Michael Linton's Bayeux Tapestry: 1066 - A Medieval Mosaic and Puzzles
QUEENS OF ENGLAND
BEFORE THE NORMAN CONQUEST.
TAGGARD & THOMPSON,
This electronic edition
was prepared by
Michael A. Linton, 2007
SECOND QUEEN OF ARVIRAGUS.
Political influence of Women—A Deputation sent to Rome to fetch Gwenissa as the bride of Arviragus—Customs of Roman betrothals—Gwenissa's family—She is supposed to be illegitimate—Lines of Harding on the Marriage of Arviragus and Gwenissa—The flowery mead—Gloucester built in honour of the event—Crowns of gold—The Emperor Claudius returns to Rome—Festivities in his honour—Beauty of Gwenissa—The love of her Husband for her—Its transient duration—He breaks with Rome—Gwenissa as Winner of Peace—Vespasian remains in Britain—Asserted visit to Britain of Joseph of Arimathea—The Twelve Hides of Glaston—Change in the fortunes of Gwenissa—Arviragus forsakes her for Boadicea—She dies of grief in giving birth to her son Marius.
Here is a father now
Will truck his daughter for a foreign venture,
Make her the stop-gap to some canker'd feud,
Or fling her o'er, like Jonah, to the fishes,
To appease the sea at highest.—Sir Walter Scott (Old Play).
Was never king more highly magnifide,
Nor dredd of Romans, than was Arvirage.—Spenser.
THERE are few histories which do not present instances of the political influence of woman. The wife, the daughter, the mother, or the friend, has, in innumerable cases, become the arbitress of the destiny of an empire; and frequently has it happened, that her happiness, sometimes even her life has been offered up as a sacrifice to her country's welfare. Such was the case with Gwenissa, one of the most interesting queens of Roman Britain.
The circumstances of the divorce of Arviragus from Boadicea have been already recounted, and how he assented to the proposals of Claudius, to receive his daughter Gwenissa in marriage, after having made a formal declaration of his submission to the Roman empire. A deputation was therefore dispatched to Rome, to bring over to this country the royal lady who was to replace the repudiated Queen.
The laurel, the badge of joy and victory, was usually affixed by the Romans to their letters of dispatch after success against the enemy, [And also placed on the spears and javelins of the soldiers.—Pliny.] and was the emblem of the successful termination of the expedition under taken by Claudius. It was also a custom, in the Roman form of betrothal, for the bridegroom to send to his bride a simple iron ring, which did not contain any stone, but was symbolical of the lasting bond of which it was the type. In Britain, as well as Gaul, at this time, these rings were worn on the middle finger. [Pliny.] At Rome, the number of rings on a person's hand denoted the high rank of the wearer, and many of these bore engravings of Harpocrates, and of the Egyptian deities. In the reign of Claudius no gold seal or ring was permitted to bear the portrait of the Emperor, without an act of especial license; but Vespasian, some time after issued an edict permitting rings and brooches to bear the imperial image. The simple iron ring was accordingly conveyed to the Roman Princess by the ambassadors of the Emperor.
The beautiful Gwenissa, on her father's side, was directly descended from Anthony, the Triumvir, and the gentle and virtuous Octavia, sister of the Emperor Augustus. Antonia the younger, daughter of Octavia, by her marriage with Drusus, brother of Tiberius, had two sons, Germanicus, and Claudius—the father of Gwenissa, whose paternal ancestors were therefore the noblest in Rome. Her maternal relationships are not, however, so easily determined.
