28 April, 2009

Cadafael, King of Gwynedd

Cadafael son of Cynfeddw was King of Gwynedd (a powerful Brittonic kingdom in what is now north-west Wales) in 655 AD. What do we know about him?


Historia Brittonum

64. Oswy, son of Ethelfrid, reigned twenty-eight years and six months. During his reign, there was a dreadful mortality among his subjects, when Catgualart (Cadwallader) was king among the Britons, succeeding his father, and he himself died amongst the rest. He slew Penda in the field of Gai, and now took place the slaughter of Gai Campi, and the kings of the Britons, who went out with Penda on the expedition as far as the city of Judeu, were slain.
65. Then Oswy restored all the wealth, which was with him in the city, to Penda; who distributed it among the kings of the Britons, that is, Atbert Judeu. But Catgabail alone, king of Guenedot, rising up in the night, escaped together with his army, wherefore he was called Catgabail Catguommed.
--Historia Brittonum

The ‘field of Gai’ is the Brittonic name for the battle that Bede calls Winwaed, where Penda was killed by Oswy (Oswiu) of Northumbria on 15 November 655. Guenedot is a variant spelling of Gwynedd. “Catguommed” translates roughly as “Battle Shirker”.

Welsh Triads
Three Kings who were (sprung) from Villeins:
Gwriad son of Gwrian in the North, and Cadafel son of Cynfeddw in Gwynedd, and Hyfaidd son of Bleiddig in Deheubarth.
--Red Book of Hergest


Cadafel, Catgabail and Cadafael are all variant spellings of the same name. Assuming the Cadafel King of Gwynedd in the Triads and the Catgabail King of Gwynedd in Historia Brittonum are the same, what can we say about him?


First, he was not part of the same lineage as the kings of Gwynedd whose genealogy is recorded in the Harleian Manuscript and the Jesus College Manuscript (see earlier post). This may underlie the claim in the Triads that he was “sprung from villeins”. As a villein is an unfree peasant or serf, this is unlikely to be literally true. If Cadafael became King of Gwynedd after 634 when Catwallaun (Cadwallon, Cadwalla) of Gwynedd was killed at Hefenfelth, and was still king in 655 when he departed before the Battle of Winwaed, he must surely have been an effective leader or acceptable to the Gwynedd nobility or both, which is unlikely if he was not of royal or noble stock.

I can think of three explanations for the “villein” claim in the Triads:

  • Baseless invention intended to insult Cadafael. Perhaps coined by the same person or faction as gave him the unflattering nickname Catguommed (“Battle Shirker”) in Historia Brittonum, who evidently had a low opinion of Cadafael.

  • Non-royal descent on his father’s side, exaggerated into the claim in the Triad. If Cadafael’s mother was of the Gwynedd royal family, but married to a non-royal, perhaps minor, noble, Cadafael may have been acceptable as king to at least some of the Gwynedd nobility in the absence of a suitable candidate in the direct line.

  • Low social status on his mother’s side. Perhaps Cadafael was the offspring of a royal male (brother or nephew of one of the kings in the direct line) and a woman of low rank, thus he could have been of “villein” stock on his mother’s side. Later medieval Welsh princes acknowledged and provided for illegitimate offspring, so Cadafael could have been the son of either a wife or a mistress. The latter is perhaps more likely, since a formal marriage contract might be expected to involve a woman who could bring riches or noble birth or both to the union, whereas a love affair might be expected to be subject to fewer controls. (For a later analogy, consider Duke William of Normandy, better known as William the Conqueror, who was the illegitimate son of the duke by a woman of comparatively low rank, sometimes described as a tanner’s daughter). Cadafael might thus have had a rival claim to the throne of Gwynedd, which could have made him acceptable to at least some of the nobility in the absence of a suitable candidate from the direct line. It could also explain the hostility recorded in the Triads and Historia Brittonum, if those derive from a rival faction.

I daresay there are others. Insults tend to stick most effectively if there is a grain of truth in them that can be exaggerated, so I personally would favour either the second or third explanation over the first, but this is a matter of opinion.

