Yng Ngwlad Arthur (Hanes Cymru OME Cyf I). In Arthur’s Land. From Wikimedia Commons
Adam to Arthur. The British Kings.
Adam to Arthur Video
The British kings who ruled Britain prior to the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons had a profound influence on the development of modern Britain. The first Christians in the land were Britons, long before the arrival of Augustine. However the story of the British or Welsh kings is not such a straightforward genealogy as with the English. See the page on Adam to Queen Elizabeth II for that story. There are two main sources I am using for tracing the British kings. Firstly, The History of the British by Nennius, a Welsh monk of the ninth century. Secondly Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain.
About 1,200 Welsh monks were slaughtered at the Battle of Chester in the early 7th Century by Æthelfrith of Northumbria at the instigation of Augustine who was frustrated that the Welsh would not follow the Roman Catholic faith. The Saxons had converted to Roman Catholicism from a place of heathenism but the Welsh already had the Christian faith received from the early church and did not want the Roman Catholic version. It is because of this that we find it hard to find records of Welsh history as much of it was wiped out. However enough survives for us to put a record together.
British peoples circa 600. From Wikimedia Commons
Geoffrey of Monmouth at Tintern Station. From Wikimedia Commons
Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote The History of the Kings of Britain. Geoffrey was a cleric who lived in Monmouth, Wales, in the 12th Century. He translated the history of the British kings from the original Welsh into Latin. The History is fascinating reading and there has been much discussion about its accuracy but here I am simply taking it at face value.
Putting Nennius and Geoffrey together we have a complete record from Adam through the first British king Brutus to the last king, Cadwallader. The story actually starts with the fall of Troy to the Greeks. Aeneas escapes with his father Anchises and eventually arrives in Italy but his father does not make it and dies in Sicily. It is from the line of Aeneas that both the Britons and the Romans trace their heritage.
The following charts give the details. The first two are the record that Nennius gives us from Adam to a man called Trous
Aeneas Bearing Anchises from Troy, by Carle van Loo, 1729 (Louvre).
This is as far as we are going with Nennius but it is important to note that Nennius gave this genealogy as part of the record of British kings. In chapter 18 he gives Trous as the father of Anchises who was the father of Aeneas the Trojan
The next five charts give the record from Aeneas onwards as recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Aeneas’s great grandson was Brutus who made his way to Britain, landed at Totnes in Devon, and became the first British king. It is worth bearing in mind that the Britons were proud of their Trojan heritage and Geoffrey records that when Julius Caesar came to Britain he was aware that the Britons were of Trojan heritage just as the Romans were.
Other famous kings in the list are King Leir (or Lear) and King Cymbeline. Both of Shakespearean fame. The most famous of all is King Arthur. Merlin is also mentioned by Geoffrey and appears during the reign of King Vortigern.
Geoffrey provides synchronisms to put the kings in the context of other historical events. I have included these on the charts. From a bible prophecy point of view it is interesting how Geoffrey sees this history of the British kings in relation to other world and biblical events. It’s not just about Britain but about God’s grand scheme of things. The two great heroes are Brutus and Arthur. The great villain is Vortigern who betrayed his own country to the invading Saxons. There are also the brothers Belinus and Brennius who achieved the sack of Rome.
It was the coming of the Romans that diluted the Britishness of the royal line as the British royalty intermarried with Roman nobles. In fact King Geta had a Roman father and a Roman mother which caused the Britons to refuse to accept him. Despite various successes there was too much infighting and civil war for the British kings to survive the constant attacks from their various enemies: the Picts the Scots, the Irish, the Huns and finally the Saxons.
King Arthur from Epitome of Chronicles, first half of 13th century.
The British Kings. The Spiritual Consequences.
From a bible prophecy point of view there are consequences to the reign of the British kings that are still relevant today.
Christianity came to Britain earlier than most people realise. Geoffrey tells us that King Lucius, in the second century AD sent a letter to pope Eleutherius asking for instruction in the Christian faith. Two learned men, Faganus and Duvianus came to Britain to preach the Word of God to the people who received it willingly and turned from their previous idolatry. However Christianity probably came to Britain even earlier than this.
