The End of Roman Britain

Jan 2015
966
England
This is the beginning of a short children's (ish) story I started writing a few months ago, but which I will undoubtedly never finish. It is about what I believe really took place during the first few decades of the fifth century.

It will make more sense if you are already familiar with my views as expressed elsewhere on this forum, but basically, I believe that Magnus Maximus's cavalry commander, Andragathius, did not die in the Adriatic Sea after his master's defeat, as reported by the Roman accounts. I think he actually returned to Britain and ruled there for some time, in the areas which the Romans had, by the end of the fourth century, effectively abandoned (like Wales and perhaps the northern part of England). I also think that he is the same person recorded in the Welsh genealogies as 'Anthun' the son of Maximus. This Anthun is recorded as having a number of descendants who ruled in different parts of Britain, but I believe that the senior male line was through his son Tathal. His descendants through Tathal eventually ended up ruling the south east corner of Wales, but I believe that originally they (or at least, Tathal) inherited control over all of Britain.

I'll let the story speak for itself regarding the rest:

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Tathal sat on his throne with his head in his hands. The kingdom - his kingdom - was in chaos. There were constant attacks from Ireland and the North. He was trying everything he could to stop it, but the situation was just too much for him to handle. His father, the mighty Andragathius, had been able to secure the border regions with a startlingly small number of forces. His use of strategy was unparalleled. But Tathal... well, he did his best, but ever since his father died just a few years ago, so much of the kingdom had been lost to the invaders. In just those few years, the kingdom had been reduced to a fraction of what it had been, and territory continued to be lost every month, it seemed.

The young and inexperienced king pondered over what could be done that he hadn't already tried. It was at times like this when he wished this part of Britain was still controlled by the Romans. They seemed to still view it as theirs, but they clearly weren't bothered about doing anything for it. Tathal's own reign was evidence enough of that, for it was completely illegal from Rome's point of view. But there hadn't been any permanent Roman forces in the country since his grandfather, Magnus Maximus, had taken them with him to conquer Europe. But then after the disastrous happenings over there, resulting in Maximus's death, Andragathius had been forced to flee from the Empire, retreating to the part of Britain without any Roman forces. Not a great inheritance to be left with, Tathal often thought.

The situation had only gotten worse with the reign of Emperor Constantine III. He was the younger half-brother of Andragathius, making him Tathal's half-uncle, even though they were about the same age. He had declared himself emperor and taken pretty much all the remaining troops in Britain across the sea to attack the continent. As expected, this had not done Britain much good.

That was in 407, and the year was now 409. Last year, Tathal had actually sent a request to a Roman general to ask him to send an army to these outskirts and make them a secure part of the Empire again. But the general considered it more trouble than it was worth. Imagine, an illegal ruler of part of the Empire literally asking the Romans to come and take it back, and they say no. Sometimes, Tathal thought about just stepping down from the throne and allowing one of his counsellors or generals to rule in his place. But, although he clearly wasn't doing a great job himself, there was no one in his court who he trusted would be able to do better.

But then, as he continued thinking miserably about his situation, he had an idea. He had already decided that it clearly wouldn't be possible to convince the Romans to take this part of their Empire seriously, and it was clear that his own forces, ruled by him, weren't capable of keeping a firm grip on the country. So, maybe the solution lay somewhere between those two options. Maybe he could get someone outside of Britain to take over it, but just not the Romans.

Just across the sea, in the north-west part of France, there was another British kingdom. It had been formed when Magnus Maximus conquered Europe. He had not only taken the Roman forces from the western part of Britain, but he had also taken a large number of British armies. He had given this bit of France to these Britons, and they had inhabited it ever since. It had become known as 'Brittany'. The king there, Ambladur, was a little younger than Tathal, but he seemed like a much more capable ruler.

Really, the more he thought about it, the more obvious it seemed. He was sure Ambladur would be thrilled with the opportunity to gain control over such a sizeable portion of Britain. And he was sure he was capable of handling the situation with the attacks on the border regions. In fact, Ambladur was a distant relative of Tathal, so perhaps he would even be willing to return control of Britain to him after the lost territory was recaptured. It would be a bonus, but Tathal would be satisfied either way.

Without further ado, Tathal sent a letter to Brittany.