Since neither Cadafael nor Cynfeddw appear in the genealogy of the Kings of Gwynedd, it is not known how they were related to the direct line, if at all. Clutching at straws, one could note that the Cad- name element in Cadafael’s name is shared with three contemporary kings in the direct line (Cadfan, Cadwallon, Cadwaladr), which may indicate that Cadafael’s family was an offshoot of the ruling dynasty of Gwynedd. On the other hand, it should be noted that the element “cad” means “battle” and might therefore be expected to be a common name element among the warrior class. As a second straw, the Cyn- name element in Cynfeddw is also shared with Cynddylan, hero of the Canu Heledd poetry, and Cynddylan’s father Cyndrwn. According to the poetry, Cynddylan held power in what is now eastern Wales or what is now the West Midlands or both and was roughly contemporary with Penda and Cadafael (more about Cynddylan in a later post). Could Cadafael’s father have had connections with Cynddylan’s family?

Age and career

Second, Cadafael was ruler of Gwynedd in 655, and was of fighting age at the time (since he led his army away from a battle he was supposed to fight in). He was therefore probably born not much before 600 (which would make him 55 at Winwaed), or he would have been too old to fight, and probably not much after 625 (which would make him 30 at Winwaed), or he would have been too young to be the leader.

It is not known when Cadafael became king. Catwallaun of Gwynedd was killed in 633 or 634 according to Bede (631 according to Annales Cambriae), and Catwallaun’s son Cadwaladr lived to 682 and must therefore have been quite young when Catwallaun was killed, perhaps only a child. The death of Gwynedd’s powerful warrior king on a distant battlefield, leaving only a child as heir, would be a plausible context for the reign of a king from a different lineage. This must therefore be a plausible candidate for the beginning of Cadafael’s reign, although he could have emerged at any time between then and 655. If we say that Cadafael became king in 634 or so, this tends to push his birth date back to the earlier end of the range. If he was born in 600, he would have been 34 when he became king, experienced enough to have some chance of restoring Gwynedd’s fortunes after the trauma of Catwallaun’s defeat.

Nor is it known when, or how, Cadwaladr replaced Cadafael as King. If Cadafael’s departure on the eve of Winwaed exposed him to ridicule as a coward, as his nickname in Historia Brittonum suggests, it may have provided Cadwaladr with an opportunity to depose him. Or Cadafael may have voluntarily handed over power, or died of natural causes.

Catguommed “Battle Shirker”

Cadafael’s motivation for – as it turned out – the defining event of his life, his decision to march home the night before the battle of Winwaed, is also unknown. I can think of several motivations:

  • Cowardice and/or incompetence, as implied by the derisory opinion of him in the Triads and Historia Brittonum.

  • Pragmatism. Given that Winwaed was an unmitigated disaster for Penda and his Brittonic allies, among whom Cadafael would presumably have been numbered, perhaps Cadafael recognised that and chose to save his army rather than repeat Catwallaun’s away defeat in the previous generation.

  • Treachery, although if Cadafael was bought off by somebody he doesn’t appear to have profited much from it.

  • Incompatibility. Perhaps Cadafael quarrelled with Penda or one of the other leaders, with our without cause, and left in a huff.

  • Revenge. The previous alliance between Mercia and Gwynedd had resulted in the death of Gwynedd’s King (Catwallaun), far away in Northumbria. Bede does not mention Penda in his account of Catwallaun’s defeat and death (HE Book III, Ch. 1-2), which may indicate that Penda had already gone home and left Catwallaun in possession of Northumbria. Perhaps Cadafael believed, with or without cause, that Penda’s departure had contributed to Catwallaun’s defeat and death, and was meting out similar treatment.

  • Chance and unlucky circumstance. Perhaps the Mercian and Brittonic allied armies were dispersing to their homes at the end of the campaigning season (Bede gives the date as 15 November) and Oswy sprang a surprise attack the day after Cadafael departed.

These aren’t mutually exclusive, and I daresay there are more. You can take your choice, as ever. I personally suspect that there is considerably more to Cadafael’s story than a jumped-up peasant who ran away from a battle; but what it might be is open to interpretation.