The British chieftain Caractacus, king of the Catuvellauni, led the British resistance to Roman invasion in the AD 40s, but he was betrayed and taken to Rome. The Emperor Claudius asked him why his life should be spared and the Roman historian Tacitus recorded his reply.
Caractacus before the Emperor Claudius at Rome, detail from an 18th century print
“Had my moderation in prosperity been equal to my noble birth and fortune, I should have entered this city as your friend rather than as your captive; and you would not have disdained to receive, under a treaty of peace, a king descended from illustrious ancestors and ruling many nations.
“My present lot is as glorious to you as it is degrading to me. I had men and horses, arms and wealth. What wonder if I parted with them reluctantly? If you Romans choose to lord it over the world, does it follow that the world is to accept slavery?
“Were I to have been at once delivered up as a prisoner, neither my fall nor your triumph would have become famous. My punishment would be followed by oblivion, whereas, if you save my life, I shall be an everlasting memorial of your clemency.”
By Cornelius Tacitus
Pictures of English History Plate V - Saint Augustine and the Saxons
Caractacus’ speech earned him the Senate’s applause, a state pension and an apartment in the imperial palace. This part of the story is well known but there is more to it.
There are a group of medieval documents known as The Welsh Triads which have preserved some fragments of Welsh history. According to the Triads Caractacus was allowed to return home to Britain but his family were kept behind in Rome. His father Bran was detained in Caesar’s household and while there he converted to Christianity. He was allowed to return to Britain in 58 AD bringing the Christian faith with him. Consequently it is possible that Christianity spread to Britain from the time of the early church as recorded in the Book of Acts.
The point of all this is that the British or Welsh church was well established by the time Augustine, an emissary of Pope Gregory arrived on British shores in 597 AD. He became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and is considered the Apostle to the English.
Llanrhychwyn Church. Possibly the oldest church in Wales, parts dating back to the 11th century. This remote location above the Conwy Valley may have been used for Christian worship since the 6th century.
The British version of Christianity was rooted in the early church. It was based on a personal relationship with Christ rather than on an institution. The Augustinian version was based upon the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The ordinary people could only access Christianity through the institution of the church and through the clergy.
The English were able to accept Augustine’s message because they were coming from a place of heathenism. The British had failed to preach the gospel to the English because they were threatened by them. Some Saxon chiefs had heard of the gospel through intermarriage with the British but they were not invited to receive it until the coming of Augustine. The British already had a faith of their own before Augustine’s arrival and were in no hurry to accept the chains of the Roman Catholic church. This clash of beliefs led to the destruction of much of the British church, especially at the Battle of Chester. The process of the Romanisation of the church in Britain continued through the 7th Century with such councils as the Synod of Whitby marginalising the Celtic Church in Britain.
Portrait of Henry VII of England (1457-1509). Unknown artist. From Wikimedia Commons
It is interesting to note that eventually the British royal line returned in the shape of the Tudors. In 1485 the final battle of the Wars of the Roses (the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York) took place at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Henry Tudor defeated Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, and took the throne of England, becoming Henry VII.
The Tudors were descended from the British/Welsh kings and had both Vortigern and Cadwallader in their family tree. This marked a change for the Kingdom of England and its territories. The age of Roman Catholic control was coming to an end. It’s fascinating that Henry VII’s son Henry VIII brought about the end of papal authority in England and also oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries. This was the process whereby monasteries, priories, convents, and friaries in England, Wales, and Ireland, were disbanded. This was the ultimate revenge for the devastation of the Welsh church in the sixth and seventh century.
The following diagram illustrates the English and Welsh strands of Christianity in Britain.
This division in the church continues to this day. If the established church is to survive it needs to embrace some of the lessons of the Welsh church. God builds His church on the lives of individuals becoming born again and having their own living faith in Jesus. No human institution will survive but God’s church is eternal. We don’t need priests to intercede with God for us. Every believer is a priest and is responsible for their own relationship with the Lord.