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In Search of the ‘Original” King Arthur – Part Three

09 Mar

UPDATED 1.6.12

Arthur map Pedr (born c. 570s)

Arthur map Pedr of Demetia (Dyfed and Ceredigion, Wales) has had his birth estimated at c. 570–80 by the late Rachel Bromwich (‘Concepts’, p.178) but to c. 526 by J.W. James (‘The Harleian MS. 3859 genealogy II’, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 23 (1969) pp.143–52). It makes a huge difference to the various arguments depending on which of these dates is right. If it’s the former, the names appear almost three generations after Arthur’s supposed death, at almost the same time as, or just after, Artúr mac Áedán. If it’s the latter, earlier date, then his name was given towards the end of the ‘original’s’ life (if Arthur of Badon existed) or not long after it. Most scholars, studying the genealogies, accept the later date.

Legend tells how the Deisi (or Déssi) tribe were ‘thrown out’ of the Ireland and ended up in what is now southwest Wales and was then the Roman civitas of Demetae, which would later become the kingdom of Demetia and then, through political contraction, modern day Dyfed. The fact that this was a Cambro-Irish area is attested by the vast amount of inscribed stone found here with Latin and Irish Ogham writing; more than anywhere else in Britain. Since many of these are dated to the 6th century, it shows the use of the language years after their arrival (if they did arrive), although there was probably continuing contact, especially ecclesiastical.

Ken Dark warns about assuming that the above story is true. It could be an origin myth. This could be one of the regions that was already Goidelic speaking, or its élite were or had been for long time, and this was down to it being on the Irish Sea Zone. However, it makes sense – to me at least – that Irish warriors may also have been brought over to help defend this part of Britannia during the Late Roman period. As I’ll explore later, the ‘myth’ about the expulsion of the Déssi could have given rise to the Arthur of Culhwch ac Olwen.

Some of this Arthur’s forefather’s bear possible Roman names and titles. This could simply be because they wanted to make themselves look grander, as well as giving them legitimacy to rule, and maybe deflect from their Hibernian origins; or it could be because it was a time when there was a resurgence of using Latin names. Cunedda (Cunedag of Manau Gododdin) is also given Latin named ancestors at around the same time, as are those of Alt Clut (Dumbarton Rock, Scotland).

Here’s what the Expulsion of the Desi says:

 “Eochaid son of Artchorp went across the sea with his children to the territory of Demetia (Demed), and there his sons and grandsons died. From them is descended the kindred of Crimthann (cenel Crimthaind) over there, of which is Tualodor mac Rigin maic Catacuind maic Caittienn maic Clotenn maic Naee maic Artuir maic Retheoir maic Congair maic Gartbuir[Vortipor] maic Alchoil [Agricola] maic Trestin [Triphun] maic Aeda Brosc maic Corath maic Echach Almuir maic Arttchuirp.”

The Jesus College MS 20, 12 genealogies are strikingly similar:

Arthur map Pedr map Cincar map Guortepir [Vortipor] map Aircol [Agricola] map Triphun[Tribune?] map Clotri map Gloitguin map Nimet …

(It should be noted that two other genealogies give this Arthur a slightly different name: Cardiff copy of Hanesyn Hen, p. 77 gives Arth, and the Bodleian MS Rawlinson B 466 gives Arthen. However, the Jesus College MS 20, 12 seems the most trusted.)

There are two more famous names here: the first is the name thought to be on a memorial stone: that of Votiporigis the Protictor, whom many have identified with Vortipor of the Dyfed genealogies and the aging king maligned by the 6th century monk/cleric Gildas. However, today’s linguist do not believe them one and the same.

Jaski:

“The memorial shows that among the rulers of Demetia/Dyfed the Irish and Latin languages – and also Roman culture, regarding the memorial itself and the title protector – carried prestige. The absence of a formula in British is notable. However, the names in the pedigree from the grandfather of Gartbuir/Guortepir [Vortipor] onwards do not look particularly Irish, and in fact point to the integration of the Irish rulers with their British subjects and neighbours.” (p.92)

Interestingly, Arthur map Pedr is only put forward as being the ‘original’, by Dr. Ken Dark. (A Famous Arthur in the Sixth Century? Reconsidering the Origins of the Arthurian Legend,” Reading Medieval Studies, 26, 2000). But how different things would be if there had been literature on him. We’d then have a plethora of papers and books about him and claims that he was King Arthur. Actually, he was a King Arthur … but was he the first?

