Vortimer (in Welsh Gwerthefyr) is the eldest of the three elder sons of Vortigern named in the Historia Brittonum and in some later works. According to these, Vortimer was made king in place of his father Vortigern to fight against the Saxons. Vortimer fought and defeated the Saxons in four battles, but died soon after. Vortimer had ordered that he be buried in a sea-port, but this order was not followed.
Vortimer Made KingEdit
The Historia Regum Brittaniae does not tell how Vortimer was made king, or indeed that he was king rather than a general under Vortigern’s kingship. That Vortimer was appointed king by the Britons when they perceived that his father Vortigern wished to remain friendly with the Saxons appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Brittaniae and later works derived from it.
Vortimer’s Four BattlesEdit
In the Historia Brittonum, in Vortimer’s first battle, Vortimer drives Hengist and Horsa back to the Island of Thanet and encloses them within it. But the Saxons send to Germany for aid and receive reinforcements. In the following war, sometimes the Britons and sometimes the Saxons are victorious in their battles.
The second battle is on the river Derwent.
The third is at Episford where Vortimer’s brother Catigern and Hengist’s brother Horsa met hand-to-hand in single combat and both were slain. Geoffrey makes Episford on Derwent to be the site of the second battle and places the deaths of Catigern and Horsa there.
The fourth battle was near the stone on the Gallic shore and the Saxons fled in their ships. Geoffrey has the third battle be on the sea coast, whence the Saxons flee “like women” to Thanet. Vortimer continues to harass the Saxons with his navy until they call for a peace conference, summoning Vortigern to plead for them. But while the conference is taking place, the Saxons flee in their longships leaving behind their women and children.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle does not mention Vortimer at all, but give three battles, of which at least the first two appear to be in this period. The first battle is dated to the year 445, and said to be a battle of Hengist and Horsa against Vortigern at Ægelsthrep where Horsa was slain. Then Hengist and his son Octa become kings. In the following year Hengist and Octa defeat the Britons at Crecganford and kill four companies of Britons. The remaining Britons abandon Kent and flee to London. Then in 465, Hengest and Octa fight the Welsh near Wippedesfleot and kill twelve Welsh ealdormen. But a Saxon thane named Wipped is also slain.
Death of VortimerEdit
The Historia Brittonum mentions that Vortimer died soon after his victories.
Henry of Huntington in his Historia anglorum ascribes Vortimer’s death to illness.
Geoffrey of Monmouth tells that Vortimer, after the flight of the Saxons, restored the Britons to their possessions and, requested to do so by St. Germanus has their churches restored. But Renwein, the daughter of Hengist and wife of Vortigern, brews a poison which she has given to Vortimer to drink by a bribed servant.
Wace follows this account, but Lawman has Renwein poison Vortimer by her own hand. She shares a bowl of wine with Vortimer, drinks half of it, and, unseen, pours into the bowl poison from a vial hidden in her bosom, before passing it the unsuspecting Vortimer who drinks from it.
According to the Historia Brittonum (as translated by Giles):
After a short interval Vortimer died; before his decease, anxious for the future prosperity of his country, he charged his friends to inter his body at the entrance of the Saxon port, viz. Upon the rock where the Saxons first landed; “for though,” said he, “they may inhabit other parts of Britain, yet if you follow my commands, they will never remain in this island.” They imprudently disobeyed this last injunction, and neglected to bury him where he had appointed.A gloss to one version of the Historia Brittonum has Vortimer buried at Lincoln.
Welsh Triad 37 says instead that Vortimer’s bones were indeed buried in the “chief ports of this island” but some manuscripts tell that the bones were afterward disclosed by Vortigern because of Vortigern’s love for Renwein.
Geoffrey of Monmouth relates part of an eloquent dying speech by Vortimer in which Vortimer shares out his gold and silver among his comrades and orders that they bury him in a bronze pyramid to be set up in the port where the Saxons usually land. But the Britons ignore this command and have his body buried in Trinovantum (London).
An Alternative Account in Henry of Huntington’s Historia anglorumEdit
In Henry of Huntington’s account, Vortimer (called Gortimer) is only active following Vortigern’s death where he and his brother Catigern are the chief generals in Ambrosius’ army in battles against Hengist. See Historia anglorum.
Some Name VariationsEdit
LATIN: Vortimerus, Gortimer; FRENCH: Vortimer; ENGLISH: Vortimer, Uortimer, Vortimer, Fortimer, Vortimere, Uortimere; WELSH: Gwerthefyr, Gỽertheuyr, Gwerthevyr, Gurthmir, Gurthebir.