Vortigern (/ˈvɔːrtᵻdʒɜːrn/; Old Welsh Guorthigirn, Guorthegern; Welsh: Gwrtheyrn; Old English: Wyrtgeorn; Old Breton Gurdiern, Gurthiern; Irish: Foirtchern), also spelled Vortiger and Vortigen, was possibly a 5th-century warlord in Britain, known perhaps as a king of the Britons. His existence is contested, and information about him is obscure.

He may have been the "superbus tyrannus" said to have invited Hengist and Horsa to aid him in fighting the Picts and the Scots. However, they revolted, killing his son in the process and forming the Kingdom of Kent. It is said that he took refuge in North Wales, and that his grave was in Dyfed or the Llŷn Peninsula. He is cited at the beginning of the genealogy of the early Kings of Powys.



The 6th century historian Gildas wrote De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (Template:Lang-en) in the first decades of the 6th century. In Chapter 23, he tells how "all the councillors, together with that proud usurper" [omnes consiliarii una cum superbo tyranno] made the mistake of inviting "the fierce and impious Saxons" to settle in Britain.[1] According to Gildas, apparently, a small group came at first and was settled "on the eastern side of the island, by the invitation of the unlucky [infaustus] usurper". This small group invited more of their countrymen to join them, and the colony grew. Eventually the Saxons demanded that "their monthly allotments" be increased and, when their demands were eventually refused, broke their treaty and plundered the lands of the Romano-British.

It is not clear whether Gildas used the name Vortigern. Most editions published presently omit the name. Two manuscripts name him: MS. A (Avranches MS 162, 12th century), refers to Uortigerno; and Mommsen's MS. X (Cambridge University Library MS. Ff. I.27) (13th century) calls him Gurthigerno.[2] Gildas adds several small details that suggest either he or his source received at least part of the story from the Anglo-Saxons. The first is when he describes the size of the initial party of Saxons, he states that they came in three cyulis (or "keels"), "as they call ships of war". This may be the earliest recovered word of English. The second detail is that he repeats that the visiting Saxons were "foretold by a certain soothsayer among them, that they should occupy the country to which they were sailing three hundred years, and half of that time, a hundred and fifty years, should plunder and despoil the same."[2] Both of these details are unlikely to have been invented by a Roman or Celtic source.

Gildas never addresses Vortigern as the king of Britain. He is termed an usurper (tyrannus), but not solely responsible for inviting the Saxons. To the contrary, he is portrayed as being aided by or aiding a "Council", which may be a government based on the representatives of all the "cities" (civitates) or a part thereof. Gildas also does not consider Vortigern as bad; he just qualifies him as "unlucky" (infaustus) and lacking judgement, which is understandable, as these mercenaries proved to be faithless.

Modern scholars have debated the various details of Gildas' story. One topic of discussion has been about the words Gildas uses to describe the Saxon's subsidies (annonas, epimenia) and whether they are legal terms used in a treaty of foederati, a late Roman political practice of settling allied barbarian peoples within the boundaries of the empire to furnish troops to aid the defence of the empire. It is not known whether private individuals imitated this practice. It is also not known whether Gildas' reference to "the eastern side of the island" refers to Kent, East Anglia, Northumbria or the entire east coast of Britain. Gildas describes how their raids took them "sea to sea, heaped up by the eastern band of impious men; and as it devastated all the neighbouring cities and lands, did not cease after it had been kindled, until it burnt nearly the whole surface of the island, and licked the western ocean with its red and savage tongue" (chapter 24).

Apparently, even the writers close to Gildas in time struggled with the gaps in his account, which they filled with either their own research or imagination.


The first extant text considering Gildas' account is Bede, writing in the early- to mid-8th century. He mostly paraphrases Gildas in his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum and De Temporum Ratione, adding several details, perhaps most importantly the name of this "proud tyrant", whom he first calls Vertigernus (in his Chronica Maiora) and later Vurtigernus (in his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum). The Vertigernus form may reflect an earlier Celtic source or a lost version of Gildas.[3] Bede also gives names in the Historia to the leaders of the Saxons, Hengest and Horsa, specifically identifying their tribes as the Saxons, Angles and Jutes (H.E., 1.14,15). Another significant detail that Bede adds to Gildas' account is calling Vortigern the king of the British people.

