Glastonbury Abbey’s Twelve Hides

What is the origin of Glastonbury Abbey’s unique “Twelve Hides”? From earlier in its existence than there are records of, Glastonbury Abbey claimed to own “twelve hides” of land that were excluded from the king’s jurisdiction and land taxes.

Why? What was special and different about Glastonbury as distinct from any other Abbey that had manorial judicial privileges?

I have shown here earlier that the original church on the present Abbey site was most probably built in the  440s CE, though due to twelfth century reconstruction in situ this cannot be proved scientifically.

Archaeology indicates that the earliest colony of monks was also in the fifth century, butnot next to the church; it was on the Tor. So why were the people in one place and the church in another?

In the same blog post, I gave reasons for reckoning that the church came first. In another posting  I explored the esoteric symbolism of the Seven Holy Islands, of which Glastonbury was one, and the line from the northernmost, Nyland (also called Andrewsey), to Glastonbury Abbey. It is a pretty safe bet that the Abbey church was built where it was because the location was already a holy place.

St. Patrick, who was very probably Abbot in the 450s, arrived in Glastonbury already a master craftsman at the insidious art of occupying and Christianising the most sacred sites of the Druids, such as the Hill of Tara and Ard Macha (Armagh) in Ireland. He would surely have been well aware of the sanctity of the Tor, which is venerated by Pagans and other native tradition derived faith groups to this day. And, being the son of a Roman high official of Lindinis (the Roman civitas that included Glastonbury), Patrick would have had ready access to the area’s King (or civitas Governor – de-facto ruler, anyway) Cador. One suspects that Patrick bent Cador’s ear to secure the Tor for his Christian monastics.

Glastonbury in the fifth century was a peninsula; Rahtz and Watts (as referenced in my Seven Holy Islands post) say the dry land limit was approximately today’s 10-metre contour. The narrows that define the peninsula were at Havyatt (see Note 2 of that post), a place-name whose combination of Celtic (hav) and Saxon (yatt) elements demonstrates its antiquity (in contrast to the all-English names that are entertaining treasure-hunt-clues to the Templars’ “Somerset Zodiac”).

It is an intelligent guess, which accommodates both the ancient legends and modernly identified ley lines, that the whole Glastonbury peninsula delineated by that 10-metre contour and Ponters Ball, plus the other six of the Seven Holy Islands, comprised the Druids’ sacred Summerland, the symbolic outer representation of Annwn, the Otherworld to which we go at death and where we live between lives on Earth; and that Abbot Patrick was eager to secure this special sacred area for Christ’s church and therefore obtained the ownership of both the peninsula and the other six Holy Islands for his monastic community, that this was the whole of the original land they had, and that these lands, because they were the symbolic Annwn, were already exempt from royal jurisdiction when under Druid control, and the exemption simply transferred, along with the sanctity, to Patrick’s Christians – the mundane basis for their mystique-wrapped special status centuries later.

It is also reasonable to suppose that the Saxon conquerors heard the sacred territory’s name translated to them as “Summer Land” and applied this to the whole surrounding district also, calling it Somersaeta – the land settled (saeta) by the Summer, or Somer, people.

Could the Glastonbury peninsula itself, then,  be the “Twelve Hides”? The measurement is strikingly credible. A “hide” is the main Saxon unit of land. It was supposed to be the amount of land that would support one self-sufficient household. The Celtic “tref” is equivalent. Its area therefore varies with land quality. The Isle of Wight, which is 381 square kilometres, is the most precisely measurable of the districts whose number of hides is recorded in the Mercian Tribal Hidage of c672CE; it was assessed as 600 hides: so on that island, which has few barren or unfarmable areas, the average hide was 63.5 hectares. Rahtz and Watts’s suggested fifth-century Glastonbury peninsula measures between eight and nine square kilometres, so if it comprised twelve hides its average hide size would have been slightly larger: about 70 hectares. As the peninsula included the steep-sided Tor, Wearyall Hill, Stone Down Hill, and Edmund Hill, it seems fully realistic to figure that the average hide size would have been larger than on Wight[1] – although in any case, if 12 was already regarded by Christians as a holy number when the peninsula was chartered as “12 hides”, even if the peninsula was by mundane calculation 13 or 14 hides, its number could have been adjusted to twelve for symbolic elegance.