Full-text sources available online are linked in the text.
Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Translated by Leo Sherley-Price. Penguin Classics, 1968, ISBN 0-14-044565-X.

Trivia: King Cadafael achieved lasting fame as the origin of the name chosen by novelist Ellis Peters for her sleuthing monk, Brother Cadfael. So his name does live on in popular culture, even if he is no longer attached to it :-)


Gabriele Campbell said...

I think we can rule out incompetence and cowardice - those traits would not have kept him in the king's seat so long. :)

Carla said...

Quite true!. But with the caveat that his reign length is only my conjecture. He might have been a six-month wonder :-) Although that then raises the question of who was king between Catwallaun's fall and Winwaed.

Jules Frusher said...

A fantastic, detailed post. I've always had a soft spot for the royal line of Gwynedd.

Rick said...

My first thought is that Cadafael probably did the smart thing by bailing on the battle at Winwaed. And how very Celtic of the author of the Historia Brittonum to rag on him for it. Whether it's 655 or 1745, the story never changes!

Carla said...

Lady D - thanks

Rick - if his departure from the battle led to his being replaced by Cadwaladr, it could be argued that it wasn't such a smart move after all... Maybe it was one of those situations where there isn't a right answer.

Rick said...

The outcome wasn't any worse for Cadafael than getting diced up by Oswy's troops would have been! And probably a better outcome for Gwynedd, which still had its army and remained a regional power.

(This is assuming that Gwynedd forces, if present, would not have turned the tide at Winwaed - but since the real outcome was 'the slaughter of Gai Campi,' perhaps Cadafael saw the writing on the wall, and that's why he booked out of there.)

But the big unknown here is what actually became of Cadafael! If he was a regent, eventually stepping aside for Cadwaladr was proper stewardship. The timing of all this, though, is nicely ambiguous. If Catwallaun was killed between 631 and 634, his son Cadwaladr would be at least 20 when Winwaed was fought. That's just about the age range when a normal regency would end, if not a bit earlier - and Cadwaladr could have been older than that.

If Cadwaladr was already (say) in his mid-20s, then his taking the throne looks more like a coup, and could well be triggered by Cadafael's disgrace. But the bottom line is we have too little information to guess with any confidence how Cadafael either came to the throne or left it.

Carla said...

Yes, it all depends on knowing "what would have happened" - which is the one thing we can never know as you can't wind history back and do the control experiment :-) It's even more unknown in a period with scanty documentation, like early medieval Britain, where there isn't really enough evidence even to support a plausible inference. Even the site of Winwaed isn't known for certain, let alone the relative strength of the forces and whether the Gwynedd contingent could have turned the outcome the other way. It was a 'slaughter' in retrospect to the chronicler, but how well that reflects the actual course of the battle is anyone's guess.

Since Cadwaladr died in 682 (Annales Cambriae), which is 27 years after Winwaed, he was presumably quite young at the time, so may have been the right sort of age for a regency to end.

It's a great pity we don't know more about Cadafael and Cadwaladr, because it might well cast an interesting light on how power politics actually worked in practice.

Rick said...

Among other things I wonder about the evolution of dynastic legitimacy. Rome never really had that concept. The purple was often inherited, but the imperial office remained a degenerate republican magistracy, 'president for life.' This only changed (if at all) in late Byzantine times, with the Comneni and Paleologi.

So when Catwallaun died on expedition there may not have been special presumation that the throne would pass to an underage son, especially in a state of emergency. The natural military impulse, backed by Roman tradition, is to choose a commander, raise him on a shield, and he's king.

Which lends itself to Cadwalladr capitalizing on 'battle-shirker' (how Viking that sounds!) to stage a coup. Only retrospectively does that become dynastic legitimacy. Sheer speculation!

But a related question - where did all these kingdoms come from in the first place? Honorius addressed plural communities, so there probably was not anything we'd regard as a central government after 410, even if there was some sort of imperial suzereinty exercised by Ambrosius and presumably Arthur.

Carla said...

Battle Shirker does sound like a Norse nickname, doesn't it? It's a pun on Cadafael, whose elements mean Battle Seizer, so it's in exactly the same traditon as Aethelraed (Noble Counsel) getting the nickname Unraed (Ill Counsel or No Counsel), just in a different language. It's this sort of thing that makes me think that English, Brittonic and Norse cultures had a lot more in common with each other than is often assumed these days.