Bede also supplies the date, AD 449, which was traditionally accepted but has been considered suspect since the late 20th century: "Marcian being made emperor with Valentinian, and the forty-sixth from Augustus, ruled the empire seven years." Michael Jones notes that there are several adventus dates in Bede. In H.E. 1.15 the adventus occurs within the period 449–55; in 1.23 and 5.23 another date, c. 446, is given; in 2.14 the same event is dated 446 or 447. These dates are apparently calculated approximations.[3]

Historia BrittonumEdit

The Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons)—until recently attributed to a Nennius, a monk from Bangor, in Gwynedd in Wales—was probably compiled during the early 9th century. The writer mentions a great number of sources. "Nennius" wrote more negatively of Vortigern, who is accused of incest (a possible or perhaps intentional mistake of Vortigern for Vortipor, accused by Gildas of the same crime), oath-breaking, treason, love for a pagan woman, and lesser vices such as pride.

The Historia Brittonum recounts many details about Vortigern and his sons. Chapters 31–49 tell how Vortigern (Guorthigirn) deals with the Saxons and Saint Germanus of Auxerre; Chapters 50–55 deal with St. Patrick; Chapter 56 tells us about King Arthur and his battles; Chapters 57–65 mention English genealogies, mingled with English and Welsh history; Chapter 66 gives important chronological calculations, mostly on Vortigern and the Adventus Saxonum.

Excluding what is taken from Gildas, there are six groupings of traditions:Template:Citation needed

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  • Material quoted from a Life of Saint Germanus. These excerpts describe Saint Germanus' incident with one Benlli, an inhospitable host seemingly unrelated to Vortigern, who comes to an untimely end, but his servant, who provides hospitality, is made the progenitor of kings of Powys; Vortigern's son by his own daughter, whom Germanus in the end raises; and Vortigern's own end caused by fire brought from heaven by Germanus' prayers. Comparing this material with Constantius of Lyon's Life of St. Germanus of Auxerre, it suggests that the two are not the same person. It has been suggested that the saint mentioned here may be no more than a local saint or a tale that had to explain all the holy places dedicated to a St. Germanus or a 'Garmon', who may have been a Powys saint or even a bishop from the Isle of Man about the time of writing the Historia Britonum. The story seems only to be explained as a slur against the rival dynasty of Powys, suggesting they did not descend from Vortigern, but from a mere slave.
  • Stories that explain why Vortigern granted land in Britain to the Saxons — first to Thanet, in exchange for service as foederati troops; then to the rest of Kent, in exchange for marriage to Hengest's daughter; then to Essex and Sussex, after a banquet where the Saxons treacherously slew all of the leaders of the British but saved Vortigern to extract this ransom. This is no more than an explanatory legend. No finds suggest the origin of Anglo-Saxon occupation in Thanet or Kent; Dorchester-on-Thames (Oxford) is a more likely candidate,Template:Why as is East Anglia.Template:Why
  • The magical tale of Ambrosius Aurelianus and the two dragons found beneath Dinas Emrys. This origin of the later legend of Merlin is clearly a local tale that had attracted the names of Vortigern and Ambrosius to usurp the roles of earlier characters. While neither of them has any association with that remote part of Wales, the character Vortigern is best known to us because of this tale.
  • A number of calculations attempting to fix the year Vortigern invited the Saxons into Britain. These are several calculations made by the writer, naming interesting names and calculating their dates, making several mistakes in the process.
  • Genealogical material about Vortigern's ancestry, the names of his four sons (Vortimer, Pascent, Catigern, Faustus), a father (Vitalis), a grandfather (Vitalinus) and a great-grandfather who is probably just an eponym (Gloui) which associates Vortigern with Glevum, the civitas of Gloucester.

The Historia Brittonum relates four battles occurring in Kent, apparently related to material in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (see below). In the Historia Brittonum it is claimed that Vortigern's son Vortimer commanded the Britons against Hengest's Saxons. Moreover, it is claimed that the Saxons were driven out of Britain, only to return at Vortigern's re-invitation a few years later, after the death of Vortimer.

