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King Caradog Freichfras of Gwent -  Nash Ford PublishingCaradog Freichfras,
King of Gwent
& the Vannetais

(Born c.AD 470)
(Latin: Caratacus; English: Caractacus)

Caradog Strong-Arm was an early ancestor of the Kings of Gwent and, as such, should be identified with Caradog ap Ynyr, mentioned in the Life of St. Tathyw. Welsh legend calls his father Llyr Marini (of the Sea), while Breton legend indicates a Caradog the Elder. The former may have been a title in honour of the Celtic Sea-God, Llyr. His disputed parentage is, in fact, the basis of an Arthurian literary tale. Caradog's mother was said to have been an unfaithful wife, for the King was her offspring by a lowly druid named Eliafres. While holding court at Caer-Ceri (Cirencester), Caradog confronted this man concerning the matter. Eliafres refused to answer his questions and caused a serpent to entwine itself around the young man's arm. It took the combined strength of both his wife, Tegau, and his friend, Cado, to remove the creature. The serpent, however, grasped Tegau's breast instead and she was forced to cut it off. Caradog's arm had shrivelled away and the, once strong, King thus became known as "Briefbras" or Short-Arm! Queen Tegau took to wearing an artificial gold breast, hence her epithet of "Eurfron" or Golden Breast. Welsh tradition tells of Tegau's story without mentioning Caradog's parental confusion. However, the Breton Arthurian tales name his wife as Cado's sister, Guignier. Probably she was King Caradog's second wife. It is not surprising that Caradog became paranoid about female fidelity and he used both a magic horn and cloak to test that of this lady. Queen Guignier passed with flying colours.

According to the Breton stories, Caradog's main court was at Nantes, but this may be a confused form of Caerwent which was sometimes known as Carnant (Caer-Nantes) in literary sources. He certainly lived at Caerwent originally - possibly in the great basilica of the old Roman town - but he later gave the place to St. Tathyw in which to found a monastery. The King himself let his horse lead him to a new home: Portskewett, possibly to the hillfort & Roman outpost of Sudbrook Fort. Legend also has him holding court in the hillfort of Caer-Caradog (Cary Craddock) at Sellack (in Ergyng). Caradog, furthermore, may have been one of the British Kings who held lands on both sides of the Channel. In Brittany he is thought to have conquered the Vannetais where he became a patron of St. Padarn.

The Welsh Triads, not surprisingly, portray Caradog deputising for the High-King Arthur at court in Caer-Legeion-guar-Uisc (Caerleon). He should not, however, be confused with other Arthurian Literary characters of similar name, such as Sir Carados, the King of Scotland or the evil Sir Caradoc of the Dolorous Tower. Some historians have tried to identify Caradog with the West Saxon Leader, Cerdic, but this seems unlikely.

 

    Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.