Æthelweard et Cie

Oh, well, head down and get on with things … tuh.

Æthelweard was writing approximately 100 years after the incident at arx Cynuit (878). He wrote the Chronicon Æthelweardi in about 980. This, in full, is his description of the event:

In eodē anno advectus est Healfdene Iguuares tyranni frater cum triginta moneribus in occidētales Anglorum partes, obseditq; Oddan ducem provinciæ Defenu in quodam castro, incenderuntq; Martem intus & foras Barbarum, rex ruit, octoginta quippe cum eo decades. Postremo victorię obtinent locum etiam Dani.

In the year 878, Healfdene, brother of the tyrant Hynguar reached the western territory of the Angles with 30 ships. So now we see a departure from the common narrative. No longer an unnamed brother of Healfdene and Hynguar, but Healfdene himself; not 23 ships but 30; we are in the region of the Angles, not the Saxons.

What we do have is confirmation of Asser’s narrative: that the Saxons – or Angles – were besieged in a certain castle. And  Odda, ‘dux provinciæ Defenu’, or ealdorman of Devon is introduced as the leader of the Saxons – or Angles – against whom Healfdene unleashed savage war on all sides.

Next follows a particularly garbled version: the king (presumably the pagan ‘king’ Healfdene) was overthrown and with him 800 of his men – yet the Danes were victorious. Not only does this contradict the lucid narrative of Asser and of the ASC, it doesn’t make much sense.

There is no clue as to where this fleet landed – not even specifically that it was in ‘Devon’, though the inference is that it was somewhere under the jurisdiction of the ‘dux provinciæ Defenu’, perhaps those ‘Western Provinces’ at that time under the full control of the West Saxons, in Dumnonia. Certainly no suggestion that the landfall was in west Devon, rather than the north. Odda here makes an appearance, but not Ubba.

A 15th-c. representation of Ragnar Lothbrok with sons Hinguar and Ubba worshipping devils

A 15th-c. representation of Ragnar Lothbrok with sons Hinguar and Ubba worshipping devils

Where did Ubba come from? If he wasn’t named in either of the two contemporary sources – the ASC and Asser’s Life of King Alfred – originally set down a mere 15 years after the event – why did he appear later on? and with what authority was this brother of Healfdene and Hynguar identified as Ubba?

In fact, to say he wasn’t named in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle needs some clarification. One manuscript, Ms F, stands somewhat apart from the others in that each paragraph written in Anglo-Saxon is followed by the translation into Latin. The British Library dates its Cotton MS Domitian A viii to the late 11th or early 12th century (post-Conquest, hence the need for the Latin translation to accompany the Anglo-Saxon). The original text has been heavily annotated at a later date. One particularly messy folio is 54r:


The entry for 869/870, according to Ms E (in Garmonsway) reads:

In this year the [Danish] host went across Mercia into East Anglia, and took winter quarters at Thetford. And the same winter St Edmund the king fought against them, and the Danes won the victory, and they slew the king and overrran the entire kingdom …

And at this point a later annotation in the margin reads: ‘the names of the leaders who slew the king were Inguar and Ubba‘:

BL Cotton Domitian A viii, folio 54r

The note has some abbreviations, but I would read it as: ‘Nom[ina] princip[i]um qui [prae…????] regem occiderunt fuerunt (??) Inguare et Ubba.’

From the date of the original manuscript, it seems unlikely that this addition could have been earlier than about 1100.

The insertion seems to have followed the Latin Passio Sancti Eadmundi of Abbo of Fleury, written 985-987 using information given him by Dunstan,  then retired archbishop of Canterbury. No mention of arx Cynuit, of course, in Abbo’s account of the martyrdom of Edmund but it includes (from the edition of Michael Winterbottom):

Fuit autem idem aduersarius Hinguar uocabulo dictus, qui cum altero, / Ubba nomine, eiusdem peruersitatis homine, nisi diuina inpediretur miseratione conatus est in exterminium adducere totius fines Brittanniae. 

Abbo is explaining how ‘the enemy of the human race’ has despatched two men against King Edmund, to reduce the whole kingdom of Britain to ruin. Hinguar, already mentioned, was one; the other a man of equal depravity named Ubba.

