Guallauc ap Lleenauc

Guallauc ap (son of) Lleenauc was an important king in late sixth-century Britain, and may have ruled the kingdom of Elmet. What do we know about him?



[G]uallauc map Laenauc map Masguic clop map Ceneú map Coyl hen

--Harleian genealogies, available online

Gwalla6c m lyeynac m mar m coyl hen.

--Jesus College genealogy, available online


Both genealogies stop at Guallauc and do not list any descendants.

Welsh Triads

Three Adulterers' Horses of the Island of Britain:
Fferlas [Grey Fetlock] horse of Dalldaf son of Cunin, and Gwelwgan Gohoewgein horse of Caradawg son of Gwallawc, and Gwrbrith [Spotted Dun] horse of Rahawd.

--Red Book of Hergest Triads, available online

Three Pillars of Battle of the Island of Britain:
Dunawd son of Pabo Pillar of Britain, and Gwallawg son of Lleenawg, and Cynfelyn the Leprous

--Red Book of Hergest Triads, available online

Canu Taliesin

aeninat yn ygnat ac eluet.

--Canu Taliesin poem XXXVIII, 'Song on Gwallawg ab Lleenawg', available online


Translations vary. Skene's translation, which you can find online at Mary Jones's Celtic Literature Collective along with the original text quoted above, translates the line as follows:

He will judge all, the supreme man.
With his will as a judge; and let him be benefited

--Canu Taliesin poem XXXVIII, 'Song on Gwallawg ab Lleenawg', translation available online


John Koch translates the phrase "ygnat ac eluet" as "Judge over Elmet", and concludes that this is equivalent to being ruler or king of Elmet (Koch 1997, page xxiii, footnote 1). A king Ceretic of Elmet is recorded in Historia Brittonum and Annales Cambriae in the early seventh century (see article 'Ceretic of Elmet'). No patronymic is recorded for him. A Caradawg son of Gwallawc (variant spellings of Ceretic ap Guallauc), with no territorial affiliation recorded, appears in one of the Welsh Triads (see above). On this basis, John Koch identifies Guallauc ap Lleenauc in the genealogies and Canu Taliesin as the father of Ceretic of Elmet.

Historia Brittonum

Adda, son of Ida, reigned eight years; Ethelric, son of Adda, reigned four years. Theodoric, son of Ida, reigned seven years. Freothwulf reigned six years. In whose time the kingdom of Kent, by the mission of Gregory, received baptism. Hussa reigned seven years. Against him fought four kings, Urien, and Ryderthen, and Guallauc, and Morcant. Theodoric fought bravely, together with his sons, against that Urien.

--Historia Brittonum, ch. 63, available online



Both genealogies show Guallauc ap Lleenauc as a descendant of the founder figure Coel or Coyl Hen (Coel the Old)*. As such, he was related to Urien Rheged (more on Urien in another article) and to Peredur (possible king of York, see article 'Peredur'), whose genealogies also go back to Coel Hen.

Historia Brittonum lists Guallauc as one of the four kings who fought against Hussa of Bernicia. This may have been some kind of alliance between the four kings against Bernicia, or it may refer to four separate campaigns. If it refers to four separate campaigns, they must have been near-contemporary as they presumably all occurred within Hussa's seven-year reign. This is consistent with identifying this Guallauc as the same individual as the Guallauc ap Lleenauc in the genealogies, who was related to Urien Rheged and who was evidently famous as a warrior since he was listed as one of the Three Pillars of Battle in the Triads. Alliance between two kings who were also relatives is reasonably plausible, although by no means a given, as related kings could also be enemies.**

Urien is listed in the genealogies as the fifth generation from Coel Hen, while Guallauc ap Lleenauc is listed as the third or fourth (depending on the version). The difference in generation count is not inconsistent with Guallauc and Urien having been contemporaries. We know from Bede's information about the Deiran royal family that Eadwine's great-niece Hild (daughter of his nephew) was of a comparable age with two of his sons, and that his children from his later marriage were of comparable age with his grandson by a son of his earlier marriage, so generations could easily get mixed up.


Neither Hussa nor Theodoric of Bernicia is securely dated, although they can both be assigned to the period between 559 (the end of the 12-year reign of Ida of Bernicia) and 593 (the beginning of the reign of Aethelferth of Bernicia). Both these book-end dates can be deduced from information given in Bede's Ecclesiastical History. Guallauc's campaign against Hussa and/or Theodoric therefore dates to some time in the late sixth century.


