04 February, 2011

Guallauc ap Lleenauc

Guallauc ap (son of) Lleenauc was an important king in late sixth-century Britain, and may have ruled the kingdom of Elmet. What do we know about him?



[G]uallauc map Laenauc map Masguic clop map Cene├║ map Coyl hen
--Harleian genealogies, available online

Gwalla6c m lyeynac m mar m coyl hen.
--Jesus College genealogy, available online

Both genealogies stop at Guallauc and do not list any descendants.

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

Three Pillars of Battle of the Island of Britain:Dunawd son of Pabo Pillar of Britain, and Gwallawg son of Lleenawg, and Cynfelyn the Leprous
--Red Book of Hergest Triads, available online

Canu Taliesin
aeninat yn ygnat ac eluet.
--Canu Taliesin poem XXXVIII, ‘Song on Gwallawg ab Lleenawg’, available online

Translations vary. Skene’s translation, which you can find online at Mary Jones’s Celtic Literature Collective along with the original text quoted above, translates the line as follows:

He will judge all, the supreme man.With his will as a judge; and let him be benefited
--Canu Taliesin poem XXXVIII, ‘Song on Gwallawg ab Lleenawg’, translation available online

John Koch translates the phrase “ygnat ac eluet” as “Judge over Elmet”, and concludes that this is equivalent to being ruler or king of Elmet (Koch 1997, page xxiii, footnote 1). A king Ceretic of Elmet is recorded in Historia Brittonum and Annales Cambriae in the early seventh century (see earlier post on Ceretic of Elmet). No patronymic is recorded for him. A Caradawg son of Gwallawc (variant spellings of Ceretic ap Guallauc), with no territorial affiliation recorded, appears in one of the Welsh Triads (see above). On this basis, John Koch identifies Guallauc ap Lleenauc in the genealogies and Canu Taliesin as the father of Ceretic of Elmet.

Historia Brittonum

Adda, son of Ida, reigned eight years; Ethelric, son of Adda, reigned four years. Theodoric, son of Ida, reigned seven years. Freothwulf reigned six years. In whose time the kingdom of Kent, by the mission of Gregory, received baptism. Hussa reigned seven years. Against him fought four kings, Urien, and Ryderthen, and Guallauc, and Morcant. Theodoric fought bravely, together with his sons, against that Urien.
--Historia Brittonum, ch. 63, available online


Both genealogies show Guallauc ap Lleenauc as a descendant of the founder figure Coel or Coyl Hen (Coel the Old)*. As such, he was related to Urien Rheged (more on Urien in another post) and to Peredur (possible king of York, see post on Peredur), whose genealogies also go back to Coel Hen.

Historia Brittonum lists Guallauc as one of the kings who fought with Urien Rheged against Hussa and/or Theodoric of Bernicia. This is consistent with identifying this Guallauc as the same individual as the Guallauc ap Lleenauc in the genealogies, who was related to Urien Rheged and who was evidently famous as a warrior since he was listed as one of the Three Pillars of Battle in the Triads. Alliance between two kings who were also relatives is reasonably plausible, although by no means a given, as kings from the same family could also be enemies.**

Urien is listed in the genealogies as the fifth generation from Coel Hen, while Guallauc ap Lleenauc is listed as the third or fourth (depending on the version). The difference in generation count is not inconsistent with Guallauc and Urien having been contemporaries. We know from Bede’s information about the Deiran royal family that Eadwine’s great-niece Hild (daughter of his nephew) was of a comparable age with two of his sons, and that his children from his later marriage were of comparable age with his grandson by a son of an earlier marriage, so generations could easily get mixed up.

Neither Hussa nor Theodoric of Bernicia is securely dated, although they can both be assigned to the period between 559 (the end of the 12-year reign of Ida of Bernicia) and 593 (the beginning of the reign of Aethelferth of Bernicia). Both these book-end dates can be deduced from information given in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. Guallauc’s campaign with Urien Rheged against Hussa and/or Theodoric therefore dates to some time in the late sixth century.

The first element of the name Guallauc means ‘wall’, so Guallauc may mean something like ‘man of the wall’. This immediately calls to mind the two Roman walls in what is now northern England (Hadrian’s Wall) or southern Scotland (the Antonine Wall). This is a likely sort of location for the king mentioned in Historia Brittonum, who fought against kings of Bernicia located between the two Roman walls in what is now north-east England. However, the name may be unrelated to the Roman walls, and even if it did originate in the area, there is no reason why the name and/or its bearer(s) could not have moved to other regions.

John Koch translates a line in Taliesin’s poem about Guallauc ap Lleenauc to mean “…judge over Elmet…”, and concludes from this that he was a king of Elmet. Elmet was a kingdom located in what is now Yorkshire, east and south of modern Leeds, during the seventh century (see post on Elmet). If Guallauc was a king of Elmet, this does not preclude him from fighting a campaign in Bernicia in alliance with his relative Urien Rheged. Early medieval armies were capable of campaigning over considerable distances on occasion (see post on Early medieval armies: campaigning range), so there is no reason why Guallauc could not have led an army from Elmet to campaign in Bernicia if he wished. The same applies in reverse; it may be possible that Guallauc originally came from somewhere in what is now northern England or southern Scotland and became king of Elmet by inheritance, marriage or conquest.

