Vortigern, King of the Britons

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Vortigern ap Gwidol, High King of Britain

Welsh: Gwrtheyrn, High King of Britain
Also Known As: "Gwrtheyrn", "Gwrtherin", "Vortigern", "Gwrtheneu", "Vorteneu", "Vortegern", "Wortigernos /Vortigern/", "King of Gwerthefyriwg", "The Thin"
Place of Burial: Kent, England
Immediate Family:

Son of Gwidol Vitalis ap Gwydolin
Husband of Rowena, {Fictional} and Severa verch Macsen
Father of Caderyn Fendigaid ap Gwrtheyrn, Brenin Powys; St. Anna . verch Gwythern; Brydw ap Gwrtheyrn; Pasgen ap Gwrtheyrn; Vortimer Fendigaid ap Gwrtheyrn, High King of Britain and 2 others

Managed by: Bernard Raimond Assaf
Last Updated:

About Vortigern, King of the Britons

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* Cambridge.org Britannia Journal Article (18 July 2016) "Vortigern and the End of Roman Britain"An incredibly well-researched work citing numerous primary sources and the works of Peter Bartrum.

Pace, Edwin. (14 Dec 2021) The Long War for Britannia 367–664: Arthur and the History of Post-Roman Britain, ‎ Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK: Pen and Sword Military.
Review Summary
The Long War for Britannia is unique. It recounts some two centuries of ‘lost’ British history, while providing decisive proof that the early records for this period are the very opposite of ‘fake news’. The book shows that the discrepancies in dates claimed by many scholars are illusory. Every early source originally recorded the same events in the same year. It is only the transition to Anno Domini dating centuries afterward that distorts our perceptions.
Of equal significance, the book demonstrates that King Arthur and Uther Pendragon are the very opposite of medieval fantasy. Current scholarly doubts arose from the fact that different British regions had very different memories of post-Roman British rulers. Some remembered Arthur as the ‘Proud Tyrant’, a monarch who plunged the island into civil war. Others recalled him as the British general who saved Britain when all seemed lost. The deeds of Uther Pendragon replicate the victories of the dread Mercian king Penda. These authentic--yet radically different--narratives distort history to this very day.

Birks, Derek. (21 Jul 2020). The Last of the Romans. Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK: Pen and Sword Military.

Review Synopsis: "454 AD. Even after years of Roman rule, Britannia is a conflicted and largely untamed land. Disgraced Imperial Officer, Dux Ambrosius Aurelianus, flees to its shores seeking sanctuary in the land of his deceased mother. His years of loyal service to the emperor count for nothing now. He must carve out a new life beyond the empire. Accompanying Ambrosius is a disparate group of fellow refugees: Inga, a freed Saxon slave, his bucellarii – warriors sworn to him - and the surviving members of his estranged family.The burden of command weighs heavy on his shoulders, for when he lands in the country, winter is fast approaching.But the weather is not the only thing inhospitable towards the newcomers. Plagued by troubles, Ambrosius faces opponents among both the native Britons and Saxon settlers. He discovers that no-one in Britannia - least of all, the High King, Vortigern - still fears the soldiers of the decaying empire.When those he loves are savagely abducted and betrayal divides his company, Ambrosius is left with only a handful of his bucellarii. Though heavily outnumbered and unfamiliar with the land, Ambrosius remains undaunted.Pitted against powerful opponents, the Roman will need new allies if he is to free the hostages and make Britannia his home. There will be blood. ‘Late Roman Britain comes alive in all its dark glory.'" (S.J.A. Turney)

Ashley, Michael. (2002) A Brief History of British Kings & Queens. London: Robinson. pp16-17.
"The kingship of southern Britain is more confusing. Some remnant of Roman administration continues, based around Glevum (Gloucester) and Verulamium (St Albans). The best know of the southern kings was Vortigern (c425-466; c471-480), though in fact the name merely means 'High King.' It's possible that his real name was Vitalinus, thought this may have been his father's name. We know far more of him from legend than from history, but it seems that for over twenty years Vortigern led the organization and defence of Britain against Saxon, Pict and Scottish (Irish) raiders. He solved the problem of the Roman imperial government's inability to send reinforcements by hiring Saxon mercenaries under the leaderhsip of Hengist and Horsa to fight the Picts: strategies that proved successful. In return they were awarded the Island of Thanet (a bad move that finally led to the Saxon invasion of Britain). Later tradition has it that Vortigern became infatmacted with Hengist's daughter Rowena and was givern he in marriage in exchange for more land. But be that as it may, as Vortigern grew older his power dimished and finally civil war broke out. Vortigern was driven into Powys by Ambrosius Aurelianus, an equally vague character believed to be descended from an aristocratic Roman family, most likely that of Magnus Maximus. Ambrosius battled valiantly against Vortigern and against the Saxons and his success has caused some to believe that he may be one of the individmacls who inspired the legend of Arthur. Ambrosius' descendants were believed to continue to rule in south Cymru for several generations."

