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At the Edge / Bob Trubshaw /

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Buddug in Flintshire

Tristan Gray-Hulse

In 1991 the Clwyd Archaeological Service published a series of studies covering the archaeology of the county (The archaeology of Clwyd ed. John Manley, Stephen Grenter, Fiona Gale; Mold 1991). Kevin Blockley outlined the Roman involvement in the are of north Wales:

'The iron age tribe governing the area of northern Clwyd , the Deceangli, controlled a territory which extended westwards to the River Conwy. The remaining southern area of Clwyd may have lain in the northern section of the land occupied by the Ordovices.
'A Roman campaign of AD 49, led by Ostorius Scapula, was devoted to an attack on the Deceangli, but this was halted to attend to a Brigantian revolt. Two campaigns by Suetonius Paulinus in AD 58-9 are presumed to have been fought against the Silures, and Ordovices or Deceangli. A later campaign in AD 60, capturing Anglesey, certainly suggests that the Deceangli were no longer a threat at that time. To the south, the Ordovices rebelled in AD 78 but were suppressed by forces under Julius Agricola.' [Therefore Pennant's suggestion that Gop Hill was the place of slaughter of the Ordovices by Agricola does not fit.]

Peter C. Bartrum, in his A Welsh classical dictionary (National Library of Wales 1993) also discusses the Boudican uprising but does not refer to any involvement with Wales. There is no Welsh tradition about Boudica, or even of a 'routing of the druids on Anglesey' in 61 CE. As Anne Ross observes in Pagan Celtic Britain (rev. edn. 1992): 'It is noteworthy that the only reference to the Druidic priesthood in Britain is that made by Tacitus in his description of the attack of Paulinus on Anglesey in AD 61 . . . Ceasar passes no comment on the insular Druids. Not one single piece of iconography or epigraphy commemorates them with certainty.

If Dio Cassius' account of the battle is to be accepted as substantially accurate (and there is only Tacitus' account which could be used to gainsay it) then in itself the statement that Paulinus set sail from Anglesey is probably enough to dismiss any claim for Flintshire to be the site of Boudica's last battle. If he was attempting to return to Chester and was using galleys (a journey of only a few hours), why would he have disembarked and made for Whitford?

The suggestion that Paulinus and Agricola fled the field is bizarre. Tacitus and Dio both record a great victory for the Legions, why on earth should their officers leave? Is there a confusion with Petillius, the commander of IXth Legio, who did do a bunk? While Agricola was certainly in Anglesey 18 years later, is there any evidence that he was with Paulinus in 61 CE?

Rhuddlan Plain is otherwise known as Morfa Rhuddlan, the now mostly-drained great sea-marsh (morfa) around Rhuddlan, at the mouth of the River Clwyd. It was the scene of a great battle which has lingered in the local folk memory (the lament of 'Morfa Rhuddlan' is one of the oldest surviving pieces of native music) but this took place in 796 CE when the forces of Offa crushed the Welsh. Wat's and Offa's Dyes both cross this area.

The origin of Coparleni as a name for The Gop can be traced back as far as the earliest recorded from, Kopraleni, in the mid-sixteenth century. According to Ellis Davies in Flintshire place-names (Cardiff 1959) 'The first element no doubt is copa'r, 'the summit, head, top of' . . . Leni probably represents a personal name.' Thus, although The Gop was at one time used as a beacon, Pennant's etymology (Mount of Lights) is untenable. [Professor Bedwyr Jones once told me that, if no older or more authoritative forms come to light, Davies may be safely relied on.] In about 1699 Lhuyd recorded the name as 'Copperleiny'. Some such form may underlie the form 'Gop Paulini' - but this is no more likely than 'Mount of Lights'.

Bryn y Saethau is certainly 'Hill of arrows' but saeth is from Latin sagitta - a derivation unlikely to have devolved in the first century. Flint arrow heads have been found in quantity near Gop cairn.

Near St Asaph is Bryn Olyn, recorded as such in 1607. According to Pennant (Tours in Wales Vol.2 London 1810) this is Bryn-Paulin, adding 'I cannot but think that it was a place of encampment of Paulinus, on his way to or from Mona.' Unfortunately, the earlier form is -polyn not -peulin and polyn is a pole, possibly a Maypole.

Maen Achwyfan certainly has nothing to do with lamentation and probably derives from 'The stone of my-Cwyfan', an hypocoristic form of endearment of Cwyfan, the original patron saint of the neighbouring parish of Dyserth.

The stone which Morgan identifies as Carreg Bedd Buddug (On what authority? His own?) is not the same as Maen Achwyfan. 'The gravestone of Boudica' is a good enough translation of the Welsh - although why an inscription in Latin would be appropriate for the Queen of Iceni escapes me! It is in fact a christian memorial stone of c.500 CE and translates as 'Here lies Bona the wife of Nobilis'.

'The Field of the Tribunal' doubtless relates to one of the numerous gorsedd or gorseddau in the area. Meaning literally an 'elevated seat or throne' it was applied to a natural or artificial hill (often a barrow) or groups of them and was extended to mean a meeting or tribunal. For instance, Gorsedd yr Iarll, the Earl's Tribunal, a mound which gave its name to the village of Gorsedd, formerly in Whitford parish.

The 'Hollow of Woe' might be intended for Pant Erwin in Trelawnyd. Ellis Davies says 'Erwin has been taken to be the mutated form of gerwin, 'rough, severe, harsh' [with the extended meaning of 'woe' or 'sorrow']. . . . The correct name no doubt is Pant Terfyn [Boundary Hollow] for the place is on the boundary between the parishes of Trelawnyd and Gwaunysgor.'

Bryn Sion does not translate as 'Zion Hill', it is John's Hill, Sion being one Welsh form of this name (the 'Si-' being pronounced 'Sh-' followed by a long 'o'). The torc is of Irish manufacture and belongs to the late bronze age.

I'm surprised that Bryn Caesar in nearby Mostyn has been missed! (It is named after a family who lived there in the seventeenth century.)

Boudica's last battle - introduction | Did Boudica die in Flintshire? | In search of Boudica at The Gop | Buddug in Flintshire | Boudica - the case for Atherstone and Kings Cross

Originally published in Mercian Mysteries No.25 November 1995.

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Created April 1996; updated November 2008