Was Guallauc ap Lleenauc the father of Ceretic of Elmet?
Both the genealogies stop at Guallauc ap Lleenauc and do not mention any offspring. A Ceretic of Elmet is recorded in the early seventh century (see post on Ceretic of Elmet), but no patronymic is given for him.

One of the Welsh Triads refers to a Ceretic ap Guallauc. John Koch uses this Triad to connect Guallauc ap Lleenauc in the genealogies (no son named) with Ceretic of Elmet in Historia Brittonum (no father named), and thus to identify Guallauc ap Lleenauc as the father of Ceretic of Elmet (Koch 1997, page xxiii, footnote 1). If the translation of the line in Taliesin’s poem as ‘judge over Elmet’ is correct, then it seems reasonable that two rulers of the same territory, one dated to the late sixth century and one to the early seventh century, could be related and might well be father and son. It is, however, worth bearing in mind that this identification rests on an inferred connection between separate sources.

Part of John Koch’s argument for identifying Guallauc father of Ceretic in the Triad as identical with Guallauc ap Lleenauc in the genealogies and Guallauc ally of Urien in Historia Brittonum is that the name Guallauc is extremely rare and occurs only once. However, I can think of at least one other Guallauc, mentioned on the Pillar of Eliseg in the genealogy of an eighth-century king of Powys (see post on Powys: the early medieval kingdom). This Guoillac or Guallauc, father of Eliseg, occurs two generations after a king of Powys called Selyf map Cynan, who was killed at the Battle of Chester in around 616, and so Guoillac/Guallauc must date to the mid seventh century at earliest. He cannot possibly be the same individual as the Guallauc of Historia Brittonum who was fighting battles in north-east England in the late sixth century. So I think we can safely say there were at least two individuals called Guallauc, and if there were two, there may have been more.

I am therefore cautious about identifying Guallauc in Historia Brittonum and/or Guallauc ap Lleenauc as the father of Ceretic of Elmet. It is a plausible inference from the evidence available, and as far as I know there is nothing to the contrary. However, I would be wary of accepting it as an established fact.


Annales Cambriae, available online
Bede, Ecclesiastical history of the English people. Translated by Leo Sherley-Price. Penguin Classics, 1968, ISBN 0-14-044565-X.
Harleian genealogies, available online
Historia Brittonum ch. 63, available online
Jesus College genealogy, 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.
Red Book of Hergest Triads, available online

*Yes, he may well be the origin of the Old King Cole of the nursery rhyme. No, absolutely nothing reliable is recorded about his cheerful disposition or his taste in music. Pity.

**For example, the battle of Arderydd was fought between two branches of the same family descended from Coel Hen (see post on the Battle of Arderydd).


Gabriele Campbell said...

And another obscure not so Dark Age king for the list. You should add a compilation of them on the sidebar that readers could use to find those posts; they're a great reference.

Rick said...

On the face of it, the name Guallauc seems like fairly tenuous evidence to tie this guy to Elmet, especially since another translator renders the Canu Taliesin line to say that he judged 'all,' not Elmet.

On the other hand, I know jack about the language, let alone the poetry or other relevant context, so Koch could easily have much stronger grounds than a layperson sees in a casual reading.

On other points, 'judge' is a fairly natural term for a ruler (think of the word 'ruler' itself!), and a few generations of descent can easily fall out of step, with contemporaries being a generation or two apart.

Carla said...

Gabriele - I've thought about that but not got round to it, maybe I'll have another go. Thanks for the kind words :-)

Rick - I gather that John Koch is a linguist of some reputation. It's fairly slight evidence on which to place Guallauc ap Lleenauc as Ceretic of Elmet's father, but slight evidence is often all there is in this period :-)
It seems slightly odd to me that the genealogies don't mention Ceretic if he was really Guallauc's son. Ceretic was an important enough figure to get a mention in sources like Bede, Annales Cambriae and HB, and one might expect that the compiler of at least one of the genealogies would have appended his name. Peredur's son Gwgaun is missing from the genealogies and only known from a Triad, but Gwgaun is explicitly listed as a 'Passive Prince' who didn't gain his inheritance, whereas Ceretic did hold power.
Yes, generations can easily get out of step, especially if a man marries more than once and makes full use of the potentially very long reproductive life of the human male. Not to mention the possibility of genealogies being miscopied, or titles or nicknames getting misinterpreted as additional generations.

Rick said...

The absence from the genealogies is indeed a bit odd. I could speculate that things were still in flux, with dynastic kingship was not yet fully established - but Guallauc is given a genealogy, and even if it were exiguous the fact that we have it at all indicates that genealogies were important at the time.

Carla said...

Rick - quite so. Genealogies seem to have been considered very important, hence Alfred the Great's biographer earnestly extending Alfred's genealogy all the way back to Adam (via Woden, which has a certain style), and someone carving several generations' worth back to Vortigern on the Pillar of Eliseg, not to mention the manuscript compilations that were evidently thought worth copying out and preserving. Ending with Guallauc may indicate that Guallauc's dynasty was thought to have ended (or at least stopped being important) with him, which sits oddly with the idea of his having an illustrious son. Though maybe the compiler(s) of the genealogy just forgot to copy a line. As ever, many interpretations are possible.