Shropshire's Secrets

Shropshire is a county rich with heritage that you might not be aware of. These pages tell of heroic acts and history shrouded in myth and legend

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In 51 A.D. Caradoc (Caractacus) was taken to Rome as a prisoner. This is the first time that the area we know today as Shropshire specifically comes into the lime light.

In Search of Caradoc

he recorded history of Britain of that time is extremely sketchy. In the main the only records are those by the conquering race, the Romans. But to set the scene it is necessary to remember that the country was, at that time, a tribal state, each with its own leader but perhaps having allegiance, when advantageous, to other tribes and other leaders, and at times, even to the Roman invaders themselves.

In AD 40, Cunobelinus, of the Trinovantians (an area north of present-day London) expelled his son, Adminius, who fled overseas and made an act of submission to the Roman Emperor Gaius. At the death of Cunobelinus, his kingdom was divided between Togodumnus and Caractacus.
The invasion by Rome is said to have coincided with a plea by Adminius for help, as well as an economic need for Rome to conquer Britain. This economic need was simply that it was easier to conquer Britain than it would be to create a mainland Europe defence against possible invasion from British tribes.
In AD 43, when the Romans landed in force, the Britons' resistance was led by Togodumnus and Caractacus, but, although there were successes, the general result was a retreat by Togodumnus and Caractacus who gathered support from the various tribes as they retreated. But some tribes sensed that the end was nigh, and made peace with the invaders. Eventually, Caractacus found refuge with the Ordovices of Powys, although some say it was with the Cornovii of Shropshire, but either way it would put the scene of his last battle firmly in the area we know today as Shropshire and Powys.
Little seems to be known about Caractacus except what was recorded by the Roman historian Tacitus who, in turn, obtained his information from eye-witness reports. Yet Caractacus is important enough to be listed under Prominent People in my edition of Pears Cyclopaedia.

The Romans called him Caractacus, although he is better known as Caradoc. (the name Caradoc still can be found in use in Wales today) He was the last of the British leaders to stand against Rome.
Details of the battle, including a description of the terrain, were recorded by Tacitus at the time, and he states that the British leader artfully availed himself of his knowledge of the country, and posted himself on a spot, the approaches and retreats of which were as advantageous to his own party as they were perplexing to the enemy.

Despite inferior weapons, it is said that Caradoc encouraged his men and told them that the work of that day would be the beginning of a new liberty or of eternal slavery. Their resolution astonished the Roman general, and the river which flowed at the foot of the hill, together with the ramparts and steeps, presented to the assailants a formidable and resolute appearance.
But despite their resolution, the Britons had no chance against the superior strength of the Roman legions. Caradoc's wife and daughter were taken prisoner, his brother surrendered and Caradoc himself was treacherously delivered up to the Romans soon after by the Queen of the Brigantes with whom he had sought protection. The story of Caradoc does not end here as he and his family were taken as prisoners to Rome where the news of his valour had preceded him.

First in the procession came the king's dependents and retinue; next his brothers, his wife and daughter, and last himself was presented to public view; his body was mostly naked and painted with figures of beasts; he wore a chain of iron about his neck, and another about his middle; the hair on his head hanging down in curled locks covered his back and shoulders. Caradoc neither by his looks nor language pleaded for mercy, and when he came before the Emperor's seat expressed himself in these terms:- "Had I made that prudent use of my prosperity, which my rank and fortune would have enabled me to make, I had come hither rather as a friend than as a prisoner; nor would you have disdained the alliance of one descended from illustrious ancestors, and sovereign over many nations. My present condition, disgraceful as it is to myself, reflects glory on you. Possessed as I once was of horses, men, arms and wealth, what wonder is it if I parted from them with reluctance. Had I sooner been betrayed, I had neither been distinguished by misfortune nor you by glory. But if you now save my life I shall be an eternal monument of your clemency."
The Emperor generously granted the pardon of Caradoc, his wife and brothers, who remained at Rome in the highest esteem. At this time Christianity was preached in the imperial city and many of his family became Christians. At the expiration of seven years they were permitted to return, and were thus furnished with a favourable opportunity of introducing the Gospel into their own country and were instrumental in reclaiming many of the Britons from their ancient superstitions.

Of course, we don't know how accurate this report of Caradoc's arrival in Rome is. But the records of Rome show that either he WAS held in high esteem by his behaviour, or that Rome felt it necessary to record his time in Rome in this manner. Either way it shows that Caradoc was an enemy worthy of Rome's respect.
It is not recorded whether Caradoc was converted to Christianity, but his son, Cyllin, and his daughter, Eigen, are both ranked among the British saints. Eigen married a British chieftain and one of her sisters is believed to have become the wife of Pudens, a Roman senator.

Shropshire's Secrets
There is no doubt that a character by the name of Caradoc, or Caractacus, made a final and dramatic stand against the might of Rome. Effectively, his stand was the last in a long line of resistance against an invading force. But almost two thousand years after the event can we determine the actual location, or even determine whether it was in Shropshire, as there are other counties that also make that claim.
It is logical to assume that, as the Romans took control, resistance forces would retreat, and the most logical direction of that retreat is westwards towards the safety of the mountains of Wales. Such logic is reinforced by later events, (the invasion of Saxons and Normans), when the mountains of Wales gave shelter to the defenders of their country.
Some claim that the final battle of Caradoc (Caractacus) is said to have been on a hill now called Caer Caradoc, but this gives us a problem as there are at least two hills of that name in Shropshire alone, as well as a number of other sites claiming to be the genuine article. Let us look at a few of them.

Caer Caradoc, Nr Clun.
Lying between Knighton and Clun, this ancient hill fort stands alone on the windswept mountainside. It certainly has the atmosphere. It has its river, in the shape of the River Redlake, but that would hardly have been an obstacle to the Romans.

Caer Caradoc, Church Stretton.
This hill is certainly steep and would be a difficult place to attack, giving the advantage to the defenders. But Tacitus mentioned a river at the foot of the hill. This lets out Caer Caradoc at Church Stretton as there is no river there.

Coxall Knoll
The first time I visited Bucknell was very early one misty October morning. The mist was low on the ground and occasionally I was high enough to see over it. Just over Linden Bridge, which spans the river Teme, I stopped and looked across the low ground towards Coxall Knoll which was just visible above the mist. Perhaps it was on a day like this, centuries ago, that Caractacus made his final stand against the invading Romans. (They may have come from nearby Brampton Bryan, where there is a site of a Roman camp.) There are those who say that Tacitus was not writing about Coxall Knoll, even though it could be said to closely fit the description, but on that misty morning I could almost hear the passage of the Roman soldiers as they crossed the Teme and marched resolutely towards Coxall Knoll.

The Breiddens
This is an even more dramatic spot, and with a number of prehistoric sites, in the form of settlements and forts must have at one time been an important area.
The Breiddens also has a river, the River Severn, which is certainly a formidable obstacle, particularly in the winter.

Llanymynech Hill
More recently, historians have suggested Llanymynech Hill as being the site of the battle. Here the River Vyrnwy would have been the obstacle for the attackers. This perhaps fits the description best of all, but the present summit of Llanymynech Hill, with its carefully tended golf course is not a place to sense the ghosts of Caradoc's men today.

The trouble is that whichever hill fort you visit in Shropshire, it is not impossible to sense that you are on the very spot where Caradoc stood against the might of Rome. - Such is the atmosphere of these places. (continued on next page)