[1] Wight has high hills too, but is proportionately much less hilly.


Glastonbury Zodiac – Ancient Magic or Modern Fantasy?

          The Glastonbury Zodiac is a supposed reflection in the landscape of central Somerset of the stars in the sky that form the signs of the zodiac. Mrs Maltwood discovered it nearly a century ago. Mary Caine elaborated the discovery in a book of journeys of her own delicious imagination through millennia, Celtic lore, and her Fabulous Land of No Coincidence. She showed, too, that a planetarium can be scaled to trace the actual stars exactly over the zodiac signs in the Glastonbury Zodiac. By contrast, Philip Rahtz, the archaeologist, described it as a Rorschach test: it exists more, or less, depending on the eye of the beholder. People of a scientific bent tend to regard the alleged landscape zodiac as eyewash.

          Caine claimed, or at least speculated, that the Zodiac was created by ancient Sumerians…. despite there being neither evidence nor folklore to suggest that Sumerians visited the Britannic Summerland. Serious antiquarians cast grave doubt on the possibility of such antiquity on the grounds of climate and vegetation change during the intervening 6000 years.

          So is the Zodiac a nice new legend for Glastonbury’s esotericists to play with, but one with no pre-20th century foundations? Caine found many curious connections between names of relevant landscape features such as villages, ponds and streets and the signs of the Zodiac that they outline, ones that it stretches credulity to suppose were all due to “chance”. Tellingly, though, with the exception of half of one word, Havyatt, these nominal coincidences are all in English. If the landscape Zodiac were ancient, surely a considerable fraction of the names that Caine saw as signing its presence would have been Celtic? Somerset abounds in Celtic and part-Celtic names from Langport to Quantock, Camel to Glastonbury.

          Havyatt itself means “gate (yatt, old English) to the summer (hav, Celtic) land”. That the Celts of Somerset held the Glastonbury peninsula, with an eastern boundary at Havyatt, as a holy symbolic representation of the Otherworld or Summerland, land of eternal summer, is easy to believe; so too, that the origin of the name Somerset is this sacred Summerland, its meaning extended by English conquerors from just the peninsula to the whole surrounding kingdom. Hav- here has, however, no necessary zodiacal significance.

          There is a huge internal clue to the likely true origin of the Glastonbury Zodiac. The sign of Cancer is drawn not by a crab but by a ship. Caine truthfully says that zodiacs do not usually have ships, then eagerly leads her readers to understand that this was King Solomon’s ship, and makes a link from that to King Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.

          Quite so. And who, in the thirteen and a half centuries’-long English-speaking era of the history of Glastonbury, had a special interest in King Solomon’s temple? The Templars, of course. The Templars also had a love of hidden trails. They controlled large parts of Somerset, with plenty of opportunity to establish names for physical features and to create and name hamlets: some lands in their personal ownership; others by controlling Glastonbury Abbey which owned the land. They spent some of the Abbey’s money on practical landscape work to improve the yields of its land. And it was they who created the stories of the Quest for the Holy Grail and of the Knights of the Round Table. The “Round Table” is recognisable as symbolic language for the zodiac.

          The Templars had both the means and the motivation to design the zodiac representation into the landscape of Somerset. They left their own unique signature on it in the shape of a ship. Conclusion: the Glastonbury Zodiac is neither ancient nor modern, it was designed and constructed by the Templars; possibly as a means to an initiation rite, possibly primarily for entertainment.

          As with much else in these blog posts, my conclusion cannot be proved for certain. I simply put it forward as the explanation that most credibly accounts for the existence and stellar accuracy of the Glastonbury Zodiac, the names in English which served as clues to medieval Questers who sought to identify the Signs, and the otherwise inexplicable representation of Cancer by a ship.



How Roman Britain Became England

How Britannia Became English

Educated British people are generally aware that for centuries up until about 400CE, England and Wales south of Hadrian’s Wall was Roman Britain, or Britannia, and that in the following centuries it fell into the hands of the Anglo-Saxons. What is much less well grasped is how that transition took place, or when.