Shortly before Claudius had departed for Britain, he married Messalina, the mother of Octavia and Britannicus. By his first union with Plautia Urgulanilla, he had an only son. This lady, to whom he had been married in the reign of Tiberius, was repudiated by her husband with great ignominy, being convicted of infidelity, and other crimes. Claudia, the innocent offspring of her guilt, was condemned, at the age of five months, to be exposed at her mother's door. Subsequently to this, Claudius took lia Petina, a lady of high birth for his wife, her father being of consular dignity. After bearing a daughter to the Emperor, named Antonia, lia Petina was divorced, but on very slight grounds. Now, if Gwenissa was the legitimate daughter of Claudius, she must have been the offspring of his first or second marriage; yet is her name unnoticed by Suetonius, who enumerates, in exact succession, the several wives of Claudius, and mentions not only Antonia and Octavia, but even the illegitimate Claudia. [Grafton calls Gwenissa illegitimate.] It appears more likely that Gwenissa was the daughter of lia Petina than that Claudius should have offered to Arviragus a lady—only his daughter by adoption—in order to procure such a peace as might enable him to appear in Rome without disgrace; which is the opinion some commentators on this subject have adopted. [Rev. P. Roberts. Notes on British History.]
On the site of the modern Hospice de l'Antiquaille, at Lyons, formerly stood the Roman palace of Claudius, who was a native of that city. There, at some period, the Emperor and his family had resided; but at the time of which we are writing, Messalina held her court in Rome. To Gwenissa, who was residing there under the care, it may be presumed, of a dangerous and too celebrated step-mother, the imperial embassy was addressed. The emissaries of Claudius departed from Britain in the autumn, and returned in the following spring, bringing over the young princess in safety. [Geoff. of Monmouth, Brut y Tysilio.] The quaint lines of Harding thus record the arrival of the Roman bride:—
"Thene Claudius sente for dame Gennyce,
His doughter fair, full womanly to see;
She came in haste, as then it might suffyce,
To come oute from so farre lande and countrie,
And in a mede with floures of greate beaute,
Wedded they were; where Claudius then made
A cytee fayre, Cayre Glowe* to name it had."
(*) [William of Malmesbury ascribes the building of the city of Gloucester to Claudius, the father of Gloui, who, he says, was his son "by a British girl named Gewissa."]
Gwenissa was welcomed with great honours on her arrival, and her reception from her aged father was affectionate in the extreme. The nuptial rite was afterwards performed with much solemnity, [Lewis, Harding, Tanner.] as the poet relates—
"In a mede with floures of great beaute,"
in presence of the whole court of both the British King and Roman Emperor, their generals and the soldiery. So great a concourse must have required a much larger space than the customary dwellings of the Britons, and not inappropriately the royal espousals were celebrated under the broad expanse of the blue sky, with the enamelled carpet of green turf, bespangled with the first flowers and fairest promises of spring, spread out beneath the feet of the young and lovely bride.
The pageant at this inauspicious marriage was imposing, and the mind may easily picture the divers characters there assembled: the aged Emperor, his young daughter, the haughty Arviragus, who had made even his new father-in-law tremble by his power and bravery, and whose feelings must have been divided between exultation and remorse; the statesmen, the generals, and legions, contrasting with the rough and uncivilized forms and garb of the native Britons.
Like many other royal nuptials, the semblance of joy supplied the place of its reality. But to the young bride all seemed fair, and she appears to have been quite content with her lot. At her suggestion, Arviragus proposed to his father-in-law the erection of a new city on the scene of their espousals, commemorative of the occasion. Claudius willingly assented, and in person laid the foundation of a city to which he gave his own name, calling it Claudio-cester, now Gloucester. It contained a temple to the Emperor in which, if Tacitus is to be depended on, he received the honors of a deity. The Romans ever worshipped their rulers, in the empire, with extravagance, and the affability and generosity Claudius testified towards the Britons, in which perhaps he was desirous of securing their future goodwill for his daughter, having made a very favorable impression, the Britons perhaps followed their example in this respect without disinclination.
