04 December, 2009


Peredur was a Brittonic ruler of the late sixth century, traditionally associated with York and one of the possible sources for the character of Sir Percival in Arthurian romance. What do we know about him?



Gurci ha Peretur mepion eleuther cascord maur map letlum map Cene├║ map Coylhen.
--Harleian genealogies

Gvrgi a Pheredur meibon Eliffer Gosgorduavr m Arthwys m Mar m Keneu m Coel
--Gwr y Gogledd


Three Prostrate Chieftains
…. Gwgon Gwron son of Peredur son of Eliffer of the Great Retinue. And this is why those were called 'Prostrate Chieftains': because they would not seek a dominion, which nobody could deny to them

Three Faithless warbands
…. The War-Band of Gwrgi and Peredur, who abandoned their lord at Caer Greu, when they had an appointment to fight the next day with Eda Great-Knee; and there they were both slain

Three Horse Burdens
….. Corvan, horse of the sons of Eliffer, bore the second Horse-Burden: he carried on his back Gwrgi and Peredur and Dunawd the Stout and Cynfelyn the Leprous(?), to look upon the battle-fog of (the host of) Gwenddolau (in) Ar(f)derydd.
--Hergest Triads

Annales Cambriae

573 The battle of Arfderydd ‡between the sons of Eliffer and Gwenddolau son of Ceidio; in which battle Gwenddolau fell; Merlin went mad.
580 Gwrgi and Peredur sons of Elifert died.
--Annales Cambriae

Medieval Welsh romance title, Peredur son of Efrawg

Historia Brittonum lists Caer Ebrauc among the cities of Britain. Ebrauc and Efrawg are the same name, and Ebrauc looks closely related to Eboracum (the Roman name for York). The title of the romance may indicate that the Peredur of the Triads, genealogies and Annales Cambriae was associated with York. The name of a kingdom is sometimes appended to the name of its ruler (e.g. Urien Rheged, Maelgwn Gwynedd), and a name such as this could have been misinterpreted as a patronymic.

However, there could have been several individuals called Peredur, and the Peredur of the romance (assuming the romance is based on a historical figure at all) may not be the same as the Peredur of the Triads and Annales Cambriae. It is notable that Peredur’s brother Gurci or Gwrgi, bracketed with him in the genealogies, Triads and Annales Cambriae, is missing from the romance, which may indicate a different Peredur. It is also possible that the author of the romance could just have picked a romantic-sounding name at random for the hero of the tale and that the name has no especial significance.

Y Gododdin

Stanza A31
Caradawg and Madawg, Pyll and Ieuan
Gwgaun and Gwiawn, Gwyn and Cynwan,
Peredur of the steel armament, Gorddur and Aeddan
conquerors in the uproar of battle with shields disarrayed
and though they were slain, they slew
None returned to their districts
--Text reconstructed and translated by John Koch, The Gododdin of Aneirin

Other translations render the phrase “Peredur arueu dur” as “Peredur Steel Arm” or “Peredur Steel Arms”.


The two dates of 573 for Peredur’s battle at Arderydd and 580 for his death in Annales Cambriae are not inconsistent with each other. Eda Great-Knee in the Triads is often considered to be a reference to Ida of Bernicia, whom Bede says reigned for 12 years starting in 547 (Bede, Ecclesiastical History, Book V ch.24). This would mean that Ida died in 559 or thereabouts, which is inconsistent with his being responsible for killing Peredur in 580.

Where the dates of events in Annales Cambriae can be compared with dates for the same events in Bede’s history, they agree within a few years (see the list in Dating the Battle of Chester for examples). A discrepancy of 20+ years is unusual. It is of course possible that either Bede or Annales Cambriae has got the date wildly wrong, but another possibility may be that Eda Great-Knee is not Ida of Bernicia.

Historia Brittonum mentions a son of Ida called Adda:
Ida had twelve sons, Adda, Belric Theodric, Thelric, Theodhere, Osmer, and one queen Bearnoch
-- Historia Brittonum ch. 57

If Eda Great-Knee of the Triads was Adda son of Ida, rather than Ida, then the discrepancy over the date may be resolved. Historia Brittonum goes on to say:
63. 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 Gualllauc, and Morcant. Theodoric fought bravely, together with his sons, against that Urien.
--Historia Brittonum ch. 63

It is worth noting that this entry refers to Ethelric son of Adda, and the previous entry referred to Thelric son of Ida. If these are the same individual, then perhaps even the compiler of Historia Brittonum got the names Ida and Adda confused on occasion.