The first key to a clearer understanding of that process is the political structure of Roman Britain in 400. Britain was divided into four distinct Provinces, and history took fundamentally different course in each of them over the quarter-millennium after the Roman legions evacuated in 409.

Each Province in turn was comprised of a number of civitates, districts for local governance, about the size of two counties. The seminal event of 409 was that the leaders of the civitates rebelled, demanding freedom from the burden of Roman taxation. The Roman Emperor Honorius could not spare troops to put down the rebellion, because the Empire was hard-pressed by Germanic invaders from across the Rhine frontier into Gaul (France and the Rhineland). So he withdrew his legions from Britain and told the civitates to defend themselves.

Twice afterwards, in 418 and in 429, Rome sent forces to Britain to aid Roman Britons fighting against raiders from beyond its borders, with some successful effect; but when aid was asked for again in 446, the Roman General Aetius ignored the request, again essentially because his forces were already stretched beyond capacity trying to defend Gaul.


Britannia Secunda

In two of the Provinces, Britannia Prima (Wales and the West), and Britannia Secunda (the North), the civitates did see to their own defences thoroughly and effectively, and with little or no contribution from foreigners. Military logistics of the fifth century were favourable for autonomous governance units the size of a civitas.

The four civitates of Britannia Secunda, plus tribal lands that had been divided from them by Hadrian’s Wall with military but not sociological logic,morphed over the following century into three kingdoms, all of which feature strongly in later history: Rheged (approximately Ayrshire, Dumfries-and-Galloway, Cumbria, and maybe Lancashire); Gododdin (Lothian, the Borders, Northumberland and Durham); and Elmet (North, West, and South Yorkshire, the Derwent valley of Derbyshire, and probably northern Nottinghamshire north of Sherwood). Elmet appears to have combined the small civitas of York with the much larger one surrounding it whose Roman city was Aldborough. All three kingdoms were ruled by successions of Roman British, i.e. Celtic, kings. Britain’s most famous bard Taliesin wrote poems in praise of two of these kings, Urien of Rheged and Gwallawg of Elmet, in the third quarter of the sixth century. Urien temporarily extended Rheged’s boundaries eastwards across north Yorkshire at that time.

Undoubtedly, for well over a century after the departure of the Roman legions, the territory that had been Britannia Secunda remained in the control of kings who were Celtic British by tribe and culture, influenced by a slowly fading Romanised past. But in approximately 547, the English warrior-king Ida disturbed the far north by occupying and fortifying Bamburgh and conquering a coastal part of the Gododdin kingdom as his Kingdom of Bernicia. This initiated a half-century of skirmish warfare, highlighted by the British defenders calling their English enemy leader in the 570s “Fflamdwyn”, “Fire-Setter”. As of 580, the English had been driven out of all except their coastal fortress.

The tide turned, though, and over the next fifteen years or so a new kingdom of Northumbria, formed by a union of Deira (East Yorkshire, see below) and Bernicia, conquered most of Britannia Secunda east of the Pennines. York fell in 581; Catraeth (Maiden Castle near Catterick), famously, probably in the 590s. Rheged remained independent until 633, and culturally, especially religiously, influenced its English-speaking neighbour either side of 620, when Rum was king of Rheged and Edwin of Northumbria. In 633, however, the male line of Rheged’s dynasty failed and the kingdom merged with Northumbria by royal marriage of Rheged’s daughter.


Britannia Prima

Looking next at Britannia Prima, the Roman Province south of the Mersey and west of a line from the Staffordshire Moorlands to the Hampshire Avon and Bournemouth, as in Secunda, the civitates morphed into kingdoms, and their considerable sense of British cultural unity did not translate into any political unity. On the contrary, small-scale inter-kingdom fighting became normal. It would be misleading to call western Britain “Roman Britain” any more by the mid-sixth century, these former civitates that were fully independent and squabbling kingdoms with no governance links beyond their borders and no Roman empire to link to anyway, but the term “sub-Roman” can be used with fair justification, for their elite were Romanised in cultural style, wrote (when they did) in Latin, and kept up strong trade links to Byzantium.