The first element of the name Guallauc means 'wall', so Guallauc may mean something like 'man of the wall'. This immediately calls to mind the two Roman walls in what is now northern England (Hadrian's Wall) or southern Scotland (the Antonine Wall). This is a likely sort of location for the king mentioned in Historia Brittonum, who fought against kings of Bernicia located between the two Roman walls in what is now north-east England. However, the name may be unrelated to the Roman walls, and even if it did originate in the area, there is no reason why the name and/or its bearer(s) could not have moved to other regions.

John Koch translates a line in Taliesin's poem about Guallauc ap Lleenauc to mean "…judge over Elmet…", and concludes from this that he was a king of Elmet. Elmet was a kingdom located in what is now Yorkshire, east and south of modern Leeds, during the seventh century (see article 'The kingdom of Elmet'). If Guallauc was a king of Elmet, this does not preclude him from fighting a campaign in Bernicia in alliance with his relative Urien Rheged. Early medieval armies were capable of campaigning over considerable distances on occasion (see article on 'Early medieval armies: campaigning range'), so there is no reason why Guallauc could not have led an army from Elmet to campaign in Bernicia if he wished. The same applies in reverse; it may be possible that Guallauc originally came from somewhere in what is now northern England or southern Scotland and became king of Elmet by inheritance, marriage or conquest.

Was Guallauc ap Lleenauc the father of Ceretic of Elmet?

Both the genealogies stop at Guallauc ap Lleenauc and do not mention any offspring. A Ceretic of Elmet is recorded in the early seventh century (see article on 'Ceretic of Elmet'), but no patronymic is given for him.

One of the Welsh Triads refers to a Ceretic ap Guallauc. John Koch uses this Triad to connect Guallauc ap Lleenauc in the genealogies (no son named) with Ceretic of Elmet in Historia Brittonum (no father named), and thus to identify Guallauc ap Lleenauc as the father of Ceretic of Elmet (Koch 1997, page xxiii, footnote 1). If the translation of the line in Taliesin's poem as 'judge over Elmet' is correct, then it seems reasonable that two rulers of the same territory, one dated to the late sixth century and one to the early seventh century, could be related and might well be father and son. It is, however, worth bearing in mind that this identification rests on an inferred connection between separate sources.

Part of John Koch's argument for identifying Guallauc father of Ceretic in the Triad as identical with Guallauc ap Lleenauc in the genealogies and Guallauc ally of Urien in Historia Brittonum is that the name Guallauc is extremely rare and occurs only once. However, I can think of at least one other Guallauc, mentioned on the Pillar of Eliseg in the genealogy of an eighth-century king of Powys (see article 'Powys: the early medieval kingdom'). This Guoillac or Guallauc, father of Eliseg, occurs two generations after a king of Powys called Selyf map Cynan, who was killed at the Battle of Chester in around 616, and so must date to the mid seventh century at earliest. He cannot possibly be the same individual as the Guallauc of Historia Brittonum who was fighting battles in north-east England in the late sixth century. So I think we can safely say there were at least two individuals called Guallauc, and if there were two, there may have been more.

I am therefore cautious about identifying Guallauc in Historia Brittonum and/or Guallauc ap Lleenauc as the father of Ceretic of Elmet. It is a plausible inference from the evidence available, and as far as I know there is nothing to the contrary. However, I would be wary of accepting it as an established fact.


Annales Cambriae, available online

Bede, Ecclesiastical history of the English people. Translated by Leo Sherley-Price. Penguin Classics, 1968, ISBN 0-14-044565-X.

Harleian genealogies, available online

Historia Brittonum ch. 63, available online

Jesus College genealogy, available online

Koch J. The Gododdin of Aneirin. Text and context from dark-age North Britain. University of Wales Press, 1997. ISBN 0-7083-1374-4.

Red Book of Hergest Triads, available online

*Yes, he may well be the origin of the Old King Cole of the nursery rhyme. No, absolutely nothing reliable is recorded about his cheerful disposition or his taste in music. Pity.

**For example, the battle of Arderydd was fought between two branches of the same family descended from Coel Hen (see article 'The Battle of Arderydd').