Throngs of visitors have come and gone through Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Cole’s Hill has been pointed out to them. But few had the slightest idea of what a story of romance and tragedy lay behind that name in the past centuries; nor of how that story had to do with the history of England.
All children have heard the ancient rhyme of “Old King Cole,” which runs:
Where did the rhyme have its origin? None seemed to know. It is due to that query made by a group of people about a year ago that the real facts about the Cole family were revealed.
Down through the history of England and Britain the hunt went until it had covered nearly eighteen centuries. It was found that the origin of the name Cole, in ancient Mythology, is from Cou-el or Co-el, meaning heavenly, or house of region of the Deity. The name stood for priest in ancient times. It was also found that the name had assumed various forms in the passing years, to suit the whims and fancies of individuals bearing it, as for instance, Cola, Coles or Cowles.
Old King Cole, made famous through history, was found to have ascended his throne about 238 A.D., even then a hereditary king of Britain. He reigned over that portion of territory known today as Essex and Hertfordshire, and vicinity, with his capital at Colnaecester, formerly the Roman city of Camulodunum, and the present town of Colchester. He very shortly added to his holdings the principality of North Wales, through his marriage to Seradwin, its heiress, a princess descended from the royal house of Eudda, whence came the line:
The wife of King Cole was the only daughter of Cadfan, son of Conan ap Eudda, King of Wales.
Three children were born to them; the oldest, Tiboen, later famous as Helena; Guala or Julia; and the third, a prince who bore the maternal family designation of Conan or Cenan ap Coel. (Rowland’s Mona Antiqua.)
The Prince, on his father’s death, retired to rule over the northern territories acquired by his mother Seradwin, which are placed by one of the historians at the wall of Antoninus. (Carte.) His career has been lost sight of to a great extent through the difficulties of the language and the brilliant fate of his two sisters, which had taken the attention of historians since. It will be an interesting search for someone later, who knows the language and will take the time to go through all the old documents available, especially those of Wales.
Of his two sisters, one, the eldest, was destined to create a new line of Emperors of Roman territory, and the other to transmit to her descendants that imperial dignity, which, through the royal blood of the Pendragon family, descended to Cadwallader, the last British Prince of Wales of Roman descent, and then went on to the Tudors, of whom Henry the Seventh was the first, and Queen Victoria a most recent distinguished member. (Gibbon.)
It is in the life of Tiboen or Helena the eldest, that we have much of interest to relate. She was educated and fitted by her father to succeed him. Beautiful and brilliant though she was, she was destined to be the storm center and target for political attack much of her life; and as such, to be the victim later of the pens of more than seventy historians, most of whom, apparently, failed to see the source of the attacks made upon her, or the reason for them. So clearly do these facts stand out before the unbiased reader of today, that one marvels at the thinness of the mists which were permitted to obscure them at all.
Concerning the much disputed point as to where Helena was born and who her parents were, the principal and vital evidence regarding her birth is to be found in the “Colchester Chronicle,” preserved in that city. According to that document she was born in Colchester about 242 A.D., four years after her father became King. This testimony is universally confirmed by British historians, as well as many others, too.
Helen in childhood was known by several names; the British name was Tiboen, and her surname was Lueddog. The noble name of Flavia was given to her upon her marriage to Constantius, the descendant of Vespasian, who derived it from the Emperor through his great-uncle, Claudius Gothicus. The title of Augusta was added when Helena became Empress, and by some historians she is called Flavia Julia Helena Augusta. Toward the close of her life, she was called “The Prosperous” and “The Powerful.” To crown her virtue and piety the religious of after ages awarded to her the veneration of a saint.
There have been may erroneous ideas afloat, in the passing years, regarding Helena as having been the only child of her parents, undoubtedly caused by the fact that she and her husband succeeded to the throne of her father, King Coel. Her beauty surpassed the beauty of any British maiden, we read in Owain’s Chronicle; she held brightness of wit; eloquent speech; fascinating manners, and in knowledge of the liberal arts she surpassed all women. She was very proficient in music. Spenser in his “Faerie Queene” thus celebrates the Island Princess:
She was deeply read in Hebrew, Greek and Latin.