There is evidence of several areas near the western coast becoming conquered or heavily influenced by Irish intruders. There is none of any area that had been part of Britannia Prima coming under English control prior to 577. The Great Raid of 473 broke into the Cirencester civitas; in 490 King Arthur of Lindinis (mostly Somerset) won a famous victory over English invaders at the Battle of the Badonic Hill, i.e. the hill in the small Spa civitas of Bath; for the next eighty years, the kings of western Britain were at peace with their English neighbours.

But in 577 the agriculturally rich kingdom of the people known to the Romans as the Dobunni was lost at the Battle of Dyrham. Its area, covering all of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire east of the Severn, West Midlands County, and western parts of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, plus the petty kingdom that had been the Spa civitas for Bath, became the English kingdom of the Hwicce (whose name is remembered by place-names such as Wychavon, Wychwood, and Bromwich). Very slowly, more territory came under English rule in the next one and a half centuries or so, with notable English battle victories at Chester in 611, Pengwern (?Shrewsbury; in ?634), Bradford-on-Avon in 652, Penselwood in south-east Somerset (?South Cadbury, a.k.a. Camelot) in 658, and Somerton in 733. However, the Westcountry west of the Parrett, western Herefordshire and Wales remained under the rule of British kings into at least the ninth century.


Flavia Caesariensis

By contrast, in the Province of Flavia Caesariensis, which comprised approximately East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, a little of eastern Warwickshire, and parts of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, such little evidence as there is is consistent with a wholly peaceful transition from Roman to English rule. There are not even signs of a short period of Celtic British independent kingships in-between, except in western Derbyshire where the recording in 676 of a semi-independent Mercian territory of Pecsaetna[i] attests to a territory around the Peak – a Peak district, the successor state to the small Roman Spa civitas of Buxton – that was not settled by English people.

Documentary evidence is only that of absence. Both British and English sources enthusiastically recorded battles – the English, only ones they won. Yet none are recorded in this Province. It is apparent from Bede, however, that these areas were all under English rule from long before the eighth century. East Yorkshire was the English kingdom of Deira since well before 547. Lindsey was an English kingdom since the fifth century. Leicestershire and English settlements close to the Trent were known as the Mierce (meaning Borderland, cognate with modern German maerchenland and English ‘marches’), later Mercia. Bede referred to North and South Mercia, divided by the Trent. Archaeological evidence from excavations near Hessle in East Yorkshire supports the view that the transition in Flavia was peaceful. The Roman city of Lincoln seems to have ceased to function within a few decades of 409.


Maxima Caesariensis

The story of the remaining Province, Maxima Caesariensis, the south and east of the island, is very different. Here, there was warfare from the mid-fifth century onwards. Here, there was destruction of Roman cities and slaughter in the streets, imprecisely and sorrowfully recorded on the British side by Gildas and occasionally gleefully and with variable reliability in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Here, the course of history was affected by diplomatic marriages and savage treachery. English warriors were employed as mercenaries under Roman command, and they remained after 409, soon becoming dominant forces in some civitates – Winchester’s, probably, on the archaeological record; Kent, famously by treaty between the British ruler Vortigern and the English warrior-commander Hengist, in about 450; Essex and Sussex (which included most of Middlesex and of Surrey respectively), reported to have been as ransom for Vortigern after his capture, possibly in or soon after 470.

Nennius records that Vortigern came to power in 430.[ii] Power to what extent? The battles and political dealings attributed to him involve Essex, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. De-facto Governor (hence Gildas’s title for him ‘tyrannus’, i.e. ‘non-legitimate ruler’) of MaximaCaesariensis Province would be the answer that best fits the geographical record. Whether he could exercise any influence in Britannia Prima can only be speculated.

Vortigern’s son Vortimer won a battle against Hengist at a location called by the British Set Thirbagail, and by the English Aylesford, which is on the Medway near Maidstone, recorded by both sides: in Nennius, chapter 44; and in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, for 455CE. The battle next recorded in chapter 44 of Nennius, at which the Saxons were defeated and “fled to their ships”, may likewise be the same as the one recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 465.