Weeks went by, with no word from Ambladur. Tathal waited impatiently as yet more territory in the North was lost to the foreigners. Eventually, a fleet from across the sea approached. It was clearly British. This must be the response he was waiting for! He and his men stood eagerly by the port of Gwent as the ships drew nearer and nearer. They docked, and a plank was extended out to the shore. Out stepped a young man, followed by his soldiers. Was this Ambladur, wondered Tathal? He looked younger than he was expecting.

"My lord Ambladur," Tathal greeted. "How good it is to see you!"
"I am not Ambladur," replied the young man. "I am Constantius, his brother."

Tathal frowned. Why had Constantius been sent? This wasn't what he was expecting.

"My lord, I appreciate your personal visit," said Tathal. "Is your brother gracing us with his presence as well?"
"No, he is occupied with affairs in Brittany. He considers it too much to concern himself with the issues afflicting this island."
"Oh..." replied Tathal.
"But he sympathises with your difficulties and wishes to provide you with a solution. Therefore, he has sent me, his brother, to become the king that you request."
"Ah, I see..." began Tathal's reply.

He had been trusting in Ambladur's power and might to make up for his young age, but Constantius was younger still. This wasn't the arrangement Tathal had intended.

Constantius could see the king's concerned expression.

"My brother sends you his assurance that I am capable of handling the issues you are facing," he said.

Before Tathal could reply, Constantius added:

"And he also wishes to inform you that this will be a permanent solution to the problems. The kingdom will not be returned to you after I begin my rule, nor will it pass to your descendants, but after my death it will be given to the closest heir of mine, from the dynasty of Brittany. Do you accept these terms?"

Tathal was taken aback by the boldness of this youth, but he reminded himself of what he had decided before. It did not matter to him who ruled this country, just as long as it was ruled effectively and protected from the barbaric foreign raids. He would rather his young son, Teithrin, had a safe and secure country to live in than a fracturing kingdom to try and manage.

"Yes, I accept these terms," came Tathal's eventual reply.

With that, Constantius became the king of the western part of Britain. Tathal continued to have some power over the country, but just as a royal court official. Thankfully, Constantius was an extremely effective ruler. He led the armies to the border regions and annihilated the foreign invaders, firmly taking back control of those parts of the country. But in fact, he went above and beyond what Tathal had expected him to do. One of his first actions as king was to lead the inhabitants of Roman Britain in a rebellion. They expelled the Roman administrators left there by Constantine III. So Constantius did not just take back control over the non-Roman parts of Britain; he established his rulership over all of Britain.

Everything seemed wonderful. Britain was once again united under one ruler, and this ruler was descended from one of the primary British royal families. He was a powerful war leader and kept the shores of Britain safe from the foreign invaders they had been troubled by for so many years.

But there was one man who would change everything. His name was Vortigern. He was quite a bit younger than the king, having been born about nine years before Constantius began his rule. But now, in 425, he was in his mid-20s. He had risen through the ranks of the royal court and now served as one of the king's advisors. If that was all there was to him, then perhaps he wouldn't have tried what he did. But there was one fact about him that made him a very important person. His wife was Sevira, the daughter of Andragathius. So that made Vortigern himself a member of the dynasty that had ruled Britain before Constantius.

During the spring of 424, the Picts in the North were beginning to get restless. It would probably be easy enough to subdue them again, as Constantius had done many times before. However, Vortigern decided that he would suggest something else. The king knew that Vortigern was a very intelligent person, so when he told him that he had an idea for how to permanently solve the issue of the Picts, the king was eager to listen intently.

"Perhaps, my lord Constantius, they would stop attacking the borders if we had a way of making them feel like they were part of the kingdom. If you invited certain prominent individuals from the Pictish societies to become part of the royal court, it may prevent the natives from rising against us once and for all. They will feel like part of our society, and they may even, eventually, accept your direct rulership over them. I think, in all respects, this would be the wisest course."

Constantius took in Vortigern's words and thought about them carefully. He had always been the sort to just crush any rebellion he faced, but perhaps Vortigern was right. Maybe, if he could permanently stop the Pictish attacks, he could better direct his efforts to some other part of the kingdom that needed improving. Yes, the more the king thought about it, the wiser it sounded. He told Vortigern to make the necessary arrangements.