Her marriage to Constantius, then only at the dawn of his rising fortunes, was brought about in a very interesting way.
Flavius Valerius Constantius, surnamed “Chlorus,” was of imperial descent; his mother, Claudia, being niece of the Emperor, Claudius Gothicus. His father, a noble Lord of Illyria, was a native of Naissus, the capital of the Dardanian nation, which then consisted of a great part of Moesia, and there the childhood of Constantius was passed. (This is undoubtedly one reason for the persistent errors made by historians regarding the place where Helena was born, many of whom claim she was born at Naissus.)
It was at Naissus, too, that Constantius, at the age of fourteen, received the orders of the Emperor Aurelian under whom he first bore arms. For these reasons the city was, in after times, embellished by the filial affection of his son, Constantine the Great, with many beautiful buildings. Aurelian never visited Britain in person, but was much in Gaul during the wars with the usurpers, and Constantius was there, too. Three years after Aurelian’s accession, when Zenobia and Tetricus were being paraded in Rome in the triumphal procession of Aurelian, Constantius was distinguishing himself, and obtained a great victory for the Romans at Vindomessa in Switzterland. He was afterwards known as “The Conqueror of Spain.” He was received into the body-guard of Probus. On the defeat of Bonassus and Proculus, by a singular coincidence we find Constantius, Carus, Diocletian and Maximian walking together in triumphal procession into the Roman capital, each of whom afterwards became an Emperor. Constantius was placed in command of a legion and made Tribune and the Emperor Carus, who made him Governor of Dalmatia, had serious thoughts of naming him his successor instead of his worthless son.
After Carinus and Numericus, the two sons of Carus, the empire passed to Diocletian, A.D. 284. It was to oppose Carinus that Diocletian first created Maximian, Caesar; he later, after the death of the Emperor, made him his own partner and colleague in the imperial dignity, A.D. 286. (Butler; Gibbon.)
It is necessary that this should be made as clear as possible in order to show what part King Coel later played in the same succession of events.
We have Platina as authority that, just about this time, Constantius obtained a great victory over Probus in Gaul, when several thousand German mercenaries were slain, through his bravery in renewing the fight after an unsuccessful engagement; in consequence of which peace was restored to the province. About the same time, A.D. 281, Maximian Herculeus is said to have made himself master of Britain. Diocletian sent Maximian into Gaul to quell an insurrection about 290, two years before the creation of Constantius and Galerius as Ceasars, and he was afterwards created Augustus by Diocletian.
It was during the wars of the Empire against the usurpers in Gaul that Constantius paid his first visit to Britain. One of the most formidable enemies of Rome at this period was Carausius, a man of bravery, but of mean birth. He was employed by the Empire to guard the frontiers of Britain against invasion. Maximian, associated with Dioocletian at this time, ordered that he be stationed at Boulogne. Soon finding, however, that he had turned his power to his own advantage, he ordered that he be put to death. Carausius escaped to Britain, where, having many followers, he assumed the purple, and held himself proclaimed Emperor. Maximian was powerless to contend with him without a fleet. Meantime, Carausius boldly had a medal struck associating himself with Diocletian and Maximian, of which the legend was, “The peace of the three Augusti.” After several years Allectus was sent to reduce him to submission to the Empire, but he turned traitor and killed him, ruling in his own behalf three years as Augustus. The Britons finally, oppressed by his tyranny, placed themselves under the command of Asclepiodatus, who, after slaying Allectus, assumed supreme power for a time, and in his turn was doomed to fall in a contest with Coel, father of Helena.
It seems strange that, through this little book, it should be given to the writer as a duty to blast eighteen centuries of political deceit and historical misrepresentation about Old King Coel and his family. Now what was the truth about the King—his place in history, and the story of his descendants?