Alas for Britain, Vortimer then took his army across the channel to help the struggling Roman Empire in Gaul, where in 470 they were wiped out in Burgundy (c.f. comparable events in 1940), or anyway disappeared from the record. Vortigern regained power, but was displaced by Ambrosius in or before 479 following the disastrous Saxon raid across southern Britain in 479.

During the fifth century, the civitas of the Iceni, in Norfolk and Suffolk, and the one whose Roman city was Water Newton near Peterborough, which later became the kingdoms of the Gyrwas covering approximately Cambridgeshire and Holland, and perhaps Kesteven, also came within the arc of English rule from Christchurch to Beverley which Gildas refers to as “our enemies in the east”. One Roman source says Britain “had passed into the hands of the Saxons” by the early 440s. He may have meant these eastern civitates plus the Flavia Province.

Historians do not believe that the battles which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says were fought by the Gewissae (later known as the West Saxons and then Wessex) ever occurred. But the date for the founding of their kingdom, 495, may be genuine. It is consistent with archaeological evidence of late-fifth century English settlements at Abingdon and at Dorchester-on-Thames. It is well known that the first kings of the Gewissae, Cedric and Cynric, had British and part-Irish names, and it is possible that these men were British rulers of the Silchester civitas which chose from that time to rely on English warriors for its defence.

Thus it appears that by the start of the sixth century all of Maxima Caesariensis was under English rule, except for the large civitas whose Roman capital was St. Albans, which included Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire and eastern Oxfordshire. This civitas, though ceasing to be governed from and maybe not controlling St. Albans, became the British kingdom of Calchfynydd. This name means ‘chalk hills’ and appears in English translation in the Mercian Tribal Hidage of 672 as the tributary kingdom of the ‘Ciltern-saetna’, the people who live in the Chilterns (the chalk hills). Calchfynydd remained British until it lost the Battle of Bedford in 571 and forfeited the fortresses of Aylesbury, Benson (a military site also today, the RAF base on the left bank of the Thames in mid-Oxfordshire), and Eynsham (NW of Oxford and close to the Calchfynydd-Dobunnic border). The remnant of Calchfynydd, basically Northamptonshire, may have come effectively under English conquest when they killed King Cadog at Bannaventa (the Roman town near Weedon Bec) in 580.


The Non-Uniform Process of Anglicisation

This brief survey shows that the Anglicisation of Britannia was neither a uniform process of conquest, nor a uniform peaceful transition. Rather, there were four distinct stories, substantially but not precisely coterminous with the four prior Roman provinces, each story radically different in time and in process from the others. It is these contrasts that are the primary cause of confusion about how and when Britannia became English and the running disputation as to whether the change was essentially a conquest or a peaceful transition.

In the centre-east of Britannia, one Roman Province and a couple of adjacent civitates became English-ruled within the first generation after the Roman legions departed in 409, without any recorded warfare – quite possibly by the voluntary choice of their first sub-Roman rulers. Most of another Province, in the south-east, became English through force of arms in the thrust and counter-thrust of warfare during the second half of the fifth century. A third Province, in the north, became English through political and military power over the years 581-633. Parts of the fourth, the western, Province plus an adjacent civitas from the south-east (Calchfynydd) were conquered piecemeal over nearly three centuries (from 571 to 838), but other parts (Wales and Cornwall) never became incorporated into Anglo-Saxon England.

Thus by 500 a considerable chunk of eastern and south-eastern Britain was under English rule, the area behind the coast from Bournemouth to Beverley, divided among a dozen young kingdoms; but the bulk of the country – all of the north, all of the west, and the centre as far east as Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire – was comprised of sub-Roman Celtic-British kingdoms. This was still the geographical reality in 570.

During the next eleven years English kings conquered British territories equivalent to about nine counties, mostly in the Midlands. But in 582, even after these losses, all the regions west of the Pennines, the Severn and Selwood Forest remained under British control, and there was little further change in the following half-century. Only after the early 630s, with Powys’s loss of Pengwern, the defeat of Cadwallon of Gwynedd after his brief conquest of Northumbria, and the merger of Rheged into Northumbria, can it be said that English kings ruled over most of what was to become England.