The stories preserved in the Historia Brittonum reveal an attempt by one or more anonymous British scholars to provide more detail to this story, while struggling to accommodate the facts of the British tradition. This is important, as it indicates that either at the time, or near that time, there were one or more Welsh kings who traced their genealogy back to Vortigern.

The Anglo-Saxon ChronicleEdit

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle provides dates and locations of four battles that Hengest and his brother Horsa fought against the British in southeast Britain in the historic county of Kent. Vortigern is said to have been the commander of the British for only the first battle; the opponents in the next three battles are variously termed "British" and "Welsh", which is not unusual for this part of the Chronicle. No Saxon defeat is acknowledged, but the geographical sequence of the battles suggests a Saxon retreat, and the Chronicle locates the third battle, dated 465 in Wippedsfleot, as the place where the Saxons first landed, thought to be Ebbsfleet near Ramsgate. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle presents the year 455 as the last date when Vortigern is mentioned. However, the Chronicle is not a single document but the end result of combining several sources over a period of time. The annals for the 5th century in the Chronicle were put into their current form during the 9th century, probably during the reign of Alfred the Great.[4] The sources for the fifth century annals are obscure, however an analysis of the text demonstrates some poetic conventions, so it is probable that they were derived from an oral tradition, such as sagas in the form of epic poems.[5][6]

Because the date of the material comprising the Historia Brittonum is disputed, and could be later than the Chronicle, some historians argue that the Historia Brittonum took its material from a source close to the Chronicle; but one has to wonder if both do not draw upon an earlier tradition.

William of MalmesburyEdit

Writing soon before Geoffrey of Monmouth, William added much to the damnatio memoriae of Vortigern:

At this time Vortigern was King of Britain; a man calculated neither for the field nor the council, but wholly given up to the lusts of the flesh, the slave of every vice: a character of insatiable avarice, ungovernable pride, and polluted by his lusts. To complete the picture, he had defiled his own daughter, who was lured to the participation of such a crime by the hope of sharing his kingdom, and she had borne him a son. Regardless of his treasures at this dreadful juncture, and wasting the resources of the kingdom in riotous living, he was awake only to the blandishments of abandoned women. - Gesta Regum Anglorum

No other sources confirm this evil description, and it seems safe to assume that this is an exaggeration of accusations made by earlier writers.

William does, however, add some detail, no doubt because of a good local knowledge. In De Gestis Regum Anglorum book I, chapter 23.

Geoffrey of MonmouthEdit

The story of Vortigern adopted its best-known form in the Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Geoffrey states that Vortigern was the successor of Constans, the son of the usurping emperor Constantinus III. Further, Vortigern used Constans as a puppet king and ruled the nation through him until he finally managed to kill him through the use of insurgent Picts.

Geoffrey mentions a similar tale just before that episode, however, which may be an unintentional duplication. Just after the Romans leave, the archbishop of London is put forward by the representatives of Britain to organise the island's defences. To do so, he arranges for continental soldiers to come to Britain. Beyond that, more reminds one of Vortigern: the name of the bishop is Guitelin, a name similar to the Vitalinus mentioned in the ancestry of Vortigern and to the Vitalinus said to have fought with an Ambrosius at the Battle of Guoloph (Battle of Wallop). This Guithelin/Vitalinus disappears from the story as soon as Vortigern arrives. All these coincidences imply that Geoffrey duplicated the story of the invitation of the Saxons, and that the tale of Guithelinus the archbishop might possibly give some insight into the background of Vortigern before his acquisition of power.

Geoffrey is also the first to mention Hengest de Cantia Regnum and the name of Hengest's daughter, who seduces Vortigern to marry her, after which his sons rebel, as a certain Ronwen recorded Rowena, also called Renwein, neither of which is a Germanic name. Like the Historia Brittonum, Geoffrey adds that Vortigern was succeeded briefly by his son Vortimer, only to assume the throne again when Vortimer is killed.


Scholars consider Wace a more reliable reporter of the oral tradition than Geoffrey. While Vortigern is mentioned only rarely by the later stories of King Arthur, when he does he is usually the character described by either Geoffrey of Monmouth or Wace.

