The Pictish Nation:22 – Chapter 8 (Cont’d)

S. GiLDAS, the Briton, was born in A.D.516, as he himself informs us ‘in the year of the battle of Badon,’ at Dunbarton, the capital of Lennox, when the city was still the capital of the Britons of Clyde and called’ Alcluyd.’ 516 is the date in the Annates Cambriae. See also Skene, Chronicles P. and S. p. 14. The original Lives of Gildas were by S. Caradoc and an unknown author who lived in the monastery of Rhuys in the later diocese of Vannes, Brittany. Bede gives the approximate date of Badon in the last decade of the fifth century. Mommsen, Zimmer and other Germans give c. 504 to fit in with certain speculations. Unless the date 516 in the Annales Cambriae can be proved to be a scribe’s error for 506 the date 516 should stand. For part of his life, he was a fellow-worker with S. Cadoc who laboured in the Clyde district, as we have seen. He departed with S. Cadoc when the latter returned to the territories of the southern Britons ; and for a short time he taught in one of S. Cadoc’s schools at Llancarvan. He transcribed a famous manuscript of the Gospels which was kept in a case bound with gold and ornamented with gems. Caradoc saw this manuscript at Llancarvan in the twelfth century.

S. Gildas came to be known as ‘Badonicus,’ to distinguish him from others bearing the same name but belonging to later times, because the battle of Badon Hill. Skene locates Badon Hill at Bowden Hill between Stirling and Edinburgh. Arthur’s Warriors were ‘Gwyr y Gogledd’ — men of the North in which King Arthur led the victorious Britons was fought in the year of his birth. Being a Briton of Alba, he was also known on the Continent as Gildas ‘ Albanius.’ The Gaidheals or Scots in later times considered themselves ‘Albanaich.’ On the strength of this surname the Gaidhealic fabulists of the Middle Ages appropriated Gildas the Briton and presented him as a Gaidheal or Scot. Latin andGaidhealic scribes of the middle ages have mangled the names connected with Gildas almost beyond recognition. However, this is certain, that while Gildas was still alive, the chiefs of the Britons of the North and their allies who steadily resisted the encroachment of the Angles under Hussa, from A.D.567 onwards,were Morcant; Gua/lauc; Urhgen (Urien), S. Kentigern’s paternal grandfather; and Rhydderch, who became King-paramount of Strathclyde and S. Kentigern’s protector,

S. Gildas was the son of a chief of the Britons, and his eldest brother was one of their military leaders. This brother’s name was Hywel, latinized as ‘Howelus’ and ‘Cuillus.’ Manifestly he is the same as Rhydderch’s ally (G)uall or (G)uall-auc who helped to lead the Britons against Hussa the Angle, as is told by one of the contributors to Nennius.Cf. Skene, Chronicles P. and S. pp. 12, 16. Compare the other royal name ‘Gust’ which was written ‘ Uist.’ The name of the father of Gildas is given as ‘Nau’ John Bale (1495-1563) latinizes it as ‘ Nauus, ‘ and designates him ‘ rex Pictorum.’ Considering that he reigned in ancient Lennox, his subjects would be part Britons and part Picts, by S. Caradoc which agrees with the name of the father of Hywel or ‘Guallauc’ which is given in Nennius as ‘ Laenauc,’ that is, Lae-Nau-oc. The latter was of the race of Hywel, or ‘Coel hén,’ the old.

S. Gildas had a  younger brother called ‘ S. Mael-oc’ He followed the example of Gildas and became a cleric. He organized a muinntir in the district called ‘ Luihes’ or ‘Leuihes,’ evidently an attempt to reproduce the Britonnic name of his native Lennox. U in Brito-Pictish names sometimes represents F. For example, Uip for Veip. The root of the district name is in the name of its river, ‘ Leven.’ The latest hand in the Annals of Ulster called the province ‘Lemhnach’ (Levnach); and the Scottish barons in their letter to the Pope call it ‘Leuenax.’ It is of some importance to be sure of Maeloc’s field of work; because he sometimes occupied a ‘retreat’ in it, near the township called ‘El-mael’ or ‘Almail.’ In other words part of Maeloc’s establishment was a ‘disert ‘ such as was possessed by the historic S. Serf or S. Servanus who laboured in Alcluyd or Dunbarton, in Maeloc’s time, and who extended his activities to another ‘Leven’ in Fife. On the northern border of ancient Lennox is Dal-Mally, the original name of which is ‘ Dysart.’  An ancient Church-foundation called ‘Kilmalyn,’ 1296, and ‘Kilmale,’ 1532, is Kilmallie, Fort William. The diminutive -an instead of -oc would give ‘Kilmalyn. 