The exceptions, lands outwith English control beyond the 630s, were Ergyng (the part of modern England south and west of the Severn), ruled by a British king known to the Mercians as Merewalh (which means ‘illustrious Welshman’), Lindinis (Somerset, western Wiltshire, northern Dorset and northern Devon), and most of Kernow (Cornwall and south Devon). Some of these areas remained under Celtic British rule for centuries; Cornwall into the tenth century.


Plenty of people publish on the internet, or in a few cases in books, their discoveries of aspects of the process by which Roman Britannia became a patchwork of English kingdoms, including me in earlier posts on this blog about King Arthur, Somerset, and Lindinis in the fifth and sixth centuries, and indeed through to the eighth century. But I trust and believe some readers will find it useful to have this summary of the process, of the overall picture of the change across three centuries, gathered here in one relatively brief narrative.



[i] In the Mercian Tribal Hidage. In that document, the ending –saetna was used for some petty kingdoms that were not part of Mercia but were scheduled for paying land taxes to Mercia, including Pecsaetna and Cilternsaetna. These areas were under English political influence but not areas of English immigrant settlement.

[ii] He transmits a record that from “Rufus and Rubelius” – obviously meaning the consuldom of Fufius and Rubellius in the first half of 29CE – to Stilicho was 373 years and from Stilicho to the start of Vortigern’s reign was 28 years, which in combination take the date to 430CE. He also names Valentinian and Theodosius as consuls that year, which is true of 430 (and also of 426 and 435).

Calibrating the Annales Cambriae

The Need to Calibrate the Annales Cambriae

The Annales Cambriae (AC) are a terse record of British historical events from the fifth to the tenth centuries CE, with dates. But the dates in it are only on its own year count. It (in the “A” text) numbers years from its own year 1 to its year 533, with no mention of the CE calendar or any other calendar used elsewhere. A user of the AC therefore has to choose a calibration of its dates to years CE.


Calibration should not be uniform

Some AC entries are for events also recorded elsewhere whose dates are beyond dispute, such as the birth of St. Columba, his move to Iona, and the death of Pope Gregory. No calibration can map all of these undisputed dates neatly and exactly over the AC, not even when allowance is made for some ancient sources starting the year on 25th March and others on 1st September. The calibration most often used is +444, i.e. AC year 1 is deemed to be 445CE, year 100 is 544, and so on down to AC year 533 = 977CE. This makes sense, for it is usually regarded as the best-fit calibration for the later centuries covered by the AC.


However, it may not be wise to make a uniform calibration across the whole of the AC. Every translator of and commentator that I have ever read, prior to Gough-Cooper in 2012, converts the AC to the CE calendar by adding the same number to every AC year. As I showed, though, in my previous post here (19th September 2013), the AC is a compilation from several sources. Its compilers could have made a calibration inconsistency when meshing their sources.


On the best fit for the early years, AC Year 1 = 446CE

The best fit calibration for the AC entries for events prior to the mid-560s CE is +445. From the later 560s to at least the 630s the best-fit calibration is +442. Later, it is indeed +444. Gough-Cooper, imaginatively, endeavours to straighten the kinks by deeming the AC to have erroneously repeated the four years corresponding to 558-561CE and, perhaps influenced by McCarthy’s finding of missing years in the Irish annals when he synchronised them, he reckons the AC to have missed years elsewhere. The effect of his thorough attempts to calibrate AC dates as closely as possible with externally known dates is that his AC calibration changes frequently, wandering between +441 (in the mid-seventh century) and +448 (in the mid-sixth century).[1]


As described in my previous post here, I interpret the linguistic and geographical elements of the AC as indicating that all of its entries for events before the 530s CE and a minority of those for the period 530 to 613 originated from one source, which I suggest was Glastonbury Abbey, and that the majority of the entries for the 530-613 period were derived from other, Welsh, originals.


