Cador: Lindinis-Somerset’s Great Unknown Hero

The accomplishments of Cador far outshine his fame. Without Cador, there would have been no King Arthur – and probably no enduring Cornish Celtic culture and language. Yet of Cador as a person nothing is known except his existence. He is mentioned in the Life of St. Carantoc; and in a genealogy Cadwy (reckoned to be the same man) is recorded as the son of King Geraint of Cornwall – the first of several kings called Geraint who ruled what are now Cornwall and southern Devon, the early-medieval kingdom named Dumnonia in Latin, Cornwall in English and Kernow in its own Celtic language.

Cador’s mighty significance for the history of Somerset and Lindinis is, however, revealed by the existence of four hillforts near Lindinis’s borders that still bear his name to this day: Cadbury-Congresbury; Cadbury Camp, a little further north, to the east of Clevedon and north of Nailsea; South Cadbury near Wincanton, also known as Cadbury-Camelot; and Cadbury Camp in Devon between Tiverton and Crediton, overlooking the Exe valley. These strategic locations (and several others too, such as Cannington,[1]  a couple of miles west of the Parrett estuary) were all refortified during the mid-fifth century. Cador must have been in charge of the building of the East and West Wansdykes too, for they were constructed in northern Lindinis at this time. In Devon, Cador’s range of influence must have extended northwestwards beyond Cadbury Camp, for there is also a village called Cadbury Barton above the Taw valley, two-thirds of the way between Exeter and Barnstaple.

Cador was the Governor of Lindinis during roughly the thrid quarter of the fifth century, a period when creating effective defences was a skilful and prudent choice. The Wansdykes’ design shows that the enemy was expected to come from the north. We know which was the enemy threatening Lindinis from the north in that time period, of course, both from St. Gildas the British historian and from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: savagely destructive, booty-hunting, English raiders. Gildas reports as most grievous a great raid that almost reached the western ocean; the Chronicle dates it to 473CE. The areas controlled by English kings then were in the east and south of what is now England, so it is safe to assume that “almost… to the western ocean” was in Gloucestershire, not in Cheshire or Lancashire.

There was also a threat of raids by Irish pirates, of which the most disastrous had been in 398. Hence Cador’s fortifying the two north Somerset Cadburys and Cannington, and his use of Worlebury Hill (at Weston-Super-Mare),[2]  to guard the oceanic western approaches to Lindinis.

The total absence of Ogham inscriptions and Irish place-names in Somerset, Wiltshire, and north Devon – in contrast to Cornwall, south Devon and south Wales[3] – is powerful silent testimony to Cador’s success against the Irish threat to Lindinis. Nor did he achieve this at the cost of indenturing his Lindinis’s future to the dubious loyalty of Saxon foederati allies: there is an equally total absence of evidence such as graves or brooches showing any English presence in Lindinis during Cador’s lifetime.

It is barely possible to imagine the extraordinary political genius that must underlie these accomplishments. In functional terms, Cador rose to the power of Roman Governor of a civitas, and left as his legacy an enduring early-medieval kingdom. His Latin name, Cato, may have been an honorific, a title, given him by peer recognition,[4]  signalling that they experienced his oratorical skills as outstanding, comparable with those of the famous Roman senator of that name.

Cador’s political skill was to persuade the villa-owning plutocracy that comprised the Lindinis elite to walk away from their elegant but increasingly unmaintainable and impractical town houses in Ilchester, to accept that the way of life that was normal for their grandparents and for twelve generations before them had vanished never to return, to forego whatever comforts of Roman-style city life still remained to them, abandon the apparent protection of city walls, leave the city entirely,[5]  and decamp to peripatetic living on refortified hillforts in timber-built kaers (citadels).[6]   Their new lifestyle bore little resemblance to that in which they had grown up; it was more akin to that of their ancestors from half a millennium before.

His achievements have gone largely unrecognised by historians, partly because he served his people in the thinly-evidenced fifth century, partly because in the public mind he was comprehensively eclipsed a generation later by King Arthur, and partly because his achievements were the quiet benefits of effective deterrence, of skilfully crafted defence, of the absence for two hundred years of either ruin or conquest of his part of Britain, rather than the loud accomplishments of some aggressor and bully who egotistically commemorated his brief hour of glory on a stone monument.

The voice of Cador’s victory is the ‘dog that did not bark in the night’. It is the non-existence of battles in Lindinis’s territory reported in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for dates before the mid-seventh century, the zero total of ‘cast saucer five spiral’ and ‘quoit style’ English brooches discovered in Lindinis/Somerset,[7]  the Ogham inscriptions and Irish place names that Somerset does not have, the villas and cities violently destroyed in his time and heartfully recalled by Gildas that did not occur in Somerset, the invaders’ breaches in the Wansdyke that never happened, the grief poems for fallen warrior heroes that Somerset does not possess.

