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Saint Derfel Cadarn: King Arthur's Warrior?

The Legend of King Arthur: Derfel Cadarn

Celtic Britons

While I was reading about the intimidating nature of Derfel Cadarn, I couldn't help but notice his immense power in the various poems and annales—he fought the Anglo-Saxons in Edinburgh and across England and Wales. He was a renowned man; a man who serves as the central character in Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles. Though a work of fiction, it's based on historical events from the British wars fending off the Germanic influx of invaders. Derfel Cadarn is rightly portrayed as an exceptionally skilled and courageous fighter. This led me to wonder about the true identity of the historical figure behind the character, Saint Derfel, and what we might glean from that era.

Derfel Cadard

I found a man called Saint Derfel who lived in Wales during the 6th century. He was highly revered by the Catholic Church. Prior to his priesthood, he was likely a trained warrior, which is what Cornwell's book focuses on. After the great Roman departure from Celtic Britain, Roman culture remained somewhat, but the old tribal tensions returned, and territorial dispute fragmented the land. War was everywhere. Irish pirates, Picts, Saxons and neighbouring tribes. 

Celtic 3d art

Derfel was a proficient and fierce fighter who led a troop of his own. However, he was not only proficient at killing, but also extremely loyal and honourable to King Arthur. What sets him apart is that he encompasses dual qualities, being both a warrior and later, a priest, a hero and a sinner. This combination makes him a compelling character, and on that, I recommend reading the Winter King by Bernard Cornwell.

Celtic Britons

It is true, Derfel Cadarn is associated with King Arthur in legend, but it is unclear whether he actually fought alongside any King Arthur-like figure back in those ancient times. That being said, sources still mention Derfel Cadarn as being with the legendary King himself. I would have been terrified to fight alongside these men; hearing the dying broadcast their agonising pleas to their gods, haunting the crimson battlefield. They expected all men to fight and few survived too see their twilight years. 

Romano British warriors, one on a horse the other on foot

Consider, the Triad of Welsh Tales and Legends of Medieval Wales, De Feuer (Derfel) is mentioned as one of the 'three best knights in Arthur's court'. The 7th-century Welsh epic 'Y Gododdin' celebrates Derfel as a warrior who fought alongside other heroes at the Battle of Catret, including Gwavrdur, a pissible pre-curse of todays legendary King Arthur. However, we cannot prove Gwawrddur is really King Arthur. In later Welsh writing, Derfel is a close confidant of Arthur, and is centred within numerous of Arthur's battles.

A cwrtoon 3d celt

Discerning fact from is very difficult. Are these stories based on any particular historical truth? People may claim these legends come from pure mythology—what inspires our mythology? Marching directly into a fight with hordes of murderous, Germanic invaders, who are militarily superior? It seemed like imminent death, near suicide but these resilient Romano-Celtic Britons used strategy and terrified them. After the Anglo-Saxon loss at the battle of Badon, the invaders kept away from the Britons decades. 

The blogger as a cartoon dressed as a celt

In the Winter King, Derfel's story is about bravery, loyalty and honour during challenging times. This all had a significant impact on everyone's lives. During the Celtic wars against the invading Anglo-Saxons, individuals such as Derfel Cadarn emerged as true examples on how to take the fight to the invaders.

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