He was an hereditary king of Britain, with the blood of many powerful tribes in his veins, among them, the Saxons. As such, he and his ancestors had been left alone for a time by the Roman invaders of the Island. From Sir James Henry Ramsay, who obtained it from Caesar’s writings, we are informed that the Britons at this time were a cultured race, although primitive, and that they had, even in those early days, a coinage of their own. From Hume we learn that they had that admixture of Saxon blood which established the foundation of law and order in Britain, and was, indeed, the foundation of England’s after laws.
The Roman Emperor after the death of Asclepiodatus due to King Coel, saw his opportunity to proceed against the King, and to that end sent troops under the command of Constantius Chlorus to besiege his capital, Colnacester, with all the power of the Roman Empire behind him. It is a matter for wonder that the King was able to withstand the siege for three years; a siege which, in the end, was settled between them by the King pledging the hand of his eldest daughter, Helena, in marriage to the General, who afterwards succeeded him on the throne. We are told that Constantius Chlorus “espoused her with great honor.”
That it was a love affair between them cannot be doubted by anyone who follows the after history of both; and we know full well the significance of the Roman son-in-law of King Coel succeeding to the throne on his death, instead of his own son, Conan ap Coel, who had to retire to his mother’s inheritance in the North and in Wales, where he ruled instead.
After the death of King Coel, Constantius made his headquarters at Colchester for years, during his union with Helena. They traveled all over the empire together with their infant son, and were known as a most devoted pair. If their son, afterwards Constantine the Great, was born at Naissus, as he is reported to have been, it was because they were there at the time, it having been the birthplace of Constantius, and the place where his relatives lived.
Some years later, Constantius was appointed Military Governor of Dalmatia. At this time the Roman Empire was under Diocletian and his Associate, Maximian, whom he had appointed himself.
Constantius so distinguished himself in his government of Dalmatia that in 292 he was offered adoption by Maximian, and the title of Caesar, on condition that he divorce Helena and marry his stepdaughter, Theodora. At the same time, a second Caesar was appointed, Galerius, and the territory of the Roman Empire was divided into four parts; Diocletian, being prior or Supreme Augustus, with Asia and Africa as his domain; while Maximian Herculeus was over Italy and Spain; Galerius, as Caesar, was over Illyria, Thrace, Macedonia and Syria, and Constantius was to have Gaul and Britain. This was a plan mapped out by Diocletian himself. (The full significance of it will be understood when one remembers that Constantius Chlorus was a very brilliant man, whose many victories had given him the title years before of “Conqueror of Spain”; whose title to the Kingdom of his father-in-law, King Coel, was beyond dispute; and his son, Constantine, the legal heir to all his father’s holdings.)
We are told that Constantius would never have consented to divorce Helena, had not Helena herself urged the sacrifice for his future greatness and that of their son, she never dreaming that she would be placing her son’s life in jeopardy by the act. So this beautiful character withdrew practically to a cloistered life for a time, where she afterwards became a Christian, and in the end was one of the great lights leading others to Christ. She spent the latter years of her life establishing and building churches all over the Empire, in which she was aided by her son, then Constantine the Great, and one she built on the site of the stable where Christ was born. Constantine, too, was a Christian at this time.
It was during these activities that the Empress Helena became especially famous as the finder of the cross on which Christ was crucified. The legend goes that she found it with the two others buried under a building which she had ordered torn down to facilitate the search. To decide which was the true cross, a piece of wood from each was placed against a sick person, who, while unaffected by the wood of two, was instantly healed when touched by the wood of the other. It is the emblem of this cross which appears in the arms of Colchester.
In the meantime, and to go back, her divorced husband, Constantius Chlorus, was married to Theodora, step-daughter of Maximian, by whom he had six children, sons and daughters. Almost immediately after the separation of Helena and Constantius, Maximian forced Helena to give up the training of her son, Constantine, and placed him under the domination of Galerius, her husband’s rival.
Later on, he was thrown into every danger possible and they even tried to murder him, only to see him miraculously preserved each time by the power of God, conquering everywhere and rising ever higher—a most magnificent figure in the history of his time.
