Heroic Age Logo The Heroic Age, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 1999  

Brigantia, Cartimandua and Gwenhwyfar

Notes and Bibliography


Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Dr. Linda A. Malcor, Thomas Green, Timothy Clarkson, and Gregory Uchrin for reading early drafts of this study. Their comments all greatly improved this work. It should be noted that they do not all share all the views expressed here.

  1. Hartley and Fitts 1988:1-5; Salway 1993. Salway (1993:36) disputes the assumption that Brigantia was a federation of clans. He proposes that the named entities in Brigantia could have been clans or subdivisions of a single tribe rather than separate tribes. Higham (1987:1-19) believes the Brigantes were a tribe localized only in West Yorkshire who exerted tribal hegemony over the other tribes of northern England, including the Parisi. If so, they would have been clients or subject tribes rather than members of a federation.

  2. Dark 1994:143. Once conquered, the Brigantes harbored their hostility against the Romans for another seventy-five years before rebelling during the reign of Antoninus (Salway 1993:148; Smyth 1984). The rebellion was crushed by the Romans, and Pausanias records that territory was taken from their control (Salway 1993:148; Symth 1984). According to Peter Salway, "it is not impossible that the new civitates, based on Carlisle and perhaps Corbridge, were formed at this time or subsequently on confiscated lands that were never returned to the Brigantes" (Salway 1993:148). Carlisle is believed to be the civitas capital of the Carvetii (Dark 1994:71-72).

  3. This is the general region that Higham (1987) suggests was the pre-Roman core kingdom of the Brigantes.

  4. The Coeling dynasty is depicted in its fullest extent in Descent of the Northcountrymen (Bromwich 1978) and Bonedd y Sant (Miller 1979). The dynasty appears to be a fictional creation to blend the leaders of greater Brigantia into the dynastic formula that was later found in Wales. The fact that someone felt the need to link them all into one dynasty implies that they all belonged to one political group much like the cantrefs of Gwynedd.

  5. Rheged, extending into Galloway and the Gododdin, was, at least for a time, ruled by the Coeling dynasty.

  6. Koch 1995:38-39; Hanson and Campbell 1986:73-89. Other choices for Cartimandua's capital include Rigodunum (Castleshaw?), York, Barwick-in-Elmet, Camulodunum (Slack?), and Almondbury (Webster 1993:90-93). Higham (1987) believes that the massive fortifications at Stanwick were built by Cartimandua and it was occupied only during her reign. He also believes it served as "barracks for her Roman bodyguards of c. A.D. 55-69" (Higham 1987:16). He believes the administration of Brigantia was transferred to York after the conquest of the Brigantes.

  7. Higham (1987) attributes the building of the most advanced fortifications at Stanwick to this period.

  8. Koch 1995:38; Salway 1993:75; Hanson and Campbell 1986:73; Webster 1993. Webster discusses (1993:32) the likelihood that Caratacus had fled to Cartimandua in an effort to recruit the Brigantes to his cause against Rome. Tacitus's Annals account (12.40, 2-7; Koch 1995:39) states he was fettered after trying to persuade Cartimandua to join his cause, while the Histories (3.45; Koch 1995:39-40) state she captured him by deceit. Perhaps both are true, she might have initially promised him free passage to discuss his proposal and then reneged on her promise by fettering him. Webster further discusses Cartimandua's possible motives. By remaining loyal to Rome, she ensured Roman military support and continued wealth. Webster suggests that if she had accepted Caratacus's proposal her own status would have decreased as the Romans and the British would have recognized Caratacus as the dominant British king. I would suggest that if Cartimandua was indeed the living representative of Brigantia, Caratacus was also seeking religious and moral support. He may have even wished to become her husband.

  9. Koch 1995:38-40; Hanson and Campbell 1986:73-89; Salway 1993:93; Webster 1993:89.

  10. Koch 1995:38-40; Hanson and Campbell 1986:73-89; Webster 1993:89-90. Webster suggests that much of the outrage occurred because Vellocatus was not of royal birth.

  11. Hanson and Campbell 1986:73-89; Salway 1993:92-93. According to Salway, leaving Brigantia in the hands of Venutius put the Romans in a very fragile state. "The province was no longer protected from the tribes of the far north by a powerful friendly kingdom, but was immediately threatened by a determined foe who might provide a rallying point for dissident elements in regions that had only recently been pacified after Boudicca. The policy of relying extensively on client kingdoms . . . finally collapsed" (Salway 1993:92-93). Webster believes the Roman "Legio IX" engaged Venutius, in an attempt to keep Cartimandua on the throne. "The immediate effect would undoubtably have been rapid adjustments to the old Plautian frontier based on the Trent. It then became necessary to move troops much nearer to the stronghold of the Brigantian queen"(Webster 1993:90).

  12. Ross 1996:452. Peter Salway illustrates dedications to Brigantia around Hadrian's Wall at Birrens, Corbridge, and South Shields and in West Yorkshire at Adel, Greetland, and Castleford (Salway 1993:147). He also shows a dedication to her consort Bregans at Slack. Ross (1996) also discusses Brigantia dedications.

  13. Koch 1996:39; Byrne 1973:155. Brigantia is elsewhere described as a river goddess and the nymph Brigantia (Ross 1996:455, 469 [map 10]).

  14. Rheged, potentially the last Coeling kingdom to fall to the Angles, may have retained some independence through the reign of Oswy (d. 670) (Smyth 1984).

