top of page

Legends of Caratacos

In which I look at the legacy of the ancient British resistance leader in later folklore, romance, and drama. Content note: child abduction; marital breakdown.


We've looked before at the potential relationship between Shakespeare's Cymbeline (c. 1610/11) and the Snow White story. I'd like to dive again into the play's connections to other romances and legends about the Roman invasion of Britain in CE 43. The majority of the play's quasi-historical material comes by way of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Of the Deeds of the Britons, better known as History of the Kings of Britain. It was Geoffrey who turned the historical Cunobelinos (Cymbeline)'s sons Togodumnos and Caratacos into Guiderius (a figure from Welsh mythology) and Arvirargus (an obscure historical figure, possibly a British rebel of the late first century) - the names they have in the play. (Lacking access to many classical sources, he was obliged to rely on folklore and invention.) And it was Geoffrey who had the Britons make a peaceable accord with Rome, as they do in the play, rather than being conquered outright - his Arvirargus marries a fictional daughter of the Emperor Claudius and remains as High King, while in reality Caratacos fought for eight years before being betrayed into Roman hands by Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes (a major tribal confederation centred in Yorkshire and Lancashire). (It has been suggested, incidentally, that Geoffrey does preserve a memory of Caratacos' name in "Cridous", who in his account is a Scottish king summoned by the High King Cassivellaunos to oppose Julius Caesar's invasion a century earlier. However, we are not told enough about Cridous to be sure of this. There are other Caradocs and similarly named characters elsewhere in Geoffrey, but they do not seem to have any other connection with the Caratacos of the first century.) Shakespeare had access to better sources than Geoffrey - in particular, to the Annals and Agricola by Publius Cornelius Tacitus, which between them cover the conquest of Britain in some detail. Yet his version is even less historical. His Roman invasion comes while Cymbeline is still alive; his Guiderius survives the war, where Geoffrey's was given the death in battle of the historical Togodumnos; and, astonishingly, his Britons actually win. The villains of the piece are neither the invaders nor the Brigantian Queen, but one Roman scoundrel, Iachimo, and Cymbeline's unnamed second wife; while the heroine is a character similarly absent from both Geoffrey and history, the King's daughter Imogen or Innogen. (Her name does come from Geoffrey, but from a much earlier passage having nothing to do with the Roman invasion. It seems to derive from the Irish word nighean, meaning simply "daughter".) His princes, also, have grown up in exile, ignorant of their true heritage, after being kidnapped by a disgruntled courtier. Much of this has as little to do with his main sources (discussed in the previous article) as it does with Geoffrey, or with the actual history of the invasion. So, did Shakespeare invent these elements? Not necessarily.



The Perceforest connection In the epic fourteenth century French chivalric romance Perceforest - created as a prequel to the Arthurian cycle of legends - Claudius' invasion is not explicitly mentioned. Britain is invaded many times, but the only attacker identified as Roman is Julius Caesar, in a highly fictionalised version of his invasion in 55-54 BCE. But a couple of generations later, Britain is invaded by a force of Sicambrians, Bretons, and Danes, led by one "Scapiol". It is hard to miss the similarity of this name to the cognomen of Publius Ostorius Scapula, who as Governor of Britain in 47-52 was responsible for completing the initial conquest and transporting the captured Caratacos to Rome. (The author of Perceforest does muddy the waters by identifying Scapiol with Geoffrey's King Capoir - even though Capoir reigns before Caesar's invasion, and Perceforest explicitly identifies Cassivellaunos as his descendant!) Scapiol's invasion happens during the reign of a certain King Gallafur. Like Shakespeare's Cymbeline, he has two sons (Olofer, and Gallafur the Younger) and one daughter (Ygerne). Like Shakespeare's Guiderius and Arvirargus, the sons have been abducted in infancy and raised away from court, and are reunited with their father only after the invaders land. And, as in both real life and Geoffrey's account (though not Shakespeare's), the elder of the princes is killed shortly afterwards. (Admittedly, their abduction and upbringing, and Olofer's death, are all more overtly fantastical than anything in Cymbeline: the princes are carried off by an eagle and raised by fairies, while Olofer is slain by a magically created monster, the Yelping Beast.) Despite the chronological confusion, Gallafur lives long enough to be converted to Christianity by Alain le Gros, an associate of Joseph of Arimathea from the earlier Grail romances. The parallels are not close enough for certainty, but are undoubtedly suggestive. The author of Perceforest was steeped in the Matter of Britain, and would have read material derived from Geoffrey even if they did not know his work directly: but could they have influenced Shakespeare? Perceforest was not well known in England: it was never printed there in this period, nor translated until 2011: but it had been hugely popular in France, and a French edition had been printed in 1528. For Shakespeare to have known it, or just heard an outline of this part of the plot from someone who did, is perfectly possible. Another continental source But Perceforest is not the only, or the most famous, chivalric romance connected with these events. One that Shakespeare is likely to have known is Amadís de Gaula (1508), by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. This was popular across Western Europe, and an English translation of the first two books had been published in 1590. In Amadís, a fictitious Roman Emperor named El Patín invades Britain a generation or so after the time of Christ, and is opposed by the eponymous hero. And who is Amadís? He is the son of a Welsh king, Perion; but both he and his brother Galaor have grown up in exile, Amadís cast adrift in an open boat and brought up by the Scottish knight who found him, Galaor carried off by a giant. Amadis himself has secretly married Oriana, the daughter of the High King Lisuarte of Britain, who is desired by El Patín; revelation of this marriage results in his exile from court; when Oriana is falsely persuaded that he is unfaithful, she sends a harsh letter that causes him to go mad with grief thinking that he has lost her love. It must be admitted that the abduction and upbringing of Amadís and Galaor fits less well with Cymbeline than the parallel story in Perceforest does: if there is a connection, it may even consist of Montalvo and Shakespeare both drawing on Perceforest separately - which the similarity of the names Gallafur and Galaor does seem to suggest. (Montalvo was working from a lost original, traditionally supposed to be Portuguese, and we cannot be sure that this work postdated Perceforest: but he altered and adapted freely, and may have added elements from Perceforest even if they were not there in his main source.) But the relationship of Amadís to Oriana is of more interest. The secret marriage and consequent exile is exactly paralleled in the marriage of Posthumus and Imogen in Cymbeline, and none of the other sources we have discussed here or in the previous article have any such plot point. Of course, the false accusation of infidelity - levelled in Cymbeline against the wife rather than the husband - does come from Shakespeare's known sources: nevertheless, it seems to me highly possible that the secret marriage, at least, was an element drawn from Amadís.

