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Diolch Harold, they're still "woading" into the water around Bae Abertawe/Swansea Bay!
Diolch Harold, they're still "woading" into the water around Bae Abertawe/Swansea Bay!
On the True Meaning of "British"
By John Good
For some time I have found myself wanting to interrupt people when I hear them use the terms "Britain" and "British". Celtic people in general, and expatriates in particular, are anxious for others to be aware of the pride they feel in their ancestry and, to this end, I will try to set the record (as it appears to me) straight. I'll weigh in with the heavyweights: the university professors.
The dictionary tells us that 'British' comes from Middle English 'Bruttische', Old English 'Brettisc', Saxon 'Brettas'; a form of Latin 'Britannia'; originally of Celtic origin, akin to Welsh 'Brython' (Briton). We also learn that the "Brythonic" (British) group of languages includes Breton, Cornish (fighting extinction at the moment), and Welsh (fighting each other for centuries??). They are all descendants of the Celtic language of the ancient Britons of Caesar's day."
Joseph Shipley (Dictionary of Word Origins) goes further, saying, "The British draw their name from Celtic (Welsh) 'brython', meaning tattooed." In fact the modern Welsh word for a Pict (ancient inhabitant of Scotland) is still 'Brithwr'; 'brithyll' is a speckled trout and 'brithwaith' is a mosaic; all related to the word 'brith', meaning 'spotted'.
Oliver Padel, Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic (University of Cambridge), wrote to tell me pretty much the same thing, that 'Britain' came from 'Britannia', Greek 'Pretannikoi' and before that Celtic 'Prydein' (Modern Welsh 'Prydain'). While Anthony Harvey, Editor, Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources (Royal Irish Academy), added that "a B rather than a P [is found in Latin] because that is how the Romans heard it when they came -- thence generating the Latin word 'Britannia', which was then borrowed back into Celtic -- the word "British" has been (in reverse order) English, Celtic, Latin, Celtic."
'Prydain' could also be traced back to Pryderi, a son of 'Rhiannon' (Pagan, Welsh Goddess). He became 'Lord of Dyfed' (South West Wales) and "under an enchantment he was trapped in the Otherworld (Annwn)." Down through Welsh history, there have been many Pryderis, some real some mythical but more on this later.
To sum up: "A Briton was a Celt who arrived on the island perhaps beginning as early as the 7th or 6th century BC and undoubtedly mixed with (stone age) aborigines".
At the same time, the Irish were doing something very similar in what was to become Erin and would be known as Gaels. In Ireland they spoke Gaelic, in Wales/Britain Brythonic (Early Welsh).
Caesar's invasion (55 BC) was intended to prevent the Britons from aiding their kinsmen in Gaul. Julius writes in the third person. "And so it was about 10 a.m. when Caesar arrived off Britain with the leading ships. Armed men could be seen stationed on all the heights, and the nature of the place was such, with the shore edged by sheer cliffs, that missiles could be hurled onto the beach from the top. Caesar considered this a totally unsuitable place for disembarkation, and waited at anchor till 3 p.m."
Later we find his famous and rare description of the inhabitants: "Most Britons are dyed by blue woad and this makes them look fiercer as warriors. They have long hair and shave everywhere except their heads and moustaches." Yes, the Britons fought in their "birthday suites"!
Other than the Picts in Scotland, these 'Britanni', as he calls them, were the only inhabitants of what is now Britain. 'Britannia' means 'beyond the sea' in Latin and Claudius, the island's final conqueror, even called his son Britannicus, in honor of his victory.
The Saxons (English) began to arrive in the fifth century and, about AD 540, St. Gildas wrote his 'The Ruin of Britain' (De Excidio Britanniae). Despite being educated in Wales, he had nothing good to say about us and even less about the Saxons. The Venerable Bede wrote "A History of the English Church and People" circa 731. As the title suggests, he was pro-Saxon and even more prejudiced against his British neighbors in Wales, Cornwall and the north of England.
During this period, Brynley Roberts tells us "the duty of the poets as a learned class [was] to conserve and transmit the traditional history of the Welsh [making] references to elusive characters like Prydain fab Aedd, probably an eponymous founder of Britain."