S. Gildas himself preached the Gospel among the Britons, according to the biographer of Rhuys, ‘ in the northern part ‘ of their country , which would point to his labours with S. Cadoc in Strathclyde. As we have seen, he went with S. Cadoc to Llancarvan. In this locality these two saints also possessed retreats or disert s at ‘Ronech’ and ‘Echni, ‘now Barry Isle and the Flat Holm  in the Bristol Channel. When S. Gildas was about thirty years of age,* that is about a.d, 546, Saxon raiders burst in among the South Britons and ‘devastated and profaned ‘f their provinces and Churches. Hundreds of Britons fled to the sea-coasts and took ship to their fellow-Celts in Armorica. SS. Cadoc and Gildas joined in the flight.  During his exile, S. Cadoc organized another religious community, and settled on an islet, in what afterwards came to be called the ‘Morbihan’ or Big Bay. Chastelain states that the isle became known as Innis Caidoc. S. Cadoc did not lose touch with the remnant that had rallied at his headquarters among the Britons of South Wales. After a period in Brittany he revisited Llancarvan; but, during a raid, he was seized by the pagan Saxons, and martyred at Beneventum (Caer Went). A.D.570. He foresaw his fate as is shown by his saying, ‘If you wish for glory, march, faithful to death.’ The English martyrologists ante-date his martyrdom by putting it about the year of his birth; and they shift the scene of his martyrdom from England to Benevento in Italy. The early English writers appear to have had no desire to perpetuate the memory of the infamies of their Saxon ancestors.

S. Gildas, his fellow-worker, remained in Brittany. Apart from the dangers of Saxon raids in the district which he had left on the northern shores of the Severn estuary, he had made enemies of the petty kings of the Britons by his fierce denunciations in his tract De Excidio Britanniae. After the departure of S. Cadoc for Alba, S. Gildas retired from the personal control of his community at Rhuys, and settled on one of the Morbihan islands near Innis Caidoc. The name of his island is given as’Horat’ and ‘ Houat.’ He made it his disert or retreat, and died there A.D.570. M. le Moyne de la Borderie has been criticized for his statement that fugitive Britons began to seek an asylum in Armorica or Brittany after the Saxon victory at Crayford in 457. It is certain, however, that many Britons sought refuge in Brittany in the early sixth century. Wurdestan, who wrote before A.D.. 884, confirms this as well as Caradoc. Gildas is quite clear on the matter. Writing  in 557, he states that part of the Britons perished by the sword or famine, some gave themselves up to be slaves to the Saxons; and some ‘passed beyond the sea.’ Armorica received many detachments of Britons from Alba from the Romano-British auxiliaries to the last band of fugitives from Saxon brutality.

The idea of certain English writers that Brittany was celticised by British fugitives from Cornwall and the west country is not only unhistorical but absurd. Brittany and all Gaul was Celtic before the Teutonic barbarians moved west in A. D. 406. The Celts among whom SS. Cadoc and Gildas and their fellow-fugitives settled had, owing to the poverty of their country, been saved from penetration by the Teutonic hordes. Moreover, they were off the direct line of the barbaric migrations.Many causes that needed the support of inventions have appropriated S. Gildas or have presented garbled versions of his biographies to make it appear that he appropriated them. The claims of Armagh to primacy and to be the chief original centre of Irish Christianity; the pretensions of Glastonbury to great antiquity; the apologists for the Anglo-Saxon brutalities to the Britons, all lurk behind the falsifications of the Lives of S. Gildas.  Several works have been wrongly ascribed to Gildas. His name was also put upon the title-page of manuscripts penned long after his time.

S. Gildas was one of the earliest of our native writers to make a critical review of historical events . He wrote the De Excidio Brtannane and certain historical fragments are ascribed to him. The texts which we now possess are not entirely ungarbled; but they are purer than the versions of some manuscripts much younger. S.Gildas, judged by his tract, was a moody, meditative Celt who sought peace and pursued it, at one time on the banks of Clyde, at another on the holms of Severn, and at still another on the islets of the Morbihan. He was embittered and disappointed by the political follies of the tribal kings, and by certain sections of his flighty, disunited, wrangling fellow- Britons. His fierce satire was lauded by the Anglo-Saxons after they became civilized; and frequently it was misquoted or emphasized to justify their own excesses against the Britons; although these excesses were mainly responsible for reviving among the Britons the spirit of destruction and barbarism which Christianity had done much to lay. Bede with unconcealed delight suggests that the Saxon terror was introduced into Britain ‘ by the Lord’s will that evil might fall on them (the Britons) for their wicked deeds.’

