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  Vortigern Studies > Vortigern > The Family of Vortigern > Catigern

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The Family of Vortigern
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Catigern, son of Vortigern
Robert Vermaat

Catigern is almost always Vortigern's second son, but there is hardly anything known of him. Apart from information about his death and his grave, he is only known from the pedigrees of the kingdom of Powys.


Cadeyrn: 'battle-lord’; Catigern, Cattegirn, Catotigernos, Cadeyrn, Kedehern, Kyndeyrn, Eudeyrn. Catigern was the second son of Vortigern, but he never plays any part in the legends. Where Vortimer and Pascent have their own set of legends, those of Catigern seem to have been lost. Apart from a very short note that Catigern was a son of Vortigern and that he died in battle against the Saxons, British tradition observes total silence about him. Though acknowledged in the genealogy of Powys, it remains therefore doubtful if he ever was king. This may have been due to his early death, which is recorded both in the Historia Brittonum as well as in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:.

Historia Brittonum, chapter 48

He had three sons: the eldest was Vortimer, who, as we have seen, fought four times against the Saxons, and put them to flight; the second Categirn, who was slain in the same battle with Horsa; the third was Pascent, who reigned in the two provinces Builth and Guorthegirnaim, after the death of his father. These were granted him by Ambrosius, who was the great king among the kings of Britain. The fourth was Faustus, born of an incestuous marriage with his daughter, who was brought up and educated by St. Germanus. He built a large monastery on the banks of the river Renis, called after his name, and which remains to the present period.


tres filios habuit, quorum nomina sunt guorthemir, qui pugnabat contra barbaros, ut supra diximus; secundo categirn; tertius pascent, qui regnauit in duabus regionibus buelt et guorthegirniaun post mortem patris sui largiente ambrosio illi, qui fuit rex inter omnes reges brittannicae gentis. quartus fuit faustus, qui a filia sua genitus est illi, et sanctus germanus baptizauit illum et nutriuit et docuit et condidit locum magnum super ripam fluminis, quod uocatur renis, et manet usque hodie. et unam filiam habuit, quae fuit mater fausti sancti.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records Horsa's death at the battle of Aylesford in 455:

455   This year Hengist and Horsa fought Vortigern the king, in the place called Aegelesthrep, his brother Horsa was killed, and after that Hengist and Aesc received the kingdom. Her Hengest 7 Horsa fuhton wiț Wyrtgeorne țam cyninge, in țære stowe țe is gecueden Agælesțrep, 7 his broțur Horsan man ofslog; 7 æfter țam Hengest feng to rice 7 Æsc his sunu.

Catigern & Cadell

Apart from the genealogies, the above chapter is the only piece of information that we have on Catigern. Yet in these genealogies, the position of Catigern as the successor to Vortigern in Powys is being challenged by a certain Cadell and his descendants. The exact relationship of Catigern to this Cadell Dyrnlluc, the actual ancestor of the royal line of Powys according to the Historia Brittonum, is never made clear. The Harleian genealogies make Catigern not the son of Vortigern, but of a certain Cadell! This Cadell, at least as the story goes in the Historia Brittonum, was invested with the rule of Powys by St Germanus.

The saint took the throne from a certain tyrant Benlli, who was burnt in his fortress by a miracle through St Germanus, after which the servant/slave Cadell was given the throne. This story immediately connects Bennli with Vortigern, who receives the same treatment from St Germanus at a later point in the legends of St Germanus, but who is recognized by many pedigrees as the founder of Powys! Vortigern is never actually identified with Benlli in this clearly parallel but different story, so what is the explanation for this confusion? That Benlli was regarded as Vortigern by later readers seems clear, which is the purpose of the HB in the first place, as it proclaims Cadell’s inheritance of Powys over that of Vortigern’s. But here it stands alone, for almost every other genealogy confirms Catigern over Cadell, who is then placed after Catigern, or even further back into fourth place - see the Genealogies of Eastern Wales en the Problems of Powys (forthcoming).