Where did the kingdoms come from? Good question, and as usual the answer isn't known with any certainty. In north-west Wales there were no Roman towns for elected magistrates etc to strut their stuff, and it may well be that the pre-Roman Iron Age tribal kingdoms carried on more or less as they always had, with the Roman garrisons at Segontium (Caernarvon) and the other forts keeping a sharp eye on them. When the Romans went away, the tribal kingdoms were already in place. Some fragmentation and mixing up may have occurred in the interim, or maybe some of the Roman-period tribes were confederations like the Brigantes with several sub-components.

It's been suggested that the reason the Notitia Dignitatum doesn't list any Roman officers in Wales is because the defence of Wales had already been officially delegated to local military aristocracies before the Notitia was drawn up. (Although it might be for the more prosaic reason of having some pages missing). If this is true, these local leaders, who would have been kings in practice and perhaps also in name, might have counted among the civitates of Honorius' letter.

If tribal kingdoms had persisted during the Roman period in parts of western Britain, they would presumably also have maintained a method of passing the kingship on. It might have been strict dynastic father-to-son inheritance, or a system that selected a candidate from among the adult males of the royal kindred (however defined). The latter is not so far removed from the Roman military practice of choosing a commander and calling him king (or emperor if speaking Latin). It also has the great benefit that you don't get stuck with a child or a dimwit. If a system like this was in place, then Cadafael could have been chosen completely legitimately as the most suitable candidate if Cadwaladr was under age, with no need for either regency or usurpation. Similarly, if he lost authority (or was ill, injured or died) after Winwaed, Cadwaladr could have been chosen quite legitimately for the job without need of a coup. (One must bear in mind, though, that election losers don't always go quietly, so a system of selection doesn't rule out coups and usurpations).

Rick said...

as usual the answer isn't known with any certaintyWhy am I not surprised? In Wales I'd picture something like you outlined, but now I'm also wondering whether some of the 'civitates' even in the more Romanized areas might have provided the basis of later kingdoms. Nominally the civitates were aristocratic elective city states, but perhaps in practice some were 'rotten boroughs' dominated by one family.

One must bear in mind, though, that election losers don't always go quietlyCluephone, Norm Coleman: It's over. Time to go!

Rex Icelingas said...

As far as I recall Gwynedd is first mentioned as such in the 1st Century when the Brigantes invaded it.
I guess that often gets forgotten about,perhaps with that in mind it wouldnt be so strange for Northerners(i.e-Cunedda)to invade or travel to North Wales.
Later on Gwynedd is mentioned as `Venedotia`,interesting how the letters V and G are mutated.I mention this due to Votadini and Guotodin another mutation of the letters.

Having regent rulers didnt occur until Medieval times and certainly never in Wales!
We dont know how much revenge as such Oswiu took upon the Welsh,could this be where Cadfael really ended? either in Battle or overthrown due to Oswiu`s demands of large tribute?
Certainly I agree about the interesting Cadwaladr,he is highly praised but we know nothing of his wars if any?

Rick said...

Another V/G switchoff is recorded, oddly enough in Modena, Italy. An early 12th century church archivolt has an Arthurian scene, perhaps carved by a Breton, that labels Guinevere as 'Winlogee.' (This may be the earliest known Arthuriana on the Continent, antedating any of the romances.)

Carla said...

Rick - You aren't the first to suggest that some of the civitates may have formed the basis of later kingdoms. If you Google you should come across a book called something like 'From Civitas to Kingdom'. There's also a related suggestion that some may have retained a non-royal form of government, at least to begin with, especially in the more Romanised areas. I think this rests on Gildas' comment that "Britain has judges.... Britain has kings....", implying that there was a form of authority that was best described as 'judge' rather than 'king'.

Carla said...