Ælfric of Eynsham, basing his own Anglo-Saxon version on Abbo’s, has a similar though not identical version:

On þam flotan wæron þa fyrmestan heafod-men
hinguar and hubba · geanlæhte þurh deofol ·
and hí on norð-hymbra-lande gelendonn

In the Danish fleet were their chief leaders, Hinguar and Hubba,  united as servants of the devil, who landed in Northumbria. Hinguar turned to the east while Hubba stayed in the north, Ælfric then went on to say..

What we have from the 10th-11th centuries is the introduction of Hinguar and Hubba, but so far none of these sources identify the two as brothers. So  did Ubba’s name become attached to Hinguar’s because the two were often named together at the head of the Danish army? Or did Asser’s frater, ASC’s broþur, not literally mean they were brothers? Whatever the case, the early sources don’t name Ubba as leader of the raid on arx Cynuit.

The 12th-c. Latin compilation, the Annals of St Neots, follows Abbo’s account of the death of  St Edmund, just as it quotes, almost word for word, Asser’s account of the ‘Battle of arx Cynuit‘. It’s therefore late and adds nothing new.

Next: Geffrei Gaimar’s Estoire des Engleis


A very good place to start

There are two near contemporary accounts of the so-called Battle of Cynuit, both written in or around 893 – about 15 years after the event. There was the brief outline in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC) amounting to a few lines, and the fuller description in Asser’s Latin Life of King Alfred.

The ASC has slightly varying accounts, but they agree that a brother (unnamed) of Hinguar and Healfdene arrived with a fleet of 23 ships in Defenascire and there the unnamed leader was killed along with 840 of his men. Most manuscripts add that in that battle, the Danes’ Raven banner was captured.

From this, we don’t know the name of the slain leader, nor who the men of Wessex were who defeated him, nor any more than that it was in Defenascire, a region whose boundaries, at that time, are by no means certain.

Facsimile of the opening page of Asser's Life of King Alfred, Cotton MS. OTHO A. XII, burnt in

Facsimile of the opening page of Asser’s Life of King Alfred, Cotton MS. OTHO A. XII

Asser gives a much more detailed account of the battle itself and says that the fleet of 23 ships had sailed to Domnania from Dyfed, but still doesn’t name the brother of Inwar and Healfdene who led them.

He says no more of the Wessex men than that they were ministri regis and took refuge from the Danes in the unidentified arx Cynuit.

Again, there is nothing about any Saxon leader: the decision to burst out unexpectedly upon the besieging army was apparently collectively agreed, not an act of canny generalship by a commander. They slew 1,200 Danes, including their leader, and a few escaped to their ships.

In terms of who, what and where, this is all we know from those two contemporary sources: a brother of Hinguar/Inwar and Healfdene, 23 ships, Domnania or Defenascire, the rout of the Danish force and death of their leader.

A now lost version of the ASC is supposed to have been the source of the 10th-c. Latin Chronicon Æthelweardi. Æthelweard died c.998 and was probably writing his chronicle 100 years after the event. So what does he say about it?

As in the ASC, it is dispatched in a few lines. The writer indicates that it was Healfdene, the brother of Inguuar, who led the fleet of 30 ships in ‘the western parts of the Angles’ (in occidentales Anglorum partes). We learn that Odda, dux provinciae Defenu was leader of the Saxons and they were besieged in quodam castro (unnamed). Rex ruit must refer to the Danish leader, so he was slain with 800 of his men. This could tally with the 840 mentioned in ASC as this referred to 800 fighting men and 40 of the Danish leader’s retinue.

Why Æthelweard speaks of Anglorum rather than Saxonum, I don’t know, though this may be his later perspective on the situation. The Angles would have been in the eastern half of England. Both Saxons and Angles held territory in the east, so what Æthelweard meant by occidentales partes is also fairly imprecise. It seems to be merely a rough equivalent of Domnania or Defenascire.