Vortigern in Gildas’ De Excidio et Conquestu BritanniaeEdit

According to Giles’ translation of GildasDe Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae:

Then all the councilors, together with that proud tyrant Gurthrigern [Vortigern], the British king, were so blinded, that, as a protection to their country, they sealed its doom by inviting in among them like wolves into the sheep-fold), the fierce and impious Saxons, a race hateful both to God and men, to repel the invasions of the northern nations. Nothing was ever so pernicious to our country, nothing was ever so unlucky. What palpable darkness must have enveloped their minds-darkness desperate and cruel! Those very people whom, when absent, they dreaded more than death itself, were invited to reside, as one may say, under the selfsame roof. Foolish are the princes, as it is said, of Thafneos, giving counsel to unwise Pharaoh.

The name Gurthrigern is not found in the best manuscripts and may have been added as a gloss at some stage during copying. This name appears to be a translation of “superbus tyrannus”, here rendered as “proud tyrant”. The name appears in Avranches public library MS. 162 (12th c.) – Codex Abrincencsis, or Mommsen’s MS. A: superbo tyranno Vortigerno, and Cambridge University Library MS. Ff. I.27 (13th c.) – Mommsen’s MS. X: Gurthigerno Brittanorum duce.

Vortigern in Bede’s WritingEdit

In the Chronica MaioraEdit

Bede’s Chronica Maiora has the sentence:

Quos illi unanimo consilio cum rege suo Vertigerno [sic] quasi defensores patriae ad se invitandos elegerunt. Those whom the council with their king Vertigernus unanimously chose to invite as defenders of their fatherland.

This is the first surviving text to say that Vortigern was a king and may be the earliest to provide his name.

In the Ecclesiastical HistoryEdit

In Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, chapter XV, Bede relates (as translated by L. C. Jane):

IN the year of our Lord 449, Martian being made emperor with Valentinian, and the forty-sixth from Augustus, ruled the empire seven years. Then the nation of the Angles, or Saxons, being invited by the aforesaid king, arrived in Britain with three long ships, and had a place assigned them to reside in by the same king, in the eastern part of the island, that they might thus appear to be fighting for their country, whilst their real intentions were to enslave it. Accordingly they engaged with the enemy, who were come from the north to give battle, and obtained the victory; which, being known at home in their own country, as also the fertility of the country, and the cowardice of the Britons, a more considerable fleet was quickly sent over, bringing a still greater number of men, which, being added to the former, made up an invincible army.

Bede’s account appears to be almost entirely taken from Gildas. He adds the date 449 for the coming of the Angles and Saxons. In fact, Marcian and Valentinian ruled in Rome from 450 to 455. There is an error of one year.

Bede names these first Angle leaders as Hengist and his brother Horsa.

Bede later relates:

In a short time, swarms of the aforesaid nations came over into the island, and they began to increase so much, that they became terrible to the natives themselves who had invited them. Then, having on a sudden entered into league with the Picts, whom they had by this time repelled by the force of their arms, they began to turn their weapons against their confederates. At first, they obliged them to furnish a greater quantity of provisions; and, seeking an occasion to quarrel, protested, that unless more plentiful supplies were brought them, they would break the confederacy, and ravage all the island; nor were they backward in putting their threats in execution. In short, the fire kindled by the hands of these pagans proved God’s just revenge for the crimes of the people; not unlike that which, being once lighted by the Chaldeans, consumed the walls and city of Jerusalem. For the barbarous conquerors acting here in the same manner, or rather the just Judge ordaining that they should so act, they plundered all the neighbouring cities and country, spread the conflagration from the eastern to the western sea, without any opposition, and covered almost every part of the devoted island. Public as well as private structures were overturned; the priests were everywhere slain before the altars; the prelates and the people, without any respect of persons, were destroyed with fire and sword; nor was there any to bury those who had been thus cruelly slaughtered. Some of the miserable remainder, being taken in the mountains, were butchered in heaps; others, spent with hunger, came forth and submitted themselves to the enemy for food, being destined to undergo perpetual servitude, if they were not killed even upon the spot some, with sorrowful hearts, fled beyond the seas. Others, continuing in their own country, led a miserable life among the woods, rocks, and mountains, with scarcely enough food to support life, and expecting every moment to be their last.

After continuing with history taken from Gildas, in chapter XVII–XX Bede backtracks to before the coming of the Saxons and relates events of a visit of St. Germanus to Britain, and then details of a second visit, taken from the Life of St. Germanus by Germanus’ contemporary Constantius.

