Eliseg or Elisedd - so whose pillar was it?
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Elisedd ap Gwylog was a 1st Century King of Powys and a descendant of Brochweil Ysgithrog, so named because of his fang like teeth and his aggressive manner. Ysgithrog translates as ‘of the canine teeth.’ Brochweil was a warrior king and ruled a large realm but by the time Elisedd came to power, much of the kingdom of Powys had been seized by the English and the new king had little choice other than to fight to regain his lands. The campaign was a success and he drove out the English.
Ancient Welsh poems speak of his great victories and tell of his, ‘special crown, a chain of twisted gold links, armlets and anklets of gold which were the badges of sovereignty of Powys.’ After Elisedd’s died in 755, his kingdom continued to flourish. When his grandson Cyngen ap Cadell, also sometimes known as Concenn, became king, Powys was a Christian land. Cyngen wanted to ensure his grandfather would always be remembered and erected a stone pillar to record his dead ancestor’s exploits.
Stonemasons were instructed to carve a Latin inscription on the pillar, telling of the great king Elisedd. Unfortunately, they got his name wrong and carved ‘Eliseg’ by mistake. The carved wording, which mentions a number of important historical characters, is regarded as one of the longest surviving Latin inscriptions from 1st Century Wales. Part of the inscription translates as;
‘Concenn son of Cattell, Cattell son of Brochmail, Brochmail son of Eliseg, Eliseg son of Guoillauc.
And that Concenn, great-grandson of Eliseg, erected this stone for his great-grandfather Eliseg.
The same Eliseg, who joined together the inheritance of Powys . . . throughout nine (years?) out of the power of the Angles with his sword and with fire.
Whosoever shall read this hand-inscribed stone, let him give a blessing on the soul of Eliseg.’
At the time there was a dispute between the Celtic Church in Wales and the Church of Rome regarding the correct date to commemorate Easter. When the argument concerning when to celebrate the resurrection was resolved, King Cyngen, or Concenn as he had been named on the pillar, went on a pilgrimage to Rome where he died, in 855.
Eliseg's Pillar, erected to remember a king whose name was spelt wrong by the stonemason
During the English Civil War, Elesig’s Pillar was toppled and smashed. In 1696, the Welsh naturalist and antiquarian Edward Lhuyd made a copy of the Latin inscription. Lhuyd was the first man to give a scientific description and a name for dinosaurs. At some time after Lhuyd’s translation, the bottom half of the pillar was removed but the top half, all that remains was re-erected in 1779.
Today, the truncated pillar stands on a small mound near Valle Crucis Abbey, Denbighshire. The original carved inscription is no longer legible but, because of Edward Lhuyd, the pillar continues to tell of King Elisedd whose name was changed with a blow from a stonemason’s hammer.