Ceretic was a king of the Brittonic kingdom of Elmet in the early seventh century. The likely location of the kingdom of Elmet was discussed in an earlier post. Ceretic is the only king of Elmet explicitly mentioned in the surviving sources, and it seems likely that he was the last. What do we know about him?
Edwin, son of Alla, reigned seventeen years, seized on Elmete, and Expelled Cerdic, its king.--Historia Brittonum ch. 63, available online
616 Ceredig died.--Annales Cambriae, available online
617 Edwin begins his reign.
Assuming that the Ceredig who died in 616 is the Cerdic, king of Elmet, mentioned in Historia Brittonum, Annales Cambriae seems to have got the events the opposite way round. If the records refer to the same individual, it is possible that Edwin (Eadwine) expelled Ceredig/Cerdic before beginning his own reign, or perhaps as part of the same campaign so that events followed close on one another and their order later became confused.
Bede, Ecclesiastical History
Bede refers to a Brittonic king called Cerdic, ruling in around 614. This king Cerdic shares a name with the Ceredig recorded in Annales Cambriae at about the same time, and also with the king of Elmet recorded at about the same time in Historia Brittonum. Ceretic, Ceredig and Cerdic were variant spellings of each other. Ceretic was a popular name*, but three separate Ceretics, two of whom are explicitly called kings and the third of whom was considered important enough for his death to be recorded in the Annales, all contemporaries, seems rather unlikely. The simplest explanation is that all three sources refer to the same individual.
….a dream which her mother Breguswith had when Hild was an infant, during the time that her husband Hereric was living in banishment under the protection of the British king Cerdic, where he died of poison.--Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Book IV ch. 23.
I discussed Hereric in an earlier post. Bede’s story suggests that Hereric’s death is likely to have occurred around the time of Hild’s birth in about 614, so Ceretic was reigning at that time.
The Welsh Triads
Three Adulterers' Horses of the Island of Britain:Fferlas [Grey Fetlock] horse of Dalldaf son of Cunin, and Gwelwgan Gohoewgein horse of Caradawg son of Gwallawc, and Gwrbrith [Spotted Dun] horse of Rahawd.--Red Book of Hergest Triads, available online
Caradawg is a variant spelling of Ceretic.
There is no patronymic for Ceretic of Elmet given in Bede, Historia Brittonum or Annales Cambriae. As far as I know, the Triad mentioning a Ceretic ap Guallauc does not give him a territorial association. I cannot find a likely candidate for Ceretic of Elmet in the Harleian, Jesus College or Men of the North genealogies listed on Keith Matthews’ website.
On the strength of the reference to Ceretic ap Guallauc in one of the Welsh Triads (see above), John Koch suggests that Ceretic of Elmet was the son of Guallauc ap Laenauc, who appears in the genealogies and in Canu Taliesin (Koch 1997, page xxiii, footnote 1). If this is the same Guallauc recorded as an ally of Urien Rheged in Historia Brittonum, he was active in the late sixth century. More about Guallauc in another post.
Historia Brittonum is clear that Ceretic was ruling Elmet when Eadwine ruled Northumbria, and we know from Bede that Eadwine ruled from 617 to 633. Annales Cambriae says that Ceretic died in 616 (assuming this is the same Ceretic), which would imply that Ceretic was ruling Elmet at the beginning of Eadwine’s reign rather than the end. If he is the same as the king mentioned by Bede, he was ruling in 614. So we can reasonably conclude that Ceretic was an adult in 614-617.
If we take John Koch’s suggestion that Ceretic of Elmet was the son of Guallauc, then Ceretic’s father was leading armies in the late sixth century.
Ceretic could have been born as late as the late 590s, if he was born well into his (putative) father’s active life. This would place him in his late teens in 614, just about old enough to be a king. None of the sources mention any children, which would be consistent with Ceretic having been too young to have married or fathered children before the end of his reign. However, the sources available to us are very patchy and it is perfectly possible that Ceretic did have children and they were simply not considered important enough to be mentioned (as is very likely if they did not hold positions of political or ecclesiastical power).
Ceretic was probably born some time after 550 (550 would make him 64 years old in 614), otherwise he would have been getting too old to be an active ruler in 614-617. This would make him an adult at the time of his father’s campaigns in the late sixth century, and so it is slightly surprising that he is not mentioned even in passing, but I wouldn’t read too much into that.
On the whole, I would favour a birth date for Ceretic somewhere in the middle of the possible range, probably some time around 580 or so. This would make him too young to take a senior role in his father’s campaigns in the late sixth century, and he would be an adult in his thirties by the time we know he was ruling Elmet in 614-617.
No children, wife or parents are recorded for Ceretic of Elmet, so his family background and connections are uncertain. If John Koch is correct that he was the son of Guallauc ap Laenauc, then his family was a branch of the ‘Men of the North’ and claimed descent from the founder figure Coel Hen. This would make Ceretic and his father relatives of Peredur (possible king of York, see post on Peredur) and Urien, king of Rheged. This is quite a likely familial association for someone who ruled a territory in part of modern Yorkshire.