Whoever input the following written matter cited no URL sources or citations to primary or academically sound works. For this reason, it's now at the bottom of this Overview.

Vortigern (Gwrtheyrn) was from the Welsh borderlands; the story told about him was that he gave land to German mercenaries in exchange for help fighting the Picts, thereby breaking the unity of the Britons against the Saxon invaders.


Although the family is recorded very much as Welsh, it started off in ‘Britain’, which was an amalgamation of the two islands speaking a common Celtic language also used in ‘Europe’. It would seem that the 'kingships' held were mainly in the Midlands area and it is thought that perhaps the ancient town of Ludlow could derive from Lludd Llaw Ereint and perhaps Gloucester from Gloyw Gwallthir.

Before and during the Roman occupation they were Kings of Britain who, if not defeated by Rome, had to pay homage and rule under the Romans.

When the Romans left these shores they left a ‘High King’ or ‘Over King’ known as Vortigern, whose real name was thought to be Gwrtheyrn but, as was the custom in those days, was known by a description and became Vortigern Vorteneu meaning ‘High King – The Thin’ in Latin and Gwrtheyrn Gwrtheneu in Celtic Welsh. Unfortunately this was also the man who invited the Saxons to help defend the country, leading to much internal war and strife before intermixing to make the population Anglo-Saxon.

Because many people had the same or similar names the ‘descriptive’ name becomes very important in following an ancestral lineage; many having confused Brochfael c500 with Brochwel, who fought and died at the battle of Derva (Chester) in 613.

So the family tree starts as follows :-
1 Beli Mawr "The Great" King of Britain (c.110 BC) +wife Don ferch Matonwy.
2 Lludd Llaw [aka Ludlow] Ereint "the Silver Handed" King of Britain (c.80 BC)
3 Afallach ap Lludd the King (c.45 BC)
4 Euddolen ap Afallach the King (c.12 BC)
5 Eudos ap Euddolen (c.35 AD)
6 Eifydd ap Eudos (c.80)
7 Eudeyrn ap Eifydd (c.125)
8 Eeuddigan ap Eudeyrn (c.170)
9 Rhodri ap Euddigan (c.210)
10 Gloyw Gwallthir "the Long Hair" (c.250)
11 Gwidolin ap Gloyw (c.290)
12 Gwidol ap Gwidolin (c.330)
13 Vortigern High King of Britain (c.370 – 459) +wife Severa ferch Macsen (c.370)
14 Gwerthefyr ferch Gwrtheyrn (c.400)
14 Vortimer Fendigaid "The Blessed" King of Gwerthefyriwg (c.402 – 460)
14 Cadeyern Fendigaid "The Blessed" King of Powys (c.404 – 447)

This is our ancestor and starts the next Family Tree
14 Pasgen ap Gwrtheyrn King of Buellt & of Gwerthrynion (c.406)
14 Brydw ap Gwrtheyrn (c.408)
14 St. Edeyrn ap Gwrtheyrn (c.410) +m. Rowena of Kent (c.405)
14 daughter/ferch Gwrtheyrn & Rowena (c.400)
15 St. Madrun ferch Gwerthefyr (c.440) + Ynyr Gwent, King of Gwent (c.430)

Starting in B.C. it must be remembered that, before Catholicism, people worshiped the anthropomorfic personification and deification of objects in nature such as the Sun. A king was the king of everything that was known, so was also king of the sun and should also be worshiped. When Catholicism was introduced, these practices gradually died out, but took decades.

BELI MAWR: Beli (or Belenos) had the descriptive title added of Mawr (the Great). He was said to be a King of Britain who ruled in ‘Middle Britain’, but was also said to be the god of the sun, so much so that bonfires were lit on May 1st to herald the coming of the the ‘sun season’ or summer. Beli’s wife was Anu.

LLUDD LLAW EREINT: this son of Beli, Lludd Llaw Ereint (or Lludd the Silver Handed) was known as the god of healing and was known in Ireland as Nuadu. His name Lludd Llaw is believed to be the origin of the place & name of Ludlow. His symbol was a dog whose lick was supposed to cure. A shrine was built to him at Llud’s Island (Lydney in Gloucestershire) where models of diseased limbs were offered. He lost a hand himself in battle and the smith Gofannon made a new one for him out of silver, so giving him his ‘title’. Loss of the hand forced him to hand over to his nephew Lleu Llaw Gyffes (the Skillful Handed).