The suggested boundaries of the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 9th century. The 'occidentales partes' of the West Saxons might have been anywhere within the black square

The suggested boundaries of the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 9th century. The ‘occidentales partes’ of the West Saxons might have been anywhere within the black rectangle

Those who have made a close study of Æthelweard’s entire text will have their reasons for positing a lost version of ASC as its source. But from the four lines here relevant I see three possible mistakes, either in Æthelweard’s source manuscript, misreadings by him or mistakes by his own copyist (that Healfdenes was a nominative not a genitive, that xxiii was read as xxx, and that he misinterpreted the outcome of the battle).

The one point which seems genuinely different is the reference to the siege of the camp, mentioned by Asser but not in any of the extant ASC versions. So could he not have been writing a précis of Asser, rather than using a manuscript of ASC? The rest of his text must indicate otherwise, I suppose.

One possible addition of his own is the name of Odda as dux provinciae Defenu (with ‘dux’ occurring in other sources as the equivalent of ealdorman). Here the point of interest is that Æthelweard was himself ealdorman of the Western Provinces (presumably ‘Dumnonia’). Possibly this position (a royal appointment, not inherited) enabled him to discover the name of his predecessor in 878, though discovering the incumbent’s name does not prove his presence in the battle; but personal names bring vividness to a narrative.

So far, no clear geographical indications, and no sign of Hubba or Ubba. But Odda now plays a role in the story, 100 years on: and once he has been mentioned in writing, to be read by others, he is likely to return for another 1,000 years – regardless of whether he took part in the battle or not.

À propos: much of the current Wikipedia article on Odda is based on some kind of historical fiction. I plan to clean that up when I can find time.

“Alfred was faced with an issue of loyalty, with the real possibility that many of his people would not remain faithful to him, and instead lend their allegiance to Guthrum, King of the Danish Vikings and conqueror of much of Wessex. […] Odda was forced to choose between Alfred and Guthrum in early 878 when an army of Vikings, led by Ubba, supposed son of the legendary Ragnar Lodbrok, landed on the north Devon or Somerset coast, possibly near modern-day Lynmouth. Choosing not to side with the invaders, Odda gathered an army, mostly composed of inexperienced farmers and peasants, and retreated to a defensive position overlooking the beach. […] Realising the problem, Odda decided he could not remain atop the hill indefinitely, and at the break of dawn he led his troops down the hill, taking the Vikings by surprise. In the ensuing battle around a thousand Vikings were killed, as was Ubba himself, possibly at Odda’s own hand.” And so on.

Not bad for a man who may not even have been there. And who, if he was there, was indifferently both victorious and defeated.

[To be continued]

On to the past (arx Cynuit) (2)

Hubba's granite memorial, in front of Hillcliff Terrace, Appledore

The Viking fleet sails in: Hubba’s memorial, in front of Hillcliff Terrace, Appledore

The Battle of Cynuit was last in the news in 2010 when a memorial stone was set up in Appledore to mark the defeat of Hubba the Dane. Most of the press reports conceded that this is ‘legend’ (at least as far as the connection with Appledore is concerned).

At some points ‘history’ and ‘legend’ are interchangeable, as in: “History has it that he came to grief on Torridgeside when his army was routed at Bloody Corner between Appledore and Northam. Hubba was slain and, by legend, buried under a huge stone on the local shoreline.

‘History’, however, says nothing of Torridgeside and Bloody Corner as the scene of Hubba’s downfall.

Devon County Council’s website on Appledore has a different suggestion as to the origin for Bloody Corner. The historian W. G. Hoskins wrote in Devon (1954):

“There is little doubt that a village called Tawmouth existed here in the 11th century.  It seems to be identical with the Tawmutha referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under 1068 (actually 1069) when Harold’s three illegitimate sons crossed from Ireland with 64 ships, landed here and were beaten off with great losses. The scene of this battle may be Bloody Corner, just below Northam, where human bones and coins are said to have been found.” [NB Not sure about Tawmouth village. ASC’s ‘coman … mid .lxiiii. scypum into Taw muðan‘ just seems to indicate ‘the mouth of the R. Taw’, as æt Pedridan muþan meant at the mouth of the R. Parrett]

Though, more firmly, Hoskins says: “This site [i.e. Bloody Corner] is marked on the O.S. map as the scene of the battle of 878 [i.e. the battle of arx Cynuit] but there is no authority for this identification.” Moreover, such local names in Appledore as ‘Hubbastone Road and ‘Odun Road’ merely expand on the legend: they don’t confirm its historical truth.