If Ceretic of Elmet is the Caradawg ap Gwallawc of the Triad, then presumably he was associated with some famous incident of marital infidelity, since he is listed as one of the Three Adulterers. Make of that what you will. (Sometimes I wish the Triads were just a little less cryptic).
Assuming that Ceretic of Elmet is the same British king Ceretic mentioned by Bede, he had given refuge to Hereric of Deira. Since Bede says that Hereric was living under Ceretic’s protection, this indicates that Hereric’s presence was officially recognised and sanctioned by Ceretic. Hereric’s wife and at least one young daughter, possibly two, were also living with him at Ceretic’s court. This may suggest that Hereric had been there some time, long enough to establish a household, and/or that he felt sufficiently secure there to bring his family to live with him. If he had been on the run from a recent defeat in battle, say, or if he doubted Ceretic’s intentions, it is perhaps unlikely that his wife and baby daughter(s) would be with him. This is consistent with Ceretic having a friendly attitude towards Hereric, rather than one of hostility or resentment, though this is speculative.
If Ceretic was friendly towards Hereric of Deira, this may indicate personal friendship, kinship or a political alliance (or any combination thereof). Ceretic’s marriage and family ties are unknown, and he may have had connections with the Deiran royal family in general or Hereric in particular. Elmet and Deira were neighbouring territories and would be natural candidates to ally together against predatory neighbours. Aethelferth of Bernicia had annexed Deira some years earlier (see post on Dating the annexation of Deira), which may well be the reason that Hereric was living in banishment in Elmet in the first place. Ceretic may have been willing to shelter Hereric to honour an alliance. If Hereric was planning to make an attempt to reclaim Deira, Ceretic may have been prepared to offer help and support, either to honour an alliance, out of self-interest or both. Aethelferth had a long track record of military conquest, and if Ceretic feared Aethelferth’s intentions towards Elmet he may have hoped that an attack by Hereric would weaken Aethelferth and forestall an invasion of Elmet.
If Hereric and Ceretic were on friendly terms, this raises questions about Hereric’s death while under Ceretic’s protection. We know from Bede that Hereric’s uncle Eadwine, also in exile from Deira, was living on friendly terms at the court of King Raedwald of the East Angles at about the same time (616/617), and that Aethelferth of Bernicia, Eadwine’s deadly enemy, sent envoys to Raedwald offering him bribes if he would murder Eadwine and threats of war if he would not. Raedwald was swayed by Aethelferth’s arguments – Aethelferth was an extremely powerful king at the time, very probably the most powerful in England – and agreed to kill Eadwine, until he was talked out of it by his queen (Bede, Book II ch. 12). Perhaps something similar happened with Hereric and Ceretic in Elmet, except that Ceretic did not have a queen who persuaded him to change his mind. Many other possibilities come to mind: Hereric’s death may have been due to natural causes and mistakenly or maliciously attributed to poison; he may have been killed for some personal motive that had nothing whatever to do with his membership of the Deiran royal family or Ceretic’s political position; he may have been secretly assassinated on Aethelferth’s orders, or by a rival from his own family, without Ceretic’s knowledge or consent; he may have been killed by somebody to discredit Ceretic… the list is limited only by your imagination.
Hereric’s uncle Eadwine expelled and/or killed Ceretic a few years after Hereric’s death, according to Historia Brittonum. No motive is recorded. It may have been an act of vengeance for Hereric’s death, if Ceretic was believed to have been responsible or even if he had only failed to prevent it. If it was a straightforward land grab with no motive except gain, it is possible that Hereric’s death served as a convenient excuse, if one was needed.
Historia Brittonum says that Ceretic was expelled from his kingdom, Annales Cambriae says that he died in 616. Both may be true; if he was driven out of his kingdom, perhaps injured in battle, he could have died shortly afterwards in exile.
Ceretic does not appear in the genealogies, and none of the sources mention any children. This may indicate that he did not have children, or that none of them held a position of sufficient political or ecclesiastical importance to warrant a mention by the chroniclers. Either way, it suggests that if Ceretic had any children, they did not subsequently reclaim his kingdom.
Annales Cambriae, available online
Bede, Ecclesiastical history of the English people. Translated by Leo Sherley-Price. Penguin Classics, 1968, ISBN 0-14-044565-X.
Historia Brittonum ch. 63, available online
Koch J. The Gododdin of Aneirin. Text and context from dark-age North Britain. University of Wales Press, 1997. ISBN 0-7083-1374-4.
*The name Ceretic belonged to: Caratacus, the first-century British king who fought the Romans; Coroticus, a fifth-century king in northern Britain ticked off by St Patrick; Vortigern’s interpreter in Historia Brittonum; the eponymous founder of Ceredigion in what is now mid-Wales; Cerdic, the founder of the royal line of Wessex; Caradog, an eighth-century king of Gwynedd. And those are just the ones I can think of.