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CW65 p32 722 and all that:Layout 1 16/07/2009 16:05 Page 32
722 and all that…
Robert Simmons uncovers the great Celtic victory at Hehil
In the beginning of the eighth century, the Celtic As we can see from this source it actually illuminates very
kingdom of Dumnonia was in the midst of a titanic little about what went on at Hehil, where it was or how
struggle against the expansionist kingdom of Wessex. victory was attained. This doubt has lead to a flurry of
internet based speculation, particularly concerning the
Both kingdoms sent generation after generation of opponents of the Cornish, claiming that as none are
men into battle. For the West Britons this war was mentioned it may not have been the Saxons defeated at
about national survival. To decide whether the Hehil. At face value it seems like a reasonable point to be
Cornish would remain masters of their own destiny. made but when thought about logically it holds no water.
These events with great repercussions to this day
were decided in the crucible of war. Firstly, if it had been some sort of civil war then the
sources would have specified this, rather than stating
This struggle between Saxon and Celt over the the Britons were victors. This also indicates that the
ancient kingdom of Dumnonia was to last over three Britons at the battle in Dumnonia and the two in Wales
centuries. The West Britons fought tenaciously, but were facing a common enemy. This leaves us with only
victory always remained elusive, however in 722 all of one possibility; the Anglo-Saxons. The Vikings did not
this was to change with a great victory at Hehil. This start to come to Britain until their raid on Lindisfarne in
A view of the River Camel
where some historians
article aims to explore this event by addressing three 793, besides this the Danes and Cornish were better
believe that the Celtic
fundamental questions about it. What do we know of known for being allies than enemies. The only credible
army defeated their
Saxon foes.
this battle? Who was there? What was the enemy to be suggested is the Anglo-Saxons, the
importance of this victory so long ago? reason that the Annales Cambriae does not specify this,
Pictures by Matt
is because it went without saying.
The Welsh connection
Aiding in this fight was a Welsh army under their own
As anyone that has tried to delve into the murky depths king; Rhodri Molwynog ap Idwal of the kingdom of
of Dark Age history will know, facts are hard to come by Gwynedd. Rhodri was no ordinary Welsh king, he was
“ This
and sources are both rare and brief. This is very true of grandson of the much revered Cadwaladr last high-king
our forebears; no surviving historical accounts remain of of the Britons. Ruling over the ‘petty kings’ Cadwaladr
the period from a Cornish perspective. had considerable power and was able to muster large
armies to combat the Saxons. In this way the union was
Certainly the people were literate and determinedly so, an advantage to all the Britons and the similarity of all
as the memorial men-scryfas and men-hirs testify. Yet the people in language and culture made for an obvious
Saxon and
unfortunately nothing they wrote about the war with alliance forged with strong bonds. The desire of Rhodri
Celt over
Wessex survives. We can only rely on other sources to to take up the reins of his grandfather’s legacy and to
try to examine Cornish Dark Age history, principally the rally the Britons in a common cause provided ample
the ancient
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which chooses to omit their reason for the Welsh expedition to Dumnonia.
defeat at Hehil. However, Welsh sources survive and it
kingdom of
is from these that we learn of the battle of Hehil. The
Annales Cambriae translated from the original Latin
Locating Hehil
Dumnonia informs us that in 722 there was: The Celtic army fought at Hehil and this has for a long
was to last
time been considered to have taken place near the
“The battle of Hehil among the Cornish, River Camel, based primarily upon the fact that the
over three
the battle of Garth Maelog, the battle of Pencon name of the river used to be Heil. This location has
among the South Britons, and the recently come under increasing scrutiny. The reason for
Britons were the victors in those three battles.” this is the Camel is much further west than battles both
32 dewdhek warn ugens
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