Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 21.djvu/351

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its own record begins (Harl. MS. 3859, generally quoted as ‘Annales Cambriæ MS. A’). The editors of the ‘Monumenta Historica Britannica’ make the chronicle begin in 444, which would give 516 for the date of both the battle and Gildas's birth. Apparently following or inspiring ‘Nennius,’ the chronicle treats the battle of Mons Badonicus as the special victory of Arthur, while Gildas makes no mention whatever of Arthur; but he is so vague that it is unsafe to argue too much from his omissions. M. Arthur de la Borderie has recently maintained that the true date of Gildas's birth is fixed by a passage in Bæda (Hist. Ecclesiastica, bk. i. ch. xvi.), which dates the battle in the forty-fourth year after the arrival of the English in Britain, that is in 493. Advocates of the later date have supposed that Bæda, who is copying Gildas at this point, has misunderstood his author; but M. de la Borderie maintains that this and many other difficulties are avoided by adopting the earlier date. That date is also consistent with the statement of the monk of Ruys and the ninth-century author of the life of St. Paul Aurelian, that Gildas was a disciple of St. Illtyd, and a friend of St. Brigitta. But the materials hardly permit of a satisfactory solution (see Revue Celtique, vi. 1–13, ‘La date de la naissance de Gildas,’ par Arthur de la Borderie). If we follow Ussher and Mr. Stevenson (Preface to Gildas, p. ix), we put the date of Gildas's birth in 520. We can also gather from Gildas that he was an ecclesiastic, doubtless a monk. The whole tone of his work shows him a man of gloomy temper, irritated and saddened by the triumphs of the Saxons, and profoundly conscious of the vices and weaknesses of his countrymen. He enumerates the chief British kings who were his contemporaries, and expatiates in turgid and vague rhetoric upon their wicked characters. They are Constantinus, ‘the tyrant of Damnonia,’ Aurelius Conanus (Cynan), Vortiporius, ‘tyrant of the Demetians’ (South Welsh), Cuneglasus (Cyneglas), and the ‘island dragon’ Maglocunus (Maelgwn). The tenth-century chronicle places the death of Maelgwn in 547, and the ‘conversion of Constantine to the Lord’ in 589.

Gildas also tells us that he crossed the sea; that though strongly pressed by his friends to write his book, he refrained from doing so from want of information, and when after ten years' hesitation he undertook the task, he had still to trust to foreign accounts, ‘broken by repeated chasms and not sufficiently clear.’ He also says that at the time of his writing forty-three years and one month had elapsed from the siege of Mons Badonicus and the year of his own birth. It may be inferred from the above statements, and the known connections between Britain and Armorica, that Gildas wrote his work in Brittany, and that he crossed over thither not later than 550. This agrees with the positive statement of Gildas's eleventh-century Breton biographer, who says that he went to Gaul when in his thirtieth year. He is reputed to have founded there the monastery of St. Gildas at Ruys, on the peninsula that protects Vannes from the sea. This is very likely to be the case. His biographer was a monk of Ruys, who wrote to exalt the fame of his founder. The abbey itself became very famous as the place of the retirement of Abelard. The tenth-century annals of Wales seem to place Gildas's death in 570. He was regarded as a saint, and his day was kept on 29 Jan. Writing at the end of the ninth century, Alcuin in his epistles twice refers to Gildas's book, and calls him the wisest of the Britons (Jaffé, ‘Monumenta Alcuiniana,’ in Bibl. Rer. Germ. vi. 206, 371). Alcuin spells his name ‘Gildus.’ The twelfth-century manuscript of Gildas's history styles him in its rubrics ‘Saint Gildas the Wise.’ Gildas's statements gained wide currency from the use of his book by Bæda in the introductory chapters of his ‘Ecclesiastical History.’ Bæda speaks of him in one place as ‘Gildus, the historian of the Britons’ (Hist. Eccl. lib. i. chap. xxii.). Gildas remained a popular saint in Brittany, where in 1026 another monastery, that of St. Gildas du Bois (about midway between Vannes and Nantes), was founded in his honour (Sainte-Marthe, Gallia Christiana, xiv. 847). About 1830 a popular metrical hymn on his merits was published at Vannes in Breton (Cannen Spirituel. Buhé Sant Gueltas).

A much more detailed account of Gildas's life is to be found in the pages of the monk of Ruys. But apart from its late date and plainly legendary character, its statements harmonise so little with chronology that they can be safely disregarded. A second life of Gildas is also extant, which seems to have been the result of the renewed intercourse between Brittany and Wales in the twelfth century. It is ascribed to Caradog of Llancarvan [q. v.], the friend and fellow-worker of Geoffrey of Monmouth and William of Malmesbury. Though Caradog's authorship is denied by the editor of the life, it does not seem to be altogether unlikely. It is equally untrustworthy with the Breton life, from which, however, it differs in some important points. For instance, Caradog makes Gildas be buried at Glastonbury, while the monk of Ruys of course buries him at Ruys. Those