Further connections That a daughter of the British High King at the time of the Roman invasion is called "Oriana" raises another interesting connection, though this, at least, is likely to be accidental. The origins of the name are uncertain, but it is usually interpreted as meaning "golden": and this connects it with the Welsh name Eurgain, which probably means "golden-born". And an early Christian convert named Eurgain is supposed to have been the daughter of none other than... Caratacos! However, this Eurgain has not - in her modern form - been traced back further than the works of the prolific eighteenth century forger Iolo Morganwg. Morganwg mixed his own inventions freely with genuine antiquarian material, and much has yet to be disentangled: therefore Eurgain must be treated with extreme suspicion. The most that we can say is authentic here is: that a saint with that name was venerated in Wales; that Caratacos had a daughter, whose name is unrecorded in Roman annals; and that medieval Welsh tradition did connect Caratacos' family with the coming of Christianity to Britain. Morganwg could easily have put those facts together to create his Eurgain, and it would be consistent with his approach. All the same, the coincidence is intriguing. The wicked stepmother, of course, does come from the Snow White tradition, though not from Shakespeare's acknowledged sources (see the earlier article). But she too has a parallel in legends about the Roman invasion. Hector Boece, unlike Geoffrey, had read Tacitus, and was aware of details of the invasion unknown to the earlier chronicler. In his Chronicle of the Scottish People (1527), he tries to reconcile Geoffrey's account with history by turning Caratacos into a Scottish king who allies with Guiderius and Arvirargus after the death of their father Cymbeline. (Shades of Geoffrey's Cridous, perhaps? The latter's role in Boece is played by Ederus, a displaced version of the legendary Irish High King Eterscél.) In his account, Europea, sister of King Metellanus of the Scots, marries a Brigantian chief named Catallan and has - just like Gallafur and Shakespeare's Cymbeline - two sons and a daughter. These are identified as: Caratacos; Corbredus (i.e. Eterscél's grandson Cairbre Findmór - see my articles on King Galdus and on Boece's pseudo-historical Scottish kings in general); and Voada - who is in fact none other than the famous rebel queen Boudica! And, just like Shakespeare's Cymbeline, Catallan takes a malevolent second wife - who in Boece's account is... Cartimandua! (The name "Catallan" is a variant of the Welsh "Cadwallon", which ultimately derives from the Catuvellauni - the tribe to which Cunobelinos and Caratacos historically belonged.) The death of Guiderius, accession of Arvirargus to the British kingship, and the latter's peace with Rome, follow as in Geoffrey; but the betrayal of Caratacos by Cartimandua is worked in as well - only for Claudius to permit him to return to Scotland after giving hostages for his future good behaviour. Meanwhile, Arvirargus - instead of marrying Claudius' invented daughter - marries Voada, and thereafter fulfils the historical role of Boudica's real husband Prasutagos. Boece's account, like Geoffrey's, was used by Raphael Holinshed in compiling his Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland in the 1580s, which was of course one of Shakespeare's favourite sources, and is almost certainly where he found his Geoffrey-derived material. It is probably safe to assume that Boece turning the treacherous queen into his hero's stepmother was known to Shakespeare; that it helped to inspire Cymbeline is a step beyond "safe to assume", but not, I think, a great one. The Valiant Welshman Certainly one of Shakespeare's closest colleagues had been reading Boece-derived accounts of the Roman invasion around 1610. His longtime theatrical collaborator Robert Armin - famous as the original performer of Touchstone, Feste, and Lear's Fool - was writing his own fascinating (and now largely forgotten) play about the character he called "Caradoc", The Valiant Welshman, at roughly the time that Shakespeare was writing Cymbeline. (Armin would almost certainly have acted in the original production of Cymbeline. It is even possible - given that he was the company's star singer as well as their clown, and the two princes famously sing the funeral song "Fear no more the heat o' the sun" - that he played Guiderius or Arvirargus.) The Valiant Welshman transfers Boece's fictitious Scottish royal family to Wales, making Catallan the Earl of March. For once, he has four children, Boece's Corbredus being split into Mauron and Constantine: but it is Caradoc and Voada who are important to the story. Gederus, Armin's version of Guiderius, is the High King of Britain, but Caradoc becomes King of Wales after aiding King Octavian of North Wales against a usurper and being rewarded with the hand of his daughter Guiniver: and it is in this capacity that he is called on by Gederus to fight the invaders. The Welsh setting actually does echo history: though Caratacos himself was a Catuvellaunian from the Thames Valley, Wales was the main theatre of war during and following Scapula's governorship, and Caratacos led armies of Silures from Gwent and Glamorgan, and Ordovices from Gwynedd, in the late 40s CE. However, the play also echoes unrelated parts of Geoffrey's pseudohistory, and of Arthurian romance. Octavian is clearly Octavius, a fourth century King of North Wales in Geoffrey, who appears as an ancestor figure in many Welsh royal genealogies; in Geoffrey's account one of his closest allies is a Cornish duke named Caradoc, who apparently has nothing to do with the first century Caratacos beyond sharing a fairly popular name. (Interestingly, the Welsh romance The Dream of Macsen Wledig - included in the Mabinogion, though probably dating from the thirteenth century, much later than the Four Branches of the Mabinogi - gives Caradawg as the name of Octavius' father, and has a fourth century Emperor set Octavius up as King of the Britons after deposing Beli and his sons: Beli, another ancestor figure, seems to have originated as a conflation of Cunobelinos with one or more divine beings, but Casswallawn was by the High Middle Ages remembered as one of his children. It seems that here three historical periods, not just two, have been run together.)


