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In Search of Cunedda

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Who was Cunedda?

Historically, Cunedda became king of Gwynedd in North Wales during the first half of the 5th century A.D. and founded a dynastic clan from which Welsh nobility has claimed their ancestry for centuries afterward. Tradition holds that Cunedda originated from the territory of Manau Gododdin, the region around what is now modern Edinburgh in southeast Scotland, and later migrated to North Wales. This movement was apparently at the behest of a higher authority and designed to rolex replica watches offer Cunedda land in return for ousting Irish raiders who had invaded and settled along the Welsh coastline in the late 4th century, near the end of the Roman occupation.

Very little else is known about the man, but various theories have attempted to fill in the blank spots of his life.

A date for Cunedda's arrival in North Wales has never been pinpointed, and speculation has placed it anywhere from 383 to 440 A.D. Originally it was thought that the Roman leadership had generated his move, probably in the Roman custom of foederatio--rewarding natives with land in return for military duty. However, more recent theories lean toward the idea that Vortigern, the pre-Arthurian, near-equivalent of uk replica watches a British high king from around 425 A.D. on, affected Cunedda's migration. Vortigern was the chieftain who allegedly granted land to Anglo-Saxon-Jute mercenaries in return for their intervention against invading Picts from the north, a practice he escalated dramatically over the years of his leadership. As the Roman soldiers disappeared from British soil, it seems more likely that Vortigern was the instigator of using Cunedda's war talents against the Irish. The Romans were too preoccupied with returning to the continent to fight their own invaders.

Cunedda was one among five important chieftains who were given the title Gwledig (or Wledig), which approximately means "landholder" in primitive Welsh. Because of its exclusivity, it could have eventually meant prince, ruler, even king. One of those other chieftains was Ceredig, a chieftain of Strathclyde. Strathclyde was an important kingdom in replica watches what is now southwest Scotland, its capital in Dun Breatann, now Dumbarton, and the area still carries the name to this day. Once established in North Wales, Cunedda's kingdom became known as Gwynedd, which has been said to mean "desirable land." However, given the corruptions of names and changes in language over the centuries, it is plausible to see the name could also mean "Cunedda's land" -- Gwledig y Cunedda. The name appears on old maps as "Gwyneddia."

At first glance, it is difficult to believe that the Celtic people who became the Cymry (the name Welsh people call themselves--countrymen) would have allowed an outside ruler to be thrust upon them unless he had met with their profound approval. Celtic custom practiced that leaders had to be approved by consensus as to their fitness to rule, not leaving such decisions strictly to hereditary fate. This view is especially important when we assume that even though the Roman leaders deprived the Celts of their native royalty during the occupation, there must have been remnants of local aristocracy and tribal chieftains still in Wales who were itching to regain the power their ancestors had lost.

Wales became fairly Romanized during the occupation; the most influence was exerted in the southern regions and around the northern coastline, though not as much as the rest of the island south of Hadrian's Wall. The Cymry retained much more of their native culture as did the northern Celts of Strathclyde, Manau Gododdin, and Cumbria, all people of the same ethnic stock who still shared similar customs and spoke the same language, in spite of four hundred years of occupation.

And therein lies a clue to Cunedda's acceptance.

Could he have been a descendant of a pre-Roman Celtic king or prince of North Wales, and the most logical heir to the Welsh throne? Knowing the final conquest of North Wales was completed in 60 A.D., it is highly conceivable that refugees, possibly including some nobility, could have fled to Strathclyde and Manau Gododdin. The first Roman northern frontier was not established by the building of Hadrian's Wall until sixty years later as the Romans were well-occupied with revolts in other areas, including that of the renowned Boudicca. There would have been plenty of opportunity for escape to the north and generations of planning a return home.

Was Cunedda's move to North Wales purely greed-motivated, lusting for land, or was he seeking to restore his ancestors' rightful place? We are told that Cunedda's family consisted of eight sons and/or grandsons, among whom much of the land of Wales was split, each region taking its name from one of the sons. Although this organization may be more legend than fact, it does follow the medieval Welsh custom of dividing property among the male children of a family. We are also told that his grandfather was called Padarn Beisrudd (Paturnus of the Red Cloak), and the "red cloak" may have been a name indicating Roman officership. But Cunedda's name was Celtic, as were his ancestors prior to his grandfather, therefore Roman ancestry does not seem likely.

The common background and similarity of names in both Cunedda's and Ceredig's families indicate they could have been kinsmen or at least close allies. One of Cunedda's sons names was Ceredig. In those times, it appears that sons were named after grandfathers and uncles, but not their fathers, so in this instance, it may be logical to guess Ceredig the son was named for his kinsman from Strathclyde. The close ties Cunedda's family and people appear to have retained, coupled with the occupation's dissolution and Vortigern's offer of land, could well have nurtured a deep-seated desire to return to a Welsh homeland.

History so far is silent on any further facts regarding Cunedda's life. We can presume he was a capable military commander, a prodigious father, and well-organized, if his success at ousting the Irish and dividing Wales among his many sons is any indication. Unfortunately, because most knowledge of him and his times is lost due to language evolution, illiteracy, druidic bans on written documentation, and the destruction of war. With luck, however, perhaps archaeologists will one day rediscover information that has been considered forever lost.


This article first appeared in Keltic Fringe magazine, Summer 1996
© 1996 Kathleen Cunningham Guler