When the lesser kings of Britain became disgusted with Vortigern’s open-door policy towards the Saxons, they placed Vortimer on the throne in his father’s place. Vortimer proved a much nobler king than his father. He led Briton armies against Hengist and the Saxons, and fought four battles against them, variously given by different authors at Darenth or Derwent, at Episford or Aylesford, by the Inscribed Stone, along the seashore in Kent, and at other unnamed locations.
He pushed the Saxons to the Isle of Thanet, after which they surrendered and returned to Germany. Nennius claims that Vortimer died from wounds received at the fourth battle; however, Geoffrey says that Vortimer was poisoned by his stepmother Rowena.
Layamon says that during his reign, and at his request, two bishops – Germanus and Louis – were sent to Britain to restore Christianity. He was buried in either Lincoln or London. Triad 37 avers that his bones were buried in the chief British ports. On his death bed, he had requested a monument be erected in his honor, but his barons failed to carry out the request. His father Vortigern was restored to the throne and, hearing of Vortimer’s death, the Saxons returned in force. Other traditions suggests that a statue of him was put up at Dover. Commentators, such as Brodeur, regard Vortimer as a purely fictional character.
As a figure of history, Vortimer eludes definition. If he existed at all, he probably did die before Vortigern, because there is no hint of a succession. Morris, one of the few modern historians to take him seriously, equates three of his battles with three recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and dated 455, 457, and 465. Since Vortigern is unlikely to have lived beyond the mid-450s, this attempt to pin Vortimer down involves pulling back the Chronicle dates ten years or more. Geoffrey puts his campaign earlier still – contemporary with the mission of Germanus and Lupus in 429. This, however, is a product of his dynastic fictions. In 429, any Saxons settled in Britain as auxiliary troops would still have been few and controllable.
When he writes of Vortimer, Nennius employs the Welsh spelling Guorthemir. This has variants of its own, but the fifth-century original from which it derives as a British form Vortamorix, which, like Vortigern, would probably have been a title or designation. The syllable vor meant “over”; tamo- was a superlative suffix; rix meant “king”. As Vortigern is the “over-king”, so Vortimer is the “over-most” or “highest” king. Its etymological closeness to “Riothamus” or Rigotamos, the designation of a king who was certainly real, may be thought to favor Vortimer’s own reality.
Whether or not he was actually Vortigern’s son, he may have put up a rival claim to authority, adopting a distinctive and grander form of the royal style.
Battle of Darenth | The Legend of King Arthur
Battle of River Thames | The Legend of King Arthur
Battle of Epsford | The Legend of King Arthur
Battle of Colchester | The Legend of King Arthur
Siege of Thong Castle | The Legend of King Arthur
Historia Brittonum | Probably Nennius, early 9th century
Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
Roman de Brut | Wace, c. 1155
Brut | Layamon, late 12th century to mid-13th century
The Chronicle of Pierre de Langtoft | Pierre de Langtoft, c. 1300-1307