Res Icelingas - What's the source for the 1st-century invasion of Gwynedd by the Brigantes - Tacitus? If Caratacus had a following in North Wales as well as among the Silures, then Cartimandua handing Caratacus over to the Romans might be expected to provoke bad blood between the kingdoms. Possibly Lancashire and Cheshire could also have been disputed territory between the two? The one thing that never changes about history is geography, and the antipathy between Northumbria and Gwynedd in the 7th century may have had very deep roots. Assuming the Brigantes had seafaring capability, they could have attacked the Gwynedd coast by sea.

After Winwaed Oswy would have been in de facto control of most of Britain, so he may have exacted heavy tribute from Gwynedd - although if Cadafael's departure turned the course of the battle, Oswy owed Cadafael a favour (!).

Venedotia - Guenedot - Gwynedd and Votadini - Gododdin does suggest a sound shift from V to G, doesn't it?

Rick - That's a nice example. I must say Guinevere sounds more romantic than Winlogee, but that might just be familiarity!

Rick said...

Google is fast! Your reply already shows up as #6 for "from civitas to kingdom!"

On 'judges,' compare Gibbon's use of 'magistrate' to mean civil officials in general. I can easily imagine that some civitates persisted as aristocratic republics, more or less, till the level of military insecurity was such that commanders morphed into warlords and then into kings.

Winlogee is not very pretty compared to Guinevere, Gwynhwyfar, or even plain Cornish Jennifer, is it? But maybe it sounded nicer to the ear than it looks in print!

Carla said...

Rick - It may be possible that the Latin word Gildas uses can be translated 'magistrate' as easily as 'judge' - this is where one needs to be an expert in 5th/6th century British Latin (and Gildas' convoluted style) to get the correct nuance. In his book 'Britain and the End of the Roman Empire', Ken Dark argues that royal government in post-Roman Britan was a feature of the not-very-Romanised areas in the west, roughly what is now Cornwall and Wales, that all Gildas' kings can be located in this area and that the area of Roman Britain that is now roughly southern England was under a judicial form of government of some sort. I can't remember if he mentions it, but this is consistent with the Wroxeter excavators' suggestion that Wroxeter was governed by a bishop in the sixth century.

Rick said...

Ah - my eyebrows go up at the suggestion of rule by a bishop. Episcopal rule over cities was not uncommon in the earlier Middle Ages.

As for interpreting Gildas, in a sense there are no experts on British Latin c. 500, because there is so little evidence to go by, mostly Gildas himself. And after 100 years cut off from the empire, titles and other political terms especially could have shifted meaning.

But mentioning bishops also brings another question to mind. When the curtain goes back up, why were the English still pagan? (And why are we having this discussion in a Germanic language instead of a Romance language?)

Carla said...

They weren't all that cut off, at least from the Eastern Empire, if the Byzantine pottery and luxury goods at high-status sites up and down the west coast are anything to go by, although titles might well have diverged to reflect changing circumstances. What Gildas calls the leaders may not have been what they called themselves, especially when different languages were involved.

The language question: theories range from total population replacement and genocide to peaceful acculturation. My guess is a gradual drift to the language of the current elite because that was the language of law, government, commerce and generally getting anything done. A Germanic language may already have been spoken by some of the population in eastern Britain even before the Romans arrived, given the proximity of Germanic- and Norse-speaking tribes across the North Sea.

Rick said...

I should have said 'split off' rather than 'cut off' - separation as distinct from isolation. Official titles would almost have to shift in meaning, because the job changed; and new titles might be created for new offices.

A semi-speculative example: Dux Bellorum. It is nowhere in the Notitia Dignitatum, and you wouldn't expect it to be. If it was a real 5th century title, it describes an office unknown to the late Empire, a commander in chief who is neither emperor himself nor subordinate to an emperor.

I tend to agree with your language guess. But there's a hell-in-a-handbasket flavor to the proto-English neither converting to Christianity nor adopting the local form of Latin, as Germanic speakers in continental provinces generally did in fairly short order.

Having said that, conversions tended to be top down, a la Clovis. (And didn't Augustine of Canterbury later use the same approach?) No 5th century 'King of the Saxons,' thus no conversion, perhaps.

Carla said...

Dux Bellorum is a good example.