To illustrate this, I have included a simplified version of these pedigrees:

Pillar of Eliseg

(c. 850)

Harleian 3859.22, 23 & 27

(c. 1100)

Jesus College MS 20.16 & 18

(c. 1375)

Bonedd y Saint.62 ABT 6k, 9b & 20

(c. 1500)

Hen Lwythau
(Llwyth aelan)
Guarthi(girn)   Gwrtheyrn Gwrtheyrn Gortheyrn Gortheyrn g.
Britu Catell Cedehern Eurdeyrn Kyndeyrn Kyndern
Annan Cattegirn Kadell d. Ruduedel Rhuddfedel Rhuddfedel v.
Mau(n?) Brittu Bredoe Brutus Brydw Brydw
Pascent Camuir Thewer   Pasgen Pasken
- Millo Cassanauth w. Cadell d. Kadell d. Kadell d.

Who was Cadell? He might have been a local sub-chief, whose family played a part in the early medieval politics of Powys. His fame grew in later years, as he figures in many pedigree as a famous hero too important to ignore, though the claim by the Historia Brittonum seems out of reach. The Historia Brittonum claims a very low status (servus), explained by later legend with a legal claim that was usurped by the tyrant. This confusion shows that no real information was available, even to the early writers.

A possible explanation is the suggestion that Catigern and Cadell are alternative forms of the same name. We have seen above that Catigern is formed of the elements of ‘king’ (tigern) and ‘battle (Cat-), thus showing a common element. Catigern simply means 'Battle Lord', while Cadell is formed of the element Cat- and the Latin diminutive termination; ‘little battle’, so to speak. Sometimes ‘Catigern’ is written as ‘Cadern’, which is very close to ‘Cadell’. I t has been suggested that ‘Cadell’ might have been an endearing name for Catigern. However, against this suggestion speaks that the element cat- was indeed a very frequent formative element in Welsh names (see Riocatus, (‘king of battle’). Not all names with cat- could have been one and the same person!

This leaves us with the explanation that Cadell was an obscure chief from a family that became important only much later, and who then inserted their ancestor Cadell into the genealogy of Powys in an attempt to dislodge the claim of the descendents of Vortigern. At that time two rival claims to northern Powys existed, one of them supported by the 'second dynasty' of Gwynedd and the Historia Brittonum, and by the genealogists from Gwynedd through the Harleian pedigrees. This attempt by Gwynedd to support their candidate may have failed, since the later genealogies seem to support the claim of the descendants of Vortigern rather than those of Cadell. Cadell is not stricken from these lists, but appears always after Catigern, and sometimes also after Britu, Pascent (also sons of Vortigern) and the enigmatis Rhuddfael (see below). The people of Powys evidently did not accept the story about the origins of their royal house as given in the Historia Brittonum, that a slave was their ancestor. On the Pillar of Elise they claimed their descent from Vortigern, and declared he was the son-in-law of Magnus Maximus. This theory is confirmed by the fact that no independent genealogy of Cadell exists, he is connected in all pedigrees with the family of Vortigern - even the Harleian pedigrees mention Catigern, though only as a 'son'of Cadell.

This source supported the claim with the probably legendary Benlli-story that related the miraculous inheritance of Cadell's line. Yet it also related Catigern's lineage, whose claim was supported by other sources. The claim through Cadell of the other dynasty could thus hardly be of the same date as that of Catigern's, who figures far more in the genealogies. The Benlli-story had become attached to Vortigern by an altogether different route, for if the editor of the Historia Brittonum had meant to identify Vortigern with Benlli, he would certainly have done so.

Catigern's sons

Kit's Coty House, legendary grave of Catigern.Catigern's descendants indeed ruled in parts of Powys ('southern' Powys), but it remains very doubtful if Catigern himself ever did, due to his early death. He was slain in the battle of Episford/Rithergabail, alongside Horsa the brother of Hengist, and buried under nearby Kit's Coty House, a megalithic dolmen, where ghosts re-enact the battle and the stones cannot be counted twice...