The building of the Roman city proceeded with alacrity, and as soon as it was completed, a Roman military establishment was placed there, by consent of the Britons; in this arrangement Claudius testified not only his desire to secure his conquests, but to afford a security for the future safety of his daughter. An army of regular legions, and a large body of auxiliaries, had accompanied Claudius into Britain, from which due arrangements were made by selecting the persons most fit to colonize the new Roman station. ["About the middle of February, 1818, some men in the employment of Sir W. Hicks, Baronet, while digging up the roots of an old ash-tree, which they were employed to fell, at Cooper's Hill, about four miles from Gloucester, came to a large stone that excited their curiosity. On removing it, they discovered a flight of steps leading to an apartment, in the centre of which was a cistern about a yard square; in clearing the room, the skulls of a buffalo and a bullock, with horns complete, and the remains of a fireplace with a quantity of wood-ashes, were likewise found. A fortnight afterwards, four more apartments were discovered; in one of which is a very curious tessellated pavement (the tessera are cubes of about half-an-inch), also the remains of several urns and figured tiles of Roman pottery. The walls of one of the apartments, and also the passages, are painted infresco, with alternate stripes of purple, yellow, and scarlet, all of which are beautifully shaded and curiously ornamented with scrolls and a border. These interesting remains of antiquity have probably existed for upwards of seventeen centuries."—Journal of Science and the Arts, 1818, No. IX, p. 144.]
As if to leave nothing incomplete, the marriage of Arviragus and Gwenissa was a second time celebrated at Lud's Town, the capital of the Trinobantes, where it was followed by many regal festivities, and the crown was formally placed on the head of the British King and his Roman bride. The crowns of our ancient British sovereigns were mostly made of pure gold, though it appears from some ancient coins, that Cymbeline also wore a fillet of pearls. [Selden.] They were worn on nearly all state occasions, whether in battle, in processions for religious festivities, or on the occasion of meeting in council, not only by the Kings, but the Queens also. We are expressly informed of an untoward accident which occurred to the Queen of Cathir the Great, whose golden crown was stolen from her at a grand convention, held at Tara, A.D. 141. [O'Flaherty.] Some of these golden crowns were afterwards displayed by Claudius on his triumphal entry into Rome, among other spoils taken from the Britons; they were of beaten gold, and one—a present from Spain to the Emperor—weighed seven pounds, while another, he had received from that part of Gaul called Comata, weighed as much as nine pounds. [Pliny.] A British naval crown of gold was, moreover, placed by Claudius close by the civic crown, over the gate of the Imperial Palace of Rome, in token of his victory over the British sea, when he crossed it. [Echard.]
The period of Claudius's visit to Britain is by some said to have been extended to two years, while others say a few months only. As soon as peace was established, and Arviragus settled in the government, as a tributary of Rome, the Emperor bade a final adieu to his son and daughter, and returned to Rome, being everywhere received with the honors of a conquering hero; a triumphal arch was erected at Boulogne, commemorative of his victories over the Britons. He entered Rome in triumph, attended by his captives of war; the Empress Messalina following him at a distance as he proceeded through the city, in a chariot magnificently adorned. On arriving at the capital, Claudius mounted the steps on his knees, supported on each side by his two sons-in-law, Silanus and Pompey. [Ibid.] The surname of Britannicus was awarded to the Emperor for his exploits; and he, on his part, directed it should be borne by his son by Messalina. [Echard.] Presents of triumphal ornaments and chains of gold were adjudged to the several officers who had accompanied the expedition, as we find on record by inscriptions yet extant, [Pliny.] the senate moreover decreed that annual games should be established in honor of this event; and for some time after the return of Claudius, Rome was filled with every kind of festivity, dramatic representation, horse-races, bear-combats, pyrrhic dances, and gladiators. [Turner.] Such were the rejoicings in commemoration of the peaceful conquest of Britain by Claudius, through the agency of his daughter's charms. [Univ. Hist., S. Turner.]
That the personal attractions of the daughter of Claudius were of no mean stamp, is evident from her having been surnamed "the Fair." This Queen is only known to us by the name of Gwenissa, and not by the one she had borne in former years in the land of her birth. This is remarkable, but it was a custom with the Romans, and often with tho Britons, to change the names of foreigners into their own peculiar dialect; and probably the fair stranger received hers from the Britons on account of her personal beauty, the word Gwen literally signifying, in the dialect of the island, [Josephus.] a "lovely" or "fair" woman: the Roman Venusia, or Venus, might have been associated, and the British Gwenissa, thus formed, which, if written in Saxon, is sometimes Winifred (the g, v, and w being often interchanged)—a name used by the Britons to designate "Fair Countenance," and by the Saxons a "Winner or Procurer of Peace." [Butler's Lives.]