But, old traditions die hard – and why not? Where would Alfred be without his cakes?

On the trail of Hubba the Dane:

“Year 6 children who were unable to go to Bude have been on the trail of Hubba the Dane.

The memorial stone at Bloody Corner, Northam

The memorial stone at Bloody Corner, Northam, was erected in 1890

They went to Appledore to see the stone at Bloody Corner commemorating the battle between Odun’s Saxons and the fleeing Vikings led by Hubba.

Then on to Boat Hyde (or Boat Cove) where Hubba and his ships landed in 878 to try and take Kenwith Castle and the local Saxon settlement.

[ … ] Finally after a walk through Appledore they went to Northam Burrows for a re-telling of the grisly tale of the whole event which ended in the failure of the Viking invasion.”

The stone which the children went to see was erected by a Northam man in 1890, and reads:

“Stop Stranger Stop,

Near this spot lies buried

King Hubba the Dane,

who was slayed in a bloody retreat,

by King Alfred the Great.”

Which must have puzzled the children who had been told that it was Odun’s Saxons who did battle with Hubba, not Alfred the Great (who in 878 was away defeating Guthrum’s Great Heathen Army at Eþandune, by Selwood in Wiltshire).

So how did the story come to be associated with this part of Devon?

[To be continued, starting at the beginning]

E&OE as there are experts present

On to the past (arx Cynuit) (1)

I’ve probably gone as far as I can go with Iscalis. My final thought was that it was somewhere on the coastal plain around Burnham-on-Sea, and south to the River Parrett. The heavily Romanised area, with many Iron Age sites,  seems a more likely location (to me) than Charterhouse (on top of the Mendips). This area would have been a centre of the Durotriges, rather than the Belgae as Ptolemy said (so it’s a bit like believing you have the correct exam answer – provided the examiner has made a slight mistake with the question.)

There are no facts, only interpretations.

“There are no facts, only interpretations.”

As Nietzsche said: “We hear only those questions for which we are in a position to find answers.” So I’m  now hearing a different question.

I advanced a little further with Iscalis  than in my study of  arx Cynuit where I was fairly confident it wasn’t at Countisbury, but couldn’t come up with a likely alternative. And speaking of arx Cynuit …  my dismissal of the suggestion that it was Castle Hill, near Beaford, was challenged, so I thought my next investigation could be around the west Devon coast, yes, back to arx Cynuit again.

This is not so much a ‘Well, we shall never know for sure’ question (even if we shall never know for sure) but: How did the local tradition develop and why did it persist for so long? What lay behind it? Where did it start? It MAY have started when the Danes landed near Appledore in 878, if they did. But did they (we shall never know for sure)? It’s the tradition I’ll be focusing on here, not the historical fact.

Method: If this were family history, you would start with modern times and work your way back, because you start with what you know and it gradually uncovers the unknown. But here we already know the ancient sources and we need to uncover the successive stages which led to the present. So I shall begin with Asser and the ASC (which neither support nor contradict the tradition).

[To be continued]

A Recapitulation

The site of the battle of arx Cynuit, 878 AD: at Countisbury or not?

The argument for COUNTISBURY

1. Countisbury is in Devon – as was arx Cynuit, according to Asser and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Domnania, Defenascire)

2. The name Countisbury might derive from something like Cynuits-burh

3. Wind Hill promontory fort at Countisbury is surrounded by high cliffs and a river gorge and is therefore tutissimus on all sides, except the east –  exactly Asser’s description of arx Cynuit. This is the most persuasive argument, along with 4

4. The fort has a rampart (mœnia nostra more erecta) on the vulnerable, eastern side – Asser again, perhaps meaning ‘as the Welsh built them’, with a bank and ditch?

And that’s the evidence, I think.

The argument against COUNTISBURY

Redo arrows

The Countisbury coast line

1. Landing: The contemporary accounts (Asser and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) say that the Saxons were forced into retreat by a Viking force, reportedly of 800-1200 men. ‘Arx Cynuit‘ was where they took refuge, and where they were besieged by the Vikings.