Was Britu the brother or the son of Catigern? The Britu that succeeds Catigern as king of Powys in most pedigrees might also have been the Britu map Vortigern from the Pillar of Elise. The discussion above is in favour of the latter, and though we shouldn’t exclude the possiblity of a (short-lived) son called Britu as well, I believe the evidence is in favour of the theory that when Catigern died in the battle of Episford, he left no heir, after which his brother succeeded him. Britu might have perished in the period after the death of Vortigern (whether as son or brother), after which Pascent was confirmed as new ruler. His line then continued as ruling dynasty, only challenged by that of Cadell. This leaves us with the problems around the identity of another possible 'son' of Catigern, Rhuddfael.


Rhuddfael (Ruduedel, Rhuddfedel, Rudduedel) is made the successor of Catigern in most of the later pedigrees (above). The fact that he is not present in any of the earlier ones makes it very likely that his presence there is due to either an interpolation or another kind of error. His name is strangely familiar, as it resembles the British name for the battle in which his father Catigern died. This battle, called Episford in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, is called Rithergabail in the Historia Brittonum:

Historia Brittonum, chapter 44

44. Four times did Vortimer valorously encounter the enemy; the first has been mentioned, the second was upon the river Darent, the third at the Ford, in their language called Epsford, though in ours Set thirgabail, there Horsa fell, and Catigern, the son of Vortigern; the fourth battle he fought, was near the stone on the shore of the Gallic sea, where the Saxons being defeated, fled to their ships.


et guorthemir contra illos quattuor bella auide gessit. primum bellum super flumen derguentid; secundum bellum super uadum, quod dicitur in lingua eorum episford, in nostra autem lingua rithergabail, et ibi cecidit hors cum filio guorthigirni, cuius nomen erat categirn. tertium bellum in campo iuxta lapidem tituli, qui est super ripam gallici maris, commisit et barbari uicti sunt et ille uictor fuit et ipsi in fugam uersi usque ad ciulas suas mersi sunt in eas muliebriter intrantes.

Can both names be connected somehow? They are essentially the same, as can be shown by the example of a later king of Gwynedd, called both Catgabail ('battle-shirker') and Cadafael. We may safely assume that the earlier -gabail and the later -afael were essentially the same. Therefore, the Rithergabail of the Historia Brittonum might well be the same as the Rhuddfael of the later medieval pedigrees. We can rule out the both the possibilities that Catigern had a son that was named after the battle in which his father was killed or that the battle was named after the son. Most likely seems to me the probability that the battle crept into the pedigree when it was mistaken for a personal name (e.g. Brydw son of Kadeyrn (who was killed at Rhuddfael) son of Gwrtheyrn, etc). In that case, Catigern is still succeeded by Britu, Pascent and Cadell.


  • Bartrum, P.C.: Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, (Cardiff 1966).*
  • Bartrum, P.C. (1993): A Welsh Classical Dictionary, (Cardiff).*
  • Bord, Janet and Colin: A Guide to Ancient Sites in Britain, (London 1979).*
  • Chadwick, H.M.: Vortigern, in: Chadwick, Studies in Early British History, pp. 21-33.*
  • Chadwick, H.M.: The Foundation of the Early British Kingdoms, in: Chadwick, Studies in Early British History, pp. 47-56.*
  • Chadwick, N.K. et al: Studies in Early British History, (Cambridge 1959).*
  • Chadwick, N.K.: A Note on Faustus and Riocatus, in: Chadwick, Studies in Early British History, pp. 254-263.*
  • Dyer, James: The Penguin Guide to Prehistoric England and Wales, (Penguin 1981).*
  • Historia Brittonum - Nennius: British History and the Welsh Annals, Latin and trans. John Morris, in: History from the Sources VIII, (Chichester 1980).*

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