Adda’s reign cannot be dated accurately, though if the order of the text in Historia Brittonum reflects the order of events his reign was presumably some time before 597 when Augustine arrived in Kent. He may be a candidate for Eda Great-Knee in the Triads, or Eda Great-Knee may be someone whose name has been otherwise lost to history. On the whole, I would be inclined to accept the dates in Annales Cambriae for Peredur’s career, and identify Eda Great-Knee as either Adda son of Ida or some other individual with a similar name.

Peredur is listed in Y Gododdin as a battle casualty at Catraeth, which is inconsistent with the Triads unless Catraeth is another name for Caer Greu. As neither place has been definitively identified, this is a possibility. However, the heroic slaughter at Catraeth lauded in Y Gododdin is difficult to square with the Faithless Warband of the Triads. It is possible that there was more than one individual with the name Peredur. The name Gwgaun (Peredur’s son from the Triads) is mentioned in the same stanza, but I can’t see a name that looks obviously like Peredur’s brother Gwrgi or Gurci in the stanza. Gorddur is the nearest, and I don’t think it’s the same name. Given that Peredur and Gwrgi are generally bracketed together in the Triads, Annales Cambriae and the genealogies, this might be a slight indication that the Peredur of Y Gododdin is a different individual. Another possibility may be that the poet who composed Y Gododdin borrowed the names of heroes from other stories.

All the surviving references to Peredur have some connection with the region that is now northern England or southern Scotland. He appears in the genealogy called Gwr y Gogledd “Descent of the Men of the North”, the medieval romance apparently associates him with York, the battle of Arderydd is usually identified with the parish of Arthuret near Longtown in Cumbria, and if Y Gododdin refers to the same Peredur he is in company with a group of heroes from what is now southern Scotland.

It seems reasonable to infer that Peredur was a royal or noble warrior whose territory lay in what is now northern England, and that he lived some time in the later sixth century. Although far from certain, there is nothing to contradict the medieval romance locating him at Caer Ebrauc (modern York), nor is there any compelling reason not to accept the date of his death given in Annales Cambriae in 580. Given that the compiler of Annales Cambriae recorded two entries relating to Peredur, we can infer that he was an important man, or at least one about whom stories were told (which itself may imply that he and/or his family were important and/or rich enough to pay poets).

The genealogies both end at his generation, and the only reference to the next generation is to Peredur’s son Gwgaun, who is noted in the Triads as a son who did not (re)claim his inheritance. This is consistent with Peredur’s family having lost control of their territory after Peredur’s death. If Peredur was the king of a kingdom centred on York, this in turn would be consistent with the Deiran kings under Aelle of Deira taking control of York after Peredur’s death in 580, which could explain how Aelle’s son came to be in control of the city in 627. Whether the Deiran kings attacked and killed Peredur, or had some claim to be legitimate successors, or simply moved into a power vacuum and held onto it, or some combination thereof, is open to interpretation.

Annales Cambriae, available online
Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Translated by Leo Sherley-Price, Penguin, 1990, ISBN 0-14-044565-X.
Gwr y Gogledd, available online
Harleian genealogy, available online
Historia Brittonum, 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
Peredur Son of Efrawg. In: The Mabinogion. Translated by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones. Everyman Classics, 1989. ISBN 0-460-15097-9
Triads, Red Book of Hergest, available online

Map links


Anonymous said...

I love these entries of yours. You are the new Nora Chadwick, except a good deal harder-headed about the sources. Here's a query from shocking ignorance. Bernicia's a Celtic name in origin, I know (Bryneich), and I seem to remember that Deira is too; could it be cognate with Arderydd?

Bernita said...

"one of the possible sources for the character of Sir Percival in Arthurian romance."
Not really relevant, I suppose, and decidedly ephemeral, but does not Cumbria claim Authurian sites as Reghed that was?

Carla said...

Tenthmedieval - my word, that's a compliment and a half :-)

You need a linguist to answer the question as to whether Arderydd could be cognate with Deira. I've come across Deira in the form 'Deur', and a theory that it might be derived from the Brittonic word 'dyfr' meaning 'water' (same root as the name of the River Dee) and that this might refer to the wetlands around the Ouse and Aire. I don't know how solid a theory this is. Could Arderydd also be derived from 'dyfr'? The word forms don't look that similar to me, but I'm not an expert linguist. If Deira does derive from 'dyfr', then unfortunately that's a common topographical feature that could be shared with almost anywhere near an important river or major wetland, so it might be difficult to identify a more specific connection.