At Countisbury, the precipitous cliffs (north) and the gorge of the Lyn  and East Lyn rivers (west and south)  made the hillfort inaccessible, tutissimus on three sides.

So, where did this fleet of 23 ships with at least 800 men on board land so as to position themselves on the eastern side of Wind Hill, just outside the rampart, a good 700 feet above sea level (see note 1 below)?

 If the Saxons retreated into the hillfort, they would have entered it on the eastern side which is where the only entrance was. So the besiegers must have been further east again, following them westwards and then settling in front of the rampart to starve them out.

The Countisbury rampart from the east: a Viking-eye view - if this was arx Cynuit

The Countisbury rampart from the east: a Viking-eye view of the entrance – IF this was arx Cynuit

2. Viking raids: There are no records of any Viking raids on this coast further west than Porlock, which is about 10 miles away to the east (most dates a bit uncertain):

833 [836] Danes raided Carhampton(?) in 35 ships and defeated King Egbert

840/841 [843] Another(?) 35 ships landed at Carhampton(?) and defeated King Æthelwulf

845 [848] A raiding party was defeated by Eanwulf, ealdorman of Somerset, near the mouth of the R. Parrett (maybe after landing near the harbour at Combwich

[878 arx Cynuit – 23 ships landed but the invaders were defeated]

914/915 raids east of Watchet and then Porlock

988 a raiding party sacked Watchet

997 Watchet again sacked

And when the banished Harold Godwinson sailed back to Britain from Ireland in 1052, he landed – at Porlock, and looted it while he was there.

The Danish raids in the ninth and tenth centuries

The Viking raids in the ninth and tenth centuries

What all these raids have in common – Countisbury is the odd one out – is that they were all at precisely identified places on easily accessible parts of the coast, where there were low-lying beaches and harbours; and these raids went no further west than Porlock Bay, at which point the precipitous cliffs began. So, did the Vikings land at Porlock and advance on a Saxon fyrd which then ran away, for 10 miles, until they reached the Wind Hill fort at Countisbury?

3. Viking aims: Although the Vikings eventually began to settle in Britain instead of carrying out lightning raids, there was no sign as yet (in 878) of attempts to settle in this part of the country. It seems that up until the end of the 10th c. they were content to raid, loot and kill here. And this poses another difficulty for locating arx Cynuit at Countisbury: what were they hoping to raid?

This was (and still is) among the most remote, bare and inaccessible parts of the British coast. There’s little sign of Roman occupation, and not much sign of the Saxons.

Exmoor: still wild and unpopulated

Exmoor: still wild and unpopulated

Further east, there were royal estates at Carhampton, Williton and Cannington and there would have been some kind of military presence there: thegns tasked with protecting the king’s interests; Watchet became one of King Alfred’s burhs – and of these four centres only Williton escaped the raids. But to the west from here there was little more than some smaller settlements and abandoned Iron Age hillforts. Little or no spoil for considerable effort.

And what would a band of Saxon thegns, presumed to be several hundred strong and fully armed (since they eventually slaughtered most of the enemy army), have been doing there, far from the royal estates? Had the Vikings landed at Porlock and marched westwards, away from the rich plunder of the eastern settlements, to Countisbury where the Devon detachment happened to be gathered (unsupported, apparently by any source of provisions)?

A slightly later version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the chronicle of Æthelweard, has a brief report of the incident, and he was first to introduce the name of Odda, ealdorman of Devon, as commanding the force (which would presumably, therefore, have been part of the shire fyrd). However, Æthelweard can’t be entirely relied on – according to him the Vikings won the ensuing battle. Nevertheless, the story persisted that Odda was the man in command and, since all other versions confirm that the Vikings were defeated, Odda was transformed into the victor rather than the vanquished.

The main questions are why would the Vikings choose this difficult area to invade with nothing obvious to plunder? and what was this fairly substantial armed Saxon force doing in the middle of nowhere?

4. Archaeology: The archaeologists report that there are no signs of settlement or any 9th-c. reoccupation of the Wind Hill fort at Countisbury.