Dates before 529CE could not have been contemporaneously described in the AD calendar (now often called “CE” for “Common Era”), as this calendar was only invented (by Dionysius Exiguus of Constantinople) in that year. They could have been recorded by the regnal year of the Roman Emperor – though this would have been inhibited after 474CE by the demise of the Western Roman Empire; or on the Anno Mundi calendar (counting dates from the supposed creation of the world); or on a Year of the Incarnation (birth of Jesus) calendar non-identical with the AD calendar; or on a Year of the Passion calendar which started from the death of Jesus, which that calendar dated to 27 years after his birth.


Which one, or ones, might have been used at Glastonbury is not knowable. What matters is that the information from Glastonbury that the AC compilers used, particularly for events prior to 529CE, would have been calibrated to AC years independently from the data they acquired from Welsh abbeys for events that Christian monks would have registered from the beginning against AD dates. I reckon therefore that the shift in calibration in the 560s is due to an inexact meshing by the AC compilers of the dates provided by their different sources.


A +445 calibration for the early years of the AC makes it possible to make sense of a peculiar feature of the A text. The AC marked out years from its year 1 to year 533 because the Roman church’s method for the calculation of the date of Easter repeats on a 532-year cycle. So when any year is arbitrarily defined as Year 1, Year 533 is the first year of the next cycle. The last 23 years of the AC’s 533 are blank. Modern scholars say this was because these years were still in the future when the AC were completed: a fully rational cause, given the compilers’ motivation for marking out 533 years. But the first eight years are also without entries. This makes no rational sense at all: why not start by choosing for year 1 a year with an event in it, and add eight more blank future years at the time of presenting the AC to King Rhodri?


There was however a very important event in 446CE which could have inspired the AC compilers to choose it as the year 1 of the AC. It was the year in which according to St. Gildas, whom all agree is a very reliable source, the British warlord Vortigern invited English warriors led by Hengist to be mercenaries to help him defeat Irish and Scottish forces that were attacking Roman Britain. He gave Hengist sovereignty over the Isle of Thanet as his army base. Vortigern turned to Hengist for support because Aetius, the de-facto commander of Roman forces in the near Continent to whom he appealed first, was too pressed to be able to spare any military aid for Britain. Vortigern’s decision was retrospectively regarded as momentous because it was perceived as the first, or the most world-changing, of a chain of events that led to English rulers being kings over the entire arc of coastal Britain from East Yorkshire round to east Hampshire within half a century, and over most of what had been Roman Britannia by 633.


On the +445 calibration, Vortigern’s invitation to Hengist indeed happened in AC year 1. It is so recorded in the B text of the AC, with an entry that translates as “the coming of the English of Horsa and Hengist in the time of King Vortigern”. The C text has almost identical words.


It is not in the A text. But it is quite possible that it was there originally, for the corner of the manuscript where it could have been is torn off. If we interpolate that there was originally an entry for Vortigern and Hengist, and an intended +445 calibration to the CE calendar, the selection of the starting point of the AC becomes coherent.


Although a +445 calibration is the best fit for the early years of the AC, it does not result in all the entries being correctly dated. Several dates differ from ones identified elsewhere by one or two years (see Table). The variations may be due to such factors as the differences in when a new year was deemed to start, delays in reporting news or divergent interpretations of the meaning of phrases such as “December of last year”, and slippery miscopyings of Roman numerals, as well as to arithmetic errors in conversion of source data given in non-AD calendars.


Such discrepancies are not terribly important; and, besides, there is no guarantee that it is always the AC that is wrong and the English or Irish other source that is correct.


However, there are three entries for years prior to 613CE where the AC date is substantially different from that given elsewhere, and is wrong: the birth of St. Bride, the Battle of Badon, and the death of St. David. I can offer no explanation for the error on St. David, other than to presume a scribe’s mistake.[2] The date of Badon requires a substantial commentary which will be the subject of a separate post. As for the birth of St. Bride, as I explained in my post of 17th July 2013 (under the subheading “St. Columba and St. David”), a credible basis for this 16 year error in her year of birth is confusion by subsequent recordkeepers at Glastonbury Abbey between two visits she made, 16 years apart, to that holy shrine.