If there was no Arthur of Badon and if Artúr mac Áedán was instead Artúr mac Conaing (see next), then this Arthur would indeed be the ‘first’ and, it could be argued, those of the north could have taken this king’s name. Of course, he couldn’t have been at Badon and couldn’t have even been at the Second Battle of Badon as it was much later, in 665. Could he be mentioned in Y Gododdin? Possibly, but, again, it’s down to that famous verse’s date of composition.

The one thing in this Arthur’s favour is it would be during his time when the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ kingdoms were emerging and uniting and pushing west. A time when you would need united Britons fighting against a more united enemy or enemies. For this to happen, Demetia would either have to have been a powerful kingdom or this Arthur chosen as their war leader.

This all begs the question of how those of Demetia saw themselves by this Arthur’s time: as Britons or Hiberno-Britannians or simply as Demetians? The names may have gone more British, but the ogham inscribed stone evidence shows they were still commemorating their deceased in Latin and Irish. Of course, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have used Irish and Latin and still thought themselves Britannian. (They could have been tri-lingual).The fact they did not retain any Irish heroes, such as Finn McCool like those in western Scotland did, could indicate they were more British; but this could be a later indicator for both regions and things could have been very different in the Late-5th century.

There are three other things about this Arthur that should be considered:

* He was possibly the one who fought and died at a Battle of Camlann but the date was changed. This could have been at Afon Gamlan (River Camlan) between Demetia (Dyfed) and Venedotia (Gwynedd).

* Some of his exploits could have been attached to an Arthur of Badon.

*This Arthur could have been the one attached to the tales of Arthur in Culhwch ac Olwen and the hunt for the boar Twrch Trwyth.

It is a remarkable coincidence that we have an Cambro-Irish Arthur and that the stories of Culhwch ac Olwen take place in this region. We have a chicken and egg situation here: which came first? I will give a hypothesis as to what could have caused the story of the Twrch Trwyth, but it is pure speculation.

Regardless of whether the story of the expulsion of the Desi was an origin myth or not, at some point it was believed. What better way than to get back at your former homeland than coming up with a story that tells of a man who defeated a fifth of it and killing one of its famous boars (stealing this part from Finn McCool possibly). The question then is, why the name Arthur or Artūrius? Was there a famous legendary Late-Roman commander in the region (not L. Artorius Castus) whose name they chose, or was it from Arthur of Badon or Arthur ap Pedr … or was he a mythical figure named after Arcturus? It could be any of these reason. Arthur ap Pedr was either named after this character (who could have been named after Arthur of Badon) or the character was named after Arthur ap Pedr. Or, as put forward in later blogs, Arthur of Badon and Arthur ap Pedr were both named after this folkloric/mythical/legendary figure.

However, if the character is named after Arthur ap Pedr, then the story has to have been a pan Hiberno-Britannian one and Arthur ap Pedr has to have been born earlier for an Arthur (possibly two) of the north to be given the name c. 570. If the general consensus is that Arthur ap Pedr and Artúr  mac Áedán are contemporary, then that hypothesis has to be rejected, leaving the others.

But if they are all named after a folkloric/mythical/legendary figure he too has to be a pan Hiberno-Britannian (yet not Irish) and one that was given a Romano-British name. The name still may have to have had supplanted that of another mythical figure if it didn’t come from Arcturus.

The alternative is they were all named (or perhaps renamed in the stories cases) after an Arthur of Badon who was of mixed ethnic descent and perhaps who also defeated Scotti raiders. The Irish would have brought with them the story of Finn McCool and there’s no reason to surmise that in southwest Wales this was who could have been renamed and the story changed over time.

It’s a theory.

Brychiniog from the Brecon Beacons

Brycheiniog

There is no Arthur here, but it’s worth mentioning this small Cambro-Irish kingdom  called Brycheiniog (the Brecons) in what is now south central Wales, which lay to Demetia’s east. Tradition says it was founded by and named after the Cambro-Irish prince Brychan (whom we met in the section on Artúr mac Áedán) from an older British kingdom called Garth Madrun in the mid 5th century, but this could be just tradition.

Brychan was supposedly a son of an Irish settler called Anlach whom, it seems, peacefully took control by marrying the British heiress of Garth Madrun. This tradition also says Brychan sired an extremely large number of children, some of whom went on to become, like their father, saints in Wales and Cornwall. One daughter supposedly being married to Artúr mac Áedán’s grandfather.

