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Constantine was a minor king in 6th-century sub-Roman Britain, who was remembered in later British tradition as a legendary King of Britain. The only contemporary information about him comes from Gildas, who calls him king of Damnonia and castigates him for his various sins, including the murder of two "royal youths" inside a church. Much later, Geoffrey of Monmouth included the figure in his pseudohistorical chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae, adding fictional details to Gildas' account and making Constantine the successor to King Arthur as King of Britain. Under the influence of Geoffrey, derivative figures appeared in a number of later works.



Gildas mentions Constantine in chapters 28 and 29 of his 6th-century work De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae.[1][2] He is one of five Brythonic kings whom the author rebukes and compares to Biblical beasts. Constantine is called the "tyrannical whelp of the unclean lioness of Damnonia", a reference to books of Daniel and the Revelation, and apparently a slur directed at his mother. This Damnonia is generally associated with the kingdom of Dumnonia, a Brythonic kingdom in Southwestern Britain.[3] However, it is possible that Gildas was instead referring to the territory of the Damnonii in what was later known as the Hen Ogledd or "Old North". However, there is no other contemporary evidence for a king of this name in either place at this time.

Gildas says that despite swearing an oath against deceit and tyranny, Constantine disguised himself in an abbot's robes and attacked two "royal youths" praying before a church altar, killing them and their companions. Gildas is clear that Constantine's sins were manifold even before this, as he had committed "many adulteries" after casting off his lawfully wedded wife. Gildas encourages Constantine, whom he knows to still be alive at the time, to repent his sins lest he be damned.[1][2]

Later tradition

Geoffrey of Monmouth includes Constantine in a section of his Historia Regum Britanniae adapted from Gildas, in which the reproved kings are made successors, rather than contemporaries as in De Excidio. Here, Constantine is the son of King Arthur's kinsman Cador, Duke of Cornwall, and is made king following Arthur's death at the Battle of Camlann. Geoffrey identifies Gildas' "royal youths" with the two sons of Mordred, who, along with their Saxon allies, continue their father's insurrection after his death. After "many battles" Constantine routs the rebels, and Mordred's sons flee to London and Winchester, where they hide in a church and a friary, respectively. Constantine hunts them down and executes them before the altars of their sanctuaries. Divine retribution for this transgression comes three years later when he is killed by his nephew Aurelius Conanus (Gildas' Aurelius Caninus), precipitating a civil war. He is buried at Stonehenge alongside other kings of Britain.[4]

A figure named Custennin Gorneu (Constantine of Cornwall) appears in the genealogies of the kings of Dumnonia. The hero Geraint is said to be the grandson of Custennin in the Bonedd y Saint, the prose romance Geraint and Enid, and after emendation, the genealogies in Jesus College MS 20.[5][6] Geoffrey evidently knew the Dumnonian genealogy in essentially this form, though he is the first to identify Gildas' Constantine as a son of Cador, known in Welsh tradition as Cadwy mab Geraint.[5] A number of subsequent texts also refer to a figure named Constantine associated with Cornwall, often specifically as its king. The Life of Saint David says that Constantine, King of Cornwall gave up his crown and joined Saint David's monastery at Menevia. The Vitae Petroci includes an episode in which Saint Petroc protects a stag being hunted by a wealthy man named Constantine, who eventually converts and becomes a monk. Here Constantine is not said to be king, but a 12th-century text referring to this story, the Miracula, specifically names him as such, further adding that he gave Petroc an ivory horn upon his conversion which became one of the saint's chief relics.[7] These references are only a few to the various shadowy saints and kings named Constantine attested across Britain, and suggests a confusion and conflation of various figures.[8]

Geoffrey's version of Constantine was included in the various later adaptations of the Historia, which were widely regarded as authentic in the Middle Ages. He does not figure strongly in the romance traditions, though he does appear as Arthur's successor in the 14th-century English alliterative poem known as the Alliterative Morte Arthure, as well as Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, in sections adapted from the Alliterative Morte. He also features in some modern treatments of the legend, such as the 1990 computer game Spirit of Excalibur, in which he is the chief protagonist.


  1. ^ a b De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, ch. 28–29.
  2. ^ a b Giles, pp. 24–26.
  3. ^ Lloyd, pp. 131–132.
  4. ^ Historia Regum Britanniae, ch. 2–4.
  5. ^ a b Bromwich, pp. 318–319; 356–360.
  6. ^ Geraint and Enid.
  7. ^ Jankulak, p. 17.
  8. ^ Bromwich, pp. 318–319, discusses the confusion of some of these various Constantines. Notable in the context of "Saint" Constantine is Custennin Vendigeit (The Blessed), the name for the historical usurper Constantine III in the Welsh Triads.


Preceded by
Mythical British Kings Succeeded by
Aurelius Conanus

Constantine III was a legendary king of the Britons, as recounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth. He was the son of Cador of Cornwall, a relative of King Arthur. Constantine fought in the Battle of Camlann and was apparently one of the few survivors. Arthur, about to be taken to Avalon, passed the crown to him.

Geoffrey says that Constantine continued to have trouble from the Saxons and from the two sons of Mordred. Those sons were Melehan and Melou. He eventually subdued his enemies, however, and chased Mordred's sons into churches where he murdered them. According to Geoffrey, he was struck down by God for killing them while in sanctuary, and was buried next to Uther Pendragon at Stonehenge.

Though mostly forgotten in later continental romances, the British retained some knowledge of him. He appears, for example, in the Alliterative Morte Arthure and Malory's Morte d'Arthur as Arthur's cousin and successor. One legend identifies him with King Constantine of Dumnonia, who ended his wicked ways and became a saint. He features into some modern treatments of the legend, such as the 1990 computer game Spirit of Excalibur, in which is the chief protagonist.

External links

Template:Start box |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Arthur |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Mythical British Kings |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Aurelius Conanus |- Template:End box


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