In the Historia BrittonumEdit

Vortigern is said to have received the Saxons Hengist and Horsa as friends and to have given them the Island of Thanet. The text says later on that Vortigern reigned in Britain when Theodosius and Valentinian were consuls which was 425 CE, and in the fourth year of his reign the Saxons came to Britain, in the consulship of Feliz and Taurus, in the 400th year from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is quite different from Bede’s date of 449. Probably “incarnation” is an error for “passion”.

Thereafter the author tells some tales of St. Germanus who was visiting Britain, and then returns to Hengist and Horsa whose people have so increased in number that the Britons no longer wish to pay them. Hengist puts forth a counter-proposal that he bring even more people to Britain from his homeland and they will undertake to fight even more for the Britons. Vortigern accepts this.

Messengers are sent to “Scythia” and 16 vessels return, along with Hengist’s daughter. Hengist hosts a lavish banquet, along with Ceretic, his interpreter. They get Vortigern and the Britons drunk and Vortigern so taken by Hengist’s daughter, that he offers Hengist anything he wants for her hand in marriage. Hengist has already taken council with the elders of the Angul and asks for the province of Kent. The current king of Kent, Guoyrancgonus is deposed and Vortigern gives Kent to Hengist. Then Vortigern sleeps with Hengist’s daughter and continues to be in love with her.

With Vortigern’s agreement, Hengist invites over his sons Oisc and Ebissa to fight against the Scots in return for land in the north near the wall named Gual. The two sons do well, conquering the Orkney islands and other northern regions. More and more people come from the European homeland to live in Britain, especially in Kent.

Meanwhile Vortigern takes his own daughter as a wife and fathers a son on her. St. Germanus calls a council to reprove Vortigern. But Vortigern has his daughter present the son to St. Germanus and claim that, in fact, Germanus is the father of her son. Germanus says that he will accept the boy as his son until the boy gives razor, scissors, and comb to his true father. They boy immediately takes razor, scissors, and comb to Vortigern and asks him to cut and trim his hair, showing that the boy well knows his true father. Vortigern is embarrassed and flees from the assembly. Later the boy is given the name Faustus.

Then follows the tale of the “Fatherless Boy”, in this version identified as Ambrosius.

Then follows the reign of Vortimer, discussed in his own article.

Upon Vortimer’s death, Hengist attempts to make peace with Vortigern, and arranges a council to take place at which 300 of the chief Britons and 300 of the chief Saxons will meet. But the Saxons each has a knife hidden under his garment. They are to get the Britons drunk and then knife them when “Nimed eure Saxes” (“Take out your knives”) is called out. Only Vortigern is to be spared. The plot goes off without a hitch. Vortigern is spared on condition that he grants the Saxons lordship over Norfolk, Essex, and Sussex and other regions, which he does.

St. Germanus upbraids Vortigern about his daughter. Vortigern flees to Gwothegirnaim where he hides with his wives, St. Germanus pursues him, followed by the British clergy, and upon a rock prays for him for forty days and forty nights.

In some manuscripts, St. Germanus then leads the Britons against the Saxons and a shout by Germanus' forces of the word “Hallelujah!” puts the Saxons to flight so that they are driven to the sea.

Three versions of Vortigern’s death follow. According to the first version, Vortigern flees from St. Germanus to Dyved where he builds the fortress on the River Towey named Caer Guorthegirn. But the saint follows him and with his clergy fasts and prays for three days. On the third day fire from heaven falls on the castle and burns all within:Vortigern and all his wives including Hengist’s daughter. According to the second version, Vortigern, fleeing alone from St. Germanus, broken-hearted, eventually meets a sad end in some solitary place. The third version tells that when Vortigern’s castle was burned, the earth opens beneath him and swallows him and all with him so that no bodies are found.

Vortigern’s sons Vortimer and Catigern had died previously. Aurelius therefore appointed Vortigern’s third son Pascent as king of [Builth] and Guorthegirnaim and himself brought up the young son Faustus.

We are also told:

And from the reign of Vortigern to the quarrel between Guitholin and Ambrosius, are twelve years, which is Guolopum, that is Catgwaloph.

Some think Guitolinus is an alternate name for Vortigern.

