Armes Prydein “The Prophecy of Britain” is a prophetic poem in Welsh which relates to complex political strifes amongst all of the peoples of Britain. Andrew Breeze has argued that it dates to 940, when the surrender of the English to the Norse (under Olaf Guthfrithson, King of Dublin) at Leicester looked like an opportune moment for others to further join forces against the English. The Conan named in the poem is probably Conan Meriadoc, the legendary founder of Brittany; Cadwaladr is the legendary saviour of the Britons from the 7th century.
The following text was translated by Andrew Breeze in his article “Armes Prydain” (with some minor emendations) and used by kind permission.
The Muse foretells, they [Conan and Cadwaladr] will hasten: We shall wealth and property and peace,
And wide dominion, and ready leaders;
After commotion, settlement in every place.
Brave men in battle-tumult, mighty warriors,
Swift in attack, very stubborn in defence.
The warriors will scatter the foreigners [the English] as far as Caithness — They will rejoice after the devastation,
And there will be reconciliation between the Welsh and the men of Dublin, The Irish of Ireland and Man and Scotland,
The men of Cornwall and of Strathclyde will be made welcome amongst us, The Britons will rise again when they prevail,
For long was prophesied then they [Conan and Cadwaladr] will come,
As rulers whose possession is by descent.
The men of the North [Strathclyde] in the place of honour about them, They will advance in the centre of their front line of battle.
Merlin foretells that they will meet
In Aber Peryddon [near Monmouth],
the stewards of the Great King [Edmund of Wessex].
(And though it be not in the same way, they will lament death)
With single intent they will offer battle.
The stewards will collect their taxes —
In the armies of the Welsh, there was nobody who would pay.
He is a noble man who says this
(Nobody would pay them under compulsion).
Son of Mary (great the Word), how is it that they do not burst forth Because of the dominion of the English and their boasting —
Far off be those dung-gatherers of Vortigern of Gwynedd!
The foreigners will be driven into exile:
No one will receive them, they have no land.
They do not know why they wander in every estuary,
When they bought Thanet through false cunning,
With Hengist and Horsa, their power was slender.
Their gain was ignoble, and at our cost:
After the secret slaughter [the “Treachery of the Long Knives”],
(former) slaves now wear a crown.
Much mead-drinking means drunkenness,
Many deaths mean want,
Women’s tears mean affliction,
Tyranny will give rise to sorrow,
A world which is overturned means grief.
When the dung-gatherers of Thanet become our princes,
Let the Trinity ward off the blow that is intended
To destroy the land of the Britons, and the English occupying it.
Sooner may they retreat into exile
Than that the Welsh should become homeless.
Son of Mary (great the Word), how was it that they did not burst forth —
The Welsh — because of the infamy of lords and of chieftains;
Both suppliants and their patrons lament in the same manner:
They are of one mind, of one counsel, of one nature.
It would not be through pride that they would not discuss it —
But to avoid infamy that they would not make peace.
They commend themselves to God and to St David,
Let him pay back, let him reject, the deceit of the foreigners!
They are performing shameful acts for want of a patrimony.
Welsh and English will meet together
On the bank, destroying and charging;
With immense armies they will test each other
And about the hill, blades and cries and thrusting —
And about the Wye, shout answering shout across the shining water,
And banners being left behind and fierce attacking;
And like food for wild beasts the English will fall.
The supporters of the Welsh will form orderly ranks,
Their front line to the enemy’s rear, the white-faced ones will be hard-pressed, The stewards in payment for their lies will wallow in their own blood,
Their army in streams of blood about them.
Others on foot will flee through the forest:
Through ramparts of the fortress those foxes will flee,
War will not return to the land of Britain;
They will ebb away in sad counsel like the sea.
The stewards of Cirencester will lament bitterly,
In valley and on hill, some do not deny it —
Not fortunately did they come to Aber Peryddon,
Afflictions are the taxes they will collect.
Nine score hundred men will attack:
What mockery, but four hundred will return.
They will tell the disastrous tale to their wives;
They will wash their shirts full of blood,
The supporters of the Welsh, reckless of their lives;
The men of the South will fight for their taxes,
With keen whetted blades they will strike home;
No surgeon will get much profit from those that they pierce! The armies of Cadwaladr will advance bravely,
Let the Welsh attack, they will do battle,
They have sought inescapable death,
As an end to their taxes, the English will know death.
They afflicted others …
Never again will they round up their taxes.
In forest and on plain, on hill and in dale,
A candle in the darkness goes with us:
Conan striking foremost in every attack;
The English will sing their lamentation before the Britons, Cadwaladr will be a spearshaft with his chieftains,
Skilfully and thoroughly seeking them out,
When their people will fall for their defender
In affliction, with red blood on the foreigners’ cheeks:
As an end to all defiance, immense booty.
