Medieval sources, including Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, connect the Battle of Arfderydd to the legendary King Arthur. In Geoffrey’s account, Arthur is portrayed as a heroic figure who fought against the rebellious Gwenddoleu (Gwenddalou).
At the battle, the warlord Gwenddoleu, son of Ceido, opposed a joined force of Peredur and Gwrgi (the sons of Eliffer and his cousins). Rhydderch the Generous killed Gwenddoleu and his warriors kept fighting for a month and a half to honor their slain leader. The battle is associated with the historical figure Myrddin Wyllt, a warrior and bard who later became the basis for the character Merlin in Arthurian legends. Myrddin was present at the battle, fighting on Gwenddoleu’s side in the Welsh verses and with Rhydderch and Peredur in Geoffrey’s Vita Merlini.
Merlin is said to have won a golden torc (a necklace or armband made of twisted metal), was driven mad – either by the sight of all the dead, by an apparition he saw in the sky blaming him for the deaths, or by the fact that he killed his nephew – and thereafter roamed the Caledonian Wood (Caledon Wood) (Celyddon, Silva Caledonaiae, or Cat Coit Celidon), becoming a hermit.
Arferydd Battle | History
Historical Battle | 6th century
The Battle of Arfderydd is said to have occured around the year 573 or 575 AD, though exact dates are uncertain. It was fought near the River Clyde in what is now Scotland, between the forces of Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio, a northern British (Welsh) king, and Riderch Hael (Rhydderch Hael), a king of Strathclyde.
The Triads call it “futile,” saying that it began over a lark’s nest, referring to the Fort of the Lark on the edge of Solway Firth. The fact that the battle was for a “lark’s nest” appears to indicate that the fight was actually for ownership of the important harbour of Caerlaverlock, which translates as Fort Lark.
The battle is mentioned in various early Welsh texts, including the Annales Cambriae and the poem Y Gododdin, attributed to the poet Aneirin. The Annales Cambriae briefly notes the battle, while Y Gododdin commemorates the warriors who fell in the conflict.
The historical details of the Battle of Arfderydd are subject to scholarly debate, and separating historical fact from later legendary embellishments can be challenging. The connection to Arthurian legend adds on additional layer of complexity to the historical interpretation.
Near the supposed site of the Battle of Arfderydd, there is a church known as Arthuret Church, located near the town of Longtown. The church has historical associations with the battle and is said to be built on the site where Gwenddoleu’s body was buried.
Cultural and Historical Significance
The Battle of Arfderydd holds cultural and historical significance in the context of early Welsh literature and the development of Arthurian legend. It reflects the complex interactions and conflicts among the various Celtic-speaking peoples in the post-Roman period.
Annales Cambriae | c. 960-980
Triads of the Island of Britain (Welsh ”Triads”) | 11th century to 14th century
Various; all Myrddin poems | 12th century to 15th century