In the Anglo-Saxon ChronicleEdit

The information in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle largely appears to come from Bede, but other traditions are found similar to those in the Historia Brittonum where they are ascribed to the reign of Vortimer and are discussed under his article.

In Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia anglorumEdit

Henry of Huntington merges the account of Bede with that of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and that of the Historia Brittonum. He mostly abridges Vortigern material. The main difference is that he places Vortimer’s rulership entirely after Vortigern’s reign instead of during it. See Historia anglorum.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum BritanniaeEdit

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae appears to draw mainly from the Historia Brittonum.

But Geoffrey introduces Vortigern as the leader of the Gewissi who desires the crown for himself and who persuades the young heir to the throne, Constans, then a monk, to leave the monastery to become king. Since Archbishop Guithelin is dead by this time and others present refuse to crown the young oath-breaker, Vortigern does so himself.

Constans, having little idea of how to be a king, gives almost all his authority to Vortigern. Then Vortigern takes a hundred Picts into his service, supposedly to provide intelligence of hostile Pictish activity, but in fact to encourage them take arms against King Constans. Eventually Vortigern feigns that his wealth has been used up in serving his country and he must now leave Britain to renew his wealth and must dismiss his Picts. Believing all this, the Picts decide to kill Constans, and burst into Constans’ chamber and do so.

Vortigern pretends to be shocked, and turns over the Picts to the citizens of London to be executed. But some suspect that Vortigern is behind the slaying and the guardians of Constans’ infant brothers Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther spirit the children away to Little Britain. Vortigern, being now the only obvious candidate to become king, has himself crowned. But the Picts, suspecting his treachery, makes war on him. Also, news comes from Little Britain that Ambrosius and Uther have grown up and are preparing to attack Vortigern.

At that time, when Vortigern happens to be in Canterbury, three longships under the command of Hengist and his brother Horsa arrive in Kent. They claim to be exiles from their homeland seeking service in foreign lands. Although they are pagans, Vortigern is impressed by them. Hengist explains that the worship Mercury, whom they call Woden after whom Wednesday is named, and other gods such as Saturn and Jove. Next after Woden they worship Freia, after whom Friday is named. Despite this pagan worship, Vortigern takes them into his service. When the Picts attack, they are defeated, largely through the aid of these Saxons. Vortigern gives them lands in Lindsey and Hengist asks that he be allowed to bring over more of his fellow-countrymen to aid Vortigern in need. Vortigern agrees to this but refuses to give Hengist control over a city or to give him a title, at least not yet. He does allow Hengist to build a citadel on ground that can be enclosed by a single thong.

Hengist’s reinforcements arrive, including Hengist’s daughter who is named Renwein or Rowena in different manuscripts of Geoffrey. Vortigern falls in love with her and arranges with Hengist and the other Saxons to take her as his wife. In return, Vortigern gives to Hengist the province of Kent, deposing its king, Guoyrancgonus. But most of the people are opposed, including Vortigern’s three sons by a previous marriage.

Geoffrey then introduces the mission of St. Germanus to Britain, but gives almost no details about this saint who is so prominent in the Historia Brittonum.

By agreement between Vortigern and Hengist, Hengist’s sons Oisc and Ebissa are invited to Britain and settled north of Deira near to the wall. A man named Cherdic accompanies them. Perhaps this Cherdic is Ceretic the Interpreter from the Historia Brittonum, somewhat misplaced in the tale. These new Saxons originally bring 300 ships with them and with their aid, Vortigern wins all his battles.

But many Britons are terrified by the increasing number of pagan Saxons, who are intermarrying with Britons and urge that they be expelled. Then Vortigern refuses to give in at all, the people abandon him and make his son Vortimer their king. For details of his reign, see the article on him.

When Vortimer dies, Vortigern sends to Hengist to return to Britain, and a counsel is held, almost exactly as told in the Historia Brittonum. Geoffrey only adds that the council took place at the Cloister of Ambrius and that those slain were buried there under the auspices of the monk Eldad. Geoffrey also introduces Eldad’s brother Eldol, Count of Gloucester, as a survivor of the massacre.

The Saxons demand that all Vortigern’s cities and fortresses be turned over to them in return for Vortigern’s life. The Saxons then conquer London, York, Lincoln, and Winchester. Vortigern flees to Wales.