S. Gildas, contemplating the past, had a decided conviction of the political shortsightedness of Vortigern, the prince of a British tribe which inhabited what is now, roughly, central England, who about the middle of the fifth century invited the Angles and Saxons from the sea-swamps of Friesland and the Elbe that they might help him to crush other Brito-Pictish tribes. Brothers and cousins of the first guests came uninvited, and turned their swords against their hosts; and Gildas, reflecting over the sufferings of the Britons, writes of ‘the Saxons, of execrable name, most ferocious of peoples, filling God and men alike with hate.’ Continuing his reflections, Gildas appears to have thought that the Saxons having been allowed to settle, the British Christians should have converted them. In this he showed a disposition to overrate the powers of Christianity and the patience of his fellow-countrymen. The Saxons gave little encouragement to the missionary efforts of his fellow- worker S. Cadoc, seeing that they martyred him. Only when their lust was sated, their eyes sick of the sight of blood, and their homesteads planted on the best land in the country, did the Saxons turn their materialistic, lumbering minds to a superstitious acceptance of the Gospel.

Few subjects have ever dealt more candidly with kings than Gildas with the kings of the various British tribes. He demands that Constantine, king of the Dumnonii, in the district now Devon and Cornwall, ‘despising the vile food of swine,’ should return to his most loving Father. He was very severe towards the kings in whose dominions he had lived. He charges Vortipor, king of the Deme-
tae, in what is now S. W. Wales with vice and cruelties; and exhorts him not to be ‘old in sin,’ not to spend his few remaining days in vexing God. Maelgon or Maelgwyn,whose ancestral dominions were near the home of Gildas at Alcluyd, he denounces with a vehemence that seems to have a memory of personal suffering behind it. The saint calls this king ‘a monster’ who had deprived other kings both of their territories and their lives. Whatever the personal feelings of Gildas, he succeeds in leaving the impression that the Britons, disunited by clan jealousies and tribal divisions, and ill ruled by their incompetent kings, were utterly unfitted to present an organized and sustained resistance to the Teutonic invaders.

Maelgon or Maelgwyn was king of Gwynedd (“Gwendote” and Venedotia) that is properly what is now North Wales. But the dominions of his ancestors were from the Forth southwards, through whatis now central Scotland. He is called ‘Magnus Rex’ in the Historia Britonum, and it is evident that he was High-King or Sovereign overlord of the petty Brito-Pictish kings a long way north of North Wales. He is generally referred to as a king of the Britons. It would be more accurate to call him a Brito-Pictish king. He was descended from the Pictish kings of ‘Manau Guotodin,’ that is the Otadinoi of the Forth area. By a scribe’s error in the Annales Cambriae the beginning of his reign in Gwynedd is given as the end at 547. Bishop Forbes, Lives of Ninian and Kentigem, p. Ixx, says 547 ‘ was in reality the beginning of his reign and he was alive in 560 when Gildas wrote.’ Maelgon or Maelgwyn, as the late Mr. Nicholson of the Bodleian pointed out, is the same as Maelchon whose son Brude Mac Maelchon was elected sovereign of Pictland and who reigned there as King-paramount from 554 to 584. The Historia Britonum indicates that Maelgwyn was contemporary with Ida, the Angle, who reigned over an eastern section of England north of the Humber from 547 to 559. On authority cited by Humphrey Lhuyd, Maelgwyn was made King-paramount of the Britons about 560,

Alcuin referred to Gildas as ‘the wisest of the Britons,’ At the time of the revival of learning on the Continent of Europe, the resurrection of the De Excidio, and the part oi Nennius ascribed to Gildas, evoked surprised admiration at the enlightenment of the Celtic religious communities in Alba from the end of the fifth century onwards. The scholar’s lamp had burned in Alba and Ireland when it had almost flickered out elsewhere in the West. Apart from what he learned from S.Cadoc, the foundation of the learning of Gildas was laid at Candida Casa. If, as is indicated, he went there in his boyhood from Dunbarton, when Nennio ‘the little monk was Ab, one of his contemporaries, as senior pupil and, later, as a master, would be S . Finbar of Maghbile and Dornoch; and he would complete his studies under Mugent who succeeded Nennio, also called ‘Manchan the Master.’ Many early references to Candida Casa were displaced by inventions from the pens of the professional mediaeval Roman Catholic fabulists who canvassed the claims of Armagh and York to primacy, Archbishop Ussher became utterly confused especially in his dates when treatingof S. Gildas. He was unwilling to throw over the fabulists, but his efforts to reconcile them failed. One hand interpolates astatement that S. Gildas was a ‘professor’ at Armagh; but Armagh was not a centre of organized Christian teaching when S. Gildas lived. Another hand introduces a story that S. Gildas was educated at Caer Worgorn now Llanilltyd Vawr’Wi Glamorgan by S. Illtyd or Iltutus; but, apart from the fact that the home of Gildas was in Strathclyde, S. Illtyd was dead some years before Gildas was born. His death took place A.D. 512.

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