Bede's Ecclesiastical History has been summarised as "Kingdom A under King B gets converted to Christianity by Saint C" - which is rather simplistic (!) but has a grain of accuracy. Certainly Bede's account of the conversion is mostly about the political and social elite, peppered with accounts of miracles happening to a few unnamed ordinary Joes and some monks.

One can reasonably infer from Bede that the aristocracy in the English kingdoms was mostly, perhaps exclusively, pagan until Augustine and friends showed up, but we don't actually have that much hard evidence about the relative importance of different religions in the rest of the population, or of whether or how this varied regionally. There's an assumption that everybody in the early English kingdoms practised English paganism (Woden, Thunor etc), but there's a certain amount of circular argument in that - the graves we can recognise and date are the ones that contain grave goods. Christian burials without grave goods (or non-Christian burials without grave goods) may never be recognised or dated. This means we can estimate the numerator (number of 'pagan' burials with Anglo-Saxon grave goods), but can't really get the denominator (total population). A few place names retain the names of pagan English gods, or pagan English names for a holy place or shrine, but they are very few - maybe a few dozen or so, against the hundreds of place names of the "Fred's farm" or "Oak tree village" form. This again has a survival of evidence problem, as pagan place names might once have been more numerous and then been replaced with a change of religion, so you can't read too much into it. However, it's at least possible that at least some (and possibly quite a high proportion in some regions) of the ordinary population carried on with whatever religion(s) they had been practising under the Roman Empire. I've seen a theory that the majority of the population was Christian and that this provided an impetus for the kings to convert when they were starting to build sizeable kingdoms, in order to be in line with the majority of their subjects. Which is an interesting idea, although how you'd test it is a moot point.

I think you're right that the fragmentation into multiple independent polities in Britain, as opposed to the much more centralised 'state' structure in Gaul, is a key difference in their post-Roman development. As to why Britain fragmented and Gaul passed more or less straight over to Clovis, that's another interesting question.

It's worth bearing in mind that quite a bit of what's now Germany, which speaks German, was part of the Roman Empire too, so not everywhere that had been in the Western Empire ended up speaking a Romance language.

Rick said...

Regarding who believed what in post-Roman Britain, by coincidence Tenthmedieval's reply to your Cornwell post links to an article that touches on whether Christianity might have survived at least in places.

But if, per Bede, the English rulers were pagan (whatever their subjects were), it implies that the founders of those dynasties had not signed on to the conventions of late Roman elites, or for that matter the post-Roman British elite.

You noted above that Byzantine stuff appears at high-status sites on the west coast - presumably not so much elsewhere. Apparently Byzantine merchant skippers weren't going to Lundenwic, perhaps because the local elites weren't much interested in buying their stuff.

Sheer speculation: After 410 the overall Roman defense system evaporates, leaving only local auxiliary forces in the northern and western military zones. Unsurprisingly these are the areas where people with a Romano-British self-identity put up a fairly effective defense.

The undefended southeast is ripe pickings for any freebooter, and the local Romano-British elites there either decamp west or keep a low profile, hiring or buying off big blond guys with swords in order to keep their estates. Either way they are doing nothing to make said guys with swords think that the way to be a 'real' elite is to learn bad Latin and become Christian. Instead, they themselves end up learning bad Germanic, AKA English.

By the time the 'Romans' in the west mount a general counteroffensive under Ambrosius and Arthur it is too late. To the emerging mixed elites of the southeast they are Those Other People, enemies with no special prestige.

Carla said...

I think it's reasonably clear that the new elite had a different culture, and the simplest explanation for that is that they were, or some of them were, incomers. The vexed questions are over things like how many incomers, at what social levels, their relationships with the existing population, and how far, how fast and by what means the new culture spread through society.

Your speculation probably isn't too far off the mark, in my view. Couple of additional points; you have to explain why the northern frontier of the Roman province ended up becoming English (at least on its eastern half) while the western side of the province didn't. I have my own views on that :-) And it's worth bearing in mind that the tribes all fought like rats in a sack before the Romans arrived, and that you can see distinct east-west differences in Iron Age (and earlier) material cultures, so the south-east may have had a tendency to regard the west and/or the north as Those Other People for a very long time.

Rick said...