Meanwhile, Guiniver's name not only obviously evokes King Arthur's wife, but brings a third Caradoc into the mix: in the thirteenth century French Arthurian romance The Book of Carados, the hero Carados or Caradoc Short-Arm marries a Cornish princess named Guignier. This Carados derives from a mistranslation of Caradog Strong-Arm, a probably historical figure from the Welsh genealogical material, who would have lived in the fifth century. There are many Caradocs in medieval Arthuriana, and much confusion between them. (For instance: in the thirteenth century Latin romance The Life of Meriadoc, one of them is the father of the eponymous hero: while Meriadoc himself seems to be partly based on the Breton founder-hero Conan Meriadoc, who shows up in Geoffrey as the nephew of Octavius and a rival of the Cornish Caradoc. The most famous Meriadoc to the modern reader, of course, is Merry Brandybuck from The Lord of the Rings: whose father's name, not coincidentally, is Saradoc.) Getting back to Armin's play: he draws again on Boece in having Voada marry Gederus' brother, but very confusingly changes his name from Arvirargus to Gald, after the Scottish hero-king Galdus - her nephew in Boece's account! There follows a highly fantastical account of the invasion, full of witches and dragons: though, interestingly, one of Armin's main villains is an historical figure only barely mentioned in the written sources - Cogidubnos (rendered as "Codigune"), King of the Regnenses of what's now Sussex. Cogidubnos became a Roman citizen and a client king, though there is no evidence that he ever fought against Caratacos. Armin, it appears, had been reading his Tacitus - which will also be why, after all his invention, he actually gives a more accurate depiction of Caratacos' capture and betrayal than Boece does. He does, however, add the flourish that the reason Claudius decides to spare Caradoc's life is that the latter, while disguised as a common soldier, had earlier spared the Emperor in battle: an echo, perhaps, of Imogen's husband Posthumus in Cymbeline, who saves the King's life while disguised as a Roman legionnaire. (This in turn may echo Amadís sparing Lisuarte in battle after the latter allies with the Romans.)

