Caradoc Vreichvras (// or //; in modern Welsh spelling, Caradog Freichfras, meaning Caradoc Strong (or Stout) Arm) was a semi-legendary ancestor to the kings of Gwent. He lived during the 5th or 6th century. He is remembered in Arthurian legend as a Knight of the Round Table as Carados Briefbras (French 'Caradog Short Arm').
Identification and historicity
Though the name "Caradoc" and its various forms were by no means uncommon during the Middle Ages, it is probable some of the Caradocs referred to in Welsh genealogies and hagiographies such the Life of St. Tatheus are the same person. Due to the name's prevalence considerable confusion exists about Caradoc's identity, both historical and literary. He may have become confused with the British hero Caratacus (the Latin form of Caradoc), Cerdic of Wessex and any number of British history's later Caradocs. His parentage varies from text to text; he is called the son of Llyr Marini (possibly implying Llyr) several times in the Mabinogion, and a Breton legend identifies a Caradoc the Elder, furthering the obfuscation.
Some archaeologists interpret Caradog Freichfras as a plausible historical figure, also known as Caradoc ap Ynyr, who was the ruler of Gwent around the 6th century, and was based at Caerwent, the earlier Roman town of Venta Silurum. They interpret his name as a remembrance of the earlier hero Caratacus, implying a continuity of tradition from the pre-Roman culture of the Silures who occupied the same area in what is now south-east Wales, and which is also suggested by other material.
Caradoc appears in the Welsh Triads, where he is described as Arthur's chief elder at Celliwig in Cornwall and one of the three knights of the island of Britain; his horse is named as Lluagor ("Host-Splitter"). His wife, Tegau Eurfron (teg: "pretty"; eurfron: "golden-breast") is also celebrated in the Welsh Triads as one of the Three Splendid Maidens at Arthur's court, and the couple's great love is called one of the Three Surpassing Bonds of Love in Ynys Prydain. This tradition is possibly dealt with in a 12th. century French romance (see below).
In Arthurian legend, he is said to have been a member of the Round Table during Uther Pendragon's time, but he joined other kings in rebellion when Arthur took the throne. He was eventually reconciled with the young king and became one of his most trusted allies. Caradoc appears frequently in Arthurian literature, and even starred in his own romance, the Life of Caradoc included in the First Continuation of Chrétien de Troyes's Perceval, the Story of the Grail. The story, probably based on Celtic tradition, seems created to explain how he got his nickname 'Short Arm'. Caradoc the Elder marries the beautiful Ysave, but she is soon seduced by an enchanter named Eliavres. Eliavres casts a spell over Caradoc to make him mistake various farm animals for his wife while the wizard is busy conceiving a son. Caradoc the Elder names the son after himself, and the boy grows up to be a worthy, young squire. Caradoc the Younger goes off to King Arthur's court and is made a Knight of the Round Table like his father.
Before long, Eliavres enters the hall and asks for a beheading test (a Celtic motif first appearing in the Old Irish text Fled Bricrenn ("Bricriu's Feast") and subsequently in a number of Arthurian texts, of which the best-known is the Middle English Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). He asks for a knight to lop off his head, the only catch being that if he survives, he may take the knight's head in return. Caradoc takes up the challenge, and dutifully offers his own neck when the sorcerer magically replaces his head. Eliavres declines to kill young Caradoc, but reveals that he is his birth father.
Caradoc the Younger is understandably chagrined at the news. He embarks on a number of knightly adventures, whereupon he meets his best friend Sir Cador, travelling with his sister Guinier. Back in his kingdom, he reveals his father's cuckoldry, and Caradoc the Elder and Younger exact humiliating vengeance upon Eliavres involving various farm animals. The offender is locked away from his mistress Ysave.
All goes well until the wizard attempts to escape. When Caradoc the Younger tries to stop him, Eliavres summons a serpent that entwines itself around Caradoc's arm, crippling it and draining his life energy away. Cador and Guinier travel throughout the country trying to find how to remove the snake, and finally return with the solution. Caradoc will sit in a tub of vinegar while Guinier sits in a vat of milk with her supple breasts exposed. The serpent loaths the vinegar and leaps towards Guinier, but Cador kills it with his sword. Unfortunately he slices off Guinier's nipple in the process (it is later replaced with a magical gold one). Though Caradoc is freed from the snake, his arm is permanently damaged, leaving him with his nickname, Caradoc Short Arm. Guinier and Caradoc are married, and after a fidelity test involving a drinking horn, they live happily ever after.
The tale exists in all three redactions of the First Continuation and is embedded, in abridged form, in one of the Reynard romances. Though it does not appear earlier than the last decade of the 13th century, it is most likely based on a Welsh version, allusions to which can be found in the Welsh Triads. The Triads note Caradoc's wife Tegau for her love and fidelity, and her sobriquet Eurfron (Gold-Breast) would suit Guiner from the Life of Caradoc. Additionally, there is mention of Tegau's fidelity-testing mantle; the mantle is a common substitute for the drinking horn in chastity test stories.
Several versions of the Mantle of Chastity test involving Caradoc's wife were translated into Norse during the reign of King Hakon Hakonarson, and a version of the chastity test from Le Livre du Caradoc in the First Continuation of the Old French Perceval is found in the Norse Mottuls Saga. The story survives in the traditional English folk ballad The Boy and the Mantle, collected by Bishop Thomas Percy in Percy's Reliques. The chastity test involving the drinking horn was narrated in the Lai du Cor (1160) by the jongleur Robert Biket, who said that Cirencester was awarded to Caradoc for winning the drinking horn through the fidelity of his wife, and that the horn was on display there.
- Ross Gilbert Arthur, Three Arthurian Romances: Poems from Medieval France: Caradoc, the Knight With the Sword, the Perilous Graveyard. Everyman's Library, 1996, ISBN 0-460-87577-9.
- Rachel Bromwich, editor and translator. Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Welsh Triads. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1978. ISBN 0-7083-0690-X