Bernita - it does indeed, and there are various theories that place Arthur's (legendary?) last battle of Camlann on Hadrian's Wall. Owain Rheged also turns up now and then as a character in Arthurian romance, although whether that implies a real connection or just a poet fishing for romantic names is anyone's guess. Caveat, thought, that the location of Rheged isn't known with any certainty. (Despite the Rheged Centre near Penrith!). I shall have more to say on Rheged in later posts (but don't hold your breath).

The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

I was sent here by Daphne at Tanzanite's Shelf and Stuff and I'm glad I came. Your blog is a wealth if information and I'll be back ofter to read.
Have a great weekend.

Doug said...

A good balance, making what you could of historical references and only a very brief mention of the later corruption into Sir Percival! My feeling, based on the Brittonic kings being recorded as fighting Bernicians but never Deirans, is that Aelle was an ally so not responsible for Peredur's death, and he moved into a power vacuum. The only doubt I have is why Gwgaun should disappear.
On the name of a kingdom being appended to the name of its ruler, there is an intriguing item in the Annales Cambriae (501): "Bishop Ebur rests in Christ, he was 350 years old." The only plausible interpretation I can put on this is that the bishopRIC of York came to an end (although I'm still doubtful about the 350 years).

Jules Frusher said...

Your detailed research into this period never ceases to amaze me! I always learn something new from your posts so thankyou :-)

Gabriele Campbell said...

You do a great job with those obscure kings, and now veering into the even murkier Arthurian matters is a brave deed, lol. Everyone muddled those, including the Campbells who brought Merlin into their family tree. *grin*

Carla said...

Romantic query letter - Hello and welcome! I'm glad you found the content interesting, and thanks to Daphne for directing you here.

Doug - thanks. The Bishop Ebur entry is a bit of a puzzle; would Eboracum really have had a bishopric as early as 150 AD? I wonder if the 350 years could be a mistake in the Roman numerals, or if the information was already garbled beyond recognition by the time the scribe encountered it but he thought he'd better write it down in case anyone else could make sense of it. The current Archbishop of York still signs as 'Ebor', I gather, so the title has been very long-lived indeed.
Re Gwgaun, we can say two things about him; he wasn't killed, and he didn't get his kingdom back. Quite a few scenarios can be constructed to fit those two statements. If Aelle took over the rule of Eboracum by force (perhaps as Peredur's enemy), then Gwgaun becomes just another of the assorted disposessed royal exiles floating around early medieval Britain after being on the wrong end of a dynastic dispute, similar to Eadwine being exiled by Aethelferth except that Gwgaun didn't make a comeback. If Aelle moved into a power vacuum, Gwgaun might have been under-age at the time, and if Aelle's rule proved acceptable there may not have been much appetite for a war to get rid of him when Gwgaun did come of age. Or maybe Gwgaun was considered not up to the job so could not command support, or maybe he was quite happy to opt out of a job that usually came to a violent end and made a life for himself somewhere else. He's bracketed with Llywarch Hen, who is supposed to have been a bard - maybe Gwgaun did something similar. There are many possibilities.

Lady D - thank you

Gabriele - well, if a family is going to make up (sorry, discover) an illustrious ancestor, Merlin has more style than many :-) A brave deed? Maybe, maybe not. Peredur (as opposed to the legendary Sir Percival) is a fairly obscure figure.

Rick said...

Gwgaun might have made a sensible choice, as you suggest. And the Triads may have been composed at a somewhat later date, when hereditary kingship had solidified more.

Carla said...

Rick - the Triads in their present form were written down in a medieval manuscript, and one or two of them mention figures who don't belong to early medieval Britain (Helen of Troy makes an appearance, and if I remember righly there's a medieval Count of Brittany in one). So although they may well preserve older traditions, a bit like Norse kennings, they evidently did get added to and updated. It's possible that the condemnatory tone for Gwgaun is a later addition, or may reflect the opinion of someone distant from the events long after the practical reality of the situation had been forgotten (perhaps a little like modern commentators who always know what Queen Elizabeth I or Mary Queen of Scots should have done).

Rick said...

Not to mention that the composers were entertainers, not scholars. They were not in the business of hedging story material with caveats.

Carla said...

Rick - Indeed. I wonder how Gwgaun and the other "prostrate chieftains" were used in storytelling? Perhaps for contrast with 'heroic' patrons, which would automatically ensure that anything negative about them became accentuated over time.

wademk said...

Nayland - what a lovely name for this! Are you or your ancestors from Nyland, the secret final resting place of all the noble and wise dead of the West??

Carla said...

Wademk - hello and welcome! Not to my knowledge, I'm afraid :-)