Ceri Lewis is quite specific: "Entirely different in mood is 'The Prophecy of Britain' (Armes Prydain), a poem of just under 200 lines written around 930, probably by a member of a monastic community in south Wales who was bitterly opposed to the policy pursued by his king, Hywel Dda (Howel the Good, no relation to the writer), of recognizing the overlordship of the king of England, of living on peaceful terms with the English, and of paying an oppressive annual tribute of gold, silver, cattle, hounds and hawks.
Negotiations were in progress between certain of the Celtic and Norse inhabitants of the British Isles -- the Irish, the Danes of Dublin, and the peoples of Wales, Scotland, Strathclyde, Cornwall and Brittany (a British colony in N.W. France), with a view to forming a pan-Celtic coalition that might resolutely oppose the aggressive policy of Athelstan. On one of his coins and in many of his charters he is proudly described as 'King of the English and ruler of all Britain'."
"In forest, in field, in hill, in dale/ A candle will march for us in darkness/ Cynan leading the charge in each assault/ Saxons will sing their lamentations before the Britons." (From the Prophecy of Britain.) The last line in Welsh reads "Saesson rac Brython gwae a genyn" and "Saeson" (Saxon) is still the Welsh word for an Englishman. Cynan is the 'son of prophecy' (mab darogan), who will return from the past to lead this Celtic federation under the banner of Saint David. Unfortunately, in 937, Athelstan won a decisive victory at Brunanburh.
Even the Irish got into the "British" sweepstakes: "All of them (Nemedians) the sea engulphed/ Save only three times ten." (Poem by Eochy 0' Flann, c. 960.) Britan, their chief, settled in Britain, giving his name to the country; while two others returned to Ireland, after many wanderings, as the Firbolgs and People of Dana. If this is true, "British" is Irish in origin!
Fireballs and Frenchmen
1066 saw the appearance of Haley's comet and Norman troops in Hastings. Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae) appeared about 1136, claimed that Brutus, great-grandson of Aeneas, was the first king of Britain. Brutus came from the Mediterranean and was said to have led the enslaved Trojans to the Island of Albion, as it was known; suggesting that the original Britons were from Troy. Brutus is reported to have defeated many giants including 'Gog' and 'Magog', "then called the island Britain from his own name, and his companions he called Britons. His intention was that his memory should be perpetuated. A little later the language of the people, which had up to then been known as Trojan or Crooked Greek, was called British, for the same reason." All this was taken, according to the author, from an "old book in the British language". But mythical or not, the Historia filled a gap in British history; providing the Normans with a history of their adopted land, confirmation of their superiority, and the Welsh their first coherent history of themselves.
Geoffrey ended his book with the comment that he was leaving the history of the "English" to fellow-historians William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon.
Of more recent times, the superb historian John Davies tells us: "In 1577, John Dee, a London Welshman, claimed that King Arthur had won a vast empire in the north Atlantic, and that the voyages of Madog ... had confirmed the title of the Welsh to those territories. By the age of Elizabeth, he asserted, they were under the sovereignty of the queen as successor to the Welsh princes. It was Dee, it would appear, who coined the term British Empire -- British in the sense of Brythonic.
Gwyn A. Williams, in his uniquely provocative way, has argued that it is fitting that the term was coined by a Welshman. Inventing the British Empire would be a sufficient source of pride or shame..."
Elizabeth 1st was fond of the Welsh. Her grandfather, Henry 7th had spoken the language and was crowned on Bosworth Field mainly because of the heroism of soldiers from Wales: the land of his birth. That day was also the first, recorded occasion when the modern Welsh flag -- the Red Dragon -- led an army to victory.
I'll give the last word to Antone Minard, University of Wales, Aberystwyth (Center for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies). "'British' and 'Welsh' was the same thing until the 1800's, but it hasn't been for centuries. Now, I hear people (even people from Wales) saying 'British', meaning people from England only!"
So if you see any naked, tattooed, blue Welsh people wandering around the neighborhood, be kind to them, they might be Ancient Britons.