These mistakes apart, the AC shows a sufficiently close similarity to other sources where it can be corroborated to justify regarding it as a good source of dates – give or take a couple of years – of the events that it records where no such corroboration is possible, including those such as the Battles of Camlan and of Armterid whose existence is attested elsewhere but not their date. And I have sought to show that the AC dates should be translated to the CE calendar by adding 445 to the AC year count ticker number from the AC’s year 1 to AC118, and by adding 442 to the AC year count ticker number from the year of its next event record, AC126 until the mid-seventh century.[3]




Schedule of AC Events


Intended year CE as calibrated

Translation of entry

Actual date where one can be determined or estimated other than from the AC


Easter changed to Sunday by Pope Leo, Bishop of Rome



St. Bride was born



St. Patrick went to God



Death of Bishop Benignus



Bishop Ebur died in Christ



Battle of Badon in which Arthur carried the cross of our lord Jesus Christ for 3 days and 3 nights and the Britons were the victors



St. Columcille was born



Death of St. Bride



Strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut were killed



There was mortality in Britain and in Ireland



Death of Ciaran



Great mortality in which Mailcun, King of Gwynedd died. 



Gabran son of Dungart died



Columcillae went out into Britain


568 *

Gildas died



Battle of Armterid



Brendan Byror died



Guurci and Peretur died



Battle against the Isle of Man



Dispositio for Danielus of the Bangors



Conversion of Constantinus to the Lord



Columcille died



King Dunaut died


593 (596**)

Augustinus [and] Mellitus converted the Angles to Christ

596 (601***)


Synod of Chester



Gregorius died in Christ



Bishop Dauid of Menevia



Dispositio for Bishop Cinauc



Aidan son of Gabran died



Death of Conthigirn



and [i.e. death] of Bishop Dibric



Battle of Chester where Selim of the sons of Cinan was killed and Iacob of the sons of Beli died




* Perhaps January 569. The Welsh sources for the AC may have used a 25th March New Year.


** 596 on a +445 calibration, as might be appropriate for this entry if the AC compilers took the data from a Glastonbury source. The gap in the manuscript between this entry and the other two events entered for AC year 151 could be due to those data having come from different sources.


*** According to Bede, Mellitus arrived four or five years after Augustine.

[1] Gough-Cooper ( ) gives respect to every blank year marked by “an” (for annus) in the manuscript. I regard the decade count in Roman numerals there as the reliable indicator of the intended years of events it records, to be given precedence over adding the empty an’s where these two methods conflict.


Gough-Cooper assumes that the “baptism of King Edwin” recorded in the AC is the same event as his baptism recorded by Bede. However, a different baptism of Edwin, by Rum, is recorded in the Historia Brittonum. An explanation that reconciles both the sources is that Edwin was baptised by Rum but, because Rum (a British prince of Rheged) was following the date-of-Easter custom upheld by the Celtic churches, the Roman church did not recognise that baptism as valid and Edwin allowed himself to be re-baptised by the Roman Bishop Paulinus. Bede vigorously favoured the Roman stance in the date-of-Easter controversy and therefore reported only Edwin’s baptism by Paulinus; the AC Northumbrian entries, by contrast, were written by a supporter of the Celtic side in that dispute – perhaps indeed Rum himself. Gough-Cooper also appears to have ignored McCarthy’s evidence that the correct date for St. Columba’s death is 593 and not the customarily believed 597.

[2] A note in the C text of the AC hints at the possibility that the original AC miscalculated this date. Marginalia on this manuscript in a different hand from the entry can be translated “in the year after the Incarnation of the Lord DC xlv”. 587CE is on my calibration Year 145 of the AC, i.e. Year Cxlv. It could be, therefore, that the person responsible for the insert in the C text margin had in their hand or their head both the correct date for St. David’s death and the year ticker structure of the A text, and – correctly – wrote C xlv as their calculation of the year of the AC that St. David’s death should be recorded in, but wasn’t. That a calculation was going on is shown by the writing in this marginalia of numeral letters that were crossed out. (The words “in the year after the Incarnation of the Lord” are of course out of place here.)

[3] With the exception of the conversion of the Angles to Christ.