AFALLACH: he ruled the Celtic heaven of Avalon and lived with his daughter Modron. Avalon was supposed to be an island where apples grew and after which it was named.

VORTIGERN: when the Romans left Britain leading up to 450 they left Vortigern as ‘High King’ of Britain. He is said to have had regional rulers that, being a weak man, he was afraid would supplant him, so set about murdering them and their families, all except two. The two were small babies, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, who were too small to threaten him. They were whisked away and brought up in Brittany. He married Severa, the daughter of Magnus Maximus, after whom the Severn river was later named.

Nervous that the Romans may return and being troubled by Jutes and Saxons, led by Hengist and Horsa, he came to an agreement with these two to defend the country in exchange for the city of Caer Correi (Caistor, Lincolnshire). Hengist and Horsa later tricked Vortigern out of Ceint (Kent) in exchange for Hengist’s daughter Rowena.

Eventually Vortigern fought but was driven west into Wales where he met Merlin, of King Arthur fame, who told him such a story of fighting dragons that Vortigern fled. Ending up at a wooden castle at the hillfort of Caer Guorthigirn (Little Doward). It was later struck by lightening and Vortigern burnt to death.

By this time Ambrosius Aurelianus (Emrys Wledig) had risen to power to fight the Saxons.

Estimates of when Vortigern came to power in Britain vary dramatically: possibly around 425, perhaps about 440-5. He may have been a "high-king." It is thought by some that Vortigern is not a name at all, but a title, meaning "over king." Even his origins are disputed. According to the available sources, Vortigern was a weak man of little character, possessing few redeeming personal qualities. If these sources are correct, it is hard to imagine that his ascent to power was by the acclaimation of the members of Britain's ruling council, and is much easier to believe that he gained his throne by treachery and murder.

Some support for this view is lent by Geoffrey of Monmouth , in his 12th century "History of the Kings of Britain." In it, Geoffrey tells us of a King Constantine, who had three sons, Constans, Aurelius Ambrosius (the Ambrosius Aurelianus of actual history) and Uther Pendragon (the legendary future father of Arthur). Geoffrey says that Constantine was killed by a Pictish assassin, leaving the eldest son, Constans, as king.

Vortigern appears to have climbed his way high up the greasy pole by securing an inspired marriage to Severa, the daughter of the Constantine's predecessor and national hero, Magnus Maximus .As Constans was still quite young, Vortigern was able to have himself installed as the king's advisor, and before long, conspired to have the young king killed. With the king out of the way, Vortigern seized the crown for himself, realizing that Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon were mere babes and weren't in a position, at that time, to frustrate his designs. Luckily for the young brothers, they were bundled up and escaped to the court of their cousin, Budic I, in Brittany.

According to the "Historia Brittonum," a ninth century compilation of writings by a Welsh monk called Nennius, Vortigern came to power threatened with three dangers on his mind:

"Vortigern ruled in Britain and during his rule in Britain he was under pressure, from fear of the Picts and the Irish (Scots), and of a Roman invasion, and, not least, from dread of Ambrosius."

The fear of the Picts and Scots was completely natural since the British northern defenses were ineffective and in severe disarray. The fear of a Roman invasion suggests either great paranoia on Vortigern's part (the Romans had had no presence in Britain for years) or that there was very good reason (of which we are ignorant, today) to be concerned about a reappearance of Roman soldiers on the shores of Britain. The final fear, of Ambrosius, was to have fatal consequences. Vortigern dreaded retribution, for the murder of his father and older brother, but Ambrosius was still young and the High-King could afford to defer any action for some years.

It was during Vortigern's reign that St. Germanus appears at the Royal Court. Traditional this is said to have been St. Germanus of Auxerre, who is known to have visited Britain at this time to stamp out the Palagian heresy that had become so popular. His first journey took him from Caer-Rebuti (Richborough) to Caer-Lundein (London) and Caer-Mincip (St.Albans), all in South-East England. However, stories of his leading an army against invading Saxon pirates, probably in Cheshire, may refer to a different man. The saint who spent some time in Vortigern's presence - probably at Caer-Guricon (Wroxeter, Shropshire) where excavation has revealed the residence of a powerful 5th century noble - may have been the Breton St. Garmon who was active across Wales. This saint accused Vortigern of fathering a child by his own daughter. Though disgusted by the British High-King, Garmon - or Germanus - favoured the man's sons, at least two of whom he appears to have blessed.