5. The name: There have long been doubts as to whether the name ‘Cynuit’ can be the derivation of ‘Countisbury’. Though many things are possible, names of similar origin develop quite differently. Cynuits-burh would not become Countisbury [Old Somerset has suggested the common Celtic toponym ‘condate’ – a confluence – as an alternative, based on the British settlement overlooking Watersmeet].

6. Water: Asser specifically stated that there was no water close at hand on arx Cynuit, so thirst was a risk for the Saxons. However, there is certainly a spring on Wind Hill now.  Not a strong point but it doesn’t support the Countisbury case.

7. Devon: Arx Cynuit may not even have been in present-day Devon as the position of the Somerset-Devon border at that time is unknown. Or it may have been, as a persistent legend has it, on the west Devon coast near Appledore, not the uninviting north.

Conclusion: Although many modern scholars have expressed no doubt that Countisbury is the site of arx Cynuit, other scholarly sources indicate it as no more than one possibility among several. Old Somerset is among the sceptics.

More archaeological evidence would be valuable. Although those precipitous cliffs must have been a temptation for a mass dumping of 800 slaughtered Vikings, recent evidence has suggested that in the 10th c. the Saxons decapitated and stripped their Viking victims before burying them in a pit. Given that – IF Countisbury is the correct location – the exact site of the battle is known, has it ever been excavated? Rhetorical question. But it hasn’t.

Note 1: This quote is from the Exmoor National Park website: “The Exmoor shoreline is the most remote in England. Because of the height and steepness of the cliffs, there is no landward access to the six mile stretches of shoreline from Combe Martin to Heddon’s Mouth and Countisbury to Glenthorne and there are few places where you could land even a small boat.”

“Exmoor has the highest coastline on the British mainland. It reaches a height of 314 metres (1350ft) at Culbone Hill. However, here the crest of the coastal ridge of hills is more than a mile from the sea. If a cliff is defined as having a slope greater than 60 degrees, the highest cliff on mainland Britain is on Great Hangman near Combe Martin. The coastal hill is 318 metres (1043 ft) high with a cliff face of 250 metres (800ft).”

Summing up … and other thoughts

When did WordPress change the way of editing? I don’t like it and would prefer to have it back as it was.

Cynwyd Cynwydion was a king of Strathclyde – perhaps a ‘warrior king’ – in the Brittonic Old North, the Cumbric region centred on Dumbarton. Two of his sons were associated with the north – Clydno Eiddyn with Edinburgh and Cynfelyn Drwsgl with the Battle of Arfderydd, possibly Arthuret just north of Carlisle. A third son was Cadrod Calchfynydd: the area of Calchfynydd or Chalk Hill is tentatively identified with Kelso. No evidence associates this Cynwyd with the south west of England, nor with Wales or Brittany. This casts doubt on Llangynwyd having anything to do with him.

So the ‘St Conet’ of the Brittonic regions of the south seems to have been a different person. Cunetus (Conet/Conoit and presumably Cynuit) would just have been the shared first name.

St Congar

Sculpture identified as St Congar of Congresbury

As for arx Cynuit, this doesn’t seem necessarily to be a precise toponym but simply ‘the stronghold of Cunetus’ (wherever it was), and if it seems strange for a saint to have had a ‘stronghold’ there is the better known example of Congresbury, St Congar’s burh (arx Cyngar?), where the ‘burh’ would appear to have been the nearby Iron Age fort.

When Asser wrote of arx Cynuit (and he is the only source for the name), was he just referring to a place with which St Cunetus was known to have been associated? Asser was a Welsh churchman so would have been likely to have known of a local Brittonic ‘saint’ – Llandigwinnett, or Lantigonet, is about 30 miles from St David’s where Asser was born. Asser also said that the Danes landed ad Domnaniam whereas the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle specifies on Defenascire. But Dumnonia was then referring to that part of the South West peninsula which is now Devon and Cornwall, and not then yet under Saxon control – though the Saxons were gradually moving west. It was not just ‘Devon’ as we know it.