After the first splendours of her marriage were passed, and her father had departed, Gwenissa the Fair might, perhaps, have heaved more than one sigh for the luxurious scenes of her youth. Imperious destiny, however, had fixed in Britain her future home, and so great an ascendency had the young Queen obtained over the mind of the fascinated Arviragus, that he seemed to value her as his chief good, while, by the gentle sway of beauty and goodness, she obtained from all those who surrounded his person, unqualified admiration. [Geoff. of Monmouth.] The passion, however, which her beauty had illumined, was of transient duration. After a time, the "late remorse" of Arviragus awoke, to remind him that for her and her father's interest he had been compelled to divorce his earlier-chosen, and once not less-beloved Boadicea, and that the mother of his children was suffering for her sake. Perhaps Arviragus, who had steeled himself against the pangs of conscience for a time, became their prey when he was able to perceive the true state of his circumstances, and that his apparently splendid position was simply a condition of slavery. Impatient at his bondage, he at length resolved to assume, in his own person, the grandeur and consequence of a sovereign, and to assert his power over both the Romans and British people, whom he had been appointed by Claudius to rule merely as his deputy. Haughty, arrogant, and overbearing, his conduct displeased the civilized Romans so much, that not choosing to submit to the ostentatious display of wealth and power in a barbarian, they resented his attempt. Arviragus took this as a pretext for breaking off his faith with his allies, the countrymen and friends of his Queen. Information was forwarded to Claudius that Arviragus had declared his independence, on which the Emperor despatched Vespasian to reduce him to obedience. The struggle was again renewed, and the Roman general laid siege to Exeter. Arviragus marched to its relief, and a battle took place, in which much loss was sustained on both sides. At this critical juncture, the character of Gwenissa shines forth in a very pleasing light. She had been much afflicted by the hostilities which had arisen between her father and her husband, and undertook, in person, the difficult task of arranging an accommodation between the hostile parties. The day after the battle, Gwenissa, in her character of the "Winner of Peace," had an interview first with one party, and then with the other, and through the influence of her beauty and solicitations, succeeded in reconciling them to each other. The result of her successful mediation was, that the Romans and Britons united their rival forces, and proceeded in harmony to London in each other's company, and afterwards Arviragus paid the tribute-money to Vespasian, as formerly agreed upon with the Emperor. [Biog. Brit. Holinshed.]
The especial request of Queen Gwenissa detained Vespasian in Britain, during the following winter. [Harding's Chronicle.] The unsettled state of the country made her consider the presence of this distinguished leader in some measure necessary to her own safety, and the late defection of her husband might have raised some suspicion of his fidelity to herself in her mind. This, the prolonged stay of Vespasian was calculated to dispel, and welcome, no doubt, must the society of this brave and excellent man have been at the court of Roman Britain. The future Emperor of Rome had fought no less than thirty battles under Claudius and Plautius, had subdued two mighty nations, and twenty towns, with the Isle of Wight, then called Vectis; for his military exploits he was rewarded with triumphal ornaments, the sacerdotal dignity, and consulship; nor was the renown of the young Titus, his son, who served under him in Britain, much inferior to his own, as numberless inscriptions in Germany, and in this country, are yet remaining to attest. [Echard.] While these distinguished guests were staying in Britain, the court resided at Lud's Town. It was about this date that Arviragus probably commenced the Castle of Windsor for his royal abode, though it is by some ascribed to a later period. [Holinshed.]