At this point Geoffrey places the story of the “Fatherless Boy” as in the Historia Brittonum, save that the boy is here named Merlin (although also called Ambrosius), and in no way identified with Ambrosius Aurelianus. Geoffrey also gives a book of prophecies told by Merlin to Vortigern.

Merlin warns Vortigern that Ambrosius and Uther are at that point making for Britain and that they will burn Vortigern alive, shut up in his tower, and Ambrosius will be made king. When Ambrosius is slain with poison, Uther will become king but will also die of poison, in part through Vortigern’s descendants. Then the Boar of Cornwall will eat them up.

Ambrosius lands in Britain the following day and the clergy appoint him king. Ambrosius desires to deal with Vortigern before going after the Saxons. Ambrosius marches on Vortigern who is in the castle of Genoreu on Doward hill on the River Wye in Erging. Ambrosius’ men are unable to break down the wall immediately by siege engines, and so they try fire. The fire catches at once, the tower is set ablaze, and Vortigern dies in the conflagration.

VortigernDragons w275 5128

From the Story of MerlinEdit

The Story of Merlin greatly simplifies the tale with no St. Germanus and no Vortimer involved.

Voritgern is the Seneschal of a king known as King Moine, that is to say, King Monk, but nothing in the tale indicates the this king ever was a monk. When the Saxons and men of Rome attack the Christians in Britain, it is though Vortigern’s power and skill that the Britons are victorious. Picts are not mentioned and their role is taken by unnamed barons.

Vortigern, at the height of his power and prestige, claims he has done enough and will no longer fight for King Moine. King Moine is defeated by the Saxons and many of his followers begin to look down on him. They beg Vortigern to rebel and make himelf king in his place, but Vortigern pretends to refuse to think of being a king, as long as Moine is alive.

The barons who have been talking to Vortigern now join with a larger group and all decide to kill King Moine and make Vortigern king, thinking that they, themselves, will then be ultimately in control. Twelve men are chosen for the assassination and the quick kill the young King Moines. But when the barons tell Vortigern what they have done, he pretends to be shocked and advises them to flee for the good men of the land will kill them if they catch them.

So, as in previous accounts, the apparently innocent Vortigern is made king.

But the two guardians of Moine’s infant brothers, here named Pendragon and Uther, suspecting Vortigern, flee with their charges to “foreign parts to the East from which their ancestors had come”.

The twelve men who had killed King Moines, come before Vortigern and say that it is thanks to them that he is king. Vortigern the finds them guilty from the words of their own mouths, and executes them by having them dragged behind horses. But their kinfolk blame Vortigern and rebel against him.

For a time there is civil war, until Vortigern's own people have also had enough of him. Vortigern then sends to the Saxons who come to his aid, especially Hengist. Eventually, with the aid of Hengist and his men, Vortigern is victorious over the rebels. Vortigern then marries one of Hengist’s daughters. The British Christians dislike Vortigern even more after that, since she is a pagan and expect that Vortigern has largely abandoned his faith.

Then comes the story of the Fatherless Boy, here again the boy being identified with Merlin. Merlin announces that the white dragon represents Pendragon and Uther defeating Vortigern, and that Pendragon and Uther will land in three months at the port of Winchester and that they will burn Vortigern with fire.

Vortigern therefore summons his people to Winchester, not telling them why. But when they see Pendragon’s navy coming and realize who it is, most of them defect. Vortigern flees to another castle with those of his followers who would not desert him. But the two sons of Constantine (Constans) follow after, besiege the castle, and burn it with fire, and in that fire Vortigern dies. Then Pendragon is made king.


Some Name VariationsEdit

LATIN: Vertigernus, Vortigernus, Vurtigernus, Guorthigirnus, Gurthrigernus; FRENCH: Vortiger, Vertigier(s), Vertigerius, -rium, Viertigers, Vortigers; ENGLISH: Uurtigerno, Vortigern, Wyrtgeorn, Vortiger, Vortigerne, Uortiger, Uortigerne, Fortiger, Fortigere, Fortagers, Vortyger, Vortigene, Vortigere; SPANISH: Verenguer; WELSH: Gwertheryn, Gỽertheryn; BRETON: Gurthiern; IRISH: Foirtchern(n).

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