This suggests another possibility: in the 6th century one of the most important trading ports was – Tintagel. Easy to land there and there was reputed wealth from the tin trade. Would that fit at all as a possible site of the 878 ‘Battle of Cynuit’ – a later title which assumes that Cynuit was a place or a participant – both of which seem unlikely: Asser simply said that the Danish leader had been killed ante arcem Cynuit.


Tintagel – *din + *tagell – perhaps ‘fort by the neck of land.

Could Tintagel be the stronghold which was ‘tutissimus’ on three sides and vulnerable only to the east – ille locus situ terrarum tutissimus est ab omni parte, nisi ab orientali? Is it near any of the places to which St Cunetus appears to have given his name? The closest one identified so far is the possible Lesnewth reference (or in Welsh llys newydd – new court) which is about 5 miles away as the crow flies. This is where the church was dedicated at one time to an obscure ‘St Knett’. St Cunetus? Was Tintagel a sort of hermitage where he had a chapel? Archæologically, the small peninsula has been found to have been occupied in the sub-Roman era, with pottery from Byzantium with Christian symbols. And it’s thought to have been a power centre of the old Kingdom of Dumnonia.

But isn’t this much too far west, too far into the territory of the West Welsh for there to have been a band of thegns – ministri regis – of King Alfred? I don’t know. It has been suggested that the eastern limit of Dumnonia was well into Somerset – at one time as far as the River Parrett, but perhaps by this date it was further to the west, to the point where the West Welsh had been pushed back by the time of Asser. I’ll go away and look into this.

What’s in a name? (1)

Before moving on to study the sites of the various Viking raids further, I’m moving back to have another look at the name arx Cynuit.

This appears only (I think) in Asser’s Life of Alfred which had the fullest description of the event: the Danish ships had sailed de Demetica regione (Dyfed) ad Domnaniam (Devon, sort of; though the boundaries of Dumnonia at that time are not clear). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says it was on Defenascire (Ms A).

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 23.18.46

The map shows the territory of the Dumnonii in the Roman period, but what Asser might have meant by the name, we can only guess. The West Saxons gradually pushed westwards, but at what point did they begin to call part of their conquered lands ‘Somerset’ which had had no Roman name? Perhaps my book on the Origins of Somerset will make this clearer.

The Latin word arx is generally translated as ‘stronghold, fortress’ – which isn’t much of a clue since the whole north coast of Devon and Somerset had Iron Age forts which were probably used by the Saxons as they were well-placed for watching for Danish ships coming.

Cynuit is clearly of British/Welsh origin. The later form was Cynwyd which I’ve seen identified with a St Cunetus, about whom I find nothing. The shadowy historical Cynwyd Cynwydion seems to have been both a king and a saint – but his kingdom of Cynwydion is traditionally placed in the north, by the borders of Scotland. Or in the Chilterns. Cynwyd Cynwydion was apparently born c. 491, died in c. 519 and was the son of Cynfelyn (Cunobelinus) ap Arthwys. But the Latin form of his name is given as Conuvitus, otherwise Conowit. Unfortunately, all the online sources get mixed up with family history, tracing ancestors and a lot of imagination. Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 21.59.02

Cunetus or Conuvitus? They don’t seem to be originally the same name. But Cynwyd seems close enough to Cynuit and we do know of the church and village of Llangynwyd in Bridgend; consulting The parish of Llangynwyd by TC Evans (bardic name Cadrawd), Evans identifies the patron saint with Cynwyd Cynwydion, son of Cynfelyn, son of Garthwys. This, he said, came from the Genealogy of the Cambro British Saints, though what that is I have yet to discover.

Cynwyd Cynwydion, then, lived in the 6th century and Asser was writing in the 9th. From all we know, the arx or fortress in Devonshire had no connection with this Cynwyd but coincidences are coincidences, so I’m including a mystic map with all the esoteric Lost Knowledge of the lay lines of Glastonbury. Just for my satisafaction:

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 21.56.19

The mysteriousness of this is that Llangynwyd stands at the apex of an isosceles triangle, and at its base angles are Countisbury and Porlock Weir. I think this is meaningless, but nevertheless – it is so.

And in my next I shall look at Asser’s use of place names.