While Vespasian yet tarried at the court of Arviragus and Gwenissa, an event happened which William of Malmesbury records as a remarkable piece of ecclesiastical antiquity. He states, that when St. Philip the Apostle, after the death of our blessed Lord, was in Gaul, promulgating the doctrines of Christianity, he received information that all those horrid superstitions which he had observed in the inhabitants of that country, and had vainly endeavoured, with the utmost labour and difficulty, to overcome, originated from a little island at no great distance from the continent, named Britain. Thither he immediately resolved to extend the influence of his precepts, and despatched twelve of his companions and followers, appointing Joseph of Arimathea, who, not long before, had taken his Saviour from the cross, to superintend the sacred embassy. [Norman authorities have assigned to Joseph the credit of being an apostle to Britain, and they are supported by the approving opinion of Cardinal Bona and Geoffrey of Monmouth. His pretensions have been defended by Theophilus Evans in his Drych y prif Oesoed, and the learned Charles Edwards in his Hanes y Ffydd. Leland tells us, that he met with the fragment of Melkinus in the library of Glastonbury; by which he concluded, that Melkinus had written something of the history of Britain, and particularly something concerning the antiquity of Glastonbury, and Joseph of Arimathea. But this story, says Leland, "he sets on foot without any certain author," which makes this learned antiquary dissent from him. And elsewhere, when speaking of the Glastonbury tradition, he observes, "that twelve men are said to have come hither under the conduct of one Joseph; but not Joseph of Arimathea." Bishop Stillingfleet, in his Origines Britannicae (ch. i,), has ably examined all the circumstances connected with this tradition, and has satisfactorily proved the improbability of the mission of Joseph of Arimathea to this country. No mention, too, is made of it by Gildas, Bede, Asserius, Marianus Scotus, or any of the earliest writers.—Chronicles of the Ancient British Church, anterior to the Saxon Era, p. 16.] On their arrival, Vespasian interested himself very warmly in their behalf with both the King and Queen, to whom he related a miracle concerning St. Joseph:
Vespasyan praied the kyng,
The quene also, to be to hym good lorde
And good ladye, which they graunted in all thing.
All this he told the king and eke the quene,
And prayde them his supporters to bene. [Harding.]
The royal protection was granted to the strangers, at the request of the Roman general, and they were hospitably entertained by Arviragus, [It is said that Arviragus was converted by St. Joseph, and received the baptismal rite. [Nennius.] St. Joseph also gave him a shield, white as silver, on which was figured a cross—
Which shelde, by Joseph exhortacion,
He bore on him in feldes of werre alwaye,
And in his baners and cote armour gaye.
These arms were used throughout Britain, that each man might know his nation by them.] who, to compensate them for their hard and toilsome journey, bestowed on them, for a place of habitation, a small island, which then lay waste and untilled, surrounded by bogs and morasses. To each of the twelve followers of St. Joseph, he appointed there a certain portion of land called a hide, sufficient for one family to live upon, and composing altogether a territory to this day, denominated "The Twelve Hides of Glaston." [Collinson's Somersetshire; Biog. Brit.]
This account of the first introduction of Christianity into Britain, singular and romantic as it may seem, is not undeserving of attention, as it is well known that St. Paul preached to the utmost bounds of the west; and we have excellent authority for believing that some of the Apostles actually preached to the Britons. Theodoret, [A bishop of the fifth century.] who asserts this, declares the Britons were converts to St. Paul; and states, that Aristobulus, a bishop ordained by St. Paul, and sent to Britain as a missionary, was martyred A.D. 56. There is, indeed, every reason to believe, that the Christian faith was early promulgated in Britain, [Gildas fixes the event in the eighth year of Nero's reign.] and many converts made prior to the defeat of Queen Boadicea. If Vespasian was at all instrumental in establishing it here, it is singular enough, as his son Titus was the destroyer of Jerusalem, and disperser of the Jews throughout the world.
Pomponia Graecina, wife of Plautius, a lady of the court of Gwenissa the Fair, is thought to have been a believer in the Christian faith. This Roman matron was accused of having embraced a strange and foreign superstition, for which crime she was condemned to be tried by her husband. According to the custom of the times, Plautius convened her whole family and relations for this purpose, and in their presence tried her for her life and fame; after which he pronounced her innocent of anything immoral. [Pomponia Graecina, returning to Rome after the death of her husband, perhaps in company with the imprisoned Caractacus and his family, became acquainted with Claudia Rufina, (Gladys Ruffyth, in the British dialect,) daughter of that British prince, and with her is named in the Epistles of St. Paul, as being "saints of the household of Caesar." She ever after her trial led a retired life; but though this has caused many writers to esteem her of the Christian faith, it did not deter Ovid from addressing to her the fourth Book of his Metamorphoses. Her friend Claudia, with her husband and family, mingled in the most brilliant circles of Rome, and are numbered among the most eminent early Christians. (Saxon Martyrology; Archbishop Usher.) They were friends of the poet Martial, who addressed an Epigram to Aulus Rufus Pudens, on the happy occasion of his marriage to Claudia; and another to the young lady herself, on the same subject, as well as some complimentary verses on her beauty, from which the following is an extract:—
"From painted Britons how was Claudia born!
