Early British Leader

Merlin and Vortigern
Merlin reading his prophecies to King Vortigern. From a manuscript of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Prophetiae Merlini, c. 13th century. Public Domain

This profile of Vortigern is part of
Who's Who in Medieval History


Vortigern was also known as:

Guorthignirnus, Gurthrigern, Wyrtgeorn

Vortigern was noted for:

Inviting the Saxons to help him fight northern invaders, essentially opening the door to a significant Saxon presence in England.

Occupations & Roles in Society:

Military Leader

Places of Residence and Influence:


Important Dates:

Declares himself High King of Britain: c. 425
Dies: c. 450

About Vortigern:

Although many legends have sprung up concerning Vortigern, he was probably an actual historical figure. He is mentioned in On The Ruin of Britain, History of the Britons and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

In the uncertain decades following the withdrawal of Roman troops from Britain, Vortigern emerged as a strong leader of the Britons, and dared to declare himself "High King." When he faced attacks by Picts and Scots in the north, he followed a common Roman imperial practice: he invited Saxons to come to England to fight the northern invaders in return for a grant of land.

This reportedly did not go over very well with most of the British, who disliked sharing their lands with Saxon interlopers, and things got worse when the Saxons rebelled and fought against Vortigern. According to the Historia Brittonum, the rebellion ended when the Saxons killed Vortigern's son Vortimer and massacred many British nobles. Vortigern subsequently granted the Saxons lands in Essex and Sussex, where they would build kingdoms in the coming decades.

Vortigern's role in facilitating Saxon access to England was remembered with bitterness by British chroniclers. Scholars using British sources to understand Vortigern must take great care in evaluating them, especially when those sources were created several centuries after the events in question.

More Vortigern Resources:

Post-Roman Britain: An Introduction

Vortigern on the Web

A Clerical Portrait of Vortigern?
An examination of the "recorded view" of Vortigern by Michael Veprauskas at the Early British Kingdoms website.
The Vortigern Studies Homepage
An initiative based in the Netherlands, dedicated to the study of the period between the Roman occupation of Britain and the Early Middle Ages

Dark-Age Britain

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