Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cadwaladr Vendigaid

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CADWALADR VENDIGAID, i.e. the Blessed (d. 664?), king of the Britons, had a famous but rather shadowy figure in early Welsh history. Tenth-century sources tell us that he was the son of Cadwallawn, the ally of Penda, and that he reigned over the Britons after that monarch's death. He must have taken part in the ineffectual struggles of the North and Strathclyde Welsh against the overlordship of Oswiu, have participated in their earlier successes, and have shared, and, if the same person as the Cadavael of Nennius, largely helped to occasion the fall of Penda at Winwaed. After this we know nothing of Cadwaladr except that he died of the ‘yellow plague’ that devastated Britain in 664 (Nennius in Mon. Hist. Brit., 45 c. The date is fixed from Bæda and Tighernac, cf. Annales Cambriæ, MS. A, s. a. 682).

The fame of his father and his own connection with the last efforts of the Britons against the Saxon invaders early gave Cadwaladr a high place in Welsh tradition and poetry. Allusions to him are frequent in the dark utterances of the ‘Four Ancient Bards’ (see Skene, Four Ancient Books of Wales, passim, and especially i. 238–241, and 436–46). The prophecy of Merlin became current that he would one day come again, like Barbarossa, into the world and expel the Saxons from the land. At last Geoffry of Monmouth issued his elaborate fiction which made Cadwaladr the last British king of the whole island. After he had reigned twelve years, the story goes on, Cadwaladr was driven from Britain by a plague that raged for seven years, from which he took refuge in Armorica. Here he abdicated his rights in favour of Ivor, son of Alan, king of that land, who, on the cessation of the plague, went to Britain and performed prodigies of valour against the Saxons; but Cadwaladr, despairing of the struggle and warned by an angel in a dream, retired to Rome, where five years afterwards he died (12 May or 12 Kal. May 687–9). Thus was the prophecy of Merlin fulfilled. ‘Thenceforth the Britons lost the crown of the kingdom and the Saxons gained it.’ Ivor reigned only as a prince, and the death of Cadwaladr marks the end of the ‘Chronicle of the Kings’ and the beginning of the ‘Chronicle of the Princes’ (Geof. of Mon., Hist. Brit., bk. xii. ch. xiv–xix., or the Welsh Brut y Brenhinoedd in Myvyrian Archaiology, vol. ii., there called the Brut G. ap Arthur; shorter versions are in the Brut y Tywysogion (Rolls Ser.), p. 2, and Gwentian Brut (Cambrian Archaeol. Soc.), p. 2).

This story is plainly unhistorical, and the account of the voyage to Rome is obviously taken from the true history of Cædwalla of Wessex, who really died in Rome in 688. This accounts for the date being pushed forward from that given by Nennius or by the MS. A of the ‘Annales Cambriæ’ (682). There is, however, no reason for not accepting the earlier and simpler accounts of Cadwaladr. Even the fabled transference of the kingdom to the Saxons may express in a mythical form the plain historical fact that under Cadwaladr the struggle of the Britons against the Northumbrians came to its disastrous end by their subjection to the alien power. This can be done without admitting into history the ingenious conjectures which connect with the fall of the last British kings who played a foremost part in the general history of the island the attribution of the title of Bretwalda to the Northumbrian conquerors. Cadwaladr, as is shown by his name of the Blessed, was early reputed a saint. Churches were dedicated to him in various parts of Wales. Of these most historical interest belongs to Llangadwaladr, near Aberffraw, in Anglesea, where his grandfather, Cadvan, king of North Wales [q. v.], was buried, and of which he was reputed the founder.

[Besides original authorities mentioned above, see modern accounts in Skene's Introduction to the Four Ancient Books of Wales, i. 68–75; Prof. Rhys's Celtic Britain, especially pp. 130–136; and for his religious position, Prof. Rice Rees's Welsh Saints, pp. 299–301.]

T. F. T.