The English will flee straightway to Winchester with all speed. Happy will be the Welsh when they say
“The Trinity has delivered us from our former tribulation,
Let neither Dyfed nor Glywysing tremble:
The stewards of the Great King will gain no praise,
Nor the champions of the English, though they be fierce;
No more will intoxication bring them enjoyment at our cost Without inescapable payment for as much as they obtain
In orphaned and starving children.
Through the intercession of St David and the saints of Britain
The foreigners will be routed as far as the river at Leicester.”
The muse foretells, the day will come
When the men of Wessex will come together in council,
In a single party, of one mind with the Mercian firebrands,
Hoping to bring shame on our splendid hosts,
And the foreigner will be on the move, and daily in flight,
He does not know where he will travel, where go, and where remain. The Welsh will rush into battle like a bear from the mountain
To avenge the bloodshed of their comrades;
There will be spear-thrusts in a ceaseless flood,
Of our own, none will have pity for the body of his enemy.
There will be heads split open without brains,
Women will be widowed, and horses riderless,
There will be terrible wailing before the rush of warriors,
Many wounded by hand; before the hosts separate
The messengers of death will meet
When corpses stand up, supporting each other.
The tribute and the daily payments will be avenged —
And the constant incursions and treacherous squads of troops.
The Welsh will prevail through battle,
Well-equipped, one in thought, word, and faith.
The Welsh will survive to offer battle
And they will assemble the people of many lands;
They will raise on high the holy standard of St David
To lead the Irish by means of a linen banner.
The Norse of Dublin will stand by us —
When they come to battle, they will not deny us.
They will ask the English what it is they had been seeking,
How much of the country they hold by right,
Where are their lands, from which they set forth,
Where are their peoples, from what country they come.
Since the time of Vortigern they have oppressed us,
Not rightfully will the inheritance of our kinsmen be won.
— Or why have they trampled upon the privileges of our saints?
Why have they destroyed the rights of St David?
When they come face to face with each other, the Welsh will take care, That the foreigners shall not go from the place where they stand
Until they repay sevenfold the value of what they have done,
With certain death in return for their wrong.
The friends of St Germanus will be paid back with vigour
The four hundred and four years [since Camlan in AD 537].
Valiant long-haired warriors, adept in fighting,
Will come from Ireland to expel the English.
From Leicester there will come rapacious sea-rovers,
They will devastate in battle, they will rend the hosts.
Brave faithful men will come from Alt Clut [Dumbarton],
To drive them from Britain, splendid hosts;
A brave company will come from Brittany —
Warriors on war-horses, they will not spare their enemies.
Shame will befall the English on all sides:
Their time has passed, they have no country.
Death will come to the black host,
Sickness and flux and shame.
After gold and silver adornments
Let a bush be their refuge, in return for their bad faith!
Let sea and anchor be their counsellors,
Let blood and death be their companions.
Conan and Cadwaladr, with splendid hosts,
Will be honoured till Judgement Day; success will be theirs.
Two overpowering lords of profound counsel;
Two conquerors of the English, in the cause of God;
Two generous lords, two noble raiders of a country’s cattle;
Two ready fearless ones, one in fortune and in faith,
Two defenders of Britain, with splendid hosts,
Two bears to whom daily fighting brings no shame.
Wise men foretell all that will happen.
They will possess the entire land from Stirling to Brittany,
From Dyfed to Thanet, it will be theirs,
From the Wall to the Forth, along their estuaries,
Their dominion will spread over Yrechwydd [north Yorkshire]. There will be no return for the tribes of the English:
The Irish will return to their comrades.
May the Welsh rise up, a fair company;
Hosts about the ale-feast, and the noise of warriors,
And God’s princes, who have kept their faith.
The men of Wessex will take to their ships, commotion will cease; There will be concord between Conan and his fellow.
The foreigners will not be called warriors,
But the slaves and hucksters of Cadwaladr.
The sons of the Welsh will be merry and loquacious;
As for the afflictors of the Island — a swarm that will pass away. When corpses stand up, supporting each other
As far as the port of Sandwich – may it be blessed!
The foreigners starting for exile,
One after another, returning to their kinsmen,
The English at anchor on the sea each day.
The Welsh, believers, till Judgement Day will be victorious;
Let them not seek a sorcerer, or a greedy poet:
There will be no prophecy but this for this island.
Let us beseech the Lord who made heaven and earth,
May St David be the leader of our warriors.
In straits it is the heavenly fortress and my God who is [leader]: He will not die, he will not escape, he will not retreat,
He will not fade, reject, or waver, or diminish.