Even with the support of his brothers-in-law, who were now powerful rulers in Wales, Vortigern's grip on the country was still shaky; but when Severa died the situation worsened. To aid the Britons in their defense against the increasingly brutal raids from the northern tribes, Vortigern therefore authorized the use of Saxon and Jutish mercenaries , led by Princes Hengist & Horsa. In line with the standard Roman practice of employing one barbarian tribe to defend against another, the Saxons received land to be used for settlement in exchange for their services.

Geoffrey of Monmouth claims that the two brothers asked for all the land they could cover with a single ox-hide. Vortigern eagerly agreed, but found that Hengist cut the hide into a lengthy thong that was able to encompass the whole city of Caer-Correi (Caistor, Lincs)! Vortigern must, however, have found reassurance in the words of the Jutish chief, as recorded in the "Kentish Chronicle":

"Hengest said to Vortigern. . .'Take my advice, and you will never fear conquest by any man or any people, for my people are strong. I will invite my son and his cousin to fight against the Irish, for they are fine warriors.'"

The anti-Pict/Irish strategy that Vortigern chose to employ proved to be successful, since these tribes were never a problem, again, and the arrangement between the Saxons under their leader, Hengest, and Vortigern was agreeable to both parties for some time. Later, however, they tricked the High-King again: this time into handing over to them the Sub-Kingdom of Ceint (Kent). Getting drunk at a celebratory feast, the foolish Vortigern fell deeply in love with Hengist's daughter, Rowena. He promised Hengist anything he wanted, if only he could marry her. Ceint was the Saxon's price.

Sickened by the betrayal of his countrymen, Vortigern's eldest son, Vortimer, declared himself a rival British leader, raised an army and, for a short time, managed to stem the Saxon advance. Wounded in battle, however, he was poisoned by his step-mother. From their secure power-base, the Saxons then demanded more food and clothing to supply their increased numbers and Vortigern refused them, saying, "we cannot give you more food and clothing for your numbers are grown." The Saxons, however, would not accept this answer. Nennius tells us,

"So they took counsel with their elders to break the peace."

They tore through the land, leaving devastation wherever they went. Many were killed during the ensuing battles, amongst them, Horsa & Vortigern's son, Catigern. Hengist eventually called for a peace conference on Salisbury Plain. The British arrived and were promptly cut down where they stood. This decision on the part of the Saxons would result in several generations of war with the Britons.

Vortigern escaped to set up a stronghold in the west. He chose to build a castle on the southern slopes of Yr Aran, above Beddgelert (Gwynedd). Construction began. However, every morning the previous day's work was found demolished. Vortigern's magicians told him to seek a boy with no father, born of the fairies. He would be able to solve the High-King's problem. Vortigern's men searched far and wide and discovered such a boy at what was soon to become Caer-Fyrddin (Carmarthen). His name was Myrddin Emrys, or " Merlin " for short. Merlin revealed that at night the mountain shook so that all buildings collapsed, because beneath it were buried two fighting dragons. One white representing the Saxons and one red representing the British, and the white one was winning! Afraid of such an omen, Vortigern fled.

Disillusioned, the British finally rebelled against their High-King. Ambrosius Aurelianus (Emrys Wledig), of whom Vortigern had previously had no fear, had by now grown into a burly young man and took his place in the events of the time to lead their struggle .Merlin handed over to him the mountain site where Vortigern had failed to build, and it became his fort of Dinas Emrys. Vortigern took refuge in the refortified hillfort of Tre'r Ceiri in Yr Eifl (the Rivals) in Lleyn, but Ambrosius pursued him and drove him south, via Nant Gwetheyrn and the sea to Ergyng and a wooden castle on the old hillfort of Caer-Guorthigirn (Little Doward) above Ganarew. Here, the castle was miraculously struck by lightning and Vortigern burnt to death! He was later buried in a small chapel in Nant Gwrtheyrn (Lleyn).

Thus, it was left to Ambrosius Aurelianus to halt the Saxon advance.

(A.D. 449 . And in their days Vortigern invited the Angles thither, and they came to Britain in three ceols, at the place called Wippidsfleet.)

A.D. 455 . This year Hengest and Horsa fought with Wurtgern the king on the spot that is called Aylesford. His brother Horsa being there slain, Hengest afterwards took to the kingdom with his son Esc. [Anglo-Saxon Chronicles]