One historical example of language change that did not involve mass population displacement is Mexico. Indigenous languages remain only in pockets. I don't know a thing about how and when Mexico became a Spanish-speaking country, but there's surely an extensive literature about it. I'd guess that it mostly happened 'organically,' not driven by official policy.

So what about the northern frontier, and your own views? Inquiring minds want to know!

Carla said...

Another is the Arab conquest of North Africa in the seventh/eighth century. Closer to home, there's probably another in the replacement of whatever the Pictish language was by Scots Gaelic in the early medieval period. I think the current view on both of those is that it was a more or less organic shift to the language in which decisions were made and things got done - if you could speak the new language there were more opportunities open to you than if you couldn't, ergo there's a selection pressure to learn it and to make sure your kids learn it.

Re my theory on the northern frontier, I could say: Read the book (!). Roughly, I think differences in Roman army command organisation and Roman government between the north (which had a garrisoned frontier) and the west (which didn't) had something to do with it. I daresay I'll expound in more detail in a blog post at some point :-)

Rick said...

Yes, the Arab conquest is another. Probably a lot of those people, outside the elite, previously had spoken Punic, a related language, but still switched over to Arabic.

The flip side is how and why Norman French failed to catch on, beyond a whole lot of individual words. Early medieval peasants ended up learning the language of the local thegn; later medieval gentlehommes ended up learning the language of their peasants. (As I've mentioned before, even the core language of feudalism remained English: lord, lady, knight, earl, king, queen.)

Re my theory on the northern frontier, I could say: Read the book (!). LOL! (Paths, presumably.)

But from 'garrisoned frontier,' I take it that perhaps the north was much more stripped of forces when the legions marched away, leaving a power vacuum for Saxon types to fill. Whereas the west was more local auxiliaries, who stayed where they were and defended their turf against intruders.

Carla said...

Good question re Norman French. I think it may depend on the state of the country being taken over. Eleventh-century England had a pretty advanced and efficient administrative and financial system, so it was probably convenient for William to keep as much of that in place as possible and just put himself at the top of it. Handy to have someone running the country and collecting the taxes for him. So there was something worth keeping from the previous regime, which gave the language an opportunity to hang on as well. Something like that may have happened with Clovis in Merovingian Gaul - you take over the existing system, put yourself at the top, and end up learning the language of the system. If the system's already fallen apart, as had probably happened in post-Roman Britain (even Honorius was writing to multiple local governments, not a central one), the new elite can't keep it even if they wanted to, so they run things their way and their language predominates.

Rick said...

English fell out of administrative use fairly quickly (IIRC), but replaced more by Latin - which created no particular motivation to learn French to get ahead. A chief clerk would have to speak French to the boss, but the chancery's 'work product' would be in Latin.

Another thing crosses my mind. 'Castle' is French, as are the related technical terms - no surprise, since castles themselves were a Norman introduction. Armor and mail for elite fighters are also French. But sword, spear, and shield are all native English. So fighting forces did not stay French-speaking very long, or the grunts would have learned and used French terms for their gear. Even knights ended up being called, well, knights.

The Normans were spread pretty thin on the ground. The early English were perhaps just enough less scattered, so that English was the language of the camp. British kids who joined up ended up learning it, whereas Norman 'officers' instead adopted the language of most of their troops.

Carla said...

Very interesting point, and touches on another difference between the Norman and post-Roman situations. Ordinary Roman citizens and peasants didn't do armed service - they had a professional army for that. Whereas the English in 1066 had the tradition of the fyrd. So the Normans had access to an infantry militia who at least knew which end of a spear to hold and were therefore useful, so perhaps it was worth learning enough of their language to give them orders. In post-Roman Britain, though, there was no equivalent citizen militia, at least in the Romanised south and east, so the language of the camp would presumably be the language of the federates, i.e. English.

Rick said...

Presence or absence of a militia background does fit nicely into this picture, doesn't it? And it spills over into attitudes. A military elite that depends on a subject population for grunts has a somewhat different attitude than if they are entirely unwarlike peasants.

Carla said...

Absolutely! And I think that different attitude was very important in post-Roman Britain.