Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cadvan (d.617? or 634?)

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CADVAN (d. 617? or 634?), was king of Gwynedd or North Wales. His existence may be regarded as satisfactorily established, but his exploits belong rather to legend or conjecture than history. The tenth-century pedigree of Owain, son of Howel Dha, makes him the son of Iago, a descendant of Cunedda, and the father of the famous Cædwalla (d. 634) [q. v.], the ally of Penda, and the foe of the Northumbrian Bretwaldas (An. Cambriæ, Rolls Ser., p. x; cf. Brut y Tywys. Rolls Ser., p. 2; and Cyvoessi Myrddin in Skene's Ancient Books of Wales, i. 464, ii. 221). Bæda gives us clear accounts of the warfare which went on between Æthelfrith of Northumbria and the North Welsh, culminating in the battle of Chester in 613 (Bæda, Hist. Eccl. bk. ii. ch. ii.) With these wars Welsh tradition connects the name of Cadvan, and the probability of the fact may excuse the weakness of the evidence. It is impossible, however, to accept the fabulous stories in Geoffry of Monmouth (Hist. Brit. bk. xii. ch. i.; cf. Myvyrian Archaiology (1801), ii. 17, triad 81) of Cadvan's election as overlord by the princes of the Britons, his agreement to divide Britain with Æthelfrith, and his acting as foster father to the fugitive Eadwine. In 616 the death of Ceredig (An. Cambr. MS. A. s. a.) may have given Cadvan a more commanding position. The legend that his son Cadwallawn began to reign in 617, the same year as Eadwine became king, has suggested that Cadvan himself died in that year, but Mr. Skene has conjectured with much ingenuity that Cadvan continued to reign in Gwynedd contemporaneously with his more energetic son, the leader of the combined British host against the Angles. In 634 Oswald won a great victory at Heavenfield, and the ‘wicked general’ slain there (unnamed by Bæda, Hist. Eccl. iii. i; called Catgublaun rex Gwenedote by Nennius, and Cathlan by Tighernac) Mr. Skene conjectures to have been Cadvan himself (Cadwallawn is called Cadwallaun by Nennius, and Chon by Tighernac; see Ancient Books of Wales, i. 71). But such hypotheses are hardly history. A very early inscription, apparently an epitaph, is still found on a stone like a coffin-lid above the southern door of the church of Llangadwaladr in Anglesea, called, as is conjectured, from Cadvan's grandson. ‘The old letters,’ says Professor Rhys, ‘have quite the appearance of being of the seventh century’ (Celtic Britain, p. 125). The words run: ‘Catamanus rex sapientisimus opinatisimus omnium regum’ (Hübner, Inscriptiones Britanniæ Christianæ, p. 52, No. 149). Burial near Aberffraw is hardly, though possibly, compatible with death on the field of battle in Northumbria.

[Authorities cited in the text.]

T. F. T.