  15. The Annales Cambriae (Coe and Young 1995:12-13) lists Arthur's death at Camlann in 537, and Ida's foundation of Bernicia is dated to 547 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

  16. By the time of Geoffrey of Monmouth (or his sources), Arthur's fall was perceived to be the turning point in the Anglo-Saxon invasion. In the ninth century Historia Brittonum, Arthur's fall is not mentioned nor does it seem to be a key point in the overall conflict with the Anglo-Saxons.

  17. Koch 1987. Koch demonstrated that Manawydan of the Four Branches is a reflex of Mandubracius son of "Imanuetius" of the Trinovantes in far southeastern Britain who gained the throne only with the help of Julius Caesar.

  18. Korrel 1984:124. Although it should be noted that the wife Medraut steals originates herself in the otherworld or represents the otherworld. Further, if Melwas's abduction is a Type II abduction, he is stealing an otherworldly being and to me, this may be a Type III abduction. Korrel is not alone in his belief that this tale has otherworldly facets. Patrick Sims-Williams (1991:58-61) believes that the original location of Melwas's kingdom was on the Isle of Glass in the otherworld. He believes Caradoc of Llancarfan localized the otherworldly Isle of Glass at Glastonbury to elevate the prestige of the Abbot of Glastonbury and Gildas. This relocalization would further remove the pagan otherworld characteristics and make it more suitable for the tale of the life of a saint. By stealing Gwenhwyfar, Melwas steals Arthur's sovereignty . Arthur can't stop his quest until he regains both Gwenhwyfar and his sovereignty. Alwyn and Brinley Rees (1995:284-285) also see the tale of Gwenhwyfar and Melwas as an otherworldly seasonal tale. Later Welsh poetic references as well as the Arthurian romances make it clear that Melwas/Meleagant, King of the Summer Country, is associated with the spring, especially May Day (Rees and Rees 1995:285). The Reeses see a similarity between this tale and the sixteenth-century Welsh tale of Trystan and Esyllt, which clearly associates Trystan with the spring and summer while March is associated with winter. They do not draw parallels between Melwas and Medruat (Rees and Rees 1995:283-284). Two significant differences between the Melwas tale and the theme of Gwenhwyfar's adultery with Medraut are the willingness of Gwenhwyfar and Arthur's successful resolution of the ordeal. Melwas clearly abducts her against her will. In Geoffrey, there is no indication that she is abducted. Indeed, Gwenhwyfar's willingness may have disturbed Geoffrey enough that he excluded further detail. Melwas abduction is localized in the south, in Dumnonia (Koch 1996:268). This could be an independent southern development of Gwenhwyfar's role as Arthur's sovereignty figure. This otherworldly tale appears to be unrelated to Arthur's fall at Camlan.

  19. Ford 1977:122. Cilydd's childlessness may have dismayed his new wife since it could have indicated to her that they would not have children. The protection of sons was highly desirable for widows.

  20. Korrel 1984; Bromwich 1978; Coe and Young 1995:87.

  21. Korrel (1984) further believes that the notion of Gwenhwyfar's treachery is late and that she was originally a blameless figure. Jean Puhvel describes the archetypical Celtic divine woman as being strong and "epitomized in saga form by Queen Medb, who takes and discards mates at will, but whose power play no longer matches her sex drive in courtly intrigue, so that she trails fate and disaster in her wake" (Puhvel 1987:185). He further describes the culture in which such divine women flourished as being driven by "aristocratic honor and craving fame, and the main pastimes included feasting, feuding over primacy over the hero's portion and intertribal fighting" (Puhvel 1987:185). This description fits the Ulster, Fenian, and Arthurian cycles well. It does not mean they share a common origin but they belong to the same heroic culture with the same values.

  22. Bromwich 1978Coe and Young 1995:87. It should be noted that all three futile battles likely occurred in the north, with the other two being Arthuret and Cad Goddeu which was probably set in the Caledonian Wood.

  23. Rowland 1990:255. Rowland (1990:389) dates Ymddiddan Arthur a'r Eryr to c. 1150 but does not give a date for the Dingestow 8 copy.

  24. Rowland (1990:255) believes the speaker could be Gwenhwyfar or Medraut. Yet since Gwenhwyfar is addressed in the second stanza I would maintain that she is the likely speaker.

  25. Rowland (1990:256) gives an alternatve translation as "a dear, fair, audacious one" for Gwenhwyfach altering the line to now read "Gwenhwyfar you are a dear, fair, audacious one".

  26. Elsewhere in Dingestow 8 there are references to Caledfwlch always giving a fatal wound (Rowland 1990:256).

  27. The location of Celliwig in Cornwall is common in Welsh literature and possibly a late relocalization when the tales reached Wales. Arthur's court of Celliwig is similarly said to be in Cornwall in the Thirteen Treasures of the North/Britain.

  28. Bromwich 1978. The third ravaging mentioned is also significantly northern, occurring when Aedan mac Gabran ravaged the court of Rhydderch Hael of Strathclyde. This last addition may indicate a northern composition, probably in Strathclyde, for triad 54 and possibly its predecessor.

  29. Peter Korrel (1984:77) rightly warns us not to be too quick to link this triad to Camlann. Korrel (1984:81) also finds a parallel insult to Gwenhwyfar by another knight in Peredur son of Efrawg in which Arthur does nothing to avenge the insult. Yet, it was the hero of the tale Peredur who addresses the insult illustrating merely that the focus has shifted from Arthur to the knightly hero. We can be fairly safe in concluding that this is a late development.


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