Meanwhile, in Wales In all this, however, we've barely yet glanced at Welsh tradition. The Welsh in the Middle Ages were keenly aware of their status as heirs of Roman and pre-Roman Britain, as opposed to incomers like the Germanic English and Irish-origin Scots; Welsh folklore strongly informed Geoffrey's pseudohistory and the subsequent development of the Arthurian legend and related material; some of it preserved ancient history remarkably well, with names that are otherwise known only from coins appearing in their correct chronological place; and Shakespeare's play, as well as Armin's, spends a lot of time in Wales, and leans heavily on that heritage. Unfortunately, however, Welsh traditions surrounding this invasion have survived in only fragmentary form. In the Second Branch of the Mabinogi and other traditions surrounding it, Caradog is the son of Brân the Blessed and great-nephew of the usurper Casswallawn. The former is a divine figure; the latter, however, is historical - he is the same Cassivellaunos mentioned above, ruler of the Catuvellauni and leader of the Britons at the time of Julius Caesar's invasion, who was indeed a relative of Caratacos, though not a contemporary. (The exact relationship is unknown, but he seems to have been succeeded as king by Tasciovanos, who was probably Cunobelinos' father. Geoffrey's version of Tasciovanos is Cassivellaunos' nephew: if accurate, that would make Cassivellaunos the great-great-uncle of Caratacos - just one generation out from the version in the Mabinogi.) During Brân's absence in Ireland, Casswallawn uses a cloak of invisibility to murder Caradog's attendants; Caradog dies of grief and his uncle seizes power. It is implied that the Roman invasion, apparently a conflation of Caesar's and Claudius', happens in the aftermath, with Caradog already dead. Yet in the Welsh Triads - a collection of mnemonics for bards which preserve many ancient snippets of legendary and mythological lore from otherwise lost stories - Caradog is remembered as one of the Three Chief Defenders of Britain. It is also recorded that he was betrayed into Roman hands by a woman, but that his father Brân - who in the Mabinogi dies without ever facing the invaders - took his place, acting as hostage for him, and spent seven years as a prisoner in Rome, an apparent echo of Caratacos' imprisonment. It's worth noting here that the other two "Defenders" - including one whose father also happens to be named Caradog - appear to belong in the fifth or sixth century; and it is apparent from the genealogies that there was a real ruler in Northern Britain named Bran in that period. It is not impossible, therefore, that a son of this Bran has been conflated with the earlier Caratacos because he happened to be called Caradog, and that this is how Caratacos - whose real father Cunobelinos was far from forgotten in Welsh legend - became the son of Brân the god. Yet the betrayal story seems clearly to echo the historical Caratacos' fate, rather than belonging to any later or mythical namesake. There are clearly contradictory stories here: but if the "Defenders" reference is to a legend which did record Caratacos' wars against the Romans, it has been lost, as has the actual narrative of his betrayal and Brân's captivity. Welsh versions of Geoffrey do not place a Caradog in this period, but render Guiderius as Gwydre - the mythological figure from whom Geoffrey took the name in the first place - and Arvirargus as Gweirydd, a name not much like the Latin form but of no other known significance - though it is very close to Gweir, which like Gwydre is the name of an obscure apparently mythological figure absorbed into Arthurian tradition. From what we can glean from surviving material, the mythological Gweir also seems to have been abducted in infancy: sadly, however, most of his story is lost. So is altogether too much of the early Welsh material. It simply isn't possible to discern here anything that could have fed into Perceforest, Cymbeline, or The Valiant Welshman, independently of Geoffrey: but so much is lost that there may have been influence we cannot now see. (There is, as it happens, rather more evidence for a lost legend of Casswallawn - or even two, with conflicting concepts of his character, one heroic and one villainous. This can be reconstructed with far more confidence than any Caradog legend, and even seems to possess its own parallels to Perceforest - a subject for another time.) We do, however, have enough to suggest more influences for this part of Cymbeline than just Geoffrey-via-Holinshed. It's likely that Shakespeare was also reading the largely separate sections of Holinshed that derived from Boece - and, if he was not, Armin certainly was. It is probably not coincidental that two such close colleagues were working on similar material at the same time, and both added the specific incident of the hero saving a monarch's life while disguised as a common soldier on the opposing side in the main battle of the Roman invasion. (If this incident is derived from Amadís, the disguise detail is not: surely one of the two playwrights must have taken it from the other.) And I personally am fairly confident that both Perceforest and Amadís also influenced Shakespeare - even if in the former case it may have been only via a second hand account. Whether there is any previous link between this material in Perceforest and in Boece - who wrote before the romance was in print - or whether any of them used Welsh material not derived from Geoffrey, is not now possible to discern.

Commenti


Featured Posts
Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.
Recent Posts
Archive
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page