Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Vortigern's Wives and his Treasure

Vortigern was the most powerful ruler in Britain by the year 425 AD. He was not a king but the chief lord among lords. He was a rich land-owner, mainly in Gloucestershire but with possessions also in Mid-Wales.

His first wife was Sevira, daughter of the Roman usurper, Magnus Maximus. There was much conflict during this period, with constant invasions and attempts to take over land and power. Vortigern received troops from Armorica to help defend his lands. Due to the constant warfare, it is said that he invited the Saxons, Hengist and Horsa with their followers, to defend Britain. Hengist had a beautiful and scheming daughter, known as Rowena. Vortigern married her and she is supposed to have poisoned one of his three sons by Sevira.

A number of places in Wales claim to have links to Vortigern. But among the many legends there are some definite facts. These are associated with the town of Rhayader.

Fact 1 - The first town on the River Wye in Mid-Wales is Rhayader [Rhaeadr Gwy = Waterfall on the Wye]. The town dates from the 5th century, although cairns and standing stones show the area was inhabited for thousands of years before that.
The Castle of Gwrtheyrnion was situated on a crag above the waterfall. Gwrtheyrnion is the Welsh form of Vortigern. Only the site remains - the castle was totally destroyed by Oliver Cromwell.

Fact 2 - Rhayader lies very close to a Roman road through to the west [and silver mines].

Fact 3 - St Harmon, a nearby township, is the Welsh form of the Roman name Germanus.

Fact 4 - In May 1899, a young man from Rhayader, James Marston, was walking on the hillside and decided to dislodge a stone 'to frighten a fox for his dog to chase'. To his astonishment, when the stone came free, he found several items of jewellery underneath. These pieces were a ring set with a carved onyx, an armlet and a necklace, decorated with sapphires and carnelians. All items were made of 22.5 carat gold, embossed with Celtic type ornamentation. They are dated as late Roman work and are currently held in the British Museum.

It is tempting to speculate that these jewels once adorned either Sevira or Rowena. It is unlikely we will ever know much about their link with these ladies but in Rhayader the story persists that this is Vortigern's treasure.

The wild landscape in Mid-Wales [ see my previous post: Land of the Red Dragon] evokes the tales of Arthurian legend. Not surprisingly, Vortigern has been assimilated into this.

My current WIP is The Green Enchanted Forest, a retelling of the story of Lancelot.