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Madawg ap Cynawg

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Madawg (ma’dug) is tragic character of early post-Roman Britain who was deprived of ancestral birthright by the turmoil of 6th Century Saxon expansion. This summary of Madawg’s life is composed from two principal sources. The first is a chronicle of the life of Madawg (written presumably during his lifetime, perhaps even by Madawg himself). This is recounted as a year-by-year record similar to the Saxon Chronicle. The original 6th Century document is lost but survives almost completely in a compilation of translations by a 9th Century Welsh monk named Alcuin. The second document is what has become known as the “Death of Madawg.” This is a fragmentary story of Madawg’s life written by his personal slave, Cletus the Greek (for only which the second half remains with no other translations ever found). Two other documents survive the medieval period that reference Madawg, but have not been used to make this summary. Also, there is a later French romance entitled, “Le Coeur de la Nuit,” in which portions of Madawg’s life are recounted as a tragic romance (and in which he is named Maddygg).  Because of the fragmentary evidence, there are several episodes of Madawg’s life that are unknown. From the texts, however, it is possible to know that he was well educated, trained for both the priesthood and war, far-traveled and well respected among the Britons, Franks, Romans and even the Saxons with whom he interacted. There is also some suggestion that he was awarded certain consular honors from Justinian, as it is well known that the Emperor gave many such honorific titles to foreign aristocrats who attended his court (and, we know that Madawg had access to Justinian’s court through his Byzantine mistress). So, what follows is a brief summarization of the dynamic life of one of early Britains’ most colorful characters.
[Richard S. Bunk, Scholar and Editor of “The Life of Madawg”]
Following the betrayal and death of his father, the British warlord called Cynawg, and his mother’s subsequent madness and death, the young Madawg was sheltered in northern France and fostered by an uncle, Emrais.  The orphaned boy received an ecclesiastical education and would have become a member of the Roman church had Vandal brigands not sacked the pilgrim train to Ravenna upon which Madawg traveled.  

Sold into slavery, Madawg became a groom in the household of a Frankish lord by the name Hincmar, who in turn was a member of the court of Clodovich (Clovis). From this time forward, Madawg’s life became centered upon the art of war as practiced by the Franks. While a slave to Hincmar, Madawg was well traveled, journeying even to the Imperial City, Constantinople.  He was beloved by the Frankish lord as evidenced on one occasion in which, as part of an envoy to the Lombards, Madawg slew a Lombard noble over the mistreatment of a woman and Hincmar spared Madawg punishment by readily paying the death-price on his slave’s behalf. Upon the deathbed of his master, Madawg was made a free man and undertook a perilous return to the land of his birth. 

Discovering the ruin of his family being complete by the hands of Saxons and intervening years, Madawg sought the patronage of various British warlords before returning to Frankia. After several years and service to the Frankish court, Madawg eventually became a conscript of the Roman auxiliaries of Belisaurius.

In the employ of Rome, Madawg served and fought throughout Justinian’s empire – from the Nikas Revolt to Persia to Thuringia and finally, the grand campaign to reclaim the lost provinces of Carthage and the West.  Beneath the walls of Rome, Madawg grew weary of warring and retired from that long siege. Taking with him a band of Franks and Goths, Madawg returned again to his ancestral home in Britannia and successfully reclaimed his stolen birthright.

Near the River Banwys and the place called Mathrafal, Madawg enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity, resuming the maintenance of his ancestral land, becoming both a respected patron and member of the aristocracy. In this time, Madawg received his bastard son, Symeon, from faraway Constantinople and begat several daughters by a British wife.  Symeon, however, was not long a member of Madawg’s hall, for he left to follow the will of the Emperor and perished beneath the walls of Rome that Madawg had quit many years before. This left Madawg bereft of a male heir and full of anguish.

Now, an old man, Madawg was faced with the resurgent threat of Saxon aggression.  As part of a council of British landholders, Madawg led a mixed band of warriors east into Saxon held lands and for many months, ravaged those holdings before the Saxons could levy a response.  Here he assumed his father’s moniker, Flamddwyn, which means “Flame-Bringer” and many steddings and villages were destroyed. The Saxons were slow to gather arms but eventually harried the Britons and forced a pitched battle for which Madawg’s warriors were outmatched in numbers.

The Britons chose to ask no truce and resigned to this fate Madawg was slain on the field of Sarum, surrounded by his bodyguard of loyal Franks.  Too late for the battle, another army of Britons arrived only to find the slaughter of Sarum. These Britons raised the cairns for Madawg and their fellow kinsmen, which can be seen on the fields close to Sarum to this day.


  Award Name Presenting Branch Court Date Event Name Presenting Royalty
Red Company Kingdom of Middle 1/24/1998
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Baronial Brassard Barony of Caer Anterth Mawr 1/21/2024
Pyxis Principality of Northshield 4/19/2003
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