The fair barbarian how do arts adorn!
When Roman charms a Grecian soul commend,
Athens and Rome may for the dame contend."
(Liber IV., Epigram 13.) A book of Epigrams and an elegy on the death of her husband are said to have emanated from the genius of this royal lady, (Baleus; Female Worthies,) who, when her father Caractacus obtained leave to return to Britain, remained behind at the court of Rome, where she was afterwards united to A. R. Pudens, who was a Roman knight and of senatorial rank, as well as a philosopher of the Bononian sect. Linus, who had been honoured by an Epigram of Martial being addressed to him, is named with Pudens and Claudia, by St. Paul in the second Epistle to Timothy. The apostle visited Rome A.D. 62, eleven years after Claudia went thither with her father. It is even asserted that Timothy, the disciple of Paul, was a son of Claudia by Pudens, [Rowland's Mona Antiqua,] and that it was owing to the impression made by his preaching that, A.D. 156, (Geof. of M. gives the date of Lucius' death as 156. Nennius gives 167 as the date of his conversion; Bede 156,) King Lucius addressed a letter to Eleutherius, then Pope of Rome, requesting further instructions on the Christian faith. (Rowlands.) In consequence of this application, SS. Fagan and Dervan were sent over to Britain, who, on their arrival, baptized the King and Queen, with their family; whose example was imitated afterwards by their subjects, the inhabitants of Essex, Sussex, and Surrey; (Weever; Stillingfleet;) and thus the doctrines of Jesus became established in the island. Many churches were built by Lucius, particularly those of Winchester and Westminster, which last occupied the spot on which now stands the venerable Abbey of St. Peter. In the subsequent persecution under Dioclesian, it was pulled down, and a temple to Apollo erected from its ruins.
Lucius, the first Christian monarch of Europe, was called "Lever Maur," or "the Great Light;" because he assumed for his badge "the Star of Jacob," which may be seen upon his coins; two of which bear the impression of the Cross, with the royal initials, L. U. C.
The glorious example of Lucius and his queen was followed in Scotland, A.D. 185, when Donald, brother of Ethodius, became king. This prince sent ambassadors to the reigning pontiff, St. Victorinus, requesting him to send over to him some religious men to instruct himself and his subjects in the Christian faith. On their arrival the king, queen, and many of the nobility and people, embraced the faith with great zeal, though idolatry was not extirpated from the country for many years after. (Scott's Hist. of Scotland.)]
Gwenissa the Fair was perhaps not only a patroness of the disciples and missionaries of the new faith, but the mild doctrines they promulgated might have influenced her many acts of generosity and kindness. But the crisis of her destiny, delayed for a time, was at hand. Arviragus, who had increased his power by timely submission until he had become a terror to the neighbouring kings, at last, elevated with pride, again resolved on asserting his power, and, joining a confederacy of chieftains who had assembled at Shrewsbury, amongst whom was Caractacus, [Geoffrey of Monmouth, Holinshed.] was, as has been related, then reconciled to Boadicea. The news of the final desertion by Arviragus of his fealty and his love, so deeply affected the unfortunate Gwenissa, whose unmerited affection was thus spurned, that, overcome by the extremity of her grief, the hour of maternal anguish was prematurely brought on, and, in the midst of her sufferings, she expired. [Caxton's Chronicle.] The son to whom Gwenissa gave birth, survived, and received the name of Marius, to which was afterwards added that of "Westmer." With the death of Gwenissa ceases all information regarding the earlier British Queens, no record having been preserved of any until we come to those who were adventitiously so. In resuming the line we have to introduce a Roman-born subject.