In all directions around, English kings extended their territories at the expense of Celtic Britons. On Lindinis’s eastern border, the Salisbury and Swindon areas fell to English rule in the 550s. On her northern flank, English warriors overran the rich Cirencester civitas and captured its allied cities of Gloucester and Bath in 577. To her southwest, from a base already under English control in west Dorset and the far southeast of Devon, Hoskins (“The Westward Expansion of Wessex”) says English conquerors won a battle at Posbury in 580 which secured their control of Exeter and of Crediton and its valley.[8]  Yet Lindinis held firm, untouched and intact as a bulwark of Celtic Britain, for a further eighty years. A century and a half after Cador’s death, when virtually every other corner of what is now England had come under English control, and southern Scotland too, all of Lindinis remained in Celtic British hands.[9]  A quarter of a millennium after Cador persuaded his noblemen to forego enough of their wealth to substantially fortify Lindinis, Englishmen still had to fight Celtic Britons for control of Somerset.[10]  As late as 722, Cador’s cultural and political descendants were powerful enough west of the Parrett to force Queen Ethelburga of Wessex to destroy the English fortress at Taunton rather than letting it fall into their hands.[11]  Gidlow says (The Reign of Arthur, p79) that much of Somerset remained under Celtic British control until the fall of Somerton in 733. According to the Watchet museum website ), English kings did not take Exmoor and north Devon (i.e. western Lindinis, from the Parrett to the Taw) until 815: three and a half centuries after Cador had built its defences against them. Generations of Lindinicians, including King Arthur, owed their peace and relative prosperity to the wisdom, foresight, military defensive planning skills, and political acumen of their – to moderns barely-known – fifth-century King/Governor, Cador.

[1] R. White, Britannia Prima, p146

[2] Coins of Emperor Honorius (+/- 400CE) found at Worlebury suggest that Rome had already employed a local ally to fortify and guard this stronghold in Honorius’s reign – perhaps in defensive response to the Irish raids of 398-401.

[3] R. White, Britannia Prima, p198

[4] What to us are names of prominent Britons were often actaully honorifics of this kind, e.g. Taliesin, Arthur, Myrddin (Merlin), Gildas.

[5] Ilchester was not completely deserted. Leach (Kings, Thugs, or Saints? Taunton, 2005, p65) demonstrates the presence there of fifth-century burials, pottery, and new timber building construction; and of sixth-century Byzantine coins. He shows, however, that these were due to the former city becoming a rich landlord’s centre for a large agricultural demesne, rather than to it retaining any administrative, princely or military function.

[6] A kaer was a fortified residence of the ruling elite, the hub and focus of cultural, political and diplomatic activity. While no English word conveys the full sociological import of kaer, “citadel” seems a closer approximation than the only alternative, “castle”.

[7] R. White, Britannia Prima, p198

[8] “Secured” is perhaps an exaggeration: the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that King Kenwal of the West Saxons fought at Posbury in 661. This could possibly mean that he was unsuccessfully attempting to extend his conquest of Lindinis beyond his gains of 658, or that he had to defend his kingdom against a counter-attack by Lindinis.

[9] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that King Kenwal of the West Saxons “fought at” Bradford-on-Avon in 652. Since it does not say that he won, it can be reckoned that he was seen off by the warriors of Lindinis. But he did break into Lindinis six years later, with a victory at Penselwood, and “pursued the Welsh to the Parrett”. (Welsh, here, means Britons.)

[10] For example, Glastonbury Abbey’s former lands near Brent Knoll were beyond its abbot’s reach for decades after the English gained control of Glastonbury in 658 – perhaps until the Battle of Llongborth (Langport) in 710.

[11] The Annales Cambriae record a battle victory for the “South Britons” in 722 at Pencon. There is no certainty as to who were meant by the “South Britons”; both Gwent and Lindinis could have been intended, for there was a dynastic and religious alliance between the two. Nor is it clear where Pencon was. But given what happened at Taunton that year, a location in western Somerset for a British battle victory would be a very reasonable possibility. Pen is the Celtic word for “head”; and con could be a variant of cuan, hill, from which the name Quantock is derived. If so, Pencon would be the place with the same name today in English translation: Quantoxhead.
A wholly speculative suggestion that would fit the scanty facts is that in 722 the West Saxon army crossed the Parrett in an attempt to conquer western Lindinis, and in particular the prosperous town of Carhampton and the port of Watchet and harbours on Blue Anchor Bay (is this the only part of the ocean to be named after a pub?), and were trapped and defeated in the narrow pass between the Quantocks and the sea at West Quantoxhead (6 miles east of Carhampton); and that the victorious men of Lindinis followed up their victory by harrying Taunton sufficiently to make it indefensible for the West Saxons.


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