Tradition tells how his father, Anlach, went to war with the usurping Irish king, Banadl, of Powys to his northeast. The battle did go his father’s way and Brychan was supposedly sent to Powys to be fostered as part of the treaty. However, whilst the there Brychan was rather a naughty boy having his wicked way with the Irish king’s daughter. He supposedly became pious on his return home and his subjects name the kingdom after him.

How much we can trust any of the above information is another matter but it all obviously made for a good story.

In the next blog we’ll be moving back to the Western Isles to take a look at a very interesting character called Arthur son of Bicoir the Briton (born ca 580-600?).

Thanks for reading,

Mak

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14 responses to “In Search of the ‘Original” King Arthur – Part Three

  1. Howard Wiseman

    March 10, 2011 at 5:46 am

    Morris’ claim that Theodoric was “at this time” a name used only by Goths, is simply untrue. It is not clear when Tewdrig of Dyfed flourished (assuming he was historical). but if it was post-507 as Morris suggests, then there is at least one famous non-Frankish Theodoric active at that time: Thuederic (r. 511-34) son of Clovis. And he can’t have been born later than about 480 because his son Theudebert was already leading an army in the early 520s.

    Its things like this that mean you can’t trust Morris for anything. His book is full of attractive ideas, but every claim you have to check for accuracy elsewhere.

     
    • badonicus

      March 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm

      I’ve since removed the Morris/Theodoric quote and sections.

       
  2. badonicus

    March 10, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Good points Howard, and I realise how untrustworthy Morris is, that’s why I put ‘Morris claims’. It’s something I put in there at the last moment and I should have checked it more with the Tewdrig story.

    As they say where I come from: “That’ll larn me!”

     
  3. Matt Richardson

    March 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Interestingly, Arthur map Pedr is never put forward as being the ‘original’, probably because there’s nothing else known about him.

    I believe that Ken Dark suggests Arthur map Pedr as the original for Arthur in his article “A Famous Arthur in the Sixth Century? Reconsidering the Origins of the Arthurian Legend” in Reading Medieval Studies 26. His idea is that Arthur map Pedr was remembered as a great warrior, but the specifics of his career were lost so ‘Nennius’ created one for him.

     
  4. badonicus

    March 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Interesting. Thanks Matt. I wasn’t aware of this article. I thought Ken Dark tried to steer clear of the Arthurian subject.

    I can’t quite remember, but I think it’s Nick Higham who suggests that it was this Arthur the AC had in mind, as it is thought to have been compiled in this region.

     
    • badonicus

      March 10, 2011 at 1:52 pm

      Nice website, by the way!

       
      • Matt Richardson

        March 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm

        Thanks! I haven’t updated it in years. I need to go back and review the material that I’ve written. My views have changed several times and I’m not sure if the website really reflects them anymore.

         
    • Howard Wiseman

      March 10, 2011 at 9:51 pm

      You should definitely read Ken’s article, Mak.

      Yes, Higham suggests that the readers of the AC in the royal court of Deheubarth were meant to infer that Arthur in the AC was Arthur, great-grandson of Vortipor. But this seems pretty unlikely to me, since Gildas was still famous then (his death is also in the AC), and the DEB clearly puts Vortipor a generation after Badon. I made this and a few other observations at:
      http://www.mun.ca/mst/heroicage/issues/10/forum.html

       
      • badonicus

        March 11, 2011 at 10:00 am

        Howard, when I click on your name, I’m getting a broken link to your URL.

         
      • Howard Wiseman

        March 11, 2011 at 11:21 am

        Hi Mak,
        Thanks for the note about the broken link. I’ve fixed it in this reply, but I don’t know whether that has fixed it in future. I’ll test I guess.
        Howard.

         
      • Howard Wiseman

        March 11, 2011 at 11:22 am

        Yep, seems to have remembered the fix. Lets hope it does on all my posts on all your threads.

         
  5. badonicus

    March 11, 2011 at 8:51 am

    I’m with you on that one Howard.

    I first read your article a long time ago and a number of times since.

     
  6. badonicus

    March 11, 2011 at 9:56 am

    I’ve just been reading through the article again, Howard, and had I remembered it better I would have remembered about Dark’s views. I’d like to quote from it:

    “By contrast, the name Arthur (or Arturius or Artuir) was given to at least four high-status individuals in the late 6th or early 7th century (Bromwich, 1975-6). As shown in a recent analysis by Dark (2000b), all four were associated with the interface of British and Irish society. As Dark says, this phenomenon demands an explanation. The one presenting itself most strongly is that they were named after an historical 6th century “prototype” who also had such an association.”

     

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