failure of the British to supply them with provisions which may have been reduced to zero as a consequence of the ongoing civil war.

By 441, the Gallic Chronicles report large sections of Britain under Germanic control following Saxon revolt: 'Britain, abandoned by the Romans, passed into the power of the Saxons'.

FeatureCommunications between Britain and Gaul are disrupted, vacated towns and cities are in ruin. The migration of Romano-Britons towards the west and to Armorica turns into a torrent (see feature link), with emigrants coming especially from Dumnonia and Cornubia. The country begins to be divided geographically, along factional lines.

Map of Britain AD 450-600
This map of Britain concentrates on British territories and kingdoms which were established during the fourth and fifth centuries AD, as the Saxons and Angles began their settlement of the east coast (click or tap on map to view full sized)

fl c.442

Morgan ap Pasgen

Brother. Joint ruler?

c.455

One of the results of the messy situation in the east of Britainy, following the Jutish foederati takeover of Ceint and the death of Vortigern, is that Guorthegirnain now passes to Vortigern's sole surviving (legitimate) son.

Nennius states that this is 'granted' by Ambrosius Aurelianus, but it is probably little more than a rubber stamp. Pascent governs the principality directly from Buellt, although he has probably already exercised regional control over it from the point at which it had first been divided from the Paganes. In fact, it would seem that Pascent is already deceased by this time and that it is his son, Braciat, who now governs Buellt and Guorthegirnain - a fine point of detail which may be lost to some chroniclers.

c.475 - 510

Idnerth ap Briagad

Son of Braciat.

c.510 - 545

Meuprit / Meurig ap Idnerth

Son.

c.545

The unchronicled death of Meuprit seems suspiciously close to the mid-century arrival of Yellow Plague in Britain which kills the powerful Maelgwyn of Venedotia in AD 549. The plague hits the Britons far harder than it does the Germanic invaders, finally shifting the balance of power in favour of the latter. Even the Picts seem to be affected by the plague, with the possible loss of at least one of their kings, Drust mac Munaith, in 552.

Map of Britain AD 550-600
At the start of this period, the Angle and Saxon kingdoms on the east and south coasts were firmly established. Many of the rapidly-formed Romano-British territories in those areas had been swept away in the late fifth century (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.545 - 580

Pau / Pawl ap Meurig

Son. Sub-king to Brycheiniog for a time.

577

Caer Gloui, together with Caer Baddan and Caer Ceri, falls to the West Seaxe. With this collapse, the territory of Caer Celemion to the east is now totally isolated, and Dumnonia is cut off from any overland contact with other surviving British territories. Gwent and Pengwern now form the western frontier against further Saxon advances and Buellt is much closer to the danger. The Hwicce take over the fallen West Country territory and eventually push its borders north into Worcestershire, at the expense of Pengwern.

c.580 - 615

Eltat / Elaed ap Eldoc ap Pawl

Grandson. At the Battle of Caer Legion (Chester)?

603

The first meeting takes place between the Roman Church in the form of St Augustine of Canterbury, and the Celtic Church (the descendant of the former British Church of the Roman Britannia period). It is arranged when Æthelbert of the Cantware uses the Hwicce as intermediaries, and the meeting goes favourably for Augustine.

A second meeting is quickly arranged, although perhaps not in the same year. This takes place at Abberley in Worcestershire, probably close to the border between the Hwicce and Pengwern. It is attended by seven bishops of the Celtic church, along with many learned monks, mainly from Bangor-is-Coed (in Pengwern).

The meeting ends in disappointment for the Roman envoy, with no agreements of cooperation or unity being reached between the two churches, especially in regard to the important question of the calculations for Easter and evangelising the pagan English.

Remains of Roman Canterbury
The Roman city of Canterbury was, by the sixth century, in ruins, with small Anglo-Saxon houses built in between (the remains of the city wall can be seen in the distance)

613

After the death of Keretic (probably Ceretic of Elmet), the leaders of the British cause are dominant only in Wales and surviving British western territories. However, even contact with territories such as Dumnonia, Elmet, and Guotodin are becoming tenuous, as the lines of communication are cut.

In the first half of the seventh century, the whole of northern Britain is lost, including South Rheged around the same time, cutting off Alt Clut, the remnants of the Guotodin, and the region of Galwyddel.

Further tragedy is about to strike. In one of the bloodiest and hardest fought battles of its time, several British kings form a coalition to halt Æthelfrith of Bernicia at the Battle of Caer Legion (Chester). Cearl of the Mercians could also be involved on the British side (according to scholarly theory).

FeatureIago of Gwynedd and Selyf of Powys are both killed, and the battle is a disastrous British defeat (see one of Geoffrey of Monmouth's more accurate entries about this campaign via the feature link). The subsequent Battle of Bangor-is-Coed, however, appears to be a British victory over Æthelfrith.

Gwynedd
The mountains of North Wales provided a powerful refuge for the rulers of Gwynedd in times of trouble and a wonderfully scenic backdrop to Cunedda's victories over the Irish raiders who were plaguing the region in the late fourth century

c.615 - 650

Moriud / Morwd ap Elaed

Son.

633 - 634

FeatureUniquely, perhaps, Penda of Mercia allies himself not to other English kingdoms but to the Brito-Welsh of the west Midlands and Wales (see feature link). In this year, already working in alliance with Cadwallon of Gwynedd, Penda kills Edwin of Bernicia and Deira at the Battle of Hatfield Chase (just outside the western borders of Lindsey).

It seems that, up until this great victory, Penda is the junior partner in the alliance, but following Cadwallon's death in 634 he holds all the cards and is senior partner in the alliance with Pengwern.

c.650 - 685

Guoidcant / Gwyddgan ap Morwd

Son.

c.685 - 715

Pascent / Pasgen Buellt

Son.

c.715 - 745

Teudor / Tedwr ap Pasgen

Son.

fl c.720

Glowd ap Pasgen

Brother. Joint ruler?

fl c.785

Braustud ferch Glowd

Dau. m Arthfael Hen 'the Old' of Glywyssing.

c.745 - ?

Fernvail / Ffernfael ap Tewdr

Son of Teudor. Last ruler of Builth & Gwrtheyrnion

by 800

Fernvail's fate is unknown, as are any firm dates for his life and reign. If the estimate of AD 745 for the start of his reign is remotely accurate then it is unlikely that he lasts as long as 800, but other estimates place him around this later period.

River Wye
One of the longest rivers in Britain, the River Wye (Afon Gwy in Welsh) ran along the eastern edge of Buellt, dividing it from Powys on the other side

A collection of medieval genealogies held in the Bodleian at Oxford - Jesus College MS20 - show him as a contemporary of Arthfael Hen ap Rhys of Glywyssing (Arthfael marries his cousin, Brawstudd, but presumably early in his life rather than later).

This ruler can be placed anywhere in the last quarter of the eighth century and first quarter of the ninth century, so using AD 800 as a rough point for the presumed death of Fernvail seems appropriate.

MapAfterwards, Builth and Gwrtheyrnion cease to exist as separate Welsh territories in their own right, being absorbed by Seisyllwg and then Deheubarth. The precise circumstances and process by which this happens are unknown (see map link). They re-emerge in the tenth century as parts of the political formation known as Rhwng Gwy a Hafren which soon becomes part of the Welsh Marches.

 
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