That his father Constantius Chlorus, was never reconciled to his parting with Helena was shown in his final illness, when he sent to Galerius asking that his son, Constantine, be sent to him at once. Galerius ignored the request, but the boy, Constantine, was told of it by someone. Although watched on every side, he secretly made his plans and fled. He only managed to escape capture by those who pursued him by slaying every horse he used on his journey as he obtained another to carry him on. He reached his father just before the end, who promptly proclaimed him his successor, ignoring all of Theodora’s children.
For many years afterwards, the young Constantine’s life was in deadly danger from the family and adherents of his father’s second wife, as well as seven rivals, but he was given the insight to escape every time, although he had to fight many battles, and to consent to many of them being put to death, before he had any peace or safety. It was during this conflict that he saw the vision of the cross in the sky, with the words “In hoc signo vinces” which caused his conversion to Christianity at once.
For many years after he became Emperor, he was accompanied on his travels by his mother, Helena, whom he loved divinely. He changed the names of many towns and places to others to do her and his father honor and many coins were struck, too in all parts of the Empire, for the same purpose, the Roman Empire having twenty mints in different places at that time.
So we have in Constantine the Great the grandson of Old King Cole, and the successor to his domain, as well as ultimately, through the will of God, the ruler over the entire Roman Empire. In the many descendants of the name of Cole, and its variations, we have the descendants of his three children, part of whom come from Wales.
Skipping four centuries, we come to the great Justice Cole in the time of Alfred the Great; and a little later General Cole, famous on account of his defeat of Sweyne, savage chieftain of the Danes, at Pinhoe, in 1001, fighting with the combined forces of Devon, Somerset and Dorset under his command.
Although the kings of Coel were later obscured by history, their descendants were known to be of high antiquity and rank among the magnates of Saxon times, attested by Domesday Book, and later in the deed of King William the Conqueror given in 1070, written in the Saxon tongue, which was not translated into English until Elizabeth’s reign, 1587. It remains in the custody of the Bishop of Winchester. Among the half dozen families of prominence in England greeted by name in the document were the Coles. They are spoken of as peers in the time of Edward the Confessor.
We find Sir Richard Cole, Earle of the Isle of Wight in the time of Edward III., and the various branches of the family in possession of immense estates in Devon, Wiltshire, Cornwall, Somerset, Hampshire and Lincolnshire. So prominent were they in the battles to preserve England in those days that they have in their possession at the present time thirty crests and coats of arms with many titles.
Authorities: Morant’s Colchester; Baleus; Lewis; John Rous; Carte; Geoffrey of Monmouth; Warrington; Hume; Ramsay; Carew’s Survey of Cornwall; Hoffman’s Universal Lexicon; Gibbon; Butler; Platina; Vie de Constantine; Caesar’s Writings; Leigh’s Choice Observations; Rowland’s Mona Antiqua; Harding; Kennet; Baronius; Polydore; and Virgil.
“This Deed of King William the Conquerors was written in the Saxon tongue 50 W.C. Ao 1070 and was put into English Ao 1587, 15o May Ao 27o R.R. Elizabethae, and remaynes in the Bishop of Winchesters custody.
William King greetes Walkeselein Bishop and Hugan de Port, and Edward Knighte, Steward and Algesime, and Symon and Allfus Porveiour, and Cole, & Arderne and all the Barons in Hampshierr, aud Wiltshire freindly, And know ye that I giue vnto St. Peter and Walchelyne Bishop with all the Covent to be as free as Bishop Alsyme was in the dayes of King Edw. and to hold an enjoy all the priuiledges great and small. And I giue commaundement that uoe man for me or any other withstand or deny them the same, or disquiet that which I doe graunt in any wise vnto St Peter or Aacholyne Bishop or any his Successors.
This is in the Inspeximus Charters of Confirmacons made to Richard Fox and Peter Courtney Bishops of Winchester, as they are inrolled in the Chauncery 30 Janu. 2 H. 8 and 13 Novem. 4 H. 8.
From the Genealogies and Pedigree of Sir William Cole of Enniskillen, County of Firmanaugh, Kingdom of Ireland, Knight, by Sir Wm. Segar and W. Pensom.
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